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In the Cabinet (Part Three)

In The Cabinet

A Jack Collier Short

By Brett N. Lashuay

 

Last week’s entry can be found here.

 

Day Three: The Rest of the Cast

 

            When I pulled up to the mall parking lot I tried to figure out what Sam was doing here. But then what, if pressed, was I doing here? Alright, granted, I was investigating a crime. Why was he here though? And why would someone decide to blow his car up here? I decided that these were irrelevant questions. Then I decided that they weren’t so much irrelevant as unanswerable at the moment.

 

            It is a truism that no one wants to see a private detective at the scene of a murder. Specifically, no one in the Troy Police Department wants to see me show up to one. Their natural predilection to not want me to show up is intensified when it’s someone famous or important. Sam Hain wasn’t just famous either. He was pretty much the last of the big shows that we had left. His dying, just when they were supposed to be watching him because they thought he was a multiple murderer was bad enough. Seeing me show up must have made it a thousand times worse.

 

            “Fuck me,” Crammer said when a flatfoot pointed me out to him.

 

            I was standing at the edge of the police cordon, far away from the crowd where it would be easy to see me. I actually couldn’t see much of what was going on from where I stood, but there wasn’t much left to see. Half a dozen officers were collecting irrelevant bits of evidence, which might one day tell them exactly where the explosives came from. I could tell right away though, from the look on Crammer’s face as he came towards me that it wouldn’t matter a bit. I remember my grandfather once said that a case was doing pretty badly if they had to rely on the sort of evidence scientists gathered at crime scenes.

 

            “Hi Crammer,” I said smiling at him. “Something happen this afternoon?”

 

            “What the hell are you doing here?” Crammer asked as he approached.

 

            “I’m making preliminary investigations,” I told him, “You’ve no doubt seen this sort of thing on TV.”

 

            “Investigating what?” he asked.

 

            “Death of a prominent citizen, right before his big show day too. Something of a habit with you guys isn’t?” I could tell he wanted to start telling me off, but he could see that it wouldn’t do any good.

 

            “Who asked you to investigate?” he asked, knowing full well that any number of prominent and troublesome citizens might have asked me to look into it.

 

            “Family of the deceased,” I told him.

 

            “That’s fast,” he said raising his eyebrows. “Usually we get to look into it for a couple of days before the family decides we’re all idiots.”

 

            “She thinks you might be biased since you were questioning him so much.”

 

            “We?” he asked, slapping his hand to his chest. “What the hell makes us local guys the people who were questioning him?”

            “Weren’t you?”

 

            “Why should we?” he snorted. “The federalies are here to save us all. They’ve only been deciding to tell us something when it’s an order. They’ve had us pick him up five times now.”

 

            “Really?” I asked, deciding to see if I could milk his resentment. “Why so much, and why can’t they get him themselves?”

 

            “Publicity probably,” he grumbled. “They say it’s our jurisdiction, but really they don’t want to be seen picking him up over and over again.”

 

            “Yeah but… why so much?”

 

            “You seen his show?” Crammer asked, employing the sort of grammar that exists in the Midwest.

 

            “No,” I shook my head.

 

            “Every time he does a show, that Caesar guy comes out and says someone is going to die or something bad is going to happen or something like that. There’s been a killing after each show.”

 

            “So the answer of course is that he’s doing it? Is that what the Feds think?”

 

            “Yeah,” Crammer nodded, “It’s this sort of brilliance on the federal level that’s gotten this country where we are today.”

 

            “You really suspect him?”

 

            “I don’t know,” Crammer said looking straight at me. “Some of the evidence points to him, some away from him, I just don’t know yet. I do know that they aren’t telling us anything, and I have no idea what they’re getting up to around here.”

 

            “I can’t help but notice there aren’t any of them around right now.”

 

            “No,” Crammer said. “This is just where their prime suspect bought it, why would they want to come here?”

 

            “Why was he here?” I asked. “And why did someone blow him up here?”

            “Buying shirts apparently,” Crammer said. “He bought three shirts at Saks and came out to his car and it exploded.”

 

            “Can you slip me a report about the bomb when you get it?” I asked smiling. “I’d like to know how long it took them to get it into his car.”

 

            “Why should I do that?” he asked.

 

            “Because if you and I break this case open, we can make them look like fools. C’mon Crammer, we’ll show them. We’ll show them all!”

 

            “If you find something out, you might tell us,” he said dismissing my suggestion. “Thanks for letting me know about the daughter though. I’ll make sure to set everyone straight on who kept dragging him into the district attorney’s office.”

 

            He turned and left, and I suddenly realized that I’d come away from that with a serious debt of information. My idea about drawing him out with a little information was a clear loser. I could have stuck around and tried to find a few things out, but I sort of agreed with my grandfather on this one. Not only that, but the little voice far back in my head, that I had promoted to a feeling in my gut, said that there were better things I could be doing with my time. I walked back to my car, got in and drove to the theater where, on a normal day, they’d be getting ready for one of Sam Hain’s warm-up shows. I’d agreed to meet Becky and her father’s crew there, which would be less than fun at best and excruciating at worst. If Becky got stoned in the time between us talking, and I bet she did, she would turn nasty. She always got mean and catty whenever she was in a liberated state.

 

            Meadow Brook Theatre is an odd beast. At once a theater in its own right, it’s also connected to Oakland Community College in several ways. Of course it being on the campus is one way, but the building itself is connected to classrooms within the college. You could leave class and attend a show without having to go outside into the cold. It’s not a particularly large auditorium, although I only realized that years later after I had actually been in some large theaters.

 

            I wasn’t bothering with the front entrance though, I was going down to the back door where the cast and crew came in. There were only a few cars parked there, one of which was a powder blue Ford Taurus. My eye was caught by a white rectangle on the back bumper of the car. The bumper sticker on the old Ford read “Follow me to Big Bob’s BBQ’d Ribs N More,” which made me wonder about the sort of people who might follow this advice. They would have been very confused if they’d followed this powder blue Ford Taurus and found that instead of arriving at Big Bob’s rib joint they came to a theater instead.

 

            I got out of the Hudson and walked in the swinging door of the theater. To my left was the small rehearsal room, where I could see they were already starting work on The Buddha Day Carol which would be running instead of the other show that used to run in December. Odd how quickly people can adapt to things if they have to. I went down a short hall and came into a room with three couches, two chairs that looked like they were still here from when the theater first opened and three people. They were talking to each other in business-like tones, but any idiot could tell they weren’t really into the conversation.

 

            Becky was sitting on one of the couches talking to a small white-faced young man with dark circles painted around his eyes and a mountain troll. I only refer to him as that because he looked to be nearly seven feet tall and built like a brick wall. The Mountain Troll had a shaved head, bushy eyebrows and small ears that stuck out at the top. This made it look like he had pointed ears when you first looked at him. He looked something like Orlok, after a lot of visits to the weight room at the gym.

 

            The smaller kid, with the make-up, was dressed in a heavy long sleeve black turtleneck sweater with a gray X shape starting at his shoulders and going down to his belt. It almost looked like a chalk line and after looking at him a moment I decided that this is what it must have been. He looked nervous and worried, glancing at me and then at Becky again constantly.

 

            Becky hadn’t changed, except in every way beyond her clothes. The corset had been loosened slightly, her eyes were glassy and the lids were drooping. She sat in a way that invited you to notice the soft shoulders, the firm calf muscles and the enticing cleavage that was even more so thanks to the loosened corset. She was even sitting with her knees in a certain position so that she was clearly flashing the young man with the white face. I could see where the stockings ended on her thigh, which would have meant she had foregone undergarments and was showing him what so many men before him had seen. When she saw me, her legs swung around and her feet hit the floor.

 

            “Hi Jack,” Becky said standing up and walking towards me, a little unsteadily I noticed. “Guys, this is Jack. The hulk there is Mister Knock, the little guy is Hewie Homunculus.”

 

            “Hi,” Hewie replied, but Mister Knock was clearly asleep standing up.

 

            “So,” Knock said turning his head and looking directly as Becky as if the rest of the universe didn’t actually matter. “Are we on for tonight?”

 

            “It must go on,” she nodded drunkenly. “I know the act better than he did, I can take over.”

 

            “I’m sorry,” I said. “What’s going on?”

 

            “The show,” she said. “We’re going ahead with the rest of the performances.”

 

            “Oh,” I said and then shrugged. “Okay. I’ll need to talk to these guys about what happened today though.”

 

            “I need some dinner” Hewie said crossing his arms across his stomach and fidgeting with his fingers. “I don’t know if I can eat after all this, but I’ll try.”

 

            “Well maybe Jack can take you for some food,” Becky said looking at me with a suggestion. “Would you mind feeding emo boy? You can charge it to me.”

 

            “Yeah,” I said “But I’ll have to warn you I don’t have any White Stripes music or anything like that to listen to.”

 

            “Okay,” he nodded.

 

            “Yeah. I should warn you that Jack thinks jazz is something you listen to rather than something you sample.” She grabbed my arm and pressed her breasts into me.

 

            “I’ll go wash up then,” Hewie said and slunk away to the right where a large metal door hid the hallway to the backstage and the men’s dressing room.

 

            “You seem to be in a better mood,” I said to Becky.

 

            “Oh, I’m fucked up right now,” she announced and before the look of disapproval could cross my face she started to defend her actions. “I had to Jack. I couldn’t handle it unless I took a couple. I’ll crash later tonight, but right now I’ve gotta be flying just so I can get through the performance. You should come, you should see what they think is such a big deal.”

 

            “Okay,” I said, because what else was I going to say? I looked at Knock and decided to start investigating. “How long have you been with Hain?”

 

            “Since the beginning,” Knock said, and though he looked like a mountain troll, he spoke like an actor. “I’m his builder and technician. We design the tricks together, but I build the stuff and make sure it works.”

 

            “So you’re not on stage?”

 

            “Not the part you see,” Knock said shaking his head slightly. “I’m always there though, except during Hewie and Sam’s somnambulist bit. They don’t need me for that. That’s when I’m prepping for the water box.”

 

            “You know what he went to the mall for?”

 

            “He said he needed to buy some shirts.”

 

            “He do that on his own a lot?”

 

            “No, he has someone from the theater who does it for him,” Knock said, and then added, “I think he really just wanted to get out a bit. With all the hassles he’s been getting, he just needed to clear his head.”

 

            “Where were you when it happened?” I asked

 

            “I was out getting some lunch,” he said crossing his arms. “I’d missed my lunch because of a problem with a prop.”

 

            I could hear him practically daring me to ask which prop and please explain how it was broken. I didn’t though, because he would have an answer ready. Not only that, but he would start to describe exactly what was wrong with the prop even though he wouldn’t need to because I didn’t care.

 

            “The cops been here already?” I kept my voice flat when I asked.

 

            “That’s right,” he nodded his massive bald head. “We’ve been through all of this.”

 

            “Did Hewie go out for lunch?” I asked.

 

            “He had his delivered,” Knock said and then really overplayed his lie. “He usually just stays at the theater all day when we have a matinee. He gets ethnic food most days. I think he got some Arab food today.”

 

            “Well I’ll make sure we go somewhere else then,” I slipped my hands into my pockets. I wanted to shoot him, not so much because I thought he was evil or something, but because his babbling was going to get my client in trouble. If he kept offering details like this he’d slip and tell me who killed Sam.

 

            The door opened and I turned my head to look at Hewie as he came out. His make-up was gone, and his outfit had become more colorful. He now wore a pair of blue jeans and a faded red shirt with a purple jacket. He smiled a little more than he had before, although the lack of black lipstick and eye makeup probably helped.

 

            “Ready?” he asked.

 

            “Yeah.” Becky said, smiling a monumentally stoned smile at him. “You guys can go get some dinner.”

 

            “Come on,” I waved to Hewie and started down the hall.

 

            We walked out to the car, with Hewie having to take a moment to be dazzled by the Hudson. He didn’t give me a lot of wow-wee talk. He just asked what kind of car it was and looked wide-eyed at the vehicle as we got in. When I started the car the music started and he looked at the stereo.

 

            “I don’t have this version of ‘Sentimental Mood’” he said.

 

            “You listen to John Coltrane?” I asked.

 

            “I like Coltrane,” he nodded as we pulled out from the campus and onto the road. “I have to play the emo twerp around them. It’s hard, you know, ’cause they just…”

 

            “Yeah.” I said nodding. “We’ve been through that before.”

 

            He looked nervous and worried, which meant he was having a normal human reaction to what had happened just a couple of hours ago now. From his halting cadence to his soft tone though, I got the impression that this was an introverted kid anyway. I would have to be gentle with him if I expected to get any useful information from him.

 

            “You have any idea on what you’d like to eat?”

 

            “Whatever you like,” he said and I decided that I was right about it.

 

            “You listen to a lot of jazz?” I asked.

 

            “I’ve only got a couple of albums. I don’t usually get to do too much on my own. We’ve got to travel around so much that people in the Hain group are the only people I know a lot of the time.”

 

            The song ended and the opening trills of “Black Beauty” started. I smiled and tapped the stereo with my fingernail. This was both to make sure the stereo understood which of us would win in a fight, and to draw Hewie’s attention to the song title on the digital plate that destroyed the illusion that this was just a restored classic.

 

            “You should like this,” I told him. “It’s Duke Ellington.”

 

            “Sounds nice,” he said and smiled weakly at me.

           

 

This is part three of thirteen, come back next week for part four 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.

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September 16, 2009 Posted by | Fiction, Jack | | Leave a comment

In the Cabinet (Part Two)

In The Cabinet

A Jack Collier Short

By Brett N. Lashuay

 

Last week’s entry can be found here.

 
 

Day Two: Sam Hain, Magician

 

            The check annoyed me as it sat between us. It made things too easy, too simple. It was another appearance from the Deus ex Machina Brigade and I resented it. I had been looking forward to the destruction of my career and possibly even getting some jail time if I did things properly. With the money though, I could easily fight most of the attacks that could come my way.  It also meant that if I just wanted to walk away, I could without any problems.

 

            “So you see,” I explained to Debbie, “it’s all taken out of my hands now. I can’t decide for myself what happens next. I was looking forward to hitting rock bottom and starting over somewhere else. Now I won’t be able to.”

 

            “I’m sorry.” she said, still looking befuddled. “I’m just having trouble seeing how not being thrown out on the street is a bad thing.”

 

            “It’s okay,” I waved my left hand in a gesture of dismissal, “not for you to understand.”

 

            “I want to though.”

 

            “It’s just not that important,” I told her and signed the back of the check. “Go deposit it.”

 

            She picked up the check, looked at it, and then at me. I could tell that it wasn’t over yet and I never could order her out of my office. She put her hands on her generous hips and stared down at me.

 

            “Why?” she asked.

 

            “You promise not to laugh?” I requested.

 

            “Yeah.” she nodded.

 

            “This place is dying. I can feel it. Michigan is either dying or dead and we’ve got to either escape or die with it. If we’re strong, we can do it ourselves. If we’re weak, we require help. I would like to try and be strong, but I’ve got to hit bottom and claw my way out to prove it.”

 

            “You’re the strongest person I’ve ever known,” she looked like she had just been told that Zeus had to sleep with the nightlight on to keep the monsters away.

 

            “Maybe I’m not the strongest person I know,” I countered. “Maybe I’ve never felt good or strong enough. Maybe I want to prove it to myself.”

 

            “I think you’re paranoid and have no self esteem.”

 

            “That may be it too,” I agreed.

 

            “You want me to deposit it now?” she asked.

 

            “Yeah, they’ll need a while to process it. We might as well get it started now.”

 

            I turned around and looked at the clouds, dark and heavy as they were. They threatened something, but it was something that was far off. I heard the outer office door close and Debbie’s steps go down the hall. The rain wouldn’t come this afternoon; it might not even rain today. However, when the rain did come it was going to be a storm that might wash away the world. One day I sort of hoped a real rain would come and wash this entire area away into the lakes. Wash the whole thing away. Not just the scum of the cities, but the cities themselves. I leaned back in my chair, and decided to watch the October sky. I would dare it to rain, I would wait here until it rained or the clouds departed.

 

            That had at least been my plan, Unfortunately, it was interrupted by a knock at my office door. The knock didn’t come at the front office door, but at the inner door which separated my office from the waiting room where Debbie did her madness-induced typing. I sat up in my chair and looked over my shoulder at the door. The knock came again and I got up from my chair and walked to the door. I had a sort of feeling that I would hesitate to call a premonition at any other time of the year. This was the season for that sort of thing though. We were reaching the part of the year when the boundaries between the worlds were supposed to be at their thinnest if my ancestors were to be believed.

 

            With all that understood I decided that my premonition was not only allowed, but to be believed. If I opened the door, instead of going to hide under my desk and pretend to be out, it would spell the end of my professional attachment with Troy. I could keep going on as I had been if I just pretended like I wasn’t here, but what fun would that have been? After all, if I never took jobs how would I destroy my car?

 

            I opened the door and looked at the young woman who was standing in the doorway, looking forlorn and lost. She was dressed like some sort of Goth/Punk Princess in a dark purple bodice, a skirt that was made up of ten layers of dark colored lace and black and purple stripped stockings. The black army boots were of course standard and I only mention them for the sake of completion. Her blue eyes, nearly obscured by the raven black hair, where fixed on mine from a frame of black, made up of running mascara and eye shadow.

 

            “Hi Becky.” I said as I opened the door for Rebecca Hain. “I thought you wanted to see me tomorrow.”

 

            “Daddy’s dead,” her voice barely managed.

 

            “Pardon?” For a moment I wasn’t sure I’d heard her correctly.

 

            I spent the nineties listening to jazz music at the volumes that most people were listening to Pearl Jam and Nirvana and have suffered the same hearing loss as the rest of my fellows. This is coupled with a slight problem I’ve always had where I often just can’t understand what people say at a certain register. As a result of these two problems, I sometimes miss what someone says and need them to repeat things. Unfortunately, this will often get me tagged as either not listening or stuck in shock.

 

            “He’s dead.” she repeated. “Daddy’s dead.”

 

            “You’d better come in.” I said touching her bare shoulder, which was cold to my fingers. She must have not been wearing her coat again. She never took care of herself.

 

            She sat down in one of my client chairs and started to sob. I grabbed the box of tissues on my desk and crouched down next to her to offer them. She took hold my sleeve with her hand and pressed her head into my arm as she cried. The dark purple polish of her nails glistened even in the gloom of my office. I put an arm around her, pulling her close to me as she cried, and expected that I would be losing this shirt to the vagaries of her tears and mascara. It was alright, I have lots of shirts.

 

            After a few minutes of that, she calmed down and I put the box of tissues down on her lap. I got up and went around the desk to my chair and started to sit down. She blew her nose and wiped at her face. After looking at the tissue her blue eyes expanded to twice their normal size. She then looked at the large smudge of black on my shirt.

 

            “I got your shirt dirty,” she announced.

 

            “It’s okay,” I nodded. “It’ll wash off I’m sure. How do you feel?”

 

            “Is there a bathroom, where I can wash up or something?”

 

            I pointed her to the bathroom and she got up to go. I had expected her to redo her make up, like she always would when we were in high school and something like this would happen. I mean that she would come sobbing to me, not that her father had died, but for some other thing that had gone horribly wrong. She would always redo some of the make-up after messing it up with her tears. Instead though she came out a few moments later with her face clean of most of the eye make-up and her hair pulled out of its elaborate design and replaced with a simple pony tail.

 

            It was odd that when she’d done that, she looked like the shy freshman I met my junior year of high school. The hair had been a sort of auburn then, but she had always kept it in a simple pony tail and wore almost no make-up. Of course by the time she was a senior in high school, she had often looked like the wreck that had greeted me at the door a few moments ago, but mostly she was more composed than that.

 

            “Feel better now?” I asked and she just nodded. “You wanna tell me what’s going on?”

 

            I waited, looking at her as she wrung her hands around each other. I could have waited a long time for her to start, as long as she needed to finally tell me what she was about to drag me into. It could take a few seconds, or it could take a few minutes, the longer the wait the deeper the trouble. She had always been like this and I suspected she always would. I started to get a little worried when the second minute of her looking down at her hands went by. Around the forth minute she looked at me and began to speak, her voice calm and controlled.

 

            “I want to engage you professionally. I want you to find out who murdered my father,” she said in her serious voice. “His car was blown up, with him inside it.”

 

            “When?” I asked.

 

            “I only found out before coming here.” she looked back down at her hands and I wondered if I had another few minutes of wringing in front of me.

 

            “Yeah, but when did it happen?” I asked, unwilling to endure another five minutes of her almost crying at me. I was okay when she was crying and I was okay when she was talking, but the silence of her almost crying was on the verge of unbearable.

 

            “About an hour ago.” her voice wanted to crack as she spoke. “They haven’t gotten him out of the car yet. They think it’ll take all night, maybe even longer.”

 

            “Yeah,” I muttered, “If he was in the car and it exploded.”

 

            “I want you to find out who did it,” she told me.

 

            “But the police…” I started.

 

            “They think he was this new Ripper killer. What are they calling him? Son of Jack?”

 

            “I don’t know,” I said with a shrug. “I haven’t been following it to be perfectly honest.”

 

            “We have,” she said, her eyes growing darker as she spoke. “They’ve been harassing him for two weeks about it. Last week they were so busy interrogating him again that they missed that man who got killed. The one with all the blood drained from him. They just kept pestering my father while someone drained a person of all their blood in the Lakeside parking lot.”

 

            “Cripes” I announced. “Is that where that happened?”

 

            “Yeah,” she nearly spat. “While they were telling dad that they had everything they needed on him and he might as well confess, someone was letting that guy just drain out onto the parking lot. Nobody came and interrupted, they found him in the morning.”

 

            “So they won’t be looking into his death?”

 

            “They think it’s just fine and dandy that he’s dead.” She slumped back in her chair and crossed her arms. She looked to her left at a corner of the room where there was nothing but the corner. Her eyes had different tears in them now, she wiped with the back of one hand. “Fuckers.”

 

            “You want me to find out who killed your dad?” I asked, and then put my foot in it so deep that it went up to my knee and I knew I’d never see that shoe again, “Or do you want me to see if I can’t make the cops eat shit over harassing him?”

 

            If I had less control over my face, I probably would have let my expression show how dumb I thought that suggestion was as soon as I said it. However, I kept my face a placid and concerned place for her to look. I could tell my second comment had really hit home with her and I wasn’t going to be able to wiggle out of it. Besides, did I really want to? If I could avoid going to jail or getting killed I could pretty much do anything.

 

            “Yeah,” she nodded. “All of it. Find out who killed him and make the fucking cops eat shit. Tell the fuckin’ world how they let my dad get killed.”

 

            “Okay.” I said tapping my desk for a moment to show it who was boss. I do this because I honestly fear that it might rebel one day. “You’ve got to do the second part though. When the papers call, you’ve got to remind them how the police were too busy harassing your dad to catch the real killer.”

 

            “Okay,” she nodded again and bit her lower lip as she did so. Her eyes met mine and I could see a cold and angry light in them. “I’ll get some people together. Maybe Dad’s publicity people could help.”

 

            “Yeah,” I nodded back. “After all, I just do the investigations, I don’t do PR work.”

 

            “Right,” she pointed at me. “Well you investigate and I’ll get on their asses.”

 

            “Okay,” I said and looked down at my desk blotter. On my blotter was a drawing of Ziggy and the phone number for a client I worked for in August. Nowhere was there a hint on how I should start this investigation. I decided to fall back on routine. “I’ll need to talk to the people he worked with and things like that. It would help if you gave me a note or something saying that you’ve engaged my professional services so people know I’m not just being nosey.”

 

            “Okay, I can do that,” she said. “Do you need, like, a retainer or something?”

 

            “Nah, don’t worry about it,” I shook my head.  “When it comes time to submit a bill I know where to send it.”

 

            “Thanks,” she smiled a little. It wasn’t a big smile, it was her reassured smile. It was the smile that she reserved for me when I’d finally agreed to get her out of whatever trouble she was in. I’d seen that smile a lot during the nineties. “What will you do first?”

 

            “Go ask the cops how your dad got killed,” I said.

 

            “They’ll tell you?” she asked.

 

            “No,” I said shaking my head. “But I’ll ask. That’ll let them know that I’m on the job and they should worry. Then I’ll want to talk to who ever saw him last, things like that.”

 

            “Hewie.” she said. “His stage assistant, Hewie Homunculus. They were working on preparation for tonight’s show.”

 

            “I’ll need to talk to him then, him and everyone else,” I looked at my watch. “If I start now I can probably get them to threaten to arrest me by three and then I can leave.”

 

            “Is it going to be that bad?”

 

            “Oh yeah,” I nodded. “They’ve been pissed at me since the Christmas Affair.”

 

            “I don’t want to cause trouble,” she said while conveying that if I pulled out she would cry and cry until we both drowned in her tears. I was not prepared to run a foot race in order to dry off or listen to a lecture.

 

            “Don’t worry about it,” I said waving a hand. “I sort of want some trouble. It will give me an excuse to start some.”

 

            “Okay,” she smiled that smile again.

 

            I got her to write the note on a piece of my stationary and we agreed that I would call her when I needed to get some introductions. I escorted her out of the office and as the door closed I turned to Debbie and leaned across the desk at her.

 

            “Did you deposit the check?”

 

            “Not yet,” she said looking up from the computer screen.

 

            “But you will?”

 

            “Yes,” she said, her eyes fixing on the splotch on my shirt.

 

            “Good,” I nodded. “I might need a million dollars in cash soon.”

 

            “Why?” she asked, her face darkening.

 

            “Oh, I’m going to be in for a whole bunch of things,” I waved a hand breezily. “Interfering with police, interfering with federal officers, being a damned pain in the ass, probably end up shooting someone at the very least. It’s going to be one of those cases, you know?”

 

            “What’s it going to be?” she asked.

 

            “I get to find out who killed Sam Hain, who this serial killer I’ve been avoiding learning anything about is, and what I can do to humiliate the local constabulary will be greatly appreciated as well.” I smiled at her. “I’ll probably have to decide who shot JFK too and I can almost guarantee that I’ll end up having shoot somebody myself.”

 

            “Bet ya a million dollars you don’t,” she said. “Now that you have a million dollars to loose.”

 

            “But you don’t,” I said. “You want three to one odds or something with the extra risk?”

 

            “I’ll make it up on a double or nothing bet that I know you’ll lose later,” she said smiling. “Like being able to say the alphabet backwards or who can hold their breath longer or who can talk about shoes the longest or something like that.”

 

            “Ah,” I nodded. “I see how it works.”

 

            “Exactly,” she said. “You should know by now anyway that when it comes to you and the women in your life you’re always in a no-win situation.”

 

            “Thanks,” I said opening the door. “Always nice to know I’ve got you looking out for me.”

 

            “Anytime Jack,” She said and I walked out and I could swear I heard her mutter as I went. “Anytime.”

 

This is part two of thirteen, 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 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 9, 2009 Posted by | Fiction, Jack | | Leave a comment

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 | , | Leave a comment