It picked up on the third ring.
“Able. The password is s, upper case C u one one y z h zero upper case T.”
There was a short pause.
“Your password expires in five days. Do you wish to change it now?”
“No. Later. Business first.”
“Very well,” said English. “Two calls in as many days. I shall dine well tonight. Pray, what is the problem now?”
“I need a phone number,” I said. “or phone numbers. Got two calls, made to two different locations, and I can give you a thirty minute window on the times. I need to know where they originated.”
There was an uncharacteristic silence at the other end of the line.
“You there?” I said.
“I am considering the request.” he replied.
The only thing he normally considered was how much to charge me.
“Is there a problem?” I asked.
“Telco’s have the irritating habit of taking their security very seriously. Getting into one would be bad enough, but given that there are two calls to be traced, I am potentially looking at two different systems. And that’s before we consider the possibility of them being long distance calls, which adds another layer of complexity. Plus, if the call has crossed a state line, it becomes a Federal offence to interfere…”
He went quiet again.
“So what are you saying?”
“I am saying it would be extremely risky, and I have grown accustomed to liberty.”
Then a thought occured to me.
“Ok, English, don’t worry about it. If it’s too difficult, I can probably get something from Flint. Bye.”
“Wait!” he said.
I grinned to myself.
“Flint is nothing more than an old spook who wanders around haplessly bumping into pieces of information and then selling them on for an exorbitant price!”
Flint was nothing of the sort, but the mention of his name had clearly riled English.
“Yeah, maybe he is,” I said, “but if he can come up with the goods, I really don’t care how he does it.”
“Send the numbers and times to my dropbox and call back in three hours!” said English, and slammed the phone down.
I made myself a very smug cup of coffee.
o o o o o
Around 8.30, I called back and went through the password dance.
“It was extremely difficult. I would explain the finer points to you, but I am certain they would go over your head.”
“So you couldn’t do it?”
“Of course I could do it.” he said. “I just wanted to impress upon you the technical challenge that I have overcome.”
“Gosh.” I said, in rather too deadpan a fashion. “I’m impressed.”
“So you should be.” The sarcasm had apparently passed him by. “Fortunately for you, they both originated from the same number.”
My ears pricked up.
“The details have been mailed to you. I shall now go and prepare your bill.”
This last, he said with a little too much relish for my liking.
“Ok thanks, English, I owe you one.”
“I guarantee it will be considerably more than ‘one’.” he said, and hung up.
o o o o o
A few moments later I’d woken up the machine and run his mail through the decrypt prog. There was simply a number and a location.
Payphone, corner of Turner and Bachman.
I went over to the shelf and pulled down a city street guide. I ran my finger down the index and then thumbed through until I found the page. It was across town. Still, no time like the present. Let’s go and have a look.
I gave the cat some fresh water, locked up and made for the subway.
o o o o o
The train was quiet, and so it was only a few minutes after nine when I emerged at street level. I took another look at the map that I’d stuffed in my pocket and headed east. Three blocks later I was on Turner, and I turned right. Two blocks down and I found myself at the junction with Bachman. Sure enough, on the other side of the road was a payphone. I crossed over and took a look at the dial. It confirmed the number that English had come up with.
So this was where the calls had come from.
I carried on walking and looked around. From the looks of things it was an old warehousing district. Plenty of buildings stood empty, but a significant number had been smartened up and looked occupied. I slowed down and looked at a few of the name plates as I walked past. There were some names which gave nothing away, but several were businesses. A web design company, a fashion designer, a couple of artists studios, a zen collective, whatever that was, and one interior design consultant. I wandered back down the other side of the street, and it was broadly similar.
An upmarket doughnut shop was still open, so I paid through the nose for one and stood outside, watching the phone across the street. Unsurprisingly, no-one used it while I was standing there.
I licked the sugar off my fingers, threw the bag in the trash and headed home.
o o o o o
Next morning I was up early. This was a worrying habit that I’d got into over the last couple of days, and I resolved to lie in until noon at the first possible opportunity. I made a bacon sandwich and as soon as I’d finished it, I left for the Precinct.
Most work places start slow on a Monday. People drift in, there’s the usual ‘weekend chat’, and slowly it winds itself up. Police stations don’t do that. They’re pretty much crazy all the time. I made my way through the looney tunes to the desk where Pat was just settling himself into his chair.
“Chuck! Must be serious if you’re here at this time o’ the morning! What can I do for you?”
“I’m here about a bail arrangement. Got a client who got taken in yesterday. Just going to see if I can get her out.”
I signed for the pass that Pat pushed across the polished desk and he buzzed me through.
I went back through the station to the same admin office where I’d handed my expenses chit in the other day. A civilian clerk was on duty, a guy in his fifties, with hair greying at the temples and a wrinkly face.
“Morning!” I said. “I’m here to see about bail for Victoria Wilde. came into custody yesterday.”
“Ok, young man, just one moment please.”
It had been a while since I was called ‘young man’…
The clerk pulled the file up and perched a pair of glasses on the end of his nose. He peered at the screen.
“Can I ask your name please, sir?” he asked.
“Able. Chuck Able.”
“I see. Well, Mr Able, bail has been approved, but with conditions.”
“Yes. The bail has been set at $30,000, and…”
I didn’t hear the rest.
“I’m sorry, could you repeat that? For a second I thought you said $30,000!”
The clerk put his nose closer to the screen and ran his finger along the figure too.
“That’s right, sir, $30,000. In addition, Ms Wilde will only be released into your custody, meaning that you are responsible for her while she is on bail.”
I patted down my pockets.
“I’m afraid I don’t appear to have thirty grand on me at the moment.”
“That’s fine sir,” said the clerk. “A Western Union money transfer or similar is the usual method for figures of above $1000.”
“Right.” I said. “I’ll see what I can do.”
I left the office. I had some savings, but the best I could do was offer $3,000, a cat and the keys to the office. Somehow I didn’t think the State of New York was going to see that one fly.
I was walking back to the front desk, wondering where I could find $27,000 when Captain Russo came the other way with a bundle of papers under his arm. I guessed they were lonely, so he was taking them to his office where they could make lots of new friends.
“Ah. Able. I’m guessing from that look, you’ve been to see the bail clerk.”
“Yes, Cap, I have. Thirty grand? And my custody? What’s that all about?”
He looked a little sheepish.
“Yes, well, Detective Cash pressed for high bail conditions, and on account of Miss Wilde having a serious previous conviction, it was granted.” He lowered his voice. “I know what you think. He’s just done it to prevent you from bailing her, and I suspect you’re probably right, but I can’t be seen to be doing favours, so there’s not much I can do.”
He looked genuinely apologetic.
“Don’t worry about Captain, it ain’t your fault. I’ll think of something.”
He went off to rehouse his new papers, while I swung by the archive room.
“Ok,” I said to myself, booting up a machine. “Let’s see if Miss Farraday’s got any dirty laundry.”
I spent about an hour, trawling and copying, on both Sarah Farraday and Matthew Blake. Everybody’s got a history, and these two were no exception. I pocketed the datastick, shut the machine down and grabbed my coat. A few minutes later, I was back in the lobby.
“Any luck there, Chuck?” said Pat, as I handed my pass back.
“Not yet.” I said. “Maybe I’ll find a winning lottery ticket on my way to the Cup ‘O’ Joe.”
“Ah, you’re a good sort,” said Pat. “I’m sure there’s a benevolent guardian angel up there somewhere that’ll put you right.”
I shook my head.
“I don’t think I know many angels with a stack of cash, Pat, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”
I headed down to the Cup ‘O’ Joe to think about what to do next. If in doubt, have a coffee.
The breakfast rush was just winding down as I slid into a booth, and Nancy came over with the coffee pot.
“Hey, hun! Want somethin’ to eat?” she said.
That bacon sandwich seemed like a long time ago.
“Scrambled eggs and toast sounds good.” I said.
She called the order through to Lee.
“Don’t suppose you’ve got thirty grand I could borrow?”
She put the coffee pot down.
“Have you been gambling? Are you being blackmailed? What in blazes do you need that kinda money for?”
I explained, and she looked at me disapprovingly.
“You want to get in hock for a woman you’ve only just met? I thought you knew better.” she scolded.
“I gotta hunch that she’s innocent, and I got an inkling of a plan. But it ain’t gonna work with her in a jail cell.”
She softened a bit.
“Well I’m sorry, sugar. You know if I had it I’d lend it to you.”
“I know you would, Nance. Thanks.”
I ate my eggs and racked my brains. I was still thinking when I paid up and was about to leave. As I was getting my coat on, Nancy came over.
“I’ve just had a thought…” she said.
Twenty minutes later I was in the office and on the phone.
o o o o o
Two hours later, I was making my way down to the clerk’s office again. Cash was just coming out.
“Mornin’ Mr Able.” he said with a smile. “Come to see about bail, have ya?”
“That’s right,” I said.
There was a young lady on the desk now.
“Could you just check the bail conditions for Victoria Wilde, please?” I asked her.
She looked it up.
“It’s $30,000 and she can only be released into the custody of a Mr Able.”
Cash grinned. It faltered a bit when I pulled out my AC licence.
“There’s my ID.” I said, putting it down.
And then his grin disappeared completely.
“And I believe a Western Union money transfer is acceptable?” I said, placing it on the desk.
The clerk picked them both up and handed my ID back.
“That’s fine, thank you Mr Able. Let me just get you the forms to sign.”
Cash left, his face like thunder.
o o o o o
An hour later, paperwork done, I left the Station accompanied by Vicky.
“That guardian angel found you then, Chuck?” said Pat as we left.
“Not exactly, Pat.” I called over my shoulder. “More like I found her.”
As we walked down the hill, Vicky turned to me.
“Thanks for getting me out, Chuck.” she said, “But where on earth did you get $30,000? I thought you were some poverty stricken Private Eye?”
“I am, I am. However I helped out a lady about a year ago, who can, thanks to me, now afford to lose thirty grand down the back of the sofa. As a friend of mine reminded me, she said if I ever needed a favour, to give her a call. So I did. And now I owe her a small fortune, so don’t be thinking of skipping out of town until we’ve got all this straightened out, or I’ll be in debtor’s prison.”
“Well I appreciate it,” she said. “Have you got anywhere in the last 24 hours?”
“I have an idea.” I said. “And it needs you to be out and walking about.”
“Well, ok, Detective,” she said. “What do you need me to do?”
“I need you, “ I said. “to be bait.”