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.
As it happened, Mitman didn’t get around to snooping until the next day. Sanders’ office had been on the second floor of what everyone called the Base Building, although Base Metals, the original ground floor hardware store, had shut its doors five years ago when Joe Base left to open up a fly-in fishing lodge somewhere in the boonies hundreds of kilometers to the north. Now the street-level space was split between Sweeties to the north, a store selling penny candy, lottery tickets, and under-the-counter native cigarettes, and LOL Cats to the south, a mostly closed pet supplies shop.
Mitman stood across the street and studied the building with a newly curious eye. It was one of the more recent constructions in town, a detached, rectangular, brick three-storey shoebox, with a narrow laneway on the north side and a mere two feet or so of set-back to the south. He could see that the brickwork was only a veneer — no stretcher courses that would be necessary if it had been solid brick. This could be a good or bad sign, depending on what the bricks covered. If the building was basically concrete it might mean that wifi signals would have a hard time travelling into it or from floor to floor. But if it was a wood frame structure, a signal would penetrate much further.
He took out his phone and checked the settings, looking for networks. He found four, all of which were password protected. He couldn’t tell from their names where they originated. He crossed the road and saw that the number of available networks had doubled. The entranceway between Sweeties and LOL Cats led to a small lobby with an elevator and a signboard listing tenants. Inside he counted twelve wifi networks. Wood frame, he reckoned. This was looking good.
Sanders had occupied suite 203, one of five sets of rooms on the second floor. The signboard showed a listing for 201, 202, 204 and 205. The space where 203 had been was empty, now only a stripe of background plastic darker than the rest. Mitman took the stairs. The door to 203 had a frosted glass panel, through which he could see nothing. He listened and heard nothing. He hesitated.
He wasn’t big on breaking and entering. Not since he’d turned fifteen. Before that he’d done a few garages and once a back door. It was his coming-of-gay period, when a bunch of things were done by his body without the active participation of his mind.
A sliding credit-card and a little bit of firm but gentle forcing did the trick. He was in.
All the furniture and dental equipment had been removed and only less dusty rectangles on the floor showed how things had been. He took out his phone again and activated its local hotspot function. He then placed the phone on the floor in the middle of the inner room and, after listening for footsteps, left Sanders’ office as quietly as he’d entered.
He fished out a second phone, one he’d kept after his recent upgrade, and used it to look for wifi networks. After logging into his personal hotspot, he put the second phone back in his pocket and retrieved a piece of paper on which the names of the other tenants in the building were written. None bore any evident connection to the list of members of the Buffaloes’ Backton Lodge. Even so, Mitman went methodically to each and every office on the second and third floors, entering on some pretext and checking his phone when inside.
An hour later he had determined that it was possible to obtain a wifi signal from Sanders’ office in all but two of the other suites on the second and third floors and from both stores on the ground floor.
“Not a lot of help,” he told Rangel over lunch in the motorhome.
Rangel, her mouth full of a cheese and pickle sandwich, disagreed with a noise and a shake of her head. She could tell he was hiding something. She swallowed. “It makes interference possible, goes to reasonable doubt. Doesn’t get us — him — all the way there, but it moves the center.”
Mitman busied himself with his salad. Then she suddenly knew where he was about to go. “And?” she said, urging him on with her chin.
He sighed and let a smile of satisfaction spread across his features. “I thought about the next door neighbours,” he said. “Sanders in 203 is on the north side, so I checked the north side first, across the alleyway.” He took a forkful of salad and chewed thoughtfully.
Rangel let the image of Larch Street unreel through her mind. “Brake repairs?”
Mitman nodded. “Pilchard’s Auto. And a single mother living upstairs. That must be fun. That racket from the compressors and impact wrenches. Anyway, she’s been there four years. An okay signal, but some of the mechanics’ computer equipment screws it up occasionally. So no go.”
Rangel tried to hurry him on with her eyes. “South side?” she said, and she frowned. She couldn’t picture the building there.
“Hydro,” said Mitman.
“Hydro?” Mitman nodded. He was still smiling. “Oh,” said Rangel after a few seconds. “Right, right. One of those fake buildings hiding a transformer. I’ve got it now. Mock Victorian.” And then she said, “Oh,” again, in a different way this time. She got her laptop and tapped up Google Earth’s view of Backton, fiddled with the trackpad, and looked up at Mitman, serious now. “Behind,” she said.
Mitman nodded slowly.
“Not direct,” he said. “More kitty-corner, one to the north. Clear line of sight through the small laneway to Sanders’ window. Nice strong signal.” He snapped the lid on his container of salad and wiped his mouth on a piece of paper towel. “And you know what?”
Rangel waited, looking at him.
Mitman said, “I ran into Ronnie Dabord just as I was going up that laneway to the back. I must have looked really surprised. Probably because I was feeling guilty about my B&E. Anyway, first thing he says is, ‘I’m not stupid, you know.’”
Rangel was back at the laptop poking at the thing to get a street view of Beech, the street behind Larch. Mitman waited. Rangel grunted. “Can’t tell from this,” she said.
“Wouldn’t be proof positive,” said Mitman.
“Of course not,” she said. And, “What did Ronnie think?”
“He was pretty upset. I think he knows something else as well. You know, like a third vector, and it crosses right at the point the other two do.”
“Buffs, proximity, and . . . what?” said Rangel. Mitman continued to fuss with clearing up after lunch. “You going to tell me,” she asked him, “or do I have to beat it out of you?”
“Leslie Franche,” said Mitman. “Accountant. Got a small office in the back corner of that rooming house on Beech. Clear line of sight, like I said.”
“He didn’t admit it, did he?” Rangel held herself perfectly still.
Mitman shook his head. “Wasn’t in. Woman downstairs, owns the building, she let Ronnie in and I tagged along. I had to explain how I knew for sure that a strong wifi signal would pass between Franche’s place and Sanders’. Ronnie wasn’t too impressed. He was by the signal, but not by the B&E.” He shut the door of the small refrigerator and went to rinse his hands at the sink. “Don’t think I’ll do any jail time, though.”
“Still isn’t proof positive,” said Rangel. “So you’re right. Ronnie must know something for him even to be interested.”
“We leave it to him?”
Rangel pulled out her phone, checked the directory, and tapped the screen. “Jeannie, it’s G.R. Is Ronnie around? I’d appreciate a word.” She drummed the fingers of her free hand on the table. “Ronnie? Can I —.” She stopped drumming, listened, smoothed out the tabletop with her palm. “When?” she said, after a bit. She closed the connection. “Now,” she said to Mitman. “He’s called in Franche. Going to interview him now. He’ll talk to me right after.” She got her coat and Mitman picked his jacket off the hanger. “Just me,” she said. “You’re being punished.” Mitman shrugged and hung his jacket up again.
“Got work to do anyway,” he said. But Rangel was already out the door.
JEANNIE PASTOR SAID, “And how’s that hunky Dennis Abudo?” Rangel smiled, blushed a little, and mumbled something. Pastor put a coffee in her hands and, without saying anything further, placed a straight-backed chair just to the left of the chief’s closed door. She grinned conspiratorially.
From where she sat, Rangel could hear muffled talk. She leaned her head back against the wall and closed her eyes. Now she could make out some of what Dabord was saying, because he was almost shouting. “— the fuck you think you were doing . . . goddamn insanity . . . computer . . .” Nothing that Franche replied made it through the wall.
Some moments later the door banged open and Franche staggered out, his hand pressed over his mouth. He looked around wildly. Pastor merely pointed. And Franche ran off to the bathroom. Pastor made a sour face and shook her head. Rangel got up, gave her full coffee cup back to Pastor, and turned to Dabord who was filling the doorway, looking as swollen as though he might explode. He jerked a hand at Rangel and turned back into his office. Rangel went in, closing the door behind her.
“We’re fucked,” said Dabord loudly, throwing up his hands. “The whole fucking town is fucked. Might as well burn it down. Christ on a crutch! What is wrong with people!”
Rangel took the chair opposite his desk, still warm from Franche’s presence, she imagined. She shuddered.
Dabord dropped heavily into his chair.
“His computer?” Rangel asked.
Dabord looked at a spot on the floor beside his chair. “Leroy’s picking it up now,” he said, subdued. “Sealing it up in a big bag and nobody’s going anywhere near it except the forensic people.”
“But,” she said.
He shook his head rapidly. “Won’t find dick. Was all put on Sanders’ machine. Out fucking sourced it.”
“Did Franche admit it?” She held her breath.
“Claimed he didn’t know squat.”
“But —” said Rangel.
Dabord looked at her. “Oh, it gets better.”
Rangel’s mind was whirring. “Who?” she said.
Dabord gave a single nod. “Good. Old. Charlie. Ziff.”
Rangel frowned. “So Franche knew? Were they, like, in it together?”
Dabord looked as though he might hit something. He went to stand up and changed his mind. He pressed a thumb and a finger hard against his eyes. He was calmer when he spoke. “Franche says he thought Charlie was having an affair. Why all the secrecy. He would use his, Franche’s, computer at night when the office was closed. That was the deal. According to Franche. Supposedly sending emails or chatting or whatever with —.” He closed his eyes and pressed them again. “Just so happened that Franche got a bunch of the town’s accounting work. Thought it was tat for tittie.”
“What did Franche think when Sanders was charged?”
“Oh he knew then, I’m convinced of that.”
“And he let Sanders go down for it?”
Dabord’s expression was one of disgust. “Seems the boys had a hate on for Brother Julius. Some of them, at least. Julie was — is — an asshole, apparently, though I’ve always found him to be just a dentist. And that was enough. That and the whole ‘not my responsibility’ thing. Oh, and the accounting work from the town.”
Rangel was still thinking. That third vector. Previous convictions, maybe. “But there’s something else. Am I right? You knew something, otherwise you wouldn’t be so . . . certain. Because right now it’s speculation. Good, sensible speculation. But just that. No tangible evidence. Some shifty, creepy stuff. Some technical . . . opportunity.”
Dabord ignored her. “I’m bringing everyone in on this. Provincials, feds. And I’m going to hang it around the neck of some Crown attorney who can carry it until it gets as right as Jesus. This will not get fucked up.” He looked at her. “Again.”
Rangel said, “Just thinking. Any chance of mapping out the times when Ziff was using Franche’s machine and comparing them with login times from Sanders machine. There was a list of session times. I’ve got it if you can’t find yours. Might be useful.”
“Noted,” said Dabord, and he actually wrote something on a pad of paper. “Thanks. Now that’s it. You’re out of the loop on this. In fact, you were never in it, right? Tell that . . . Mitman. I catch either of you poking around and screwing this up, I’ll —.”
“Noted,” said Rangel.
“Oh,” said Dabord. “I almost forgot. Here’s Mitman’s phone. I found it on the floor. Somewhere.”
© Simon Fodden