The Friday Fillip: Getting the Lead Out

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 26
Getting the Lead Out

“We’ve got a pretty good picture of it now,” said Alan Bodley. There was coffee in china cups. Bodley put his down on the saucer with that gentle click that said real porcelain. The cup had a fluted edge and a floral design.

The Commissioner caught him looking. “My wife,” he said. “Civilizing. Or something.”

The Deputy Commissioner flicked a cryptic glance at a uniformed supervisor sitting slightly behind the Commissioner. She dropped her eyes and struggled not to smile.

Bodley stretched out a grey-suited leg and considered the shine on his oxblood Brogue as he spoke. “The ‘ndrangheta used to run the drug and prostitution businesses in that part of the province, but competition came along about five, six years back. Now it looks like ‘ndrangheta’s pretty much out of the rural and small town game. Pushed out. Gambling was the wedge.”

Commander Finch felt the need to be seen and heard. “Vietnamese,” he said. “Curious mix of online gaming based way offshore and hyperlocal stuff — basement, backroom dens, high-stakes poker, blackjack, and a ton of half-legal video slots for the truly stupid. Play with debit cards, credit cards, highly portable machines. Disappear them quick at the first sign of trouble.”

Bodley waited to see that Finch had delivered himself of his portion. Then he went on. “A deal got struck, Vietnamese and Calabrians, but it was never going to last. And it’s evidently come completely undone. The Italians have pretty much bowed out.” He leaned forward, tucking his legs under the chair. “The head man, Vinh, has been moving to put resources more and more into legit business. Well, apparently legit business. Not a hell of a lot more corrupt, shall we say, than your ordinary high profit businesses.”

The supervisor said, teasingly, “You’re not suggesting that capitalism is organized crime, are you Alan?”

Bodley smiled. “Heaven forfend,” he said. “Occupational hazard. Man with a hammer, and all that.”

Finch stirred. His turn again. “We’ve discovered that this Vinh is going into aggregate production in a big way.”

The Commissioner asked Bodley, “Aggregate?”

“Sand, gravel, crushed rock. The underpinning of everything. Selling dirt back to the people.” Bodley shrugged. “Backton Aggregate is one of their operations. Nabel, Dean Nabel, is the nominal owner. Legal owner on paper. But —” He shrugged again.

The Deputy Commissioner asked Bodley, “What was the point of trying to kill this Tremaine woman? I was at her place and I’ve got to say I can’t think of a less likely criminal mastermind.”

Bodley smiled. “The Calabrians took some initiative and tried to please Vinh. They saw her and her beef with Nabel as a threat to Vinh and, so, a threat to their own small, remaining foothold in the area. It hasn’t worked out well for them. Seems Vinh is a real tetchy kind of guy and was so irritated by their clumsiness he just about decimated their soldiers.”

The Commissioner asked, “So she’s irrelevant?”

“Yes,” said Finch decisively.

“Anything important in that missing son of hers?”

“More like a grandson,” said Bodley. And, “Difficult to say. If Nabel killed him to get at the land, it’s going to be harder than hell to prove after a dozen years. But I’ve got someone looking into it, just in case.”

“And that lawyer woman?”

Bodley went back to contemplating the shine on his shoes. “Rangel,” he said. “She’s just what she appears to be. Smart. Honest. Struggling lawyer.”

“Good looking,” said the DC. Everyone laughed.

“That, too,” said Bodley. “And more important, she’s got a hot car.” Laughter again.

The Commissioner persisted. “So what’s all that arson about?”

Bodley said, “That we don’t know. But we’re persuaded it’s got nothing to do with our people of interest. It’s in the hands of the local police.”

“Huh,” said the Commissioner. He turned to Commander Finch. “Update your standing memo on —” he waved his hand “— all this. See if we can get this thing going.” He sighed. “And it’s time to talk to the minister about the nitty gritty dirt business.” He picked up his coffee cup and put it down again. “For all the good it will do,” he said.


“NICE LITTLE PLACE you got here,” said Ronnie Dabord. He was standing in the small reception area, moving his cap from hand to hand.

“That’s right,” said Rangel. “You haven’t been here.”

“And you’ve had it for what? All of two weeks?”

“Is that all? How time flies. You’re forgiven, then.”

“Your other place, I guess it is, is coming along fine. I was down there yesterday. Stuff gets built lickety split nowadays. Going to be a handsome addition to the town.”

Rangel said, “I’m getting kind of attached to this space, though. Cosy.”

“Like camping, only you don’t have to go out of the tent to . . .” He trailed off.

“What’s up, Ronnie? Or is this just a social call?”

“I wish. But I’m whipping around like a flag in a gale. Thanks in no small measure to you.” He grinned and then gestured at her office. “Can we?” he said.

They settled. Dabord fitted his cap on to one of his knees. “I’ve sent the para cord off to the provincial lab,” he told her, serious now. “See if they can do some batch identification.” He shifted in his seat. “Trouble is, even if we match it to the stuff that they use at Nabel’s, it’s not going to get us very far. I mean, it’s not under lock and key there like the dynamite. Any of his dozens of workers could have grabbed hold of a reel of the stuff pretty much any time.”

“Motive?” Rangel asked.

“Yeah, well,” said Dabord. “Got to figure it’s all about the Sanders case. Your role. Unless you’ve pissed off someone I don’t know about.”

Rangel made a hmph noise. “Could have something to do with Gladys’s affairs.”

Dabord scratched his head with a careful finger. He nodded. “Possible,” he said. “The provincials are taking a run at locating Jared or at least trying to rule out that he’s still alive. So in a way that’s out of our hands now.”

Rangel lifted her hands slightly from the desktop and looked at them.

“Yes,” said Dabord. And, “Well.”

Rangel looked up at him.

“Sanders,” he said. She waited. He sighed and seemed to deflate with the out breath. “I guess I should say thanks for the information about Dom and his eavesdropping. I’m speaking to him myself this afternoon. But —” He sighed again. “I’d hate to think that we got the wrong man,” he said, coming it at another way. “Sanders has been convicted by a court. That’s got to count for something. A lot. It makes it really unlikely that we got it wrong. No? I mean, you’re a lawyer. You tell me. All that . . . evidence, all that stuff that you people do . . . cross-examination, beyond a reasonable doubt . . . What are the chances?”

“The chances? It’s not really a matter of odds, Ronnie. I agree: it’s not easy to overturn a conviction. It’s really hard in fact. Or to get a new trial based on new evidence. But I was his counsel. And although I’m long gone from the record, I don’t think I can just sit by and ignore the sort of thing that Dominic Archer was telling me.” She tilted her head and looked into his eyes searchingly. “And nor can you, I would think.”

“The . . . Buffaloes,” he said, giving the word an unpleasant spin. He shook his head slowly. “I mean, the mayor, good old Charlie Ziff. And a handful of what passes for movers and shakers in this little burg. I’ll be frank. I wouldn’t want to be seen as making allegations of this sort. Word gets around. Reputations get ruined, because gossip loves ruination. You of all people should know it does. Could be a disaster. And all for what?”

“Justice?” said Rangel sharply.

Dabord snorted. “Right,” he said. “As if.” He shook himself and put on his cap. Then he took it off again. “Look,” he said, “I know this has been hard on you. Really hard. But I wonder how much your — I won’t say ‘guilt’ — let’s just say ‘anxiety,’ is driving this.”

“You will look into it,” Rangel said. It was not a question.

Dabord met her gaze. “Yes, ma’am,” he said, with no intonation at all. He put on his cap and took his time settling it, getting it just right.


MITMAN CROSSED HIS LEGS, knee over knee, and perched a steno pad on the upper joint. He licked the point of a Dixon 3B pencil and held it hovered over the pad. He looked at Rangel with his brows arched, expectant.

Rangel couldn’t help it: she laughed for a solid minute. Wiping her eyes, she said, “Thank you.”

“I don’t know what you mean, I’m sure,” said Mitman, but he’d uncrossed his legs.

“I need you to do some things for me, Wally.” she said. “Call Tom Withers and check that Nabel has followed through on his promise to pay the workers for last Thursday. He told me he’d have it done by yesterday.” Mitman began to scribble.

“Then get in touch with Serge Antipov. I need to talk to him about the possibility of new evidence in the Sanders matter. Oh, and call that number Nancy Tomasini gave me to get in touch with Gladys. See if you can talk to her, make sure she’s okay. See if she needs anything, if there’s anything we can do for her.”

She tapped a pen on her desk as she thought. “If,” she said, “you have a moment. You might wander over to Sanders’ old office and double check on who’s got the offices above, below, and beside. I think I can recall, but it’s not the sort of thing I want to have any doubts about.”

Mitman made a strong black mark with his pencil. “Within wifi range,” he said. He turned the mark into an arrow.

Rangel nodded. “I’ve read what you put together based on Sanders’ appeal material. I think I understand the basics enough to assume that someone could have parked the pornography on his drive if they were close enough physically. That it’s a realistic possibility. And now that we’ve got some names to consider, we’ve got a second vector, as it were. Let’s see if it crosses the proximity line.”

“I’m on it,” Mitman said.

“And we should probably start thinking about moving back to the office, the old office I mean. Give it a month more at the outside.”

“I can go by and get an updated estimate from the construction crew,” Mitman said.

“Do that,” she said. “Please.”


© Simon Fodden

Getting the Lead Out . . . and Using It

I got a note in the mail the other day. The real mail. A handwritten note. Done with a fountain pen. I felt a rush of pleasant nostalgia and immediately went to fetch a fountain pen of my own in order to reply. Gathered in the back of a drawer I have perhaps ten of them. Not one of them has ink or is in a working condition. Nostalgia then felt something like a reproach.

I’m old enough to have handwritten — to have dipped pen in ink, indeed. And writing, by which I now mean composing, has for me always been associated with the tools used to accomplish it. The wrong tool presents an obstacle; the right tool, the exactly right tool, greases the skids of prolixity, as someone once said.

Now, of course, it’s Apple equipment that does my trick. But once upon a time it was pencils. For me there was — and to an extent still is — nothing like a soft lead pencil for flowing the creative juices, for making meaning and at the same time making pretty curves and striking bold strokes and at the same time making my hand feel the paper and the graphite melting on it. The whole sensorium participates.

As bad as my supply of working fountain pens is, however, my supply of pencils is worse. This is something I mean to correct. I’m getting myself a yellow (short) legal pad and a bunch of sweet wooden pencils sharpened just right. You might consider it, too. It will take a little effort, though. Rather like book books or phones with cords, pencils are in the process of disappearing.

For a backward glance, check out this site’s 3000 pencils produced by 173 historic brands, with choices of colours, vintages, barrels, origins, and ferrules. But for a list of around a hundred surviving manufacturers around the world, look at this site. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, many of the these companies are located in emerging economies, where computerization hasn’t yet occupied the field.

And if pencils are in fact your thing, make a note of, a place to source your tools. And you’ll want to follow Pencil Revolution, a blog devoted to the wooden wonders. The bloggers also have a podcast, The Erasable Podcast,for those who like to listen.

In case this pencil adulation strikes you as too earnestly nerdy, here’s “How to Sharpen Pencils,” a witty deadpan video that takes the piss, shall we say, out of the simpleminded “how to” videos that proliferate — and out of all things leaden, really.

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