Tuesday, 31 December 2013
Episode 11: Good cop, good cop
‘I don’t know. Something’s not quite right here. Words have disappeared before; remember when the stigma of association became too much for Politician and he went to ground? Now, that case was easy enough to work out but Crusade’s disappearance? There’s nothing to indicate why and we’re left with that odd scene in his room. A mystery.’
Constable leaned back and stared at the ceiling as if the answer might be found there. He wore a blue suit – he considered a full uniform to be overkill – and liked to carry a notebook on his person at all times: a notebook which he now flicked through with a frown. Across the table, Cracker sketched meandering doodles on an A4 pad and pursed his lips.
‘He sounds like an interesting guy to me. Years spent on the margins of political and social protest, always on the side of the persecuted…and he seems to be well-liked.’
Constable shook his head. ‘I’m not so sure about that. From what I gather, he’s a bit of an agitator, a rabble-rouser. Him and some of his friends aren’t the type I’d mix with.’
‘That’s because you see things in black and white, my friend. There’s a grey area which is more interesting, more ambivalent, a place where you have to think a bit more obliquely. It’s not always a case of join-the-dots, Constable.’
‘And where does your psychological profiling get us here?’
‘At the moment, I have to admit, nowhere but I’m building up a character profile which I may be able to flesh out a bit when I speak to his associates. There’s more to being a word detective than slavish adherence to the Morse Code, you know.’
The Morse Code was the name given to the basic tenets of word detective work – homage to a popular TV detective series – and there wasn’t much call for anything more elaborate. Words occasionally went missing from embarrassment or self-consciousness but rarely from anything more malevolent and the genteel nature of word detectives’ work meant that the practitioners tended to be affable and polite. They worked in pairs and their favoured modus operandi was described as “good cop / good cop”. Constable’s regular partner, Checklist, arrived and asked Cracker: ‘Do you think we’ll need your help here?’
‘It’s too early to say. Crusade has only just gone missing so there may not even be a case. You know how it is around Christmas: normal conditions don’t apply and some words go to ground for a few days.’
‘Let’s hope so,’ replied Checklist. ‘So, we’ve questioned those who we know were with him yesterday afternoon and evening but we have a blank for the later part of the day. Any ideas, Constable?’
‘None. Control was in favour of keeping this one in-house but I think we should extend our enquiries further afield. Maybe we should visit Grass or Informer or Snitch and see if they’re aware of anything untoward.’
Checklist grimaced. ‘Must we? Those three give me the creeps.’
‘We don’t have much else to go on and the longer he remains missing, the colder the trail gets.’
It was evening; some of Crusade’s colleagues had gathered in the Crow Bar, one of the C-block bars. Hunched over their drinks, they spoke quietly and glanced hopefully towards the door when it opened.
‘It looks like Crusade really has disappeared,’ said Coin. ‘Ah, here’s Correspondent. Any luck?’
Correspondent joined Cynic, Campaigner, Crumpet, Clever, Conspiracy and Coin. He sighed as he sat down and shook his head.
‘Afraid not. I dropped in on some of my contacts in the A-block but none of them saw him yesterday. Announcer said Crusade was in an A-block coffee bar a few days ago with Agitator, Anarchist and a lady she didn’t recognise. I considered asking Agitator or Anarchist but I’m not really on good terms with them at the moment. Besides, they’re both secretive types and aren’t likely to say much.’
‘I wonder who the lady was. Did Announcer describe her?’ asked Clever.
‘She said she was a bit of a looker; dark hair, dressed in black. It’s not much to go on, I know, but maybe somebody else will have seen them together and might know who she is.’
‘I wasn’t aware of Crusade being in a relationship,’ said Crumpet. ‘Maybe she’s just one of the A-block firebrands…an agent provocateur, perhaps.’
‘You’ve watched too many spy thrillers, Crumpet,’ said Cynic.
Crumpet shrugged. ‘Well, she’s probably a better bet to help us than Agitator or Anarchist.’
Clever nodded. ‘Sure...but where do we go from here? Drop in on Close-Circuit and see if he can provide us with anything?’
‘I don’t know; those double-barrelleds can be such snobs,’ Crumpet moaned. ‘I’m not sure Close-Circuit would be willing to help us. If he was approached by somebody high-ranking, maybe…but he’d just consider us hoi-polloi.’
The door opened again and Candle, a striking figure with her upright posture and flame-coloured hair, walked towards the group.
‘Good! I thought I’d find you here,’ she said. ‘I hear you’re concerned that Crusade has gone missing. I may be able to help.’
‘At last!’ exclaimed Correspondent. ‘Can I get you a drink, Candle?’
‘Oh, yes please. Do they have cocktails here? Good. I’d like a flaming sambuca, please.’
Once the drink had been prepared, Correspondent returned to the table and Candle sipped her drink. ‘Last night, well, yesterday morning to be precise, Crusade contacted me and asked me if I could turn up at one of the private rooms on the upper floors. He had a romantic tryst planned and wanted me to help set the scene. It was understood that I’d vacate the room as soon as he turned up with his belle and that’s how it panned out. I didn’t recognise her, I’m afraid…an attractive woman although, beyond that, I can’t help.’
‘Did she have dark coloured hair?’ Clever asked.
‘Yes. Sounds like you may know her?’
‘No. But we know that he’s been with a dark-haired woman recently. Was anyone else with you?’
‘Champagne and Violin were there…again at Crusade’s request. We all left together as arranged and they didn’t know her either. We giggled about the clichéd way in which Crusade had set it up.’
‘The old romantic!’ said Crumpet, wistfully. ‘I always thought he was just interested in causes. I appear to have underestimated him. Oh well.’
‘Less of the old, if you don’t mind,’ said Coin. ‘Some of us are of an age with him. Hello, who’s this?’
A tall, black-haired woman walked into the Crow Bar, her black dress matching the surrounding décor perfectly. She walked to the bar, positioned herself on a stool and ordered a drink. When she’d been served, she turned around and her gaze took in the group at Correspondent’s table.
‘Christ! That’s her! I’m certain that’s her,’ said Candle. ‘The woman with Crusade last night, that is.’
‘You’re kidding!’ said Conspiracy. He dropped his voice as the newcomer noticed the interest her arrival had caused. ‘They always say that the perpetrator is drawn back to the scene of the crime and here she is, turning up in C-block.’
‘Ok, slow down,’ said Correspondent. ‘Are you absolutely sure it’s her, Candle?’
‘I only saw her for a minute or so last night but yes, that’s her. How do we play this? She’s probably completely innocent of anything and we don’t want to scare her off.’
‘Guilty ‘til proven innocent,’ intoned Conspiracy.
‘Oh, shut up,’ hissed Cynic. ‘Crusade probably arranged to meet her here and maybe she’s as perplexed as any of us. I think we should try to discreetly find out who she is.’
‘OK, leave this to me,’ said Correspondent. He straightened his tie, repositioned his hat, ambled towards the bar where he ordered drinks, nodded to Treason – for she it was – and spoke to the barman. ‘Not fair, is it? You have to work while the rest of us are, up to a point, off work.’
‘Nature of the job, mate,’ replied the barman.
Correspondent was pleased by the barman’s grumpy tone; here was his excuse to turn to Treason.
‘Hello. I’m Correspondent. I don’t recognise you as a regular here.’
‘Probably not. I don’t often frequent the…’ Treason glanced at a mirror behind the bar, ‘…Cross Bar.’ She stared down at her drink and raised it to her lips.
‘Can I get you another one of those?’ Correspondent asked, nodding to her glass.
‘Thanks but I’m OK.’ She looked away and Correspondent sensed froideur as he picked up his drinks.
‘Well, feel free to join us. We’re trying to track down an absent friend and could do with some help.’
Treason turned to Correspondent and stared searchingly at him. ‘I’d love to but detection isn’t one of my strong points. Who’s missing?’
‘Oh, it’s a friend of ours…Crusade. Er, what did you say your name was?’
‘I didn’t. I’d love to join you guys and help out but I have to go.’ Treason slid off her stool and strode towards the door, leaving her drink unfinished.
Correspondent clenched his fist in frustration and rejoined his colleagues. ‘I get the impression she doesn’t want to be known.’
‘Like I said, drawn back to the scene of the crime,’ said Conspiracy, eyes ablaze. ‘I’m going to follow her and find out who she is…or, at least, where she’s going.’ He gulped down his drink, stood up, rushed towards the door, ran down the corridor and reached the lift just as the door closed, catching a fleeting glimpse of Treason before the lift departed on its descent. Conspiracy jabbed the button displaying the down arrow and jigged on the spot as he waited for the next car to arrive. He cursed the Cross Bar’s location on the upper floor of C-block and watched the digital display which traced the slow progress of the lift which arrived over a minute later. His efforts were further hampered when the lift stopped at seven other floors as it descended.
When he finally arrived in the foyer, Change, the receptionist for that day, confirmed that somebody matching the description provided by Conspiracy had just left. Conspiracy rushed outside but was unable to see Treason anywhere. He retraced his journey back to the Cross Bar and told of his futile attempt to follow his quarry. By this stage, Champagne and Violin had joined the group, having been summoned by Candle. Like Candle, however, they were unable to provide a name for Crusade’s companion from the previous evening.
‘At least we now know what she looks like and that she may have been looking for Crusade although it's a bit odd that she didn’t respond when I mentioned that we were trying to find him,’ said Correspondent.
‘You said that to her? You said that we were looking for him?’ asked Conspiracy. ‘No wonder she scarpered. I tell you, she’s up to something. If only I’d been able to follow her. Damn, damn and double damn damn.’
‘Well, our best source for some answers at the moment would appear to be Agitator and his chums although infiltrating that particular circle will need a bit of ingenuity,’ said Coin. He gazed into the distance. ‘I’m happy to give it a go although they probably wouldn’t go a bunch on my associations with commerce and business. Mind you, that could work in my favour if I came across as disillusioned with what’s happening in that sphere right now. It would be a real coup for them to get somebody with my associations interested in what they’re doing. What do you think?’
Heads nodded around the table and Coin began to formulate a plan.
Next episode: Going underground......