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Crestfallen's Getaway

A complete story from the Fedora II anthology,
featuring
Peter Crestfallen.

by Simon Wood



.....Crestfallen was enjoying himself, chasing a urinal cake around the urinal with his pee, when the men's room door opened.

....."I need your help," someone demanded.

.....Crestfallen glanced over his shoulder at the accountant type standing in the doorway. This wasn't the usual place he did business, but the detective couldn't afford to be fussy. "Come into my office."

.....The little guy did as he was told, letting the door swing close.

....."Are we alone?"

....."As far as I know."

.....Crestfallen zipped up and made the pretense of washing his hands. Something he wouldn't normally do, but it was good business practice. No one liked to shake hands with a man who had just been holding his dick.

....."I assume you know who I am?" Crestfallen kept his back to his prospective client and spoke into the mirror. The slight, bespectacled man was in no condition to take him on. He could afford to be nonchalant. He turned off the faucet.

.....The accountant type nodded quickly. "You're Peter Crestfallen, the private investigator."

.....Crestfallen tore off a sheet of paper towel from the dispenser. "And where did you get my name?"

....."People said you were a good man to be trusted in a clinch. Well, I'm in one, up to my neck."

.....People? He didn't remember people from his customer satisfaction surveys. He reminded himself to give people a discount the next time they turned up at the office.

.....Crestfallen tossed the paper towel in the trash and offered a clean hand. "Well, Mr. Er?"

.....The accountant type rushed as if the offered hand was a sign of acceptance of his case. A sweaty hand took Crestfallen's and shook it limply. "Noah. Daniel Noah."

....."Noah? Agood man to have close when the rains come."

....."Excuse me?"

.....I must stop doing that, Crestfallen thought. He had a habit of blurting out abstract thoughts. It had a tendency to confuse or piss off people. Once, it had gotten him shot.

....."Well, Mr. Noah, if you would like to come to the office in the morning, we could discuss your case then." Crestfallen fished for his wallet in search of a business card. "I'm actually with someone at the moment."

....."She's probably gone by now."

.....It was Crestfallen's turn to say, "Excuse me?"

....."As soon as you left the table, she was on her cell phone calling a cab. I was watching you from the bar." Noah looked embarrassed for Crestfallen. "Surely, you realized. Didn't you notice how many times she checked her watch?"

.....Crestfallen hadn't. He thought his date was going well. Well enough to think the condoms in his wallet were going to get an airing. Never mind, he was tough. He would live to fight another day.

.....A man entered the men's room, giving Crestfallen and Noah a sideways glance.

.....Crestfallen knew how it looked and pocketed his wallet. "C'mon, let's take this elsewhere."

.....From the pay phone lobby outside the restrooms, Crestfallen watched Jenny leave the restaurant for a yellow cab. That was the last time he picked up a girl in a nightclub. But he always said that.

.....He went to return to his table, but Noah grabbed his arm. "Where do you think you're going?"

....."I was going to pay."

....."She paid."

.....It's a modern world with modern girls, Crestfallen thought. Too modern sometimes.

.....Crestfallen allowed Noah to lead to him to the fire exit and into the alley behind the restaurant. Noah's eyes were everywhere, as if he expected to be ambushed at any moment.

....."I need specifics," Crestfallen said, tiring of the situation. "What is this about?"

....."People are after me." Noah took refuge in the shadows out of reach of the streetlights. "They're probably watching us right now and they know I've spoken to you."

.....Fantastic, Crestfallen thought. "Which people? The same people who told you to come to me?"

....."No, of course not," Noah spat. "Can you just get me out of here?"

.....Crestfallen exhaled. Money hadn't even exchanged hands and this case was already a pain in the ass. "Where's your car?"

....."Out front."

....."Leave it there. We'll use mine."

....."But, it's in a red zone."

....."So, it'll get towed. Wait here, I'll be back."

.....Crestfallen jogged to the alley's mouth. Nobody seemed to be keeping surveillance. And if they were, it was unlikely they were watching for him - yet.

.....He made a beeline for his CrownVictoria. It came from a friend in the San Francisco Sheriff 's department. He knew the Ford was big and lumbering, but there was a lot of steel between him and a bullet. And, the police interceptor engine was heavy on gas but could always be relied upon to put distance between him and the bad guys. It looked like he would need the car's power for this job.

.....He crossed the road, but his eyes weren't on the traffic. They were on three guys checking out a Dodge parked in the red zone. They didn't look like car boosters - wrong age, wrong dress, wrong moves - just wrong. And they didn't look like car enthusiasts. No one drooled over a minivan, except for accountant types. One of the Dodge Caravan appreciation club spotted Crestfallen and alerted his buddies.

.....Let the games begin, Crestfallen thought. Getting into his car, he noted the parking meter. It flashed, expired. He hoped it wasn't an omen.

.....Crestfallen rode the sidewalk and flung open the passenger door. Noah burst from the shadows and leapt into the Ford.

....."Do you drive a silver '98 Caravan?"

....."Yes."

....."Three guys were checking it out."

....."Jesus."

.....Crestfallen made a half-hearted attempt at stopping before making a free right turn. Like Noah, he was eager to put distance between him and Noah's friends.

....."Are you going to tell me what this is about or do I have to go back and ask your buddies?"

....."Money."

....."It usually is. How much do you owe?"

....."I don't owe. I took."

.....Crestfallen checked his mirrors. No one seemed to be following. He and Noah were just part of the anonymous flow of city traffic.

....."Might I ask who's the unlucky recipient of your thievery?"

....."Craig Kleinfelder."

.....Crestfallen slammed on the brakes.He slithered across two lanes and bounced off the curb. "I'm sorry, pal. I can't help you. No one can help you."

....."I can pay you anything you care to name."

.....Crestfallen flung open the door for Noah. "Anything you pay me would only go towards a nicer funeral. Get out."

....."You can't, Mr. Crestfallen."

....."But I can. As a business owner, I reserve the right to refuse business to anyone I don't see fit to serve. I'm exercising my right."

....."He'll kill me."

....."You should have thought about that before you ripped off San Francisco's most lethal crime lord."

.....Noah latched onto Crestfallen's arm. "Please."

.....A Lincoln slid by. Familiar faces occupied the car-the car buffs.

.....It was too late. Noah had left his indelible mark on him. Kleinfelder's guys would be checking out his license plate and would know he was a private eye. Bent cops would be supplying information for a little extra in their lockers on Friday. The bull's-eye was in position. He was Noah's guy whether he liked it or not.

....."Close that damn door."

....."Thank you, Mr. Crestfallen. Thank you so much."

.....Crestfallen yanked the selector into reverse and roared the wrong way into one-way traffic to a chorus of blaring horns. He halted at the first cross street and spun the car to point uphill. He punched the gas and left rubber as an apology.

.....The Lincoln boys lost their cool and tried to copy Crestfallen. They were rear-ended for their trouble. They wouldn't be bothering Crestfallen and his client for a while.

....."How much have you taken?"

....."Do you know anything about computers?"

.....Crestfallen knew where to find the on/off switch and how to work an ATM, but that was about it. He left the techno stuff to the right people - five year olds. "Yes, of course I do. What do you take me for?"

....."Sorry."

....."That's okay. Go on."

....."I'm Kleinfelder's accountant."

.....Crestfallen might have been wrong about his date, but not about the man. He wondered if the adage about owners looking like their dogs applied to people and their jobs.

....."I've written accounting software that channels his income into various legitimate accounts."

....."And while you were doing it, you thought, why not channel a percentage your way."

....."Yeah, well . . . you know."

....."Yeah, well, how did Kleinfelder find out?"

....."A computer virus. Turned our systems to oatmeal. A side effect was that Kleinfelder was sent a statement listing all the accounts his money was sent to."

....."Including your account details."

.....Noah nodded soulfully. Crestfallen joined 101 south. "What are you expecting me to do for you? Kleinfelder isn't going to be interested in you giving the money back and he isn't going to listen to anything I've got to say."

....."I know. I just want you to get me somewhere safe."

....."Is there such a place from Craig Kleinfelder?"

....."I have a place in Washington State, north of Seattle. He won't think to look there.Myfamily is from the Midwest and my sister lives in New York."

....."We'll see. Now there's my fee. I insist on a retainer."

.....Noah cut Crestfallen off before he could finish his terms and conditions. "I transferred five thousand to your bank account earlier tonight. I'll pay you another fifteen when you get me to Washington."

....."Transferred?"

....."It's not hard to hack into people's bank accounts and credit histories. Twenty grand will clear your overdraft and the note on this car, and give you a head start on next month's rent."

.....Noah wasn't wrong. Twenty thousand would give him a level playing field to operate from. But he wasn't so sure he wanted his life so accessible to the likes of Noah.

.....Twenty thousand was far more than he expected to charge for a simple babysitting job. But Kleinfelder's presence added points, lots of points. Twenty thousand didn't sound like a lot if this job turned messy.

....."I prefer cash. I like to see things. I don't like the invisible world. You can't trust what you can't see. Ask the emperor about his new clothes."

....."Do you want more?"

....."Is the money Kleinfelder's or yours?"

....."A little of both."

....."Twenty grand's fine."

.....Noah exhaled and melted into his seat. The accountant didn't have anything to worry about anymore. He had put his faith in Crestfallen because Crestfallen knew what he was doing, because he would save the day, because he was the hero after all. The detective felt the weight of Noah's fuck-up clinging to him.

....."Where are we going?"

....."SFO."

....."I'm not sure if flying is a good idea."

....."It isn't. And this car isn't any good to me anymore. They've got a make on it and I want them to think we're somewhere else."

.....Crestfallen dumped his Crown Victoria in long-term parking. He bought luggage for appearances and both of them hopped a ride on the next Bayporter bus back to San Francisco. Once in the city, Crestfallen ditched the luggage and bungled Noah onto the first BART to Richmond.

.....Noah checked over his shoulder. The nearest BART passenger was at the other end of the carriage. "How is this getting me to --"

.....Crestfallen put a finger to his lips. "To your final destination?"

....."Yes."

....."Don't worry about it. Let me do the thinking. What I need you to do is keep your mouth shut, don't draw attention to yourself, do exactly what I tell you to do and not piss me off. Okay?"

.....Noah sighed. "I'll take that as a yes."

.....They got off at El Cerrito and Crestfallen hailed a cab. As they slipped into the cab, Crestfallen relaxed. He was hopeful. Kleinfelder's boys weren't breathing down their necks and they had no way of knowing where he was taking Noah. They would never think to look for him in San Pablo.

.....And as a bonus-he hadn't needed to use his gun. Not that he had it with him. It was a problem he sought to remedy.

.....The Sikh cab driver asked for the destination for the second time. Crestfallen gave it. "Why are we going to a gym?"

.....Noah asked. "You look like you need building up."

.....The cab pulled up in front of the gym. "Wait here for me," Crestfallen instructed the cab driver, then tugged Noah's arm. "C'mon, you."

.....Crestfallen signed Noah in as a guest under a false name. It was a good place to keep his client hidden for a few hours. The place was open twenty-four hours with full facilities. There was plenty to keep Noah busy. Guiding Noah into the gym, Crestfallen filled him in on the next few hours.

....."What am I going to do here until morning?" Noah whined.

....."Knock yourself out. Have a sauna, a workout. There's a licensed bar. I don't care." Crestfallen checked his watch then left for reception. "I'll be back in the morning."

....."Crestfallen," Noah moaned.

....."Can't stop, I've got a cab waiting."

.....Crestfallen told the cabbie to take him back to the El Cerrito BART and he took BART back into San Francisco. "

.....Leaving the BART station, Crestfallen needed a car. He couldn't go back to SFO. Kleinfelder's men knew what he drove and probably where he lived. He needed a car they knew nothing about.

.....He wandered along a row of townhouses off Geary until he found an unlocked Nissan sedan. Slipping behind the wheel, he attacked the ignition and hotwired the import.

.....He didn't need much for Noah's road trip but the one thing he did want was a gun. He owned two. One, he kept at his apartment. The other was at his office.

.....Crestfallen eased the Nissan onto his street and scanned the apartment block. His apartment lights were out, as were most people's. He continued to make a complete circuit of the block. Everything looked okay. But he was unsatisfied and made a sweep of the surrounding streets.

....."Shit," he mumbled.

.....The Lincoln that Crestfallen had lost earlier was parked two streets over. He squeezed the gas and abandoned hopes of a good night's sleep.

.....If Kleinfelder's little helpers were at his apartment, it was an even bet that more helpers would be in his office. He needed a gun, but he was a smart cookie, he knew people. He could get a gun anywhere. It would be dumb to go to his office now. Wouldn't it? But it was about time he met the neighbors.

.....Crestfallen left the Nissan in a red zone in front of his office block. He crossed the road staring at the only lit office in the building - his.

....."Evening, Chuck," Crestfallen said, acknowledging the security guard. The guard refused to make eye contact and mumbled a reply.

....."Looks like I have clients, Chuck."

....."I wouldn't know anything about that," he replied, still managing not to exchange glances.

.....Crestfallen could have forced the issue, but the old guy was scared and made minimum wage.Would Crestfallen do any differently if he were in Chuck's position? He doubted it. He pressed a button and waited for the elevator.

.....As the doors slid shut, Crestfallen heard, "There's two of them."

....."Thanks."

.....Stepping from the elevator, Crestfallen searched for a makeshift weapon, but gave up on the idea. He wouldn't make much of an adversary with a potted plant in one hand.

.....Anyway, bad guys didn't shoot unarmed men - punks and politicians, yes, but not bad guys. They had ethics. Or so he hoped. Crestfallen stepped over the broken glass that was once his door.

....."Hey, Nomar. What did I say? A dog always returns to its vomit. You owe me fifty."

.....Unimpressed, Nomar delved for his wallet. He looked like the kind of guy who lost a lot of bets. A heavy-set guy, a boxer maybe, who once was muscle, until he had it punched out of him in the ring.

.....The Philosopher rocked back and forth in Crestfallen's chair with his feet on the desk and a Glock pointed at Crestfallen's crotch. Unlike Nomar, the Philosopher wasn't the muscle but the brains, attractively wrapped in Armani.

.....He snapped his fingers at his partner. Nomar paid up and slapped a fifty in the Philosopher's hand.

....."Hi there. My office is currently closed, but I will be open at nine. So, if you wouldn't mind leaving."

.....Nomar snorted.

.....The Philosopher smiled. "I like your humor, Mr. Crestfallen, but Nomar doesn't. And I don't have time for games. My employer is less than pleased."

.....Crestfallen dropped into one of his visitor's chairs. "And who would be your employer?"

....."Craig Kleinfelder. But you already knew that and you know why we're here. Where's Noah?"

....."On his ark."

.....The Philosopher's Glock spat a spearhead of flame and Crestfallen's chair bled stuffing. There wasn't even time to flinch.

....."Wrong answer. Try again."

....."I'm a private investigator and you might have seen our bumper sticker. PI's do it confidentially."

.....The Glock spat again and seat stuffing billowed between Crestfallen's legs. It was lucky he had them apart.

....."Mr. Crestfallen, I said I didn't have time for humor. We can laugh and joke when I have, but until then . . ."

.....The Philosopher gestured with an open hand and a pained look. "Nomar, take a finger."

.....The boxer lunged with a speed Crestfallen wouldn't have thought capable from an old bruiser. Crestfallen sprang to his feet and gave it his best shot. Nomar blocked the punch and launched his own. Nomar connected. A pins and needles sensation tore through Crestfallen's body, anesthetizing the crunching blow. But Crestfallen's mom had brought up a strong boy and he didn't faint. His legs buckled instead. It was lucky Nomar was there to catch him.

.....Crestfallen was just recovering from the first blow when Nomar slammed him into his desk. Crestfallen's chest struck the thin edge of the tabletop.He felt something crack. He didn't think it was the desk. It had cost a lot of money. It was no Wal-Mart bargain.

.....Nomar stretched Crestfallen's left arm across the desk top. The Philosopher grabbed it and held it in place. Nomar pulled out an ornate switchblade and a four-inch blade jerked out.

.....The Philosopher brought his head down to Crestfallen's level. "Crestfallen, are you really going to let this happen? Are you going to allow yourself to lose a finger, or even worse, your life, to protect a worthless piece of shit like Noah?"

.....Crestfallen wheezed. The Philosopher shook his head. "Do it."

.....Nomar spread Crestfallen's fingers to make sure he wouldn't catch more than one. He positioned the knife over Crestfallen's pinky and applied pressure.

.....Crestfallen's flesh gave way easily under the keen blade. Blood sprang from the wound and crept up the polished stainless steel. He bit back the pain as the knife cut into bone.

....."Stop!" Crestfallen screamed.

.....The Philosopher raised his gun hand and Nomar let up on the knife immediately.

....."I'll tell you where you can find him."

....."Good. I thought you'd see sense. I couldn't believe a man like you would lose his life without a good reason. And Noah isn't a good reason."

.....Sweat trickled into Crestfallen's eyes. He blinked it away. "I'll take you to him."

....."Of course you will," the Philosopher agreed. "But it's late and I'm going back to bed. You can take Nomar after you've had some rest."

....."Rest?"

....."Yes, rest."

.....The Philosopher whipped the Glock across Crestfallen's temple. Crestfallen rested.

****

.....Crestfallen hadn't been moved. He still lay where he had fallen, next to his desk. Luck was on his side.

.....He didn't know what time it was, but it was morning. Light filtered through the windows. It had to be early as the rest of the office floor was still silent. He raised a leaden arm to look at his watch. Hands pointed to numerals, but he couldn't string the numbers together. There was a five in there somewhere, not bad going for a man in his condition.

....."Let's go," Nomar demanded, lounging on Crestfallen's bullet-ridden couch.

....."Can't a man rest?" Turning on his side, Crestfallen clutched at his desk.

....."No."

.....His arm disappeared behind the desk's foot well.

....."C'mon, stop stalling."

....."Go fly a kite, I've had a hard night." Crestfallen's hand searched.

....."Fuck you, pal." Nomar leapt to his feet and charged towards Crestfallen like someone had called "Seconds out!"

.....Sensible people keep firearms in a safe, but not Crestfallen, he kept his taped to the underside of his desk. His hand found the snub-nose .38. It slid easily from the holster.

.....Nomar snatched fistfuls of Crestfallen's shirt. Crestfallen jammed the .38 into Nomar's guts. Nomar froze. Crestfallen spotted the 9mm tucked into Nomar's pants and removed it.

....."Take your fucking hands off me."

.....Nomar did as he was told.

....."Back up. Keep your hands where I can see them."

.....Nomar edged towards the couch. "

.....Crestfallen got to his feet, using both guns as props. He struggled with Nomar's 9mm in his left hand. His blood-encrusted pinky refused to bend, but he was a tough guy. He forced his hand to work. The scab broke and blood drizzled from the wound. He needed stitches but there wasn't time.

....."Get those hands higher."

.....Nomar edged them higher.

....."That'll do."

.....Crestfallen fired both guns simultaneously. It was a difficult task firing two guns of different size, weight and balance. But he was good.

.....Crestfallen's bullets ripped through both of Nomar's palms. The stigmatic clutched his hands to him and collapsed onto the couch.

....."Hurts don't it?"

....."You son-of-a-bitch."

....."So, I'm told." Crestfallen smashed his .38 into Nomar's face. "Lights out, pal."

.....Nomar's nose disintegrated. Blood spilled down his face, filling an unconscious mouth.

.....A man could drown left like that, Crestfallen thought. He pocketed the guns and rifled though his en suite bathroom for his office first aid kit. He tended his finger and bandaged it. There wasn't a lot he could do for the bruising on his face. Why first aid kits didn't keep a porterhouse in them was one of life's unanswered mysteries.

.....From his floor safe, he took a thousand dollars cash and half a box of .38 shells. What more did a private eye need?

.....Crestfallen spun the dial on the safe and raced out of his office. Nomar didn't budge. Most definitely, a man could drown left like that, Crestfallen thought. Someone would find him in time.

****

..... The Park 'n' Sell at Hilltop was opening for the day when Crestfallen parked the Nissan. When he had left his office, he found it was only six. He had rejuvenated himself in a Denny's, seeking the restorative powers of coffee and eggs. Sliding from the sedan, he wouldn't have said he felt like a new man, more like an old one.

.....Harry Taub emerged from the trailer and his salesman's face dropped when he saw it was Crestfallen. Taub was an insurance agent turned jalopy car salesman that Crestfallen had worked with years ago. Rather than go in for a dealership, Taub chose to take a percentage from the sale of high mileage cars left on his lot by private sellers. Good business really, he didn't have an inventory to manage, only the lease on a lot to pay for. Taub closed the trailer door.

....."Crestfallen, you've got to stop trying to derail freight trains with your face."

....."I'll bear that in mind. Harry, I need a car."

....."What about the Nissan?"

....."It's not a reliable runner."

....."And not yours." Taub headed into the vehicle-packed lot. "It's stolen, isn't it?"

.....Crestfallen smirked.

....."Jesus, Crestfallen."

....."So, you're not interested in the Nissan?"

.....Taub shook his head. "You buying then?"

....."Borrowing."

....."This isn't a library."

....."I need something for two or three days. Good on the freeways. I'll bring it back in one piece. I promise."

....."People give me their cars to sell, not lend. People trust me."

....."Just the way they did at State Farm, huh?"

....."Oh, don't try that one on me again. You did me a favor. I didn't do time, thanks to you. How many times do I have to pay it back?"

....."Once more."

....."You're a son-of-a-bitch, Crestfallen."

....."So, I'm told."

....."I'm not surprised." Taub jerked a thumb at the Nissan. "Get that thing out of here. Dump it at the mall across the street and let me see what I can do."

****

.....Crestfallen stopped a Jeep Grand Cherokee in front of the gym and found Noah working at a PC. He was dressed in the gym's branded sweats and polo. He did a double take when he saw Crestfallen.

....."What the hell happened to you?"

....."My job. C'mon, let's go."

.....Crestfallen relaxed; happy to be on the freeway and even happier when they left I-80 for I-5 and the north. It seemed that if Kleinfelder's people weren't tailing him now, then they never would. After a long night, it all seemed to be a letdown. But in Crestfallen's experience, letdowns like this were few and far between. It was good to enjoy them while they lasted.

.....As the Oregon state line approached, Crestfallen realized he knew nothing of what Noah had done to get himself into this position. When Crestfallen returned to San Francisco, there would be music to face. He deserved some answers.

....."How did you wind up working for Kleinfelder?"

.....Noah placed his Coke in the cup holder. "I applied."

....."What?"

....."Sorry to disappoint you, but there was no clandestine meeting. I didn't have gambling debts or a compromising kink to pay for. I wanted a new job. The headhunters got me an interview and I got the position. Simple."

....."Did you meet Kleinfelder at the interview?"

....."Nah. No one meets Kleinfelder. He's a corporation, a ghost. That's why he's so successful. He's never around to get his hands dirty. I stood more chance of meeting the Pope."

....."Who interviewed you?"

....."Someone from his human resources department."

..... Crestfallen raised an eyebrow.

....."That's his genius. You know who you're working for, but everything is so above board, you can't believe there's anything criminal going on."

.....Crestfallen found it hard to believe that Kleinfelder's organization was so civilized. He couldn't imagine all these people taking everything at face value. But then again, people believed in governments in the same way. Nobody panicked at the ticking bomb when someone hung a tag off it saying, "Don't worry, it's not really a bomb." People were strange creatures. "Did you meet Kleinfelder afterwards?"

....."No. He never got involved. I still don't know what he looks like after five years of service. He made his presence felt through his intermediaries. That was enough."

.....Crestfallen thought of the Philosopher and nodded.

....."So, when and why?"

....."Skimming you mean?"

.....Crestfallen nodded.

....."Three years ago. It was very simple to do, like I told you. Accounting and software allow you to hide a host of sins and unless you understand it, you would never know. Goddamn viruses." Noah fell silent for a moment. "As to why, I don't know. I didn't need the money. My salary was exceptional. Life was good. I suppose I did it because I could. And what harm was I doing? Kleinfelder was a crook. I was stealing from a thief. It didn't count. I suppose you think I'm an idiot?"

.....Crestfallen shook his head. "I don't judge. People do whatever drives them. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. In your case it didn't. I'm a simple repairman. I do what I can to fix things."

.....Noah smiled at Crestfallen's words and settled into his seat, comforted by being in his hands. Crestfallen didn't have the heart to say he couldn't fix everything given to him.

****

.....Crestfallen noted the road sign. Seattle was twenty miles away. They had made reasonable time from San Francisco, twenty hours, and without molestation. The only casualty was his thousand dollars. Hundreds dwindled on gas and food from his expenses pot. He used only cash. He didn't want to be traced, which was the reason why they crashed in the Jeep and not in a motel. He left no trail - his Wild West ancestors would have been proud.

....."Stop here," Noah announced. "Let me off here for a minute."

....."Is this the drop off?"

....."No, but I need to do something."

.....Crestfallen frowned.

....."It'll only take a minute."

.....Crestfallen eased the Jeep to the roadside. Noah hopped out and ducked into a cyber café. Ten minutes later, he returned with two coffees.

....."Finished?" Crestfallen asked.

....."Yeah. And, you've been paid."

....."More computer trickery?"

.....Noah smiled smugly.

....."I like cash."

....."I know. Pull into the next Washington Mutual you see."

.....Crestfallen spotted a bank on the outskirts of Seattle. He did as instructed. Noah returned with fifteen grand in cash. Three stacks of hundreds bound with paper bands. Noah slipped the money inside the glove compartment."

....."Thanks, Crestfallen. You did it. You got me here in one piece."

.....Crestfallen said nothing. His job wasn't complete. Things could still go wrong.

....."This is where I want you to drop me."

.....Noah rattled off a list of directions that led them through the city. Safeco Park was way behind and the Space Needle dominated their locale. Crestfallen stopped on a busy street of mixed residential and business use.

....."This it?"

....."Yep. For now, anyway." Noah offered a hand. "Thanks for all your help. You earned your salary."

.....They shook.

....."You'd better get going."

.....Noah nodded. He hopped out and trotted across the road, making sure to avoid the cross traffic. He pressed the buzzer to a four-story apartment block wedged between a 7-Eleven and a liquor store. He spoke into a speaker and waited.

.....Crestfallen thought the picture didn't fit. Middle class accountants didn't hang out on skid row. He wondered whom Noah knew. But it was better he didn't. He didn't need to know who Noah's friends were. As long as they got him to safety, what did it matter? "

.....A graying man in his forties opened the apartment door. He offered a hand to Noah and he took it. He slipped inside and the gray-haired man closed the door while checking for watching strangers.

.....Crestfallen gunned the engine and selected drive. His job was done.

.....Not quite.

.....The passenger door whipped open and the Philosopher slipped into the seat next to Crestfallen. He had brought a familiar friend. The Glock found a home against Crestfallen's kidneys. It was an uncomfortable fit but everyone would get along.

....."Tag, you're it," he said.

.....Crestfallen raised his hands.

....."No, keep 'em on the wheel. But let's hang for awhile." The Philosopher switched off the engine.

....."You're good," Crestfallen admitted. "I didn't tag any of your boys on the way up."

.....The Philosopher laughed. "We didn't have to follow.We knew he was coming here. Noah underestimated us. He didn't think we'd look further than his resume. Mr. Kleinfelder makes it his business to know everything about everyone."

....."They say information is power."

....."And they're right. Mr. Kleinfelder thrives on it."

....."How's Nomar?"

....."A lot worse since you last saw him. I liked the hands thing. You a religious man, Crestfallen?"

....."No. Just makes it hard to dial a phone and shoot a gun."

.....The Philosopher nodded appreciatively. "Has he paid you?"

....."In the glove box."

.....The Philosopher pocketed the fifteen thousand. "Not bad for a couple days work."

....."What's to happen to me?"

....."Nothing. For now. We've got our money back. You were only doing a job. Mr. Kleinfelder understands that. But we may call on you again."

....."And Noah?"

....."Matters are being dealt with."

.....The Philosopher opened the door and slid out while maintaining his aim.

....."Goodbye, Mr. Kleinfelder."

.....The Philosopher laughed. He holstered the Glock and leaned through the open passenger door. "Is that what you think?"

....."A wild pitch then?"

....."Enough to walk me. You meet Mr. Kleinfelder when it's too late. Certain business he likes to take care of himself."

.....Crestfallen glanced at the apartment block. The grayhaired man who had answered the door. He was Kleinfelder. Crestfallen murmured his name.

....."You've got it, rookie. Later, friend." The Philosopher banged on the roof and headed towards the Space Needle.

.....Crestfallen stared at the apartment entrance. He knew some people he could help and some people he could only help so much. Noah fell into the latter category. And continued to fall. He had done all that he could for the accountant.

.....Gunning the engine, some would have said the Cherokee backfired. But Crestfallen knew otherwise. The backfire had come from the apartments.

Copyright (c) 2003 by Simon Wood


Simon Wood is a California transplant from England. He shares his world with Julie (his American wife), Royston (a longhaired dachshund) and Streetcar (a cat)--all rescued from the barbaric Californian streets. In the last four years, he's had nearly ninety stories published. His debut novel, the suspense-thriller, Accidents Waiting To Happen, received high praise from reviewers. His current book is the short story collection, Dragged Into Darkness, from Medium Rare Books. Readers are welcome to visit his web site.

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