Authors: Vin Suprynowicz
Tags: #International Mystery & Crime, #mystery, #Private investigators, #Thriller & Suspense
“Amazing. Thank you. Thank you for holding that. It’s wonderful. And yes, there is something else, I don’t think it’s really in your line, I’m almost embarrassed to bring it up.” They’d arrived back at the front of the store, where Matthew handed over the Wolfman Jack book.
“We’ll ship this to Jackson, Marian, registered and insured. Take a scan of the page with the signature, first.”
“It never hurts to ask, Jackson.”
“Well, you know my mother would never leave the house where I grew up, so I had the whole house picked up and moved to where we live now, put it back just the way it was. The kitchen has the original coal-burning stove.”
“You showed me.”
“But I thought you’d lost your Mom.”
“Yes, she passed last year.”
“No, she had a good life. She was proud I did well, she said so. Although I’m not sure she ever understood quite what I do.”
Jackson was a mathematician who’d grown up sheltered, probably a bit of a nerd. His life had changed when he’d figured out how to program a computer to run online poker and blackjack tournaments and even to bet sporting events with an adequate percentage of success. All of these activities had been legal and then illegal and then quasi-legal again in various jurisdictions thanks to the bumbling or else the selective bribe-taking of various courts and Justice Department officials responsible for interpreting “The Wire Act,” a 1961 anti-racketeering artifact, until Jackson found he had to keep almost as many attorneys on retainer as brokers to watch his money.
“The good china was the Fiestaware, of course, we kept that, and I replaced anything that was chipped.”
“Oh, none of that new pastel stuff, no!” The loud, explosive laugh. “We ate off the blue and green and yellow for Sunday dinner; the orange stayed in the cabinet because it was radioactive.”
“I know it sounds funny, but sitting in that old house is the only place I really feel peaceful, the only place I can really relax and think, anymore.”
“Doesn’t sound funny, at all.”
“What was missing was the glassware. When I was a kid we weren’t rich, you understand. Nowhere near. We started out with Ball jars, canning jars, very trendy in the barbeque joints now, and then I saved all the glasses that came as premiums at the fast food joints, the tie-ins with the TV cartoons,
“But we used to say ‘Hannah-Barbra.’ You remember.”
“But so many of them broke, or the paint wore off.”
“You’re re-building the collection?”
“I guess I’m not as young as I used to be. I lose patience, haunting the garage sales and the antique malls. And when a piece does turn up, so often it’s chipped, or they’ve been running it through a dishwasher and it’s stripped almost bare.”
“So you’re looking for a kindred spirit, someone who’s been working a long time to put together a collection like that in pristine condition, a full set.”
“I know, impossible.”
“Just the animals, though? Not
“Oh, God, that would be the ideal, yes. Those are the holy grail. Those and
. But maybe too much to hope for. I’ve been trying.”
“I know a set, Jackson. Now, whether the owner will sell, or at what price, I haven’t checked, because this is the first you’ve mentioned it.”
“You’re not joking? You wouldn’t tease an old buddy? In fine condition or near it, one of each? Including a Jetsons and a Flintstones?”
“Oh, not one of each, I don’t think. No. A full table-setting of each, eight or 10 of each, with all the different characters, your Bam-Bam, your Pebbles, your Mr. Sprocket — no, I guess it would have been Mr. Spacely. Scores of the things, if not hundreds, and they looked ‘as new,’ to me, although I wasn’t doing a detailed appraisal, you understand.”
“Less than a mile away.” Les had arrived at the front door, was standing outside looking hopeful, not unusual at this time of day. Chantal waved for him to come in, which he did.
“Hi, Les, do you know Jackson?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Jackson, this is one of our neighbors, and a member of the Horrors, Les McFarlane. He helps in the store, sometimes.”
The two men shook hands.
Leslie McFarlane, author of the Blue Moon books?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Oh, no. I mean, I knew you were from Providence, but I never thought . . . Oh gosh, I haven’t brought any of my copies of your books for you to sign. I mean, assuming you’d be willing.”
“We have sets of all the firsts, Jackson. We’ll pull together a stack Les can inscribe for you. What I was hoping, Les, is — you know the Mighty Quinn, right?”
“The kitchen above the store on Thayer Street, does he still have all that collectible glassware?”
“Last time I was there. It’s like a museum. But he doesn’t let just anyone up there.”
“If you took Jackson and introduced him, though? Jackson is a good customer.”
Matthew figured Les, even suffering hunger pangs, would catch the meaning, that Jackson occasionally spent actual money. The Golden Whale of the West.
“Well, actually, I was . . .” Les looked longingly toward the back of the store, which meant toward the kitchen.
“You haven’t had lunch, yet?”
“But I’d love to buy you lunch,” Jackson said, feeling himself back on solid ground. “And your friend Finn, too.”
“Quinn. But I’m not sure how much he’ll want to sell,” Les warned.
“No, no, just to see such a collection, I’d be overjoyed to buy lunch, or an early dinner, for both of you. I’m sure we’d find so much to talk about. You choose the place, whether we can arrange a purchase or not.”
“Tied up here, Les. Grab a piece of fruit and a water in the kitchen,” Les shuddered at the mention of water, “take Jackson along. If you can find Quinn tell him Jackson has come a ways to see his collection, that he’s seriously interested, then after he gives you a tour see if he wants to talk some business over a meal. Red Stripe, Taste of India, wherever you think, as long as it’s someplace with table service. Marian will set aside a stack of your books for you to sign later, we’ll ship them to Jackson’s address.”
When they’d gone Matthew told Marian to try and reach the Mighty Quinn by phone.
“If anyone can find him, Les will,” she said, breezily.
“Marian?” There was a note of warning in Matthew’s voice.
“Ah. A message to reach Quinn before Les and Jackson get there.”
“Exactly. Tell him under no circumstances is he to name a price. He’s to wait for an offer. Got it?”
Two little girls who lived next door, maybe seven years old, came in the store to ask if Tyrone could come out and play.
“Yes, if you’re careful with him,” Marian replied, tucking the phone against her shoulder as she let it ring at one of Quinn’s haunts. “But it’s almost two o’clock, already. Make sure you have him home by five; you know we close at six.”
They were often open later if there were customers in, but the children would be due home at Captain Jack’s for supper and some margin of error was wise.
The giant orange cat made no move to escape as the waifs approached where he was lying on the rug. It took both girls to carry him, lying quite limp in their arms, out the door and down the steps to their empty baby carriage, one to carry his front and the other to maneuver his hindquarters.
They loaded him into the carriage lying belly-up, adorned his head with an elegant white baby bonnet, and headed off down the sidewalk. Unlike his evil twin, Mister Cuddles, Tyrone was a gentle giant.
A slightly older micro-bopper now showed up, 15 or 16, long legs, straight hair out of a shampoo commercial, mini-dress, looking for Les. Marian broke the news that she’d just missed him, refrained from telling the jailbait that she should go seduce someone her own size.
Now Rashid’s brother Hakim returned, with news that Rashid’s rental car had been found, parked neatly at the curb and decorated with parking tickets, a couple miles south in Fox Point.
Beckoning Chantal over to join them, Matthew showed him the letter that had been dropped on the front desk.
“I believe this is his mark,” said the Egyptian with the hawk beak and the big mustache, scowling a bit. “As you know, Rashid is no scholar. Of course, he would never have dictated a letter like this in English, it’s ridiculous.”
“I’ve always dealt with your family based on a man’s word and a handshake.”
“Exactly. Written letters like this are for lawyers to play their fancy tricks. Plus, written papers can be used in court, they can get you hanged.”
“But you think he signed?”
“Yes, I think so. His full name, though, not the way he would sign to me or to a friend. This is good news, because it means he was alive when this was sent, and they have not yet cut off any fingers on the right hand. But of course, someone has a gun to his head, there’s no question. The reason he would sign, he would know this would tell us he was alive, and not acting of his own will. How did it come? We can question the courier? I have a good knife.”
“He came and left, a pale young man dressed in black, possibly one of our burglars from last night.”
“Yes, that would make sense. It’s too bad no one held him. The Italians shriek like hens once they feel the blade, they’re not even a challenge.”
“I should also tell you, Hakim, there was a perfumed fellow here from your Egyptian Ministry of Culture, looking for Rashid’s book.”
“Looking for the book? Not to buy it?”
“He spoke of the book being removed from the Islamic Republic of Egypt without the proper export permits.”
“One of those bastards has been here? May his soul burn in hell. You know what they are, these pigs of the ‘Ministry of Culture’? They are thieves! They can claim anything that’s old, claim ownership on behalf of ‘all the people.’ They are
. What is that in English?”
“The same, collectivists,”
. They would destroy commerce, private profit, private ownership. Do you know what happens to an economy when nothing can be owned, when no title is secure?”
“Everything freezes. The farmer can’t sell what he grows for cash, so it rots in the field while the people starve. Of course, there is always a
, this is where my family comes in. But there must be havens. These scum demand documents of ownership, or else they seize everything. Well, what documents exist for things that have been handed down by the desert people for generations? Let me tell you, that pig doesn’t dare enter our village without a military guard. You know what such thieves deserve?”
“I believe your people once cut off the hands.”
“Hah! That would be too good for this scum. Someone steals bread to feed his family, that’s one thing. Such a person knows he’s a thief, he doesn’t claim he has a
to your loaf of bread. For them, losing a hand might be enough. But these scum of the Ministry of Culture would be lucky to survive long enough for the cutting of the hand. In my village, should this beast show up without a squad of soldiers, I must tell you, he would immediately be butt-fucked.”
Chantal smiled. Matthew had to keep reminding himself she was not a fragile flower.
“He would . . . what?”
“This is not good English, butt-fucked? His anus would be penetrated—”
“No, no, it’s clear enough.”
“Yes, butt-fucked by a camel, you understand.”
“The camels cooperate in this?”
“It’s a very special punishment, you understand, reserved only for such self-righteous liars and scum, usually from Cairo, that den of thieves. The bastard is stripped naked and tied to a grate. Then his buttocks are smeared with the fluid from the female camel in
, how do you say it?”
“Exactly. At that point, the male camel goes quite mad. He cannot restrain himself, you understand, he cannot resist, no matter how pale and ugly the buttocks in question. Ah, it is a very satisfying thing to watch. The men from Cairo shriek like little girls. The women and children enjoy it particularly.”
“I imagine it cuts down on recidivism, as well.”
“Yes, yes! You have that word, too,
“You’re a man after my own heart, Hakim. Tax collectors, too?”
Again expressing his disappointment at missing the opportunity to question the courier who delivered the letter, Hakim took his leave. Skeezix, who’d been out questioning the neighbors, passed him on the way in, making slow progress up the walk with Clarence, an old-timer who lived a couple of doors down.
Clarence took a little maneuvering to get up the steps, but he made it. Past 90, he walked with a cane and wore thick bifocals. Off-hand, it would appear the only more worthless witness Skeezix could have drummed up would have been Mr. Magoo, the politically incorrect blind man played in the old cartoons by the sainted Jim Backus.
“Matthew, Clarence heard something the evening Bob died.”
“Hi, Clarence. Can we offer you a seat?”
“Thank you. Used to hike 40 miles, now I’ve got to plan ahead to cover 40 yards. Don’t suppose I could have some water?”
“Water would be better.”
Skeezix went to fetch.
“Bob died here last Thursday night.”
“Heard that. Sorry to hear, although I didn’t know him. I used to come by here more, under the old management. He wasn’t shot, though?”
“That’s what’s odd. He called nine-one-one to say he was having a heart attack, there was no gunshot wound, but he did also report gunshots.”
“A few minutes after sunset,” Clarence said, closing his eyes for a moment. “Wasn’t dark yet. Three pistol shots. First one, then a considerable pause, then two more.”
“Some of the neighbors don’t remember anything, Clarence. Some thought it was a car backfiring or a TV turned up too loud.”