For the next while the Friday Fillip will be a chapter in a serialized crime novel, usually followed by a reference you might like to pursue. Both this chapter of the book and the whole story up to this point can be had as PDF files. You may also subscribe to have chapters delivered to you by email.
Worlds of Speculation
They were civilized about it. The right amount of please and thank-you. Calm. Prompt with the reassurances. Clearly, Rangel thought, some brains were at work here. It made her suspicious.
“Coffee?” A question with a smile from a man in a suit.
They were in the vacant Delisle Drug store space, now tricked out with a few retired school desks and chairs, a pristine whiteboard, and the ubiquitous coffee maker.
Rangel shook her head. “No thank-you,” she said. And then, “I’d appreciate it if you’d tell me now what this is all about.”
The man in the suit sat down opposite her and relieved the tension on the legs of his pants by plucking at his calves. He saw her watching him do it. “A lesson I was taught many years ago by a tailor,” he said. “If you pull at the creases in the front you can weaken the fabric. And trousers catch at the calves anyway, so that’s where you should apply the remedy.”
“Catch and release,” said Rangel almost solemnly, making his smile go suddenly genuine. “Now tell me why I’m here. A matter of professional deformation, I’m afraid, but I find that chat about material isn’t . . . material.” Despite herself, she was curious, though.
“I’m Alan Bodley. I work under Commander Ian Finch. We and my colleagues are the Dutch boys who try to plug the holes in the dikes containing organized crime in the province. Only it’s not a matter of breaches anymore. The water’s rising and it’s starting to come over the top.” He shrugged, waited a moment. “My problem. Not yours. Unless . . . ?”
Rangel had moved to the front of her seat in readiness for standing up. “Unless what?”
“Ms. Rangel, have you been retained by”— he made a show of looking at a note —“Gladys Tremaine?”
Rangel waved a hand impatiently. “You know I can’t tell you that.”
“But if you weren’t you could say so, no?”
Now she stood up. “Please. Don’t fool around with silly logical nonsense.”
Bodley coloured but kept his smile in place. He stood up too. “Ms. Rangel, Gladys Tremaine was attacked and almost killed by a hit man from a criminal organization. We find that . . . remarkable. You have been the object of two arson attacks. Somewhat less remarkable, perhaps. Even in a small town there are pyros. But — and here’s the problem — the second attack took place outside Backton Aggregate, which was, until very very recently, the employer of a number of compatriots, shall we say, of the hit man.”
He gestured at her chair. Sighing, she sat; and he did as well.
“It’s not as clear as it ought to be,” he continued, “what is going on. A turf war? Likely. But why target an old woman?” He waited expectantly for a contribution from Rangel. When nothing was forthcoming, he said, “We’ve learned that she was once the owner of the land on which the gravel mine now operates, or at least the owner of an interest in it. That moves everything beyond the bounds of coincidence, does it not?” Without waiting for an answer this time, he continued, “So we would be immensely grateful for any help you can give us in clarifying the situation.”
Rangel stayed silent.
Bodley held her gaze. “It might or might not come as a surprise to you that organized crime makes effective use, shall we say, of lawyers, some of whom are thoroughly enmeshed in their criminal activities.” He leaned forward. Rangel could see a small patch on his jaw where the razor had missed. “I will say that you do not fit the profile of these lawyers. But then I ask myself: would that not be a smart move by an organization? Work through a truly unlikely attorney. One in a — you should pardon my bluntness — no-account small town.”
Rangel frowned. “You have got to be joking,” she said.
Bodley sighed, shook his head. “No, not joking. Just speculating. Seeking patterns. World building. And sharing my thinking with you.” He sat back, buttoned up his suit jacket and then undid it again. “Unless you’ve got a pile stashed away somewhere, the Caymans, Luxembourg, your lifestyle doesn’t suggest that you are a mob mouthpiece, I admit. But what would really take our attention off you would be if you opened up and cooperated with us in trying to figure out what the hell is going on here.” Now he was the one who stood up. He held out his hand for her to shake.
She got to her feet and ignored the offer.
Bodley went to the door and held it open for her. She went through it. “Ask your client for permission to share with us. Will you?” he said to her back.
THE SUN HAD HIDDEN, the way it often did, coy, in October. Rangel turned up the collar of her jacket against the cold breeze. She tried to be angry, indignant at the pressure from the provincial police. But it didn’t work. The truth was that she and her client were caught up in something larger and more dangerous than a simple fuss about a vested remainder and a forlorn measuring life.
And it was also true that there was little if any value in refusing to do as Bodley had asked and get permission from Gladys to talk to him about her business. For all she knew, Gladys may already be pouring out her heart to the cops that, she assumed, were standing guard at the hospital.
She checked the time on her phone. Early morning, still. When she’d visited Gladys at the hospital, she’d call Wally and then they would try to pull some of these threads together into a shape that made sense.
It occurred to her only then that she had no ride. And it was quite a hike to the hospital. With that, the weight of having to deal with insurance and replacement yet again settled on her shoulders.
But first things first: Gladys.
Backton had once had a taxi, but that went the way of so much else in the last recession. Puzzled for a moment as to how to proceed, she suddenly stepped to the edge of the sidewalk and stuck out her thumb.
Mitman answered Dennis Abudo’s knock on the office door. “Goodness me,” Abudo said, taking in the motorhome’s interior.
“Well, yes,” said Mitman, grinning. “It’s not up to your standards, I’ll admit, but it’s cosy.”
“When I asked for her new office and they told me, I wasn’t sure. But now I see it, I’m impressed. It’s ingenious.”
“I’m afraid G.R.’s not here at the moment,” Mitman told him.
“A pity,” said Abudo. “I was in town and wanted to say hello. Nothing important.”
Mitman had his phone out and was thumbing a text already. “I’m letting her know you’re here,” he said without looking up. His phone pinged a moment later, and he chuckled. “She’s trying to hitch a ride out to the hospital to visit a client,” he said.
Abudo said, “Hitch?”
Mitman demonstrated the hitchhiker’s thumb. “Asking for a ride from a stranger.”
Abudo said, “Yes, I know what hitch means. An early form of Uber X. The main form of travel in my home country. But she has that lovely truck. ‘Lurid’ is the word, I think.”
Mitman explained about the recent disaster. Abudo’s face fell into seriousness. “This is a run of very bad luck. Very bad.” He hesitated. “It’s not my place to ask, but is there anything I can do to help?”
Mitman thought for a moment.
RANGEL HAD REMEMBERED from a brief period of misspent youth how you did it, how you had to walk backwards, facing the oncoming traffic, your right thumb out, giving it a slight waggle every now and then. And how the cars whizzed by, uncaring. Except that in Backton, now that the morning rush moment was over, there were precious few cars and no whizzing at all, just the occasional sullen, neglectful crawl past.
She was about ready to pack it in, when a big, grey Land Rover pulled up beside her. The driver leaned over and popped the passenger door. “Hop in,” said Abudo.
GLADYS TREMAINE WAS IN her element, Rangel observed from the doorway. There were three police officers in her hospital room, two provincials and Tomasini, and she was lecturing them on the ills of current-day society. To judge by the expressions on their faces, they were enjoying the experience. As Rangel watched unnoticed, she reflected that there was something deeply reassuring about a grandparent’s social scolding, the way it bound you across the years to a world that was both yours by birthright and yet unreachable, a little like the worlds in the the fairy tales you were read at bedtime.
She coughed. Everyone looked at her with what she thought was a mix of annoyance and guilt, children caught having fun. “Gladys,” she said, “might I have a word?”
And as though someone had pressed ‘play,’ things started moving briskly. The police officers would wait outside; Tomasini would fetch coffee for Rangel; Gladys raised then lowered the head of her bed; Rangel took off her jacket, closed the door, and took the chair beside the bed.
Fifteen minutes later, she had her client’s permission to tell the police as much as they wished to know. And she had a tearful client who was full of remorse at what she’d done, though it saved her life, full of remorse, too, at having, as she put it, raked up the past for no good reason other than her own satisfaction. What a fool she had been, she declared, to have imagined that Jared was still alive, to have imagined that things could be different than in fact they were.
Rangel decided not to tell her about the burning of her truck. “Where will you live?” she asked eventually.
Tremaine looked at her levelly. “I’m going home,” she said.
Rangel nodded. “You’ll have police protection.”
“Bah!” said Tremaine. “Closing the door after the horses have bolted.”
Rangel said, “We don’t know that, Gladys. You might still be in danger. This is unknown territory. Big city criminals.”
“If you think I should, I’ll drop the whole thing. Right now. That’s what I’ll do.” She wiped her eyes with a corner of the sheet, saw what she’d done and said, “Tscha!”
“You want me to stop? Looking for Jared, I mean?”
Tremaine’s gaze lost focus. “I don’t know,” she said to herself. “Maybe.” She fussed with the bed covers. “I started out so full of hope and indignation. But that’s pretty much gone now. Hope. Indignation.”
“I’m your lawyer,” said Rangel. “I’ll do just as you wish.”
“Not yet, then” said Tremaine. And she laid a comforting hand over Rangel’s. “Not just yet.” She gave Rangel’s hand a squeeze. “Let’s see if we can learn a little more of what this is all about, first, shall we? And hand me that box of Kleenex, would you?”
© Simon Fodden