I spent the next couple of hours trawling the internet for anything I could turn up on Stephen John Tremont. Unless you learn how to tread light, you’d be suprised at the big, muddy old foorprints you leave all over the digital sidewalk. Not just the so called ‘social media’, neither. All sorts of bits and pieces. On their own they maybe don’t mean too much, but when someone starts putting the pieces together, like a virtual jigsaw, well you start to get a picture. And it ain’t always a bowl of roses.
In this case, however, either Mr Fremont was very, very good at hiding his tracks, or he just wasn’t that interesting. I managed to turn up some typical stuff. He’d done the social media thing a few years back, but had clearly got bored with it. And like most people, either forgot, or didn’t know how, to get rid of it when he was done.
He kept one thing going, but that seemed to be populated largely by media types, and given that he worked for a TV company, I figured it was probably a career networking thing rather than any burning desire to hang out with bright young things on the net.
I did turn up a blog though. “We Are Live In Five” gave an insider’s view of life in a TV network. Given the fairly scathing nature of many of the entries, I’m not suprised he posted under a pseudonym. But there’s anonymous and there’s anonymous, and these sort of public domain, free to use bits of blogging software don’t do a terribly good job at hiding your identity if you know where to look. But while he’d posted stuff that would probably get him a reprimand at work, maybe even fired if someone was having a bad day, there was nothing that suggested someone would resort to kidnap or murder.
My inclination was still to think that he’d just wandered off somewhere, or taken a last minute holiday and forgotten to let little Sis know.
Thinking of last minute holidays reminded me - I was due to fly out west on Friday for a couple of days. My folks, who had moved to L.A. about twenty odd years ago had finally got tired of the city that never shuts up and had downsized to a smaller place in Oakland, just across the Bay Bridge from San Fransisco.
They’d got settled in, and had invited me and my kid brother George to come and see the place. George was still in L.A. so was driving up - I was taking the afternoon flight to Oakland International and the plan was for Georgie to pick me up on his way.
Our Dad, Roy was a practical kinda guy, but our Mother, Sally, was a sentimental old soul, and so I was going to take them some kind of housewarming gift. I’d figured I’d have all week to find something, but then Jenny came along a put a spanner in it.
Guess I’d better get a hustle on.
o o o o o
It was getting dark when I gave Ella some food and milk, scratched her ears and said goodnight. I pulled my coat on, belted it up and remembered my hat this time. As I locked the door I glanced up at the discrete camera in the corner of the corridor and flipped it the bird. When English had installed the security he had, without telling me, I’d hasten to add, sent a feed to a server that was located who knows where. While I got hacked off about it at the time, I’d had to admit it was useful when he’d seen me get dragged off by some heavies a couple of years ago, and had, in a roundabout way, managed to save my neck. He said it was because I owed him money and dead men pay no bills, but I know deep down he cares.
I don’t know whether he ever checks the footage when I don’t owe him moolah, but I give it the finger every time.
Just in case.
o o o o o
I headed towards department store territory. I’d no idea what I was going to get Ma and Pa - I don’t like shopping at the best of times - but if you can’t treat your folks right you’re a bit of a lowlife in my book.
Talking of lowlifes, it looked like there had been one around earlier. As I came past the bodega I saw a handyman boarding the plate glass window up where someone had caved it in with a brick or something.
I shook my head. Bunch of savages in this town.
o o o o o
A couple of hours later and I was on the subway, headed back to my apartment with a picture frame in a bag. It was one of those fancy ones that let you put several pictures in their own little frame, but the whole thing was joined together in a stylishly random pattern. People liked them, the assistant had told me, because they could have pictures of all the family together. I’d picked one with three holders - one for the old folks, one for George and one for me. I wondered whether I ought to put my picture in before I gave it to them, but I didn’t think I had one. Most of the cameras pointed at me are attached to CCTV.
The carriage was full of the usual cross section of humanity, crammed against each other. The subway brings folks together the way few other things in New York can, and after spending ten minutes or so jammed into a commuter sandwich I’d got the sweaty side of toasty. Back above ground I had a reality check as the wind cut through me like a knife. Just outside the subway exit there was a down and out, panhandling for change, and I was minded of some song lyric I’d heard years ago. “If a bum asks for a quarter, you give a dollar. If he’s out tonight he must be truly down.”
I fished in my pocket, gave him a five spot and wondered if he had anybody looking for him, the way Jenny was looking for her brother.
Half a dozen blocks later and I was home. I fixed some food and ate while I watched the news, then slumped on the sofa. Normally when I was on a case I was fired up, but after a couple of weeks of doing nothing my mind had got out of shape. Judging by the fact that I’d had to let my belt out by a hole this week, my body wasn’t far behind it.
I toyed with the idea of going for a drink at Mac’s bar, but the thought of going back out in the cold didn’t appeal. I poured myself a couple of fingers of something medicinal and looked out over the lights of the city that never sleeps.
Maybe you don’t sleep, I thought, but I do.
Ten minutes later I was stacking z’s.
o o o o o
The next morning I was up at the crack of 8.45. After a shower, I had a look in the fridge to see if there was anything that looked like it would pass for breakfast. I briefly debated microwaving a couple of spring rolls from two days ago, but thought better of it. They hadn’t been great at the time - forty eight hours in the fridge was unlikely to have improved them.
Fortunately for me, New York City caters to the Detective on the move, and I picked up a breakfast burrito on the way to the office. A handy tortilla filled with… well it doesn’t always pay to look too closely at the contents of these things, but it tasted ok and it filled a gap.
Lady Ella headbutted my legs as I walked in, as if to say ‘What sort of time do you call this?’ I fixed her some breakfast which, on balance, was probably more nutritious than mine and opened the window. She ate up and then went out to stretch her legs.
I checked my email and answering machine while I decided what to do next. Other than one from George confirming the number and time of my flight, the mail was just the usual spam. I chuckled when I saw the light blinking on the answering machine though. It was Tuesday, which meant that last night, Mrs Lipowicz had been out with her friends playing cards, had necked about half a bottle of sherry and had rung me up to hurl abuse.
A couple of years ago she’d asked me to find out if her husband was cheating on her. Unfortunately for her, Mr Lipowicz was a) faithful and b) spending his evenings out at a chess club. Even more unfortunately for her, in the course of my investigations, I’d discovered that it was in fact her who was playing away. When she’d tried to get out of paying me because I hadn’t got her what she wanted, I sadly had to resort to what I like to call ‘persuasive bargaining’. Less sophisticated people referred to it as blackmail.
Ever since then, she’d get pickled and give me a weekly barrage. I looked forward to it. I’d certainly learned several new words over the years.
I settled back and hit play.
“...tell that smartass a thing or two. Able! Able, you low life, cheating, no good con man. What am I saying? Man? You’re not a man! You’re a weasel! A weasely… weasely… weasel! You call yourself a detective? You couldn’t find your butt with both hands and a torch, you complete… Oh, yes, just a small one, Muriel. I hope you rot in hell you asshole! No, not you, Muriel. This jerk on the phone. He’s a lying dog who told my husband lies about me and my good friend Mr Szwejkowski. What? No. Well, yes. Well that’s beside the point. The point is that I paid this jerk to…”
At that point the call cut off. Pretty disappointing, Mrs L. I’ll give you a four out of ten for that one. Maybe next week’s will be better.
I turned my mind back to the problem in hand. I’d agreed to meet Jenny at Stephen’s apartment at 2.00 that afternoon - always worth a look around, and maybe I could doorstep a couple of neighbours - you could usually find someone who was prepared to gossip. So I had a couple of hours to kill. When I was starting out on a case and I didn’t have too many leads, I usually took the easy option and headed for the 18th Precinct. Not only do the Police have all the best resources, they’re even better than reading the newspapers if you want to pick up on what’s happening. Besides, I hadn’t been up there for a month or more, and it was always good to show your face now and again.
Ella had reappeared by now, her morning patrol complete, and was onto the next item on her schedule, which was ‘going back to sleep for a few hours’. I tickled her ears, grabbed my hat and coat and left.
From my office to the 18th Precinct is about a twenty minute walk, mostly uphill, so despite the cold, I had what you might call a healthy glow by the time I got there. More accurately, I was sweating like a guilty basketball player who’d been put in a identity parade with six midgets.
I shook off my coat as I stepped through the door into the madness that is a Police Station. I looked around. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. All of life passes through these doors.
But mostly the bad bits.
I threaded my way through to the desk, past a little old lady screaming blue murder at a cop. I paused briefly to see if it was Mrs Lipowicz, but it wasn’t. A short guy was sitting on the floor with a placard that said ‘Bring back flogging. For consenting adults.’ And off to the side a bag lady seemed to be making a day out of it, as she sat on a bench seat and was unpacking a grubby looking thermos and paper bag of sandwiches.
At the desk I produced my ‘Freelance Operative’ card for the desk Sergeant, a guy who I vaguely knew. He looked it over, issued me with a pass, then buzzed me through the barrier.
I left the hubbub behind and made my way further back into the station, the ageing polished wood giving best to steel and chrome. I slowed as I approached the corridor with the Captain’s office. Captain Russo ran this whole circus, and it was safe to say that he was old school, and would rather be out catching crooks than attending equality workshops or ‘Understanding the motives of habitual offenders’ seminars. There was nothing that happened in this station that he didn’t know about.
Fortunately for me, he didn’t appear to be in. The door to his office was closed and the lights were off. Even so, habit made me walk past the door in ‘sneaking around’ mode.
I breathed an involuntary sigh of relief as I made it past the door and headed down the corridor to the archive.
Did I speak too soon? I think I did.
“ABLE!” yelled a familiar voice.
“GET IN HERE!”