the last job

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic
edinburgh private eye casper lennox is tasked with finding a missing boy, or is he? the closer he gets to the truth, the further away redemption appears.

Submitted: October 19, 2018

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Submitted: October 19, 2018

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The light shot through most of his skull. It was November and it was a failing sun anyway, and, while not dead, it was a few days away from being posted missing. Still, it did not look good. It gathered itself weakly on the relief of what used to be his face and clung on to craggy outcrops of bone and whatever else it is that glistens inside. I forget, or rather, I choose not to remember what those things are.  There is something different to being the first man on the scene and seeing a dead one. If you are seeing a dead one, then it’s usually cleaned up, a little sanitised.  Nothing you are going to mention on a first date or anything, but, really, it’s clean. I’ve been first on scene too many times to recall, and it’s still like the fall of Rome landing in your in-tray. What I’m attempting to convey  is; it’s not nice. And this man here; very terribly not nice. This was a pick and mix bag of shit, but instead of shrimps and milk bottles and gummy worms and vampire teeth there was shit and shit and shit and something that used to be a brain.

The police car crunched in the gravel as I finished my cigarette. Proper procedure in this case is to establish a cordon, interview the first on scene, start getting some shiny signs up and making sure that SOCO and the pathologist are informed.

I looked up to the slow approaching Lothian plod

“Twat” he shouted at me  ”get gone or get lifted”

This sounds like new procedure I thought. Still I couldn’t say just that to him, he needed something more barbed, a bit sharper to shake him out his buttoned shirt arrogance.

I stared ruefully through him, giving him a lopsided grin

“This a new procedure?” I said

I recognised most of the grunts these days, but I couldn’t place this guy, which meant he was either new or I was getting more enfeebled by the day.

“Listen Lennox, this is not multiple choice here. I will fucking lift you if you don’t get your jog on. I don’t care if you know him, if you saw who did it. If you did it and just can’t wait to show off your handiwork, I want you gone.”

So, not new then.

I pretended to ruminate for a bit, but I had already gone in my head.

“Mr Lawrence will be in touch” he said

“I’ll be sure to dust off my tenterhooks” I said

I sat for a long time in the hotel lobby before the phone rang. I was watching November win in its own dull way. We had an understanding, November and I; it would rain itself into apoplexy and I would stay inside and out of its way.

“Mr Lennox”

I looked up. The concierge was pushing a tight smile through his tight face

“Phone for you, sir” 

“Lennox” I said. Immediately regretting it. He knew who it was. I might has well have said that I was talking on a phone now, and did he know how amazing that was.

“ That business today. Forget it”

 I began a preamble of protest to a completely dead line.

I replaced the receiver and gave the concierge a look up and down. 

“Someone phoning from The Evening News, says the kitchen is rat infested”

I think he shouted after me, but marble tends to echo noise to obsolescence.  

I decided to walk to The Raven, Est. 1899. The thought of trying to maintain any semblance of a conversation with a cabbie gave me an ulcer in the pit of my stomach. Then again, this was Edinburgh.

Instead, I took the long walk along George Street. This was never a good idea at the best of times, it was a long flat street punctuated with belches of elitist smug. As the night clotted the rugby fans, and part time footballers, and first night out in a month’s slithered their way along it.  

They were mostly grotesque these women. Like oversized toddlers a slave to their limbs, ones which sat splayed and draped. Skirts high, hitched high and bunched. Each of them pierced and bronzed and saddened.

And the boys? The boys? The boys were worse. I imagined them some sort of giant Turing test for mankind, separate the dog from its bark. Still, they kept Jack Wills in the manner to which Jack Wills was accustomed, providing the grease of funds for whatever striped bacchanalia filled the Wills household. Purple, teal flecks of forgotten pink, colours no one should ever know monkeyed in front of me, all of it jacketless, some sleeveless, to reveal matted hair and fading blue ink. Every bit of it mottled flesh spotted, freckled, mumbling with nodes like overstuffed sofas. Pale, un-hued, like milk on the turn. Here were their faces, all of them bloated, half formed.  A balloon partially inflated with dog turds and punched. They guzzled coke and shovelled coke, and sharpened pint glasses for bored little fights with university kids.

I was sure there had been a sea change recently, how lightly brusque everyone had become. Not rude, but tired; distracted. Pondering their cuticles and the newsprint caught there in. Their gazes always just beyond, like a universal reverie.

I wondered about my pointless existence. All of it, for we were so small. Things are bigger than us, the giant arc of which we were cracks, a hindrance. Every action seemed like a desperate bid to cheat. People were things with the switches left on and nothing more. Life was little else than an interaction with your surroundings - the possibilities for interpretation or genuine invention and genius were miniscule - couched in the dry litanies of experience and the words of the long dead. We were the echoes made flesh of all that had gone before us. We were pin balls in the pinball machine - cranks on gears - moving but essentially still; contained. Spinning tops set off by bigger hands.

 

I made a mental note to walk less.

The building rose like a solid black obelisk and punctured the crust of clouds that formed the night sky. It had large sad windows that spat a jaundiced yellow onto the wet pavement. Inside its vast rooms the clatter of vacuous noise rose and died in excruciating waves. 

I sat in the furthest booth from the bar; the darkest catacomb. From this vantage point I could view the ebb and flow to the chrome rail; the travails of boys and girls as they sashayed with intent. The barmen fevered attendance around them, their brass arms straining against the rolled cuffs of their white shirts. I noted the little looks they silently exchanged, hurried little deceits here and there with the entrance and exit of each patron. The girls as they leant forward with doe eyes and bright teeth; the snarl of dress catching a little too high on cream legs. The boys hanging back in thick groups of lycanthropic recline. 

Once I had been a young man too, a proper young man; young and old enough to cherish it. Once I had been a boxer, and what time that had been, to feel untouchable. Each suggestion and curve of my arms. My shirt pressed tight to them, the cotton smoothing over marble and serving as a reminder with each flex. There were no arguments then, people saw things my way. And now, well now, people had their own opinions. I raised the tired glass to my lips and did not let it go until I had huckled the contents down.

I noticed that a man had joined me, he was greasy and thin, in an expensive blue suit that looked cut for someone else. I hadn’t asked to be joined, but here this man sat anyway. The man raised a red apple to the pallid skin around his mouth and bit, with overlong teeth, into the skin, pinching the flesh onto his tongue. It wet his top lip sufficiently that he had to run an arid hand across to wipe away the excess. He let his thumb trail across both lips. It was not taking his full attention; his eyes flitted over the room and rested upon the man. He smiled lightly at me and continued with a disinterested chew.

“Busy tonight” he said from the corner of his mouth.

I could see flecks of apple caught between teeth as he closed his mouth on the final t. I didn’t want any interaction, so I nodded my assent and focused in the far corner of the table. I was still thinking about the phone call that never was and the whereabouts of that body. 

 

The man shuffled closer, smearing his hands along the leather of the seat.

 

“Twenty years ago, eh?” he nodded to two girls chatting languidly in the middle of the floor.

 

I shot out a quick smile and yammered my head forward hoping that it would be enough to keep the man quiet. The corpse of the apple lay on its side just at the edge of my eye-line, it had begun to bruise.

The man touched my arm in a soft comforting motion, with cold fingers that seemed impossibly thin. He smelled of earth, his fingernails carrying a headline of impacted black.

 

“I know you” the man said. 

 

“I know you” the man said again, this time lowering his voice and wrapping his hand tighter.

 

“I, I, I” I stuttered. The words fell from my mouth, each one seemingly tied to a kite caught in high winds. I had to struggle and strain to pull them into understanding. He had caught me off guard, or perhaps I was playing him, I didn’t really know.

 

“He wants to see you” the man breathed into my ear, as he spoke his free hand was fishing for something cold and solid beneath his gargantuan coat, his eyes shone brightly as he folded his fingers around it. 

 

I turned to face the man, finally; he was breathing in shallow little gusts that filled his pale skin with a redundant fire. He looked pleased, pleased that he had succeeded in spite of himself. He looked to be, in his head, writing the opening monologue for whenever he got back to wherever he was heading for whoever was expecting him.  

“Listen” I said.

“You want me to un-crease my clothes and come with you, you’ve got to at least give me a name.”

The man stared back, hard and blank.

He relaxed his grip slightly.

“He does not like to be kept waiting. That is all you need to know. You want to keep him waiting, fine. Maybe then you’ll find out his name. Maybe it will be the last thing you ever find out.”

 I sighed. One of those nights then.

“Fine, but you need to work on your people skills”

We left by a back door, shuffled through a sweetly decaying alleyway where the night sky hung above us like slow molasses and tried to avoid as much of that swollen mass of people as possible. It took me too long to realise he was steering me to my own office.

“Am I picking things up or…?”

“He’s inside, like I say, waiting.”

I made my way up my own stairs to my own office, and they did not feel like my own stairs, and my office although buzzing in electric fizz felt like a disinterred grave.

I saw his shadow first in the pinched light of my outer office. What had felt like a long slow year of rain was evidenced in the comical little puddle of water bunched under his feet. He sat starched like a stuffed corpse, one that would serve as a warning to others not to do the things he had done. Or at least get caught doing the things he had done.

I offered what, in retrospect, was one of the weakest handshakes I have offered any man and I had the sudden thought that he might have actually died right there on the seat, such was the air of ambivalence he maintained. When he did smile by way of returning my greeting, it was with such an abject and clawing gesture that I actually wished he were dead. Indeed, when he reached for my hand to ensnare it in his grasp I began to snatch it away, the way you would from open jaws.

I motioned him wordlessly into the office and as he rose slowly he gathered his long wet gabardine by his side. Fat and black and greasy; it hung about his shoes like a dead flag. I remained behind his slow amble, guiding him through the office door to the empty seat, with one hand raised aloft and the other not daring to touch his shoulder. I felt it to be prudent that I never turn my back to him.

Sitting behind my not so imposing at all desk he began to remove the white cotton gloves that covered his thin fingers. The gloves were beginning to bobble, with lazy fat stitching that ran from knuckle to wrist and they popped and cracked with a terrible sound like static as he pulled at them; catching against his dry skin and the bubbles of bone that constituted his hands. He folded them softly and smoothed them over the top of the desk. I noticed the palms were speckled with fading red.

Action accomplished he husked his paper hands over the bone handle of his walking cane which had now soured to a dull cream. I say now. It may always have been this way. But had I been the maker of such a sad specimen I would have ground it back down to the hellish dust from which it must surely have clotted.

 

“I have been advised” he began. The thick burr of his letters beginning in the back of his throat and stumbling in sombre rectitude toward his teeth.

“That you are a man that gets things done.”

I looked at him passively, willing myself not to react. He gazed passively back. He smiled a toothless smile, by which I mean a smile where no teeth were showing. A smile where his teeth were covered by those slabs of flesh masquerading as human lips. It looked to be filling him with satisfaction; it made his neck gorge beneath his fragile head as he swallowed whatever natural emotion he believed occurred with such an event.

“I need you to find someone for me” he said

Before I could begin to formulate my escape plan, or tell that I didn’t do that kind of thing anymore he produced, in a swift fluid motion that belied his age, a picture; passport sized and curling with neglect. The man caught in this sepia square was much younger than I, maybe 19.

“Have you ever lost someone Mr Dalton?”

I shrugged by way of response.  

“Someone important to you I mean, not just…”

And he rubbed his fingers together and pursed his lips.

“Love is,….. love is nothing more than a cursory glance, grief and loss are Hell unshackled.  Teeth and claw and sinew.  And it hunts, I misspeak, it does not hunt for hunting implies an uncertainty, a sporting chance.  It walks slowly behind you, waiting for the very moment it will place its hand on your shoulder. This boy, this boy”

And he seemed caught in some overlong story

“……isn’t it always the way? He has something of mine that I need back. “

“This something have a name….or a relative value?”

“I don’t need you to find the thing Mr Lennox, only the boy. The boy is enough.”

He must have seen me react.

“I must stress, he is in no trouble. He is just confused, a little too headstrong. It may run in his family, I have no idea. I believe though that I can count on your discretion in this matter. That is what my recommendation advised.”

“And who was that exactly?”

“Discretion is a two way street n’est-ce pas? You will find this boy for me?”

There was shortness in his insistence, time gobbled it up. Before the words had left his mouth he was eager for a reply. In truth it was never really a discussion, he was just waiting for my inevitable acquiesce, I think he just liked seeing people realise that they need to get there. 

“Sure”

And I tried to avoid sighing, and with some success.

“3 days Mr Lennox, and at this hour” 

I began to say something, but his crow hands were pulling again at his jacket and they turned a solid blob of gold pocket-watch towards me. There was no scrollwork, no lovingly engineered clockwork on show, no inscription, no shine; it was a flat unyielding ingot that looked like it weighed a tonne.

“You’ll be sure to keep me abreast of the situation. And if, say, the matter at hand can be dealt with before then, then all the better.”

His eyes flashed

“For everyone concerned.”

By which he meant me, and me alone.

He rose like a vapour and was out the door in a few silent strides.

I leaned back into my chair. If they were going to follow me, which they were, I needed to make this look convincing. 

I examined myself in the mirror. 180 lbs of lack, of fail, of disaster awaited imminently. One blunt finger was pressing the balloon flesh onto my oversized skull.  I could not claim to be the perfect specimen, although that was all dependent on the criteria - long tired, middle-aged white male could be written in cursive on a yellowing rectangle below my jowls. Apparently I had also started a moustache; who knew? I might as well have written the word prick underneath my nose. 

Tomorrow. I would start tomorrow.  The adrenaline was still making my hands buzz; I looked in the cupboard for a long time until I found something to dull it.

“Morning” I said to the heavy set man who was spending an inordinately long time looking in the window of the flower shop.

He bristled, but didn’t respond.

“You can tell him I am on my way, but I need to pay the rent first.”

I flashed a white envelope at him, thought about rapping it on his nose then discounted it and walked on.

Rent paid, I settled into to a steady stream of interviews, and trying to evade whoever was unlucky enough to be on the rota.  

All of them proved worthless. A tired mess of innuendo and hearsay. This boy did not want to be found. 

And time creeped on. Minutes bled to hours to the rush of days. And at last orders after convincing the barman I was fit and proper for the second time of the night someone slipped a name into my coat pocket. As last gasp goes it was hideously breathless.

I waited for him to finish his shift in a chipped plates, clouded cutlery and over generous mug café just off Clerk Street.

 I waited a long time.

Two women opposite were having a detailed discussion on the failings of their love lives. I felt sorry for her. Sorry that she could never be 17 again. Sorry that he planted his lips on her and sucked the life out of her teenage frame. 

I waited some more for the man.

They cackled at each other in undernourished tones, their faces exhibiting the dull pallor of badly varnished stone. And even though all was noise, clatter and gulp burbling through the throng, it said nothing. Its vacuity effervescently spilling over the newsprint and thick rubber seating. The windows began to steam slowly obscuring the welcome distraction of the bustle outside. Focus shifted without thought or action to this anaemic reverie. An insistent itch to address. I turned my violent regard to my fingertips slowly clenching and unclenching my hands as they sat in my lap for fear of granting them free rein to strangle. I looked at the blood choking underneath my nails and then drain as I made a fist. I enjoyed that sense of control, that bell that could always be rung. I absentmindedly pulsed over and over – the calmness dissipating as quickly as it had arrived. I noticed everything. How the seat clawed at the back of my thighs; waving heat and scratch in equal measure. How could a man be happy cocooned in something so slow, so calamitous?  It shook with sniper precision to whatever tied my pains down and loosed them. 

When she laughed, she rattled, a skeletal staccato, like mouse bones in a milk bottle. 

I wasn’t sorry for her at all.

He arrived in a’ look at me’ whirlwind, with his apron still loosely tied round the back. An eagerly stupid smirk on his large oval face. He was a rotund blunder of flail. He talked at me like he was about to kiss me. A big fat pregnant pout teetered on the edge of his lips like an overflowing cup. All pomp and fluff.  An amorphous shapeless blob of heavy fringe. And he talked. A lot. More than he should. Dropping the mate bombs and the artillery of questions no-one pays any attention to. He was the unconsumed consumer. The penny arcade of greeting card vapidities, of huffs and puffs, and glottal stops, and umm and ahhs and breaths that seemed to make noise. Goodness knows what clatter he was attempting to dull in his head. What rusted broken machinery chattered in violent droning screech? I’m coming for you, it said. I’m coming for you Stephen (for that was the name on his plastic badge) and I’m going to rip through your fucking head.

 

 

“It’s er Stephen”

 

He looked down at me writing

 

“With a ph”

 

Of course it was. Why would it be any different?

“Ph, got it. Wouldn’t want you getting confused with anyone else.”

Anyone normal I nearly said.

“So, did you know him?”

“Sure, sure, he came in here most days. Always alone. We got talking. I got the feeling he wanted to tell me something, you know. Just reach out, make a connection.”

I nodded. I didn’t, I didn’t know. I could care less for other people’s shit. 

“Did you ever discuss anything about his life?”

“Mostly where he grew up, what he was doing here, the usual stuff.”

Jesus Fucking Christ.

“I was told there was something I might be interested in?”

I could feel my nails digging into the mostly soft flesh of my palms.

“Yes, yes , sorry, yes. He said that is his father was to come in here looking for him, I should tell him to go to this address.”

He handed me a faded post it note with a desperate scribble on it.

“Ok. I, well, thanks… and did the father ever make an appearance here in the.. ?”

“You don’t recognise the address? I googled it just to make sure. I wasn’t snooping so much as..”

And he let the words trail off to let me know he would be online as soon as I had left to find out what he could about me.

“It’s the house where all those kids died, the orphanage place. It’s been boarded up for years.”

We chatted a bit more, but I could tell he saw my heart wasn’t it. I was mentally mapping my route to this house.

 

The orphanage was a converted townhouse. It sat in a block of five that bunched together like tightened knuckles. The road ran to the soft edges of the park, and the tarmac that coated it was wearing away, the bite of time exposing the loose collection of cobbles beneath. It was the only house on the block that retained a chain-link fence out front, sprouting  from two squat brick walls and following along on to the where the walls buttressed the pavement. The grey path that lay in between lolled like a lazy flat tongue, snatching curve from straight lines, and was impeded from licking the door by a thick stone step.  The main door was panelled blue and had started to buckle. Directly above it on the sandstone was an inlayed plaque decreeing 1849, the deep grooved numbers beginning to shallow to incomprehensibility.  High above the clatter of windows and wind sheared bricks the TV aerials spindled lean and long into a tired blue sky. During the days of rain, of which there would be many, the walls would slick darker and the door would seep water from its tired visage. At one time or another there must have been a proper handle on the door, but it was gone now and there remained a crudely affixed flat metal handle from a 1973 dresser.

And if you so desired you could have waited, as I did, in the sharp little pocket of shadows across the street and watch the house. I waited for anything to happen. So much so, that I began to dream it.   The hurried procession through the door, which would begin Monday to Friday only, from 8am and last a little over an hour. Each of the occupants from the furrowed little catacombs above would beetle their way through. The building sighing out a collection of perfumed necks and pressed shirts and clean shoes. Shoes that in those days of rain would fall deliberately in front of each other, cracking and popping and biting over the wet tarmac like snapping silk. And in summer those shoes would bake on the dry promontory and give off the faintest of dull echoes in a watery sunlight. And soon I had to dispense with the dreaming, for the nightmares that were strewn with white gloves and bone handle canes were coming. Tick tock Mr Lennox, tick tock.

I stood for a long time directly in front of the door and leant my face against the swollen wood. And I found a gap in one of the boarded windows, a softness in the wooden panel, and I peeled it back as if it was a slice of birthday cake, and I glided my way through. I was in a room caught in mid explosion, the dust hung like snowfall. I pushed open the only door and was caught in the dampening hallway. A hallway whose walls looked upon me in sad reproach, at once sterile and pernicious, a hallway whose open mouth was caught in questioning mid-laugh.

I continued, walking up the cold dark stairwell, and each room behind each door was empty and unlit.  With every footfall my shoes would scrape the drying dust off the solid stone steps. As I snaked along each level I saw how the stairs were constructed, as if inside the clockwork of a watch, oblong slabs of stone impossibly held together, riveted on one side by the ageing banister. The light fell carelessly in neglected splinters, and dusted spectres of fading quartz from the concrete.

I stopped soon enough and found myself knocking at a bright red door. The brass numbers seemed impossibly bright amongst all this decay.  I noticed how the gristle floated brightly to the top of my fist, how my knocking made almost no noise. The cadence of my repetition was swallowed up under these vast ceilings. I retracted my hand; the door fell open under my action, as the flecked paint on the door joist belched open into a still, bleak darkness.  I hesitated slightly, one shoe on the stub of wood in the doorway. But my hand reached out and flattened against the wood, yawning the door fully open, a stab of soured buttered air curling against me.  I didn’t even recall moving into the hallway.  My steps echoed in dull tones as I moved forward. I felt the blood pounding in my chest, my breath coming in hot fits and starts. And I drifted onwards to that cream white door.

I opened it then; cracking the scab of vanilla light that ran the doors edge and it began to warm the gloom. The floor, varnished a thick dark brown and shone to the lustre of toffee-apple, dripped under this honeyed gaze.  The sunlight was spilling through the window and leaving a soft little bruise on the smooth white walls. It ran in tired gold to the high skirting boards and died a little before it reached the floor. 

In this reverie of winter blaze I noticed each piece of furniture, of solid construct, which was bold and antique and heavy. It didn’t strike me as odd that this was here, amongst all this death, it seemed perfectly normal. And it looked, in its sympathetic hues, to be rising as if trapped in long slow waves.  And every surface was full, fecund, pregnant with trinket and bauble and clutter, sprouting like weeds in ignored gardens.

I saw the body now. The man, belly flopped over the corner of his sad little couch.  What remained of his head was pressed firmly against the wall. His right hand hung taught in a stiff claw; awkward through the still upright CD rack. His left wrist bent in vile geometry tight to the wooden floor; supporting his frame. His hand outstretched to a distance that would not yield.  His legs kicked at right angles, his left shoe now beginning to leak from his foot.  I moved closer, crunching the sugared glass of the light-bulb still further to dust. A smell that I did not recognise, except that it is cold and metal and rich, filled my mouth.

No. Not the man. Not a man at all, in fact.

The boy.

The boy.

The realisation crept up from my toes in violent cold waves. I wanted to run, but my  knees felt older than death, and it took all my effort to turn a fraction of an inch back towards the front door. 

I didn’t feel the first punch, nor the second or third. It was like a distant TV channel playing, and the audience were cheering themselves into painful raptures.

When he finally did appear, he was every clichéd inch the big time villain, perfectly attired, in perfectly starched monochrome, and regarding me with a disdaining detached anger. His shoes shone like wet tar. I wasn’t tied up or shackled in any way, but I could not have stood up should my life have depended on it. 

“Quite the run around Mr Lennox. I really thought we had lost you there for a second. Then I remembered, you’re no’ that fucking smart.”

His anger stretched his words a little, pinching his low growl.

I continued to bleed all over his carpet. Was it his carpet? Even with the blood it seemed cleaner than mine.  I determined to build up to moving about shortly so I could bleed in as wide an arc as humanly possible. If I was to die here, and to be honest the signs were not good/good depending on your viewpoint, I was signing my own death warrant. It worried me a little that I could not decide of the good/not good debate I actually sat.

“I note you have nothing to say now”

The words came beaming in from Kepler 152. I had heard the whole sentence before I had started to piece together the meaning of the first word.

I smiled. It may have been a smile. Maybe my mouth just opened a little more on the blood sluice because at that moment he turned to someone unseen and presently a handkerchief was pressed at my mouth then balled up in my hand.

He cleared his throat.

“I have things to do”

His impatience was palpable.

The fist crunched against my eye socket. I felt that one alright.

“But I have a little time” he said

“I didn’t find him”

“That much is obvious Mr Lennox. So, tell me..”

I debated a millisecond. He could know. He probably doesn’t. He could figure it out as we were talking then kill me, or he could just kill me then figure it out later.

And he pulled out his gold bullion watch.

“He was dead when I got there. I saw no-one else in the room. No-one met me on the stairs as I came up. I was happily leaving when henchmen number one tried to punch my fillings through my lips.”

“And for the encore?”

He was still consulting that watch

“Listen pal, I’m bored of the non sequiturs, I think even in your overly formal suit you’re starting to bore yourself. So let’s cut to the chase, what’s the question?” 

“Where is it?”

“The thing?”

“The thing.”

“I have no fucking idea”

If it pained him in any way he didn’t show it. I was staring at a photograph.

He got up and walked slowly towards me. He brushed the knee of his suit trousers before he hunkered down next to me, as if in front of an errant child. His face was a tender distance from my left ear, and his thumb rested gently on the curve of my windpipe. When he spoke it was a steady beautifully quiet hum, each word punched in by a stenographer.

“I know you know what I am talking about. I know you know where it is, and I know, believe me, that you are aware that I will get it back. You will make a mistake Mr Lennox, men like you always do. And I will be there. Always. You’ll feel me breathing down your neck when you take your morning piss. I thought we could finish this here and now, but you have chosen a different path for us. I will be walking behind you with one hand raised.  I will give you no more time, and no more chances.  Should it arrive here, fortuitous and unannounced I give you my word your end will be swift. You will barely blink. Should I be forced to tear it from your grasp then time for you will cease to exist.  How you measure days will be informed by which part of you hurts the most. “

He kissed me lightly under the chin.

He leaned back then. I made an effort to stand and my head swam. I sat back down hard.

“Here” he said, gently.

And he reached out his talon-like hand.

I took it gladly, and raised myself. Just as I had put my full weight in his grasp he snatched it away. I pitched forward with a dull thud.

“Oh do fuck off, you soppy cunt” he said

There seemed to be a dozen people laughing now.

“Out” and he pointed to a wan light in the corner of the room.

I swayed to my feet.  Paused.  I made my way out slowly. It was the worst game of pinball I had ever played. At every turn in the corridor there seemed to be another generic bald or balding man dressed in the same long black coat grinning me on my way. Finally. Finally. I placed my hands on the exit bar, and with superhuman strength was out into the street. I didn’t turn around but I imagined them waving me off like an evil Von Trapps family. 

I skidded along streets that were slick as glass. It must have been three when I got back to my office; I never bothered to check my watch. The very action of checking the time was borderline PTSD inducing. I didn’t want to go home; I didn’t want whoever was following me to be standing outside my front door when I closed it. It was a stupid feeling because I knew someone would be there  anyway. Someone would always know where I was.

The door wasn’t locked, either I had forgotten or.. But inside was still, settled. No ransacked drawers or one single thing out of place. And just enough pockets of darkness for someone to be standing in. I flicked on the desk light and started to write on a yellow foolscap of paper with a picture of a jaunty knight emblazoned in the top left hand corner. It began, In the event of my sudden demise. I also drew a really quite terrible map, and I at least managed a chuckle surveying it when I had finished. I had been so sure that he knew what had happened, but those threats were confused and desperate. And real, of course.  Definitely real.

He would never find it now though. The thing. The thing in the envelope that I never opened. The one the boy gave me. The one I handed in with explicit instructions to pass on in a continual and ever growing circle hand to hand. Whispered and just out of his reach forever and trailing further and further from my orbit. He was right I would make mistakes; I was that kind of man. I would make all manner of mistakes, a litany of tired and stupid calls to right a sinking ship. And none of them, no matter how big would lead him any closer to finding it. And the letter and the map if they were ever needed would lead him in direct opposition, spinning down rabbit holes and dead ends and flat smiles. It would grind him down eventually, and what would burn most is that we tricked him. And not even so much the trick as the trickster.

I wondered how much he had been involved in this from the start. I still didn’t know where that first body had come from. Was it just a ruse to flush me out?  How far did his reach extend, had he got to Mr Lawrence, or just the middle man? 

All of that could wait until tomorrow or longer. Or never. They all seemed so interchangeable now.

Outside I could see one high rise window illuminated in a soft orange glow. A man was hanging out the window, elbows resting on the sill, smoking a cigarette and doing nothing in particular. He took one final drag and pinioned it into the darkness; it fell like a dead firework into nothing. He turned to where I sat, even though I was sure he would not be able to see me. He made his fingers into the shape of a gun and smiled, and then the light went out.

I got up.  

I pressed one hand flat against my office door and turned the key.  A door that even now was clamouring to be kicked in.


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