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Liberty’s Child (Day Two)

Liberty’s Child

A Jack Collier Mystery

By Brett N. Lashuay

Look here for last week’s entry!

 

 

Day Two: Coming Home

 

            International flights are like spending time in Purgatory, or possibly Limbo. You don’t actually exist in the technical sense anymore. You’re just another traveler on Charon’s ferry, waiting to reach one side or the other. You can’t exist on an international flight because there is nothing to exist with. To live, you need new things to replenish you, and there is nothing new on a modern airliner. The food was old when they loaded it, the air is recycled and the filters might be a month old, the movies have been in the video stores for at least a month before they get to the jet. You don’t even technically exist under the laws of any one country. Flights over international waters have all sorts of laws that exist only on airplanes. The only thing you can do on a flight like that is try to wait out your frozen state of existence until you land and your heart can start beating again.

 

            I have no idea how long it took to get through customs, or how long it took to get home. It was dark when the plane landed, and it was dark when I got to the car, and it was dark when I got home. Seeing as it was late June, that only gave me about an eight to ten hour window maximum. Since there were few clouds, it really only gave me about six hours to work with. I still didn’t start to exist though, I was too exhausted. I took off my coat and shirt and fell into my bed, sleeping almost on the moment.

 

            My alarm woke me at a supposedly normal hour but which I considered unnecessary. However, I’d set it for that hour for a reason so as much as I didn’t want to get up, I did. I wanted to show up at my normal time and see if anyone would even notice that I hadn’t been there in a while.

 

            It was good to get back to my office, having showered and shaved. I didn’t take my keys out to unlock the door. I think somehow I knew that she’d be in the office. I opened the door and saw Debbie sitting at her desk, typing away like mad. If this were a movie, I think you’d put a soft focus filter on her to give that fuzz effect like the girls always had in Star Trek.

 

            “Hi Jack,” she said smiling up at me.

 

            “There is no way you could have known I was going to be here today,” I said leaning against the door jam. “Have you been coming here everyday?”

 

            “Well, I’ve got to earn those checks you let me write,” she said, going back to her typing.

 

            “Yeah,” I said nodding. “Okay. I’m going to go sit in my office and make obscene phone calls.”

 

            “You’ll have to open all your mail first,” she said, and I thought she glanced at me in a way that I wouldn’t like if I’d actually seen it instead of just thinking I’d seen it.

 

            “I have a lot of mail?” I asked.

 

            “Fair amount,” she said, “I’ve been getting the bills, but you’ve got a few things.”

 

            I opened my office door and looked at the small mountain of mail that had piled up on my desk over the couple of months. I supposed most of it would be catalogues and circulars, filled with coupons and sale items that were no longer valid. I sat down and started flipping through the many parcels, and I began to notice that some of them came from my place and some of them came from Debbie’s apartment. She had deliberately brought more crap for me to sort through. I looked over my shoulder at her door, narrowing my eyes and sliding my tongue along my lower teeth.

 

            After the sorting, it came down to three bits of mail that actually needed to be look at. The first was a card from my grandmother, the second was a letter from an unrelated matter, and the third was a box. The box was just an ordinary shipping box from Fed Ex with a label from some shipping company. I opened the tape with my pocket knife and opened it up. Inside, along with a lot of packing peanuts, was another smaller box.

 

            The smaller box was still made of cardboard but of a much higher quality. It was layers of cardstock that had been melded together to form a cheap but sturdy box. The box had been covered in a reddish paper that had blue threads running through it, giving it an odd look. I sort of knew who it was from before I slipped the cord off the button that was keeping the box closed. Only the Harkers would send such a thing and when I opened the box I was proved right.

 

            Inside the box was an ornate and quite expensive kukri in a sheath. I pulled the knife out of the box and drew it from its sheath. It was a sharp piece of thick, heavy metal, formed into a downward arch designed to hack through whatever it needed to. The handle was probably buffalo horn, it was horn of some kind at least. There was a small MH and JH carved on each side of the handle, just like always.

 

            I put the blade back in its sheath and walked over to the long cabinet on the right side of my office. There, on top of the cabinet, sat the other four knives the Harkers had sent me the preceding years. I looked at the order and then gently pushed the Japanese Tanto aside so as to put the Indian blade between the Japanese knife and the Middle Eastern jambiya, running my hand down towards the left side of the table to touch the French poniard and the American bowie knife. The kukri was the first knife I’d placed out of order, deciding on the idea of geographic location rather than chronology.

 

            They’d gotten me the bowie knife on their first wedding anniversary, to replace the one I’d lost in the Balkans when I was helping them with their problem. They’d sent me a replacement for that knife, despite my protests. They’d sent me a new knife every year since.

 

            I once asked Mrs. Harker why they bothered with a new knife each year since my fee had long since been paid. She said that the cost to me had been more than just the price of a knife or my time, which was true enough I suppose. We all paid a heavy price for that Balkan adventure and not all of us came back from it. The problem was that I’d long considered my fee paid before we ever got to the point of finishing that job. I think we all did, since we all loved Mrs. Harker so much. I’m not sure if we all loved her in the same way, but it was certainly possible. It was clear that we all felt very deeply for her, and she for us, but I’d like to think she didn’t cuckold her husband with the old doctor.

 

            I’ve always sort of thought that the idea was that they wanted to try and keep me on their good side, since we never did really make it clear that it was completely done. It was possible that one day someone would come around trying to trouble them again, and they would want to know they had a friend they could count on if it did. Still, the point for me was that I had yet another knife to sit in my office, should I ever need it.

 

            I sat down in my chair, leaned back and was about to put my feet up when the office phone rang. I can always hear the phone ringing at Debbie’s desk, even though my phone doesn’t ring until she puts the call through. A moment later, my phone rang and I reached out and took it.

 

            “Jack Collier,” I said into the receiver.

 

            “Jack?” The voice had a hint of a French accent to it, and even though I hadn’t heard from her in a while, I remembered it perfectly. “It’s Liberty.”

 

            “How are you Liberty?” I enquired.

 

            “I heard you were back in the country,” she said, sounding as if she were trying to work herself up to something. “Was it a nice trip?”

 

            “It was alright.”

 

            “Good,” Liberty said and then sighed.

 

            “What do you need me to do?” I asked, trying not to sound annoyed.

 

            “Columbia has been kidnapped,” she said suddenly. “I know you probably didn’t hear about it because you’ve been on your flights.”

 

            “When?” I asked quickly.

 

            “Friday night,” She said, “Could you come to the house and talk to Tom about it?”

 

            “Do you want to hire me to find her?” I asked, trying to decide why this felt so wrong so fast. Liberty was stilted and strange sounding.

 

            “We’re old… friends,” she said, and I wondered if this was going to come to them having money troubles and asking me to help for free. “I mean, I wouldn’t want to impose on our… friendship.”

 

            “You won’t be imposing,” I said, “I’ve told you that before. Is there something else?”

 

            There was no other statement for a long time and I wondered if she was still there. I listened for ten seconds and then decided I’d better test it.

 

            “Liberty?”

 

            “Thank you, Mister Collier. I’ll be expecting you as soon as you can get here.” she said, hanging up without ceremony.

 

            I decided to get up and go talk to Debbie about it, since I’d have to go back to my place anyway. It wouldn’t be any easier to explain how long I needed, but at least I could put a glare on top of my tone of voice when I told her to shut up.

 

            I walked into the outer office where Debbie was attacking her keyboard with the sort of vigor most people save for masturbation. I don’t know what she’s typing, and I don’t want to, just so long as it keeps her busy. I’ll admit that the idea of knowing what Debbie’s been typing scares me a little, because then the last bit of mystery between us would be gone, and then where would we be?

 

            “I need you to call Tom Freedom,” I said leaning against the desk.

 

            “Oh?” she asked looking up at me, her fingers pausing but still poised to attack the keyboard.

 

            “Yeah,” I nodded “Liberty said they wanted to hire me, but she wants me to see him.”

 

            “Really?” she asked, her face brightening with the prospect of a paying client.

 

            “Yeah,” I said smiling back at her. “At least I think that’s what she said. Really she said I needed to go over there, but it was clearly a job.”

 

            “Good,” she smiled. “So I’ll tell him you’ll be there in about an hour?”

 

            “Better make it two,” I said, and I must have blushed slightly because of the look she gave me.

 

            “Why two?”

 

            “I need to change,” I said.

 

            “But you’re fine…” she stopped and horrible, delighted recognition crossed her face. “You’re going to put on a suit for her aren’t you?”

 

            “Shut up,” I said, glaring into her face.

 

            “Wear your black suit for her then,” she was really enjoying this, I could tell. “You look best in your black suit. It brings out the little boy wearing his big brother’s clothes look in you.”

 

            “I do not look like I’m wearing my brother’s clothes.”

 

            “No,” she said. “But you blush when you think of that image and that’s adorable.”

 

            “I’m going now,” I said putting my hands on her desk and leaning over, nearly to where I could almost catch a glimpse of her monitor. “Do make the call and be professional about it.”

 

            I leaned back again and stood up straight, and Debbie actually ripped off a salute that any WAC would have been proud of. The way she had her hair done today, she actually looked sort of like a WAC too. Her outfit didn’t exactly say Army, but then it rarely did. Had it not been for the advanced date, she might have come back to work from the base only a week ago though, as her shirt was very much of those times.

 

            “I’ll make the call, sir,” she said as she lowered her hand.

 

            “Thanks,” I said and left the office, letting the door swing behind me.

 

This is part two of twenty-three, come back next week for part three and every Thursday until we’re done to see what happens next. If you get lost, one of the tags here should help you. The Wonderland tag will take you to the story while the Jack Tag will take you to Part One of every story we post here.

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April 1, 2009 - Posted by | Fiction, Jack |

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