The Night Before

Dreyfus opened the door and turned on the light.  There were shoes under the side table.  Shoes?  And no umbrellas.  He dropped his in the stand.  And coats hanging in the hall.  And a suitcase?  One and one and one sometimes equal two.  Emily had come to London, and she’d brought a friend.  Who was apparently planning to stay?  Dreyfus shook the rain off his coat and hung it on an open hook.  He turned into the loft that was dark except for the task light over the sink.  He flipped the hall light off and waited until his eyes adjusted.  It was less than a minute before the light from the city silhouetted two women sitting on the terrace.  Curiouser and curiouser!  He walked across the room.  He didn’t know whether they’d seen the hall light or not and he didn’t want to startle them, so he made clumsy noises opening the door.  Both women, who were sitting at the table, facing the river, turned.

“Ms. Miller …” Dreyfus said, stepping outside.  He saw the teapot and swallowed the rest of the remark.  Then he sat down at arm’s length from the table so he could see them both.

“A night like tonight, you two should be sitting by the fire.”

“No, the river’s fine,” Emily said without looking at him.

There was quiet — not silence. The rain played on the water below them like low oboe murmurs.  Across the river, the city hummed and moved, slow motion lights wet with whispers. Somewhere a drifting siren, somewhere the faraway rhythm of steel on steel tracks for trains — and there and again long orphan sounds with no names, swallowed by the drizzling city lights and the night and the darkness.  It was wordless melancholy, and Dreyfus could feel it surrounding the two women.

“I should – uh – I – uh – I should go.” Janet just couldn’t anymore and fussed with her teacup.    

Emily put her hand up and shook her head.  She turned and looked at Dreyfus and sat up in her chair.

“We’ve had some bad news, today.  Terrible news.  Do you remember Monica?”

Dreyfus didn’t, but it was important, so he nodded and made a sound like agreement.

“They were here a couple of years ago.  We went for drinks and the next day we went shopping — remember?  And you met us for tea at Harrods.”

Dreyfus remembered now.  He could count on one finger the number of times he’d had tea at Harrods.  He rushed to fill in the pieces.  Attractive woman, boarding school hair, clothes off the rack and – uh – John? – no – James?  James.  And a daughter – pretty thing, knees and elbows, twelve going on twenty-five.  Practically curtsied when he held her coat for her.

“She lost her daughter.”

Janet twisted her neck and looked away, and Dreyfus could see the glisten in Emily’s eyes.  This was bad.

“The police found her in the back of a car with a needle in her arm.”

Janet moved abruptly.  Her chair pushed the table and the cups rattled on their saucers.

“I can’t do this.” Her voice was wet, “I can’t.  I have to go.   I – ah — God I can’t, really, I …”

Even in the darkness, Dreyfus could see her look was cornered, frightened, fleeing.  This wasn’t Janet Miller – not the one he knew.  It worried him.

“No, you’re not going anywhere in this.  There’s a bed upstairs.  Go up and lie down.  You’ve had a horrible shock.  We need to leave this for tonight, and you need to try get some sleep.  The bed’s there.  Go.”

Janet looked at Emily.  Emily moved her head, stood up, and offered her hand.  “Come, I’ll show you.”  Janet stood up and obediently followed her to the door.

“The stairs.  Straight up.”  And hugged her friend.  For a time, the rain fell into the river.  And sometime later, Emily came back out onto the terrace.

“I’ll take that drink, now.”

Dreyfus went in, poured two glasses and came back outside.  He handed one to Emily and sat down in Janet’s chair.  They both took a serious mouthful.  It was warm in the wet night.

“She’s very shaken.  How about you?”

“Jans was JJ’s godmother.  I am too, but it wasn’t the same.  Monica just included me because the three of us were at school.  For Jans, it was special.  She even went to see her last November . . .  yeah, left the country.  And they were talking about having her come up to Pyaridge for part of her summer holiday.”

There was more quiet.

“She wasn’t an addict, Dreyfus.”

Dreyfus didn’t answer.  One hit, two hits, twenty – it didn’t matter – the white powder didn’t care.  This JJ wasn’t the first teenager to experiment with evil and find it unforgiving.

The rain and the river continued, finding each other in the night and travelling together to the faraway sea.

“I don’t ask you for much.”

“You don’t ask me for anything.”

“I’m asking you for this.”

“Alright,” Dreyfus agreed.

“Come with us to Florence and find the men who did this to that poor little girl.   And make sure that they never do it to anyone else.”

Dreyfus looked out into the rain.  He sipped his whisky and turned to look at Emily.  She looked back at him.

“You need to be sure.  I’m not a policeman.”

Emily didn’t move her eyes.  “I don’t want a policeman.  They don’t deserve a policeman.  She was sixteen.”

Jonathan McCormick

“You never met my father?” Jonathan McCormick leaned back in his chair.  Dreyfus was impatient, but it was story time and he didn’t interrupt. “No, no, of course not.  We brought you in to solve that problem.  I remember.  You and I were just kids, then.”  (Actually, Jonathan McCormick was 21 years older than Dreyfus, almost to the day.)  There was a short moment while McCormick looked out at the grey London skyline.  Then he swivelled his chair just slightly and pointed to a conversation group, across the big room, on his right.  “You know he died in that chair.  That one.  The one I use.”  Dreyfus was suddenly interested.  “I had it all redone.”  McCormick flicked his fingers dismissively.  “And if you look closely, you can see I couldn’t quite match the leather, but it’s the same chair.  Henshaw says there’s enough McCormick blood soaked into the wood of that chair that it could be a relative.”  McCormick paused again. “That’s how she got the scar.”  McCormick touched his cheek.  “They shot her on the way in.  A couple of secretaries downstairs, Norton from security, old Matheson who used to work the lift — it was a terrible day.”  McCormick slowly shook his head, “We had a week of funerals.”  McCormick turned to face Dreyfus across the desk.       

“I kept the bullets, you know, all of them.  The boys at the Met were just hopping.”  McCormick blew a flippant gust of air, “But they weren’t going to trace them anyway.  Those guns were in the Thames before the Yard even got the call.  Nancy says it’s ghoulish, but it’s not as if they’re on the mantel.  They’re not a shrine.  Just a reminder.”

“Oh, so this is where it’s going,” Dreyfus thought and relaxed a bit.

“My father got all those people killed because he didn’t mind his own business.  He wanted to change the world, and he clashed antlers with a bad bunch who like it the way it is.”  McCormick looked at nothing through the Moon gate behind Dreyfus’ head.  “But,” he snapped back to life, “Blood under the bridge, I suppose.  So, what do we have?  Personal time and an introduction.  Alright.  Let’s call this a leave of absence.  Take whatever time you need.  Come back when you’re ready.”

(Dreyfus translated, “If you must.  Do what you have to do, do it quickly and don’t involve me.”)

“Now, an introduction.”  McCormick thought for a second, “We have a few friends in Florence, but I don’t imagine you want to have tea with Donna Ferragamo? Without knowing …” McCormick stopped, looked directly at Dreyfus and frowned a suspicion, “You’re not moonlighting for Michael Elliott and that crowd down in Pimlico, are you?”

“No,” Dreyfus shook his head, “As I said, strictly personal.”  He opened his hand in front of him.

McCormick nodded and looked toward the Moon gate, “Alright, I don’t pry.  Henshaw!”

“Yes,” the voice was mechanical and tinny.

“I need the particulars for Riccardo Ciampi, and give Sinclair a copy when he leaves.” McCormick dropped his eyes back to Dreyfus.  “When are you leaving?”

“We have a flight tomorrow morning.”

McCormick noted the “we,” but his expression didn’t change.

“Leave it with me.  I’ll telephone today.  He’ll know you’re coming and you can settle anything else between the two of you.  I’ve never met Riccardo, but we’ve worked with the family and they’re business people.”  McCormick stood up and, despite his best efforts, couldn’t resist, “But remember they’re Italian – family first.”  He stepped around the desk.  For a second, Dreyfus thought he was going to shake hands or something equally awkward, but McCormick walked over, sat in his father’s chair and opened the file he was carrying.

“Keep me informed,” he said — without looking up.  It was the end of the conversation, and Dreyfus turned without another word and left.  Henshaw handed him a slip of paper on the way out.  He read it and put it in his pocket as he stepped into the elevator beside Alan who worked the key for the ground floor.

A couple of minutes later, when Dreyfus was safely back on the street, Henshaw walked through the Moon gate.  McCormick looked up from his file.

“When you want to know what sort of mischief bad boys are getting up to, who do you talk to?”

“Their mums.”

“I’ll need Martina Ciampi’s telephone number.”

Henshaw shook the paper in her hand.  “On your desk.”

The Villa in Tuscany

Two men were dead, lying in spreading crimson pools, and the third was wheezing scarlet bubbles out of a couple of large calibre chest wounds.  Dreyfus smoothly took the empty clip out of the Beretta, put it in his pocket, and replaced it with a new one.  He slid the chamber back to load it and, trying to keep the fierce out of his voice, said, “Breathe, Emily.  Slowly.  It’s over.  Breathe.”

Emily, who was cowered half-hidden by a lounge chair with her arms covering her head was shaking so badly she thought she’d never breathe again.

Dreyfus waited.  There shouldn’t be anyone else in the house, but he wasn’t ready to take that on faith.  Just in case, he held the gun loosely on his arm for that nanosecond reaction time advantage.  The truth was Dreyfus Sinclair was not a very good shot.  On a static range, he could hit what he was aiming at – most times – but he was never going to win any prizes.  The reason he always walked away (so far) from deadly altercations is he didn’t hesitate.  And when you empty a 14 shot clip into anything that moves in a confined space, you’re not only going to hit something, you’re going to hit everything.  The three men on the floor were testament to that.

He kept his eyes on the far entryway, avoiding the big afternoon sunlight that slanted through the terrace windows.  The place was nice — wine and bread nostalgic Italian, probably built for a Mussolini grandee and, 80 years later, rented by the week or the month to rich tourists, minor film stars and, apparently, Albanian gangsters.  They were never going to get the blood stains off that lamp shade or out of the rugs.  It was an idle thought.  The man on the floor gurgled and died.  Dreyfus didn’t look down.

On the edge of his peripheral vision, he caught Emily unfolding and putting herself against the wall.  She pulled her knees up in front of her.  Her eyes were closed, and she was heave breathing against the rush of adrenaline sickness.  “Slowly,” he reminded her calmly.  “Deep breaths.”  Dreyfus glanced back to the terrace, but it really was over.  They needed to go.  It was always best to leave the scene of the crime quickly before the unexpected happened.  But they needed to wait — at least until Emily put some strength back into her trembling knees.  It wouldn’t take long.  Lady Perry-Turner was stiff upper lip resilient.  Dreyfus had seen this before and he knew enough to let her handle it.  They had time – not much – but time enough.  Dreyfus vaguely wondered why all Tuscan landscapes looked the same.  He had a vision of an army of paint-by-number artists turning them out in a warehouse west of Rome.  Was this one paint or a print?

“Did you kill them all?”

Emily wasn’t particularly bloodthirsty, but these men had been scaring the life out of her for the last three days.  No, they hadn’t touched her.  In fact, they’d been utter professionals and had barely even looked at her really, but Emily had been attacked by a group of men once before and she was under no illusion that she could effectively defend herself if they decided to be nasty.  And now that that unrelenting fear and tension had been released, it felt good to get a kick in.

“No, the two at the gate ran.  They’re halfway back to Florence by now.”

“Are we in trouble?”  Emily stretched her legs out.

With three men dead on the floor, it was a strange question.

“Not really.”  Dreyfus had already warned the Albanians, and he knew from experience that–as long as you didn’t start murdering family members — they were businessmen.  They would tally up their losses and get on with it.  Eight dead, two running and a burning truckload of transplantable organs and unfertilized eggs was a considerable loss.  They’d played their hand with Emily, but now that she was off the table, they were likely to want a truce.  Dreyfus wasn’t actually willing to let them off that easily, but he also knew his boss, Jonathan McCormick, was not going to let him beat on a potential client indefinitely.  So he’d already decided to give his information to the Italians and let them do the dirty work.

“But we need to go,” he said.

“Home?”

“Soon.  Grab whatever you don’t want to lose, and let’s go.”

“All I want is my jewelry.”

Dreyfus shrugged and put the Beretta back in its holster.  Emily slid up the wall.  She was still a little shaky but managed to navigate down the hall to the bedroom.  She opened her luggage, pulled out a couple of leather cases and put them in a shoulder bag.  She turned away, thought about it, turned back and found some underwear.  She balled them up and stuffed them into her bag. “With Sinclair, soon could mean anything,” she thought, and hurried back down the hallway.