You Never See It Coming: Hammersmith (twenty-five)
You Never See It Coming
He had lost out on the chance to get up to Philly and talk in private with le Fontainebleau. Even this, thinking of it, irritated Shaw…not merely because he was soft on Aimee Bard, and might have permitted—for the duration of a train ride—this daydream, safe enough. The lapse would correct itself.
They’d had the glimmerings of an understanding, the professor and Shaw, his dealings here on familiar ground going smoother than the course of one-sided love. But on no account would he address the man as Charley, accepting this maneuver. It was tempting, yes, to knock off a couple syllables, just to name the informer/suspect inside his own head. But in Shaw’s opinion (he knew plenty who refused to take these things seriously), once you went allowing casual practices to infect your method, you’d shorthand yourself into a fatal mistake, bound to. Getting friendly with malefactors? Even a piker, a green recruit, must reckon better.
Most of his notes had to be kept there, in his head, until he was back home in Baltimore…and then only the chief’s stenographer would take them down.
He’d surprised his quarry, and his quarry had eluded him. They’d met but briefly, the first time; the professor coy.
The train had come late to the station, and the rain, puddling everywhere, seemed to Shaw a kind of mockery. He felt like a tight-wire act himself, a man balancing an overflowing bucket, taking cautious toeholds.
The two words drew only a grin. Shaw had to drop a couple more.
“Times are difficult. One tries this and that, earning one’s nick. I am no longer on the stage, Mr. Shaw. Le Fontainebleau is a trusted broker of securities.”
It was stalemate, and Shaw was not on a mission to stop the deal, but to subvert it. They were speaking on the stairs, the professor, foolishly, seated on the sill of the window that illuminated the landing; Shaw, more discreet, tucked out of view in the corner. And from this vantage midway between floors of the Susquehanna House, he’d noted the water on the street make less effort than ever to drain away.
The professor chose his move.
“Hogben is your best authority on Hogben. Since you ask. We don’t live in each other’s pockets, as the saying goes.”
“Go your separate ways, now and then, do you?”
The girl Ruby had come up from the lobby, interrupting, and saying to Shaw, “It never rains but it pours!” She’d blushed, and put a hand on her topknot. “I didn’t even think! I only meant, now when we’re late already, and losing wages for it, to be sure, it’s another day’s delay, yet. And nothing to do in this place but turn in…”
His dismissal gave her the excuse to close her mouth, and she’d scurried off.
The professor said, surprising Shaw with sudden frankness, “You haven’t clapped the manacles on, so I’m thinking you’d like to do business. Make a purchase…?”
Shaw gave him nothing.
“…from me alone.”
“Will that be in Hammersmith?” Shaw said. “We’re close by.”
And at that, the professor also had left him.
Afterwards, Shaw had half entertained belief, when with his own eyes, he’d seen the man sink into the floodwaters like a brick—but he’d taken hold of himself.
To die at the fortuitous moment must be a rare chance; to vanish merely, a thing more akin to rogue’s luck. He was reporting to Mossbunker as well as the chief. Mossbunker had any number of blind spots, fully to be exploited…but befitting his being the wolf to whom Shaw, in failure, would be thrown, the mogul could take a man’s throat between his jaws and worry him to death.
(copyright 2018 Stephanie Foster)