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Liberty’s Child (Part Four)

Note: Sorry this is late, I was having technical difficulties all day yesterday.

 

Liberty’s Child

A Jack Collier Mystery

By Brett N. Lashuay

Look here for last week’s entry!

 

 

Day Four: Major Freedom

 

            Major Freedom was sitting alone in his study, a crystal decanter sitting mostly empty in front of him and a highly carved crystal glass in his hand. He looked depressed, which I suppose was understandable. A single desk lamp was the only source of light in the room, illuminating an area about eighteen inches across.

 

            “Collier,” he said, his sharp voice softened by what I deduced was a prodigious amount of booze. “Come sit.”

 

            I nodded to Bendis and started my way into the dark office. The door closed behind me and my eyes started to adjust to the dark office enough for me to make out the chair I was supposed to sit in. There might have been anything between me and it–I would have to be careful if I bumped into a tribe of pygmies along the way. I eventually made my way across the carpeted floor, expecting at any moment that I would be eaten by a grue in the dark.

 

            I sat down in the overstuffed leather chair and looked at the old man, deciding to let him start the ball rolling. He poured himself a drink, without offering me any, and swallowed it in a single gulp. Having steadied his nerves, he could start to talk to me. I wanted to light a cigarette, just to annoy him. I don’t smoke, but I wanted to annoy him because I find him to be such an annoying character. He opened a drawer of his desk and pulled out a large white envelope. He tossed it across the desk, sort of in my direction. I reached out and took the envelope, as my eyes were probably adjusted enough for me to see what was in it.

 

            “They started with just threats,” he said suddenly, pointing at the envelope, which was stuffed with papers. “Tried blackmail notes and threats and things. I had Bendis make copies of everything.”

 

            I looked into the envelope, where a bunch of copies of handwritten notes and notes made of cut out magazine letters were arranged one after another. Who the hell ever heard of anyone really doing that? A ransom note made up letters that were cut out of magazines, next thing you know I’d be describing a woman as the kind of trouble you want or something.

 

            “What do they want?” I asked.

 

            “Money,” he said, but I could tell that wasn’t it. If it was money he would have mentioned a figure.

 

            “What else?” I asked, looking up at him.

 

            “What do you mean?” he asked.

 

            “Is there more than just money?” I said leaning back in the chair. “Have they made any special requests?”

 

            “Five million dollars isn’t enough?” Freedom asked.

 

            “Sounds like a lot to me.” I said, rubbing my chin. “When did you get the first note that she’d been kidnapped?”

 

            “Saturday,” He said, grabbing the ring on his left ring finger and turning it around. “It came in the morning, right about the time we were wondering where the hell she was.”

 

            “She just didn’t come home Friday night?”

 

            “That’s right,” he said biting his nail. “Her friends that she was supposed to be going out with stayed home on Friday.”

 

            “The police and FBI were called?”

 

            “Yes,” he nodded and poured himself another drink without offering me any. “They’re working on it. We’ve got to keep it quiet though, I can’t afford to have anything go wrong right now. We’ve got a very delicate negotiation going on with our Middle East expansion, something like this could derail everything. I don’t need the extra attention.”

 

            I nearly grumbled that it would certainly be a shame if his precious expansion deal into the Middle East got derailed by something as trivial as a lunatic holding a gun to his eldest child’s head, but I knew that would get us nowhere. He was already wound up enough with his four year attempt to expand his operations into places where he clearly wasn’t wanted, and he was a little touchy about the subject.

 

            “Were they asking for money before?” I asked looking at the notes, which besides being cliché were terribly generic.

 

            “Yes,” he said, “They claimed they had some proof they could blackmail me with, but they never said what it was. Then they snatch Columbia and tell me I need to pay five million dollars to get her back.”

 

            I wanted to slap him and ask if he was aware that his twenty-two year old daughter was missing. His little girl, the light of his life as he’d once put it, was probably naked and duck taped to a pipe in a basement. Yet all he could do was worry about his deal and how much it would cost to not ruin his deal.

 

            “Who’s working on it?” I asked.

 

            “FBI, local and state police,” he waved his hand listlessly. “You know… everyone.”

 

            “Including me.”

 

            “Yes,” he nodded despondently and poured himself another drink. “How much?”

 

            “How much for what?”

 

            “How much to look into this?” he asked, leaning forward again and raising his voice. “How much do you want to get her back?”

 

            “Am I to work with the police?” I asked, remembering how he felt about compartments.

 

            “No,” he shook his head, which was a relief. “No, you’re working for me. You can talk to them, but you remember that you’re going to be my agent. They’re going to fuck around and be really polite to a lot of people and they’re not going to find her. I think it’s someone they won’t talk to because I’m not the only one around here with money.”

 

            “I understand,” I nodded. “You want me to go step on the toes that the cops won’t?”

 

            “Yeah,” he then smiled for the first time and it wasn’t a pleasant smile. “That’s right, you go step on toes. Maybe if enough people complain about their toes the police will decide someone’s being suspicious about it.”

 

            “Okay Major,” I said standing up. “I think I can get to work right away then.”

 

            “No, wait,” he said waving his hand at me, “Before you go, my wife wants to talk to you, please go see her.”

 

            “Yeah, okay,” I said, and had to wonder if he thought I was going to rush out the door and start dancing a fandango on every foot I could find.

 

            I left the old man to his dark room and his booze, wondering if he even understood that he had a family beyond that group of people who came with him when he needed to be photographed. His total lack of interest in how Columbia might be feeling annoyed me, but then I probably knew his family better than he did. I walked into the light of the hallway and found a dark-haired eleven-year-old girl facing me.

 

            “Hi Jack!” Jenicia announced and nearly tackled me when she jumped up to hug me.

 

            “Hi Jen,” I said trying to both maintain my balance and not drop her on the floor. We managed a quick hug and I set her down.

 

            “Mom wants to see you,” she said walking a few steps ahead of me and tilting her head. “C’mon, she’s in the plant room.”

 

            “How are you doing then?” I asked her as I followed her thin and somewhat gawky frame down the hall.

 

            “It’s boring,” she complained, falling into step next to me. “I can’t go anywhere because Collie got grabbed or something. You ask me she ran off with a boyfriend and they’re faking this so she can get money out of daddy.”

 

            “She done that before?” I asked, noting the Jenicia was growing into quite a beautiful and suspicious young woman.

 

            “She’s talked about it,” Jenicia said. “She’s got lots of dumb ideas like that, she’s sort of dumb like Daddy, you know? All those dumb ideas that they haven’t really thought through?”

 

            “Yeah,” I nodded, remembering some of the schemes Columbia had hatched.

 

            “And now I can’t even go anywhere because Daddy thinks I’m going to be grabbed next.”

 

            “Except you don’t think she was snatched?” I asked.

 

            “Not for five,” She said. “Anyone who knew what they were doing would ask for ten times that.”

 

            “Hmm.” I said noncommittally.

 

            We arrived at the door to what Jenicia would have called the conservatory, except I got her to stop calling it that when she was a little kid. She leaned against the door of the plant room and tilted her head towards it, smiling up at me. I looked at the door, knowing what was on the other side. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go in; it was that I wanted to go in too badly.

 

            “What’s the matter?” she asked, a smirk forming on her lips. “Shy or something?”

 

            “I was waiting for you to open the door.” I said, looking down at her.

 

            “Oh, sorry,” she grabbed the handle and swung the door open.

 

            Natural light spilled into the hall from the plant room, the sweet smell of roses and other flowers wafting towards me. The room was full of the smell of living things dependent on the attentions of others. I looked into the room, knowing that she was around a corner, waiting for me to enter but out of sight at the moment.

 

            “Well?” Jenicia asked.

 

            “Okay,” I agreed, “now I’m shy.”

 

            “Well, you can’t stand here all day,” she smiled at me, as if she knew some secret that I hadn’t been made aware of. “You’ve got to get in there, so get moving.”

 

            “Yeah,” I said, taking a step through the door, “I’ll do that.”

 

            The door swung closed behind me, leaving me alone in the plant room with what could be described as a predator. A sort of tigress was in here with me, and she knew my scent well. There wasn’t going to be any hiding. I would have to march right in and get eaten like a man. I didn’t feel like a man though, I felt like a mouse. If I was lucky, I might be able to take a thorn from her paw and not get eaten alive as a result. Of course, saying all that also made it sound like I didn’t want this particular tigress to put me in her mouth and chew me up.

 

            I took a step into the plant room and heard the door click behind me. I was trapped in here now, with no getting away.

 

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

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April 17, 2009 Posted by | Fiction, Jack | | Leave a comment

Liberty’s Child (Day Three)

Liberty’s Child

A Jack Collier Mystery

By Brett N. Lashuay

Look here for last week’s entry!

 

 


Day Three: Stately Freedom Manor

 

           

It would be wrong to say that the Freedoms live in Port Huron, but that’s the closest thing to city near their home. They lived in a rich community where a million dollar home is considered a pokey little cabin. It took an hour to drive from my place to the start of their property, and when I got there it looked like it might be another hour to get to the house.

 

            It wasn’t that the house was set that far back, it was only an acre or so from the gate. It wasn’t that I was unwelcome at the house, or even unexpected. The main problem was the frog faced imbecile that was entrusted with the task of turning the switch that would open the gate. This problem was increased by the fish faced moron who he was conversing with. It was a little like watching a German and a Japanese man trying to converse in Swahili because they’ve somehow come to the conclusion that it’s the other man’s native tongue despite not speaking a word of it themselves.

 

            The guard had left his booth, a bad mistake, and the driver had left his truck, another mistake. If either of them had half a brain, they could have shot the other one and taken over their station. Of course I’m not sure what the guard would have wanted in the small yellow delivery van, but if I decided to take the guard out I could just go right through the gate. Eventually the man who should have been in the van gave the man who should have been in the booth a package. Then they actually bowed to each other, bumping their heads as they did so. I watched the fish faced man get back into his truck and turn around, driving away before pulling up to the booth.

 

            “Jack Collier,” I said as the hot air rushed into the car and made me start sweating. “I have an appointment to see Major and Mrs. Freedom.”

 

            He looked dumbly at me for a full five seconds like I was supposed to tell him what to do next. Before I could tell him to open the gate he turned away and picked up a clip board. He scrutinized it closely for nearly a minute before he looked back up at me.

 

            “You’re here to see Mister and Mrs. Freedom?” he asked, his big froggy eyes blinking dully at me.

 

            “That’s right,” I nodded, wondering who the hell else I would be here to see.

 

            “And your name is Jack Collier?” he asked, the corners of his lips turning down to give him even more of a frogish look.

 

            “You’re doing very well so far,” I said, hoping that the sarcasm would slip past him.

 

            “Thanks,” he nodded, but didn’t smile because that might harm his frog like look. He looked at the clipboard again, which I suspected had instructions on it that said ‘pretend to read this so they’ll think you have half a brain’ but I rejected that as being unhelpful. Eventually he looked back up at me and blinked three times before he spoke. “You the private eye?”

 

            “Yes,” I nodded.

 

            “Oh,” he tossed the clipboard aside and looked at the controls for the gate as if trying to remember which way to turn the single knob. “They want to see you right away!”

 

            He twisted the knob one way, and nothing happened. I had a vision of him staring down at the gate and looking up into the sky trying to whistle for a moment. I was suddenly feeling angry about this man being allowed to have a job. The market in Michigan is quite tough, and this idiot was able to waste our time like this. Hundreds of people who want to work and are smart enough to work a simple gate on the first try would love to have the thirty bucks an hour he was pulling down for this job. I was mostly annoyed because I remember which young guy just starting out made the suggestion that a gate would help increase security. It’s always a pain to see that one of your off-handed suggestions has been taken.

 

            He eventually managed to twist the knob in the right direction and the gate slid open. I nodded to him and resisted the urge to jam on the gas and squeal my tires, which would have been ungallant at best. I drove up the small road that separated the house from the gate, which was made of highly compacted gravel. It was like driving across some old roman road that’s lasted the last two thousand years. It was smooth and gentle, but you knew that it was made up of a million particles that could become dislodged even though they never did.

 

            When I came around the corner to the circular drive, an interesting site was there to greet me. The old Hudson Super Six was sitting in front of the house, like a big large sign. That the Major had large garage full of classic cars was no secret, and the old Hudson was well known to me. There was a problem with this particular car being in front of the house though. If the Major had told Jensen to put it out front I was in for a great deal of annoyance, if Liberty told him to do it then I was in for an annoyance of a different kind.

 

            I pulled up to the old beauty, which had been built the year after the war ended and looked lovingly at it. I loved driving that car back when I was a green and callow youth, playing detective and guarding the wife and child of a famous industrialist. The car had other memories too of course, but driving it had always been like having sex with an experienced woman a few years older than you. The steering seemed to know where you wanted to go and would help you get there in the best way possible. It was responsive, gentle and supple. Driving this car would make you a better driver in all cars, because it helped you understand them. It was with a slight sense of shame that I made that comparison of course, since it was in the generous back seat of the car where I’d formed the connection in my mind.

 

            I looked up at the house, and tried to recall how long it’s been since I’d been here. It was at least before I quit with Bascom since I didn’t come back here after I left the firm, so that would be at least five years, almost six. That would mean that Jenicia would be about eleven or twelve now, and I would have to ask myself that stupid question again. I decided not to let that bother me if I could manage it. I looked back at the Hudson, and noticed that I’d managed to get a car that was almost the exact same shade of blue as it was. Not that there was anything to be said about that, I liked blue, but it did seem to suggest something to me just then.

 

            It made me wonder again though, who had the car put out front? Jensen would know, and it was possible he would tell me. I liked Jensen, he and I had come to an understanding over the summers that I’d worked at the house, playing bodyguard. Jensen had looked on me as just another part of the help that was wasting the Major’s money. After that weekend when Riley did that stupid thing he did that I said we’d never talk about, Jensen looked at me a little differently. After that, there was respect as one professional to another. Of course after that, I was acting a bit more like a professional too.

 

            I walked up the steps and to the door, pressing the bell button. I could hear the sound of the buzzer going as I hit the button. Not the normal ding-dong one might expect but an old fashioned buzzer that went as long as you held the button down. I didn’t over do it because I knew Jensen would come to the door on the quick since I was expected.

 

            When the door opened though, it wasn’t Jensen. It was a man that was about the age Jensen had been twelve years ago when I first came here. He was dignified and smart looking in his tuxedo, but he wasn’t Jensen. This was another man, someone else.

 

            “Jensen sick?” I asked as looked in at him, “I can’t imagine him letting someone else get the door.”

 

            “Mister Jensen passed away two years ago sir,” the new butler said, and I felt some air puff out of me. “I’m Bendis sir.”

 

            “Oh,” I said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”

 

            “Quite alright sir,” Bendis said. “You weren’t to know. You are correct though, he never would have let someone else answer the door in his time. You are Mister Collier?”

 

            “Yes,” I nodded and took off my hat. “Didn’t the guy at the gate call in?”

 

            “Gerald is often confused about things sir,” Bendis said, without a hint of a smirk and stepped aside to allow me to enter.

 

            I walked into the main hall and Bendis closed the door behind me. He started to walk around me to lead me to the Major’s office, but I held out my hand to stop him. I didn’t actually come in contact with him because he stopped an inch from me. He looked at me and I looked at him for a moment, and then I turned to him and leaned in a bit.

 

            “Who had you put the Hudson out there?” I asked.

 

            “Sir?” he asked, and I could see that there was something in his eyes. He’d been told something, I just didn’t know what.

 

            “The Hudson,” I asked and I could see wheels moving in his head. “It’s important for me to know which of them wanted it.”

 

            “Mrs. Freedom sir,” he said, and I could tell that he’d reached some sort of decision about me. He leaned closer and his voice became consistorial. “She said she might want you to drive her somewhere later.”

 

            “Do I speak to her first or the major?”

 

            “Major Freedom is this way sir,” he waved a deferential hand.

 

This is part three of twenty-three, 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 Wonderland tag will take you to the story while the Jack Tag will take you to Part One of every story we post here.

April 8, 2009 Posted by | Fiction, Jack | | Leave a comment

Liberty’s Child (Day Two)

Liberty’s Child

A Jack Collier Mystery

By Brett N. Lashuay

Look here for last week’s entry!

 

 

Day Two: Coming Home

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “Jack Collier,” I said into the receiver.

 

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

 

            “How are you Liberty?” I enquired.

 

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

 

            “It was alright.”

 

            “Good,” Liberty said and then sighed.

 

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

 

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

 

            “When?” I asked quickly.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “Liberty?”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “Why two?”

 

            “I need to change,” I said.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

April 1, 2009 Posted by | Fiction, Jack | | Leave a comment

Liberty’s Child (Day One)

Liberty’s Child

A Jack Collier Mystery

By Brett N. Lashuay

 

Look here to read Wonderland

 

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.

March 25, 2009 Posted by | Fiction, Jack | , | Leave a comment