The Return of Jack Collier
A Jack Collier Story
By Brett N. Lashuay
A quick catch up: Jack Collier is still in a coma, after being shot by Jill Piper at the end of Jack and Jill. While we were waiting to see what would become of him, his secretary Debbie told us a surprising story which changed how we’d look at him and his past. We begin with Jack’s fate still very much in question as we begin…
A Jack Collier Story
By Brett N. Lashuay
These are Days
In The Cabinet
A Jack Collier Short
By Brett N. Lashuay
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 Woman of the night is an outdated euphemism that really isn’t needed in these enlightened days.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.
A Jack Collier Mystery
By Brett N. Lashuay
Day One: June 20th
I must say, I wasn’t happy to be in Marrakech. I’m not fond of North Africa as a general rule actually. It’s hot, it’s dusty, and if Henry had been able to speak Hovitos I wouldn’t even need to be here. Tracking a man selling stolen treasures from South America in places like this isn’t exactly easy. I knew this was the only place he could sell it though, even though it took me a while to get here. Still, I was here and that was enough I suppose, but it didn’t help with my annoyance. I mean, I’d managed to bring my piece home, why couldn’t he? No, I’ve got to go traipsing across the world looking for his damn rival.
The problem isn’t finding a shady bastard, the problem is finding the one who stole for profit the thing that you’d rightful swiped for a museum acquisition. If all I wanted to do was beat up thieves who were selling things they shouldn’t be selling, I could just start punching people in the street at random. About the only thing you’d have to do is avoid the natives, they’re probably just people going about their business. Any visitor is probably a thief, a fence or a thug who works for one of the other two.
This gave me some trouble for the first few days, but I spotted my target with a bit of luck and discovered where he was staying. All of which led me up to the spot I was in now, standing next to a door so that when he walked in I could nail him. The heat of the place was getting to me, but I had to wait until he returned from his showings for the day because this had to be done in private.
The room in the old town was small, consisting of a small wooden table and chair and a single bed. The blinds on the window had been pulled, but the job had been incomplete and blades of light were falling on me as I leaned against the wall and waited for him to come back. An overhead fan spun listlessly over head, failing to cool the room by even a degree. If anything, the fan was helping heat the room by pushing the hot air down to where I was, making sure I didn’t have a moment to cool down.
I’d been waiting here for nearly an hour when I finally heard a key hit the lock on the room’s single door. I tensed myself up, letting my muscles bunch and tighten. The door swung open and the Frenchman walked into the room. I put my right hand on the door and pushed it closed. His head turned to his right from the sound, which was a mistake because I was coming for his left. I punched him in the left kidney and as he started to shout I got around him and hit him with my right fist across his jaw. He dropped the bag he was carrying and fell to the ground. I gave him a quick kick in the stomach to keep him on the floor and then decided to give him another kick in the face, just so I could say that all four limbs were in on it.
I reached down to the floor and grabbed the bag, taking it the two steps to the small table to check it. It had been wrapped up in a bath towel that had itself been stolen from a Holiday Inn. He’d covered the statute in black enamel paint, to hide the fact that he was carrying a golden idol. I reached into my front pants pocket and grabbed the balisong I’d bought. I couldn’t go around with a gun, because I didn’t need that kind of hassle here, but I needed a weapon. Fortunately there was a kid selling these cheap knives in the street for three dollars each. If I buried the knife in the sand for a thousand years it might become priceless, but I doubt it. The movement on it was actually pretty good as I did the trick of opening it one handed that Tracey had taught me so many years ago.
My eyes flipped back to the French archeologist who was just starting to try and sit up. I turned the statue over, and found it was mostly hollow, which would explain why Henry was so bad as guessing its weight. The inside had even been covered with the black enamel, but it was a fairly simple job to scratch along an edge and show the gold underneath. I wrapped the statue back up, secure in the knowledge that I had the real thing and wouldn’t have to come back later. I turned to look at the man who was on the floor looking up at me, the blades of sunlight slashing bright strands across his face.
“You don’t come looking for this again, do you?” I flipped the knife closed again.
“No,” he said shaking his head.
“Good,” I nodded and tossed the re-wrapped parcel into the bag. “Then I won’t have to cut you to ribbons.”
I turned away from him, opened the door and walked out. I was ready for him to come down the stairs and cause trouble, but evidently he wasn’t. I got out into the street, still expecting him to do something, but I melted into the crowd without a single utterance. I wasn’t in the clear of course, because it was very likely that the people he was in talks with to sell the silly thing to would still want it, but I was nearly there.
I felt like I was being watched the whole time, but I resisted the urge to glance around me every ten seconds or to sweat more profusely than I already was. The heat was bothering me, even though it would actually be worse at home because without the humidity you barely got a chance to notice the sweat before it was gone.
It took me half an hour to get to the new city, another twenty minutes to get to the courier’s office. Sal never had a store front in any of the cities where he kept offices, which sometimes seemed like every city in the world that could cope with having air conditioning and modern offices. He always had a small office in some modern building that had sprung up in the last five years or so. I have no idea how many offices he has, beyond the ones I’ve been in, but there are a lot of things I don’t know about Sal. Still, the firm of Sal Melina, Private Shipments has never let me down yet. When it comes down to it, Sal could have his office in a horse stable, dress like the a clown or scream state names along with their capitals every two minutes and I’d still leave my packages with him. The simple fact was that if you left something with Sal, it got where it was going.
Walking into the office building was heavenly, the initial blast of cold air was enough to raise goose bumps on my skin, but after that it was cool, clean air. Suddenly, I wasn’t in North Africa anymore, I was simply in the business world. There were men and women in suits, discussing business affairs, worrying about how much money they were making. I went to the building’s registration, found the floor and walked to the elevator.
There was a good looking young woman sitting at the single desk, her dark hair twisted into an attractive braid, as it always had been. That was the nice thing about coming to Sal, everything about his office was reliable, right down to Anja. She stood and smiled at me as I came in and set the duffle bag down on her desk.
“Hi Jack,” she said with a smile.
“Hello Anja,” I said putting my hand on her left hip and sliding it round the small of her back to give her a hug.
“Is it going to Troy?” she asked as we parted.
“No,” I said shaking my head. “The University.”
“Can’t Henry manage to get anything home on his own?” she asked.
“I don’t think so,” I said, “Maybe he’ll start reclaiming things on his own. Also, if the French Secret Service comes around, which they won’t, we know nothing about this right?”
“Of course not,” she smiled.
I smiled back, and there was a lot that could have been said in those smiles. Of course if either of us was going to say those things, we would have said them by now. We would have said them in Paris or Bangladesh, or any of the other places where she’s been when I needed a courier. It might seem odd that the same woman, desk and chair is always here when I give Sal enough time, but then Sal is an odd guy. It suddenly occurred to me that he could be right there in the second office.
“Is the boss here?” I asked Anja.
“Do you need him?” she asked, skillfully not answering my question in any way.
“No,” I shook my head, “Not really.”
I reached into my pockets and my finger touched the closed knife. I took it out and held it out to Anja, who took it and looked at it. She raised her dark eyes up to me and raised her left eyebrow, which is a trick I just can’t do. She held it up to show it to me and then spoke the question in her eyes.
“Should I send this with it?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said nodding. “It’s going to be on his expenses anyway.”
“Okay then,” she said and smiled. “See you next time Jack.”
“See you next time,” I agreed as I walked through the office door and headed out into the North African heat.
Another two days and I’d be in Casablanca, and from there I’d get a flight to Detroit Metro. Sunday night, I would be sleeping in my own bed and Monday morning I would walk into the office. I wondered if Debbie would be there, or if I should call ahead. Part of me was sure she was in the office waiting for me to arrive and part of me thought that she was just hanging out with friends or going to the beach or something. I decided to surprise her, see if she was going to the office without having to. I left the modern office building, back into the dusty and hot streets of Marrakech. Soon I would be back at home, and then I could start to finally work out what the hell I was going to do with the rest of my life.
This is part one of twenty-three, 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 Wonderland tag will take you to the story while the Jack Tag will take you to Part One of every story we post here.
A Jack Collier Mystery
By Brett N. Lashuay
Part One: Mister Rabbit
I was sitting in my office, trying to see how many times I could squeeze a small foam rubber ball that a very perky woman named Suzy had given me for this purpose. My right hand still wasn’t actually strong enough to hold a gun, but I could just about hold a pen long enough to sign my name on checks now. The most frustrating part about physical therapy is how long is takes. You get shot in the arm in late December, and come March you still have to wait for things to heal. That is of course, if they ever do heal completely.
They’d said the bullets that tore through me probably wouldn’t cause permanent damage, unless I tried to rush things or didn’t do them right. I would have to be patient, and I would have to keep working at it. So I squeezed my right hand into the tightest fist I could manage and was just barely able to compress the ball by a few centimeters, which was improvement. At least I wasn’t dropping the ball when I tried to squeeze it anymore.
The door opened and Debbie came into the office. She was doing that now, instead of calling me. I probably could use the exercise that reaching sixteen inches to get the phone would provide, and the phone was positioned so I reached with my left hand, but she walked in anyway. This at least provided me with two opportunities to watch her walk, which was always a pleasant distraction. It was a distraction that I know I’m not supposed to indulge myself in, not these days, but I do anyway.
“Client.” She said with a bright and chipper smile.
“Really?” I asked. “How do they manage to find us?”
“I’m pretty sure he got here by word of mouth.” She said.
“All our former clients are dead or in jail.” I knew it wasn’t exactly true, but I said it anyway.
“Not all of them.” She corrected me
“Okay,” I gave her a small nod. “Show him in.”
He was very pale, almost wholly white in fact. The hair on his head was actually white, not silver or gray, but white. He was immaculately dressed in a three piece suit and a gold watch chain was strung across his waist coat between the pockets. He sat down and eyed me somewhat nervously and fingered the gold chain as if he really wanted to check the time but didn’t dare. He carried a cane that looked like ebony and when he sat he placed it directly between his feet, placing his left hand on the cap and his right hand on his left.
“My name is Mister Rabbit.” He had the most proper British accent I had ever heard. I nodded at him to show that I have some comprehension of English despite having gone to Chippewa Valley High School.
“Would you be Jack or Roger then?” It sounded like something he’d probably only heard about forty thousand times. The look on his face told me I’d low balled the figure.
“My given name is Flopston.” I could hear the accent in his voice become just that much stiffer and more proper. “I was told what to expect from you. Church was quite clear in informing me of how much you are amused by yourself.”
“Ahhhh,” I nodded as comprehension dawned, “I was wondering who in the world was left to recommend my services to you.”
“Church and I once had dealings.” He shifted in his chair and glared in my direction. “We haven’t had dealings since Easter was killed though. I had to adjust my operations after that. It is a small problem with those operations for which I require your services.”
“Okay,” I nodded, which I hoped would allow me to jog my brain into decoding that last sentence of his. It occurred to me that he was trying to sound British, and that the accent sounded like he’d just watched a lot of Masterpiece Theater.
“Parts of shipments are going missing. I think I know where they’re going, I need to find out who is making them vanish. You find out, and tell me.”
“Just that?” I asked.
“Yes.” Rabbit nodded quickly. “I’ll have my own people deal with it, but I’ll need some proof of the theft.”
“I only ask because I can’t really do the beating people up and shooting them thing anymore. You might have heard about the fact that I got shot to pieces in December.”
“I’d heard you’d been shot.” Mister Rabbit wrapped his hands around each other and gripped tight at his cane. “I suppose I didn’t know how bad it was.”
“Well, be assured, I can’t do the tough guy detective thing right now.” I leaned back in my chair and grabbed the foam rubber ball. “See this sponge ball thing? I can just about squeeze it if I try really hard. I can’t draw a gun and probably won’t be able to for some time.”
“All I really need is for someone outside my organization to catch the thief, so that it won’t look like I’m framing anyone.” Rabbit shifted his hands on his cane again.
He let the hands slip off the cap, which I noticed was egg shaped. He slid his left hand down the shaft of the cane while his right hand touched the watch chain. He looked up at me and moved his hand away from the watch. It was such a self-conscious gesture that it made me glance at the clock on my desk. Having caught myself doing this I decided to make him slightly uncomfortable while pretending to be helpful while doing it.
“Two thirty-five.” I said.
“Oh.” He looked relieved. “Thank you.”
“So, how do I prove who’s stealing from you? Do I take a camera or something?”
“I can depend on your word I think.” Rabbit rubbed his bottom lip with an extended index finger before placing his hand back on his cane.
A little alarm bell went off far in the back of my mind. There was some minor clerk deep in the pit of my belly who was taking in the information and was ringing this alarm bell. However, so lowly was his position in the company of my belly and so weak was his alarm that I failed to properly notice. Had I given that clerk a better slot, I would have a much better early warning system than I do. However, as I have been told by people posing as doctors that I suffer from acute paranoia, I often ignore those sorts of warnings. I suspect that knowing you are prone to paranoia is actually worse than being paranoid, it means you ignore things when maybe you shouldn’t.
“When would you want me to start?”
“Tonight if you could.” Rabbit said reaching for the watch chain again, and again stopping half way. “I’ve already told my brother Peter that you’ll be there. You know about him I suppose?”
“Am I supposed to?” I decided to see how much he was ready to tell me.
“Well he worked in adult entertainment for a while.” Rabbit said with dismay, his hand touching the watch chain again. “However his drug habit inhibited his performance I understand.”
“I was never a big fan of porno.” I said.
“Well, after his rehab I gave him a job.” Rabbit ran his finger around the egg shaped cane topper, seemingly fixated on it. I wondered if it was to prevent himself from playing with the watch again. “He wouldn’t have the courage to actually steal from me, but he could be scared enough to let someone else do it.”
That warning bell went off again, but I decided that it was just another note of my legendary paranoia. I was going to have to either investigate that warning, or disconnect that bell soon. This had something curling up inside me though.
“So you think it’s your brother but you want to be sure?” I asked.
“Okay.” I nodded and then flat out lied by saying, “That sounds reasonable enough.”
“Excellent.” Rabbit stood up and confidently grabbed at the watch chain. He drew out a fairly large pocket watch and flipped open the cover. He nodded at the time and closed the watch again, slipping it in his pocket. “My warehouse is in Mount Clemens, I’ll see you there at ten tonight. Do you need the address?”
“You might as well give it to me.” I said, and he did.
I didn’t actually see him to the door, because after rattling off the address, he turned and scurried to the door. I’ve never seen a grown man scurry before, and it’s not a pleasant sight. I was left with a feeling that things were about to go badly for me. I am, however, supposed to be paranoid.
I clutched my right hand a few times and the squeezy ball compressed to about half its normal size. I could crush the thing in my left hand, turning it into a small compact mass. In my right hand, I could only manage this small amount of force. I wasn’t supposed to get frustrated, that was what Suzy had told me when I started working with the ball. I was supposed to just keep working at it, and it would come eventually. The muscle damage had been bad, but they said there was no nerve damage so it would all come back eventually, or almost all at any rate. I just had to keep working this stupid ball.
I looked at the address, which I had to type out on the computer because I wasn’t going to be able to write with a pen for some time yet. I put the foam ball down and opened firefox so I could check the address. I got a map from a website that I won’t name because that would look like product placement, and found the location. It was one of the buildings on Mary off Cass, near the railroad tracks. Just another building in Mt. Clemens that no one was using for anything else.
Lest you think I am completely idiotic, it did occur to me what Mister Rabbit’s missing merchandise might be. After all he had a long association with Church. I wasn’t clear whether Church and Rabbit were still associated, but that didn’t really matter much. So long as Mister Rabbit wasn’t trafficking in humans or illegal puppies or anything, I could probably handle it. If his merchandise turned out to be drugs, I could always call Crammer and have him come down with a squad for a good bust.
I picked up the hard leather holster that Debbie had given to me as a present after I’d gotten shot in December. It was a belt holster for a Marley thirty-eight with the clip on the left side. If I was going to have to be a south paw, she reasoned, I should at least be able to draw my gun even if I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with it left handed. I checked the cylinders on the Marley and slipped the whole thing into place.
Getting up is a tricky endeavor for me these days. I have to be careful how I put weight on my right leg because while I can walk on it fairly normally, I have been warned I could tear something if I’m not carefully. The injury wasn’t as bad as my arm turned out to be, but there is some pain and I’ve got to be careful with it.
I got up though and with a minimum of limping made it to the waiting room where Debbie was typing away madly. She looked up at me with the bright and cheery smile she’d been giving me ever since it looked like the firm was going to be dissolved a few months back. She’d never been a sourpuss, but her demeanor had become like that of a cheerleader since then. I think she was trying to encourage me to get stronger, and it was working. When I had my strength up, I was planning to wipe that stupid smile off her face one way or another.
“The firm has been engaged.” I announced as I let the door swing closed behind me.
“Oh yes?” She asked. “How much are we to earn by this engagement?”
That hadn’t occurred to me, the question of money had never actually been brought up. I couldn’t help but feel that this would not be right answer to give her, as she looked at me with those big eyes of hers. However, I was used to giving the wrong answer.
“No idea.” I announced as cheerfully as I could.
“No idea?” she asked.
“Nope.” I said. “I’m trying out a new idea where I charge what I feel is a fair price for the work I’ve actually done instead of basing my price on work I intend to do.”
“That’ll bite you in the butt later.” She rolled her eyes at me. “But it’s nice to see you working again.”
“Thanks.” Said with a smile, “I’ll be out late so lock up when you’re done.”
With that, I went out into the early spring air, prepared for anything from the low thirties to the high seventies. The two decided to settle in the middle at fifty two degrees according to the digital readout on the clock at the bank across the street. I decided to get some lunch and then go over to Rabbit’s warehouse to have a look around.
This is part one of twelve, come back tomorrow 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 Wonderland tag will take you to the story while the Jack Tag will take you to Part One of every story we post here.
Hard Boiled Christmas
A Jack Collier Mystery
By Brett N. Lashuay
Day 1: Christmas Again
I was sitting alone in my dark office, on a cold night in December, looking over my options and trying to decide what to do with my life. The last year hadn’t gone the way I would have liked. Even though as I was going over our annual books, it looked like it had been a fairly profitable year. The Office of Jack Collier, Private Investigator was doing quite well. It just wasn’t a good year for me personally. It wasn’t that it had been a particularly bad year as such, it was that beyond work there wasn’t much of a year at all. If the last year hadn’t happened, I would personally be in the exact same spot I had been this time last year.
I had spread my options out on the desk before me. My desk isn’t exactly huge, it’s not one of those massive things that you think of when you think about an antique desk. When you see CEOs in the movies sitting behind their desks, they look much more impressive. They have bigger desks than I do. It’s an old Victorian relic though, and thus it’s solid enough to take the weight of two lonely people who have surrendered to the urge of physical contact. It can take the regular pushing and gruntings of a pair of people who needed to feel something from another person just to make sure they were still alive and not in some purgatorial existence or thrust into a sensationless limbo. I wish they would find another desk though, they keep messing up my papers when they do it here.
My desk is big enough for the year’s options to be spread out before me. On the far left of my desk was a portfolio of low risk, high yield stocks and bonds that I could invest our year’s profits into instead of giving myself and Debbie a nice bonus. Next to that on a small sticky note with the words ‘real estate’ written in ball point pen. In the middle of the desk, were the bills that needed to be paid this week. Next to that I had another sticky note with the word ‘Paris’ written on it. On the far right, was my Webley-Fosbery fourty-five automatic revolver loaded with six hollow point bullets that I had personally dumb-dumbed to my own specificaions.
This is not to say that I was contemplating suicide, just that I was admitting it was an option. I’m not as smart as some people, so I need to see all the options before me to make an informed decision. The idea of investing Debbie’s annual bonus money was frankly as horrifying as putting the barrel of the gun in my mouth and airing out the back of my head. I had already written the checks and put stamps on all the envelopes, which was always the last thing I did before mailing them, so they were ready to go. To this end, I was pretty much done considering my options and I had selected going on as I had before. I leaned back in my chair and sighed, looking at the portfolio and then the revolver.
I sat forward in my chair and snatched the gun off my desk, broke it open and emptied it. I then got out of my chair and walked over the the big safe that sat on the floor in the corner. I opened the safe, took out the smaller fire safe, opened it with my key, and deposited the gun with its smaller and more regularly used brother. I closed the fire safe and returned it to its shelf in the larger safe, closed the door and twisted the knob around to zero. I then stood up and walked back to my desk, picking up the prospectus and tossing it back in the second drawer on the left. I picked up the two pieces of paper and crumpled them between my fingers and tossed them into the garbage.
I looked at the envelopes, filled with bills and checks. It is proof of a civilized world that there are such things as credit and payment through the mail, but sometimes I’d rather just slip Detroit Edison a packet of used bills in a plain envelope. If for no other reason than it would get me out of the office and I could meet people who didn’t need to employ a private detective. Instead of such a personal being though, I was a private detective living in a civilized world. That is what I was doing in my office at that advanced hour of the night.
I refuse to take my work home with me, and I refuse to make Debbie do the monthly bills, and I’m a particularly lazy beast who lets the bills pile up until the pile threatens to topple over. It wasn’t an issue of money as the bank balance was as it always was. There was enough to pay the bills, enough to pay Debbie her pittance, and enough to pay myself. There was even enough to give ourselves a nice office party once in a while, and a decent annual bonus for Debbie to take her vacation in March when she usually went on one of her trips. That is the reason that investing all our profits was not a realistic option you see? I cannot deny Debbie her time off or her trip.
I was just putting the stamp on the envelope for my landlord when the phone rang. It wasn’t my cell phone, which means it wasn’t one of the four people who might actually call me on my cell, but rather the office phone. I had to leap up and run across my office to the waiting room and jump to Debbie’s desk to pick up her receiver. The phone in my office only rings when Debbie puts a call through because I’ve never bothered to have her set up the phone system beyond the voice mail if we don’t pick up.
I walked to the outer office quickly, so as not to miss the call. This meant throwing open the door to my inner office and half leaping across Debbie’s reception desk. I snatched the phone on the third ring and raised the reciver to my ear.
“Hello?” I asked as I picked up the phone, not bothering to announce the company name. Debbie does the phone answering in this office and if she wasn’t going to be here after hours just because she wants to get home at a reasonable hour, I wasn’t going to do her job for her.
“Jack?” The voice was familiar, but not immediately.
“Yeah.” I said, figuring that I might as well admit that much.
“It’s Tom Noonan.” Detective Tom Noonan of the local constabulary said.
“Hi Tom.” I said, while trying to remember if I had anything to cover up. “What can I do for you?”
“You haven’t been out and about tonight have you?” He asked.
“No.” I said and decided to lie instead of tell the truth of how lame I was. “I was just kicking up my feet with a bottle of rye and a grateful client.”
“So you don’t know then?” His voice had an edge of worry I didn’t like.
“Know what?” I asked, a cold tumor suddenly forming in my belly.
“Officially I’m going to have to ask you about your movements tonight.”
I knew, at that moment I knew. Sure, it could have been anyone. There are hundreds of thousands of people he could be calling me about. There was only one that mattered though, only one that he would ask me about in that way and there was only one reason he could be asking like this. I could feel my heart groan, my feet sigh and my shoulders grumble. I was going to be involved with her again and all my efforts to avoid her would be for not. She was going to be re-entering my life again, and there was nothing I could do about it. I knew that whatever it was, I was going to be involved one way or another.
“I was at the office all day.” I told him. “Debbie can verify that up until about five when she went home, around seven-thirty I got hungry so I ordered some Thai food, it got here at eight. I ate, and I’ve been sitting here paying the bills and going over the accounts.”
“You mean you’ve been working on something?” he almost sounded hopeful about that.
“No.” I said, “I mean I’ve been writing checks and stamping envelopes.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” He said, with a resigned sigh.
“Maybe you should tell me what happened.” I wanted to ask if it was about her, but I just couldn’t.
“It’s Christmas.” He said, and my heart would have sunk into my toes but fortunately there were a lot of organs blocking its passage. “She was attacked. She’s down at Saint Joe’s right now.”
“What the hell is she doing at Saint Joe’s?” I asked. “She lives in Bloomfield, doesn’t she?”
“She was found in the Wiegand’s nursery parking lot.” He said and then began to rattle things off like a cop would to another cop. I’ve never been a cop, but appreciated the compliment. “She was found about nine o’clock, but we estimate she was dropped there between eight thirty and nine. She was attacked with something like a baseball bat or other large blunt object so it probably wasn’t done there. They went over her pretty good. Smashed both legs, left shoulder, ribs, smashed up her face so bad you can’t recognize her, then they did some carving with a knife as well. She’s in intensive care right now, they don’t even know if she’ll last the night. They even strangled her a little with some of the string lights up on one of the trees. When they found her, she still had the lights around her neck.”
“You said dumped?” I asked, trying not to sound like a snoopy private detective.
“Her car is nowhere to be found.” He said. “I probably shouldn’t even be telling you all this, but… well you know.”
“Yeah.” I said flatly. “I do know.”
“You’ve been at the office all night?”
“Yeah.” I said. “You want to come over and grill me a little?”
“I don’t think so.” He said. “Give me a call tomorrow and maybe I can give you a better idea of what went down.”
“Thanks Tom.” I said, trying not to sit down because I knew I’d never move again if I did.
“You going to look into this?” He sounded like he didn’t even want to broach the subject. “I mean, we sort of said.”
“I know.” I felt like I’d been shot and was losing more blood by the second. “I don’t know if I can do that again.”
“Yeah.” He sounded like he had a similar wound. “Well, if you change your mind, let me know.”
“Sure Tom.” I told him, not only was I loosing blood, but they were giving me a transfusion of ice water. “And thanks for telling me before the news did.”
“You only heard it from me first because you didn’t turn on the TV.” He said. “They’ve been all over this since it happened, they were called first.”
“They usually are these days.” I looked out the window to see if anyone was watching the office. “You sure you don’t need a real statement from me?”
“Yeah.” He said. “I’ll have to go see Church though, that’s going to be fun.”
“Good luck.” I didn’t see anyone in the windows, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there.
“Thanks.” He said. “I’ll talk to you later.”
“Yeah, bye-bye.” I then hung up the phone and sat back down in my chair.
As much as everyone loves her, very few people actually know her. I knew her, and I loved her once. The problem with her was that she made everything more difficult, being the persona dramatica did that. There was an unending list of dramas in her life, a continual procession of issues and problems. Most people just saw her show and thought that was what she was like. I knew her as a person though, and because of that the tragic side of her life was a bit clearer to me. The divorce, the addiction, the pain, the suffering was all there if you looked. People thought she was just a beautiful creature, who could create a month long anticipation for her show. Sometimes, if a person really loved the show, they’d start getting excited before Sam Hain closed his show. I knew her though, which meant that I knew the truth.
Christmas… son of a bitch.
I felt some anger then, all of the sudden, just like that. She could do that to you even if you were careful. Just thinking about her could bring up feelings you didn’t know you still had anymore. You’d be going along in your usual dull haze of gray, and there she would be, a bright shining light. She would remind you of how you used to feel around her, even if you couldn’t really feel that way anymore. She could even make you feel things that you’d thought yourself incapable of. She could do things like that, even if she weren’t really around. Except it was all a lie. She would leave a moment later with the promise still unfulfilled on your lips, like a kiss that had almost been given.
I thought of her, lying in a parking lot and I got angry. Someone had done something to her and they were going to have to pay. I thought about grabbing my gun and going out into the night. I figured I could be on the street with gun in hand in under two minutes. Except my guns were locked up in the safe. I would have to open the big floor safe, get them out of the fire safe, find the bullets, load them and then go look for someone to shoot.
It was a lot more effort than I wanted to take at the moment. I’d either get frustrated because I can never open the safe in a hurry, or I’d get the guns out of the safe and would have calmed down by then. The guns were a long way from me, and I would likely give up instead of expend the effort. This is one of the reasons the guns are in that old safe, so that I can’t just grab them and go. An unloaded gun in a safe doesn’t go off at inopportune moments.
After a little while of standing there, I was calm enough to just go home. I checked all the bills, made sure I’d gotten everything, and left the office. The bills in hand I went through the waiting room and put my coat and hat on. I wound the old scarf a former client had given me as a memento around my neck and left the office, locking the door behind me. I slipped the envelopes into the mail chute and watched them sail away down to the basement.
I then walked to my car, got in and went home. I was late enough that most the shops had turned off their lights and thus the desperate displays of consumerism and cheer were muted. There were still reminders that it was that time of year, but it didn’t assault me like it would if they were on. If I was lucky, I would forget about all of this by morning.
I am rarely lucky though.
This is part one of twenty-five, come back tomorrow for part two and every day this month until we’re done to see what happens. 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.