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Christmas Noir: Day 11

I don’t regularly go to crime scenes unless they’re fresh, because the police are pretty good at picking over the area where a crime was committed. Of course the crime wasn’t committed here, just discovered here, but that only made my trip even more pointless. It had taken more than half an hour to drive to the place on Romeo Plank between 21 and 22 mile roads and when I’d gotten there, I didn’t learn much.

The day was over cast with a thick blanket of gray clouds that stretched from end of the sky to the other in all directions. There wasn’t a single opening in the cloak that kept the sun from assaulting the land, not a single chink in the armor of gray. The light was diffuse and had about it the feeling that if one could see the sun we’d notice that it wasn’t really trying anyway. This wasn’t called the dark time of the year because of the bills that would soon be coming after all.

There was enough light that morning to see the spot where Christmas had been found though. Enough light to make out the patch that had been blood and was now just a dull stain on the black top. There hadn’t been that much blood anyway, just what she’d leaked out in the little time she had been laying here.

While the spot she had been left was fairly visible from the road, it wasn’t overly visible from the place where the main building of the nursery was. Why leave her in the parking lot of a nursery in Macomb County anyway? I looked at one of the strings of lights on the tree and while they weren’t lit I could tell there was something wrong. The lights on this tree were indeed ordinary white string lights as Noonan had said, but he didn’t point out how they’d been put on the tree.

In the last few years, the style has been to mummify a tree in lights, Wrapping the trunk with several strands and then wrapping a few of the large branches so that the looked like some sort of bio-luminescent ameba that has come ashore and grown to enormous size. That it what had been done here, and someone had gone to the effort of adding zip ties every foot or so to make sure no one was able to make off with the lights in the middle of the night, as can happen sometimes.

They couldn’t have had the lights at hand, they couldn’t have just yanked them off the tree and decided to use them. Even without the zip ties, they were wrapped around too tightly to make them any kind of convenient tool. No, the lights wrapped around her neck had been brought, which meant they must have been some kind of sign to someone. I wondered for a moment why that hadn’t been in the report, why they’d missed that little point.

I then looked around, having a sudden sense of paranoia, and I saw the brown Buick. I then spotted the man in the brown corduroy suit going into the building. I wondered for a moment why he wore the same suit two days in a row. I looked down at the concrete, where a patch of her blood still stained the ground. I thought about following him into the building, but then what? I might have to bust him in the head or something to make him talk and it seemed a bit public for that. I leaned against my car and looked at the Buick, and then at the doors where he was no doubt pretending to shop while keeping me in sight.

I thought about jumping in my car and driving north as fast as I could, just to see how long it would take him to catch up to me. That might attract unwanted attention though, and I guessed that it wouldn’t be for our mutual benefit. I looked at the car and then looked into the building and pursed my lips thinking about it. I was just about to go into the nursery and ask him why he was interested in my movements when my phone rang. I pulled it from my pocket and saw that it was Debbie at the office. I hit the answer button and held it up to my ear.

“Yeah?” I asked.

“Mr. Frost called for an appointment.” She said. “He says he has something very important to talk to you about right now.”

“What did you tell him?” I asked looking up at the over cast sky.

“It doesn’t matter, he said he would come and wait.”

“Ah.” I said looking at the brown Buick again, “Okay, I’ll be back as soon as I can. It’ll be a little while.”

I looked at the Buick, and then at the store and decided that there would have to be another time. It wouldn’t be too hard to arrange another time anyway, all I’d have to do is leave my office and not travel more than forty miles away from it. Then, if I stopped and walked around roughly the same area I would no doubt see him. Then I could ask him what exactly it was he wanted. Until then I had to get back to my office and talk to the person who paid the bills when there was nothing else going on.

I got back to my office in a little under half an hour, and it was only my skills of observation combined with great luck that allowed me to see the police cruisers before they saw me in my rush. When I came in I barely gave Debbie a look before getting into my office and started trying to decide if I was going to strip off my coat or not. I heard the door open and started to get to my desk with my coat still on as the door opened. I saw the cashier’s check that the fat man had sent me for fifty thousand still sitting on my desk where any idiot might see it. I snatched it up and stuck it in a drawer before the door came fully open.

The temperature of the office dropped about twenty degrees in about three seconds when Mr. Frost entered. He looked thin, pale, and remarkably well preserved for a man as old as he was supposed to be. As he approached, I could begin to see my breath and I noticed Debbie grabbing her coat as the door closed behind him. Small tendrils of ice formed as Frost touched the client chair and it seemed to solidify completely as he sat in it.

“Hi.” I said, trying not to smile.

My breath came in plumes, and I felt as embarrassed about it as ever. He didn’t try to smile, he simply raised his hands up and tented them in front of his face while fixing his icy eyes on me. When he spoke, his voice was the sharp crack of a January wind when you’re naked and covered with cherry soda in a field. If you have no idea what that feels like, count yourself lucky.

“I rarely have any interests in your business.” He said in a voice that sounded like it was trying not to be a rebuke, which was as close as he ever got to warmth. “However there has been a development in the job you have undertaken which affects me in some ways.”

I didn’t ask him how he knew what job I was on, he just knew. If he announced that he knew the location of the Lost Ark or the Holy Grail, I wouldn’t even bother asking where he got his information, I would simply go and get them because that would be why he had told me. He knew most things, and he only told you things when he expected you to do something about them.

“There has been a shooting this morning, at the Starbucks in Bloomfield Hills. Chanukah and Kwanzaa were having breakfast together, discussing the current situation with Christmas. Chanukah had a cappuccino while Kwanzaa had one of those lattes with more prefixes and suffixes than I care to remember or try to define. When they emerged from the establishment they were both killed by someone firing a nine millimeter hand gun which was simply dropped and left when empty.”

“What did the shooter have to drink?” I asked, trying to see if it would stump him.

“That information is hardly cogent, but it was a cup of hazel nut roast, with two sugars.” He smiled slightly, and I was surprised to see that his face didn’t crack from the effort. “And yet the identity of this person eludes me.”

“When did this happen?”

“One minute before I called you.” He said not moving his half dead eyes one tiny flicker. “It wouldn’t pay to make the call before it happened.”

“No.” I said. “You might prevent something that way.”

“We have discussed that before Mr. Collier.” He said coldly, which is the only way he said anything.

“Yes, we have.” I replied.

“So under these current circumstances, I cannot dismiss the disappearance of Thanksgiving as a sudden wish to go to Israel.”

“Why would he go to Israel?”

“The Israeli’s eat more turkey per capita than any other nation.” He said, opening his tented hands as if he wanted to look at his palms.

“Oh.” I said.

“Yes.” He said. Having examined his palms he then re-tented his fingers, although he might not have been looking at his palms as his eyes never left me.

“Some one is trying to take out the whole group?” I asked.

“It might seem that way.” He suggested and then his tone actually changed to something with feeling in it. “I do not require this holiday or that holiday, but I do require holidays. Do you understand this?”

“Yes.” I said nodding and wondering if my nervous sweat was going to form icicles on my forehead.

“I’ve dispatched mercenaries to protect Miss Yule, as well as other notable figures in the business. I suspect that even the government agents cannot be trusted, as they were supposed to be guarding the two who were shot down today as well. You are my only agent, I trust you to understand the gravity of the situation and to find the person causing all this row.” He set his hands down on the chair arms and pushed himself up to his full height. “We cannot trust anyone besides ourselves in this matter, I hope you understand that.”

“I do.” I said nodding.

“Good.” And then he turned and left without another word.

I sat back in my chair, rubbing my hands together to get the feeling to come back. I never really understood why Mr. Frost decided that he needed an agent on call at all times, as this was only the second time he’d even come to my office, but I thought I knew then. Being the kind of person he was, he knew this was going to happen some day and he wanted someone he could trust neck deep in it.

I sat forward and decided that I needed to get out of the office, if for no other reason then to let the furnace run for a while and melt the frost from the windows. I got out of the chair and started across my office before stopping. I stood in my freezing cold office and then walked back to my desk.

I opened the big old-fashioned safe and pulled the modern fire safe out of it. I got my keys from my ring and opened the fire safe. In side were my Marley thirty-eight and the Webley automatic revolver. I took the Marley and it’s shoulder holster from the fire safe and put it on. I took the gun from the holster and checked to make sure it was loaded. I then slipped it back and looked at the Webley, trying to decide what to do with it. I took that from the safe and slid it into the second drawer on the right hand side of my desk. I wasn’t positive that I wasn’t leaving the wrong gun behind, but I didn’t have anything besides the two revolvers and I had no holster for the Webley. I put the fire safe back and closed the big safe door before twirling the knob. I got up and went into the waiting room where Debbie was still huddled in her parka, trying to type as best she could.

“Come on.” I said. “I’ll buy you lunch.”

“Where?” She asked.

“Someplace warmer than this.” I said turning up the thermostat a bit.

“Good enough.” She said, and we went.

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