This left me time on my hands. Eight-thirty. I needed to check my own messages, but I owed Passaro a call, too. And Dahlia, and Stash. I dialed up my messages first.
A lot had happened in my absence. Noon the day before, my brother Clyde left a message that his weekend had been a good one up north, the unexpected guests had been entertained, drop by sometime to see the pictures. That was Passaro’s people: the goons had been collared, no mishaps. Give them a call, see if the goons knew anything useful.
Rudy Stash left a message during the day, to call when I got in. Dahlia Stash left the same a little later, call the Stash residence.
A little later, Otis Clap had called, with news. Would I call him at the office today?
Just while I had been chowing with Lola, my Aunt Matilda left a message, she was enjoying her vacation, would call again later. That was probably Sofakissen, saying she was holed up. Was she okay? How much later?
Clap was the odd man out there. Too late even for a banking big shot to be at the office. I found the number I’d got his wife at, dialed. The big guy answered, some kind of talking in the background.
“Hello, Otis, this Joe Spline.”
“Hey, Joe! I’m glad you called-”
“I hope I didn’t wake you and the Missus.”
“Oh, no, we’re just getting started here, let me go around the corner here… ”
“I just got into town and got your message, you said you had news?”
“Yes, yes I do. I got to thinking today, about your asking about Linda Fringle. I suspected that you wouldn’t ask about her if she wasn’t somehow involved in Bertie’s disappearance, so I did a little research on my own initiative.”
“It’s fair to say she’s involved, yes. What did you research?”
“Her finances, to see if there was anything at all, anything that might be helpful. She brought a lot of money to the States about 15 years ago, she has a manager watching over it here for her. I’ve got details of her money and taxes, and things her money owns here, at the office.”
“I’m guessing this gets you in hot water. ”
“We probably shouldn’t talk about that, if you know what I mean.”
“I see. Does she own any property here in the States?”
“I might be able to tell you that, but I have to leave it all lie where it is, at the office. Tomorrow I could probably find out for you.”
“Don’t find out just yet, but if I’m desperate, I’ll ask. I’ll call you.”
“Desperate, huh, when will that be?”
“It might be soon, but I’ve still got some leads to follow up on. I’ll keep ya posted.”
“Anything else I can do to help?”
“No, Otis, at the moment I can’t think of anything. But I’ll letcha know.”
If there were properties listed, Fringle and her gang were probably at one of them. That would be handy if I had to get the guns blazing. But a little early for that. I dialed Stash, Dahlia picked up, anxious. “Hello?”
“Dahlia, it’s Joe.”
“Joe!” more squeak than greeting, “where are you? Are you awright? How’s Frieda? We been worried!”
“Calm down, kiddo, it’s just me. I’m at my office in town. There’s been some trouble-”
“Is Frieda okay?!”
“Well, I think so-”
“You think so?! What happened?!”
“Fringle caught up with us at the motel the last night, she took Frieda-”
“Joe?! You’re supposed be be lookin’ out for her!”
“I know, Dahlia, I know. She got on my trail, I didn’t expect that.”
“Well whatta you gonna do about it, boy?”
“I’m working on it. Fringle said I’d get Frieda back if I got her the Gordian Knit.”
“What the hell kind of plan is that, Joe, you can’t give’er something that doesn’t exist!”
“Dahlia! Take it easy! I’m not happy about it either!”
“Joe, whether you happy or not, you got to do something!”
“I’m working on it”
“Well what is your plan?”
“My plan is-” I stopped short. “I don’t have a clear plan. I need to come up with a convincing Gordian Knit pattern and trick Fringle into handing Frieda over.”
“That’s your plan?! Joe, this is Frieda we’re talking here! You got to get something better than that!”
My head and chest swelled, the blood hammered in my temples. I drew a deep breath, let it out.
“I’m sorry Dahlia. I’m mad, too. Getting mad won’t help me right now, though. I’ve got to come up with something better, I know. I can’t risk the cavalry, I don’t think Fringle would give up easily, and she’d kill Frieda. I gotta- I don’t know. If I can lure Fringle out, out and away, her goons would be more reasonable. I dunno.”
“Uuugh! I’m sorry I’m yelling, Joe, don’t get all flat tire on me now! Joe! Think!”
“Is your brother there? He might have ideas.”
“No, he’s down at the warehouse, a big fridge broke down, he’s trying to get everything delivered before it goes bad.”
“Have’m call me when he gets in, no matter how late. None of my leads can get back to me til tomorrow, so I’ll be here at the office tonight.”
“Can’t you do anything else?” Could I? Could I get Clap’s real-estate addresses and call out the National Guard? That was a lot of shooting.
“I don’t know, Dahlia, gimme a break here. I still got some people to talk to, see what I can learn.”
“Dammit, Joe!” Dahlia Stash hung up on me.