The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 20 – Perfect Cover

Chapter 20 – Perfect Cover

Troy Jarglebaum’s card lay on Tim’s desk front and centre. Tim looked at it with the same affection he would have for his own tombstone. His hand hovered over the phone. He picked the receiver up, put it down, drummed his fingers on the desk and paced the room.

‘Damn it.’ Tim dropped into his chair. ‘Morse, where are you? I need some non-critical company.’

Tim had been an unorthodox policeman but Morse was a standard-issue cat. Food was equally likely to be sniffed at or eaten, the occasional small rodent was presented for admiration, he was a past master of the ‘wrong side of the door’ game and he hunted and killed old paper bags with enthusiasm. He also sat on Tim’s lap, purred like a small motorbike and magically erased all stress from his soul.

The phone was on the desk, Jarglebaum’s card beside it. Something had to be done. Tim either needed to call Troy Jarglebaum, endure the mockery and accept his help, or come up with some brilliant right-brained intuition.

He covered his right eye and tried conceptualising his problems as different coloured polyhedrons, medieval armies, and finally as mushrooms pushing up paving stones. No radical insights arrived.

He forced himself to make the call. To his vast relief Troy was away from his desk. The voice mail tone beeped. Tim said, ‘Troy, it’s Tim. I could use some advice. Call me.’ He hung up. It was a lot easier to ask a machine for help than Troy Jarglebaum.

Even so, he hoped Troy called before Imelda and Electra returned and he had nothing to tell them.

As if on cue, the doorbell rang, a single firm ring of assurance and self-possession. Tim went down the stairs cracked open the door and peered through the gap.

There she was, in an open necked blouse, a short jacket and a grass green hip-hugging skirt.

Tim’s heart gave a jump. ‘Foxy.’

She looked at him through the gap. ‘What’s the matter?’

‘I thought you might be someone else.’

‘Are you hiding?’

Tim pushed the door wide. ‘Me? Nah. Come in.’

Tim led the way. Foxy paused at the splintered frame, went to touch it then jerked her hand away. ‘You should mend that.’

He was so pleased to see her. He did his best to be professional. ‘How can I help you, Ms Bolivia?’

Foxy folded her arms. ‘The cats.’

‘Well, I’m sorry about that. I haven’t had much time and after you walked out of the shop I thought–’

‘They’ve gone.’

‘They have? All of them?’

‘Every single one.’

‘Oh. OK. Good.’

Foxy’s eyes narrowed. ‘How did you do it?’

‘I don’t–’

‘Don’t give me that stuff about professional secrets, I want to know.’

‘Didn’t you fit the cat scarer?’

‘The cats went first.’

‘It didn’t work?’

‘I don’t know. Yesterday the cats were still there. This morning they were gone.’

Something didn’t add up. ‘When did you fit the scarer?’

Foxy shifted evasively. ‘The day I bought it.’

‘Then you did it, not me.’

‘No. I–’ Foxy hesitated. ‘Promise you won’t laugh?’

‘OK.’

‘I forgot to turn it on.’

He couldn’t help himself.

#

Tim looked up at the cracked ceiling. The little flies were back under the shade. Three of them, alternately cruising their square circles and indulging in brief, dizzyingly fast dogfights.

The carpet was actually quite comfortable.

He wondered why he was lying on it. And why the side of his jaw hurt.

Foxy knelt beside him, her eyes filled with worry and guilt. ‘I’m so sorry. Are you all right? I honestly didn’t mean to hit you–’

It all flooded back. He had laughed, Foxy’s fist floated towards him, the room tipped onto its side.

‘–so hard.’

Tim sat up. He worked his jaw. It was actually still quite funny. ‘You forgot–’

Foxy raised a warning finger.

‘All right, I promise.’

Tim put his back against the settee. Foxy sat beside him, her legs tucked under her. It seemed easier to stay on the ragged old carpet than get up. He found himself telling Foxy about his work, his time in the police. How he had his big idea.

‘There was a missing child. Days went by and we were getting nowhere. Then this woman phoned in, she said she was clairvoyant and could help. And the Inspector went for it, he invited her in and she became part of the team. We found the child, it was her who did it too. I knew then that we could solve crimes by combining old ways with new.’

Foxy considered Tim’s words. ‘Is that what you did for me?’

If Tim wanted Foxy to be more than just a client he would have to trust her. What better time than now to tell her about the amazing, magical and more than a little scary events that had happened to him?

‘I tried, but it was too difficult. I wasn’t properly prepared. I didn’t do anything that could have worked. I fell asleep, I–’ Tim took a breath. ‘I had a dream, it sounds impossible–’

Foxy leaned close. ‘Try me.’

Tim related the events as best as he could, ending with Asklepios’ appearance in his room. Foxy appeared completely unfazed by the revelations.

‘Some things are waiting to happen. If you don’t believe, they can’t flow.’

A strange thrill ran through Tim. ‘An eerie thought.’

‘Where is Asklepios now?’ Foxy said.

‘He went for a walk.’

Foxy’s mouth twisted. ‘What does he look like?’

‘About fifty and quite thin, scrawny really. Straggly hair and beard, a bit of a nose. I gave him some of my clothes, they were pretty baggy on him.’

Foxy became still.

‘I’m amazed you believe me,’ Tim said.

‘It’s not as hard as you might think.’

Foxy moved the conversation on to inconsequential things. Somehow this let them discover more about each other. The sun moved across the window, Tim let down the blinds and fetched a bottle of red wine and two glasses from the kitchen.

‘Wine is really such a good idea, don’t you think?’ Foxy said. ‘I never drank it before I came to Brighton.’

‘How come?’

‘Too… difficult.’ Foxy went still for a moment then shivered her shoulders and raised her glass. ‘Cheers.’

Tim clinked his glass against hers. They both drank.

‘Now, tell me what you’ve been doing to find that car.’

Tim gave a brief summary of his lack of progress.

‘Well, there’s your mistake,’ Foxy said. ‘You’ve been acting like an ordinary copper, making phone calls and doing interviews. In your head you’re still pounding the beat. Mine was an unusual case and you solved it in a very strange way. If you’re serious about being alternative you’ve got to start acting a little weirder.’

She was right. This was not only her challenge to him, it was his own challenge to himself. ‘Right.’ He knocked back his drink. ‘All right.’

‘So, what’s the plan, Mr Detective?’

Tim didn’t have any clear ideas. ‘Let’s try divining, it’s how the missing boy was found.’

He took the map down from the desk and spread it on the floor. Foxy became enthusiastic. ‘Put the ruler over the edge of the desk and stand the wine bottle on the other end. Hang the pen from the ruler.’

It was makeshift, but looked like it might do the job. Foxy and Tim crouched beside the map and watched the ballpoint pen swing across the paper.

Tim studied the construction critically. ‘The pen’s not hanging straight. The string’s too thick.’

‘Use one of my hairs.’ Foxy teased out a strand.

‘I’ll get my scissors.’

Foxy was emphatic. ‘No way. I never ever cut my hair.’ She wound a hair around her finger, tugged it free and handed it to Tim.

It lay across his palm like a yard of spun gold.

‘Now you can cut it,’ Foxy said.

Tim found he didn’t want to. He tied the pen to the hair and the hair to the ruler, looping the excess around the bottle. The pen hung absolutely vertical and steady as a nail.

‘Now what?’ Foxy said.

Tim prodded the pen with his finger and it swung in a wobbling, chaotic ellipse. ‘Concentrate. Think about the car.’

Heads together, they intently watched the pen move over the map.

Slowly the motion of the pen steadied to a pendulum swing. Slowly the arc reduced, oddly less on one side than the other. Silence potent with anticipation filled the room. It was happening, something was actually happening.

The pen came to a halt, not hanging vertically but unnaturally, impossibly, to one side. Foxy and Tim looked at each other, their faces inches apart.

‘Tim, it’s–’

‘Yes.’ Tim was lost in the deep green pool of her gold-lashed eyes, the scent of her breath filled his mind with glass-green, foam-flecked waves and wind-torn skies–

A loud hand-clap followed by Troy Jarglebaum’s cynical laughter sent Tim leaping to his feet shocked half out of his skin. Beside him Foxy swept to her feet in a single smooth movement.

Jarglebaum could move quieter than a spider wearing socks. The office door was still be broken but the front door had a lock on it. A damned good one.

Furious, Tim confronted Jarglebaum. ‘Troy, damn you, how did you get in?’

‘I’ve got to admire your technique, son.’ Troy grinned and continued his slow handclap. ‘It’s unique, damned unique.’ He jerked his thumb down the stairs. ‘How did I get in? The door, kiddo.’

‘You’re using skeleton keys.’

Troy tapped the side of his lumpy nose. ‘It’s an idea, Ace. I couldn’t possibly comment. Why am I here, I hear you ask? You called, remember? I got your message and here I am, the answer to your prayers.’

His eyes swept Foxy from tip to toe. ‘Ms Bolivia, I presume.’

All that Foxy could manage was a nervous smile. The overweight detective both repelled and fascinated her with his beefy neck and solid stomach, gaping shirt and black tasselled slip-ons.

Jarglebaum looked down at the map and the slowly swinging pen. ‘Oh, this is good. The Ace Patent Car Locator and Bird-pulling device.’ He winked at Foxy. ‘Looks as if one half of it is working properly.’

Tim clenched his fists. ‘Troy, I don’t care why you’re here, just go home.’

Troy grinned. ‘I could help deliver those leaflets.’

‘I don’t need your help,’ Tim said.

‘Oh, I think you do, Ace. I think you do.’

Foxy found her voice. ‘His name is Tim.’

Jarglebaum’s eyes fell on her like shards of cold flint. ‘I know that, love. Good old Tim Wassiter who never solved a case. Tim and Yours Truly, the partnership with the lowest clean-up rate since records began. That’s why we called him Ace. So, Miss Foxy Bolivia, please allow me to introduce you to Tim Wassiter, a.k.a. Ace Timewaster.’

‘You’re a nasty, bitter man.’

‘No, love. It was all a joke. Coppering’s just a job to me. We were having a laugh, weren’t we Tim?’

Tim felt primeval: he wanted to knee Jarglebaum in the groin, bash his face in and kick him down the stairs. He didn’t often get angry, but when he did, he felt it down to his bones. He growled and took a step forward.

Troy held up his hands, grinning. ‘Not in front of the lady, son. It’s undignified.’ He spied the bottle on the desk. ‘Finally, a proper drink in the office.’

He lifted the bottle. Ruler, pen and string tumbled to the floor as he eyed the two inches of wine in the bottom. ‘Skol.’ Troy poured the wine down his throat and thumped the empty bottle down on the desk. ‘Well, this has been lovely but duty calls.’ Once more his eyes roved across Foxy like envious hands. He straightened into a clumsy salute. ‘Evening, all.’

And he was gone.

‘I’ll kill him,’ Tim fumed.

‘He’s not worth it.’

‘I mean it. I’m going to kick his teeth in.’

Foxy stood in front of him and held his shoulders. ‘No, you’re not. He’s bigger than you. He’s a better fighter.’

‘Oh, thanks.’

‘Well, I’m sorry to say it but he is. He’s also half lard. He’s smug and he thinks he’s special. Men like that are common as mud and they’re all jerks.’

Tim was taken back by her vehemence.

Foxy laughed grimly. ‘I’m right. You’ll see.’

He knew it too. Tim released a long slow breath and let the anger flow through him and away. He could live with this. After all, Foxy was not only on his side, she was right here at his side. ‘All right. So, let’s finish this divining.’

Foxy looked down at the map. A look of awe spread across her face. ‘I don’t think we have to.’

The ruler lay where it had fallen, the strand of hair strewn in loops across the carpet. The biro stood point down in the map, stuck into the carpet like a little spear.

Tim carefully tugged the pen out of the paper and examined the hole. ‘Trafalgar Lane, between Kemp and Tidy Streets. It’s all office buildings.’

‘And under the offices?’

Tim snapped his fingers and grinned. ‘Car parks.’

Foxy brimmed with excitement. ‘When do we take a look?’

He wanted her to come. He thought about Electra Vaughan. ‘It might be dangerous.’

‘We’re only going to walk down a street and look for a car.’

‘Any other vehicle and I’d agree. I’m serious, Foxy.’

‘Then you’re going to need a lookout. Isn’t that what people do on a stake-out?’

‘We’re not going to stake anything out. We’re just going to take a walk down a road, remember?’

‘Then it won’t be dangerous. Besides, I’ll be the perfect cover.’

Of course. If you want to avoid attention there’s nothing like walking down a street with an amazingly attractive woman with hair second only to Rapunzel.

A second set of thoughts grabbed him by the throat and tried to shake some sense into him. What are you doing trying to put her off? Stop being an idiot. ‘A pair of jeans might be more practical.’

‘This girl does not wear trousers.’

‘This evening, about six. Most people will have left work and it will still be light. I’ll meet you at the end of Trafalgar.’

‘Great.’ Foxy’s eyes danced with excitement. Picking up the strand of hair she wrapped it round her finger then slipped it in her bag. ‘Don’t want to make a mess,’ she said when she saw Tim watching. ‘See you there.’

Tim felt like he might levitate. ‘See you there.’

To be continued…


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