Sandro drove. He drove slowly, through the narrow streets of Philadelphia, turning here, turning there, going no place in particular, which just then was about the worst place I could imagine.
“I was waiting for your call,” said Gregor Trocek. “It was so lonely, waiting like that. My feelings are bruised.”
“I’m sorry,” I stammered. “I’ve been a little busy.”
“And I hope your busyness was profitably spent. So what have you found for me?”
“Ahh, Victor, you disappoint,” he said, sitting uncomfortably close to me in the rear of his Jaguar. “I don’t enjoy being disappointed.”
“Join the club.”
It was quite a car, that Jaguar, with its new-car scent, its ivory leather seats, its burled-wood trays and flat screens in both front headrests. Even as I felt the fear he wanted me to feel, I also felt the old longing to get my piece of the pie, my seat at the table, my own damn Jaguar. Nothing slakes fear like raw greed. Gregor Trocek was leaning on me to get back his one point seven million dollars. How many Jaguars would a piece of one point seven million buy? One was enough, with cash left over for down payments on a town house here and a vacation home in Florida and half enough gas to get me from one to the other.
“So now, Victor, are you ready to hear my funny story?”
“Sure, I guess.”
“Okay, so there was woodcutter in my country named Ivan. Ivan is biggest cuckold in village. Every afternoon Ivan’s neighbor, he strides into Ivan’s house and lies with Ivan’s wife, and Ivan does nothing. Nothing, you understand. So one afternoon Ivan comes into his house with ax in hand and finds neighbor’s bull in bed with his wife. Ivan, he raises ax over his head and slams it down, just missing bull and chopping bed in two. The bull, he quickly jumps out of bed and says, ‘Why you get so angry? My owner, he come in here every afternoon to fuck your wife, and never from you a peep.’ And Ivan, he says, ‘But you I can eat.’”
A cackle came from Sandro in the driver’s seat, and Gregor joined in with a hearty guffaw that sent shivers of saliva flying about the backseat.
“Yes,” I said. “Funny.”
“You don’t like?” said Gregor. “Then how about this one? A friend, he calls me and asks me to kill you. Yes, you. You are in this joke. I ask why? He says because he thinks you are fucking his wife.”
“I told you already it wasn’t true.”
“Yes, you did, and I chose not to believe word of it. But even if true, what does it matter? Especially when I learn that maybe he wants to kill you for different reason. Maybe he thinks you stole something from his good friend Gregor.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about money, my money, invested in partnership with some stranger and which is now inconveniently gone. I informed you already, Victor, that I am willing to kill for someone else’s pittance, so don’t even think of what I won’t do to get back what is mine.”
“I don’t have your money.”
“Are you sure? Or do you maybe know where it can be found? I have been told that things are going now well with you. A new flat-screen television, new paint in the office, a new couch. Leather.”
“All the better,” said Sandro from the front seat. “Easier to care for, and if it rips, you just melt it back together.”
“Thank you for that interior-decorating advice, Sandro,” I said.
“So where has your new affluence come from?” said Gregor. “I wonder if it has come from my ass.”
“It came from a case. And whoever’s been whispering in your ear is playing you for a fool. I don’t have your money. Miles Cave has it, and I’m trying to find him just as much as you are.”
“With no luck.”
“Convenient. Did you talk to Julia?”
“Yes. She said she didn’t know him, truly. But I did find out that a great deal of money was transferred to him as Wren Denniston’s business was collapsing. And I know for sure that if he’s ever found, he would lose the money, either to you, through Sandro’s happy knife, or to the government, through litigation. He had one point seven million reasons to run. One point seven million reasons to kill Wren to keep from being found. And one point seven million reasons to try to divert the search for him to someone else.”
“Like me. Which is a laugh, because if I had taken off with your one point seven million dollars, Gregor, I wouldn’t be hanging around on my pleather couch. I’d be in Belize.”
“Ever been to Belize?”
“A little boring for my taste. It is the British influence. They think violence and warm beer make a good time. They are half right.”
“Who told you that I might have your money?” I said.
“A little bird.”
“Probably the same little bird that’s been whispering to the police and that’s been trying to set me up from before Wren was murdered. What was it, a letter? A phone call?”
“Did you get a name or a number?”
“Just a number on my phone. Who you think?”
“I’ll tell you who I think. I think it’s your boy Miles Cave. He probably heard all those Victor Carl stories that Wren was dishing and figured I was the perfect patsy. I think Miles is setting me up, I think he decided to set me up from the start. And if he can convince you and the police to concentrate on me, then he’s free to flit away and live fat off your money. What do you know about the creep?”
“He was old friend of Wren. He had an in at bank, was able to handle cash payments without filing usual documents with government.”
“You gave him one point seven million in cash?”
“Why not? A small satchel is needed, that is all. I handed it directly to Wren at his house. The terms were all agreed to, including using Miles Cave’s name for the investment.”
“Was there a written agreement?”
“Yes, of course. We were limited partnership. Youngblood, LP. I came up with title myself.”
“Why am I not surprised?”
“The agreement was written quite carefully.”
“By your lawyer?”
“No, by Cave’s. But my lawyer, American working in Lisbon, looked it over.”
“You have a copy here?”
“Let me see it.”
“Sandro,” said Gregor with a snap of his fingers. “Briefcase.”
“While I look at this,” I said when he handed me the partnership agreement, “why don’t you call back that number and try to find out who the hell is whispering in your ear.”
The agreement was a typical partnership thing, party of the first part, party of the second part, all that legal jazz. It was dated not too long ago, which meant Miles stole the money shortly after it was placed in Wren’s business. Reading through the boilerplate was like wading through a steaming pile of legal muck without your boots on. Miles Cave was the general partner, which meant his name was up front and he was liable for all debts. The investment would be made in his name only. Gregor was a limited partner, which meant his participation could be hidden, even if he supplied the cash. All pretty normal, and the language was enough to induce an insomniac into coma, but as I read through it, I noticed something peculiar.
Most contracts detail the name of the lawyer who drafted them at the end, by either name or initials. This contract had nothing to indicate the drafter. But in even the most vile examples of legalese, something of the personality of the writer always comes through: a touch of humor, a penchant for showoffy words, a strange fear of spiders. And reading through this agreement, I was getting a whiff of personality. The drafter was both arrogant and imprecise in language, was quick with the formal phrase that said nothing except to let you know it was written by a lawyer, was careful to provide for all kinds of bizarre eventualities while allowing certain obvious loopholes to remain. In short, the lawyer who drafted this partnership agreement was an unpleasant weasel.
And I had a pretty good guess who the weasel was.
I looked up from the document. Gregor was on his cell phone. “So,” he said, “be nice fellow and tell me where you are.”
“No, not what you are wearing, this is not that type of call. Just where you are, please.”
“You don’t say. So thank you and have nice day.” He flipped closed his cell and looked at me. “Pay phone,” he said.
“Here. Philadelphia. Thirtieth Street Station.”
My eyes lit up. “Miles Cave is still in town.”
“So it appears.”
“Then we can find him.”
“Yes,” said Gregor. “The hunt is on. This will almost be enjoyable, though not as enjoyable as squeezing his head until his eyes pop out like avocado pits.”
“What about me?” I said.
“Believe me, Victor. If you have my money, I will enjoy squeezing out your eyes twice as much. Cruelty is always richer when the victim is someone you know.”
“That’s not what I mean,” I said. “What I mean is that if I find the bastard for you, what do I get?”
“I told you already. The information about Wren wanting to have you killed, it disappears. That was my promise, and I intend to keep it.”
“I don’t really care anymore. The way things are going, your tepid piece of information is the least of my worries. If I find Miles, I’d be better off turning him over to the government. The D.A. would have a suspect, the trustee of Wren’s business would get his one point seven mil, and I’d be off the hook whatever you do.”
“I sense a scheme rising. What are you proposing, Victor?”
“I want a piece of the pie,” I said.
“Of whatever I recover?”
“Of my own money?”
“Go to hell.”
“I was thinking the bank.”
“It is impossible.”
“It is only fair.”
“It is not fair, it is robbery. But if what you want is your normal fee, paid on an hourly basis, then-”
“I wasn’t thinking of an hourly fee. This is a collection case, pure and simple, and lawyers in collection cases usually get a third.”
“Because they are greedy bastards.”
“That’s my club.”
“A dangerous club to belong to.”
“As long as you live. But I might be able to see myself clear to giving you five percent.”
“Now you are insulting me.”
“That is absolutely my intention. And just so I am clear, you are ugly as well as greedy.”
“Give me a quarter and we’ll call it a deal.”
“Twelve point five, then, and that is my final offer. Only if you find him first, and only from what I actually recover from the bastard.”
“Forget it. I’d rather snooze at the shore.”
“I could have Sandro kill you, painfully.”
I heard the sound of a switchblade opening in the front seat.
“Twelve point five it is,” I said cheerfully.
“So we are agreed. Good.”
The car pulled up to an intersection and stopped. “Is this all right, Mr. Trocek?” said Sandro.
“Perfect,” said Gregor. “Good hunting, Victor.”
I opened the door and started to slide out when he grabbed the lapel of my jacket.
“My patience is not limitless,” said Gregor Trocek. “I have pressing business back in Iberia. Her name is Aitana, and she is a vision of youth. But for how long, no one knows. So know this, Victor. In exchange for your percentage, I am taking back promise of speedy delivery. Don’t disappoint me.”
“I’ll do my best,” I said.
“For sin’s sake, Victor, let’s both hope you do better than that.”
I slid out of the car, slammed the door behind me, watched as the Jaguar slid away down the street, did the calculation even as the car slipped from my view. Twelve point five percent of one point seven mil. Something over two hundred thousand dollars. Enough for my own Jaguar after all. Sweet.
And I knew exactly where to start looking.
When the car finally disappeared, I scanned the location where I was dropped off. It was the same intersection where Sandro had picked me up. The bank where I had been shanghaied was across the street. I turned around, and there was Derek, still searching the sky as if seeking out those IRS cameras on the light poles.
He stopped looking and turned his attention to me. “Took your sweet time, bo.”
“Did you happen to notice, with your brilliant detecting skills, what happened to me across the street?”
“Trouble with the ATM?”
“Not exactly. You see, I was kidnapped at knifepoint, forced into a strange automobile, taken on a drive through the city, all the while being threatened with bodily harm from a Cadizian assassin and his blood-soaked switchblade.”
“Yes, Derek,” I said. “Word. And all the time you were standing here, across the street, you saw nothing.”
“Not nothing. I think I spotted one of them cameras right up there.”
“You’ve certainly got eagle eyes.”
“So let’s get to it. You got my money?”
“Yes, I do,” I said, “but first I have to catch a weasel.”