The Friday Fillip: Pluck
For the prior thirty weeks the Friday Fillip has been be a chapter in a serialized crime novel, usually followed by a reference you might like to pursue.
Next Friday’s Epilogue will be the last of these instalments of fiction.
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.
On Saturday, two days after the shootout at Backton Aggregate, Nancy Tomasini knocked on Rangel’s door. Rangel answered it in sweats with a piece of peanut-buttered toast in her hand and a bite of it in her mouth. “Hey,” Tomasini said. “I come in?”
Rangel struggled to swallow. “Uh huh,” she said. Tomasini followed Rangel into the kitchen, accepted the offer of coffee, and turned down a slice of toast.
“Couple of things,” said Tomasini. Rangel nodded, waiting, chewing. For some reason she’d been voraciously hungry the past couple of days. Tomasini took a careful sip of coffee. She put the cup down and adjusted it. Then she looked up. “Advice?” she said. “For me, I mean.”
Rangel shrugged. “Sure. What’s up?”
“See,” said Tomasini, “thing is I need to make a decision and I’m torn.” She took a deep breath. “There’s an offer on the table for me to join the provincials, organized crime division even. No worries. I know you and Inspector Bodley are close. I’m not interested. In him, I mean.”
Rangel assumed a bland smile.
“This is pretty much what I’ve dreamed about,” said Tomasini, rotating her coffee cup and staring down into the ripples.
“And?” said Rangel.
Another deep breath. “Ronnie’s quitting,” she said. “He was . . . too easy with Nabel. Couple of other things beyond easy, maybe. Either resigning or there’s going to be an inquiry, so he chose the soft landing.” Rangel made a noncommittal noise. “So the interim mayor’s asked if I would agree to be chief.”
“Congratulations,” said Rangel. “This is a pretty sweet dilemma.”
“Yeah, well,” Tomasini said.
“Ah,” said Rangel, seeing it. “You’re leaning to the chief side and you wonder if that’s a stupid move.”
Tomasini’s face cleared. “Exactly,” she said.
Rangel smiled. “And you thought that maybe I’d be able to give you some reasons to stick around in a small town even though the big city’s a possibility. Because why am I here, right?”
“Shit, I really am transparent, aren’t I?”
“Well,” said Rangel, stretching out the word. “There’s this, for example,” and she waved a hand at the table and then everything beyond. “You walk over to a friend’s house and drop in for coffee. Might not be possible in a condo.”
Tomasini grinned. “I drove.”
“Of course you did,” said Rangel.
“Friends,” said Tomasini. “That’s a thing.”
“You’d make new ones.”
“And lose old ones.”
“Have you thought about your cars? How many do you have?”
“Four. Well, three and a chassis. Work in progress.”
Rangel got up from the table and poured herself another coffee. “I’m a gut person,” she said. “Didn’t used to be. But always leading with my head didn’t work out so well. So now I’m a gut person on big things. What does your gut say?”
“Would you call me ‘Chief’?”
“I wouldn’t salute you, though.”
Tomasini put two hands on the tabletop. “Thanks,” she said, tapping the wood.
“The other thing? You said a ‘a couple of things.’?”
“Yeah, yeah. The other thing is that Dean Nabel wants to see you.”
Rangel frowned. “What for? I can’t represent him,” said Rangel.
Tomasini frowned. “I don’t think it’s that.”
Rangel shrugged. “When?”
Rangel looked down at her sweat suit. “Give me a small town minute,” she said.
VINH LOOKED A HUNDRED years old. The silk suit hung on him as he were merely an armature for a human being, a quick sketch of a person. A fine vibration seemed to blur his hands as they hovered just above the K-54 on table in front of him. The handmade wooden grips identified the pistol as Vinh’s sidearm from his time in the North Vietnamese Army. But everyone’s eyes were on the ugly little olive drab egg beside it. The fuse was still in the grenade but the pull ring was turned towards Vinh.
Phang felt calm, serene even. He let his eyes wander around the table, simply noting the fear and anger in the faces of his countrymen, who were doing their best to disguise these feelings. He heard Vinh as if from a great distance going on about honour and shame, cursing those responsible for the débâcle at the gravel mine, which had stained the honour of them all. Phang had no doubt that Vinh was about to give them a last blessing of redeeming face, if only for the two or so seconds after the pin was pulled.
In his mind Phang sang himself the Song of the Thirteen Postures . . .
. . . Pay attention to the waist at all times;
completely relax the abdomen
and the ch’i rises up.
When the tailbone is centered and straight,
the shen goes through to the headtop.
To make the whole body light and agile
suspend the headtop. . .
With the correct-mind intention, Phang executed the t’ai ch’i ch’uan move known as parting the wild horse’s mane. In his altered state it flowed from him with exquisite slowness. As his right hand passed his left side it collected his Ruger .22, drawing it and its long suppressor out of his belt in a smooth eternity of time. Vinh’s eyes met his, and Phang shot him in the forehead.
Tomasini delivered Rangel into the presence of Commander Ian Finch, Bodley’s boss, who had colonized a corner of the waiting room on the ICU with papers and two computers. He shook her hand. “That was a pretty stupid thing you did the other day,” he said. “Gutsy but stupid. You could have got your friend killed.”
“Yes,” said Rangel. “I know. We’ve talked.”
“Good thing you called us, though. Alan would have got there. He was on his way. But he might not have arrived in force. Knowing you were at the mine made him raise a posse.” At the mention of Bodley’s name, Rangel looked around for him. “Gone back to the Castle,” Finch said. “Enough paperwork to keep him busy for quite a while. He’ll be in touch, I’m sure. Shall we sit?” And with that he waved her into a chair across from his makeshift work station.
“Dean Nabel,” Rangel said. “He wants to talk to me?”
“He does,” Finch said. “We’ve interrogated him as much as possible and I think we’ve got all we’re likely to get from him, unless he makes a remarkable recovery.”
“Mmm. So they tell me. Lots of femoral damage. But I wanted to impart one or two things to you before you go in there.” Finch nodded in the direction of the hall. “I’m sorry to have to tell you that Jared Willoughby is dead.”
Rangel gasped even though she’d prepared herself for this. “It was him.”
“Yes, it was. We’ve confirmed it by dental records and just this morning by DNA results.”
“What — ?”
“Well, this is how we see it. From what Nabel has told us and from . . . one or two other sources we’ve questioned. Seems Nabel planned all along to have Jared Willoughby killed. He waited for, what was it, a year after he’d bought the interest from . . . Schantz? He was already well into business otherwise with the Calabrians. So he arranged with them to have them remove Jared. And it seemed to him that he’d been successful. Now, here’s the odd bit. The guy the Calabrians gave the contract to was Timoteo Nisticò. He’s — he was — Donato Nisticò’s brother, who is a somewhat ageing kingpin in the local ‘ndrangheta. He’d done some work as a hit man for them before, over the years. Bring the little brother along, throw him bones every now and then. That sort of thing. What I guess nobody realized — Timoteo wouldn’t advertise it — is that he was going soft, maybe always was, getting more and more involved with the church. Experiencing lots of remorse we imagine. He couldn’t pull the trigger on Jared. Literally. Maybe because the kid was a cripple. Ach! I mean disabled. Maybe because he found out that Jared liked, what are those little accordian things? Whatever the reasons, he scooped up Jared to take him out of play, but he kept him at his place. Not exactly under lock and key. Stockholm syndrome eventually, no doubt. And, of course, Jared must have been pleased to find that his kidnapper made musical instruments as his day job. And that’s how it went. For a dozen years.”
Rangel shook her head. “What a pity he was killed now. Poor Gladys.”
“You should know that the bullet did not come from Nabel’s gun. I don’t know if that’s relevant to your business with Gladys Tremaine or not. That’s up to you. Nabel will almost certainly be found to have killed others, if that’s important.”
Rangel rubbed her brow. “Well, because Jared was in fact alive all this time, Gladys should get all the profits from the land since Nabel took it from her. If he’d killed Jared, he likely wouldn’t be allowed to profit from that wrong, in which case she’d get the remainder — his interest — too. I’ll have to see if the same would apply in his case. He’s guilty of enough offences all of which are tied in varying degrees to his murder.”
“Yes,” said Finch. “A great many offences.”
The two of them sat there in the quiet of the waiting room for a minute or so, saying nothing. The distant pings of monitors and the rattle of carts up distant hallways were oddly comforting sounds.
RANGEL COULD SEE THAT the ICU nurse was conflicted. The woman’s sworn duty to care made Rangel’s presence in the chamber — you couldn’t call the tiled, overbright, device-hung area a room — distressing and probably an error. At the same time the nurse regarded Nabel with ill-disguised contempt. She sat herself in a chair against an unoccupied portion of wall and crossed her arms over her chest, while Rangel moved to the bedside.
Nabel had his eyes open but unfocused. Rangel felt heat rising from his body. “Fires,” Nabel said. He wasn’t looking at her.
“Oh, the fires that burned my office and my truck.”
“I see.” Rangel thought for minute. “What was the point?”
“Because Gladys was my client”
Nabel tried to shake his head and gave a small cry of distress. Rangel stepped back a pace and looked over at the nurse, who declined to meet her eyes. Nabel swallowed convulsively a couple of times. “Sanders,” he said.
“Because I represented Sanders?”
“Yes.” A series of unreadable expressions passed across his face. “I was . . . molested.”
“As a boy.”
“Yes. Cripples . . .” Nabel panted for a while. “Cripples can’t run.”
“I know,” said Rangel. She had to think about whether she wanted to say she was sorry that he’d been abused. Before she could make up her mind, Nabel spoke again, this time with a little more ease.
“I know what happened. Cops. Everything.”
“What happened with Jared?”
“Yes.” Nabel closed his eyes. “I have no family,” he said. Rangel waited. “Give everything to Gladys. Write up something, I’ll sign it.”
“Let me consult with her.”
“No time. Write it up now.”
“The gangs . . . organized crime.”
“She’s tough. Gutsy. And they . . .” A hand rose under the blanket and lifted it a fraction. “Hurry,” he said. And then he opened his eyes and looked at her. “Before I run away.” A small smile. “Run,” he said again. “Away.”
RANGEL FOUND GLADYS Tremaine in the front room of her old house, moving slowly from object to object, just touching things, becoming reacquainted. She stopped with her hand on a small framed photograph. “No more tears. I haven’t any more tears. I’ve cried for Jared, poor Jared, for a long, long time. And now I’m . . . dry.” She looked with a kind of defiance at Rangel. “Which is good. Because no matter how sad the poor boy’s life was, he is gone and my tears won’t help him one iota.”
Rangel simply stood there, being with the woman, not needing to say anything.
Tremaine held up the photograph she’d had her hand on. “My Harold,” she said, and she looked into the picture, putting it back carefully after a moment. “Thank you,” she said to Rangel. “You did what I asked of you and I am deeply grateful to you.”
Rangel shook her head. “I wouldn’t —” she began.
Tremaine cut her off. “I would. And I do.” With that a briskness in her manner returned. “Come,” she said to Rangel. “Sit down. It seems I must continue to live, so I might as well make myself useful. Let us talk about what we’re going to do with that rock farm I seem to have acquired.”
“Yes,” said Rangel. “Let’s.”
© Simon Fodden
Fortitude . . . and Other Intestinal Things
Bodies are peculiar things, are they not?
We have them, inhabit them — are them. And even so, the greatest part by far of our bodies is opaque to us, hidden and inaccessible. It gives affront, I suspect, to our poor ego consciousness, that so much that is undeniably us is not merely beyond its control but beyond its ken. No wonder that many religions and philosophies would have “us” part ways with the flesh, that refractory, mechanical, desiring, vulnerable, “anchor” tying us down to the contingencies of time and place and circumstance. Even, or especially, technology is imagined by some to be able to debody us and “port” our minds, whatever they might be, into software.
This invisibility of our inner workings makes them handy projection screens for our worries, our malaises, our feelings. Hence the stock Frenchman who is concerned about son foie, when an Englishman wouldn’t even know where to find it. And the Englishman who has a heart of oak, his courage. And, at one time, you would have found men and women who located their pity in their bowels — as Oliver Cromwell assumed when he famously “beseeched” the synod of the Church of Scotland thus: “in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.”
I don’t know where we might locate our pity today, if anywhere. But I’m fairly sure it wouldn’t be in our guts. Though we use that term as the locus of courage — pluck (which is also the word for the edible innards of animals) — and to a lesser extent intuition, we tend not to speak of bowels in polite society anymore and very little of what takes place within them. That’s going to change, however, and not just because of yogurt ads that show people dancing the happy regularity dance after consumption of the product, though that’s related to the reason.
We’re finally learning something about what goes on inside the tube of us, where hundreds of millions of neurones in the elaborate enteric nervous system represent what is often called our “gut brain,” connecting our bowels to our brains and managing a lot of two way traffic. Some of that traffic is intiated by hormonal signals, which in turn can be the work of the billions of bacteria that share our innards. Most of the thousands of kinds bacteria (to say nothing of the viruses) that comprise this microbiome haven’t even been properly catalogued, let alone studied for their effects. Some may turn out to be simply commensal, that is, along for the ride, eating our food but giving nothing good or bad in return. But current research suggests that some are quite mutualistic, indeed an essential part of our emotional and nervous system, broadly understood, for both bad and good.
So be alert for more scoops on poop (and its precursors). In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more, you might start with a couple of general interest pieces such as this article in Atlantic (“When Gut Bacteria Changes Brain Function”) and this in Scientific American (“Gut Feelings–the “Second Brain” in Our Gastrointestinal Systems”). And this scientific article will take you further into the matter: “Microbial Endocrinology in the Microbiome-Gut-Brain Axis: How Bacterial Production and Utilization of Neurochemicals Influence Behavior”.
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