By Harris Allgeier
September 18th, 6PM, 13 days ago.
Everything seemed to slow down. Moses felt the adrenaline rush through his veins and his body went rigid. The small balding man prodding the pistol into his side pushed the metal tip of the firearm in further.
“I hope you’re not thinking of attempting anything foolish, Mr. Goodreau.” Moses gritted his teeth, exhaled and forced his tensed shoulders to drop.
“Who the hell are you?” The balding man kept the gun trained on Moses and went through his pockets, patting him down. Satisfied that Moses wasn’t packing heat, he withdrew the gun from Moses’ side, but kept it level with his head.
“Awfully brave to be asking questions at a time like this, Mr. Goodreau.” The bald man smiled. “But I respect that, to a degree.” He spoke with a thick Eastern-European accent. Something from the Balkans, possibly the Ukraine. “My name is Yuri, but that is not important. You are being taken somewhere. Where is also unimportant.”
“You’re pretty big on useless information, buddy. You wanna tell me anything worth my while? Maybe why you’re holding that piece on me?”
Yuri tilted his head to the side and chuckled, a singular guttural “ha” passing out the side of his mouth. Moses took a moment to size him up. He was short, maybe 5’4, but stocky and barrel-chested. He wore a tight-fitting button up that was in dire need of a wash and smelled of wet earth. His age was hard to discern; he had a thick, worn face, and the flesh under his eyelids drooped into two sets of wrinkles that exposed the pink gummy tissue surrounding the eye. As Moses sized him up, Yuri tilted his head to the left and muttered to the driver—something in a language Moses didn’t understand.
The driver curtly responded “Pätnásť. Zabaľte ho.”
Moses said nothing and watched as Yuri reached down to the floor of the car and produced a brown burlap sack.
“Mr. Goodreau, if you please.” He said, tossing the sack to Moses and gesturing. Moses slid the sack over his head. It smelled of cold damp dirt. He didn’t have much choice. He waited. Time slid by. Passing light filtered through the thick burlap weave. The smell of wetness, of soil, smothered Moses’ senses. They passed through a tunnel. After an hour or so he felt the car stop. He started to shift in the seat, tugging on the sack. The sharp jab in his side let him know Yuri wasn’t too fond of the idea.
“Patience, Mr. Goodreau. A few moments longer.”
Moses grunted in assent as he felt himself being tugged from the car. He heard the crunch of gravel. Smelled musty earth. He felt himself pass through a doorway, then another. Several. He couldn’t tell how many. Suddenly he was very warm, his sweat making the bag cling to his neck. Moses wished he’d put on deodorant. Then the pushing stopped. He felt carpet beneath his shoes. A door creaked open, obscuring the muttering of one of the thugs. Then he heard the voice.
“By no means, by no means at all, my friend.”
It was a rich, lustrous baritone with a faint English accent. It reminded Moses of red velvet-backed chairs, roaring fireplaces, and large decanters of port. The voice spoke again:
“Take it off then, take it off.”
The sack was torn from Moses’ head. He squinted. The blinding fluorescent light illuminated a tall, thin figure standing behind a desk. As the room drifted into focus the figure became clearer. The man was draped in an ill-fitting dark blue suit. Moses had expected someone larger, a tubby man with a cigar and a cummerbund. The man before him was a good deal over six feet with greasy black hair plastered to a pale forehead. His suit hung off him like a wet towel.
Moses’ examination was disrupted by a heave of the thin man’s chest.
“Mr. Goodreau,” he began, “I suppose you’re wondering why you’ve been brought here.”
“May have crossed my mind,” Moses replied, narrowing his eyes and chewing his lip.
“It will be explained in good time, in good time, my friend. First allow me to introduce myself. My name is Oliver.”
“Is it now?” Moses sneered.
“Of course not, Mr. Goodreau. But we must have something to call each other now, mustn’t we?”
“Now look here, buddy, Mr…”
“Oliver,” Oliver chimed in.
“Oliver. Be straight with me. What’s this about? We can sit here and use false names and beat around the bush all damn night or you can cut to the chase and let me know what you want and we can start to do business.”
“Ah! Right to the heart of the matter!” Oliver blustered. “An admirable trait. And business is exactly what I would like to do with you. Your reputation as a man of… commerce precedes you.”
“Uh huh. I’m sure it does. So what do you want?” Moses spat.
“Ah yes.” The thin man dragged a hand across a desk, picked up a small manila folder, licked his lips, and drew out a faded photograph. “You recently entered into the employ of one Chelsea Hopkins, correct?”
“Why ask questions you already seem to know the answer to?” Moses tersely replied.
“Because, in any business relationship it is important to establish trust, Mr. Goodreau. I need to know if you’re being forthright with me.” Moses took a deep breath, ground his teeth and set his jaw.
“And the business of my clients is confidential,” Moses said, rising from the chair.
No sooner had he reached his feet than he heard a “click”. He glanced over his shoulder; Yuri was standing a few feet behind him, the too familiar pistol pointed at his back.
“Mr. Goodreau, please be reasonable,” Oliver said, spreading his palms open. “I think we can dispense with formalities.” Moses advanced towards the desk, heard Yuri quickly step up behind him, and felt the heavy breath on his neck as the pistol once again jammed itself into his ribcage. Oliver quickly waved his hand.
“YURI!” he spat, his eyes widening. “Yuri please, there’s no need for violence. Mr. Goodreau will behave himself.”
“No guarantees.” Moses said. Yuri jammed the gun further into his side.
“There is nothing stopping me from putting a bullet in your side, wise ass,” Yuri hissed. “You want to know what it’s like to feel your intestines empty right onto the floor?” He jabbed Moses again. Oliver stepped around the side of the desk. Yuri withdrew the gun and backed away into a dark corner of the room.
“Yuri, please. Mr. Goodreau, we seem to have started off on the wrong foot. Allow me to get to the point. You accepted a job offer from one Chelsea Hopkins to investigate the recent activities of Mr. Gibson Culver. I have a very vested interest in Mr. Culver and I would appreciate it greatly if-“
“If I saw myself out?” Moses interjected. “And exactly how much would you appreciate that, monetarily speaking?”
Oliver paused, raised a single eyebrow and let out a long, hollow chuckle. The sound seemed to emanate not from Oliver himself, but from something somewhere deep within his chest, something rich and raspy, something grotesquely secret.
“Oh Mr. Moses, you misunderstand entirely. I do not wish you to abandon your current investigation. Quite the contrary. I would like to help you pursue it.”
“Excuse me?” Moses queried.
“Simply put, I, like Ms. Hopkins, have a considerable interest in Mr. Culver’s activities and I believe it would be beneficial to have someone looking after that interest for me.” Moses cracked his knuckles and bit his cheek. Suddenly with a quick, frustrated swing he brought his fist down on the metal desk.
“Mr. Oliver, I’ve had it just about up to here. I’ve been poked, prodded, kidnapped and threatened and I am finished with it. I’m finished blundering around in the dark waiting for you to get straight with me. But you won’t. You play coy and you let your little Slavic friend take pokes at me and I won’t have it. Either you can tell me what’s going on or you can shoot me, but I’m done with this dance so either learn a new step or find yourself another partner.”
“Mr. Goodreau! I am trying to be as straightforward as-”
“Try harder.” Moses said.
Oliver paused, thought something over and began again.
“Mr. Goodreau, Ms. Hopkins presented herself to you as Mr. Culver’s fiancé, yes?” Moses said nothing.
“Of course she did. There’s no need for your affirmation, I know this is how she presented herself. Well, Mr. Goodreau, would it surprise you at all to learn that is not the case? That in reality Ms. Hopkins and Mr. Culver have been apart for quite a few months now.”
“You don’t say?” Moses flatly replied.
“I do, I do say. The fact is that Ms. Hopkins’ interests are very similar to my own, and that neither she, nor I, have any great concern for Mr. Culver’s well-being.”
“And how, exactly, do you know this?” Moses asked.
Oliver chuckled. “Do you really think you are the first agent Ms. Hopkins has attempted to employ? The first person I’ve regrettably been forced to intercept?” Moses said nothing. Oliver waited a few moments for a response, shrugged and continued. “You are, by my count, at least the third person Ms. Hopkins has used to try to reach Mr. Culver.”
“In order to do what?” Moses tersely asked.
“Mr. Goodreau, I realize my vagueness is frustrating but believe me, it is better for both of us—better for you—if you know as little as possible. Suffice to say, Mr. Culver has come into possession of something that isn’t his, something that is mine. Something with a great deal of personal value that Ms. Hopkins would have for herself. This I cannot allow.” Moses said nothing. Oliver waited, again anticipating a question. “The object in question is an old family heirloom of mine. It is an idol, a small wooden statuette, an exaggerated bust of a man representing Ca’ius, an ancient pagan god of some nominal power.”
“What is this, a Bogart movie?”
“I’m highly aware of the… peculiar nature of my problem, Mr. Goodreau.”
“So why me? Why not just leave me alone? I don’t have anything you want, I didn’t know jack about this idol beforehand and I sure don’t know anything else about it now. I’m not even sure there is one. All I did was meet a woman and accept a job. That’s no reason for you to swoop in and abduct me.”
“True, we may have acted prematurely, but after… well, after the last two times, I thought it was better to act early and, you know, better safe than sorry and all that.”
“Better safe than sorry for what?”
“Mr. Goodreau,” Oliver began “Ms. Hopkins is not who she purports herself to be. She is a dangerous woman and merely by associating with her you have placed yourself in a greater amount of jeopardy than you could imagine. This idol, this thing, is very valuable to me. To me, and no one else. It has no market value. It is a personal possession and Ms. Hopkins seeks to obtain it only to do me a great sleight. You are known as a man of reason, a man who gets the job done and a man who can be bargained with. Your current status is of use to me. You have, if not Ms. Hopkins’ trust, then at least a marginal amount of her confidence, and that is worth its weight in gold. I will pay you double whatever Ms. Hopkins has offered and she need not know of your involvement with me at all. I want you to find Gibson Culver and discover his activities of late. Your reward will be handsome.”
“I see.” Moses said contemplatively.
“Now I would hate to have to resort to anything resembling violence, Mr. Goodreau, it’s really not my way, but if necessary Yuri here can be a very persuasive individual.” Moses looked over his shoulder. Yuri grinned in the corner.
“I think we may be able to do business, Mr. Oliver.”
“Splendid, Mr. Goodreau, splendid.”
Moses narrowed his eyes. “Only I’ll be taking my cut out of whatever that idol’s worth. You can tell me now or I can find out myself when I have it, but either way I know this payday has to be much larger than anything the Hopkins girl promised.”
Oliver smiled. “Of course, Mr. Goodreau. Very astute of you. The idol is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of five million dollars. Of course it could never be sold for that amount, it’s not exactly…” he paused searching for an elusive word, failing, he continued. “Well, suffice to say I think that two hundred thousand should cover it nicely.”
“Better make it five,” Moses coolly replied.
“Four,” said Oliver. “And need I remind you, Mr. Goodreau, that you are not in a terribly strong negotiating position here.”
“Fine,” Moses smirked. “Four it is. So what do you want me to do?”
“Find Mr. Culver, use Ms. Hopkins to get to him, pump her for whatever she can give you and when you’re sure of where he has stashed the idol, tell me before you tell her.” Oliver paused and smiled. “I think this will be a very profitable endeavor for us both. Now, if you don’t mind…Yuri, please show Mr. Goodreau out.
The sack was pulled once more over Moses’ head and he was tugged out the door. In the background he heard something close, a briefcase maybe, and the wind howled outside.
Moses felt himself pushed back up a familiar path; he heard the doors swing open and shut. He waited and counted. One. Two. Three. As he reached four, Moses hit the step he knew was there and fell forward onto the gravel drive outside the building they’d emerged from. He heard Yuri and the other man yell something as he crumpled to the ground. He tensed his muscles, thought about his odds and waited. As soon as he felt a hand on his coat he reached down and grabbed a big fistful of cold wet pebbles and threw it. A sharp yell let him know he’d connected with something. He scrambled to his feet and tore the sack off his head. His eyes barely registered a large industrial building, fluorescent outdoor lamps illuminating the outline of a man rubbing his eyes with one hand, waving a gun erratically with the other and shouting while a darker, larger shape barreled towards him. Moses turned and ran. He could hear the man behind him screaming, the rapid crunching of two sets of feet blistering along the gravel drive as he delved deeper into the night, sprinting as fast as his legs would allow away from the light, away from the man waving the gun. He saw a fence, about sixty feet ahead, a small chain link barrier between him and a dense looking wood. He heard a bang, more yelling, this time more distant. He poured on as much speed as he had left. He was at the fence. He glanced over his shoulder. The dark shape was there, rushing towards him. A few feet behind it, the one with the gun jogged, arm extended, the barrel of the gun haplessly drifting like an errant moth. Moses gripped the fence, felt the cold metal dig into his palms and hoisted himself over. He stopped looking back and ran. He ran and ran and ran. He didn’t stop till he was well within the adjacent wood. The dark shapes, Yuri and the driver, were nowhere to be seen.
September 13th, 10 PM, 13 days ago.
Moses had found his way to a main road, Buckland Dr., and hailed a cab. He made a note of the street but doubted that a return would accomplish much. If the man Oliver had any brains he’d be long gone by the time Moses could get around to coming back. Moses took out his phone, an older model, and checked his messages. Five text messages and two calls, both from Janine. He ignored them and let the cab weave its way back into the city, listlessly watching the streams of traffic lights and billboards as the yellow car weaved its way into the densely beating heart of the city at night.
By the time he reached Janine’s apartment, Moses’ head was spinning. There wasn’t much he could do but pick up where he’d left off, but that’d have to wait till morning. As he trudged through the entryway he shed his coat, letting the gabardine grey thing fall to the floor. The cat would doubtlessly roll in it and Janine would almost certainly complain about his messy habits in the morning, but Moses was tired. Only as he made his way into the hall did he notice the smell.
It was sharp and tangy at first, then sour and rotten. Moses recognized it instantly and burst into a run toward the bedroom.
He screamed “JANINE!” as he threw the door open. The smell was thicker, deeper here and it almost suffocated Moses as he stepped into the room. He closed his throat as tightly as he could manage to keep the welling bile in his stomach down. He heard a nauseating squelch; there was a sticky pool at his feet. Moses fumbled for the light switch. As light flooded the room Moses clutched his chest, desperate to stop the emergence of swiftly rising vomit.
The cat was dead.
Good thing he hadn’t fed it.
A few hours and several containers of bleach later Moses had extracted the feline’s remains from the apartment. Janine wasn’t responding to his calls or messages. He searched frantically for a note, turning over furniture, appliances, everything. There was nothing. No note, no obvious clue, no convenient matchbook or business card left behind. Terror welled within his chest. Memories of Janine, regrets, a thousand might-have-beens played across his brain in fast-forward. Moses sunk to the floor and thought over what to tell the police. His phone rang. He answered.
“Moses Goodreau?” The voice was unfamiliar, trembling, male.
“I have her, I have the girl.”
There was silence. Moses’s face burned, his hand clenched the phone tightly.
“Who are you?” There was a pause. Moses heard heavy breathing. He repeated, louder “Who are you?” Silence. Moses shouted “What do you want?!”
The man spoke. “Tomorrow, 11 PM. Mulburnt Park. The first bench near the restrooms. Be there and bring the idol.
“What?” Moses exclaimed. “I don’t have the-” Moses heard a distinctive click. Silence. The call was ended. Moses slammed his fist into the floor. A new wave of sickness washed over him. He grabbed his coat and stormed outside.
He wouldn’t sleep much that night.
To be continued in Moses Goodreau and the Matter of the False Idol: Part 3
Drawing by Anna Baldwin