I pulled the phone towards me and used the speed dial to call Frost’s number. After exactly two rings he picked it up and I could almost see his hand raising it to his ear. I heard the sound of a crystal brandy snifter being set down and then his breath was in the receiver before his voice came.
“Yes Mister Collier?” Frost said.
“Hello Mister Frost.” I said, trying to form my words with great care. “I’ve been bothered by something for a little while now and I was hoping you might be able to help.”
“What ails you?” He asked.
“How did you know what the shooter was drinking but not be able to tell who it was?”
“You’re asking how I gather information.” He said.
“Well, no.” I said, realizing that I was. “I was sort of hoping you could help without telling me that.”
“A computer gathers information from gathering sources.” He said. “It starts with a great deal of previous knowledge. It didn’t report who the shooter was because it said the shooter was known to be in another location.”
“Is that what it said?” I asked.
“No, of course not.” He admonished me for being foolish. “It said error type 643, however that is what a 643 error is, when information contradicts information was have. If the information gatherer said that he Statue of Liberty was in San Francisco, the computer would spit out a 643 error.”
“Have you looked to see what the computer said the gatherer thought it saw?” I asked.
“I’ve been quite busy.” He said, and there was an edge of sharpness in his voice. “Trying to find a replacement show for Christmas and let everyone know the world has not indeed ended is a busy task.”
“Check and see if the computer saw Christmas.” I said feeling my guts fall, giving my heart room to drop.
“She was in the hospital, and is now dead.”
“She’s in my apartment.” I told him. “She showed up this morning telling a tale of about a young actress taking her place for the last few months. Only when I talked to the mother of said actress, in response to the missing persons report filed the day after the attack, she said her daughter had only just gotten the job.”
“Are you suspecting the person who was supposed to be dead and is now in your apartment?” Frost asked.
“She’s either lying to cover up something, or she’s not sure how much she can trust me.” I said.
“Those are broadly the same thing.” Frost said after some thought.
“You always do that to me.” I grumbled.
“Tell me your suspicions.” Frost commanded.
“Noonan was involved in a cover up.” I reported, “I think he planted one of the wallets, he might have even been involved in smashing Sandy Cloose’s face in. I don’t know who exactly is behind it, but I suspect Christmas knew it was coming and took measures.”
“Then to what extent did she know things?” Frost asked, trying to sound simply interested.
He wasn’t just interested though, under his calm façade I could hear something I’d never heard before, or since come to think about it. He sounded concerned, and maybe even a little worried. I’d never known him to do anything but radiate confidence bordering on arrogance. Now though, he actually sounded like he might think about being scared one day.
“I’m not sure.” I said trying to find a way to excuse her.
“Okay.” He sighed, and it almost sounded like a guillotine’s blade falling to scythe her head off. “What arrangements have to you made for her?”
“I looked her in and told her not to come to the door.” I told him, and then nearly slapped my hand over my stupid mouth to stop it from telling him where exactly he might find the key on my body after he had some one shoot me.
“It will take some time for anyone to get to your office.” He said, and I could see him checking his watch in my minds eye. “Stay put, someone will come and get you in an hour.”
“Okay.” I lied. “I’ll stay right here.”
“We’ll have to put here away from her own safety, and then we can work out what the hell has happened and what’s going to happen as a result.” He said, sounding a lot like Smith only less reptilian and a billion times more dangerous to cross. “We probably don’t need to alarm her, I’ll send someone over and you can go get her with them.”
“Yeah.” I continued to lie. “No problem, whatever.”
“Fine.” He said. “I’ll see you in three hours.”
He hung up and I put the phone down in its cradle, wondering how much time I might have. I stood up slowly and then ran across my office in three steps, putting on my coat as fast as I could manage. I threw the door open and stepped into the middle office where Debbie was pecking madly at her keyboard. I put my hand in my pocket and discovered it was taking my safety deposit key from my ring. I didn’t notice at first, but words were pouring from my mouth without any help at all from my brain.
“Give me the Webly and then go in my office and grab the two boxes of bullets. I haven’t got time to explain, but if anything stupid happens, go to my bank and get the money out of my box. Take it and get the hell out of here. Don’t worry about me, just take the money and run.”
I slapped the key down on her desk and picked up the Webley from the place where shed left it. I slipped it into my right coat pocket on top of my gloves, which was likely to cause trouble later. She came out of my inner office with a box of bullets in each hand. I took them and dropped them both into my left hand pocket, grabbing my keys and looking around at the office for anything I might need.
I felt like this might just be the last time I’d see the office. I looked at Debbie, seeing her not as a secretary for the first time in a long time. I stretched my left hand out and she took it in both of hers. I gave them a squeeze and then put on my hat and went out the door. I ran down the stairs as fast as I could and saw an amazing sight as I walked onto the sun drenched parking lot. Opus was standing in the parking lot standing over a couple of agents who were laying in puddles of what looked like blood, but could have been melt off from the snow which was no longer in evidence.
I couldn’t tell if Smith was among the fallen, but it was definitely Opus standing over them, a long and wide knife clutched in his hand. He turned to me and a broad smile came across his face. He then gritted his teeth and licked his lips, before starting to charge towards me. I reached into my coat for the Webly, deciding to kill him, but the hammer of the gun caught on my coat pocket and I couldn’t do anything. He was fairly close when he swung the big blade in my direction.
I jumped back, slipped on the last piece of external ice in the tri-county area, and flat on my back onto the concrete. Opus stood over me, his big knife ready to carve me up like a thanksgiving turkey, or possibly a Christmas ham. One has to consider the season when one is about to be cut to ribbons. I let the Webley go and swung my left lug up as fast as I could, pivoting my hips and bringing my right leg in for a sweep. Opus’s legs left teraferma and a moment later, he was the one on the ground and I was standing over him. I didn’t actually stand, I more crouched before jumping on him.
I would like to report a highly interesting and cinematic fight took place, one with much kicking, and high flying that would require wires and imagination to recreate on film. I would like to impress you by my great knowledge of eastern fighting arts, and my memorization of each pressure point. I would like to do all that, but then I wouldn’t be telling you the truth. In reality my fists came down on his face with all the speed and strength I could muster.
The first bullet didn’t make any noise as it left the barrel of the gun. In fact the only sound it made was as it smacked a hole in the side of the black SUV the agents had come in. The large hole with the circle of lost paint just sort of appeared along with the sound of someone smacking a car door with a baseball bat. I leapt off Opus, who started to roll away as other gun shots tore into the SUV just above me. I pulled my Marley from my pocket and fired in the direction of the shooting, only to miss by miles because I was firing too high. If you shoot at elves, you should shoot where their heads are instead of where a normal person might keep them.
“Come on.” Cocoa’s voice called out. “Opus, c’mon!”
Hardrock and Joe fired at me from the side of their car as Opus ran towards them. The door opened and he got in and the four of them drove off. I fired two rounds at the back of the car, cracking the rear window, which would giver the police a way to track them easily. Or at least it would, if the police weren’t in on it with them. Everyone was on the wrong side this week it seemed. I ran to my car and drove out of the parking lot like a restrained bat out of hell. I couldn’t speed away, but I had to get away fairly quickly.
In the car I pulled out my cell phone and found the number Church had given me for his cell. I hit the send button and the phone started to ring, I drove as carefully as I could while waiting for him. It seemed to take forever for the rings to happen. Each ring seemed to be approximately as long as the Gettysburg Address and the pauses in between would have had Kubrick tapping his fingers with annoyance. After three rings, which took about four hours, Church answered.
“I thought you said Opus was dead.” I accused him without so much as a ‘hi’ or ‘how ya doing’ from my lips.
“I saw him shot three times.” Church said. “I thought you said the fat man was plugged a bunch of times with an automatic.”
“That’s what I was told.” I said.
“Well the police think he was shot three times, probably with a revolver since they didn’t find any brass around.”
“What kind of revolver?” I asked.
“Something small probably, it was a twenty-two. They think it had a short barrel because of something involving the way the bullets were scraped or something. They would have to have been right on top of him, no shooting from across the room for this.”
“Fuckmonkeys.” I muttered.
“I beg your pardon?” Church said.
“Where are you now?” I asked.
“Because your ex-wife isn’t dead,” I told him, proving that subtlety is one of my strong points. “A ringer was put in at the last moment.”
“That’s a very poor joke.” Church said.
“As poor as having Opus nearly cut me open despite his being killed yesterday?” I demanded, probably louder than I should have.
“You have a point.” He agreed. “I can be at Fire Fighter’s Park in ten minutes.”
“I’ll be there in five.” I said. “Back by the pond, you’ll know me because I’ll either be feeding the ducks or because your visual cortex is still connected to your memory.”
I hung up the phone and started to drive to Fire Fighter’s Park, trying to keep my hands from shaking. It wasn’t easy, but I would have at least five minutes before Church got there to tray and sort out my thoughts. I pulled into the parking lot and chose as spot as close the pond as I could get before walking out across the open ground.
It’s not like Troy is exactly a sniper’s paradise, but if someone was waiting for me there, they would have had plenty of places to hide while getting their aim. If there was such a sniper, I hoped they had been given at least one doughnut. Oh sure, the smell of a doughnut might give their position away, but if they were going to wait for me they should have something to eat.
I got out and walked across the gravel path towards the pond, looking at the clear sky and then the sparkling water. I approached the pond and saw that a few industrious sparrows were still scratching around on the ground, trying to find something they could call food. The air felt more like early spring than early winter, and the sun had scorched away all the snow a while ago. It was warm under the bright sun, and I slid off my coat as I waited, taking the opportunity to remove the Webley from my pocket carefully and slid it into my pants at the small of my back.
It was actually a beautiful day, and that depressed me. That we should have to do this on such a lovely spring morning that had gotten lost and arrived months ahead of it’s brothers. It also depressed me, because I do like a bit of snow for the Vague Early Winter Possibly Religious Festival. I’m not a big time participant, but I do like a bit of snow now and then. I looked out at the street, which I could just see around some playground equipment, and waited for Church to arrive.
For a moment, I thought I could smell a single doughnut on the air, but I was probably being paranoid.