Apparently satisfied at what I was offering, the man on the bench beside me slid the envelope into his jacket. “Ah, Watson. Good to see you again.”
I need to explain that the man who’d just said that is insane — or at the very least, he’s the beneficiary of a mild case of loony. His name is Lawrence Holmes and, like his fictional namesake, he’s a brilliant private investigator. Trust me, there’s no joke you can make about this situation that will upset him. Lord knows I’ve tried.
Me, I’m a detective with the Philadelphia Homicide Unit. And my real name is Caleb Jacobs, not Watson. I first met Holmes a few years back while I was working a case involving a matched set of corpses (don’t ask) that washed up from the Delaware River. An interested third party had hired Holmes, and with my badge and his unusual skills, we found it was to our mutual benefit to work together. Since then we’ve shared information on a number of occasions. And each time he calls me Watson.
Right now I’m violating every protocol I can think of by being here, trying to hire him. In the past he’s always come to me for help.
Holmes stood up, tapped out the burnt tobacco from his small clay pipe into the trashcan, and pocketed it in his hound’s-tooth jacket. “Come, Watson. It looks like it’s going to rain and we have a mystery to solve.”
I let him guide me out of Rittenhouse Square, a park in the shopping district of Philadelphia. I felt the stares from each mother pushing a stroller and each guy walking his dog as we made our way. In a lot of ways, I’m embarrassed to be seen with him, and not just because the guys back at the precinct razz me for being his Watson. It’s because. . . well, look at him. He has a chin-up, shoulders-back, pompous way of walking, and he behaves and talks like something out of Masterpiece Theater.
“So Watson,” Holmes said. “I’m glad to see that you and Mrs. Jacobs have reconciled.”
Oh no. . . here it comes. “We’re not here to investigate me.” But I knew he wouldn’t stop until he knew — that I knew — that he had me pegged.
“Your shirt isn’t wrinkled and the color of your tie has a feminine sensibility that you’ve lacked since you and Emma separated. And of course, there is the faint hint of Eau Du Soir. Her favorite perfume, I believe.”
I shot him my Yeah, I get it look and increased the pace. Mercifully, we made it to the bookshop he owns without anymore of his deductions. This place is one of the many businesses in the city that he has an interest in, but I’ve never seen him work at anything but “sleuthing,” as he would say. I know he’s rich, but it beats me where the money comes from, my point being that I’ve never heard of him collecting cash for his work, only gifts and favors. As a matter of fact, right now my season tickets to the Philadelphia Eagles home games — the precious contents of the envelope I’d given him — reside in his breast pocket. I loved those seats.
He held the door of his shop open and allowed me to pass. Inside, a woman in her sixties dropped the newspaper she was reading onto the Formica counter and curtsied slightly. “Welcome home, Sir.”
“Ah, Mrs. Hudson.” He nodded. “Look. . . Watson has returned to us.”
Her name is just as much Hudson as mine is Watson. I’ve never really figured out her purpose, but she always seems to be hovering nearby and she always plays right into Holmes’s delusions.
She nodded at me. “Hello, Detective. I haven’t seen you since Holmes consulted with the police on The Case of the Vanishing Corpse.”
He must be paying her six figures. There’s nothing he can sling that she won’t catch. Before I could reply, Holmes said, “We’ll be in my office, Mrs. Hudson. Please bring us some of your strongest coffee.”
The back room that he calls his office is modest sized, but in no way is it decked out on the cheap. The floor is covered with an ornate oriental rug and the walls are either covered in art or hidden by bookshelves that I’d bet a week’s pay are loaded with first editions. Of course, the smell of pipe tobacco permeates the room.
He removed his jacket and with great reverence draped it over a coat rack near the door. Then he sat down on the lounge chair beside the fireplace — yes, a real, working fireplace — and gestured at the folder I carried. Obediently, I handed it over, then dropped down on a leather couch across from him.
He fanned the pages and frowned. “Is this everything?”
He snorted and started reading the material. “Interesting,” he said, more to himself than to me “The Janis Farraday killing.”
I said nothing, letting him concentrate on the materials.
He didn’t look up. “I take it your partner doesn’t know you’re here.”
“No reason to tell him.” He was referring to Jerry Reynolds. Jerry is a normal enough guy. He has anger issues concerning sports (a common enough trait in Philadelphia) and is a bit too open with his opinions on other matters. Other than all that, he’s an honest and steady partner.
Mrs. Hudson entered with a couple of cups of Starbucks. “I made it fresh, just the way you like it,” she said, winking at me. Like I said before, she plays into his delusions.
“Yes, yes. Thank you.” Holmes waved, shooing her away. “Please see to it that we are not disturbed.” He glanced at me, then returned to scanning the documents. “He doesn’t like me, you know.”
“Jerry doesn’t like most people. In your case, it’s just a little easier.”
“And where does Detective Reynolds think you are right now?”
I shrugged. “Doesn’t matter; he’s on vacation. Now please concentrate on the job.”
He closed the folder and tossed it across the coffee table that lay between us. “I see nothing worth concentrating on. This information is stale. The murder happened nearly two months ago.” He cleared his throat. “The popular opinion in the tabloids back then — I occasionally skim them — was that Janis Farraday was killed by her husband, Daniel Farraday.”
“Like it said in the report, there was no evidence of his involvement. Besides, this murder doesn’t look like the act of an accountant.”
“It is my experience that accountants can be the most dangerous of all.” He held up one page of my report. “It says here that the office cleaning lady saw Ms. Farraday leaving work around 6:30 pm.” He held up another page. “Here it says that her husband claims she phoned him at 6:45 pm to say that she had a late appointment with a client. Have you had any luck finding the missing phone?”
I crossed my arms and shot him my most innocent look, a mistake given that Holmes is a master of body language. “Missing phone?”
“Come now, Watson! It’s elementary! It is highly unlikely that a partner at the law firm of Lucius, Brandon, and Felder would use a pay phone, yet I see no reference to a cell phone in the list of her possessions that were recovered at the crime scene.”
I shrugged. “As far as we can tell, it’s the only thing that was taken from her. When we questioned her husband, he confirmed that she obsessively carried it with her.”
Holmes leaned back in his chair, his fingertips pressed together. “Who pays the cell phone bill?”
“The law firm.”
He snapped his fingers and held out his hand.
I reached into my jacket pocket, pulled out a photocopy of the last phone bill and dropped it into his greedy hand. “I was just testing you. Wanted to see if you were worth such a high cost.”
“If you want my help, don’t toy with me.” He unfolded the paper and reviewed the list of outgoing and incoming phone numbers. “Are any of these unusual?”
“No. Her office manager recognized most of them as clients and her husband identified the rest, including the call she made to him on the night of her murder.”
“So the only clue about the phone is that it is missing?”
“Yeah, that’s about it. If you ask me, it smells of a cover-up, but I can’t reckon of what. We subpoenaed her client list and couldn’t find anyone with a grudge. And get this — none of them had an appointment with her on the evening of her death.”
Holmes leaned back in his chair. “And the only other facts here are these: she was found in an alley three miles from her work, and the estimated time of death is 7 pm, just 15 minutes after her call to Mr. Farraday. Is there anything else you want to tell me?”
“Fine. Go home. Let me think on this matter. I’ll contact you when I have something.”
“I want to be involved in your investigation.”
“Yes, I suspected as much.” He reached for the Calabash pipe and tobacco bag lying on coffee table. Unlike the ubiquitous clay pipe that he traveled with, this one had a long, curved stem and a wide bowl. Using it was a clear sign that he was taking the matter seriously. “Meet me back here at 8 pm tonight.”
I left before he had a chance to strike a match. Emma hates the smell of tobacco on my clothes. I walked the half-mile to police HQ at Franklin Plaza to finish the paperwork that I should’ve had done last week. Jerry usually does the pencil pushing and key tapping; I’m the good looking man of action.
After I finished what needed to be done, I left for home to enjoy dinner with Emma and play time with my two year old daughter, Alison.
As commanded, I arrived back at the bookshop at eight, where I found Holmes waiting in a taxi. “Come, Watson,” he called from a rolled-down window. “The game is afoot.”
I stepped into the taxi. “Where are we going?”
“To visit LBF.”
“The law firm? Why? I’ve already searched the place and questioned her co-workers. It was all in my report.”
“You know my methods. I like to see everything first hand. I look for clues where most others look for evidence. There is a not-so-subtle difference.”
The taxi dropped us off in front a pretentious red brick building that mirrored all the other pretentious red brick buildings in the historic Philadelphia district. Holmes told our driver to wait down the block, as if the cabby were his personal chauffeur. Then it dawned on me: in Holmes’s crazy world, he probably was.
We crept around back, like criminals. At this time of night the place would be locked tight. What’s Holmes planning? Then I saw it. Sure enough, the back door was open. “Let me guess,” I whispered. “A friend just happened to leave it unlocked, right?”
Holmes flashed me a half-cocked smile. “You can speak up, Watson. There is no one here. As you must have deduced, sometimes I have to do things that people in your profession frown upon.”
“You mean like breaking the law? Yeah, my profession doesn’t usually go for that.”
“In that case, you are going to have to decide between law and justice. They are not always the same. While you are deciding, please show me the way to Ms. Farraday’s office.”
I sighed. I guess for tonight my catch-phrase is In for a misdemeanor, in for a felony. I led him to her third-floor office. I’m sure he wasn’t impressed, but this place was seriously upscale and modern — definitely not decorated in the Holmesian style.
As soon as Holmes stepped into her office, he began rifling through a file cabinet and after that, the bookshelf. “Ah, it is as I thought.” He looked up. “No one new has been assigned this office.”
He switched the computer on and waited. A prompt for a password appeared on the screen. With a flourish Holmes cracked his knuckles. “Now we’ll see if she still has an active user account.” He pulled a stick, a blue, thumb-sized flash drive, from his jacket and inserted it into one of the USB ports, then began running a password decryption program from the stick.
Great. . . now I’m helping him hack into a law firm’s computer system. I shook my head. For my own sanity, I needed to stop counting the number of laws I was breaking tonight.
“Bah! There’s nothing here. Not even a personal e-mail.” He reached down and began rummaging through her desk drawers, then ran his hand underneath each one. “Aha! He untaped a Motorola cell phone from beneath one of the drawers and held it up. “What do you think of this?”
My heart thudded in my chest. Jerry and I had gone through this office and — trust me on this — that phone hadn’t been there. A cop missing something taped under a drawer only happens in movies, if even then.
Holmes must have seen my shock. “Obviously, this was placed here after any police search.” He pulled out his clay pipe and slipped it, unlit, into his mouth, then studied the phone. “I believe your case has become a mystery worth my attention,” he said through clenched teeth. “Evidently, this is what the murderer must have been after. However –”
“However,” I said, collapsing onto an office chair. “The phone he did get off her was the wrong one. This is a second phone, the one he really wanted. But if that’s true, why is it here? And what did he want with it?”
“To answer your first question, it’s here for someone to find. As for why he wanted it, I don’t know — yet.”
The phone is evidence, and yet it would be better if. . . . no, I don’t want to think about that! I need to know what happened that night.
Holmes continued. “But it does imply the possibility of a third party.” He tried activating the phone, but the battery was drained. He flipped it over, popped out the battery, and set it on the table as he looked closely at the empty slot. “Interesting, yes very interesting.” He handed it to me and I held it up to the light. Scratched in the battery slot were the letters XO followed by the number 43.
“Do you know what this means?” He returned the pipe to his pocket.
I shook my head. I really didn’t know, but I probably should have. Holmes looked me over and frowned. Is he starting to figure out that I haven’t told him everything?
“There’s another place we need to go to tonight,” he said.
Our taxi pulled over on South Street near the Delaware River, a neighborhood where rebel youths consort with yuppie shoppers; biker bars and tattoo parlors mingled with expensive restaurants and chic clothing stores. If you can’t find something here, you aren’t going to find it anywhere in Philly.
Once again Holmes told the driver to wait. By this time I’d learned our cabby’s name was Philippe. After we got out of the taxi, Holmes led me to a seedy sex shop just off the main drag. At the counter, next to trashy lingerie and mood candles, stood a girl in a pink wig, popping bubble gum and reading, of all things, Better Homes and Gardens. She ignored Holmes, probably recognizing that he didn’t go for her type, and gave me a lurid look. “Need some help?”
Before I could make a typical witty Caleb response, Holmes cleared his throat for attention. “Is Margaret Liang available?”
She popped another bubble and looked at him. “She doesn’t come in on Tuesdays.”
Holmes laid the Motorola on the counter in front of her. “I have a bill to pay.”
She looked at the phone, then back at Holmes. Then, without a word, she disappeared behind a set of curtains. A minute later one of the most — hell, the most — stunning woman I’ve ever seen walked — floated, it seemed — to the counter. She had almond-shaped eyes and long, straight black hair and was wearing an emerald kimono. In summary, she was a knockout.
She batted her long eyelashes at Holmes and in a dulcet voice said, “Well, well, well, little fly. . . what brings you to my web?”
Holmes held out the cell phone. “We need to talk about this.”
She took it and caressed it seductively while staring at him. “If you’re having problems with this, I suggest you try the Verizon store around the corner. Now, if you gentlemen are looking for something. . . shall we say, a bit more adult, then I can help.”
“Enough playing around,” Holmes said. “Show me the book.”
The phone vanished into the folds of her kimono. “Trust me, Holmes: there are some things you don’t want to know.”
She called him by his name! And unlike most of his acquaintances, she wasn’t subservient.
“Show me and I will consider us even,” Holmes said.
“We’ll never be even. But if you insist on pursuing this, follow me.” She led us to a narrow stairway, near the changing rooms. She pressed a manicured nail to my chest and nodded toward Holmes. “Only him.”
“It’s all right, Watson,” Holmes said. “I shall be quite safe.”
Margaret laughed. “So it’s Watson, is it? Holmes and Watson are on the case. Well, Watson. . . .” She nodded toward the girl behind the counter. “I’m sure Cindy can keep you occupied.”
I watched them as they made their way up the creaking staircase. Then I turned and looked at Cindy. She was cute, but she wasn’t in Margaret’s league.
She popped her gum again. “I like you. Are you doing anything early?”
“Early tomorrow morning. That’s when I get off.” She winked. “Work, that is.”
I don’t think any girl has ever used that line on me before. “I’m married.”
“It does to me.” Even if she was my type, I wouldn’t do anything now that things between me and Emma were on the mend.
After what felt like forever, but was actually only twenty minutes later, Margaret and a pale Holmes returned. At the bottom of the stairs, Margaret turned to him, her voice quiet. “I won’t be able to protect you. . . not this time.”
Holmes nodded at me and I followed him out the door. Before we got into the waiting taxi, I asked, “Did you find what you were looking for?”
He slowly shook his head. “No. I found what I was not looking for.” He straightened, pulled back his shoulders and got into the taxi. He looked at the driver. “Philippe, it’s getting late. It’s time we went home.”
Holmes was unresponsive to further questioning during the ride back to his bookshop. However, he did agree on a time and place for us to meet the next day. After we dropped Holmes off, Philippe drove me to my car at police HQ.
The next morning, on time, I was where I was supposed to be — the park again — but Holmes was nowhere to be found. Something was up; the man was obsessed with being on time.
A hand clasped my shoulder and I nearly jumped out of my skin.
I looked up and saw Mrs. Hudson’s scowling face, not a pleasant sight at this time of morning. Actually, not a pleasant sight anytime.
“Where’s Holmes?” I asked as she took the seat beside me on the park bench.
She ignored my question. “Mr. Holmes mentioned that you’ve met Margaret. What did you think of her?”
Aside from lust and mystery, and that Margaret had barely acknowledged me, I didn’t have much to go on, so I told her everything except the lust part.
“Well, I’d stay away from that one, if I were you.”
“Gee Mom, thanks for the advice, but I’m all grown up now.”
She huffed and raised her nose at me. “Trust me, if you were my son, you would have learned some manners. Margaret can’t be trusted; she’s a manipulator, that one is.”
“I’ll take that under advisement. Now tell me, where is your lord and master?”
She huffed again. “He arrives at the Market East train station. . . .” She looked down at her wristwatch. “In 15 minutes. Meet him on track A1. I suggest you walk very fast. Good day, Mr. Watson.” She got up and strolled away.
It was 12 blocks to the train station. I was late, but thank the Lord of Trains Holmes’s train was running on public transit time, which meant it was ten minutes behind schedule.
Out of breath, I found Holmes exiting the train.
“Come Watson. I feel like a walk; the exercise will do you some good.”
Ungrateful bastard. . . . He was lucky that it was bad publicity for a cop to take a swing at a fine citizen of this city.
As soon as we were out of the station, he grabbed my arm. “Who did you tell about hiring me?”
“No one. Why?”
He pulled out his clay pipe and lit it with a wooden match. Something was up. Like I said before, when the pipe is lit his thinking is in overdrive. We started down the street in silence. A few blocks later, he stopped abruptly. “We are being surveyed.”
“Why would we be followed?”
“Surveyed,” he repeated. “Not followed, my good man. It’s all quite professional.”
Training from my time doing undercover work took over. I stooped, pretending to tie my shoe, and turned my head to quickly memorize the people around us. Then I stood back up. “Who?”
“The woman with the headset and purple backpack. She is too aware of her surroundings to really be listening to music. Since we stopped she has been looking everywhere except right at us.”
“For how long?”
“I first saw her at the train station just as you arrived.”
“Is she following me or you?”
“You. The white male wearing a Penn State sweatshirt is mine. I first saw him outside my bookstore. We’re going to need to lose them before we continue.”
I nodded and told him to follow me to the nearby Tiffany Jewelry shop. Luis Ramos, the manager is a friend of mine from my Jersey days. I knew he’d have my back on this one. I escorted Holmes through the front door and, after a quick talk with Luis, we exited through the back door into the alley. That should give us a few minutes before our tails realize we weren’t shopping for partner bands.
Holmes seemed satisfied and rushed us to our first stop, insisting that we had no time to lose.
Our stop was Barnes and Noble and, as it turned out, we had plenty of time to lose. We went up to the second floor café for some coffee, or as he called it, “afternoon tea.”
“So why are we here?” I hoped for a straight answer.
“Isn’t my fine company enough?” When I didn’t take his bait, he continued. “Margaret matched a frequent caller to the phone we found in Ms. Farraday’s office.”
“How come you call her Margaret and not Ms. Liang? You’re usually formal with women.”
“Because that is what she chooses to be called — Margaret — and really, there is no better description of her.”
How does she rate so highly while I get stuck with Watson? “So what did Margaret find?”
“That the caller used a false name, but Margaret knew who it really was. That woman is very intelligent.”
He had just given his highest praise to “that woman.”
Holmes went on. “According to her, the caller went under the alias of Alex Winters, but I think you know him better as Edward Jenkins.”
“Congressman Jenkins?” I had to admit that wasn’t what I’d expected.
“Yes. . . eighth district, I believe. And he maintains an apartment not far from the LBF offices.”
“Was the congressman the person who had you all bothered last night?”
Holmes’s face darkened. “I don’t get bothered, only concerned. And no, it wasn’t him I was concerned about. I found other names; one in particular that is too much for us to handle right now. Perhaps. . . soon.”
Bigger than a congressman? Congressman or not, maybe my worries are over. I tried to get him to tell me more, but when Holmes wants to avoid a topic, no interrogation technique can make him talk. Finally I said, “If we should be focusing on Jenkins, tell me why we’re sitting here sipping tea.” Coffee, I meant to say coffee. Damn him.
“You are about to find out; it would appear we have company.”
A bulky man, stuffed into a yellow polo shirt and jeans, lumbered toward us. Nothing conspicuous about this guy. “Friend of yours?”
“He is a business acquaintance.”
The man packed down on an empty seat at our table. “Here Mr. Holmes,” he said, sweat dripping down his lips. “It’s fully loaded.” He handed over a soft leather case. I didn’t have to be a detective of Holmes’s caliber to figure that it contained a laptop computer.
The yellow blimp spoke again. “I’ve included a shredder program that will eliminate anything you add to it. I don’t want to know how this computer was used. Leave it at the usual drop-off point — the Central Library’s lost and found.”
Holmes nodded. “Of course, my good man.”
“Good.” He pushed his bulk out of the chair and waddled off.
When he was out of earshot I asked, “A hacker who owes you a favor?”
“Actually, he is a Circuit City employee. And yes, he did owe me.”
That evening, I found myself standing in an apartment furnished only with a card-table and a few folding chairs. Somehow — and I’m not telling — Holmes got his hands on the keys to this place, and it was conveniently located one floor below an apartment rented by Alex Winters, a.k.a. Congressman Jenkins.
Holmes sat at the table and began setting up the laptop. After it booted, he inserted the now familiar blue flash thumb-drive into an open USB port.
“What’s wrong?” I said dryly. “Didn’t your man give you the password to use that thing?”
“Not at all, my dear Watson. I’m loading a Remote Access Trojan program.”
I’d remember reading about RATs in some pamphlet that had been passed around HQ. They have something to do with recording keystrokes; a way for hackers to steal passwords. I watched as Holmes swapped the blue thumb-drive for a pink one. “What’s that one for?”
“This is smoke and mirrors. . . a little something to be found if anyone looks too closely.”
“As in hiding a big crime with a smaller one? Yeah, that I get.”
“Indeed. But only if it is looked for.”
“So what’s the point of all this?”
“It turns out that Congressman Jenkins subscribes to an Internet phone plan. I’m loading the same software his service providers use to route data packets.”
“Let me guess — you have an acquaintance at the cable company.”
Holmes shook his head. “That, Watson, is the difference between us. I don’t guess. This program puts a virus on his computer via his cable connection. That virus will allow me to monitor the phone’s incoming and outgoing history.”
“Is that also how you’re getting the RAT on his computer?”
“Indeed.” He began typing in a series of commands, not looking up from the monitor. “Do you think Daniel Farraday knew about your affair with his wife?”
I sighed. So here it is, my time of reckoning. “How long have you known?”
He looked up at me, his expression unreadable. “It was easy enough to piece together. I knew you recognized the cell phone at LBF. You must have had one of your own to keep in contact with your Ms. Farraday. I suggest that you return it to Margaret. I’m sure she would appreciate the consideration.”
I took a deep breath and let it out. “Damn those phones!”
Holmes nodded. “Yes, but you can’t dispute their convenience. Margaret rents out phones to couples who want discretion. No worries about spouses finding unwanted phone numbers on phone bills. It is also my understanding that Margaret offers prepaid locations for rendezvous.”
“I don’t know anything about that. . . . Janis made all the arrangements. She gave me the phone and said she would take care of the bills. It was during my separation from Emma. Otherwise I wouldn’t have –”
Holmes held up a hand. “That is between you and Emma. I can only imagine her sense of betrayal if she found out, but my concern has only to do with your lack of honesty with me.”
“I never lied to you.” After an awkward silence, I added, “You have to understand. . . on the night she died, Janis was on her way to meet with me, not the congressman. And the next day it was me who was sent with the forensic guys to inspect the body in the alley.” The words kept rushing from my mouth. “I have no alibi. People might think she was blackmailing me and I killed her so Emma wouldn’t find out.”
Holmes rose from the folding chair and started pacing. “Yes, that would fit the facts. But they tell me a different story. It is a mistake to assume that you were the only one she was meeting with outside of her marriage. And then. . . .” He snapped his fingers. “Of course! That’s it!”
He stopped pacing and faced me. “Blackmail, of course! She was the one being blackmailed. That’s his modus operandi. Then he found out that her paramour was you. He must have had a good laugh at that. He no doubt knows of our collaborations.”
“He? He who?”
“Never mind that for now. You are being set up for murder.”
“What? But why?”
He flashed a rare full smile. “Why? For the most singular of reasons: to get at me. This is all part of a game, you see.”
“You’re insane! This isn’t about you.”
His eyes narrowed. “No, I suppose not. Currently this is about you not going to prison. I suspect we are on a deadline in finding you innocent. Like that cell phone we found at LBF, I suspect more and more evidence will miraculously appear linking you to Ms. Farraday. It was a time bomb. Inevitably, that phone would have been found by the next person assigned to Mrs. Farraday’s office.
“Come, we don’t need to stay here for the software to work. Mrs. Hudson will have someone come here to clean up.” He pulled his jacket off the chair. “Your house is probably under surveillance and –”
“Yeah, what’s up with us being tailed? The blackmailer?”
“I suspect not. Call your wife and make some excuse as to why you won’t be home tonight. Hopefully, she isn’t too used those type of calls. In any case, I’ve taken the liberty of booking you a room at the Ritz Carlton. I’m sure our observers won’t suspect that you’re hiding out at a 4 star hotel.”
“I can’t afford to stay at a place like that.”
“It’s taken care of, and without a paper trail. Just tell the concierge your name is Watson. You are expected.”
“You have a lot of friends.”
“I am a very agreeable person. Tomorrow morning I think we should visit your friend, the Tiffany store manager, and view the security tapes to see who may have followed us inside.”
“Are you sure? The place may be under observation.”
“One can only hope.”
I did as Holmes suggested and called Emma, then left for the Ritz. Sure enough, the concierge hooked me up with a set of room keys. Since I had no luggage to drop off, I went straight to the lounge and ordered a vodka tonic. As an added bonus, an attractive redhead appeared on the stool next to me. She was very flirty, but not in that pay-for-services sort of way, if you know what I mean. When the conversation started getting suggestive, I held up my hand to show my wedding ring.
She smiled. “That only makes things more exciting.”
I paid her bar tab and excused myself to go up my room, alone, in the hope of getting some sleep.
At exactly ten the next morning, I met Holmes in front of Tiffany’s. If we were right, there would be some excited observers on radios asking for instructions. I hated putting Luis in a comprising position, but Holmes felt the risk was minimal — and besides, Luis enjoyed playing undercover agent.
He led us to a wall of monitors in the store’s security office; each screen displayed a different angle of the showroom. He loaded a tape with yesterday’s date on it.
“Here,” he said, pointing at one of the monitors. “The two of you are walking in.” Then he fast-forwarded the tape for a few seconds and then froze the image. “And this guy walked in about 10 minutes after you left.”
My heart began beating in my ears.
Holmes pulled his pipe out of his jacket and tapped it against his palm. “I’d had my suspicions, but this confirms the worst of them.”
It was Jerry Reynolds. My partner.
Holmes laid a hand on my shoulder. “I wouldn’t take it personally. Come, let’s walk out the front door and greet the Great White Hunter.”
The next few seconds were foggy. I thanked Luis, I think, for his help and I heard Holmes (again, I think) phone Mrs. Hudson to tell her he was going to be late for lunch. Then I wiped my sweaty palms on my pants and nodded at Holmes, indicating that I was ready.
As we stepped out the front entrance, Jerry, the bastard, joined us in formation. “Hi Caleb.”
I looked at him. “I thought you were on vacation.”
“Who says I’m not?”
“You’ve got some strange ideas of relaxation.”
He sighed. “Let’s go someplace where we can talk.”
“Franklin Square, maybe?”
“No, not HQ. I haven’t had breakfast. I was thinking of Little Pete’s diner.”
Unless his goal was to torture me with cholesterol, this would not have been my first choice for interrogation. But I nodded and we made our way to the greasy diner a few blocks away.
The place wasn’t too crowded. There were a few people at the front counter and a couple of the booths were occupied. A swarthy man in jeans and a white t-shirt led us to a booth near the back. Jerry sat across from me and Holmes. “Why you?” I asked.
“Because I volunteered. The Feds know all about the Farraday woman and Congressman Jenkins. After Jenkins heard about her death, he called the FBI and spilled everything he knew about her. He reckoned her death was some sort of warning to him, but of what he wasn’t sure, or so he says. Me, I don’t trust politicians. Anyway, they traced her to you. Because you’re a cop, they played it straight and checked in with the chief. He called me back from Atlantic City.”
A curvy brunette, flashing a fake smile, came to our table to take our order. Jerry ordered an omelet and his favorite, double-fried hash browns. I ordered a coffee. Holmes just shooed her away.
“They asked me everything I knew about my buddy Caleb,” Jerry continued. “You know, crap like habit changes and all that. So I figured you must be in some major shit. Then they ask me about Emma. I tell them we’re so close our families hang out together on weekends. Then they hit me with a curve-ball and asked how long I’d known about you screwing Farraday.”
I unclench my jaw: “And did you know?”
He glared at me. “Of course not! Why would you trust your partner with shit like that?”
Holmes chuckled. “No, he is not very good with trust.”
We both ignored Holmes. “There was no reason to tell you,” I said. “She was married.”
“They told me all about the two of you. I asked them how they knew. Here’s the kicker.” He leaned forward. “They actually told me how they knew.”
Holmes chuckled again. “Of course they did.”
This time Jerry grabbed the bait. “Shut your faggot mouth!” He turned back to me. “They told me they’d already been following the Farraday woman because of her connection to the congressman. They already knew about the affair. They’d been tipped off that she might be blackmailing the man.”
I glanced at Holmes, but he wasn’t giving up anything. He just sat, grinning and enjoying the conversation.
“After a second tip, they discovered she was also screwing a cop — the same cop, as it turned out, who would be leading her murder investigation. You’re in deep, man.”
Holmes cleared his throat, and in the loudest tone I’ve ever heard from him, he said, “Why are you helping them set up Caleb?”
Holmes used my real name. Hell, he nearly shouted it. Everyone in the place was looking at him. Well, almost everyone. The woman sitting at the counter kept her eyes on the newspaper. Damn, Holmes was right. I looked at Jerry. “How many agents are here?”
Jerry’s eyes darted left and right. “I don’t know what you mean.”
Holmes sighed. “It’s elementary. There are two posing as customers and one posing as our server.”
“Fine,” Jerry said in a low voice. “They figure Caleb is part of some bigger organization. They won’t tell me anything else.”
“They’re only half-right,” Holmes said. “There is a something bigger, but Caleb doesn’t have any information to offer. He has been set up as a distraction. I, on the other hand, have something useful to trade in exchange for exonerating Caleb of any charges. I’ll even give you a free sample of what I can give the FBI. Despite his claims, no one was blackmailing the congressman. That was a bit of smoke to blind people to a real crime.”
Jerry sneered. “And what would that be?”
“Embezzlement. And Ms. Farraday’s tragedy gave him the perfect opportunity for some misdirection. Tell your FBI handlers that I have acquired a copy of the password and the routing number of a certain offshore account.”
“How about you give them to me? That way you don’t get arrested for obstruction of justice.”
Holmes smiled — a full smile. “Then the FBI will not get what they want and my staff of lawyers will get me back to my humble bookshop within 24 hours. Trust me, the greater inconvenience will be that experienced by the FBI.”
Jerry nodded. “You might be set free, but Caleb will be rotting away in prison for a long time.” His gaze shifted to me. “You hear that Caleb? If you’re lucky you might be out by the time of your daughter’s graduation.”
It took what little sanity I had left not to punch him in the face.
Holmes smiled again. “I’m not sure what charges you can level at my companion. A number of witnesses are able to back up Caleb’s alibi.”
What alibi? He must be bluffing. Unless of course, he wasn’t and there were a few of his handy acquaintances were ready to testify for me.
Holmes pulled out a pocket notebook, tore off a sheet, and slid it across the table to Jerry. “Arrest this man for the murder of Janis Farraday. That should restore the honor the Philadelphia constabulary.” He leaned back. “Everybody will get what they want.”
Jerry pocketed the paper and shook his head. “I don’t like this.”
Holmes shrugged. “Not my problem. I will allow no warrants or threats against my person or Caleb. If my conditions are not met by 8 pm tonight, at least some of the. . . shall I say, less-convenient materials concerning this matter will be passed on to The Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Times. I assume you have my number.” Holmes stood up and walked out of the diner. I followed.
Once we were outside, I asked, “Whose name was on that paper?”
“A contract killer.”
He told me the name, but I didn’t recognize it. “And you’re sure he killed Janis?”
“I’m sure enough to make a deal with the police. He was in town on the night in question and he is often in the employ of. . . well, someone that I will have to deal with. Still, it’s enough for the local police to save face on a stalled investigation.”
“Will they take your offer?”
He nodded. “They will.”
“The thing I still don’t understand is what was up with the cell phones?”
“I believe she actually had both phones with her that night. Our killer didn’t know which to bring back to his master, so he grabbed them both.”
“And why kill her at all?”
“To gain control over Congressman Jenkins. He kept the phone to guarantee Jenkins’s loyalty. But once my opponent found out about you, the game changed. Now, I have to leave you for awhile. I need to leave something to the library.” He raised his hand and a familiar taxi pulled over.
Once alone, I figured I’d head for HQ and register for some time off. I’m sure the department won’t shed a tear over my absence for awhile. Maybe I’ll spend more time with my family.
Someone wrapped their arm around mine and I started.
It was Margaret. “I have some good news for you. You aren’t being followed anymore.”
“Unless you count.” I looked down at her. Man, I swear she fell out of some fashion magazine.
“I always count.”
“Did you know about me and Janis all along?”
Margaret smiled. “Longer than Holmes, at least.”
“Why didn’t you ever come forward and tell the police?”
She laughed, but because she somehow made even that sexy, I wasn’t offended. “I enjoyed watching how it all played out,” she said.
“What is it with this game that everyone is playing?”
“I noticed you don’t like games much — at least not with red-heads.”
“The hotel bar? One of yours?”
“Holmes has his way of getting information and I have my way.”
“Oh not just feminine. I have something for all preferences.”
“Is that how you get information from Holmes?”
She laughed again. “Holmes? You should not rely on your partner as a source of information. Despite Detective Reynolds’s billing, Holmes is not a fag. Trust me. I know.”
Great. Everyone seems to know everything — except for me. I sighed. “How did you know what Jerry said?”
“My girls aren’t as easy to detect as the FBI. Perhaps even Holmes was unaware.”
Just as I was wondering whether anyone at little Pete’s was an actual customer, a taxi pulled over and Philippe got out. He opened a back seat door and, surprise, surprise, there sat Holmes and Mrs. Hudson.
Mrs. Hudson’s eyes glowered with disapproval at the sight of Margaret. Margaret smiled at her and leaned over to kiss my cheek. After a quick nibble on my earlobe, she whispered, “Don’t trust the old woman.”
At this point no one had to tell me not to trust anyone. I was already there.
“Come, Watson,” said Holmes. “The game is afoot again and we have a villain to catch.”
“Are you going tell me who the mastermind behind all this is?”
“Why, Moriarty of course!”
Like I said before, the thing about Holmes is that he is delusional, or plays at it, but if he says there’s a Moriarty in play, then there really is a big fish out there somewhere. Certainly bigger than a Congressman. I wouldn’t admit it to him, but I was excited. I got in the taxi.