For the next while the Friday Fillip will be a chapter in a serialized crime novel, interrupted occasionally by a reference you might like to follow up. 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.
Mitman stuck his head around the office door. “I’ve checked the timing on the alarms and lights and all, and it’s fixed.”
Rangel didn’t look up. “I know. You’ve told me twice already.”
“Right . . . right. It’s just that I didn’t want you to worry.”
“Do I look worried?” Mitman said nothing. Rangel looked up. “Now you’re going to say that I should be worried. But not to worry. Have I got that right?” Mitman withdrew his head.
“Go back to work,” he called from the far reaches of the front room. “Honestly, you’re flightier than a fart in a hankey.”
“THAT’S A LOT OF WORK.” Ronnie Dabord smiled at Jeannie Pastor and patted the file she’d put onto his desk. She wasn’t sure whether he meant her work in coming up with the documents or the work that had gone into search for Jared Willoughby a dozen years ago. In neither case would it be true.
“All it took was a couple of phone calls,” she told him. “The provincials managed to come up with it eventually.” In actual fact she’d had to badger them with half a dozen calls. But that was pure excitement when compared to sitting at her desk and working up the monthly Backton P.D. Newsletter.
“Yeah, but I wouldn’t have known where to begin.”
There was something about this that made him anxious, Pastor realized. He hadn’t been chief back then, when Jared disappeared. He’d only just started working for the department. Hardly likely that there was anything in the file that would make him look bad, she thought. Impulsively, she picked it up off his desk. “Tell you what,” she said brightly, “I’d better make a copy to send over to G.R., because you’re going to want to keep the original. No?”
“Sure,” he said. “Sure. Good idea.” And as she swept out of the office she could see his hand reach out to the place the file had been.
“MRS. TREMAINE, THIS is Gregoria Rangel.”
“Hello Miss Rangel.”
“I’d like us to meet, if possible, to talk about a couple of matters relating to Jared.”
“You haven’t found him, have you?”
“Oh, no. I’m sorry if I gave you that impression. What I have in mind is a meeting so you can tell me as much as you can about Jared’s disability, his cerebral palsy. There’s a slim possibility that it may help to locate him. And I’d like to discuss with you how best to arrange your affairs so that Jared would be looked after upon your death.”
“I’m glad you didn’t pussyfoot around. All this talk about ‘passing on’ or ‘passing over’ or simply ‘passing.’ As if we were bodily waste. Death is death. That’s its name.”
“Indeed. Would a meeting be possible? I’d come to you, of course.”
“No need. Reg Bettleman’s already said he’d drive me into town whenever I wanted this week. It’s my shopping week, you see.”
“Splendid. Would tomorrow at eleven be alright?”
“That would suit me perfectly.
“Oh, and I should tell you that the somewhat elusive office is now located on Orchard Street, directly opposite the D-Lux Café.”
“Thank you. And goodbye Miss Rangel.”
“HMPH. WHAT BRINGS you to the factory floor?” Dean Nabel wheeled himself away from his visitor and into a private back room in the operations shed. “Shut the door behind you,” he said, as the man followed him in. The room was a soundproofed haven from the dust and constant roar of the gravel mine. Minimalist and modern, it was the antithesis of everything that lay outside it. Daylight poured down through a light tube at the ceiling, and the walls were hung with large paintings. Nabel’s visitor made a point of studying each in its turn, as he always did.
“You know, Dean,” he said, “ I do believe I’m actually coming to like this one.” It was a series of palely coloured bars done on a field of jade green. “Restful. Your kid do it? Oh, that’s right. You don’t have any kids.”
Nabel refused to be drawn. He’d been down this road many times before and knew where the potholes were. “It’s yours for half a million,” he said.
The man tsk-tsked. “Shame on you, Dean, inflating the price like that. The highest Bush has ever gone is just over three-hundred thousand.”
“Is it now where I’m supposed to say ‘You amaze me, Mr. Tu. I had no idea you were so familiar with the art scene.’”
The man turned to Nabel. “We now say Mr. Vinh. It is the coming way, I’m told. The culture changes. I change with it. I even give my name backwards now, the way it is done here. Tu Duc Vinh. Strange to my ears.”
He took himself over to an exquisite Deco cellaret and poured himself a splash of scotch. He held up the glass inquisitively to Nabel, who shook his head. Vinh was tall and slender, his dark hair swept back and spilling a little over the collar of his expensive suit. He had a widow’s peak that gave him a faintly diabolical look. All in all, it was a studied look, one he clearly enjoyed.
“Apart from providing you with amusement and The Macallan, how might I help you, Mr. Vinh?” Nabel asked.
“She and the lawyer are meeting yet again.”
“Is that so? You’re very well informed.”
“We are — concerned would be too strong a word — interested, shall we say. Intrigued, perhaps.”
“Without need. As you well know, this thing is papered from top to bottom and sealed with a court stamp.”
“May I?” Vinh gestured at a chair.
“Your insincere politeness is irritating.”
Vinh sat and sipped. “Like so many things, Dean.”
“She can do whatever she likes. I have nothing to worry about.”
Vinh took a deep breath and sighed it out. “The ball is in play. Is that how you say it?” Nabel just looked at him. “And it may bounce . . . unpredictably.”
Nabel’s face contorted. “Oh for God’s sake, cut the movie dialogue crap. What exactly is your problem?”
Vinh put his drink down on the floor beside his chair.
TWO PROBLEMS IN ONE day, Dabord was thinking. Here in dumbass Backton. It made him restless. Tomasini was excited, he could see that. “Nancy,” he said, “it’s possible, I’ll give you that. But it’s literally a slender twig to hang a murder case on.”
Tomasini sprang to her feet without thinking about it, she was that energized. “Yeah, but it’s got science up the ass. Forensic will swear the stick was used to jam the accelerator pedal.”
“Who in hell would bother setting up Eldon Jevvers like that? I mean, the boy was a nobody. Dealt a little dope maybe, but that’s it. You don’t kill people for dealing weed.”
“Exactly!” she said. “So it’s big. He was into something . . . big.” Dabord could see that she was on the point of adding that this was ‘very cool.’
“Autopsy?” he asked her.
Her face fell. “Not yet. They’re backed up.”
“Yeah, but I could let them know that forensic is saying murder.”
Dabord frowned. “Nancy, let’s just let things run their course. See what the pathologist gives us. Need be, we can go back to them with some follow-up questions.”
She was clearly disappointed. He could see it. Hell, she wasn’t even attempting to hide it. There went his ‘Best Boss of the Year’ mug. He liked her and didn’t want her to bail on the Backton PD, though he knew that day would come eventually. “Why don’t you poke into Master Jevvers’ life a bit. See what the loser was up to. Hey?” It was a sop but one that she sucked up instantly.
“On it,” she said. And there was a moment when both of them heard how TV that was. They started laughing at the same time. “Seriously,” she said. “I’m on it.”
JULIUS SANDERS SAT ACROSS from his lawyer and drummed his fingers on the tabletop. “Bail?” he said, without preliminary. He was running to fat and his belly hung out over the top of his prison pants. Balding, pale as cucumber flesh, slack limbed, Sanders nevertheless gave out a sense of compressed aggressive energy, as if within him there was a loaded matrushka or a grenade with the pin about to fall out.
Peter Main shook his head. “It’s still not worth appealing the refusal. Nothing’s changed. Two convictions under 163.1 make a heavy load for a court to lift.”
“I didn’t do it. Any of it. I’ve told you that. You believe me, right?”
“You have told me, Dr. Sanders. What’s important right now is that we draft your appeal well. And that we’re working on.”
“Yes, but it’s important to me that you believe me. No one else does. I mean, dear God, I live in fear of being bounced off the walls here like a squash ball. You know how they hate the child thing.”
Main said, “You’re still in admin segregation, right?”
“Yes, yes. And that’s almost as bad as having the shit beat out of me.”
“No, Dr. Sanders. No, it’s not.”
“So no hope of bail pending appeal, huh?”
“I’m afraid not.”
Sanders pulled back from the table, his face fallen. It looked as though he might cry. Main hated it when the clients cried. “Sorry I bothered you, then,” said Sanders.
“No, no. It’s your right to talk to your lawyers. And it gives you a chance to speak to the next best thing to another human being.”
Sanders frowned. “Is that a lawyer joke?”
“It is, I’m afraid,” Main said.
“Not really funny,” said Sanders, abstracted now. “Dentist jokes aren’t funny either.” He looked up at Main. “We’re number three, you know.”
“Dentists. Professionals most likely to commit suicide. Lawyers are way down at number twelve. Pussies.”
Main looked alarmed. He reached a hand out towards Sanders. “You’re not seriously suicidal, are you?” he said.
“Think of it every hour of every day.”
“Please don’t scare me like that, Dr. Sanders. If I think there’s a significant risk, I’ll have to ask that you be put on suicide watch, and then they’ll take away half the things you’ve got now.”
Sanders scraped his chair back even further and got up. The guard looking through the window began to enter the room. “Don’t worry. My . . . self regard is too large for me to off myself. And my anger. Mostly my anger.” They shook hands, a perfunctory male one-two jerk.
Just as Main was about to leave the room through the door on the public side, he turned and asked the departing Sanders on the other side, “What’s number one?”
“Marine engineers,” Sanders said.
“Huh,” said Main.
© Simon Fodden