Saturday, November 28, 2009

the seventeenth letter, part 14

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning click here

leslie started complaining as soon as they were out of the station and on the way to the waterfront. country girl put finger to her lips and pointed to the dashboard of the van. leslie looked a little surprised but shrugged and shut up. after chewing on her toothpick for a while she curled up against the passenger side door and went to sleep.
the streets were clear so country girl started making good time, even keeping behind the carefully driving martindale. the afternoon was getting on.

martindale disappeared into the first tunnel and country girl followed her. leslie stirred a little but didn't wake up.

larry looked out at the water. "peaceful here isn't it?" he asked sally.

"i guess. we were going to have a little talk about something?"
"we will - as soon as i figure out how to begin."
sally leaned back against the bench. "don't hurry on my account."
'i don't think you appreciate your situation."

"i appreciate it perfectly. i need a job. i lost my job because of your idiot boss charlotte. now i need one. that's my situation."
"a brilliant analysis. out of fifty billion people in the universe charlotte just decided to pick on you. is that what you think?"
"i don't know what she thinks. or if she thinks. but all this is because of those stupid letters."

"true enough. you're on the right track now,"
'i wish i'd never even gone to you with the letters."
"well you did, and that's why we're sitting here."
"it is?"
larry laughed. "well, why did you think we were here?"
"i just thought -"
"you wanted to look at the waves."

"well, i do. they're very peaceful. but, sad to say, we also have some serious business."
sally folded her arms and looked out at the water.

"then why don't you get on with it?"
"i will - as soon as i figure out how to begin."
"well, start figuring. i'm not sure i want to sit here all night."

the maid led annabelle and tania past a couple of closed doors into a large drawing room. two men were seated on easy chairs on either side of an bare coffee table.

they were both leaning on canes. their low conversation stopped when they looked up at the maid and the two detectives.

"police," josephine announced.
"of course," the taller and better dressed of the two answered. "thank you, josephine." he looked at annabelle. "will you have questions for josephine?"
"i don't think so. unless she accompanied you to mr fairweather's house on the night of the infamous poker game."

the other man chuckled and shook his head at this.
"ah, yes," the tall man smiled at annabelle. "no. josephine has been in my service for a while, but she was not accompanying me on that fateful night."
annabelle looked at tania, who shook her head.
"she can go," annabelle said. she started looking around the room.

it was fairly large, but sparsely furnished.
"do you mind, monsieur le duc," tania asked the tall man, ''if we seat ourselves?"
"no. no of course not. i - would you like some tea?"
"tea!" exclaimed annabelle. "do you actually have tea?"
"some questions," the duc replied, "are best answered by not being answered.

josephine will bring you a beverage with many of the qualities associated with tea. whether this actually makes - "
"just bring it, " tania interrupted.

"and let's move over there." she pointed to a heavy couch by a fireplace, with two chairs facing it.
"of course, of course," the duc looked closely at tania. "have we met, detective -"

"ah yes yes , one of the kelly girls. i thought i recognized you."
tania made no response to this, and the duc and his companion rose and started toward the fireplace.
"bring tea for four, josephine."
"yes, monsieur."

they were barely out of the tunnel when martindale pulled over beside a little drink and sandwich store. country girl pulled over about fifty feet behind her.

leslie woke up. "why are we stopped?"
"i don't know. martindale just pulled over."
leslie squinted out the window. "maybe she's just getting a drink."

"maybe. she's getting out now. she's coming back here."
martindale was walking slowly back to country girl's van. she had a slip of paper in her hand.
"we've been diverted," she told country girl. "you guys are to keep going to the waterfront on the original assignment." she handed country girl the piece of paper. "here are the directions if you need them."
"not really, but thanks."
"you're welcome. good luck."
country girl and leslie waited silently as martindale walked slowly back to her van, took her time about getting started, and finally moved off. then they both got out and moved up the door of the little store.

"this is stupid," country girl said. "i think we're being set up for something."
"you mean you're being set up and lucky me is along for the ride."

"whatever. but let's keep keeping our mouths shut."
"a brilliant plan."
"what do you want? all we can do is go along and see what happens. but keep quiet and not make it any easier for them."
"we could escape to the lost continent of asia." leslie nodded at the store. "or maybe we could go in here and get a drink."
"all right." country girl looked up at the sky.
"how much time do we have?"
"plenty, now that i don't have to go as slow as martindale."
inside the store, edwin was watching them through the window.

it was his first day behind the counter. connie was perched on the counter a few feet away from him.
"are they coming in or not?" edwin asked.
"yes, here they come now." connie moved a little further down the counter away from edwin.

country girl opened the door, and a little bell rang. she came in, with leslie behind her.
"good afternoon, officers." edwin's voice quavered.
"no cause for alarm, citizen." country girl took a small coin out of her pocket. "we just want a couple of drinks."
"of course. what would you like?"

"orange is always good with me," country girl answered.
"i'll have mango lemon papaya," said leslie.
"i don't think we have that," said edwin. "we do have -"
"give her an orange too," said country girl.

" - plain mango and plain papaya." edwin finished.
"plain papaya is good," said leslie.
edwin went over to the refrigerated case.
"you know what i heard?" connie asked leslie and country girl.
"no, what did you hear?" leslie answered. she took a toothpick out of her pocket and stuck it in her mouth.
'that all these drinks really taste the same, they just color them different."

"is that a fact?" said country girl.
"i didn't say it was a fact, i said it was what i heard."
"maybe the colors make them taste different," said country girl. "ever think of that?"
"and besides," said leslie, "orange and orange mango are exactly the same color."
'you employed here?" country girl asked connie.
"i just hang out and help out - make myself useful."

"i could be useful to you. aren't you afraid someone's going to steal your truck?"
"sure, if they know the six digit ignition code."
"somebody could try to steal the wheels. there's people around here that would scrape your paint off just out of nastiness. i could go out and watch it."
edwin had finally found leslie's papaya drink and put both drinks on the counter.
"thanks for the offer but we're not staying long," country girl had put the coin on the counter and picked up both drinks.
"you don't have to pay," connie said.
leslie took the toothpick out of her mouth. "we're police officers, not thugs."

edwin still hesitated, looking at the coin.
"take it, sib," country girl told him. "it's just a little one."
she started out the door and the bell jingled behind her as leslie followed.
"i'd like to be on the police some day," connie called after them.
"go for it," said leslie.
"whew!" said edwin when the door closed. "did you have to jabber at them like that?"
"you got to sass them a little or they think you got something to hide."
"that was a little?"
'i was just getting warmed up."

the seventeenth letter, part 15

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

the seventeenth letter, part 13

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning click here

"i don't feel like driving through the tunnels," annabelle told tania. "let's take the long way round - the scenic route."
"it's up to you." tania leaned back.
"i think the duc is more likely to be there if we arrive a little later. it's just a feeling i have."

"my first thought, " mike went on, "was that is wasn't really the duc d'avignon, that someone was playing a joke on me. but i thought about it and realized i didn't have any enemies.

i hadn't cracked a case in a while."
"had you ever cracked a case?" chappie interrupted.
"look, do you want me to tell an old-fashioned human story the old=fashioned human way?

then don't interrupt."
"sorry," chappie answered. "but take your time. it looks like the others are slow today."
"the elevator was broken. i went down the six flights of stairs to the street to wait for
the car the duc was sending to pick me up.
the street was empty. i could see sammy the newsboy's kiosk down the street but i couldn't see him through the fog.

a long black limousine suddenly drifted up beside me. i figured it must have been waiting around the corner for me.

i got in the back seat. it was bigger than my office. i had a companion, a guy in a black three piece suit and a bowler hat. he was leaning back against the upholstery with a rolled umbrella in his lap with the tip pointing straight at me. it looked like a weapon. i nodded to him but he didn't nod back. the situation seemed to call for silence.

i settled back for the ride."
"so far, so bad, mr detective," chappie interrupted again. "no snappy dialogue. and no deadly dames! your fellows must be impatient for some deadly dames."
"hey," barbarian told him. "we'll be the judge of that . just let him tell the story, all right?"
"of course. apparently the situation calls for silence."

"i really just like to drive out this way," annabelle said. "look at the trees and stuff."

a few trees with mostly bare branches were spaced along the sidewalks and dividers on the streets leading to the old houses.
tania just nodded.
"i think it looks kind of sad, don't you?" annabelle continued as they cruised along.
"all these old houses looking so run down now."
"not really," tania answered, looking out the window, "have you been out here before?"

"you mean to the old houses? of course i have."
"no, to the duc d'avignon's."
"once before. don't worry, i'm not lost."
"that's all i was asking."
"it's the next left. then around a big circle."

"you're from here yourself, aren't you? from one of the old families."
"we weren't that old," tania answered. "we were still kind of upstarts."
"but you weren't some slob from the districts or the slagheaps."
annabelle made the left and started around a wide circle bordered on both sides with high but scraggly lawns.

there were no houses in sight.
"this is the way to the duc d'avignon's, all right," tania said.
"see, home sweet home."
"not exactly."

"you never come out here any more?"
"only if i have to. i mean, i don't mind coming here. it's just another place."
"well, here we are." the road dipped suddenly and a broad driveway appeared on their right. annabelle glided up it and stopped in front of a large house, which looked neither bright or decrepit.

"i hope he's here," tania said.
"i told you, i have a feeling he will be."
"let's get out and find out."
there were two cars in the driveway. "our car is nicer than either of those," annabelle noted.
"why not? we're the police."
the front door opened as soon as annabelle released the old fashioned metal knocker.

a stout woman in a maid's uniform stood before them, smiling politely.
"good afternoon. and you are - "
"police," annabelle answered with a smile.

"here to see the duc d'avignon."
"of course." she gestured to them to enter. they were in a bare and shadowy corridor. there were barely visible traces on the walls where paintings had hung and annabelle looked at them attentively.

"my name is briand," the man in the bowler hat finally said to me, after about an hour in the car.
"pleased to meet you," i answered.
he took the umbrella and put it point down on the floor and leaned on it.

"i want to go on record as saying i find this situation totally absurd. you seem to have no qualifications whatever to assist the duc in this matter. interviewing you seems to me an admission of pathetic desperation on his part."
"have you been doing much business lately?"
"not much. it's been tough since the public directories were shut down. nobody can find me now but the police - "

briand laughed. "and they are not clamoring for your services, eh?"
"i still have a connection on the force. he throws a little something my way."
"a little something? you mean actual police cases?"
"he treats me to a meal sometimes. and he talks to me."
"talks to you!" briand laughed again and looked out the window.

there wasn't much to see because the fog was getting thicker. we went on in silence for a while. i could hear rain beating lightly on the roof...

at this point mike looked up at chappie.

chappie had fallen asleep, with his hands folded across his chest.
"does anybody else want to hear this?" mike asked.
"sure, sib, keep going," hongwu told him. "unless your throat is dry."
mike swirled his can of warm orange drink in his hand. it was still half full. "no, i'm good.
so we ride on a little longer and briand says to me -
"i'm surprised you can operate at all - i would have thought you went out with the lawyers."

"i guess we weren't worth bothering about."
"we found an old directory. there were eighteen private detectives listed. you were the last and the only one who answered. but here we are."

we got out. it was dark, and raining a little harder. i guess i was expecting something really grand, but the place was so dark i could hardly see it. i don't know what briand's umbrella was for, but it wasn't for keeping either of us dry because he didn't open it and we were both pretty wet by the time we reached the front door.

a chubby girl in a maid's uniform opened the door as soon as we reached it.

briand shook the rain off like a dog and the chubby girl jumped out of his way. i just stood there like a chump, dripping.
we were in a dark corridor.

i could just make out some paintings, taken down and propped up against the wall.
briand saw me looking and pointed to them. "would you like to buy one - or two?"
i didn't know what to say. "i can't even see them," i told him. "besides, i thought i was here to see the duc."
"he isn't going anywhere. josephine, bring a light. our guest would like to see the paintings."

josephine went off and didn't come back any time soon. there was no light, and the only sounds were the drops of water falling off me on to the floor, and my teeth chattering. i was almost dry by the time she got back with a flashlight.
"look at this one." he shone the light on the first one he picked up. "possibly an early guillaume potvin, but more likely by one of his students." it showed the archangel gabriel consoling the empress irene during the sack of byzantium by the mongols. tamerlane is shown glowering at them from behind a curtain.

"what do you think?" briand asked me.
"that's the archangel gabriel. i know him well.'
"i meant, do you think it's a potvin?"
"it might be aristide moreau. he had a period where he did pastiches of the earlier style."

"it looks like there used to be some paintings there,'" annabelle said to the maid.
'indeed there were," the maid answered. "but they've been gone for a while."
"that's sad."

the seventeenth letter, part 14