I arrive at the office to find a gun on my desk. Nothing else; just a gun. A point two-five caliber Chinese pistol. Black. Late 1930s model I’m guessing. Useful for killing someone at point blank range and not much else. Usually carried by errand boys, rich housewives and nervous bosses. Before touching the gun I calmly pull up the chair behind my desk, sit down; run my hard worn fingers across the little hair I have left; contemplate what to do about this unexpected arrival.
The office smells fresh today. It’s been cleaned since I was here last. The window is open, spring air pouring in from outside. Little birds are fluttering around the room, twittering the melody of our latest big dance number. Pulling open the top draw of my desk, I take out the bottle of Jim Beam, pour myself a slug; knock it back with all the tenacity of an illegal immigrant. A God damn beautiful morning.
I pick up the gun, open the muzzle. Smell it. Look at the barrel. It hasn’t been fired; at least recently. However, only four of the cartridges are loaded: two bullets are missing.
Taking the phone I dial the home number of my secretary, Mabel. The latest in a long line of assistants, she’s been in the job for two months and suffered no mental scares as yet. Married to a faceless accountant who goes by the name of a simple Mr. Brown where I’m concerned, homed up in a suburban bungalow in a street full of identical bungalows each with a single orange tree in the garden, beware of dog sign on the gate, sprinklers timed to switch off before the watershed. Not too bright but loyal as hell, she’s happy to fill the duller parts of her life with running my chores and cleaning up the paperwork. Arrives late and goes home when she feels like it, but asks no questions and so far has given no advice concerning my manners or wellbeing. I like her. And I need her out of the way. She mustn’t be placed in any unnecessary danger.
Mabel receives my call with a predicable, “2543, the Brown residence?” Her question mark hangs in the air, waiting for me to state my business. I breathe into the receiver, needing another hit from old Jim. An idea is slowly formulating inside my aged brain; although the bolts aren’t quite in place.
“Is that you Tom?”
So this must be her husband’s name. At least I hope it is: For some reason I take a slight comfort in my secretary’s comparatively mundane existence of suburban marital bliss.
“Harry? It's Harry isn’t it. Sorry I’m just on my way. There was a small disaster we had with the neighbor’s dog and our washing line and… well never mind. It is Harry I assume?”
“Yeah it’s Harry.”
“The Colonel Mathews report is ready for posting. I’ve made an additional -”
“- Never mind Colonel Mathews for now, I need you to do me a favor.”
“Of course Harry, what is it?”
“I need you to take the day off.”
“Take the day off? Why? Is everything all right?”
“Everything’s fine Mabel. I simply need…” and here is a sentence I think a lot about in the short silent hours spent away from the distractions of my work and the bars and the women and the bottom of yet another bottle of Jim. I need a larger bank account; a nicer car. A place out by the great lakes where I can breakfast on the eggs from my own chickens and milk from my own cows. Served to me by a swell wife with ample breasts, a kiss on the lips to tell me what a great husband I’ve always been.
“Harry! What do you need?”
An idea has come to me. Possibly was always there and has just surfaced to say hello, grab some air.
“On second thoughts Mabel, you could do something. There’s a coffee house on Beacon Street opposite the Grand View Park. Its name is Santos. You know it?”
“Yeah, I know it Harry. The one with the line of call boxes outside.”
“That’s right. I need you to go there and wait for me. Take your time. I won’t be there for a few hours yet. But you don’t see me by five o’clock I want you to call Sergeant Grip at the police department. Ask him to have some of his men come to my office.”
“You’re not in any trouble are you?”
My eyes fall to the pistol once more: “To be honest Mabel I’m not sure. But an old friend has just turned up. And it sure as hell wasn’t to wish me a happy Christmas.”