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.
Keep Calm and Carillon
“Quite the firecracker, our Nancy,” said Alan Bodley. He and Rangel were walking down Orchard Street, away from her office and toward the rise where Millbrook Lane cut across.
A little early snow was experimenting with the afternoon, the sparse fat flakes testing sidewalks and melting away but finding patches of dirt and the occasional parked car more receptive. Both walkers wore heavy coats and both had their hands thrust deep into warm pockets. Their strides were long. It felt to Rangel as though, beneath the gentle touch of snow, the town was under tension, coiled. Bodley must have felt it, too, she thought, because it was he who suggested they stretch their legs.
“Well, she’s your Nancy, really,” Bodley was saying. “But she wants up and out.”
“And who could blame her?” Rangel said. “Backton is hardly the place to be if you want to make a big bang. If a tree falls and there is no forest . . . That sort of thing. Someone once called Backton a hotbed of tranquility.”
“Ah,” said Bodley, “that’s one of those whatchermacallits.”
“Don’t give me that just a humble cop crap,” said Rangel. “So what’s our Nancy been up to? Apart from climbing the ladder.”
Bodley stopped by the bench in front of Celia’s Knit Shop and tried to scoop up enough snow from the slats to make a snowball. He managed something the size of a walnut and then lobbed it into the street. “What about you?” Bodley said, wiping his hands on his coat. “Don’t you want to make a big bang? An audible report at least?”
“Not so much,” said Rangel, after a moment’s silence.
“Huh,” said Bodley, consideringly. And, “Huh,” once more. He started moving again. “Nancy’s been banging on us about looking harder for your missing man. I keep telling her we’re all about organized crime and not disorganized individuals. She is unimpressed. And, to be honest, I think there’s merit in her insistence that your man —”
“Yes,” said Bodley, in a warmer voice, “Jared might be in some way at the . . . corner of all of this.” He paused to stomp his feet, knocking snow of his Brogues, looking at them for a moment to see if they were surviving this skirmish with bad weather.
Rangel stopped and turned back to him. “So?” she said.
He looked up, with something of a grin. “I’m embarrassed to say that we’re about to hunt down a . . . coincidence. Nancy’s fancy, you might say. But I’m prepared to back her, for reasons that I can’t quite make clear to my bosses. Or to myself, if it comes to that. I hate having an intuition that won’t go away. Still, if we keep it low key, we might justify it as a form of stirring the pot, otherwise known as harassment. Always a plan when things have gone off the boil.”
“What coincidence?” Rangel had moved to stand right in front of him. He had acquired epaulettes of white and she resisted the urge to brush the snow off his shoulders.
He took her hand and swung them back into walking, even quicker now, with real energy. “Nancy’s been babysitting Gladys while she’s at the safe house. When Gladys needs some of her things, Nancy goes over to her house to fetch them. Clothing. Cheque books. Who uses cheques anymore? And the occasional keepsake. The safe house is looking like a retirement village. Knitting everywhere. But she, Nancy, has a lot of time on her hands and she uses it to talk to Gladys about Jared. That got Gladys missing some of the stuff that reminds her of him, so Nancy was sent to get a few things. Among them was —”
“— A concertina,” said Rangel. Bodley looked at her quizzically.
“That’s right,” he said. “How did you know?”
Rangel just shrugged. “I had a feeling.”
“So a couple of days ago Nancy’s going over some lists we had lying around. One of our people lost a stripe over that. Anyway, she sees this run of Italian names with some bio about them. Calabrians. On our watch list. And there’s this Timoteo Nisticò, ‘instrument maker.’”
Bodley shook his head. “No, no. A real Calabrian. Brother of a big cheese. A really hard cheese. This Timoteo seems to have steered clear of the dirty work so far as we know. Almost certainly he’s living off the avails of the family business, though. Runs a small workshop. Turns out accordions, some cheap violins, mandolins. We’re going to pay a social call tomorrow. Rosin up his bow, put the ‘f’ in his f-holes, that sort of thing. See if he sings.”
“There’s more to it than that, though, isn’t there?” Rangel said, thinking.
Bodley sighed. “Yes,” was all he said.
Millbrook Lane cut across Orchard at an angle, as if it wasn’t a proper street, or even really there. No street sign marked the corners. Now the lane was a pure white stripe in both directions through the trees, and Rangel felt reluctant to mark the perfect carpet with their feet. As they stood there, a perverse afternoon sun popped free of the cloud and sparked off the falling flakes. “See?” said Rangel.
“Sort of,” said Bodley.
The town knife-sharpening truck rounded the corner from Albert Street and came chugging and clanging up Orchard, its bell ringing insistently. They watched it crest the rise and go off into the distance. “Tintinnabulation,” said Bodley, with some evident pride.
“See?” said Rangel.
DUC TU VINH HAD sequestered himself in his private quarters, which occupied the two top floors of an undistinguished four-storey concrete block building in the middle of what everyone in the city called simply Chinatown. He had been there, alone, for three days now. Toai Phang and two of Vinh’s other lieutenants sat around a table one floor below the boss’s sanctuary, sweating over the best approach to a growing problem. Every so often one of them would look up at the ceiling, particularly when they could hear a rhythmic thumping noise from above.
Phang had been the one to take up food for Vinh, the only person Vinh allowed in. And he was beyond worried now. The pressure was on from the police in a big way and Vinh was either doing hundreds of prostrations before a Buddhist altar — though one marred, in Phang’s opinion, by a large number of Mahayana icons and amulets — or pitting himself mercilessly against a roomful of exercise equipment. One of the machines was banging on the floor as Vinh pushed it beyond its limits. At least, Phang supposed that was the cause of the thumping. If Vinh’s prostrations were making the noise, the end was even nearer than he had thought.
“I don’t see a way out of this mess,” said the man to his left yet again. “Not without a good deal of loss.”
The man to his right, seeking unclaimed space in the conference, said, “It is surely a matter of careful action, precise action. Above all things, we must remain steady, resolute.”
For Phang, this was useless nonsense, all of it. They had been around and around the problem like something circling the drain. He felt himself drifting out of his body. “Do you ever wish you were home?” he asked the men in a quiet voice.
They looked at each other, uncertain of the right answer. The banging from over their heads had stopped. “I wish the police would back off,” said the left-hand man. “That’s what I wish. Have we not paid enough? How much of their greed can we tolerate.”
“It’s a scheme,” said the other. “Can’t you see that? Having drawn the line from all the executions so that they point to us, they are now squeezing us to see what happens, to make us step wrongly.”
“I wish I were home,” said Phang, not caring what the others thought of him, of the weakness in that wish.
In the silence that followed this remark, they heard a meditation bell strike three times from over their heads, the sound rippling away, painfully beautiful.
“Ah,” said the left-hand man. And then he looked down, embarrassed.
“I WANTED THEM TO blindfold you,” said Tomasini, laughing. It was a night without a moon or even stars. Even so, Rangel knew where they were. Twenty minutes out of Backton a developer had for years been hopefully constructing a battery of things called homes. She had driven past the project many times but hadn’t looked at it in ages and had never actually gone into the development. She saw that some lights were on in two of the dozen or so structures.
Tomasini pulled up into a driveway beside an unlit house. “I guess this means things are shifting,” said Rangel as they unclicked seatbelts. “Letting a visitor in,” she added.
“Could be,” said Tomasini, clearly relishing the opportunity to be non-committal, demonstrating her secret knowledge.
She pushed the button at the side door and pushed it again. Old-fashioned ‘ding-dong’ chimes reached them through the wood. Inside, lights were on everywhere, and Rangel saw that the windows were blacked out by ugly strips of stick-on paper.
Tremaine was ensconced in an ugly comfortable chair in her bedroom, knitting on the floor beside her, a book open upside down on her lap. She was asleep. Rangel crouched down beside her, hesitating to wake her. Eventually, she placed a hand over Tremaine’s folded hands, holding it there gently until the old woman opened her eyes.
“Gregoria,” said Tremaine.
Rangel smiled. “None other,” she said. “I think,” she said, “things might be . . .”
“Drawing to a close,” said Tremaine.
Rangel shook her head. “Coming to light,” she said.
© Simon Fodden