I help people. Hey! I’m a helpful guy. But now and again, you help somebody and someone else suffers. A cheating husband gets found out. A lawyer turns out to be swindling a client.
If that happens, I tend to side with the party paying the bill.
So over the years, I might have caused a few people to hold a grudge. I guess getting someone sent to jail would probably fall into that category…
The woman stood in front of my desk. She’d changed from the last time I’d seen her. For a start, she wasn’t wearing handcuffs and being led away from a courtroom by a couple of police officers.
My gun was in the drawer, and not for the first time, I wished I’d listened to English. Over the years he’d come up with all sorts of ways to kill potential clients before they’d sat down. I’d written them off as being bad for business, but now an electrified floor, a net on the ceiling or ninja throwing stars launched by a catapault in the fridge weren’t sounding so ridiculous.
Well, maybe that last one.
I had to think on my feet. While sitting down.
“Take a seat.” I said, slowly reaching for the drawer.
She sat down, a curious half smile on her face.
Ella can spot trouble at fifty paces. So of course she trotted over, jumped up and promptly went to sleep in the woman’s lap.
“Don’t bother with the gun.” said the woman.
Sitting stroking the cat she looked unnervingly like a Bond villain, so I was more than a little surprised by what she said next.
“Mr Able. I need your help.”
o o o o o
I cast my mind back ten years or so. Like I said, the last time I saw Victoria Wilde, she was in the dock and I was in the witness stand. She’d gone down for a stretch, and as the guy who caught her, I’d enjoyed a couple of days of minor celebrity until the next big thing came along.
But the public soon forgot about me, and I soon forgot about her.
And now here she was, sitting in my office and asking for my help. I was, to say the least, a little confused.
If there’s one thing guaranteed to help me think straight, it’s a whisky.
“Drink?” I said, getting up.
Some people frown on drinking before midday, but I figure it’s happy hour in Oslo, and I’m a multi-cultural kinda guy, so what the hell.
She declined the drink I offer her, so I just make mine a double. I sit back down and get my gun out of he drawer anyway.
“Forgive me Miss Wilde, but given our history, I’ll just keep this handy.”
“Why? So I can take it off you again?”
I moved it a bit further away from her side of the desk.
“So. What exactly do you want, Miss Wilde? I woulda thought I was the last person you’d come to for help.”
“Despite what you might think Mr Able, I don’t hold a grudge. You were just doing your job, I was just doing mine.”
She looked down and tickled the cat some more.
“I did my time, I paid my debt to society. I got out three years ago, and I’ve been a good, law abiding citizen ever since. But I get the feeling someone thinks I haven’t paid enough.”
“After the trial, I was disowned by my parents. When I got out, they wanted nothing to do with me - I can understand that. Having a convict for a daughter doesn’t do much for your social standing in the Hamptons and suddenly you find it tricky to get a table at Annabelle’s. But I managed. I had some money left over from what I’d been given at eighteen, and fortunately I had Uncle Richard.”
“My father’s brother. He’s always been the black sheep of the family. Well, until my little exploits I suppose. I think if truth be told, he rather admired what I did. Sticking two fingers up to the family and the establishment. And he knew that helping me out would annoy father, which he would have seen as a bonus.”
“Helping you out?”
“Uncle Richard - Richard Wilde, owns a bookshop in upper Manhattaan. He gave me a job when I got out, and I’ve been there ever since. I don’t live in luxury, but I’m comfortable. And that’s how it’s been for the past few years. And then about eighteen months ago I got some mail. Classic ransom note style. Letters cut out of magazines. Said something about how I’d ‘ruined everything’. I ignored it, threw it in the bin and that was that for a while. But then a couple of months ago I got another one.”
“What did this one say?”
It just said ‘Wait.’ ”
“That was all. Then a week ago, I got another one.”
I stood up and went to the window.
“Ok, back up a second. How do these notes arrive? In the mail? To your home? To the shop?”
“To the shop. But they’re not mailed, they’re just left among the books. A customer found this one in and handed it in.”
“Ok. So what did this last one say?”
She reached into her shoulder bag, pulled out an envelope and pushed it across the desk. I picked it up. Good quality envelope that had been tucked in rather than stuck down. I opened it, pulled out the note inside and unfolded it. Looked like several glossy magazines had given their lives for this.
The note read :
‘When the decade does unwind.
In the hall of Hirundinidae shall you find.
That vengeance shall be had at last.
For crimes committed in your past.’
I read the note and burst out laughing.
“Looks like you’re being stalked by a high-schooler with a thing for bad poetry.”
I pushed the note back.
“Seriously. You want my advice? Throw this in the bin with the others and forget about it. It’s just someone yanking your chain.”
“I’m not so sure.”
“Trust me on this. It’s just some crank who’s found out about your escapades and is trying to wind you up. I see ‘em more often than I’d like and they’re almost always harmless. You pay any attention to this and it’ll encourage ‘em like moths to a blowtorch. They buzz around being annoying and then it all gets messy.”
She didn’t look convinced.
“I tell you what. Leave me the note, I’ll have a dig around. On the house. I guess I probably owe you that much”
She reached into her back and placed a business card on the table.
“The bookshop’s number is on here,” she said. “You can reach me there.”
I pocketed the card and stood up. She put the cat down, picked up her bag and headed for the door.
“I appreciate this.” she said, and left.
I watched her image on the screen as it retreated along the corridor and down the stairs.
Picking up the note I read it a couple more times. It didn’t make any more sense than it had the first time. Sounded vaguely threatening, and there was that latin stuff too. I’d have to look that up - dead languages weren’t my strong suit.
But first I really needed some sleep. I left some water for Ella and headed for my apartment.
o o o o o
I walked the two blocks to the subway and waited a couple of minutes for a train. It was busy, but not rush hour crowded. I stood, straphanging along with everybody else until I reached my stop.
Back above ground, I walked six blocks until I got to my building. It was nothing fancy, but you don’t get ‘fancy’ on the dough I make. It was home though, and I owned more of it than the bank did. I climbed the stairs to the second floor and let myself in. I just about managed to pull the drapes and take of my jacket and shoes before I fell onto the bed.
I was asleep in seconds.
o o o o o
I woke about 6pm, took a shower and got dressed. I found some leftover Chinese in the refrigerator that still looked safe to eat and then headed back to the street. After I swung by the office to feed Ella, I decided to drop into Mac’s for a drink. It was a good walk away, almost to the 18th Precinct, but it was a nice night and I wasn’t in a rush.
On the way, I thought about the note. I still hadn’t looked up that Latin name, but I thought about the first line. Something to do with a decade. I cast my mind back. Well ten years ago was roughly when I caught Victoria Wilde.
I thought about it some more.
I looked at the date on my watch. Not roughly. Almost exactly. In two days time, it would be exactly ten years since we first ran into each other in that study.
I was still trying to figure out what this meant when I got to the alley between the hardware store and the deli that led to Mac’s Bar. The neon sign glowed in the gathering darkness, and I walked in and found a seat at the end of the bar.
“Hey Chuck, how’s it going?”
The proprieter, Hal, finished serving a customer and walked over.
“Evening Hal. Good thanks. I’ll have a beer when you’re ready.”
While Hal poured the beer, I took a look round. As ever, being so close to the Eighteenth, the bar had more than its fair share of off-duty cops in it, which was one of the reasons that it had so little trouble. As I scanned the room, I noticed that the cowboy from the station was sitting with a couple of others at a table down the far end.
“Hey, Hal,” I said, as he brought my beer over. “George Hamilton the Fourth down there. Recognise him?”
“That’s Detective Cash. Jack Cash. If I remember rightly he joined the Precinct about two months back.”
He stopped to think.
“I’m pretty sure he used to be from Texas, but,” Hal lowered his voice slightly. “From what I hear, he thought he was a big fish in a small pond, and wanted some ‘big city action’.”
I looked over at Cash again. He was roaring with laughter about something.
“Couple of people have said that he’s a bit too big for his boots - trying to run before he can walk, y’know?” Hal shrugged. “Seems like a nice enough guy though.”
I went back to my beer and Hal went off to serve another customer.
Two more beers and a chat about the Yankees later and I figured I’d call it a night. I walked back to the subway, and half an hour later I was back in the apartment. I tried to lose myself in a crummy TV program, but my mind kept wandering back to that note.
Clearly my subconscious thought it warranted a closer look, even if I didn’t. I flicked the TV off and grabbed the laptop from the side. I fired up a search engine, and after digging the note out to check the spelling, looked for ‘Hirundinidae’.
Turned out to be a bird. Specifically a swallow.
I thought about it for a few minutes, but it meant nothing to me.
I finally hit the hay a couple of hours later, none the wiser.