We got back to the office and Vicky had a rather awkward conversation with her manager about prank calls. She was very apologetic, and explained that it was due to the stress of a family emergency that had cropped up, and so she was very sorry but she needed to take the week off. As she put the phone down, I was sure I could hear the manager still muttering about being ‘treated differently because she’s the owner’s niece’.
Well, she’d probably get a bit of grief when she got back to work, but it had bought us a bit of breathing space.
“So,” she asked, “what’s all this about bait?”
‘Well,” I said, “maybe bait ain’t the right word.”
I couldn’t think of the right word, so bait had to do.
“Someone’s made two anonymous phone calls from the same phone. One got you arrested, the other got you hassle at work, so it’s my hunch that whoever it is is just out to mess up any aspect of your life that they can.”
“Right…” she said.
“So chances are, if you had a hot date, then they’d likely want to mess that up too.”
“It’s been a while since I had a hot date.” she replied.
“Well you’ve got one tonight. Now. Have you got one of those social network pages that lets the world know what you’re up to?”
“Yes,” she said, “but I don’t use it very often.”
“Well today you do.”
“Hmm.” She said. “So who’s this hot date with then?”
“That bit I haven’t figured out yet…”
o o o o o
We went over to Vicky’s place so that she could get a wash and change into some clean clothes. She lived in a third floor apartment that was about a twenty minute train ride from the bookshop. It was what a realtor would call ‘bijou’, and everyone else would call ‘small’. Still, it was neat and tidy, and tastefully decorated in Scandinavian minimalist style. I sat on the sofa and looked around while I waited for her to get cleaned up.
“So what’s the plan?” she called from the bedroom.
I put down the rock climbing magazine I’d been flicking through, wandered over and addressed the bedroom door.
“Ok. You flag up on the internet that you’ve got a date tonight. You go out on date. Bad guy who is obviously stalking you will ring up your squeeze and tell them what a horrible person you are. And because bad guys are invariably stupid, he’ll use the same phone. And I’ll be watching said phone.
“But it’s a public phone,” she called through the door. “How will you know who the bad guy is? Anybody could use the phone.”
“Right. Now when the bad guy calls your date, you call me. Simple!”
“Ok, but what if he doesn’t call until after the date?”
“You stay there until he does. All night if necessary.”
Her head, wrapped in a towel, appeared round the door.
“All night on a first date? I’m a nice girl!”
“Well tonight you’re bad. Hurry it up, I got an idea.”
o o o o o
A little while later we made our way into the Cup ‘O’ Joe. Nancy caught my eye and smiled, then frowned as she saw Vicky come in behind me. We took a booth and Nancy walked over, pad in hand.
“What’ll it be?” she said, with just a hint of frost in her voice.
Nancy jealous? Surely not.
“Two coffee’s please, Nance. Nancy this is my client, Vicky. Vicky, this is an old friend, Nancy.”
The two women nodded at each other but that was about it. A couple of minutes later, Nancy came back with the coffee.
“Say Nance,” I said, “what time are you closing up tonight?”
“Six o’clock sharp. Why?” she said, with just a hint of a glance at Vicky. “Are you taking me out somewhere?”
“Not tonight, I’m afraid, sweets.” I said. “Well not you, anyway. It’s Lee I’m interested in.”
“Our Lee? Short order cook, Lee?”
“That’s the one.”
I looked around to see if anyone was earwigging, but the few other customers in the place were far enough away not to overhear.
“Because I need to set Vicky up with a hot date tonight, and I’m a bit short of eligible bachelors. Do you think Lee would help us out?”
Nancy stuck her order pad into her apron pocket and shook her head.
“Just when I think I’ve heard it all from you.” she said. ‘You never fail to amaze me.”
As she walked over to the hatch, she turned to look over her shoulder.
“And not in a good way.”
A few minutes later, Lee came out, wiping his hands on a towel that he slung over his shoulder. He was late twenties, short, dark haired. Typical chinese/american looking guy. When he smiled, his teeth gleamed, and he smiled a lot.
“Hi Chuck!” he said, coming over. “What’s up? Nancy said you wanted a word.”
“Hey, Lee. Lee, this is Vicky, Vicky, this is Lee.”
Lee smiled and stuck a hand out.
“Don’t worry,” he said. ‘it’s clean!”
She smiled, took his hand and shook.
“Lee. You busy tonight?”
“Not especially.” he said. “There’s a showing of Bergman’s ‘The Seventh Seal’ on at the Astoria. I was going to go and catch that. Why? What’s up?”
“Fancy some company?” I pointed at Vicky. “The lady here needs a date tonight.”
Lee’s smile jacked up a couple more notches.
“Seriously? Er, yeah! Sure!”
“Strictly business, Lee. The lady needs to look like she’s on a date, if anybody happened to be watching.”
“And she may need to stay over.”
Lee looked like he’d just won the lottery.
“And there’s a bit more…”
I explained to him about the possibility of a phone call.
We finished up out coffee and left, Nancy shaking her head, and Lee in full song back in the kitchen.
“Well.” I said. “Looks like at least one of you is going to enjoy themselves tonight.”
o o o o o
Back at her apartment, Vicky got online and updated her social page with enough information so that anyone with half a brain could work out who she was going out with tonight.
I looked over at her.
“Sorry about ‘The Seventh Seal’. I’m sure if you ask nicely, Lee will agree to a chick flick.”
“Are you kidding?” she said. “It’s a classic! I thought I’d be going to see ‘Ninja Cowboys in Space 3’ or something.”
“Lee’s a good kid. Bit obsessive about film, so be prepared to sit up until 3am discussing the underlying themes and whatnot.”
She smiled. “I consider myself warned.”
o o o o o
At 7pm, the three of us went in to the cinema. I wouldn’t put it past Cash to have someone checking up on me in case I broke the bail conditions, so we made it look like the three of us went in together. A few minutes later, with my hat under my coat and my coat over my arm, I slipped out again, and headed for the subway.
By 7.45 I was at the junction of Bachman and Turner. I’d picked a paper up on the way, and I headed for the doughnut shop. It gave me a good view of the phone across the street, so I parked myself, got a vanilla shake and a box of half a dozen doughnuts and settled myself at the table in the window.
Lee had told me that the film was only around an hour and a half. “It just seems a lot longer to most people.” he said. They were going to go straight back to Lee’s place, so just before 9.00, as I’d just settled down with a coffee and a second half dozen, my phone went off.
I fumbled with it for a while. I hate cellphones. They fry your brain, they let crazies like English track you to within ten feet of where you’re standing, and they make you look stupid. If I get glared at by one more idiot who walked straight into me because they were on the phone, and then bend my ear like it’s my fault…
I finally managed to answer the thing. It was Vicky.
“Ok, we’re back at Lee’s. I’ll buzz you if the phone goes. Anything happening at your end?”
I looked down at the table in front of me.
“Well my waistline’s expanding…”
She laughed and hung up.
I put the phone back in my pocket and stared out of the window. It was dark now, and the sidewalk was lit by a few streetlamps and the neon sign of the doughnut shop. The phone threw out its own small puddle of light, and as I sat there, a fine drizzle started coming down.
A few people came past. One or two stopping in the store for a drink, or a box of takeout doughnuts, but otherwise the street was quiet.
About quarter of an hour later I was beginning to think that this was a stupid idea when I noticed a figure coming down the street, on the other side from me. They had a mac on, collar pulled up and a hat low over their eyes. They stopped at the phone booth. Was this my guy? I fished my phone out and waited for the confirmation call from Vicky.
It didn’t come.
But a few seconds later, the figure left the phone and carried on walking.
A while later, as the second box of doughnuts got emptied, and I wondered whether I could manage a third, another figure appeared. A short guy, wearing dark clothes and holding an umbrella hurried towards the phone. He only stopped at the phone for only a few seconds too, then crossed the street and carried on.
Clearly wasn’t my night.
While I sat there staring at the phone booth, something occured to me. Both people had spent less than 10 seconds at the phone. That was barely long enough to get the coins in, let alone make a call. Could it be out of order? I’d checked it before I came in to the store and it had been fine then, but I guess something could have gone wrong. Nothing’s built to last these days.
I slipped out of my seat, left a couple of bucks as a tip and crossed the street to check the phone. As I got there, I could definitely see it was out of order.
The cord had been cut.
I looked up and down the street to try and work out where the guy with the umbrella had gone, and as I did, my phone went. It was Vicky.
“Lee just got the call. He tried to keep him talking, but he rang off.”
“Right - see if you can get the number from your end. He had to use a different phone - this one’s been messed with. I’m going to try and find him.”
I cut the call and started jogging in the direction I thought I’d seen the guy heading. He’d only got a couple of minutes start on me, so he couldn’t be far. The drizzle was turning to steady rain, and the streetlamps were painting pictures on the wet sidewalk.
I pulled my hat further down to keep the rain out of my face and squinted into the rain. Suddenly, up ahead, a figure came round the corner towards me holding an umbrella.
I kept my head down and strode towards them, one hand on the pistol in my pocket. I walked straight at them so they had no option but to stop and move the umbrella to look at me.
I stared back at a little old guy in his 70’s. I relaxed my trigger finger.
“Sorry, sir!” I said. “Didn’t mean to get in your way. Don’t suppose you know where the nearest phone booth is, would ya? Some punk’s ripped that one up.”
I jerked a thumb over my shoulder back towards the damaged phone.
“Sure thing sonny,” he said. “Just round that corner where I came from, and down a block.”
“Much obliged.” I said, and hurried on.
I rounded the corner and saw the phone booth. Unlike the one further back that was just a phone on a post, this was a walk in phone booth. I could see a figure still in the box.
I started running.
As I got nearer to the box, I could see it was the guy from earlier. Short, dark clothing, and an umbrella at his feet. He seemed to be leaning against the phone in an odd manner.
Cursing, I tried to open the booth door, but the guy was blocking it. I managed to get the door open a couple of inches and reached in to grab his shoulder, hoping I wasn’t going to find what I had a suspicion I was going to.
The guy rolled round to face me and as he did, his knees gave out and he slumped to the floor.
His umbrella fell through the gap I’d made in the door and onto the sidewalk.
I knew he wasn’t bothered though.
I could tell by the knife sticking out of his chest.