TWENTY-TWO

‘What kind of favor?’ says Gonzo.

‘I need you to look after something for me.’

‘Like what?’

‘A package. I can’t talk about it now. I’ll explain when I see you.’

A lengthy silence. ‘Detective Doyle, it’s really good speaking with you again, but you’re being very mysterious here.’

‘I know. I’m sorry. It’ll all be clear when we meet. What’s your address?’

‘My address? You mean now? You want to deliver this package right now?’

‘Is that a problem?’

‘Well. . yes it’s a problem. This is Friday night, Detective. I have plans, you know?’

‘What, you got a girl coming over? You hitting the clubs? What?’

‘Paradoxia.’

‘What?’

‘Paradoxia.’ He says it like the meaning should be obvious.

‘Gonzo, you’re talking gibberish. Is that a new nightclub or something?’

‘You never heard of Paradoxia? Where have you been, Detective? Paradoxia is only the hottest online game ever invented. I’m right in the middle of an all-night session here.’

Doyle hears the whoosh of a hand-drying machine as a washroom door is opened here in the coffee shop.

‘Gonzo, are you gonna help me out here or what?’

Gonzo sighs. ‘All right, Detective. But only because I like you, okay?’

He reels off an address, and Doyle files it in his brain.

‘I’ll be right over.’ He cuts the call just as Tabitha gets back to the table.

‘Last minute preparations,’ he explains. ‘You okay?’

She nods.

‘Then let’s go.’

‘This is it?’ she says. ‘This is your safe house?’

He gets the feeling she’s not impressed with this address on Henry Street in the Lower East Side. He’s not sure why. The signs on the store fronts are at least translated into English below the Chinese. The imposing sight of the Manhattan Bridge looming over the street is a whole block away. And the graffiti covering the front of the building they’re about to enter isn’t even pornographic.

Doyle buzzes and gets an immediate answering buzz. He pushes open the door and heads upstairs, Tabitha trailing cautiously behind. The air is heavy with the scent of Chinese food, and from behind one of the doors comes the sound of raised voices. It sounds heated to Doyle, but he’s not au fait with the tongue or the culture. For all he knows, it could be anything ranging from a murder in progress to a discussion about the cost of noodles.

He continues up to the third story and finds the door of Apartment 32, the number Gonzo gave him. He puts down the bag and knocks heavily on the door.

When Gonzo opens up, Doyle sees that he’s wearing a pair of blue-and-white striped undershorts and a T-shirt emblazoned with the message, ‘Normal service will resume as soon as possible.’

Gonzo gives Doyle one of his idiotic smiles. It fades quickly when his eyes refocus to take in the figure hidden in the gloom behind the detective.

Doyle moves to one side with the intention of introducing his companion. He sees that Gonzo and Tabitha seem to have locked eyes. Their expressions tell him it’s not love at first sight.

‘Uh, Tabitha Peyton, meet Gonzo. . just Gonzo.’

The two of them continue to stand there in silence, still engaged in the staring competition. Tabitha is the first to break it off.

‘Detective Doyle, can I speak with you for a moment?’

Doyle turns to Gonzo. ‘She wants to speak with me.’

Gonzo nods. ‘Okay.’ He doesn’t move.

‘In private,’ says Tabitha.

‘In private,’ Doyle repeats, like he’s the world’s worst translator.

Gonzo’s expression suggests that he still doesn’t get it, so Doyle has to motion to him to close the door.

‘Oh,’ says Gonzo. ‘Sure.’ He shuts the door gently, leaving Doyle and Tabitha in the hallway.

Tabitha’s voice is a harsh whisper: ‘Who the hell is that?’

‘I told you. Gonzo. He’s gonna look after you.’

Him? Look after me? I don’t think so. Is he a cop?’

‘He works for the NYPD.’

‘But not as a cop.’

‘Not exactly. But he’s a good guy. He’s helped me a lot. I can trust him.’

‘Trust him to do what? Does he have a gun? Is he Karate Kid? Was that Mr Miyagi I heard downstairs? Maybe he just stares people to death, is that it? What the hell is this Bonzo-’

‘Gonzo.’

‘Whatever. What the hell is he going to do if the killer shows up here? I think it’s more likely that I’ll end up protecting him, instead of the other way round.’

‘It’s not going to come to that. Nobody knows you’re here, and I know Gonzo won’t tell anyone. Please, give him a chance. You’ll like him, I’m sure. And it’s only for a day or two.’

She thinks about it.

‘You trust him? He’s not some kind of pervert?’

‘He’s totally harmless, I swear. He’s a computer geek. His idea of dirty talk is binary.’

She thinks some more.

‘All right. I’ll stay. But any funny business and I’m outta here. After I’ve kicked his ass.’

Doyle smiles and knocks on the door again. It opens immediately, Gonzo standing in exactly the same position he occupied before.

‘Yes?’ he says, as if the previous encounter has been wiped totally from his mind.

‘Uh, Gonzo. Here I am. Like I told you? On the phone?’

Gonzo’s eyes slide to Tabitha and then back to Doyle. ‘Is this okay? In front of. .’ He gives a subtle nod toward Tabitha.

‘Yes, Gonzo, it’s fine.’

‘Okay, so did you bring the, uhm, the — ’ his voice drops to a whisper ‘- the package?’

Doyle licks his lips. How to explain this?

‘Gonzo, this is Tabitha.’

Gonzo glances at her again. ‘Yeah, I know. We already did this. But about the-’

He halts himself. Looks again at Tabitha. Back to Doyle.

‘Detective Doyle, can we have a word?’

Jesus, thinks Doyle. Not again. Why does a simple thing have to turn out to be so fucking difficult?

‘I’m not leaving her alone out here, Gonzo. Either we all come in, or else Tabitha goes in and you come out.’

Gonzo shifts from foot to foot like he wants to pee. Finally making up his mind, he opens the door wider and waves Tabitha into his abode.

She looks with uncertainty to Doyle. He nods for her to go inside. As soon as she’s in, Gonzo slips out and pulls the door shut behind him.

‘Detective Doyle, you lied to me. You said a package. You mentioned nothing about a person. Especially one of the female persuasion. What are you trying to do to me?’

‘Gonzo, please. I need your help, okay? She’s in danger. The killer I’ve been trying to catch? He wants to kill Tabitha too. She needs somewhere she can hide for a coupla days.’

Gonzo’s voice rises a whole octave. Which, given the pitch of his natural voice, is pretty damned shrill. ‘He wants to kill her? And you bring her here? To my apartment? What’s wrong with your place?’

‘I would if I could, Gonzo. But the killer’s been watching me. He’s been checking up on me. If I take her back to my apartment she won’t last five minutes.’

‘But you’re a cop. Cops put people in protection programs all the time. What’s so different about her?’

Doyle hesitates. ‘I’m gonna level with you, okay? This is unofficial. The squad doesn’t know about this. In fact, nobody else in the NYPD knows about this.’

‘Why? I mean, why do you have to be so secretive? Why not just tell somebody?’

‘It’s a long story. It may come to that. For now, I need to put her with the only person I can trust. That’s you, Gonzo.’

Gonzo seems taken aback. For a second, Doyle is afraid the kid’s going to turn all misty-eyed. He presses home his advantage: ‘You wanted to get involved in police work? Well, this is as real as it gets. Helping people is what we do. Tabitha Peyton is a vulnerable citizen who needs our help. We can’t turn away someone like that.’

Pretty cheesy, he thinks. Like something straight out of a police recruitment video.

Gonzo breathes out heavily. ‘I guess not. All right, Detective. She can stay.’

‘Attaboy, Gonzo. You’re a terrific kid, you know that? You have a good heart. I’d be proud to partner up with you anytime. Here. .’

Doyle reaches into his pocket. Finds the button that Amy gave him. The one with ‘Captain Awesome’ written on it. He fastens it to Gonzo’s shirt.

‘Now you’re officially deputized.’

Gonzo stares at the button, then faces Doyle again. This time his eyes are definitely moist.

‘That’s pretty cool, Detective. I’m honored. I won’t let you down.’

‘I know you won’t. Come on, let’s go inside.’

Doyle picks up the bag and follows his new apprentice into the apartment. He’s not surprised to see that there are at least three different computers in here, plus some floor-standing hi-fi speakers and several piles of books and magazines. What does surprise him is that the room is also home to a large number of potted plants. He never took Gonzo for the green-fingered type.

Tabitha is standing next to the threadbare sofa, looking as if she dare not risk sitting on it.

She says, ‘I, uh, I couldn’t help noticing that this place has only one bedroom.’

‘The sofa’s comfy,’ says Gonzo. ‘If you stay away from that one spring near the back.’

Doyle coughs loudly into his fist, then sends thought waves over to Gonzo when he looks across. For once, Gonzo seems to receive the transmission without the need for further amplification.

‘So, uh, I can take the sofa, and you can have the bed. The sheets are okay. I changed them a week or so back.’

Tabitha curls a lip in disgust, then shoots Doyle a glare that says, What the hell have you gotten me into here?

‘Okay, good,’ says Doyle breezily. ‘I’m gonna leave you two to get to know each other. Before I do, I need to lay down some ground rules.’

They look at him like two teenagers being left on their own for the first time. Rules? Why do we need rules?

‘First of all, you stay in this apartment at all times. You don’t go out. You need food, order takeout. You need something you can’t get delivered, call me and I’ll pick it up for you. You see or hear anything strange, or you get any weird phone calls, you need to tell me immediately. Gonzo, you have my number. Call me anytime and I’ll come right over.’

Gonzo nods with enthusiasm. Being cooped up in here with all his food being delivered is probably no different from his usual existence outside of work. But Tabitha looks aghast.

‘This is worse than prison. I can’t live like this.’

‘It’s for a weekend. You can do it for that long.’

‘Can I make calls? I have to tell Mrs Serafinowicz what’s going on. She’ll be worried.’

‘You can call her in the morning, but whatever you do, don’t tell her where you are or why you’ve left her apartment. Tell her you’re okay, but you’ve decided to stay with friends for a while.’

She seems to agree to this, but her expression tells Doyle that she doesn’t see the need for all this secrecy. Doyle doesn’t want to tell her that, in his opinion, the killer would not baulk at torturing Mrs S if it meant discovering Tabitha’s location.

‘Okay,’ says Doyle, ‘I’m outta here. When I’m gone, put all the locks on the door. I’ll call you in the morning. Have fun, guys.’

He looks at Tabitha, discerns that fun is probably the last thing on her mind, and beats a hasty retreat.

‘One other thing, Gonzo.’

‘What’s that, Detective?

‘Put some pants on. There’s a lady present.’

Doyle hears the sirens. He sees the convoy of screaming radio cars, their roof lights bouncing color off the buildings as they hurtle toward Gonzo’s place.

And then they’re gone, and Doyle is blowing a sigh of relief and wiping the perspiration from his brow.

But the trigger for all this mayhem in his mind doesn’t relent. His cellphone. Practically somersaulting with urgency on his nightstand.

The fear comes crashing back. Gonzo? Is this Gonzo calling for help?

He snatches up the phone and thumbs the answer button.

‘Doyle,’ he says, and when he doesn’t get an immediate reply: ‘Hello? Hello?’

‘Where is she?’

Him. He’s discovered his mistake. And now he wants to put things right.

Well, think again, motherfucker. This is my show now.

‘Where’s who?’

‘Don’t be obtuse, Cal. We both know who we’re talking about.’

Doyle slips out of bed, leaving Rachel making murmurs of complaint behind him, and pads softly toward the living room.

‘I think you need to give me some clues. Hey, you could play some music. That might work.’

‘That’s very amusing, Cal. Enjoy yourself while you can. It’s not going to last. I’ll find her, with or without your help.’

‘Maybe. Maybe not. You fucked up. In a big way. You’re a big fucking disappointment. But I bet that’s not the first time you’ve heard that. I bet your mother told you that a lot.’

Silence. Doyle just hopes it’s filled with teeth-grinding anger and resentment. He hopes he’s got to the sonofabitch. How does it feel not to be in control of things for once, you pathetic fuck?

‘You blew it, Cal.’

It’s not the response Doyle was expecting.

‘Blew what? What the fuck are you talking about?’

‘Your reaction. All wrong. All the help I’ve been giving you, and this is how you repay me. No gratitude whatsoever. Just insults. So now you have to suffer the consequences. Maybe Tabitha Peyton is safe. For now. But she’s not the only one on my list. There are plenty of others. And so I think the next one will have to be something pretty spectacular to make up for Tabitha. I’m not sure I’m even going to offer you any help to work out who it is. Whoever it is, their death is on you, Cal. It’s all your fault.’

Sure, thinks Doyle. Like he’s going to stop if I give up Tabitha. He’s just trying to make me feel bad again. It’s the only way he has left to retaliate for the name-calling. It’s just another attempt to mind-fuck me, and it’s not even a very good one.

‘Whatever, man. Do what you have to. Time’s running out for you, and I am really looking forward to stringing you up. Start looking behind you, asshole. You got a cop on your tail.’

‘Do what I have to? You’re going to regret saying that, Cal. Someone is going to die, and it’s really going to be painful. For them and for you.’

‘What do you mean, painful for me? If you’re thinking about going anywhere near my family-’

He’s interrupted by a chuckle. ‘No, not your family. I keep telling you, I’m here to help. How would their deaths be classed as helping anyone? Now enjoy your day, Cal. I’ve heard the weather’s going to be nice again.’

He hangs up. Doyle checks the time on his phone and sees that it’s four in the morning. He weighs up the good news against the bad. The good news is that the killer doesn’t know where Tabitha is, and so she’s safe for the moment. The bad news is that someone is about to die in her place.

And he has no idea who.

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