August 14th, 2001
Tallis arrived twenty minutes later than arranged. The bastard is enjoying having me sweat.
“Take a seat,” I said waving an arm up the stairs leading to my front door. “I believe you already know your way about the place.”
He took the stairs two at a time. Inside, he sank himself into my large, black-leather sofa.
I normally offer my guests a drink, but declined to extend that invitation to him – whisky is fatal to worms!
I did however manage to refrain from getting straight to the business at hand. Instead, I politely inquired, “How’s your big-city wife?”
“Vanessa? We’ve been divorced now about eight years already.”
“I thought her name was Karen?”
“Oh, that was my first wife. Had two more after her. They all screwed me for what they could get. Karen left me soon after the Marta Marnowijk incident.”
“I never knew that?”
“Yep, said that the embarrassment was more than she could handle.”
“So, have you learned your lesson yet? I warned you about women.”
“And so, you did! I even had the fortune to read about it again. Those diaries of yours are practically filled with that special Crane wisdom and philosophy. I loved the bit about the short and curlies.”
It was he who had chosen to raise the subject, so I asked, “How did you do it? How did you know?”
“I didn’t. I was just hoping to find something; something…incriminating. I just never imagined it would be…that! Wow!”
“Whatever made you think I was in possession of something incriminating?”
“I once told you that I’d be keeping an eye on you. In fact, it wasn’t all that difficult since you kept popping up rather frequently in a lot of the tabloids and magazines.
It was only after my third divorce that I decided to do a little more serious digging.”
“You’ve been on my case for eight years already?”
“Even longer, considering! Hey, you know what they say? ‘All good things come to those who wait.’”
“Yeah, what good things are you expecting?”
“We’ll get to that later. As I was saying, ‘I decided to do a little more serious digging.’ Turns out you made some interesting investments along the way to making your vast fortune and establishing the Crane Global Visions Empire.
“Either you were very talented or just plain lucky. Your first big break came when you were only twenty one. At age eighteen you managed to convince your mother to use your entire educational fund to purchase some apparently worthless property in the middle of nowhere, and over a mile from the Valley River. Who would have imagined that less than two years later some property developer would think of damming up the river to create a lakeside retirement village? And who would have thought that your property would stretch so far along the lake front. Just luck? Maybe? Maybe not? So after doing some more digging, I suddenly started realizing that your whole life has been filled with similar incidents of incredible financial gain.
“Once again, I asked myself – just luck? I think not. So I decided to keep an even closer eye on you than before. Hell, you were even accused, and acquitted on two occasions of Insider Trading. Sure you haven’t shown any great windfalls in quite some time, but I’m guessing you got scared of the attention you thought you were attracting.
“Well, guess what? You were darn right about that! But as you mentioned, Crane Global Visions is doing well enough to totally leave all those lucky deals alone for good. And you are not a greedy man. Well, shit, I could certainly have used those lottery numbers. If I had, we wouldn’t be having this little conversation right now.”
“How did you bypass my security system and crack the safe so effortlessly.”
“Oh, I’ve been meaning to ask. What did you think of my calling card?”
“Very subtle,” I sneered sarcastically. “Took me a week to figure out it was from you.”
“Hah, had that little baby with me for years. I had Janice print me a duplicate. It’s been my favorite bookmark.”
“What? Did my youthful features give you a hard-on?”
“Ever heard the expression that, ‘It takes a criminal to catch one?’”
“Is that why you managed to catch Du Maille? Because you were both perverted pedophiles?”
He ignored the accusation and said, “In my line of work...” Then he paused momentarily before saying, “Oh, by the way, I left the force shortly after my third divorce. It meant losing a nice fat pension in the long run, but I figured I could do a lot better on my own in the short.” He reached into his coat pocket and handed me his business card.
I read it aloud, “‘Tallis Investigative Consultants.’ What? You think you’re Sherlock Holmes with that photographic memory of yours? A consulting detective by any name is still a dick. And you’re the biggest one I know.” I looked at the card again. “Consultants.” I stressed the s.
“I got…had a few people working for me. Also, the plural sounds more…professional.”
“I guess we all had a romantic notion of what we were going to be doing. Solving great cases like…Sherlock Holmes, yes. Instead…” He paused despondently.
“After following around your hundredth person accused of infidelity by a jealous spouse, you start to realize that it ain’t never gonna happen.”
“What a shame.”
“Yeah, it was. Anyway, by the time the others decided to leave, it was a welcome decision. I was pretty much frustrated and down on my luck.”
“So you decided to try some of my luck instead?”
“Bingo! So, as I was trying to tell you earlier, ‘It takes a criminal to catch one.’ Not to be taken literally of course. It basically means you gotta put yourself in the criminal’s shoes – try to think like him, if you will.”
“Well, in my line of work I’ve also met a lot of people with a lot of skills. Not the sort of skills that most honest-hearted citizens would be interested in possessing, but something that a…dick could put to very good use.”
“Like breaking and entering?”
“Bingo! It was child’s play to immobilize your entire security system. The stuff you’ve installed might seem very sophisticated to the man-in-the-street, but to be honest, it’s really very basic equipment. I don’t know what you paid, but I’d sue their arses off if I was you?” He laughed before continuing. “The safe was even easier. I could have locked it and the front door again if I’d wanted to, but I wanted you to know right away on your returning home that the game was afoot. You must admit that the calling card was a nice touch though?”
“Yeah, like a shot of strychnine straight into the brain.”
“That reminds me. That wasn’t a very nice thing you did to Freddy Harris - putting rat poison on your sandwiches. I was at the hospital that afternoon. It was touch and go. The one thing that saved his life was that he had managed to throw up most of it. Did you know that rats are unable to vomit?”
“I guess that means you can’t puke, Tallis? So, what’s it gonna cost me to shut you up and get the diaries back?”
“Ah, yes, the diaries!” He blew out a gust of air. “Hoo-whee! I kinda figured with all that luck you had that you must be keeping some sort of big secret. I even deduced that you might have some sort of system or formula. Not too unlike counting cards at a Vegas blackjack table. I was hoping for some secret; a little dirty laundry; something that I would be able to use as a lever, but I would never have imagined it to be what I found. Not that! Not in a million years!”
“I asked, ‘How much?’”
“I had figured out that if you were hiding something, and if that something was so big that Cornelius Crane needed to keep it secret from the rest of the world, something so dark or profound that he would be too wary of even placing it into a safety deposit box or someplace secure at Global Visions, then where would he keep it? Where would he think it would be safest? The most obvious choice would be in his great big luxury mansion on the hill where no one would be able to enter without his security devices calling attention to the intruder. Yes, inside a strongbox inside your mansion would be the safest place on earth. Or so you thought. In fact, had you chosen to place your stuff in the aforementioned places, it would have made it impossible for me to get my hands on it. So, your false sense of security has led to your undoing.”
“You’re right, that word is much too strong. Let us say, your injury, and just a minor one at that. I wouldn’t want to bite off the hand that feeds…”
“‘You are obviously a person of substantial wealth, and I am not a greedy man. A mere one million dollars is all I require to guarantee my continued silence.’”
Once again he had chosen to taunt me with the words from the letter I had written to Du Maille. Only this time the three thousand had become a whopping great big million.
I removed the 9mm Baretta from the top drawer in the desk next to the sofa and leveled it between his eyes.
“Nobody’s gonna miss one more stinking vermin. How about I blow your brains out right now and dispose of your remains in a tub of acid? No problem for the CEO of a big R&D plant.”
“Put that away. We both know you don’t have the guts to shoot a man in the face. You don’t have that…killer instinct.”
“Yeah? Are you so sure of yourself?” He was incredibly calm looking down the barrel. His cool composure actually causing me to be the anxious one. I felt a bead of perspiration creeping along my left cheek. “Well, if you’ve read the diaries then you should know that it was I who put that can of bees onto Marnowijk’s shelf?”
“That was different.”
“Of course, and you know it too. Hell, after reading the other stuff about him, I would have done it too. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had been screwing her too? He certainly fitted the profile.”
“Yeah, the man was a fucking monster.”
“And I’m not?”
“Come on, the man got what he deserved, and we both know it. Just like Joaq Du Maille. Stop acting like an idiot and put that thing away. Hey, I thought we were friends. I kept your sorry arse out of juvie, remember?”
“Yeah, for a price.”
“What, you’re still angry over the four hundred dollars? It was nothing!”
“How about one million dollars? Is that also nothing?”
“Yeah, to somebody like you it is. Everybody knows that Global’s a multibillion…”
“So, you think that means I got millions lying around that I can just throw about like rice at a wedding. You think I go around…”
“Yeah, I do. You were paying for $500 hookers.”
“That was in my first life. That was…”
“That makes no difference. Maybe I’d also like to know what it feels like to fuck $500.”
“Fuck you, Tallis. It’s not so much about the money that’s upsetting.”
“I think I know now what a woman who’s been raped feels like. You’ve been where no person was allowed to go…supposed to go. You screwed me! When you took those diaries and read about my personal life it was the same as if you’d…you’d… Now you know everything about me. I feel naked and I feel violated.”
“Don’t you know what they say about a true friend?”
“‘A true friend is somebody who knows everything about you, but still loves you.’ And hey, I still love you! That reminds me, I’m missing this year’s diary. I’m guessing you probably had it along with you on your little business trip to LA when I came a visiting? Would you mind if I had a look through it? I really enjoy your style. You could have been a great writer.”
If I had ever come close to pulling the trigger it was then. But I managed to restrain myself and said, “Fine! I need a drink.” I replaced the revolver and ambled over to the large mahogany drink cabinet.
“I’ll get you your money.” I held up the bottle of whisky. “Join me?”
“You gonna poison me too?”
“Yeah, I specially keep a bottle for all the blackmailers and rapists that come calling.”
He smiled and said, “With soda if you got, otherwise water is fine. No ice.” I handed him his drink and sat down. I had anticipated his next question. “That was a quick change of…”
“Let’s just say that I’m man enough to know when the board is stacked against me, but also that although you play dirty, experience has shown that you are a man of your word.”
“I salute your powers of deduction,” he said raising his glass.
I narrowed my eyes at him. “I know someone with whom you’d get on very well.”
“You got a girlfriend?”
“Is that surprising?”
“Uh, sort of.”
“Yep, I’m gonna ask her to marry me next month. I’m planning on doing it on a business trip to New York.”
“That’s great. I’m happy for you! Really I am! I’ve never been to New York, myself. Always wanted to, just never seemed to get the chance. Hey, I’m really happy for you. Does she know that you’ve been neutered?”
“What?” In a moment of stupidity I almost asked how he knew about my vasectomy. Instead, I managed to come back with, “Oh, we’ve both agreed that we don’t want kids.”
“Yeah? Well some women will tell you that, but later when…”
I interrupted him by saying, “I won’t be able to get all your money at once without drawing unnecessary attention. And that is something we both don’t want.” He nodded slowly. “I guess a check’s also out of the question.” He laughed and shook his head. I galloped my fingers on the side of my glass in thought. Then I downed half the contents before saying, “Okay, I tell you what we’ll do.”
“I’m all ears!”
“It’s gonna take awhile to get that much money together. I’ll have to draw small amounts from different accounts over a long period.”
“I was thinking about a month.”
“I can live with that.”
“Good! Then I was thinking we could make the exchange in New York.”
“No local prying eyes around, and it’ll give you an opportunity to do what you’ve always wanted.”
“Sounds like a splendid idea.”
“What’s more, you’ll have enough cash to paint the town red; two coats worth. And you can take my word for it when I tell you that the $500 hookers in New York are the best.”
“What date are we looking at?”
“I haven’t finalized my arrangements yet, but it should be around the second week in September. I’ll know by the 1st. Give me a call then.”
He finished his drink and stood up. “Well, I guess that concludes our business for now.” He held out a hand. “See you next month in New York City.”
“What? Oh, the diaries? How stupid of me.” I nodded and he said, “Of course. That’s easy! I’ll put them in a locker at the airport. You get the key when I get the money.”
“Of course! I’m a man of my word, remember?”
“There’s something puzzling me?”
“How come you want money when I could give you something far better?”
“Most other people would have asked for a second chance. I thought you would have jumped at the opportunity for immortality?”
“Nah, one life is enough for me thanks. Besides I could never trust you.”
“Yeah, once you have me strapped down on that Consciousness Projector thingamabob of yours, I bet you could probably screw up my brain real good if you wanted to? I’m not gonna be your guinea pig. Especially now that Steve Ferran’s out of the picture. I won’t have you making a monkey’s uncle out me. I mean literally. Who knows who or what I could end up inside of? No thank you very much!”
“Damn!” I said smiling. “So much for Plan B.”
“Yeah, what’s Plan A?”
“Pay the bastard and be done with!” For the first time we both laughed together. Then he handed me a small metallic object. “What’s this?”
“A little something else I took the liberty of removing the last time I was here.”
“Yeah, what is it?”
“The firing pin from that pistol of yours.”
We both laughed again.