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Hard Boiled Christmas (Day Thirteen)

Hard Boiled Christmas

A Jack Collier Mystery

By Brett N. Lashuay

 

Day 13: Talk of Rings

 

 

            I sat down in my desk and wondered if I was ever going to get out of my office again. Maybe I would spend the rest of my days receiving calls from one important person after another. I must be moving up in the world, a federal agent was sitting in my client chair now, even if he looked like he’d rather bite my face off.

 

            I ran my fingers over the stubble on my chin and looked at him as he slipped off the large mirrored sunglasses that he always wore. He looked less thin and reptilian without them, which might have been why he wore them. I’m pretty sure that looking like a snake was exactly what he was going for, which is what he more or less managed. Without them he almost looked human, but I wasn’t going to start thinking of him as a mammal and rub his belly or anything.

 

            “Suppose you start to tell me why you’ve been watching me?” I asked.

 

            “We’ve been watching everyone.” He said, almost sounding like a mammal too. “Ever since this business started, we’ve been watching everyone.”

 

            “Legally, one hopes.”

 

            “Emergency situation.” He said shifting his shoulders and folding his hands in front of him. “But you don’t have to worry, you weren’t labeled as important enough until this morning.”

 

            “Why so late?”

 

            “Following Church, we found he’d come here last night. After that, you’re activities warranted further examination.”

 

            “So you’ve only been watching me a little while?”

 

            “Right.” Smith nodded.

 

            “And you’ve been here watching me especially?”

 

            “No.” Smith sneered. “I was doing real grown-up work while you were looking at crime scenes and letting important individuals slip through your fingers.”

 

            “And I visited with Mr. Frost, let’s not forget that.”

 

            “I haven’t.” Smith said, and I could tell that he was all too aware of Frost’s visit and what it could portend.

 

            “Look Smith, you don’t like me and it’s only sheer laziness that stops me from killing you, so why don’t we cut the shit?”

 

            “What do you mean?” he asked.

 

            “Why don’t you tell me what you know, and I’ll tell you what I know and we’ll try and work this out like real grown-up type people.”

 

            “I don’t know anything.” He said, unfolding his hands and gripping the arms of the chair.

 

            “And normally I would be all too glad to make a joke out of that statement.” I said smiling. “But today I need something more, because I don’t have much either.”

 

            “What do you have?” Smith asked.

 

            “A lot of history.” I said putting my elbow on my desk and propping my chin in my hand. “Mostly I know where she came from, but I don’t know who tipped her.”

 

            “And then we’ve got these other problems to worry about.” He said sighing in a way that was almost warm-blooded. “Two more go down, and one we thought was dead slips right past us.”

 

            “I think you’ll find the rest are on lock down if you go looking.”

 

            “We noticed that.” He said gritting his teeth in an unattractive manner. “There isn’t much we don’t notice.”

 

             “Except someone shooting people right under your nose.” I mentioned.

 

            “Yes.” He said, and it was almost a growl this time. “I had forgotten about that, how nice of you to remind me.”

 

            “I may end up reminding you of more than that.” I said leaning back in my chair and fixing eyes on his. Something then struck me, something strange. “Did you find her ring?”

 

            “What?” He asked as if I’d just asked him if he’d ever sodomized a donkey. Well, not really, because I imagine that he would respond to such a question with guilt in his eyes and probably would answer just a bit too late.

 

            “Her ring.” I said leaning forward, intent on his face. “A gold ring worn on the third finger of her right hand. There’s a ruby set in it and two emeralds each about half as big as the ruby. She wore it all the time.”

 

            “And you want to know if we found it?” He asked.

 

            “Yes.” I said nodding.

 

            “I haven’t the slightest idea.” He said. “I’d have to call and ask them.”

 

            “Do you want a phone?” I pointed at the instrument on my desk.

 

            “No.” He pulled out his cell phone. “I’ll call from my own.”

 

            I watched as he stood up and walked to a corner of the room, his back facing me to pretend that he had some level of privacy. He talked too quietly for me to hear, and halfway through he looked over his shoulder at me and then back at the corner of my office. Finally I heard something that sounded like a thank you and he closed the phone, slipping it into his coat as he turned to face me. It might not have been his intention to show me his concealed handgun, but he didn’t try to cover it up either. He probably felt no need to cover a weapon that was aimed at me a few moments ago, but I would have done better not to show it.

 

            “There were no rings on her fingers.”

 

            “What about the bells on her toes?” I asked, trying for another confused and annoyed look from him.

 

            I didn’t get the confused part, but I’ll take the fact that I got him halfway there. His glance of annoyance might have only been half for me anyway. The fact that I had something that I could legitimately use to needle him with and that was completely a failure on the part of his agents was probably biting him more than any words I could muster.

 

            “Yes.” He said, after a longer moment than I thought necessary for a comeback. “They were still on her shoes when we found her.”

 

            “Have you gone over both your own reports and the police reports?” I asked tapping my stubbly chin with my finger. “Found anything else that’s not there that should be?”

 

            “There are a couple of redundancies, but we’d figured that was just someone’s accounting error.” He had regained his snake like composure now and looked like if he could open his mouth wide enough he would swallow me whole.

 

            “What redundancies?” I asked, even though I suspected.

 

            “The wallets.” He said while trying not to leap out of his chair and bite my neck. “The police say they found it with her driver’s license in her pocket, we found it in her purse with the car. That gold charm she’s supposed to wear around her neck was also in both places.”

 

            “Have you checked all the property rooms?” I asked.

 

            “We’ve taken over the property rooms.” He said sliding his thin tongue across his bottom lip. “We’ve gathered it all up, put everything in one place. There is only one wallet and one charm.”

 

            “And no ring.” I added.

 

            “Yes.” He nodded. “No ring. No ring in any of the files, no ring in the property rooms and no ring on her finger now.”

 

            “Hmm.” I said to myself. “Where would that ring have gone?”

 

            “We can find out.” He said. “But it seems pretty farfetched that someone attacked her just for the ring.”

            “Yes it does.” I agreed. “Nevertheless the ring was of very fine workmanship. It was also quite important to her.”

 

            “I’ll see what I can find out.”

 

            The office phone then rang and after a moment my desk phone beeped. I looked at Smith and then picked up the phone. I held it to my ear and waited for the explosion that was going to come. In a moment, it did.

 

            “Corpulent Gentleman.” Debbie’s voice came, using big words that the Agents in the office wouldn’t know. “Should I put him through?”

 

            “Yeah.” I said, having had a premonition about what he was going to talk about. “Go ahead.”

 

            “Jack?” The Fat Man’s voice came over after a moment.

 

            “Yes, hello.” I said, trying to sound cheery. “How are you today?”

 

            “Something has happened.”

 

            “Yes,” I agreed, smiling at Smith, “Several things in fact.”

 

            “Someone has delivered the head of one of my former employees to me.” The Fat Man said, sounding like he was trying to keep panic out of his voice. “I have no idea where the rest of his body is, but his hands were in the box with his head.”

 

            “Well then you should be able to tell who he is then.” I kept trying to sound cheerful and made a rolling motion with my hand as if I wanted the conversation to be over faster and the person on the other end could get to the point faster. “Anything I can do about that?”

 

            “I think it was Church.” The Fat Man said.

 

            “Oh, how’s that?”

 

            “The last time Church and I had any dealings, this guy was with me. He must think that he was still working for me.” I thought I almost detected fear in the Fat Man’s voice. “He probably tried to get information about my movements from him. He’s going to try and get me.”

 

            “Oh I don’t think that’s it.” I said, wondering if I should tell him about my grasp of current events. “I’m sure it’s something else.”

 

            “I hope you’re right.” The Fat Man said. “Is there any progress?”

 

            “Um… possibly.” I said, trying to sound like I was considering an offer for dinner.

 

            “Possibly?” He asked. “What the hell does that mean?”

 

            I wanted to cry, I was going to have to spell things out to him. Clearly, his nerves were jangled or he wouldn’t have bothered with such a stupid question. I just hoped that telling him just a little would keep him from doing something ridiculously stupid.

 

            “It means that I’ve got a federal agent in my office and I can’t really talk to you about this right now. I’ve got this Christmas thing I’ve been asked to work on and it’s kind of a big deal, did you see the thing about it?” Is what I decided on telling him.

 

            “Ah.” He said. “I understand.”

 

            “Yeah.” I said nodding. “I’ll call you a little later about your case. I’m still working very hard at it. Don’t think I’ve forgotten you, but this is a big deal and I’ve got to put a few thinks to the side for it. Okay, bye bye.”

 

            I hung up and looked at Smith with an apologetic smile. I was about to tell him a tale of some client thinking that they were my only one, but then I was struck by an amusing idea. Why not tell him? Why not just lay out what I knew to him and warn him ahead of time? I decided that truth could be a novel concept and I would give it a try.

 

            “Another client?” He asked.

 

            “You know I have no other clients.” I said smiling. “No, that was the Fat Man. It seems Church cut the head off someone who was trying to break into his car last night and deposit a bloody baseball bat. Church’s boy Opus shot him and cut his head off in order to ship it and the man’s hands to that overripe berry just waiting to be squeezed. It seems that the man planting the evidence left the Fat Man’s employ some time ago though and now the Fat Man thinks Church is sending him a warning. At least this is what I’ve been told, there is no evidence for any of this so anything I’m telling you is hearsay.”

 

            “The Fat Man sent someone to put a baseball bat in Church’s car?” Smith asked, leaning forward in his chair.

 

            “Well, I guess it depends on who you believe. Church said the guy was breaking into his car with a bat covered in blood. Opus said he killed him and cut his head off. The Fat Man says he got the head and the guy hadn’t worked for him in sometime. Now there are a lot of things that could be lies there. There might be no baseball bat, the guy might have been working for the Fat Man, Church might have just thought the guy was working for the Fat Man and killed someone by mistake.”

 

            “But as far as you know there is a headless body floating around.”

 

            “Rather there is a bodyless head at the Fat Man’s place right now.” I smiled at him as if I were highly amused by the whole thing. “Unless none of this is true.”

 

            “Yeah.” Smith said, and I think he actually swallowed the bait. “You’d like me to go around bothering some prominent people like Church and… the Fat Man with nothing but your say so.”

 

            He stood up, adjusted his jacket and pulled out his sunglasses. He slipped them on and what little semblance of mammalian life he had was gone in an instant. He was once again a cold reptilian thing that couldn’t possibly have ever suckled at a breast. He shook his head as he looked at me and then started to walk towards the door. He turned around to send a parting shot at me.

 

            “You’d like me to waste our time chasing after some wild goose you just invented while you figure out who the mystery guest is. Well forget it! We’re not that dumb at the federal government. Stay out of my way or I’ll bust your ass.”

 

            “Well I did warn you.” I said quietly to myself as the door banged shut.

 

This is part thirteen of twenty-five, come back tomorrow for part fourteen 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 13, 2008 Posted by | Fiction | | Leave a comment