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.
I’ve Got Your Number
Dennis Abudo was waiting for her when she got to the hospital lobby. He put down the Cottage Life magazine, gathered up the detritus from his coffee, and dumped it in the Tim’s trash bin. “Why is there no apostrophe in Hortons?” he asked her.
“Terrorism,” she said, taking his arm without even thinking about it. “For years now a secret group has been stealing apostrophes from their homes and inserting them in the wrong places.”
“Ah,” said Abudo, guiding her into the big revolving door. “This will be a sect of the evil society that has for centuries now been . . . fouling English spelling.”
“The same,” Rangel said, attaching herself to him again outside.
“Now,” said Abudo, “tell me. How is your deadly friend?”
“Tough as old boots.”
“I’m glad to hear it. I’m not sure I’d be so . . . resilient if I had just killed someone.”
Rangel looked up at him and had a fleeting sense that this might not be true. “What brings you to Brackton?” she asked.
They’d arrived at his SUV in the parking lot. The chill wind from earlier was even colder now and carrying some fine rain. They stood beside the Range Rover. “Just a small shopping expedition. I need a few things. I’m closing up the lodge for the season at the end of the month and there are always things that need replacement or repair before then. But I wanted to say hello.”
“Hello,” said Rangel, suddenly self-conscious.
Abudo smiled. “I won’t take time out of your working day,” he said, “but if you’re free, I’d very much like it if you’d have dinner with me.”
“Oh,” said Rangel. And, “Yes. Thank you.”
At which point two things happened at once. The clouds ripped open, releasing a torrent of rain; and William Otis, Rangel’s firefighter, came running through the parking lot. He stopped when he saw Rangel and Abudo. “Oh,” he said. Rain was streaming down his face. “I wanted to see how Gladys was doing.” He had to shout to get over the noise of the downpour. “And you.”
Rangel, feeling now like a drowned rat, shouted, “Bill, this is my friend Dennis.” Shouting at Abudo, “Bill’s a friend who helped me out when my office burned down.” The men shook wet hands. There was a brief moment, and then Otis said something and took off running towards the hospital door. Abudo had the SUV door open. Rangel shook herself and got in, still hearing a roaring in her ears.
“TOWELS? SINCE WHEN the hell did we have towels?” Loud. She was loud.
Mitman had handed her a large, fluffy, white, Turkish towel as soon as she’d crossed the threshold of the motorhome. She was now frantically applying it to her head. Mitman said, “Had a bit of set-to with the boys in black, did we? They said were looking for you.” He took the wet one from her and came up with a second dry towel.
Rangel knew she was stirred up. “Sorry, Wally. This is a godsend.” With the second towel around the back of her neck like someone who’d been working out, she kicked off her wet shoes and padded into her office. “Seriously,” she said, “where did you summon these from?” She took the towel from around her neck and spread it out over her desk chair before she sat.
Mitman made a self-depreciating face. “Rain?” he said, pointing up at the drumming roof of the motorhome. “You out on the street like a working girl? I was sure you’d just make a mess of the paper towel or —” he gave a fake delicate shudder “—the tea towel. And then I remembered the winter white sale at Boodles, just round the corner. Bit early for winter, if you ask me. Eighteen ninety-five for a bundle of three. They’ll absorb better once they’re washed a few times. But you can’t have everything.” He took the second towel from Rangel, who had pulled it out from beneath her. “Enough of this idle chat. Tell me all about your first trick this morning, girl. We can save the good stuff for later.”
Rangel laughed and gave him an account of everything up to the parking lot, while he sat in the client chair folding the wet towels.
“I don’t see where we go from here,” he said. “It’s as I told you way back when — let’s see, a whole — eek! — ten days ago. Is that all it is? In that short time my hair’s gone grey and I’ve got six new lines in my forehead. Honestly, though, we’re not a detective agency. We’re not even a great big rich law firm so we can hire somebody. You can barely pay me what I’m worth. What can we do for Gladys that we haven’t already done?”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” said Rangel, who discovered even as she spoke that, indeed, she had. “We’ll let the police search for him. Again.”
Mitman looked off into the middle distance, thinking.
Rangel said, “Look, we’ve got two police forces in town at the moment, both of them are paying attention to Gladys’s situation. Which is directly related to Jared’s fate, at least financially. So I work to fire them up about his still unexplained disappearance. I’ve cleared it with Gladys that I can talk to them about her concerns. It really is a police matter — even more now than it was back then.”
“So Nabel killed Jared to get to the land quicker than he otherwise would. That’s the thinking?”
Rangel nodded. “It’s one possibility. A strong one. He benefitted.”
“He murders Jared and then waits seven years? That’s one patient plotter, boy.”
“Some people plan. It takes, what, five or six years for a grapevine to really produce. Takes six, ten, twelve years to become a fully fledged neurosurgeon. The question is what was he doing in the meantime? Maybe he wasn’t ready to move into gravel mining. That’s something we could look at. What was he doing just before he bought the interest from Schantz?”
“Or maybe he was already into the aggregate business and this was just some cheap, or relatively cheap, flyer to add to his portfolio of properties.”
“That’s it. Something like that.”
Mitman thought. Rangel tapped a pen on her desk. “It’s the way we’re going,” she said after a minute. “I’ll call that provincial detective. Bodley. Got his card here somewhere, if it hasn’t dissolved in rainwater. And I think I’ll deal with Nancy Tomasini from the local force, instead of Ronnie. She looked keen and she’s part of the protection team for Gladys.”
Mitman stood up. “Right,” he said. And then, as he was leaving the office, he pointed at the phone. “You’ve got messages. Let me know which ones you want me to deal with. Life goes on.”
Rangel thought that sounded ominous. She took off her damp jacket and arranged it across the back of the empty client chair. Then she looked again at the phone on her desk, where, sure enough, a red light was still winking insistently.
“MS. RANGEL? HI. It’s Serge, Serge Antipov. Errors and Omissions? I hope you’re well on this fine day. Listen, give me a call, would you? No rush. Just when you have a moment. Six six five twenty nine hundred. Have a good one.”
“Ms. Rangel? My name is Dominic Archer. Alexandre Goncourt may have mentioned me to you. I wonder, Ms. Rangel, if I might make an appointment to see you. Not so much a professional matter. Well, not exactly personal either. Anyway, I’d appreciate it if you could get back to me at your convenience. You can reach me most reliably on my mobile. Five nine nine eighteen eighteen. That’s five nine nine one eight one eight. Thanks.”
“Um. It’s Tom Withers. I think this is the lady lawyer’s office, right?. Your friend gave me your card. Anyways, Ms. Rangel I think it is, I need to talk to you. I’ll call back later. I’ve got your number.”
“Oh hi. It’s Delvin Construction? I just spoke to a . . . Mr. Mitman earlier. I hope that’s right, Mitman. We’re working down at your place, your office. The fire? And things are coming along just fine. We’ve got a couple of decisions to make about the reconstruction. I explained it to Mr. Mitman, but he thought I should let you know, so I’m leaving this message. Now, we’re not working today, the rain and all, and we’ve got this other job — but — . It’s the weekend coming up. But if you could drop by Monday, we can go over the plans and get you back in as soon as possible. Thanks and have a nice day.”
“Gregoria? G.R.? How odd that I’ve not used your first name before. Ah, this is Dennis Abudo. We didn’t have a chance to set a time and a place for dinner. Perhaps seven. Would that work? I’d be glad to pick you up at your home, if you’d give me that address. And as to place, Backton presents something of a problem, if you’ll permit me to say so. Perhaps you’ll leave it with me and I will cudgel my brains for a fitting solution. Call me to let me know where you live or if you want to do things differently, of course. Six six five, six six five five, the new 397 area code. I’m looking forward to the evening.”
“Ms. Rangel? Good day. This is Dean Nabel of Backton Aggregate. I wonder if you and I might meet for a discussion of certain recent developments. I’m generally available. It might be most convenient for both of us if we met at a third location. I’m mobile but I doubt I could manage your temporary office. And I understand you’re currently without transportation. I’m going to suggest the Lambton Arms Hotel, the date and time to be of your choosing. I can be reached at Backton Aggregate. Thank you.”
“SEVEN,” SAID TOAI Phang. He did his best to hide the awful fear he felt at what he was about to do. It was irrational, he told himself. There was no self to be lost and so there was nothing to be feared. “The latest three were in a single automobile accident.”
Duc Tu Vinh nodded fractionally. Phang could see him calculating how many were still to go.
“I must speak,” Phang heard himself say. Vinh met his eyes. “It is time to stop this . . . punishment. The authorities are paying close attention. Up till now we have managed to stand hidden in the reeds, but they are not fools and will undoubtedly fix on the source of the killings if we keep moving. This would only bring unhappiness to our enterprise.”
Vinh reached into his jacket and Phang felt his bowels start to loosen. Vinh drew out a cigarette case, flipped it open, and offered it to Phang.
Phang took a cigarette, as did Vinh. They smoked in silence for a moment.
Phang inhaled deeply and let smoke dragon out of his nose. He was committed. There was no point now in half measures. “It is possible that we could deflect their attention or use our assets there to distract them somehow. But more troubling still is the impact that continuing would have on our partners-to-be.” He wanted to say that no one would get into bed with a mad man, but —
Vinh sniffed a couple of times and ran his tongue over his front teeth. He looked at Phang quizzically. “You think our Calabrian friends now rue their carelessness?”
“I do,” said Phang. “For all their crudity, they are practical people. They do not have the assets to start a war with us here in the city. And though they are numerous, they have grown careless, as you say, about many things and lack rigor, discipline. If we stop now, they will forgo vengeance.” Phang silently committed his consciousness to the void. “This is my advice to you.”
© Simon Fodden