The Friday Fillip: A More or Less Random Run

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.


Chapter 17
A More or Less Random Run

Mitman drove her electric blue truck.

In the passenger seat Rangel had her head still buried in a couple of files, going over things. And over and over things. Muttering to herself. Mitman kept looking across at her as he took them through the turns.

“Too bad you didn’t get a manual gearbox on this thing,” he said.

“Not an option,” she replied without looking up.

Mitman said, “Huh.”

They hit a red at the junction of Larch Street and Davis Boulevard, which was no boulevard at all. He tapped the steering wheel impatiently until the light went green, and then he stomped on it, chirping the big back tires. Rangel lurched and had to rescue a sift of papers. She stayed bent to her task. He felt like one of those boy mahouts atop the head of a great Asian elephant.

“Been thinking,” he said, “I should have checked the truck before, you know, I started it. We should get a remote starter. And maybe one of those British army mirrors-on-a-stick things for looking up skirts.”

“Shut up,” Rangel murmured. She leaned back, looked at the roof of the cab, and closed her eyes. It was one of her standard thinking poses. When she did that, he thought of her as having withdrawn into an imaginary spot a few inches above her head. Somewhere in the useless part of his mind he confused that with the notion of Tinkerbell.

Mitman honked the horn at the dull blue Chevy sedan ahead of them, whose driver seemed to suffer from narcolepsy. “Idiot,” he said, and he swung out ostentatiously and roared past. This was all theatre, all about going nowhere powerfully fast, a mission of release, of action; because something needed to be done right now, and nothing could be done — at least not now. Mitman’s rough handling of the truck was intended to embody this sense of urgency, to give it expression as safely as possible. Otherwise, he feared, Rangel would burst at the seams.

They’d spent the bulk of the day going over all documents that might give her some clarity about her client’s predicament, some avenues to pursue, something to do. They had worked through, again and again: the file that Jeannie Pastor had given them detailing — if such a generous word was appropriate for the actual record — the steps that the police had taken in their fruitless search for the missing Jared Willoughby; the court records of Nabel’s application to have the life tenant declared dead; Gladys Tremaine’s few family documents and the plans that she and Rangel had just drafted; and as well a bunch of material from the internet about the gravel mine and about aggregate mining generally. All of that to no avail. Or, at least, leading to no clear course of action.

So, mindful of the fate of Leacock’s Lord Ronald who, under enormous pressure from the Earl, flung himself outside and into the saddle only to ride madly off in all directions, they flung themselves into the truck and drove, carefully madly, to a single target picked pretty much at random.

Mitman took the turn onto ‘General M’ too fast and, after a look in the various mirrors, accelerated all the way to the highway. “Have you thought about where she’ll live?” He had to raise his voice to get over the drone of the tires on the concrete roadway.

Rangel stopped playing with paper and strained forward against the locked seatbelt. “She’s staying with me,” she said.

“Her things . . .” said Mitman, sweeping into the left lane even though the turnoff was a mere kilometre and half from where they’d got on. The big engine was happy to be called on like this and roared with satisfaction.

“No,” she said, “ you’re right. It’s not fair to expect her to move house. I’ll go and stay with her.”

Mitman now had to cut off a panel truck, which objected loudly. He braked, chose not to salute the panel truck with a finger, and caught the exit just in time. “It’s a crime scene,” he said. “And anyway, a fat lot of good you’d be, come the next mafia hitman. No more pillows next time.”

Rangel deflated beside him, slumping in her seat, finally being as tired as she looked. And suddenly the mad dash was over and they were gliding at a sedate rate on the low-noise exit ramp, making a gentle curve. Rangel peered out the window as though they’d arrived in another country. She said to the glass, “Better than no one.” She turned to look at Mitman. “She’s got nobody,” she said.

Things were quiet now, almost eerily so. The motor burbled softly. Some bird made itself known by calling. Mitman signalled right at the T-junction, the steering column tick-tocking in the cab, and, looking left and right and left again like the star pupil in a driving school, he made the slow turn. “You’re her lawyer,” he said. “It’s not a friend thing. Not supposed to be, right?”

“I know that. But still.” She thought for a moment. “There’s Khadr and Edney.”

“Hmm,” said Mitman. This was a difficult example; both of them thought that Edney’s commitment and single-minded persistence were admirable.

And then they were at the gravel mine. It was closed off by a high, chain-link fence set about three metres back from the roadway. The fence marked a severe boundary: on the road side there was a verge of still greenish grass and weeds, decorated with the occasional white styrofoam cup and silver-glinting beer can, the wildflowers of civilization; beyond the fence a swath of small boulders gave way to a field of beige dirt and stone that seemed to stretch forever.

A chain and a padlock closed a pair of broad gates at the end of the stunted driveway. Mitman put the pickup almost nose to the gate and he hopped out. He jiggled the locked chain, the way he’d seen people do it in the movies. It didn’t fall undone. Off to the right there was a wooden telephone pole sporting a worn, blue-painted metal box with the image of an old telephone handset stamped into the cover. He pulled it open and picked up the phone inside. There was nothing to dial with, so he just listened to the hum and waited.

Eventually a voice came on, crackling over the hum: “We’re closed.”

“Hello, hello,” said Mitman. “I can’t hear you.” The voice said a few more things, all of which Mitman ignored. “Hello,” he said again, “ — for — Nabel — important — .” He waited a couple of seconds and then said hello again, this time in a different tone, the one you use when you know you’re talking to yourself and a dead line. The phone gave a click and then there was only the hum. Mitman put the handset back and shut the door on the box.

Rangel came to join him, and they stood around scuffing their shoes and being silent. After a bit, Mitman looked at his watch. “We’ll give it five minutes,” he said.

Three minutes after that, two worn pickup trucks raced up to the gate from the road side, followed a couple of seconds later by a dusty Grand Prix. Men got out. Doors slammed. The men became a group and the group moved toward Rangel and Mitman.

Rangel touched Mitman’s arm and set off with him toward the men. The two groups met a few feet behind her truck. “Gentlemen,” she said, composed.

“Who’re you?” asked the man who had wound up at the front of the small mob. He was trying for belligerence and getting half way there.

“Gregoria Rangel,” she said, and she put out her hand for him to shake. “And you are . . . ?”

The man responded reflexively and found himself shaking hands with her. She smiled at him. “Tom Withers,” he mumbled. He wore dirty jeans that hung low on his waist, held up by a belt that might once have looked like leather but now resembled cardboard. Over his T-shirt he had a black cotton jacket stuffed against the winter that hadn’t yet arrived. It opened as he reached for her hand and she saw ‘Sons of San-’ on his shirt.

“Good to meet you, Tom. What’s happening?” she said.

“Well . . .” He was now somewhat abashed.

One of the other men shouted, “You management?”

“City truck,” shouted another.

There was some shuffling of feet.

Rangel kept smiling. “Girly truck,” she said to Tom, but loud enough for everyone to hear. One of the guys laughed a little. “And no,” she said to Tom, “we’re not management. We have no connection at all with the mine. We’re here to speak to Dean Nabel about a private matter.”

“We come to work,” one of the men shouted.

Tom found his voice. “We showed up this morning and the place was shut down. Says temporary. But we don’t trust them. We showed up to work and to get our pay and now we’re out here with nothing. No work, no pay. Fifty of us, down by gate four.”

“More ‘n a hundred,” said the man behind Tom.

“Shit,” the guy at the back called out, “Tom couldn’t count the beers in a twenty-four.” This caused general laughter.

Rangel heard Mitman say quietly, “G.R.”

She said, “Excuse me,” to Tom and turned to see that a security guard had come to the gate and was beckoning Mitman, who stayed resolutely a good three metres off. She moved to where Mitman was and he wandered back to the group of men. Eventually the guard grew tired of his gestures and, reaching through the gate to undo the padlock, slipped the chain off and stepped toward Rangel. Now she moved to intercept him.

“No one is allowed in,” the guard said to her. She felt Mitman appear at her side.

“That’s all right,” she said quietly, as she moved deliberately past him, Mitman following. “We’re lawyers.”

And with that lingering non-sequitur, she and Mitman eased themselves through the opening and strode off into the grounds of the mine. The guard called after them, but caught between ejecting the law and keeping out the mob, he wisely chose the latter; and by the time he’d re-locked the gate, Rangel and Mitman were well on their way — to being lost.

“You didn’t,” said Mitman, as they trudged on.

“I did,” said Rangel, happily.

“You actually flashed your wallet at him — ”

“Just like the FBI, yes.”

“I hope it was at least your CBA card you showed him.”

“I think it was my coffee card.”

They walked on. “That works,” said Mitman after a while. And then, “Speaking of cards, I slipped yours to the gang of seven.”

“Is that how many there were.”

“Gave it to to your boyfriend, Tom.”

“Wonder if that was wise.”

Mitman kicked up some dust and pretended to cough. “Any idea where we’re headed?” he asked.

“Nope,” said Rangel.

“Wonder if that’s wise.”

© Simon Fodden

Fortuitous — and Fortunate

Longtime readers of Slaw will know I have a curiosity about randomness — and, by the same token, its opposite number, pattern. My intuition, and it’s only that because I’m inumerate, is that there’s something profound at work here. And my more practical side knows for sure that there’s also a source of entertainment and delight in randomness, the rupturing and frustration of the expected, the patterns of life. So today, as the fillip’s fillip, I offer up three of sources of pleasing randomness in action. 

The urge to get away takes hold from time to time, to travel out of bounds and experience the unexpected. If you have that urge but are held in check by work, your bank balance, or the fear of flight delays, lost luggage, traveller’s tummy, et cetera, then get out of town virtually via The site lets you leap about in seven league boots anywhere Google has been — which is pretty much everywhere. And the thing is, if all of this globe trotting wearies you, there’s a link to, which will take you home again.

But you’re weary of the world and the fact that 대한민국 부산광역시 기장군 기장읍 대라리 245-10 looks pretty much like a street you know in Comstock. So let’s take you into the heads of strange people, the folks who come up with cartoons. Treat yourself to a random New Yorker cartoon or nine. Better? Saw you smile. Of course it is.

And finally, when you want to introduce the human element in person as a source of interest and pleasure, you might want to play cards with some friends. And to do that properly you’ll need to know how to randomize that deck. How best to do it? Here’s a video from the entertaining site Numberphile, in which the slightly “mad scientist” looking Stanford prof, Persi Diaconis, shows us the way: 

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