Chapter 89 – Old Tuoni
That evening as Tim walked home his head still spun from what he had done and everything he had learned. Even the street had looked different. The next day it was the same. The pavement, sky, trees and houses all had a new clarity as if they had acquired extra dimensions of colour and shape.
It was Tim who had changed. He saw with different eyes and had learned to take far less for granted.
Morse had changed too, only slowly returning to the cat he used to be. Tim had carried him home last night but this morning the cat was waiting by the door to go back to Mrs Woosencraft at number 23.
Overnight someone had dumped a battered cream-coloured Mercedes convertible across the road. One of the hubcaps was gone, the side window a taped-up sheet of plastic.
Tim stopped dead in his tracks. With its broken headlights, crushed wheel-arches and cracked windscreen the car had known better days. Days when three women who liked to wear red drove it.
Uneven footsteps hurried behind him. ‘Hang on old buddy, I don’t go that fast.’ It was Troy Jarglebaum.
‘Troy. You made it.’
Jarglebaum was still big in the belly but his face was gaunt, he looked older and moved less easily.
‘Most of me, I guess.’
The two men looked at each other. They’d had their differences but after what they’d been through on the Sea Cucumber they were small things.
‘Troy. On the ship. I saw you fight.’
Jarglebaum’s eyes briefly lost focus as he relived those last dreadful minutes fighting Imelda on the sinking ship. He shuddered, then flashed those tombstone teeth of his. ‘That was you with the cargo net.’
‘Yes. Me and Foxy.’
‘You saved my life.’ Troy stuck out his hand. ‘Thanks, Ace. Nice one.’
Tim didn’t know what to say. The main reason was the way Jarglebaum had said ‘Ace’. He accepted Jarglebaum’s hand. It seemed natural to follow through with an embrace.
‘Not so tight,’ Troy wheezed.
Tim stepped back. ‘How did you get here?’
‘A short-wave radio in the lifeboat and GPS on Markus’s mobile. We called the Iron Herring, they picked us up and the supply chopper flew us ashore. A couple of pints of blood and some bed rest and here I am, right as rain.’
‘Last time I looked.’ Jarglebaum raised his voice. ‘You’re still with us, aren’t you, Markus?’
The passenger door of the Mercedes creaked open and Markus Koponen emerged, dapper as ever. He settled a new white Stetson on his head and crossed the road.
‘Thanks to you two.’
‘I’m glad you made it,’ Tim said.
Koponen bowed stiffly. ‘Though perhaps not so glad to actually see me. I can hardly blame you. How is Ms Bolivia?’
Out of the corner of his eye Tim noticed Jarglebaum grow attentive. Careful not to look towards Mrs Woosencraft’s house Tim said, ‘She’s well, and quite safe.’
‘I am pleased to hear it. You’re a resourceful man, Mr Wassiter. I underestimated you.’
‘I have my methods,’ Tim said knowingly.
Jarglebaum chuckled. ‘You got lucky.’
‘That,’ said Tim, ‘is one of my methods.’
‘And I don’t dismiss it lightly.’ Koponen drew himself up. ‘I won’t be stopped, Mr Wassiter. I can’t be. Too much is at stake. More now than ever, now we know there are people… Things…’ Koponen took a deep breath. ‘Well, now I know where so much of Kylma Kala’s profits went. I was blind and foolish, so very foolish.’
‘She’s not completely human any more,’ Tim said. ‘I really don’t think you’ll see her again.’
Koponen’s eyes glistened. ‘There’s still part of me–’
Jarglebaum put his hand on Koponen’s shoulder. ‘Markus, this is getting you nowhere. They ripped you off big-time, sank your ship and tried to kill you. Whatever they are, they aren’t your girlfriends.’
‘I know it, Troy,’ Koponen sighed wearily. ‘And you were right, I didn’t listen. Ah, well. Mr Wassiter, I hope you still believe I’m one of the good guys.’
‘I’ll accept you’re not one of the bad ones.’
‘That will have to do. I’m not going to give up. If I have to start again, I will. Sisu. We Finns never give up.’
‘I believe you,’ Tim said.
‘I’d like you to come and work for me. You and Ms Bolivia.’
‘I can’t imagine she’d be interested.’
‘Even after what she saw aboard Sea Cucumber? Don’t you want to find out more about what happened to those women? And that thing, whatever it is, is still down there, still damaging my operations.’
‘They called it Tuoni.’
Koponen went very still. ‘By the old Gods, did they? What else did you discover?’
‘They wanted to marry Foxy to Tuoni, for her to give birth to his daughter, a second bride.’
‘Tuonetar, the daughter-wife,’ Koponen half-whispered. ‘This is… crazy.’
‘Yes. How do you know?’
‘The Kalevala, Mr Wassiter. The more you research legend and myth, the more truth you find. These stories form part of my country’s gestalt, they are part of what I am.’
‘Legends are in the past.’
Koponen gave a thin smile. ‘Isn’t your King Arthur the once and future king?’
‘Guys,’ Jarglebaum broke in. ‘You have totally and completely fucking lost me.’
‘It appears something dangerous and ancient is trying to return,’ Koponen explained.
Jarglebaum’s instinctive guffaw died in his throat. ‘OK, I can go along with that.’
‘Whatever it is, it is very powerful and believes it is Lord of the Underworld. This new Tuoni is not something we can ignore any more than we can global warming,’ Koponen said. ‘Mr Wassiter, please talk to Ms Bolivia, then call me. You know where I am.’
Tim couldn’t help but be amused by Koponen’s persistence. ‘I’ll mention it.’
‘I ask for no more. Whatever she decides I would very much like to hear about your trip back to shore.’ Koponen prepared to cross the road. ‘Troy?’
Jarglebaum shook Tim’s hand again. ‘See you around, Ace. Look after yourself.’
‘You too.’ Tim walked him to the battered Mercedes. ‘A pint in the Bat and Ball?’
‘Only if I’m buying.’
Koponen doffed his hat before climbing into the car. ‘You can keep the Imperial. It’s time I had something less ostentatious, less traceable. Something with a white roof.’
Tim walked away then looked back at the Mercedes. Under his shirt the pendant pulsed. ‘Your Merc is fine apart from the bodywork. Change the water pump at the next service.’
‘How’s the Imperial?’
‘I don’t have it,’ Tim called back. ‘I don’t even know where it is.’
Koponen found that highly amusing. ‘What goes around, Mr Wassiter.’
‘I prefer the 55 Belvedere.’
‘Work for me and I’ll buy you one.’
To be continued…