“Ahwright, Joe, ere we are, mah agent should be ere ahlready, we can find zis Cronides, and see what she is ze toot!” Even a run-down Esperanto enclave had to have breakfast. We cheered up a lot, trotted.
A muddy lane took us away from the road towards the buildings. We could see a couple of tents right under the clock tower of the big central building, three cars and a truck gathered around, piles of junk, wood, bricks, all the stuff to tear down buildings with. We made it to the cars, a man in a dark suit stumbled out of the tent at the bottom of the stairs up to the clock-tower, with a steaming cup and biscuit. I’ve never been a mugger, but I could understand the impulse suddenly. He noticed us, took a couple looks at Jack, then brightened up, “Sir! You are come!” High class English from England, blonde, kempt, probably had bathed that morning. “We were told that you were not coming, did some plans change?”
“Eh?” We gasped up, Jack used his apparent rank to seize cup and biscuit, “What you mean, I was not comingk? Oo tell you thees, Reginald?” Reginald.
“Well,” he looked from Jack to me, back, “Detective Spline said as much when he arrived last night.”
“But I didn’t arrive last night. I just got here-”
“Wee, wee, zis is Detective Joseph Spline, Reginald, oo-?”
One of the doors at the top of the stairs opened, a professor right out of a classroom walked out, looking back at someone behind him: jacket, leather elbow pads, eating well, pipe in one hand, big thick glasses, really great salt-and-pepper do, broad smile. “Would you agree?” as he turned to go down the steps, another big guy in a trench and suit followed him out. Stash.
“Yes, I-” Stash saw us instantly, from smooth customer to raging bull. He grabbed the professor’s arm, hard, pulled him back into the building, the door after him.
I pulled Jack and Reggie behind the nearest car. “Which car is his?” Reggie pointed to the big black Mercedes, a little farther back. “Got any guns here, Reggie?”
Reggie shook his head. “No, this was not deemed a particularly violent nor dangerous mission-” I crouched to the Mercedes. A quick inspection won me a small arsenal. Stash had come prepared. I reached under the dashboard, found wires and pulled.
Reggie was filling Jack in, a big manor house with a couple great halls, lots of exits, a wine cellar. Stash had arrived last night in the Mercedes, he and Cronides (that was him) had been inside drawing pictures, writing, talking all night, in the cellar and the great halls. “You got keys to these other jalopies, Reggie?”
“Yes, right here, sir,” he started fumbling in his suit.
“Keep’m. Just make sure Stash doesn’t get any of them, or we’ve got a chase on our hands. Jack-” a cute little hand gun, “Reggie,” a sawed-off and bag of shells, and another 9 for me. “Reg, you go perch back there,” jerking my thumb at the truck behind us, “keep things covered. Any other people around?”
“There are forty or fifty day laborers, who customarily come in three trucks every morning, but they are not due to arrive here for another-”
“Words, Reggie, you’ve got too many of’em. Try to make a lot of noise out here, the truck horn, I don’t know, anything. S-O-S if you’ve got trouble. Jack, you up to this?”
“Wee, Joseph, ah am, ah weel cover youh!” I was glad. Jack didn’t seem to exercise as much as I did. He should cover me.
Stash had something on him, the trench had something. Maybe a pop gun like Jack’s and mine, but a trench could hold a lot. Stash had made one mistake already, he’d given us time by dodging back in the building. If he’d brazened it out with Cronides as a hostage, he’d be on the road by now. Now there had to be a shoot-out, sooner or later.
Why? Couldn’t waste the time. Cronides had to live, Frieda had to live.
I led off around the side of the big house, behind a pile that had once been a smaller building. Reggie started up with the truck horn. Windows on the big house didn’t help at all, dirty, no lights inside, and the morning was getting brighter around us. In stages we made it around to another set of doors and stairs, the clump of little cottages the other way must have been living quarters. “I’m gonna block that exit,” I pocketed the gun, wrestled some rope out of the deconstruction equipment heaped there. Jack nodded.
I scrunched up the steps, did something vaguely knot-like to hold the two door handles tight together. It wouldn’t hold anyone too long, but it would hold some. I scrambled back to Jack.
“Jack, you got any cavalry nearby? You, Reg and I can’t cover this whole building ourselves.” Stash did have that going for him. A truck load of day laborers wasn’t good backup, they’d just get hurt.
“Not easily, Joe, Ah’d af to call a friend to send some Greek special police, an’ ah think to get to ze phoen, zat would be tout late.”
We worked our way around, getting the lay of the land, blocking four more doors with materials on hand. No signs of life inside. Stash was probably making plans. Could I guess those plans? I hadn’t expected to find him here. Did I know him? Later.
Reggie was holding down the fort. “I believe that I saw Cronides look out that window,” pointing, “but I have not seen our quarry again. The day laborers will be arriving any time now.”
“Run up to the road and wave them off. Send’m back for the local cops, if there are any around.”
“Yes, sir, immediately,” and the old boy trotted off down the muddy track. He could have walked right into a movie set still, he didn’t get muddy or mussed. Those Brits.
I turned back to the clock-tower. We hadn’t closed all the exits by a long shot, Stash could probably find them inside easier than we could out here. Was there a tunnel out of the cellars?
A muffled boom somewhere just inside the building, a groan, and all four stories of brick, wood and plaster of the clock tower started leaning towards the tents and cars, faster. I hauled on Jack off to the left, but the clock tower was catching up fast. A huge crash behind us, Jack yelped, and some giant hand karate chopped me to the ground.