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In the Cabinet (Part One)

In The Cabinet

A Jack Collier Short
By Brett N. Lashuay

 

The previous story, Liberty’s Child, can be found here.

 

Day One: The Check

 

            Officially, I suppose this story really starts in the beginning of August. It was in the heat of August that the first woman of the night was found in the Rouge River. Of course no one ever calls them that anymore. Woman of the night is an outdated euphemism that really isn’t needed in these enlightened days. These days we have different terms, but as most of them prove that I was lying about these days being enlightened please leave me with my earlier used phrase.

 

            When I first read the story, that a dead woman had been found in the Rouge, I had to question whether she was dead when she went in or if the pollution had killed her.  Jokes like that aren’t really funny, but this one got a lot less funny when the details about her death came out. The woman had been badly mutilated, and the story was she had been carved up with all sorts of geometric patterns and things like that. She had also been infected with bubonic plague before she died. Someone had deliberately infected her with the Black Death and then cut her up into little pieces.

 

            I have to say that I didn’t really pay much attention at the time, because I was busy with my own things. The events of July had left me wondering what I really wanted to do with my life and if I wanted to do it in Troy or even Michigan. After the way things had been going I was losing my enthusiasm for living in the state where I was raised. There are only so many of your old friends you can see leave the state or die before it starts sounding like your only choice.

 

            The main problem with that of course is where would I go and what would I do?

 

            I would have to work, but setting up somewhere else would require a big risk since I was used to having people know me. Would I be able to set up somewhere else? Would I be able to get work if I couldn’t get my own office together again? Would I even want to go on being a detective? These were the problems I was presented with. I’ve never been very good at using my own initiative, I need a prod from someone, but there was no one to prod or encourage me.

 

            When the second body was found in late August, I was deeply into my funk. I didn’t think about the serial killer at the time because I was too into my own problems. I was walking through the office in a gray fog of my own making. I wasn’t living anymore. I was just wandering in a shadow existence, waiting for the light to return. I still didn’t bother much with the story when the third body was found either, but the fourth piqued my interest a little.

 

            The fourth body was a city councilman who had been killed in much the same way as the first three victims had been. The difference was that he had been found in his home, and that his family was in the house sleeping at the time. One of his children died of the plague two days later in a hospital. That had been something so unusual as to make even me poke my head up and take notice. When another city official was killed in their home, I was almost interested, for two whole days.

 

            I had other things to do though. This office of mine isn’t just someplace where I sit around waiting for someone connected to a show to call me asking for help. I’ve got as full a compliment of clients as any other private detective who doesn’t advertise and actively discourages people from going to them for advice. Still, sometimes someone manages to stumble on me by accident and I have to go to work. I was working on a burglary for most of August, and then in September I had three cases that hardly require mentioning here.

 

            The sixth victim turned up in early October, this time it was a kid who worked at a grocery store. He had been hung upside down from a sign in front of the store. His throat had been cut and he’d bled out, but the rest of the pattern was there. The police and Feds had sprung into action and had already arrested six people, some of whom were even in the same city as the kid when he got killed.

 

            On the same day that learned about this, I had a very interesting development in my life. I was sitting at my desk, trying not to scream about the pain in my leg and arm. I was unaware of the extra pains that cold would bring about in my leg, arm and side from being shot. During that first winter the wounds were still fresh so the effect of the weather was lost on me. When autumn came around with its cold winds and rain though, oh how I felt it then. I started taking a small bottle of ibuprofen with me when I left the office, just in case the pain came back.

 

            The problem is that the pains are rather regular, slow and throbbing things. Screaming about the pain, no matter how bad it might be, seems a little silly if it came on slowly through the day. A scream always struck me as something you do when the pain is sharp and sudden. When the pain comes on slowly, from across the room while explaining exactly what’s going to happen when it gets there, screaming seems a little silly. I could moan, or groan, or make whimpering noises, but I doubted that Debbie would give me any sympathy for being a whiner. So instead I kept most of it to myself and only mentioned it when it was really bad. This meant I talked about it only once every two hours or so, because otherwise it would have become a running commentary about how constant the pain had become.

 

            So I was sitting in my chair, hoping I wouldn’t have to do any work today when the phone rang in Debbie’s part of the office. A moment later the phone rang in my part of the office. I reached out with my left hand and scooped up the receiver.

 

            “Jack Collier,” I said into the phone.

 

            “Salutations!” the woman’s voice on the other end announced. She’s not insane, she just has a fancy way of saying hello. “How are you my dear boy?”

 

            “Hello Char.” I said back. “I’m doing alright I suppose. Where are you this time?”        

 

            “I’ve been working with a lad in Paris,” she said. “He has great potential.”

 

            “Well good,” I told her. “What can I do for you then?”

 

            “I wanted to ask about young Wilbur,” she said. “I heard he was killed and that you avenged his death.”

 

            “I wasn’t really avenging his death, so much as the young woman he was attached to,” I admitted.

 

            “But you did kill the woman who killed him?” she pressed.

 

            “Yes, I did,” I admitted again and then decided to needle her a little, “I thought you might have heard about it. It made all the local papers.”

 

            “News travels more slowly than you might suppose,” she said. “Even in this day and age.”

 

            “Don’t I know it?” I muttered.

 

            “He was a terrific boy,” she said. “At least he was terrific as far as I was concerned.”

 

            “Well, rest assured, I did kill her.”

 

            “Delightful,” Char said, and I could see her single nod of determination in my head. “How are you?”

 

            “I think they’re going to yank my license soon.” I told her with an odd sense of grim satisfaction. “I pissed them off in July, and I haven’t been doing anything to endear myself to them.”

 

            “Why would you do that my dear?” suddenly her tone changed entirely, reminding me that you never really stop being one of Char’s protégés. “You are very good at having people like you. It is the one skill that never seems to abandon you. I’ve only seen people extremely jealous of you dislike you.”

 

            “Maybe they’re all very jealous?”

 

            “Why have you been trying to annoy the sort of people who take licenses away my dear?”

 

            “I don’t think I want to do this sort of thing anymore,” I tried not to grumble or whimper. “It’s not been as much fun as I always thought it would be.”

 

            “And if you lost your license, and therefore your office, how would that help things?” her tone had become the same instructive tone she used that weekend she told me about how her younger cousin liked to be kissed on the cheek, near her ear.

 

            “I’m kind of getting to the place where I don’t really care anymore,” I managed by great strength to not actually whimper. “Every time I’ve tried to protect someone this last year, they’ve died. I’ve managed not to actually let the bad guys get away, but it’s never turned out right.”

 

            “What would you do for money?” she asked.

 

            “I could probably find something to do,” I sighed again, because I can. “I’m not sure I’m all that worried about it.”

 

            “I see,” she sounded serious now and I could just about see her reaching for those gold framed glasses that made it look like a phoenix had landed on her face. “Look, let me make a call or two.”

 

            “Char…” I started, but didn’t finish because I really didn’t want to tell her not to help me.

 

            “Tut-tut my dear,” she said. “Maybe I can arrange another line of employment for you or something.”

 

            It was two days, and another body later, when the man came. The Metro-Detroit area was in a tizzy by this point, with a full blown maniac serial killer on the loose. I still hadn’t entered that case, but I somehow knew that wouldn’t last. I would probably be asked to rescue a kidnapped daughter who would turn out to be the next victim that I would inadvertently shoot or something. I almost thought of just starting to look into it myself, just to put my thumb in Talbert’s eye and make him revoke me.

 

            I was sitting behind my desk, wondering if it would actually rain today or not. The wind was getting up and the clouds were threatening a good sized storm which might last out the rest of the day. The door opened and Debbie came through the doorway. She slinked across the floor like she expected it to leap up and devour her at any moment. I watched her with interest as she came towards me, because it’s hard to watch her with anything but. She was looking over her shoulder as the closed door behind her.

 

            “There is a Frenchman in the office,” she said hesitantly, as if she expected me to bite her. “He didn’t make an appointment but says he’d like a few minutes.”

 

            “Okay,” I nodded slowly. “Show him in.”

 

            He was impeccably dressed and looked like he had never once experienced wind or inadvertent weather. He had the kind of smugness that only a person who has never had any problems of his own can generate. There was not a single silver or black hair on his head that would have come close to being even slightly out of place. He held a small suitcase with him, which he set down next to the client chair before he sat down. When he sat he readjusted his suit so as to avoid any creasing. I couldn’t help but notice that his suit probably cost more than my car, which itself was a fully restored ’46 Hudson Super Six and worth a bit. Even if I threw in the cost of the Mini which had been completely trashed in July I was probably still not up to the cost of that suit.

 

            “Good afternoon Mister Collier,” he said, with a stronger accent than Liberty Freedom used when talking to me. “My name is Renault, as far as you need to be concerned.”

 

            “You took the name of a car company?” I smiled and laughed a little. “How very apt of you, visiting the Motor City and all.”

 

            “When I am in England, I am Mister Citroën,” he said with a smile and both of us had a little laugh over that.

 

            “Okay,” I composed myself. “What can I do for you Mister Renault?”

 

            “I am not a representative of the French Government,” he said grabbing at his case with a motion so fluid and perfect I decided never to piss him off. “I wish to make that clear.”

 

            “Okay,” I nodded.

 

            “The French Government does not do this sort of thing. They do not put prices on people’s head,” he opened the bag and reached for something in it.

 

            “Okay,” I said and my guts tensed up for the gun he would be pulling out in a moment.

 

            “I just want to make sure that is understood before I give you this.” He held an envelope out of me. I didn’t actually see him pull it out, his movements were that smooth. One moment his hand was in the case, the next it was before me with a while envelope in it.

 

            I took the envelope and opened it. There was a check for two million seven hundred thousand Euros in it. In the note section for the check was something of a chilling note, “Seven with One Blow.” A cold spike ran through my already hot and tensed bowels, but that just confused everything. I’m fairly lucky I didn’t shit my pants or something.

 

            “What the hell?’ I asked.

 

            “There is a note,” he said pointing at the envelope, and indeed there was a note.

 

            “The note is written in French though,” I said looking at it. “Maybe you could explain quickly.”

 

            “Andrew Robert Kilian, also known at Chester A. Cat was something of a problem. As was Sarah Waters, who was known as Amy Cooke and Amy Heart. Heart was wanted dead by someone who isn’t the French Government and they were ready to pay one million Euros for her death. You may notice there are values next to each name. When you add up all the values, you get the amount on that check.”

 

            “So for defending myself, I get two point seven million bucks?”

 

            “I think you’ll find under current exchange rates it’s three and a half million dollars.”

 

            “Did she put you up to this?” I asked pointing at the check. “I mean this note here?”

 

            “Mrs. Freedom did mention that the phrase had some meaning,” he said running his index finger along his chin.

 

            “Liberty?” I asked.

 

            “Yes,” he nodded and stood.

 

            “But Liberty didn’t tell you about this, or you would have been here months ago,” I said tapping the envelope on the desk. “Charlotte Arachnial put you up to this. Liberty just confirmed it.”

 

            “Yes. It was Mrs. Arachnial that alerted us to the fact that a significant number of our troubles were taken away in a single day,” he said adjusting his suit jacket, a suit like that needs a lot of maintenance. “The French Government would thank you if they had anything to do with this whatever. The fact that LION and UNICORN both seem to have been dealt quite a serious blow was helpful as well.”

 

            “Well, it was Church who drummed them both out of town. You’ll have to thank him for that,” I smiled at him and put my hand over the check so he couldn’t get at it too easily. “He didn’t like them fighting over his crown.”

 

            “I think not,” he smiled. “A criminal of his kind would be too much, even for me to deal with.”

 

            “I understand,” I said.

 

            “I suspect you do. Good day Mister Collier,” he said and walked out of my office and out of my story.

 

            I looked at the check and the letter, which said that I’d earned the money by trying to save a young woman I totally failed to save anyway. The money could be used to get me away from this situation though. Char had clearly made some important phone calls, but when you are Char, you can make phone calls like that. With good investment, a simple ten percent annual income would be more than enough to live off of. I could walk away completely and just let my millions grow up around me. There would be enough to pension Debbie off too if I wanted to. I could just move away somewhere and never let anyone come near me again.

 

            And then what? Having that kind of money would be pretty sour, since I would remember that I had it because of a total and complete failure on my part. I tapped the check on my desk, making sure the desk remained supplicant and thought about what to do with it. I could just burn it, or possibly give it to some children’s charity or something. Char wouldn’t like that though and I had to think of her. Not that I didn’t come by the money honestly, Char would never make people give me anything I didn’t actually earn. If someone representing someone who was Not the French Government wanted to give me money for killing Amy and her crew then Not the French Government must have really had prices on their heads and just hadn’t noticed that they were out of circulation until Char told them. Either that or they thought the situation was such that they didn’t actually need to pay until Char informed them that it was one of her former pets that had done it.

 

            I sat scowling at the check for what seemed like a days, but was probably only a couple of hours, when I heard the phone ring in the outer office. There was silence for a while, then eventually the door that separated my office from Debbie opened and Debbie stepped through. She looked good, but she always looked good.

 

            I must say that although she and I had never been romantically connected, I loved her. She looked like she had just walked out of a movie from the late forties, and if I had lost every friend I ever had I would still have her. I barely noticed her this time though, because I was scowling at my fortune.

 

            “Rebecca Hain would like to see you tomorrow,” she said, and stopped when she looked at my face. “You okay?”

 

            “Huh?” I asked looking up.

 

            “You just look like you were told we’ve been fired and we’ve got twenty minutes to get to Mexico.”

 

            “That,” I told her tossing the check across the desk, “\would be good news by comparison.”

 

            She picked up the check and then looked over it at me with eyes the size of saucers. I thought she was going to come around the desk and smack me, but instead she looked back down at the check. Her pink tongue darted out from between her red lips and moistened the bottom one, which is a distracting thing to have happen in front of you.

           

            “You and I must have a long discussion about our varying definitions of good and bad news sometime,” she announced.

           

            “You mark my words,” I informed her, “that check will prove to be nothing but a distraction.”

 

This is part one of thirteen, come back next week for part two 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 Cabinet tag will take you to the story while the Jack Tag will take you to Part One of every story we post here.

September 2, 2009 - Posted by | Fiction, Jack | ,

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