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?