Monday, 18 November 2013

NaNoPost 005

Lee had a cellphone clamped to his ear as he stood steering passers-by around the glass on the sidewalk.  From the sound of it he was trying to get someone down to fix the window.  I pushed the door open and stepped inside.  Nancy had a broom and was sweeping up the glass from the floor while Lucy was clearing the tables near what remained of the window.  Other than the two of them the place was empty, and the sign on the door was turned to ‘Closed’.

“Nance?” I asked.  “What the hell happened?”

She looked up.

“Damn kids.” she snapped.  She actually used rather stronger language than that, but my delicate ears filtered it out.


“Yeah,” she continued. “One of the customers said she saw a couple of kids on pushbikes tear up, heave a couple of bricks at the window and scram.”

She went on at great length as to what she’d to if she ever got hold of ‘em.  Much of it, I believe, banned by the Geneva convention.

Lee stepped back in, putting the phone back in his pocket, and surveyed the damage as Nancy went outside with the broom and started pushing the glass into a pile.  He caught my eye and motioned to follow him back to the kitchen.  I lingered in the door to the prep area, as I wasn’t wearing whites and hadn’t scrubbed my hands.  Wouldn’t want to contravene the scrupulous hygeine standards that New York cafes are famous for.

“What’s up?  Nancy said it was kids?”

Lee shook his head.

Lee-Ho Fook was the short order cook at the Cup ‘O’ Joe.  You could usually tell when he was working from the less than stellar singing that drifted through the serving hatch.  He was a nice guy, always cheery, but today he looked grim.

He glanced over my shoulder, presumably to check that Lucy and Nancy weren’t listening.

“Had a guy come in a couple of nights ago, just as I was closing up.  The girls had gone, place was empty and I was just about to leave.  Said to him he was too late to get any chow, but he said he was here ‘with an offer’.”

This didn’t sound good.

Lee quickly outlined a familiar tale.  For a modest weekly retainer of only three hundred bucks, the guy would ensure that no ‘unforseen accidents’ happened at the Cup ‘O’ Joe.  Lee had told the guy no dice, but had rung the owner the next morning just in case.  The owner, who I’d never seen, and probably didn’t visit more than one or twice a year took a similar view, said to Lee it was probably some guy chancing his arm and told him to forget it.

Now, coincidentally, 48 hours later, some kids trash the window.

“I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.” I said to Lee, and left.

o o o o o

It was nearer twenty minutes when I got back.  Nancy & Lucy had cleared up most of the mess and were sitting having a coffee.  Lee pulled up a couple of chairs to their table.

“I thought the ladies ought to know what had happened.” he said.  “I filled them in while you were gone.  So.  Any ideas?”

“The guy who came in.” I asked.  “Big guy?  Maybe 300 pounds?  No neck?  Suit that didn’t fit too well?  Didn’t seem like the sharpest knife in the drawer?”

“Sounds about right.”  said Lee.  “Pasty face.  Short hair, slicked back.  Why?  Do you know him?”

“Nope.  But the guy in the bodega a few blocks down got the same visit a few days ago.  He told him to get lost too.   And they suddenly required the services of a glazier yesterday.”

“So what do we do?” asked Lucy.  “I don’t want the window getting smashed again.”

“Or worse.” chipped in Nancy.

“Well first off, I’d report it to the cops,” I said.  “I told the guy down the street to do the same.  If this clown has tried it on at a few places, and they all report it, it might be enough to get a patrol down here for a few days.”  

I shrugged.  “But if it’s just a couple of you, then it probably ain’t going to be the top of their list.”

“I’ll phone this afternoon.” said Lee, getting up.  I turned round to see the guy Lee had called to sort the window pulling up in a van.

“Can’t you do anything, Chuck?”  said Nancy.  “You’re the detective, aintcha?”

Lucy looked up, hopefully.

“I think this is probably one for the cops,” I said.  Then saw the look of disappointment on Nancy’s face.  She and I go back a ways…  

“Okay, okay.” I said.  “I’ll see what I can do.”

She brightened up.

“Attaboy!” She said.  “And when you find ‘em, if you need someone to kick ‘em in the…”

“I gotta go!”, I interrupted, and left.

o o o o o

I hopped on the subway and headed towards Lawton Street.  This time of the afternoon it wasn’t too busy and I grabbed a seat.  The train rumbled through the tunnels and my stomach joined in.  I hadn’t eaten for hours and my delicate consitution was demanding at the very least, a Hershey bar.

Twenty minutes and two trains later and I was back above ground.  It was a few blocks to Lawton so I stuck my hands in my pockets and started walking.  As I did, I got to thinking.  A couple of days ago I was sat around doing nothing.  Now I’d got a missing person, a protection racket and a retirement party to deal with.  Who was it said good things come in three’s?

I got to Lawton Street about ten before two.  There was no sign of Jenny outside 1266, so I stood and looked around while I waited.  Fairly typical apartment building.  From my limited architectural knowledge, I deduced that it was maybe 50 years old, and brown.

Neighbourhood looked ok - I’d certainly seen worse, though the stores on Fifth Avenue weren’t going to be opening up branches here anytime soon.  There was a liquor store on the corner, a bagel shop and a shoe repairer and that was about it.  The stores had dwindled the further I’d got from the subway and Lawton Street seemed to be mostly residential.

While I was wondering how much you had to make to afford the rent on a place like this, and whether I had time to grab a bagel, Jenny appeared from the direction of the subway.

“Hello, Mr Able.” she said as she walked up.

“Chuck,” I reminded her.

“Hello Chuck.” she said.

“Hi.  Shall we?”

Jenny opened the door and we walked into a hall that was decorated for practicality rather than style.  We took the stairs up one flight and along a short corridor.  The door to Apartment 15 was on the right, so must look out over the street where I’d been standing.

“So you haven’t been in here since you last spoke to your brother?” I asked.

“No.” said Jenny.  “Like I said the other day - when I spoke to the Police, they said the same sort of thing as you.  It’s probably nothing, don’t worry, see if he turns up in a few days.  I did give it a few days, but that’s when I came to you.  I would have come over and let myself in, but Stephen locked himself out about six months ago, and borrowed the spare key that I had.  I just never got around to getting it back.”

I sized up the door.  If you watch much TV, you probably know that any door can be opened by two good kicks.  If you actually try it, you’ll just end up in the emergency room with a bunch of fractured bones in your foot.  New Yorkers take their front doors seriously.  While I’m a fan of brute force and ignorance now and again, sometimes you have to be a bit more subtle.

I fished a small black case out of my pocket and opened up a set of lockpicks, which I’m just looking after for a friend, officer.  I selected a couple of tools, then knelt down to get a better look at the locks.  There were a couple, and if the deadlock was on, then brute force and ignorance might still have to make an appearance.  I started on the latch.
A few minutes of the sort of nimble fingerwork that a pianist would admire and ladies would appreciate, an I heard a satisfying click.  I stood up and put the picks away.

“Fingers crossed the door was just pulled shut.” I said, and pushed.

The door swung open a little.

I’ve helped on a couple of Police jobs where the person we were staking out turned out to be of the deceased variety.   When you go into those places, if it’s more than 24 hours since they shuffled off to join the choir almighty, then it’s usually your nose that tells you first.

I sniffed, but all I was getting was Jenny’s perfume, which was a good sign.

“Just stay out in the hall for a minute, please.” I said to her.  I didn’t know what we were going to find, and there’s no point in upsetting the client if you don’t have to.

I fished about in my pocket and pulled out a pair of latex gloves, and some of those elasticated plastic overshoes that scene of crime officers wear to avoid contaminating, well, scenes of crimes.

Guess who I’d got ‘em from.

Covered up, I pushed the door fully open and looked into a small living room.  No bad guys and no corpses.  So far, so good.  I stepped through the doorway.  Off to the left was a corner where the room opened up into what looked like a tiny kitchenette.  There was also what appeared to be a closet and a door.  Off to my right was what I guessed was the bedroom door.  I started with the door on my left and pushed it open to reveal a small bathroom.  If there were any stiffs hidden in there, I couldn’t see ’em.  The closet just held the usual household stuff, and there weren’t any feet sticking out of the kitchenette.  I checked it over anyway, but like most New York apartments, it was there simply so the realtor could say it had a kitchen.  You’d have to step out to turn around, and if you wanted anything more complicated than a sandwich, you’d be better off eating out.

I made my way across the living room to the bedroom door, making sure not to move anything.  First impressions were that Mr Fremont wasn’t very tidy.  Second impressions were that although it was a bit of a mess, it wasn’t making me think there had been any kind of scuffle.  

I pushed the bedroom door open.  Bed was made, and unless he was a contortionist, it was unlikely that our missing guy was in the set of drawers.  Mind you.  He’d only have to be a contortionist if he was in one drawer.  It was possible that he was in several drawers, but if that was what had happened, then this would be one of those ‘not a happy ending’ type cases.  Fortunately, when I pulled a couple of ‘em open, all I found were shirts and socks.

That left the wardrobe.

The doors were mirrored, and I saw myself as I approached it.  Doesn’t matter how many times you do this sort of thing, you can’t help but get a bit nervous.  If you don’t, then you’re doing something wrong.  My face gave away my nerves and I made a mental note to practice looking tough.

I reached out to the door with a gloved hand and held the top and bottom of the handle between my thumb and forefinger.  Anybody else would probably have just grabbed the handle, and I didn’t want to smudge any dabs.

I realised I was holding my breath.  Pull yourself together, Able, I thought.  It’s just going to be clothes.

I gripped the handle again, and pulled.


 I clutched at my chest and spun round, heart pounding.  Jenny was standing in the living room, peering round the bedroom door.

“Sorry.  Did I make you jump?” she asked.

“No, no.” I lied, as my heart made the long journey back down to my chest.  “I’m fine.”

“Sorry,” she said again.  “I was just getting worried, and wanted to know what was going on.”

“So far,” I said, “so not very much.  Just want to check the wardrobe.”

After all the build up, the wardrobe turned out to contain clothes, some blankets and not much else.  Certainly no decomposing bodies.

It’s a good job my life’s not a book, because the editor would be complaining about how boring it was.  “Not much happening so far, is there?  Where are the bodies?  Where are the baddies?”

I pushed the wardrobe door closed again and turned back to my client, who was still hovering by the doorway.

“Well.  In my professional opinion,” I said to Jenny, “your brother ain’t here.”

All of which begs the question: 

Where was he?

Monday, 11 November 2013

NaNoPost 004

I froze.  He hadn’t seen me.  He couldn’t have seen me.

Who am I kidding?  The man can see through walls.  Of course he can see me.

At least I hadn’t done anything wrong, so he couldn’t want to ball me out about anything.  Or had I?  I was still wondering when I knocked on the Captain’s door.

“Come in!” Russo barked.

As I pushed the door open, the lights in the office came on, illuminating the fabled paperwork graveyard, where documents go to die.

I swear every time I go in there, there’s more.  Folders, boxes, piles of loose leaf sheets high enough to kill a man if they fell on you.  At the back of the office, rumour had it there was a desk.  I couldn’t see it, but I assume it was there, behind more piles of reports, clippings and files.  A Health and Safety Exec would have a heart attack.

So it wasn’t all bad.

On the alleged desk was a paper snowdrift about three feet high, and Russo’s voice emerged from behind it.

“Sit down, Able.”

I wondered what I was in for this time…

Me and the 18th had an ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine’ kind of thing going on.  Years ago I’d got a job working for them as a data wrangler.  The days when cops solved cases by pounding the streets and pounding suspects were mostly history, no matter how much I did my best to keep ‘em alive.  These days it was all about connections, data and tracking down that crucial bit of information that you could use to nail the villain.  Every Police station had a computer room, known in the trade as ‘the archive’, which was wired into the Police network, and had access to the sort of data that would make your average civvie’s eyes pop.

After seven years I’d left the employ of New York’s finest and set up on my own, but I’d managed to be retained as a ‘Private Contractor’ which meant that if they were short handed (don’t get Russo started on staffing cuts!), they’d got some mostly reliable people like me who they could call on for low level stuff.  Stakeouts and grunt work mainly.  It wasn’t what you’d call exciting, but it brought in a few shekels, and it also meant that I got access to the Police network.  Not entirely sure how legal it is, but nobody looks too closely, and we all get along.

Keep it to yourself, right?

I wondered why I was sitting staring at a pile of paper.

“Able.”  said Russo.  “Tell me I’m not paying you to be here.”

All our conversations seemed to start like this…

“Tell me that hardworking taxpayer’s dollars are not finding their way into your pockets when my budget is being cut. To. The. Bone.”

He emphasised the last three words by hammering on the desk, which dislodged about six months worth of paperwork.  I shuffled the chair back a bit, just in case, as reports settled round my feet.

“No, Captain, this particular visit ain’t costing you a dime.”

“Yeah, well.  Keep it that way.”

If I could see his eyes, I suspect they’d be twinkling with mischief.  Still. At least it sounded like I wasn’t in trouble.

“So what can I do for you, Captain Russo?”  I asked.  As I did, I spotted that one of the reports that had landed at my feet was a case that had been in the papers a few months back that I’d been fascinated by.  I stretched my leg out and started pulling it towards me.

“Leave that alone.”

CCTV or mirrors.  Has to be.

“Sergeant O’Halloran.”

“Pat?” I said.  “Is he ok?”

“He’s retiring.”

“What?  Pat?  No way!  He’s going to go on forever.”

Pat O’Halloran was the beating heart of the 18th Precinct.  He was so like the tourist image of an ‘older’ New York cop that it bordered on cliche : Irish heritage, slightly rotund, infectious smile, and knew the area like the back of his hand.  However, running though the tubby and jolly exterior was a core of steel.  He’d been a New York cop long enough to have seen it all.  Done it all.  And you don’t get to Pat’s age, and spend more than forty years on the force without being tough.  You didn’t often see this side of him these days - for some years now he’d been one of the desk Sergeants for the 18th, and most of the station regarded him as something of a Father figure.  But circumstances occasionally meant that he went out on the street, and those that worked with him said that he was as sharp as ever.

Pat had mentioned something a few years ago about retiring.  He was not far shy of 60, so could have gone a few years back, but I’d assumed he’d been kidding.

“So what do you want me to do, Cap?  Talk him out of it?”

A chuckle came from the other side of the paper, the chair was pushed back and I watched the top of Russo’s head walk back and forth behind the desk.

“If the Sergeant has made up his mind, and he most definitely has, then I doubt that there’s anything that you could do about it, Able.”

I was puzzled now.

“So, er… what’s the deal?”

“Sergeant O’Halloran will complete his last shift a week on Friday…”


“Indeed.  He’s kept it quiet.  Doesn’t want a fuss.  But there are many officers here who do want to make a fuss.  But the Sergeant hasn’t got where he is without being a very good cop, and there’s not much goes on here that he doesn’t know about.”

Just like you, I thought.

“Not unlike myself, I might add.”

“So I want…” he continued, “would like… you to organise something.  Just drinks in Mac’s on the Friday evening.  But it has to be a surprise.  From what I recall, you’re in the habit of being underhand and sneaky.”

“Er, well…”

“Good.  I’ll leave it to you then.”

“So, er, is there a budget?” I asked.

I swear I could hear his eyes rolling.  Then there was some scribbling and a piece of paper came over the top of the pile.

“Put it down as stakeout expenses.”

“Ok, Cap.  As it’s Pat, I’ll see what I can do.”  I slipped the paper in my pocket.

“And no reburbishing that office of yours on the taxpayers dollar.  I’ll be going through that claim with a fine toothed comb… .” he said, as I left.

I had no doubt he would.

Well, well, well.  Pat retiring.  It was the end of an era.

o o o o o

I looked at my watch as I carried on from the Captain’s office towards the archive.  It had just gone 10.30 so I had a few hours before I needed to meet Jenny at Stephen’s apartment.

As I got to the door of the archive I waved my badge at the pad by the door and it slid open.    It wasn’t a big room, and it was taken up by about eight desks, each with a machine on.  For now I had the place to myself, but from habit, I picked a screen that was unlikely to be overlooked should someone else turn up.  While I was employed here, this was my domain, hunting down data for the Detectives upstairs, looking for connections, piecing data together.  There had been two of us at one point, and officers were also able to come down and do their own searches, but it soon became apparent that it was far easier to just send the details of your request to the wrangler, and wait for the results to land on your desk, so for a few years it was two of us, then it was just me.

Once I left, cuts meant that one officer - Lucy Baines - now did wrangling part time. Occasionally I’d run into her, but most of the time I was here in the morning, and she was here in the afternoon.  It was crazy, given how useful the service was, but that’s the public sector for you.

As I sat down, the machine detected my pass and woke itself up.  Moments later, I was online and digging.

Over the years there’s been a battle raging between those who believe the net should be a wild frontier, open to all, with little or no regulation, and others who want it locked down tight.  There’s also a war about privacy.  Most people don’t realise how little privacy they’ve actually got when they go online.  Some know the risks and don’t care - it’s a tradeoff they’re prepared to take for the convenience.  Some, like me, know the risks and walk a fine line, keeping most of my stuff squirrelled away where all the most most determined of hackers won’t find it.

And then there’s English.   The guy who set up my security and provides me with most of my tech.  He’s what paranoid people call paranoid.  The NSA could learn a thing or two about being cautious from him.  Don’t get me wrong - he’s no genius.  He ain’t one of these guys who can hack anything, build anything… but he’s pretty good.  And he’s smart.  Most of the time, rather than coming up with some brilliant way of doing something, he’ll come up with a sneaky way round the back that takes advantage of the average Joe’s stupidity or laziness.  You people who use the same password, but just change the last character every month?  

English loves you guys.

And then there’s Flint.  He only rates a nine on the English security scale.  I hadn’t had cause to speak to him for nearly a year, and my bank balance was grateful.  Maybe I should get in touch.  Never know when I might need his… specialised... services, and it was good to keep the wheels greased.

I got back to what I was doing.  Like I say, most people don’t think too much about the net, and as long as they can update their social status, order a toaster and check their email they’re happy.  Maybe if they could see what the Police were able to find out about them, they wouldn’t be.  I clicked on a drop down list of search engines.   Some of them you’d find familiar, some of them you’ll never have heard of, and never will.

If the cops had access to this sort of stuff, I idly wondered, not for the first time, what the hell did the real spooks have?

Maybe I’d ask Flint sometime.

For the next two hours, I trawled for anything I could turn up on Mr Fremont.  I plugged a datastick into the machine and took copies of anything I thought was, or might be, useful.  I had some code back on the office machine that was pretty good at churning though this stuff and looking for connections, so I grabbed anything that I thought might be even vaguely interesting.

On the face of it, there were no deep, dark secrets to be found.  Usually when someone goes missing, there’s a reason for it.  Either they’ve done something they can’t face up to, or they’ve done something that someone else wants some payback for.  These things don’t happen overnight, and there’s usually a trail of gingerbread leading to the witch’s house.  But I was looking for biscuits and turning up squat.

At 12.30 I decided to call it a day.  I unplugged the stick and slipped it into my pocket, shut the machine down and headed out.  As I walked up the corridor I bumped into Officer Baines, who was just going in to start her shift.  I hadn’t seen her for a month or so, so we shot the breeze for a couple of minutes and then she went to work while I made for the front door.  As I got there, I saw a familiar figure behind the desk.

“Chuck!” boomed a voice that veered between Brooklyn and Ballymena, depending on how much he’d had to drink.

“Hi, Pat!” I said, shaking his hand.  “How’s tricks?”  Clearly there had been a shift change, because Pat had now taken over from the Sergeant who had been on duty when I arrived.

“Fine, fine.  Haven’t seen you for a while.  Been busy?”

“Just the opposite,” I said.  “quiet as the grave.  But something might have turned up.  How’s the ladies in your life?”

Pat was married to a fabulous woman called Mary, but the pride and joy of his life were his two daughters.

“They’re grand!” he said, completely ignoring the woman who was trying to get his attention at the desk.  “Let me show you a picture of Emily & Cora.”

He dug out his wallet and produced a picture of two dark haired girls who were in their late twenties.

“And we have news!”


“Emily’s getting married!”  At last!”

As far as I could recall, Pat’s daughter Emily had been engaged for years with no sign of a wedding.

“Finally went round to Liam’s with a shotgun, eh?”  I chuckled to Pat.

He roared until he went an alarming shade of pink.  I suddenly remembered the retirement thing, and how I was supposed to keep it a secret.

“Anyway, congratulations, Pat!” I said, “but I think I’d better be off.”

Maybe something in my face gave me away, because he suddenly stopped laughing and fixed me with a gaze like a hawk.

I made like a pair of trousers after lunch at an all-you-can-eat restaurant and split.

o o o o o

I checked my watch as I headed down the hill from the 18th.  Just enough time to duck into the Cup ‘O’ Joe and grab a bite to eat before I went off to meet Jenny.  A fifteen minute brisk walk and I approached the eatery.  Strangely, I could see Lee, the cook, standing on the street outside.  As I got nearer, I could see why.

Much like the bodega, the front window was now just a pile of broken glass.


Friday, 8 November 2013

NaNoPost 003

I spent the next couple of hours trawling the internet for anything I could turn up on Stephen John Tremont.  Unless you learn how to tread light, you’d be suprised at the big, muddy old foorprints you leave all over the digital sidewalk.  Not just the so called ‘social media’, neither.  All sorts of bits and pieces.  On their own they maybe don’t mean too much, but when someone starts putting the pieces together, like a virtual jigsaw, well you start to get a picture.  And it ain’t always a bowl of roses.

In this case, however, either Mr Fremont was very, very good at hiding his tracks, or he just wasn’t that interesting.  I managed to turn up some typical stuff.  He’d done the social media thing a few years back, but had clearly got bored with it.  And like most people, either forgot, or didn’t know how, to get rid of it when he was done.

He kept one thing going, but that seemed to be populated largely by media types, and given that he worked for a TV company, I figured it was probably a career networking thing rather than any burning desire to hang out with bright young things on the net.

I did turn up a blog though. “We Are Live In Five” gave an insider’s view of life in a TV network.  Given the fairly scathing nature of many of the entries, I’m not suprised he posted under a pseudonym.  But there’s anonymous and there’s anonymous, and these sort of public domain, free to use bits of blogging software don’t do a terribly good job at hiding your identity if you know where to look.  But while he’d posted stuff that would probably get him a reprimand at work, maybe even fired if someone was having a bad day, there was nothing that suggested someone would resort to kidnap or murder.

My inclination was still to think that he’d just wandered off somewhere, or taken a last minute holiday and forgotten to let little Sis know.

Thinking of last minute holidays reminded me - I was due to fly out west on Friday for a couple of days.  My folks, who had moved to L.A. about twenty odd years ago had finally got tired of the city that never shuts up and had downsized to a smaller place in Oakland, just across the Bay Bridge from San Fransisco.

They’d got settled in, and had invited me and my kid brother George to come and see the place.  George was still in L.A. so was driving up - I was taking the afternoon flight to Oakland International and the plan was for Georgie to pick me up on his way.

Our Dad, Roy was a practical kinda guy, but our Mother, Sally, was a sentimental old soul, and so I was going to take them some kind of housewarming gift.  I’d figured I’d have all week to find something, but then Jenny came along a put a spanner in it.

Guess I’d better get a hustle on.

o o o o o

It was getting dark when I gave Ella some food and milk, scratched her ears and said goodnight.  I pulled my coat on, belted it up and remembered my hat this time.  As I locked the door I glanced up at the discrete camera in the corner of the corridor and flipped it the bird.  When English had installed the security he had, without telling me, I’d hasten to add, sent a feed to a server that was located who knows where.  While I got hacked off about it at the time, I’d had to admit it was useful when he’d seen me get dragged off by some heavies a couple of years ago, and had, in a roundabout way, managed to save my neck.  He said it was because I owed him money and dead men pay no bills, but I know deep down he cares.

I don’t know whether he ever checks the footage when I don’t owe him moolah, but I give it the finger every time.  

Just in case.

o o o o o

I headed towards department store territory.  I’d no idea what I was going to get Ma and Pa - I don’t like shopping at the best of times - but if you can’t treat your folks right you’re a bit of a lowlife in my book.

Talking of lowlifes, it looked like there had been one around earlier.  As I came past the bodega I saw a handyman boarding the plate glass window up where someone had caved it in with a brick or something.

I shook my head.  Bunch of savages in this town.

o o o o o

A couple of hours later and I was on the subway, headed back to my apartment with a picture frame in a bag.  It was one of those fancy ones that let you put several pictures in their own little frame, but the whole thing was joined together in a stylishly random pattern.  People liked them, the assistant had told me, because they could have pictures of all the family together.  I’d picked one with three holders - one for the old folks, one for George and one for me.  I wondered whether I ought to put my picture in before I gave it to them, but I didn’t think I had one.  Most of the cameras pointed at me are attached to CCTV.

The carriage was full of the usual cross section of humanity, crammed against each other.  The subway brings folks together the way few other things in New York can, and after spending ten minutes or so jammed into a commuter sandwich I’d got the sweaty side of toasty.  Back above ground I had a reality check as the wind cut through me like a knife.  Just outside the subway exit there was a down and out, panhandling for change, and I was minded of some song lyric I’d heard years ago. “If a bum asks for a quarter, you give a dollar.  If he’s out tonight he must be truly down.”

I fished in my pocket, gave him a five spot and wondered if he had anybody looking for him, the way Jenny was looking for her brother.

Half a dozen blocks later and I was home.  I fixed some food and ate while I watched the news, then slumped on the sofa.  Normally when I was on a case I was fired up, but after a couple of weeks of doing nothing my mind had got out of shape.  Judging by the fact that I’d had to let my belt out by a hole this week, my body wasn’t far behind it.

I toyed with the idea of going for a drink at Mac’s bar, but the thought of going back out in the cold didn’t appeal.  I poured myself a couple of fingers of something medicinal and looked out over the lights of the city that never sleeps.

Maybe you don’t sleep, I thought, but I do.

Ten minutes later I was stacking z’s.

o o o o o

The next morning I was up at the crack of 8.45.  After a shower, I had a look in the fridge to  see if there was anything that looked like it would pass for breakfast.  I briefly debated microwaving a couple of spring rolls from two days ago, but thought better of it.  They hadn’t been great at the time - forty eight hours in the fridge was unlikely to have improved them.

Fortunately for me, New York City caters to the Detective on the move, and I picked up a breakfast burrito on the way to the office.  A handy tortilla filled with… well it doesn’t always pay to look too closely at the contents of these things, but it tasted ok and it filled a gap.

Lady Ella headbutted my legs as I walked in, as if to say ‘What sort of time do you call this?’  I fixed her some breakfast which, on balance, was probably more nutritious than mine and opened the window.  She ate up and then went out to stretch her legs.

I checked my email and answering machine while I decided what to do next.  Other than one from George confirming the number and time of my flight, the mail was just the usual spam.  I chuckled when I saw the light blinking on the answering machine though.  It was Tuesday, which meant that last night, Mrs Lipowicz had been out with her friends playing cards, had necked about half a bottle of sherry and had rung me up to hurl abuse.

A couple of years ago she’d asked me to find out if her husband was cheating on her.  Unfortunately for her, Mr Lipowicz was a) faithful and b) spending his evenings out at a chess club.  Even more unfortunately for her, in the course of my investigations, I’d discovered that it was in fact her who was playing away.  When she’d tried to get out of paying me because I hadn’t got her what she wanted, I sadly had to resort to what I like to call ‘persuasive bargaining’.  Less sophisticated people referred to it as blackmail.  

Ever since then, she’d get pickled and give me a weekly barrage.  I looked forward to it.  I’d certainly learned several new words over the years.

I settled back and hit play.

“...tell that smartass a thing or two.  Able!  Able, you low life, cheating, no good con man.  What am I saying?  Man?  You’re not a man!  You’re a weasel!  A weasely… weasely… weasel!  You call yourself a detective?  You couldn’t find your butt with both hands and a torch, you complete… Oh, yes, just a small one, Muriel. I hope you rot in hell you asshole!  No, not you, Muriel.  This jerk on the phone.  He’s a lying dog who told my husband lies about me and my good friend Mr Szwejkowski.  What?  No. Well, yes.  Well that’s beside the point.  The point is that I paid this jerk to…”

At that point the call cut off.  Pretty disappointing, Mrs L.  I’ll give you a four out of ten for that one.  Maybe next week’s will be better.

I turned my mind back to the problem in hand.  I’d agreed to meet Jenny at Stephen’s apartment at 2.00 that afternoon - always worth a look around, and maybe I could doorstep a couple of neighbours - you could usually find someone who was prepared to gossip.  So I had a couple of hours to kill.  When I was starting out on a case and I didn’t have too many leads, I usually took the easy option and headed for the 18th Precinct.  Not only do the Police have all the best resources, they’re even better than reading the newspapers if you want to pick up on what’s happening.  Besides, I hadn’t been up there for a month or more, and it was always good to show your face now and again.

Ella had reappeared by now, her morning patrol complete, and was onto the next item on her schedule, which was ‘going back to sleep for a few hours’.  I tickled her ears, grabbed my hat and coat and left.

From my office to the 18th Precinct is about a twenty minute walk, mostly uphill, so despite the cold, I had what you might call a healthy glow by the time I got there.  More accurately, I was sweating like a guilty basketball player who’d been put in a identity parade with six midgets.

I shook off my coat as I stepped through the door into the madness that is a Police Station.  I looked around.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  All of life passes through these doors.  

But mostly the bad bits.

I threaded my way through to the desk, past a little old lady screaming blue murder at a cop.  I paused briefly to see if it was Mrs Lipowicz, but it wasn’t.  A short guy was sitting on the floor with a placard that said ‘Bring back flogging.  For consenting adults.’ And off to the side a bag lady seemed to be making a day out of it, as she sat on a bench seat and was unpacking a grubby looking thermos and paper bag of sandwiches.

At the desk I produced my ‘Freelance Operative’ card for the desk Sergeant, a guy who I vaguely knew.  He looked it over, issued me with a pass, then buzzed me through the barrier.

I left the hubbub behind and made my way further back into the station, the ageing polished wood giving best to steel and chrome.  I slowed as I approached the corridor with the Captain’s office.  Captain Russo ran this whole circus, and it was safe to say that he was old school, and would rather be out catching crooks than attending equality workshops or ‘Understanding the motives of habitual offenders’ seminars.  There was nothing that happened in this station that he didn’t know about.

Fortunately for me, he didn’t appear to be in.  The door to his office was closed and the lights were off.  Even so, habit made me walk past the door in ‘sneaking around’ mode.

I breathed an involuntary sigh of relief as I made it past the door and headed down the corridor to the archive.

Did I speak too soon?  I think I did.

“ABLE!” yelled a familiar voice.


Monday, 4 November 2013

NaNoPost 002

I drew myself up to full height, what their was of it, to make a more imposing first impression.

“Afternoon, ma’am.” I said, touching the brim of my hat.  Realising my hat was, in fact, still on the coat stand in the office I smoothly turned it into a casual head scratch, as the dame turned around.

“Mr Able?” she asked.  “Mr Charles Able?”

That caught me.

“Er, Chuck is fine,” I said. “The only person who calls me Charles is my Mother.  And that’s only if she’s cross about something.”

The woman looked at the floor and smiled.  As she did, I gave her the once over.  Five two, maybe ninety pounds.  Mousy brown hair, pale complexion, kinda nervous.  As she looked back up at me I clocked her eyes.  

Green.  And worried.

“Please.  Come in,” I said, unlocking the door and ushering her through.  I cast an eye around the office - for the past two weeks the only people in here had been me and Ella, and the cat wasn’t noted for her housekeeping.  Fortunately there didn’t appear to be anything either disgusting or incriminating lying about, so I pointed the woman to the chair in front of my desk as I took my coat off.

“Now.  How can I help you, Miss…?”

“Newberry.  Jenny Newberry.  It’s Mrs actually, although Mr Newberry’s not around anymore.”

Her eyes darted to mine.

“He’s not dead or anything!” she blurted. ‘We’re divorced, but I’ve never got around to changing my name back.  It would be Tremont.  Jenny Tremont.  Miss.  If.  You know, I’d…”

Her shoulders dropped and she slumped in the chair as I sat down.

“Sorry.  I’m babbling, aren’t I?” she said, looking up at me.  “Sorry, sorry.”

I smiled at her.

“Ok, I think we just reached the statute of limitations on apologies in this office.” I said.  “So why don’t you tell me what brought you to my door?  Wait.  Where are my manners?  Can I get you anything?  Tea?  Coffee?”

“No.  Thank you, but no.”

I breathed a sigh of relief, as I’d realised while I was asking the question that the only beverages in the office were Ella’s milk and my whisky.  And neither of us were inclined to share.

She took a deep breath.

“It’s my brother, Stephen.” she said.  “He’s missing.”

“Well you’ve come to the right place,” I said, pulling a legal pad from the drawer and a pen from one of those plastic desk organiser things.  Nancy, another waitress from the Cup ‘O’ Joe had bought it for me, and while I didn’t particularly like it, I couldn’t deny it was useful, which is why it hadn’t met a strange and unfortunate accident, which is the fate of most gifts I receive that I don’t like, but haven’t got the heart to admit to the person who gave it to me.

“Let’s start at the beginning.  Stephen’s full name?”

“Stephen John Tremont.”




“Apartment 15, 1266 Lawton Street, New York.”

As I was scribbling this down, Ella had woken up and, as seeing someone other than me was presumably a bit of a novelty, she jumped down off the couch and walked over to Jenny.  

She mewed.

Without looking up, I made the introductions.

“Mrs Newberry, meet Lady Ella.  Lady Ella, Mrs Newberry.”

The Newberry dame reached down to tickle Ella, who rolled over and lapped it up.

“Does she live here?”  asked the hopefully very rich and generous Mrs Newberry.

“She does,” I said.  “Belonged to a client.  I kept taking her home, and she kept turning up here.  Eventually the three of us decided she may as well stay.”

“But,” said my newest client, “is she alright just cooped up in an office?  Doesn’t she want to go out at all?”

I pointed to a window.  

“She can get out there, then it’s up the fire escape and on to a flat roof.  I’ve taken her downstairs now and again, but as soon as she hits the ground, she’s back up here.  I guess she suffers from whatever the opposite of vertigo is, because she likes heights and doesn’t do ground level.”

“Oh, I see.”  She carried on tickling the cat, who carried on enjoying it.
I finished taking notes and looked up.

“So.  Your brother, Mr Tremont.  What makes you think he’s missing?”

“What makes me think…”  She frowned, and wrinkled her forehead.  “I don’t understand.  He’s missing.  Surely missing is... missing?”

“Well, sometimes people choose to go missing, sometimes they go missing by accident, and sometimes bad people make ‘em go missing.  Question is, has your brother chosen to make himself scarce, or has he had some unwanted help.”  I smiled my most trustworthy smile, designed to put my customers at ease and their wallets at open.  “Give me a bit of background and let’s see where we get to.”

She sat back up, much to the cat’s disappointment, and gathered her thoughts.

“First, off,” she said “you may actually remember Stephen.  We were at school together.  At least, if you’re the Charles - sorry, Chuck - that I think you are.  You and he graduated together, and I was in the same year as your brother George.”

“Well I do have a kid brother called George,” I said.  “Lowell High School?”

“That’s the one.” she confirmed.

I cast my mind back two or three decades.  They say school days are the best days of your life.  Strange saying.  You might as well slap a kid on the shoulder as they walk out of the school gates for the last time and say ‘Kid.  It’s all downhill from now on.’  Mine had been average at best, and I’d had better times since.  My mind wandered to one or two ladies in particular.  

Definitely better times.

I struggled to remember the people from my classes.  I wasn’t really the ‘keeping in touch, let’s have a reunion type’, so it was probably twenty years since I’d seen any of them.  And I had a nagging feeling that the last one I had seen was only because I brought him in for scamming old ladies out of their savings with some miracle drug that turned out to be cod liver oil tablets.

But Stephen Tremont?  I was drawing a blank.

“Yeah, I think I remember him.” I said brightly.  

I do, on occasion, play fast and loose with the truth.

“Well we stay in touch,” said Jenny.  “I suppose we speak about once a week, either on the phone, or we meet for a coffee.  I phoned about ten days ago, but didn’t get an answer, so I guess I called back a couple more times over the next few days, but still got no answer.  I wasn’t too worried.  I assumed he was busy, or maybe out of town for a while.  We’d agreed to go for a pizza last Friday night, so I thought I’d see him then.”

She paused for a moment.

“But he didn’t show.  I waited and waited, then phoned.  In the end I went to his apartment, but there was no answer.  I phoned our Mother on Saturday - she’s in Kansas City - to see if she’d heard anything, or maybe seen him.  I didn’t want to worry her - she’s in her eighties, and quite frail, but from our conversation, it was obvious that she hadn’t had any contact with him for more than three weeks.”

“Ok,” I said.  “Any friends?  Girlfriend?  Boyfriend?”  I don’t like to make too many assumptions, and Jenny blushed a little.

“Um, no, no girlfriend that I know of.  He was seeing a girl, Angela, but they broke up a few months ago I think.”

“On good terms, or was it a messy breakup?” I asked.  Dumped and vengeful is a bad combination.  Unless you’re a Private Eye, in which case it can be a very good thing indeed.

“No, it was alright.” said Jenny.  “Well, I think so.  He seemed ok about it at the time.”

“Do you have...”  I looked at my pad. “Angela’s details?  Surname?  Address?”

“Not on me,” she said.  “I’ll have a look when I get home.

For about fifteen minutes we talked some more, and I built up a picture of the recently elusive Mr Tremont.  He’d lived in the same apartment for about nine years and worked for NBC in a backroom, admin sort of role.  Had a number of girlfriends over the years, none of them going anywhere serious.  Seemed to live fairly modestly and there didn’t seem to be anything unusual to suggest problems.  Then again, when people had skeletons, they tended to keep them in closets, rather than make them the focal point of their living room.  I took some details from Jenny, and got the names and addresses of a few friends.

I stood up.

“First thing to say, Mrs Newberry,”

“Please.  Call me Jenny.”

“Jenny.  Well the first thing to say Jenny, is try not to worry.  In my experience, most missing persons cases end well.  You’d be surprised at the reasons people have for disappearing for a while, and plenty of them turn up safe and sound.  A lot of them get off a flight from Las Vegas with a ring on their finger.”

Her eyes bulged.

“Somehow I don’t think that’s where Stephen’s been,” I said, “but let’s wait and see.  Maybe you’ve gained a Sister-In-Law!”

She smiled a weak sort of smile that suggested she didn’t think I was very funny.  Crazy dame - everybody knows I’m hilarious.

A few minutes later, I saw Mrs Newberry - sorry, Jenny - out of the door.  A gentle ‘ping’ sounded from the computer on my desk and a small window opened up on the screen.  I walked back behind my desk and looked at the monotor which showed me a camera feed of the outside of my office.  I watched Jenny as she walked along the corridor and down the stairs.

It was all part of an unnecessarily complicated security system that had been installed by the most annoying man I knew.  I hadn’t spoken to English for a month, which made it a good month in my book.

I closed the window down and looked at the cat.   The cat looked at me.

“Well, Lady,” I said, cracking my knuckles.  

“Looks like we’re back in business.”