The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 4 – Warning Signs (part 1)

Chapter 4 – Warning Signs

Copyright David Bezzina, 2017Authors: Note: Gentle reader, as this chapter is quite a long one I decided to split it into two parts and will post part 2 tomorrow.)

~

That narrow flight of stairs behind Tim’s office led to the roof. Once upon a time it might have been possible to see the sea from there. Now the view was blocked by the beachfront hotels.

A mug of breakfast tea in his hand, Tim sat with his back against the chimney stack. The early morning breeze felt fresh on his face. He looked out across the untidy aerial and satellite-dish strewn roof-scape of the North Lanes and sipped his tea. Then he counted his chickens.

There were still three.

Brighton had its own share of urban foxes, with plenty of places for dens and hiding places in the local gardens. It would be an agile fox indeed that could make it up the fire escape ladder.

Tim’s shadow crept across the flat roof as the sun rose. A few sheets flapped on washing lines hung between the stacks in the next street. The three chickens scratched and pecked in the sand of their enclosure.

Tim knew plenty about cats but less about chickens in general or these three in particular. He didn’t know their breed, he hadn’t given them names and he didn’t want to. All he needed was to know how to look after them until their time came. Until they were needed for detection.

Cool excitement coiled in his stomach. Now he had taken the Vogler case the long-awaited opportunity to put magical theory to practical test was here.

He went into the enclosure, swept away their dirt, changed the water and put down fresh grain. He considered the tawny-feathered birds with mixed feelings. They knew nothing of their fate and had food, shelter, and safety. There were times in Tim’s own life where he would have been content with no more than that.

The hens softly clucked and tipped their heads, quietly going about their business oblivious to their fate. Oblivious that their owner intended to use them for methods of detection the police would never consider in a hundred years.

He was running low on feed. And he’d need a galvanised tray too. Something to collect the blood.

Back in the office he printed off a new missing cat sign for Morse. Old notices faded and people ignored them. The pet shop was happy to have signs in the window, there was already one there for Mrs Woosencraft’s own missing cat.

Tim opened the file for Morse on his computer. Under a picture of his cat he had typed:

Missing Cat
White, with ginger ears and tail.
Breed: Turkish Van (mostly)
Name tag: ‘Morse’

He hesitated, wondering if he should add something about Morse’s quirky charm and idiosyncrasies, his love of water.

Morse’s continuing absence brought a fresh pang. Days became weeks, the local Cat Protection League had no news and Morse’s absence left a cat-shaped hole in Tim’s world. Some cats went roving at certain times of the year but Morse was not like that. Tim checked his phone number was correct then printed the file and carefully slid it into a large envelope. Folded or rolled signs brought less attention. On the way out he closed the window and locked the door.

As he walked to the pet store he wondered if it was more than coincidence that both cats had disappeared within a few days of each other. Morse was only mostly one breed, but he had attractive, symmetrical markings. Mrs Woosencraft’s cat was pedigree Bengali. Could they both be cases of cat-napping? An international band of cat thieves stealing cats to order? Tim’s mind wandered into more and more implausible theories and he walked into the pet shop barely aware of his surroundings.

‘Hey, mind me!’ a woman said sharply.

Tim found himself looking into the steady gaze of a pair of sea-green eyes level with his own.

She was young, broad-shouldered like a swimmer, trim at waist and hip. Her white blouse was crisp, her dark green skirt tight about the knee. A band of freckles ran across her nose and her untamed hair shone pale gold. She looked at him like he was some kind of idiot, put her hands on his shoulders with such reluctance it was obvious she didn’t want to touch him, and moved him back. ‘You’re standing on my left thing.’ She frowned and looked down at her shoe. ‘My foot.’

Her accent was intriguing, definite but not immediately traceable, neither east-European nor American, not Australasian or South American.

‘I’m sorry, I was in a dream,’ Tim said.

‘You’re supposed to do that that in your sleep, not the pet shop.’

Tim held up his envelope. ‘I was worrying about my cat. He’s gone missing.’

‘Hardly surprising if you dream while you’re awake. Do people do that a lot around here?’

‘I don’t think so. Why?’

‘Too many stray cats.’

‘You’ve lost one too?’

She at Tim suspiciously. ‘No. I don’t trust… The real problem is, every time I open my door there’s another one.’

‘You shouldn’t feed them.’

‘Do I look like someone who feeds cats?’

She did not. She looked like someone who was – the words came to Tim unbidden– wild and fine, a free spirit, He so, so wanted to keep the conversation going. They were standing beside the fish tanks, he took a guess. ‘Do you keep fish?’

‘I miss them.’ She looked at the guppies, neon tetras, catfish and angels. ‘I had a mackerel called Tony.’

‘If I had fish Morse would jump in the tank. He loves water.’

‘Who’s Morse?’

‘My cat.’

She frowned again. ‘I’m really not keen on cats.’

‘They seem to know if you don’t like them, then sit on you.’

‘Is that why they hang around my place? They want to sit on me?’

‘Maybe.’

She backed away. ‘That’s too strange. It’s not what I want.’

‘Cats are strange creatures.’

‘Anything with legs is a bit weird.’

She sounded so serious Tim laughed. ‘Why do you say that?’

‘You ask a lot of questions.’

‘I’m sorry, I’m a PI, a private investigator.’ He took a card from his wallet and held it out. ‘I’ve just started out.’

She squinted at the card, moved it forwards and back.

‘You’ve, um, got it…’ Tim started.

She turned it the right way up. ‘TW Effectuation.’

‘TW, that’s me, Tim Wassiter.’

‘Foxy,’ she said. ‘That’s my name. Foxy Bolivia.’

Tim held out his hand. ‘Pleased to meet you.’

She didn’t take it.

Hand out, Tim stood there with a mild out-of-body sensation. He recalled Dolores Vogler, darkly vivid and intriguing – and false. Whoever this suspicious and wary woman in her impractical pencil skirt was his instincts said she was authentically the exact person he saw in front of him.

The shopkeeper, a gangling young woman with loose-cropped purple hair, lip and nostril studs, and a nose that was slightly too long for her face, watched them like a bored goldfish.

Tim turned back to Foxy. ‘I’m sorry about your shoe.’

She looked up from Tim’s hand. ‘My what?’

Tongue-tied, Tim gestured helplessly. ‘Your foot.’

‘Oh, that, yes, the foot thing.’ She looked straight at Tim and he fell deep into her green eyes all over again.

‘Your accent, is it from Barbados?’ he said.

Her eyes went wide. ‘You can tell that just from my voice?’

Tim squared his shoulders. ‘I’ve had some training.’

‘I lived near there when I was younger–’ Her gaze hardened. ‘I don’t need to tell you anything.’

And she was gone, out through the door and away down the street.

The door jangled closed. Disappointed and surprised Tim told himself he needed to get used to these encounters. He was a PI, and Private Investigators tended to encounter beautiful and sometimes dangerous women. If he worked on his style, developed a sense of savoir-faire then maybe one of them… Maybe one of them would stick around. Maybe.

Such was his hope.

The most obvious thing in the world occurred to him: Foxy’s home was full of stray cats, there was a good chance both Morse and Mrs Woosencraft’s cat were there. The realisation was so obvious that coming after she had gone actually felt cruel. He ran out into the street and looked left and right. She was gone.

He hurried back into the shop. The purple-haired shop keeper looked at him with sardonic pity.

‘Do you know where that woman lives?’ Tim said.

‘Jeez, no. This is a pet shop, not a pick-up–’

‘We were just talking.’

‘Yeah, I noticed. Look, it’s OK, you find it where it is. Follow your heart–’

Tim stared at her. She shrugged, apologetic. ‘I’ve never seen her before.’

Tim could have kicked himself. Disconsolate, he bought a large bag of bird feed, replaced the sign in the window, and headed home. Foxy Bolivia had been a lead and he’d blown it. More than a lead. She was not so much beautiful as unforgettable. He tried to stay positive, she had to be local or she would not have come into the shop. All was not lost, he was a PI. He’d use his skills, ask around. He would find her, find the cats, find someone who–

The thing he thought about most on his way home was, when she turned at the pet shop door, how the long waves of her golden hair hung down to the back of her knees.

#

Half way up the stairs with a 5-kilo bag of chicken feed under his arm and junk mail in his hand, Tim noticed the door to his office was open.

In his mind he eased up the stairs, back to the wall. Avoiding the loose tread three from the top he got the drop on the intruders with his trusty snub-nosed revolver. In reality all the treads of the ancient stairs creaked, popped and groaned. Stealth was an impossibility and Tim did not own an illegal handgun.

‘I’ll be right up,’ Tim called.

After a brief silence the hurried sound of rustling papers was followed by a muffled thump and a curse.

‘Hey!’ Tim sprinted up the stairs and burst into his office. A beefy middle-aged man with close-cropped hair sprawled with feigned nonchalance in the chair beside Tim’s desk. It was Troy Jarglebaum, Tim’s ex-partner from his time in the police service. Troy wore his usual cheap rumpled navy-blue cop suit, a food-stained cop tie and incongruously shiny black lace-up cop shoes. A loose sheaf of papers hung in his hand, an A4 sized parcel sat on the floor.

Tim dropped the sack of bird seed by the door. ‘Troy. I might have guessed it was you.’

‘Tim, good to see you too.’ Jarglebaum grinned massively and dropped the sheaf of papers onto the desk. ‘The wind blew your papers all over the floor.’

‘It must have been quite a breeze considering the window was shut.’

‘I just closed it.’

‘Good of you. So did I, before I went out.’

Tim dropped the junk mail in the wastebasket, walked round the desk and put the papers back in the open drawer. As he did he rested his hand on the top of the computer monitor. It was cold, at least Jarglebaum hadn’t had the time or the gall to try and break into his electronic files.

‘There’s a knack to shutting this drawer, you need to push it from the left side or it sticks. Try to remember that next time. Also, my door was locked. That’s breaking and entry.’

‘Nothing’s broken, pal.’ Jarglebaum hauled himself to his feet. ‘Look, we’re getting off on the wrong foot. I just came over to see how my old partner in crime-solving was getting along. There was this box on the outside step so I thought I’d bring it up before it got stolen.’

Inwardly Tim seethed but there was little point trying to hustle Detective Sergeant Jarglebaum out of any room he didn’t want to leave. Thirty years in the service had immunised him to all forms of coercion short of physical violence, which he was delighted to reciprocate. During those three decades his diet had been one of pasta, beer, curry, and pizza. Sometimes all in one meal. Troy Jarglebaum had acquired a physical inertia to match that of his career.

Tim summoned up a polite smile. ‘OK Troy, thank you very much. So, how are you doing?’

‘Onwards and upwards, Tim,’ Troy said, smoothing his rumpled tie across his belly.

‘Promotion? Congratulations, you’ve certainly had to wait long enough.’

A scowl passed over Jarglebaum’s face like a cloud across a badly ploughed field. ‘You chose a bad time to leave the boys in blue. Everything’s changing. Technology, modernisation–’

‘That must be exciting.’

Troy shrugged dismissively. ‘I’m talking about bigger fish. Extra-mural opportunities, pal. Real ones.’

Tim shook his head, he’d heard it all before. Congenitally dissatisfied, Jarglebaum was always scheming, always able to explain previous failures in terms of other people’s mistakes.

‘You’re finally leaving the police?’

‘No way, kiddo. There’s an indexed-linked pension with my name on it. It’s smaller than your cock but I still want it.’

‘What are these “opportunities”, Troy?’

Jarglebaum paced the threadbare carpet then peered out the window. ‘Freelance commissions, legal consultancy. I’m not allowed to say more due to client confidentiality.’ He walked round to Tim’s side of the desk and started pulling open drawers. ‘Where’s your whisky, son? I could use a drink. Every P.I. in the world has some cheap booze hidden in their files. A half-empty bottle and two chipped glasses–’

Tim pushed shut the drawers and moved between Jarglebaum and the desk. ‘Sorry, Troy, I don’t have any. How about a cup of tea?’

‘Jesus, kid,’ Jarglebaum said sadly. ‘What sort of a PI are you?’

Tim straightened his shoulders. ‘A new kind.’

Jarglebaum rolled his eyes. ‘You’re still into all that voodoo shit. Dowsing and reading tea leaves.’

‘It’s not shit, Troy. It works and you know it.’

Jarglebaum scowled again. ‘Once, just once.’

‘That woman found a missing child using just a map and a pendulum. I saw her do it, everyone in the incident room did, you too. We discovered a new method but the Chief Constable didn’t like it so we turned our backs on something that can solve mysteries and pretended it didn’t exist. Well, I’m not a cop any more so I’m going to learn how to do that. I’m going to do things differently.’

‘Well, you were certainly a different kind of cop,’ Jarglebaum grumbled. ‘The kind that gave his partner the worst percentages in the service.’

Tim sighed inwardly. Here we go again with the blame game. ‘That’s all in the past, Troy.’

‘Yeah, right.’ Jarglebaum wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. ‘You sure you haven’t got a drink?’

‘I’m sure.’

Jarglebaum’s shoulders dropped. ‘So what’s in the box?’

Tim glanced at the label. ‘Flyers for my business.’

‘Good plan.’

‘Thanks.’

‘Let’s have a look.’

‘Sorry, my hands are dirty.’

‘No problem.’ Jarglebaum tore open the wrapper and pulled out the top sheet. He leaned back in the chair, one side of his mouth curling into a wider and wider smile as he read:

TW Effectuation
Private Investigators
—————————————
Detection through Evidence & Intuition
~
Alternative & Traditional Methods
~
Drawing on years of Practical Constabulary Experience and Spiritual Techniques both Ancient & Modern, TW Effectuation will help you:

– Resolve Intriguing Mysteries
– Locate People in Time and Space
– Observe & Inform
~
The Evidence is Out There!
T.W. Effectuation will help you find it
—————————————————-

‘Sheesh.’ Jarglebaum dropped the sheet on top of the parcel. ‘Ok, let’s have it, what’s your case load?’

Tim couldn’t help himself, he held up two fingers. ‘I have two current investigations.’

‘Tim, that’s great!’ Troy seemed serious. ‘No, kid, I mean it, I’m impressed.’

‘Thanks,’ Tim said cautiously.

Playfully Jarglebaum punched Tim’s shoulder. ‘Like I said, what have you got, kiddo?’

All at once Tim realised the trap and it was as if he had never left the police, had never escaped his partner’s interrogative ridicule. ‘Sorry, Troy,’ he said. ‘Client confidentiality.’

Laughter blew out of Jarglebaum’s face like a gale. ‘Let me guess. Divorce.’

‘No.’

‘Missing cat.’

‘No.’

‘Liar.’ Jarglebaum crowed with satisfaction. ‘Never lie to a cop unless you’re a cop. Come on, don’t you remember anything I taught you? Finding a missing cat, that’s good, Tim, very good. Never underestimate the importance of little old ladies and community relations. What’s the other one?’

All at once Tim just wanted to get it over with. Jarglebaum had come here to mock his dreams, so be it. ‘A stolen car.’

‘Stolen car.’ Jarglebaum slowly nodded his head. ‘What sort?’

Tim shook his head. ‘I’m not going to tell you.’

Jarglebaum shadow-boxed the air between them. ‘That’s it, go it alone, plough your own furrow. Give it a go, then give me a call.’

‘I’ve got it covered.’

‘Sure you have, kid. The way you’re going all us cops will be out of a job.’ Snapping a card out of his breast pocket Jarglebaum tossed it onto the desk. ‘Phone in when you get stuck.’

‘Right.’

‘I’m here to help.’

‘OK.’ It had always been easier to agree.

Pausing at the door Jarglebaum kicked the sack of chicken feed. ‘This what they’re paying you these days?’ His mocking laughter followed his heavy footsteps all the way down the stairs.

Chapter 4, Part 2 tomorrow…


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