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Hard Boiled Christmas (Day Nineteen)

Hard Boiled Christmas

A Jack Collier Mystery

By Brett N. Lashuay

 

Day 19: Where Have You Been?

 

            I am not what you might call a morning person. I’m much more a mid-afternoon person who is forced by unreasonable circumstances to get up in the morning. It was late morning though and Christmas standing in the middle of my living room was a bit of a shock to wake up to. Not a completely unwelcome shock or an unpleasant one, but a shock nonetheless. I mean, she was supposed to be dead and in a morgue. Not that I had believed that, but it was a bit of a surprise to find the proof of that fact standing here in front of me.

 

            She didn’t look like she had the last time I’d seen her on TV, she looked thinner, leaner, like she’d been working out in secret. In some ways, she looked younger too, although that might have been just because I’d thought she looked prematurely old lately. The bags under her eyes seemed to have receded, her dress size was down to one digit, and she seemed to have a clear expression of mind. In many ways, she looked better than I had ever seen her. She looked beautiful, and wonderful in the golden rays of the morning sun.

 

            She just stood there, smiling at me in my torn t-shirt and sweatpants. She seemed to glimmer in the light of the sun as it shot through the window and filled the room with an orange tint. She looked out the window at the snow covered landscape and then at me. I looked down at my sleeping gear and then looked up at her smiling face, which seemed to glow not so much with the golden dawn but with an inner light. It probably was just the sunlight though, and my fuzzy frame of mind.

 

            “Hi.” She actually didn’t say that, but I have to pretend she did to start the dialogue for this section.

 

            “Morning.” I said rubbing the stubble on my chin. “Aren’t you supposed to be dead?”

 

            “Well, that’s what CNN says anyway.” She said sitting down on the couch and crossing her legs demurely.

 

            “And what do you say?” I asked, trying not to interrogate her.

 

            “I’m breathing.” She said smiling again. “I’m fine. You still have this couch.”

 

            “It’s a good couch.” I lied.

 

            “No it isn’t.” She said, shaking her head. “Are you that hard up, or have you kept it out of sentimental remembrances?”

 

            “If I kept every piece of furniture we did it on, I’d never replace anything.” I said.

 

            “This was where we did it first though.” She smiled up at me, and slid her legs together in a way that meant she had gone from her left crossed over her right to the other way around without ever letting them get far enough apart to show anything.

 

            It meant that my attention was drawn to the two muscular pegs rubbing against each other. She never did play fair. However, in thinking that she was succeeding in distracting me, I remembered what she was distracting me from. That’s the problem with a mind like mine, distract me and I wonder why and leap toward what you want me to look away from when if I’d been left to my own devices I might never bring it up again.

 

            “So who got her face kicked in?” I just couldn’t help it.

 

            “Back in August, when Thanksgiving went missing, I decided I needed a double.” The smile faded as she realized what had happened to that stand-in, or at least I’d like to think so. It might just be she realized I wasn’t going to be distracted. “She looked enough like me, sounded enough like me.”

 

            “So you’ve been in hiding since August?” I didn’t want to bombard her with questions, I wanted to look at her legs, but there were so many questions and only so many legs.

 

            “Yeah.” She nodded and then touched her throat. “Do you have anything to drink?”

 

            “Yeah.” I said and looked towards the kitchen. “What would you like?”

 

            “A glass of water to start.” She said.

 

            I went to the kitchen to get her a glass of water and suddenly found myself wondering where my Marley was. If it was in my coat pocket I could be in trouble, if it was in the holster with my shirt I was probably okay. I couldn’t immediately explain why this thought went through my head, but there it was. I walked from the kitchen with the glass in hand and gave it to her. She took a sip and smiled at me again, a true show person, always smiling.

 

            “I’ll just go get some actual clothes on.” I said pointing towards my bedroom.

 

            “Why don’t you take a shower?” She asked standing gracefully. “We can go get some breakfast.”

 

            “Um, yeah okay.” I said thinking about where the gun might or might not be.

 

            I wasn’t sure I wanted to be too far away from the revolver, even if I couldn’t explain why exactly I wanted it near. Paranoia might sometimes be an unreasonable thing, but a lot of the time it turns out to be right. I didn’t want to risk that this time I was just being silly. I walked to my room and closed the door behind me, I pawed quickly through the clothes I’d discarded last night and found the Marley in its holster. I took it into the shower with me and stuck it on the shower rack with the shampoo. It might be that I was being paranoid, but it also might be that something was terribly wrong.

 

            If nothing else, the dead were walking around and who knows if she wasn’t going to try and eat my brains or something. If she came busting through the door, I was going to be ready. As I washed my armpits I was ready. As I shampooed my hair, I was ready. As I sat and let the conditioner do its thing on my head, I was ready.

 

            Of course, nothing happened, and I just felt a little foolish trying to keep the gun dry as I slipped it into the pocket of my bathrobe as I walked out of the bathroom and back into my bedroom. It might be that the reason nothing had happened was because I’d had the gun with me though. Even if you can’t see a gun, you can see how a man’s shoulders sit when he’s armed and ready. You never know about these things.

 

            Either that or I’m just paranoid.

 

            I got dressed, slipping the gun and holster in place under my suit coat. My cell phone rang and I reached out      to pick it up. It was the office number, which meant Debbie was trying to find out what had happened to me. I looked at the clock and noticed that I was a good two hours late for work. I pressed a button and pushed the phone against my ear.

 

            “Hi there.” I said as cheerfully as I could. “I overslept.”

 

            “Well, you’ve had a busy night.” Debbie said as calmly as she could manage. “That’s what the paper is saying anyway. I thought we were a low profile agency.”

 

            “Usually.” I said, trying to keep the cringe I was feeling out of my voice. “The thing is, right now…”

 

            I stopped, trying to think of a way I could put this. How would I explain it, how would I tell her? Not only that, but how could I inform her while not informing any others who might be listening. I must have been thinking a lot longer than I thought because Debbie’s voice came back to me after a while. She sounded annoyed, and with good reason.

 

            “Yes?” She asked.

 

            “The Client is here.” I said, my voice dripping with meaning.

 

            “What? Church? The police want him, so do the feds. Smith’s had some pimply fifteen-year-old here waiting and staring at my chest all morning.”

 

            “No, not that client.” I said. “He was just paying some bills.”

 

            “Who then?”

 

            “The original client.” I said, forcing even more meaning into my voice. If I needed much more meaning she’d think I was trying to use the bathroom. “The one I told the Fat Man I was going to be working for?”

 

            “That client is dead Jack.” She said, trying not to give too much away.

 

            “You come to my apartment and tell her that.”

 

            “You’re serious?”

 

            “If I said I was deadly serious, that would be a very bad joke.” I said while thinking that trying to come up with a better line than that was too much effort. Honestly, I was disappointed in myself though.

 

            “What will you do then?”

 

            “I would like to put her somewhere safe, but the only place I can think of is the office.”

 

            “No.” She said. “That wouldn’t work because you’d need to bring doughnuts.”

 

            “Is he in the office right now?”

 

            “Looking at my chest, as I said.” She reminded me. “No, now he’s gotten embarrassed and is pretending to look at a magazine.”

 

            “Okay, then the office is out.” I said, and an idea dawned on me. “Tell him to go get Smith and bring him to the office.”

 

            “What?” She asked, almost shouting it. “Are you sure about that?”

 

            “Yes.” I said, making my voice as calm as I could. “Very sure. I’m not sure I trust anything right now and this is not a situation I want to go into on my own. I need to make sure that someone else knows about this. Besides, Smith just might be able to take things off my hand and keep her safe.”

 

            “Okay.” She said, her breath seeming to catch in her throat a little.

 

            “Don’t worry.” I said, thinking about the keyboard she had as her only weapon. “In the second drawer down on the right hand side of my desk is that Webley revolver. Why don’t you go grab it once the kid leaves and hang on to it at your desk?”

 

            “You think it might get that bad?” She asked.

 

            “No idea.” I said. “I’m just being extra careful at the moment.”

 

            “Yeah.” She said, sounding a little more worried than I wanted her to if she had an audience. “I’ll do that in a little while.”

 

            “Okay.” I said. “I’ll be in the office in a little bit.”

 

            “See that you are.” She admonished.

 

            “Will you have any doughnuts for me?”

 

            “No.” She said. “You’ll have to get your own.”

 

            “Damn.” I said.

 

            “You’ll just have to deal with the effects of your own wickedness.” She reminded me.

 

            “Yeah. I guess I will. Bye, bye.”

 

            I hung up and looked at the door to my room. I opened the door and found Christmas sitting on the chair, looking out the window and holding a smoldering cigarette, proving there were certain habits that she still hadn’t broken. She looked at me as I came out and stubbed the cigarette out on a plate she was using as an ashtray. She smiled at me apologetically and waved her hand at the smoke to try and dispel it.

 

            “I still smoke.” She said waving her hand furiously. “I needed a smoke.”

 

            “That was the office.” I said pointing at my room with my thumb as if that meant anything. “Something else has come up. Where are you staying?”

 

            “I was staying at a hotel until last night when I came over here.” She said toying with her purse. If she pulled a gun right now, the gun under my arm might as well have been in Yonkers for as fast as I could get to it.

 

            “Where have you been for the last few months then?” I asked as she opened the purse and pulled a pack of cigarettes from it.

 

            When she set the purse down on the table next to her, it was held open by the metal supports on the side of the purse. I could see into the purse and could plainly make out the small short-barreled Drexel revolver she was keeping in there with her cigarettes. 

 

            “Mostly at my house.” She said pulling a fresh cigarette out of the pack, still absentmindedly. “I still had to perform business, but I decided that I’d have this imposter come and go in public for me.”

 

            “But you decided to make a run for it when they attacked your doppelganger?” I asked, and suddenly realized that it made no sense. She could have stayed in her house with her guards and been safe.

 

            “I didn’t know who was behind it.” She said pulling out her lighter from the purse, dipped her head and lit the cigarette. “It might have been the Fat Man, or Church, or someone else. If they knew where I should be, they might have discovered it wasn’t me in the hospital.”

 

            “Right.” I nodded, and despite the fact that it didn’t, I still said, “Makes sense.”

 

            “So I needed to hide out.” She tossed the lighter back into the purse and then closed it to shield the Drexel from view.

 

            “So why come to me?”

 

            “You know how to keep me safe. You always knew.” She blew out a plume of smoke and smiled at me again. “I should have never let you get away from me.”

 

            “Who do you thinks behind it then?”

 

            “It’s got to be Church. It was either him or the Fat Man and now the Fat Man’s dead.” She said waving her hand, a trail of smoke tracing the air where her hand had been. “I mean he killed the Fat Man too, he’s out to get everyone.”

 

            “Can you stay here another hour or two?” I asked her. “I’ll close the blinds and everything.”

 

            “Why?” She asked, looking a little panicked.

 

            “If I need to protect you from somebody with a whole syndicate, I’ll need a bit of help.” I said rubbing my now smooth chin. “I mean they didn’t think anything of shooting Noonan in the back. I’ll need more than just me.”

 

            “Who will you get to help?” She asked.

 

            “I’m not sure.” I said, still rubbing my chin. “I’ll probably just hire a few guys I know and not tell them who we’re protecting. You remember Chuck Strubel right?”

 

            “Big guy?” She asked. “Not as big as the Fat Man, but big?”

 

            “Yeah.” I said. “I’ll get him. Either that or I can call some feds and get them to put a bunch of agents around you.”

 

            “I don’t trust the feds.” She said, and a look of disgust crossed her face. “For all I know, they’re with whoever’s doing this to me. Can’t you just get me to the same place you’ve got Thanksgiving?”

 

            “Well I can see about that.” I said thoughtfully.

 

            “I’d like to be safe.” She smiled.

 

            “What was this woman’s name?” I asked suddenly

 

            “What?” She looked and sounded thrown. “Why would you need that?”

 

            “Well eventually someone needs to tell her family what happened.”

 

            “Oh. Right.” She nodded as if this had never occurred to her before. “Sandy Cloose. She’s a local actress.”

 

            “Will you be okay here for an hour or so?” I asked looking at my watch.

 

            “Yeah.” She nodded. “I suppose.”

 

            “Okay.” I grabbed my coat and slipped it on. “Don’t answer the door to anyone, keep the blinds drawn, just sit here and watch some TV. Somewhere on cable, It’s a Wonderful Life is playing.”

 

            “Not anymore.” She corrected. “That hasn’t been true since the early nineties Jack.”

 

            “I’ll come back as soon as I can get a hold of some people.” I said to change the subject.

 

            “Thanks.” She said.

 

            She then stood up and kissed me softly on the lips. She was warm, fragrant and wonderful. I could feel my spirits rise as her lips pressed gently against mine. I wanted to stay with her and tell Debbie to close up the office forever. I wanted to keep her safe and hold onto her and never let go. However, there was something hard that felt like the flat shape of an automatic in the front pocket of her jacket as she pressed against me. There was also that paranoia that had kept me out of human civilization for so long, and it was shouting at me. It knew that something was terribly wrong, even if the rest of me couldn’t quite work out what it was. Two guns was a problem, even if she were on the run. My higher brain was in a dull haze, but something deep in the reptile brain wanted to snap and scream.

 

            I broke away from her though, after a much longer period of kissing than I’d meant to be involved in. I walked out into the bright sun’s light and locked the door behind me. I walked to the car and drove to the office, trying to decide what about this situation seemed the most wrong. The whole damn thing was wrong, so the main challenge was deciding which wrong was the most wrong out of the whole wrong thing.

 

This is part nineteen of twenty-five, come back tomorrow for part twenty 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 19, 2008 Posted by | Fiction | | Leave a comment