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Hard Boiled Christmas (Day Twelve)

Hard Boiled Christmas

A Jack Collier Mystery

By Brett N. Lashuay

 

Day 12: The Man in the Brown Corduroy Suit

 

            We walked to a nice place across the street from the office, meaning we didn’t use the car. As we walked back to the office I saw the man in the brown corduroy suit again. I told Debbie that I had to take care of something and let her go back into the office on her own as I walked through the parking lot. I walked past my car and towards the drug store on the corner. Instead of going in, I decided to walk past the doors and after turning the corner I leaned against the wall and waited. After a moment the man in the brown corduroy suit came around the corner and I grabbed him by the lapels of his coat. I spun his around and smacked his back into the wall I had been leaning against a moment ago. I pulled back my fist when he squeaked and I realized who it was.

 

            “Wait Jack, it’s me!” He said in an alto voice that came close to a whine at times.

 

            “Thanksgiving?” I asked, finally getting a good look at him. I lowered my fist and let go of his jacket.

 

            “And it’s nice to see you too.” He brushed his white shirt and brown vest with shaking hands.

 

            “What the hell are you doing?” I demanded, “I might have beaten you to a pulp.”

 

            “I wanted to find out what you knew about this Christmas thing.” He tried to straighten his bow tie, but all he did was set it further askew.

 

            “So why not ask me?” I asked. “You could have called.”

 

            “I didn’t know who you were working for.” He squeaked again, “As a matter of fact I still don’t. I’ve seen everyone but Christmas herself going in and out of your office the last two days.”

 

            “Well let’s you and me go up there and you can actually fix your tie.” I said.

 

            “Will there be anyone watching?” He asked looking around. “I don’t want people to know where I am. They’ve already tried once you know.”

 

            “I’ll keep you safe.” I said as reassuringly as I could. “Let’s go up and have a talk.”

 

            Five minutes later we were sitting in my office, a couple of mugs of coffee between us. He had straightened himself up, combed his hair in the bathroom and looked much calmer now than he had before. He drank some coffee and sat back in the big red leather chair that so many had occupied recently. That chair was going to break pretty soon. It wasn’t used to the kind of vigorous wear and tear it was getting lately.

 

            “So why don’t you start by telling me where you’ve been the last few months?” I asked, trying to think of some way to start.

 

            “Around.” He said setting the mug down on my desk. “Hotels mostly. A few nights here, a few nights there and every once in a while I went to a relative’s house so they’d know I was okay. I had to keep myself hidden, but I didn’t want my family to worry, family is important you know.”

 

            “So I’ve heard.” I said, failing to believe it. “Why are you in hiding?”

            “Someone tired to kill me.” He squeaked. “Didn’t I say that?”

 

            “Yes.” I pressed my hand to my temple to try and hold off the headache. “I’m trying to get a picture of what happened.”

 

            “I was doing some pre-show planning in August, looking around turkey farms and things, you know?” he waved his hand to suggest that there was a great deal more to it than just that. “Stuff like that.”

 

            “Okay.” I nodded, pretending to understand what went into putting on a show like his. The closest I ever got was watching Christmas set up for her shows, which were a hundred times more elaborate than anyone else’s. I suppose that they must all think their show is very tough to put on.

 

            “I was getting back to my offices, when someone in a black car drove up and shot at me.” The look on his face said that he was having almost a complete and total replay of the events. “I don’t know how they missed me, but I got away. I just sort of fell into a ditch and just lay there waiting for them to come and really do the job. They must have thought they’d gotten me and drove off.”

 

            “And you slunk away after that?” I asked.

 

            “Right.” He said nodding urgently, as if he needed to use the bathroom. “And then when I saw what happened to Christmas, well you know.”

 

            “You thought they were after all of you.” I asked.

 

            “Exactly.” He pointed at me with his extended index finger, which was shaking slightly. “And I figured that if I followed you, maybe you’d be on the case and I could find something out.”

 

            “You could have just called.” I said.

 

            “I didn’t know who you might be working for.” He said again.

 

            “I’m working for me.” I said taking in a lot of air and letting it out. “Okay, first things first, let’s get you safe.”

 

            “How do we do that?”

 

            “We hide you someplace that I know about.” I said rubbing my forehead.

 

            “Where?” He asked.

 

            “I know a guy named Eddie, he lives out in the boonies and he has some people who watch over him.” I told him. “You’ll like Eddie, he gets the munchies a lot.”

 

            I picked up my phone and dialed Eddie the Bear’s number. I only hoped he was sober enough to talk. There were three rings, as there always are, before he picked up. There was then another moment’s wait while he languidly brought the phone to the side of his head. He had all these little habits and you just had to wait until he spoke or you’d look like a fool. Most days I was dangerously close to looking like a fool anyway, and I didn’t want to press my luck there.

 

            “Hello?” Eddie asked.

 

            “Hey Eddie, Jack. Listen, I need a favor.” I said. “Can you let a pal of mine stay with you in one of your more secure rooms for a couple of days?”

 

            “Sure man.” Eddie said. “He need anything special?”

 

            “Just keep him safe.” I said.

 

            “Where is this guy?”

 

            “He’s in my office now.”

 

            “You want me to come pick him up?”

 

            “Yeah.” I told him, wondering why he was being so accommodating.

 

            “Okay man, I’ll be there in a little while.” Eddie said. “You’re gonna owe me later though.”

 

            “Okay. Bye, bye.” I said and we both hung up. “We’ve got a few minutes.”

 

            “Have we?”

 

            “Yes.” I confirmed. “So you might as well speculate on who tried to bump you off.”

 

            “Well, the Fat Man, clearly.” He said, shrugging. “Who else?”

 

            “Why him?” I asked.

 

            “Because he’s been trying to run me out of town for years.” He said as if I had spent the last few years hidden away in my office away from humanity.

 

            “Why?” I asked.

 

            “He wants to have the extra time for Christmas.” He rubbed his hands over his hair. “He’s wanted to be able to extend her season out for years, because he can sell more stuff then. If he could start selling in November, without complaints, then he’d have two full months to make even more money than he does now.”

 

            “Why not extend into October to then?” I asked.

 

            “Because he’s scared of Sam.” Thanksgiving said smiling. “Everyone’s scared of Sam, ‘cept me I expect. And it’s only because we’ve been neighbors so long.”

 

            That was very likely true, most people were afraid of Sam Hain, but that was because he was a scary guy. Of course what most people failed to notice, when being so scared of him, was how much the kids loved him. To some, he was a better guy to have around than Christmas, or at least a good runner-up. No one would have been scared of a little guy like Thanksgiving though, and his natural timidity had allowed him to be rolled over for years. The fact that someone had tried to get rid of him made this whole thing seem like something someone had been planning, rather than something that was just happening.

 

            “So what do you think?” He asked.

 

            “I think it’s a good thing for you I think highly enough of you to send for my favorite pot head.” I said leaning back in my chair and looking up at the ceiling.

 

            After a few more minutes of us sitting together in silence the door opened and Eddie the Bear came in. If you want to imagine Eddie, you need to think of a large, fattish man, mostly unkempt but not actually dirty. He had short blond hair and a small beard that gave him a look that can only be described as fuzzy. Eddie was big, and cheerful and just smart enough to keep himself and his friends out of jail. He was still wearing the same red shirt that he’d owned since high school. I actually know that it was not the same t-shirt every day, but he did have a thing for red shirts. Today in fact it was a red sweater, the v neck of which hung low enough to show one of his red t-shirts under it.

 

            “Hey Jack.” He said smiling. “This my guy?”

 

            “Yup.” I nodded. “Thanksgiving meet Eddie the Bear.”

 

            “Big fan of your work.” Eddie smiled broadly.

 

            “Thank you.” Thanksgiving looked a bit bewildered, which might have just been a contact high from Eddie’s fumes.

 

            “You two should probably go now.” I said standing. “Eddie, keep him very safe. If anything happens to him, I will have to kill you.”

 

            “No problem bro.” I had long since stopped trying to make him not call me bro.

 

            They were out of my office a moment later and I saw the brown Buick drive off followed by Eddie’s old gray Cadillac, which pulled out in front of it. I was sure that Thanksgiving would have no problem following Eddie. After all, he’d had some practice lately. They’d be safe enough until I could sort this out.

 

            I got to my seat before I heard the front door bang open and feet running into the office. I got up and started around my desk when the shouting started.

 

            “Where is he?” I heard a voice shout from the front of the office.

 

            I walked out to the waiting room and saw Smith with half a dozen agents and possibly another dozen in the hall. They were all carrying small machine guns on straps that went around their shoulders. As I swung the door open six gun barrels also swung and aimed at me. For a moment I considered diving and drawing my Marley, but it only had six shots and I didn’t really have anything like cover. I raised my hands and hoped they wouldn’t take that as a signal to start shooting.

 

            “Aren’t you supposed to be eighteen before you can play with those?” I asked and pointed with my finger.

 

            “Where is he Collier?” Smith yelled at me.

 

            “He who?” I asked.

 

            “Thanksgiving!” He demanded. “We saw him here a moment ago, where is he?”

 

            “Now that is interesting.” I let my hand drop and place them on my hips. “Have you been looking through my windows? Bugging my office? Do you have a shorter than normal agent in my coffee maker?”

 

            “We saw him come in here.” Smith hissed. “Where do you have him?”

 

            “Tell your child prodigies to lower the pea shooters or I will take them away and you’ll have to ask your parents to come and get them back from me.” I told him sternly.

 

            A couple of agents, cowed by the threat of having their weapons taken away, lowered their guns lest they have to explain to their moms and dads why they lost them. Smith looked over his shoulder, sighed and made as close to a growl as a snake-like creature such as him can.

 

            “Lower your weapons.” He commanded.

 

            “Good.” I told him and made a gesture towards Debbie. “Now, if you wish to make an appointment.”

 

            “Cut that out.” Smith said and I swear one agent reached for his boot knife before he realized it was a metaphor.

 

            “You want to talk?” I asked him. “Like civilized beings?”

 

            “Collier.” He hissed again, even though my name really should be growled and not hissed. You need certain letters to hiss, and my name doesn’t have them. Perhaps if my first name were John or even Jonathan you could hiss it, but it says Jack on my certificate of birth.

 

            “I realize I’m asking a lot of you, but I think given practice you can be a civilized being. This will be good practice.”

 

            “Wait here.” Smith said shoving his pistol under his coat. “Collier and I have something to discuss.”

 

            “Wait outside.” I suggested and pointed towards the hall. “I don’t like leaving the door open and you can only lust over my secretary if you’re a paying customer.”

 

            “Go on.” Smith hissed at his group.

 

            They departed, leaving Smith and I to enter my office.

 

This is part twelve of twenty-five, come back tomorrow for part thirteen and every day this month until we’re done to see what happens next. If you get lost, one of the tags here should help you. The HBC tag will take you to the story while the Jack Tag will take you to Part One of every story we post here.

December 12, 2008 - Posted by | Fiction |

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