Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Deeper the Well 2

Frank closed the phone and motioned the barista over. “Any idea who that was? They give you a name?”

“No, sir,” the barista said. “Just asked for the old guy with the duffel bag.” He indicated the rest of the tables. “Since you’re the only one here who…”

Frank looked around the room and saw two other coffee drinkers: a balding, bearded man tapping away at a portable keyboard connected to his phone and a good-looking, dark-skinned woman browsing a touchscreen Didgireader. He turned and looked at the window of the shop and saw a young woman with dark glasses, a short skirt and black leather coat smiling at him. She waved her phone and cocked her head. Frank dropped a bill on the table, shouldered his bag and went outside.

“Who are you?”

The young woman opened a wallet and showed Frank her police I.D. “You are Frank Townshend, former detective and resident of the Well for these last ten years. You’ve been with Bettie Leaf, first working for her then nominally married to her in that time. When you were on the job Out There you were one of the best, clearing cases like Sherlock Holmes.

“Your partner, now-Captain Jurgens, stole your wife - Teri- and brought to light certain proclivities that would be embarrassing in a future police commander. He stomped on your career, cast you out of society and you ended up here. That about it?”

Frank scowled at her. “You didn’t answer my question.”

“I showed you my identification.”

“The department’s hurting if you make detective only knowing how to use a feed crawler and WayBack Machine,” Frank said. He re-shouldered his bag and turned to walk away. “Word of advice, Detective Hansen: don’t come to the Well looking for sex dressed like you’re going to a frat party. It may be a prison, but there are standards here.”

He walked.

Ten steps on, he heard Detective Hansen’s voice. “He’s got you on a clock, Frank.”

He stopped. Her heels clicked on the pavement, slow and measured, until she was next to him. “You’ve got tonight to clear this or he frames you for it. Simple, neat and clean and the Senator owes him.”


Hansen set her mouth and looked up the street. Cars weren’t allowed in the Well and there wasn’t anyone else on the sidewalk. She turned back to Frank. “He promised you two could get out didn’t he? In the name of the Senator?”

“Something like that,” Frank said. His eyes were closed.

“You’ll do the work, but he takes the credit,” Hansen said. “He doesn’t want you out of here. He wants you destroyed utterly and finally.”

“Kettling me here wasn’t good enough?”

Hansen nodded. She reached inside her coat and handed Frank her card. “Why don’t you go back and try to smooth things over with Bettie? Let me handle this.”

“Why should you care?”

“It’s my job, old man,” she said and waved goodbye. “Call me in a couple of hours.” Frank noticed her legs as she walked away and turned the corner. He looked at her card: Bureau of Internal Affairs. The staccato clicks of her heels echoed in his head.

Frank walked north. He could see the fifty-foot wall that surrounded the entire three square miles of the Well if he looked left. Opening his cell phone, he noted the time. He looked up and caught the floating eye slipping back behind the next corner ahead of him.

“Bet they still deploy in pairs,” he said to himself. “The subway is what I need.” He jogged up Patrick Street to Chambers Avenue, stepped over the steel cord with a sign that read “closed” and down the stairs. At the bottom, he shucked off his coat and dropped it over his duffel around the corner to the platform. He flattened himself against the wall and tried to slow down his heart.

Frank waited. Someone was coming down the stairs, trying to be quiet and having a hard time. Frank gritted his teeth and held his breath. The soft steps were closer, cautious. Because the platform extended from either side of the entry, his head was turned away giving Frank the advantage and a first shot. He made it count and crossed his pursuers face with a hard right, knocking him sideways and down to the floor. A couple of quick stomps to the blond man’s knee and groin got the job done and allowed Frank to kick him into unconsciousness. He grabbed the man’s plasma pistol.

Panting, sweating, Frank trotted back to gather his duffel and grab his coat. There was a prehistoric pay phone with a withered Out of Order sign on it. He picked up the handset and punched nine numbers into the dial pad. There was no ring; no sound to indicate the phone was working until a deep voice on the other end of the line said, “Yes?”

“It’s Frank,” he said still panting. “I need help.”

“Where are you?”

“Patrick Street Station.” Frank could hear his heart pounding out of his chest, the blood pulsing in time with it in his brain. He hucked and hitched, trying to catch his breath. “I’ve disabled one tail and I’ve got at least one floating eye on me, too. Maybe more.”

“Walk the tracks to the north,” the voice said. “Mind the third rail. It’s still live.”

“They haven’t shut it off yet?”

“Mind the rail. Half an hour.”

Empty silence, then; the voice had rung off. Frank put the receiver back in its cradle and grabbed his duffel. He moved to the edge of the platform and sat down, dangling his feet. He slipped down and landed in the mushy cinder rocks, gained his balance. He stepped over the rails and into the center of the track bed. “Sixty years and the third rail’s still live.” Frank walked north. “Jesus.”

He muttered to himself while he was walking, working out why Bettie was angry. He hadn’t forgotten the floating eye. Frank knew the thick walls of the tunnel would keep it from sending any sort of clear signal. All he needed was a clear shot and it wouldn’t be a problem.

“I need to know if Jurgens has changed. Hansen is a mystery. I need to know about her, too,” he muttered as his footsteps crunched in the cinder rocks in rhythm with his thinking. “What do I know? Katie Lassiter’s dead, strangled. Who benefited from her death? A lover? A jealous wannabe lover? The Slip Riboon’s not a bad place, just not Bettie’s. Bettie. Shit. I’ve done little jobs before; is it Jurgens? The Ribbon?” He kept walking into the very dimly lit tunnel. Tumbled possibilities in mind, Frank made a turn and saw the train.

Rather than the flat, rectangular cars one expects in the subway, this was a two hundred year old steam locomotive with two parlor cars, a Pullman and one baggage car behind the engine. It was stopped at the intersection of three tracks, puffing steam. Frank smiled and walked across to the second car behind the engine. He stepped up and knocked on the little door at the back of the car. He tossed the pistol; the eye wouldn’t matter now. An old man opened the door and nodded at Frank. “Hello, Mr. Townshend. Good to see you again.”

“You, too, Hodgkins,” Frank said. “I take it he’s here somewhere?”

Hodgkins nodded, closed the door behind Frank and took his bag and coat. “Would you care for a drink?”

“Yes, please,” Frank said. “Bourbon rocks.”

“Very well, sir. Make yourself comfortable.”

Frank sat in the elegantly paneled room in a rich red leather wingback chair on the visitor side of the oaken desk. Hodgkins came back with a glass half full of bourbon and three floating ice cubes. The old manservant nodded and left again. Frank was studying a painting that was startlingly variable in its shades of red and brown when the side door to the room opened and closed.

The dark-eyed, heavyset man crossed to his old friend with long strides and put out a hand. “Hello, Francis,” he said.

“Strangiato,” Frank said. “Thanks for helping me.”

Deeper the Well continues in Part III next Wednesday! Click Here.

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

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