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Matilda's The Key

Tom had been bundled into the back of the police car for the second time.

As they had sped off towards the police station Tom mouthed and gesticulated reassurances at Annie, who stood on the sidewalk limp and confused. He’d quickly realised that she couldn’t see him through the black tinted windows of the car.

"I’m calling a lawyer when I get to the station," Tom said flatly.

Goldentooth smirked.

"Why sure Mr. Busey, you go right on ahead, you are allowed one monitored call when we arrive.”

Tom was going to use his head this time. He was not going to rise to the bait and be ensnared by this miscreant thug, with his vile insensitive brutishness. He was going to call Goldstein. He’d never had to use Goldstein before. Goldstein was a twitchy, energetic ball biting rabbit who’d built up a reputation for being successful against the local police and was singularly unpopular with them as a result. Locally he was the best, the most expensive and he knew it.

Everyone knew Goldstein. Unfortunately for Goldstein so did Tom and they had met under rather insalubrious circumstances outside Ronnie’s late one night.

It was about 2 in the morning and Matilda, the local whore, was stalking around in the alley next to Ronnie’s. She always wore a leopard scarf to cover her face. Tom could never quite work out if she thought she was camouflaged by wearing the scarf or if it was a kind of call sign.

Anyway, as Tom emerged from the bar, a car pulled up next to Matilda. Tom backed away into the shadows for a moment out of curiosity. He peered in and saw Goldstein negotiating furiously. Tom walked out under the lamp, pointed and laughed like a kid, who’d just learned the meaning of the word “gay.”

Goldstein looked hunted and beckoned Tom over furtively. He implored him not to say anything to anybody, especially his wife. Tom just laughed and shrugged his shoulders indifferently. Goldstein was flapping like a trapped rabbit. He kept on saying he had never done it before. Matilda just smiled and said nothing.

Tom was drunk and said unthinkingly, “Right free legal help if I ever need it.” Tom hadn’t had the sense to ask for money. Goldstein had acceded willingly and disappeared into the darkness to sample Matilda’s delights. End of story, or so Tom thought.

It was time to call him in, to get him off this little hook. Tom was not a criminal with a big, long history; Tom was, on the face of it, a victim of the fact that Ralph was Goldentooth's “best friend.” (Whatever that counted for.)

Goldentooth wanted to nail someone. Tom had a weak motive but it was one Goldentooth knew about. He knew Ralph had repeatedly tried to block Tom’s promotion; it was one of their ongoing mutual jokes. He also knew that Tom had no alibi for the night in question. Neither did the other guys: Tom, Tony or Jack but they weren’t trying to get promoted. It was motive enough for Goldentooth.

So while Goldentooth sat driving smugly, Tom sat in the back of the car with an expression of quiet confidence, sure his call would be effective.

He would have liked to talk to Annie but this was simply not possible, given that he had only one phone call. If he could save himself, he could save her. For the first time in his life he felt he was wrenching some control, taking command, which was all rather ironic sitting in the back of a police car.

They approached the police station and entered a dark arch where streams of lasers swept the car for guns, drugs and other illegalities. This system was in part against the criminals and in part a display for the public. So many drugs wound up in possession of police officers that this formality was needed for ‘information.’ ‘SWEEP’ was designed to stop some of this little deviousness. Of course, it didn’t always, but it was a good effort.

The green shafts of lights danced over the car, like a lover on a first date, the lasers salaciously caressing every curve and every orifice. A siren sounded to signal the end of this process. The car lurched forward and Tom was dispatched into an interview room.

"One call," he said to the police officer in the interview room.

"That's right, one call, sir, here use the viewcom."

"Can I have more privacy here please?"

"Sure, I'll get you a headset and an old phone."

The officer disappeared leaving him alone in the room. It was strange to think he could try and be a hero and run out, seeking his freedom on his own. But what was the point it would only draw suspicion to him?

It was strange how he’d remembered the somnolent events of the bowling night in hospital; fragment by fragment his painkiller dreams had added up to a whole. It was a somewhat visceral experience. When Tom finally saw the whole picture he felt pleased.

The police officer who returned was young and appeared to be ever so slightly nervous. Tom observed the occasional tell-tale fidget of his fingers and remembered something.

"Thank you."

Tom took the headset and slipped it over his head, the soft black cloth tickled at the back of his neck and mouth. He could feel the build-up of moisture around his mouth as he breathed. The holes on these headsets were never big enough.

Tom had remembered that Goldstein’s number was based on his name: Gold with figures for letters. As he worked it out on his fingers, he slowly spoke each number out aloud: seven, fifteen, twelve and four, and watched as the right digits appeared in white before his eyes in this virtual space. 'Dial ', he said.

The phone was answered by a secretary.

"Can you tell Goldstein that Matilda is calling?"

"He’s in a mmmmeetrrrring just now, Mr.?”

“Just tell him Matilda is calling and it’s important. I’m sure you’ll find he thinks so.”

The secretary hesitated for a moment.

“I’ll let him know, ggg get him toto ccccall you back.”

“I’d rather wait.”

The screen went blank for a few seconds.

“Putting you through,” the secretary now announced snootily.

Goldstein's face appeared. His bald head was starting to gleam.

“What do you want? “ Goldstein said urgently.

“Matilda says she really needs a favour and needs it now.”

“Stop using that word.”

“I will, if you get down the station now. I need that legal advice you promised.”

Goldstein sighed.

“I’m coming, don’t say anything else until I get there.”

The screen went blank.

Goldentooth came back in smiling.

“Goldstein’s coming,” Tom said as he leant back in his chair. “He says I’m not supposed to say anything until he gets here. So I’m not saying anything.”

Goldentooth’s smile dropped from his face and he shuffled out of the room leaving Tom alone with the young officer.

Tom sat up in his chair. There was a pen on the desk in front of him. He picked it up and started tapping it arhytmically on the desk. Tom watched the officers hands fidget increasingly, he enjoyed finding out the rhythms which annoyed him most.

And the great thing was, he was not doing anything wrong.

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