Paradigms Lost – Chapter 14

Chapter 14: A Sudden Trip Downstate

I opened the trunk and helped Sky get out his portfolio. Innocent that I was, I thought a “portfolio” would be a notebook-sized collection of pictures — reproductions, etc. Artists, of course, do not do things that way. Reproductions are often used, but they’re done as near as possible to full size as can be managed, and Sky had a lot of samples. He was trying to show a number of things about his work (most of which I could only vaguely understand) and accordingly had put together a very large collection of material.

Morgan bowed us in the door, and Verne came forward. “Mr. Hashima, it is a great pleasure to meet you.”

Sky smiled back and shook his hand. “The pleasure’s all mine.”

I nodded at Verne. “I’ll be off, then. I know you people have plenty to discuss and I won’t have a clue as to what you’re talking about.”

“Of course, Jason. Thank you for bringing Sky over; Morgan will arrange his transport home once we are done here, so do not trouble yourself further.”

I waved, said “Good luck!” to Sky, and got back into Mjölnir, turned down the driveway and headed home.

It was only when I turned the key in the office lock that something bothered me. I felt it click… but at the wrong time. The door had already been opened. Not having expected any trouble, I wasn’t carrying, either. Then again, I supposed it was possible, though unlikely, that I’d forgotten to lock it in all the confusion. I pushed it open, letting the door swing all the way around and bump the wall to make sure no one was hiding behind it. Nothing seemed out of place. I went in and locked the door behind me.

With the lights switched on, I still didn’t see anything disturbed in the office — which was what I’d be mainly concerned with. I checked the secure room at the back; nothing. That left only my living quarters upstairs. I went through the connecting door.

Something exploded against my head. I went down, almost completely unconscious, unable to see anything except vague pain-inducing blurs. Rough hands grabbed me, dragged me out the back door, threw me into a car, and then shoved something over my mouth and nose.

By then I was focused enough to fight back, but these people were stronger than me and had the advantage. Eventually I had to breathe, and whatever they’d put in that cloth finished ringing down the curtain.

* * *

I came slowly awake, my head pounding like a pie-pan in the hands of a toddler. With difficulty I concentrated on evaluating myself. I could feel a focused ache on the side of my skull, where I’d been conked on the head. My stomach was protesting, an interesting but unpleasant combination of hunger and nausea; some hours had gone by, I figured. There was the generalized headache, of course. Chloroform? Halothane? I supposed that the specific chemical didn’t matter, though it had felt too fast for classic chloroform. I’d been in too much pain to notice the smell clearly, if there’d been one. I was sitting upright — obviously tied up in a chair or something similar, because I could feel some kind of bindings on my arms, legs, and chest.

Now, if this was a proper adventure novel or TV episode, they’d have left me my Swiss Army knife or something for me to attempt an escape by, but I could in fact feel that, while I was still dressed, there wasn’t a damn thing left in my pockets except possibly some lint. Not being an escape expert or martial artist or superhero, I decided I’d gotten about all I could out of just sitting and thinking, so I slowly raised my head and opened my eyes.

The pain only increased slightly and then started to ebb. Leaving aside the niceties of being tied up with a knot on my head, I was in a rather pleasant room, large and airy, with a big picture window looking out on a driveway somewhat reminiscent of Verne’s own, although this one was a wide drive that turned into a circle at the end, rather than a drive shaped like a teardrop. The landscaping was also different, more sculpted and controlled, less wild; Verne liked a more natural look, while whoever owned this clearly preferred symmetry and precision. The trees and fountains and bushes were all laid out in a smoothly rolling but still almost mathematically precise manner.

I was facing the picture window; off to my left were some cases of books — which I was fairly sure were chosen for show, rather than actual reading material, judging from what I could see — some pictures, an in-wall television screen, and some chairs and low tables. Looking off to my left, I saw a very large desk. The person behind the desk, however, made the desk look small. He was as blond as I was, but tanned, wearing a suit that had to be custom made because he was large enough to be a pro wrestler — six foot eight standing was my guess, maybe even bigger — but the suit fit him perfectly, making him look simply like a well-dressed adult in a room made for twelve-year-olds. His hair was fairly long, pulled back in a smooth ponytail, and his face had the same square, rough look that many boxers get, complete with a slightly broken nose.

He had been reading a newspaper, but when I turned my head to look at him the movement apparently caught his eye. “He’s awake,” he said in a deep, slightly rough voice.

I heard a couple chairs scrape back behind me, and heavy footsteps approached. Twisting my neck around, I was able to see two large men — though neither of them quite the size of the guy behind the desk — walk over. They picked up my chair and turned it to face the desk.

“Good morning,” I said. “Mr. Carmichael, I’d presume?”

He didn’t exactly smile, but something in his expression acknowledged my feeble sally. “That’s right.”

“I was afraid of that. As far as I knew, I didn’t have anyone who disliked me enough to use a blackjack to introduce themselves, and I haven’t been on any really nasty cases lately.”

“Since you know who I am, we can get to business.” He nodded, and one of the silent thugs pulled up one of the small tables with a telephone on it. “I’m going to call Domingo. You’ll listen in on that extension. You say nothing — and I mean nothing — until I tell you. When I tell you, you will confirm to Domingo that I do indeed have you here, and that I’m going to have you painfully killed if he doesn’t cooperate.”

I nodded. There wasn’t much point in arguing with him; in my current position, what was I going to do?

He did give a small smile at that. “Good. I hate people who don’t cooperate. You might actually get out of this alive, if Domingo doesn’t screw up.” He punched in the numbers, and one goon picked up the extension and held the receiver to my ear.

“Domingo residence, Morgan speaking.”

“Morgan, buddy, this is Carmichael. I need to talk to Domingo right now.”

Morgan paused. I could see that it was, in fact, morning, so Verne was doubtless sleeping. “Master Verne is not available at the moment –”

“Listen up. I know for a fact he hasn’t left that mansion — my people were watching yesterday. So okay, he went to bed. Get him up. Now. I’ll guarantee you he’ll be the one regretting it if you don’t do it.”

Morgan sighed. “If you insist, sir. Please hold the line.”

Faint strains of classical music came on; apparently Verne or whoever ran the phone system agreed that dead air was no fun to listen to. Carmichael made a face. “‘Please hold the line.’ Jeez, I still can’t figure this clown. He think he’s in a goddamn Masterpiece Theatre show or something?”

I didn’t say anything; I figured silence was my best policy right now.

Several minutes later, the music cut off and Verne’s voice spoke. “Mr. Carmichael.”

“Verne! Good to hear you, buddy. Look, if you want to cut out of the business personally, I want you to know, that’s okay with me, so long as you aren’t going to rat. But your leaving like this is causing me a problem, and I’m not okay with that.”

“What you are ‘okay’ with, Mr. Carmichael, is not really much of my concern.”

Carmichael gave a nasty laugh. “I think I got an argument about why it is, Verne old buddy. Take a listen and then tell me.” He nodded at me.

“Hello, Verne,” I said. I at least managed to sound casual.

There was silence for a moment, then, “Jason? Is that you?”

“I’m afraid so. Mr. Carmichael made me an offer I couldn’t refuse and invited me to visit him. He’s instructed me to tell you that if you don’t go along with what he wants, he’s going to have me killed. Painfully.”

I could envision the offended shock on the other end. “Carmichael. What do you want?”

The nasty laugh again, combined with a nastier grin. “I thought you might want to ask about that now. I want your contacts, Verne. You had some seriously smooth pipelines to bring stuff in from various places. No matter how hard I tried, never could quite figure out who was doing it, and you never lost a goddamn shipment. I admire that, really. That’s art. But I was depending on those pipelines, and suddenly you cut me off? Where the hell do you get off thinking you can just tell me to go screw? What is that crap? You wanna go play with your English butler in teatime land, hell, I don’t care, but without a replacement I’m eating into my reserves and I ain’t got supply for my customers to last more than a couple more weeks. And I ain’t going to go for a supplier that’s gonna cost me more or give me lower quality. So, if you ain’t doing the supply end, I’ll take your place. You just hand me your contacts, whoever ran the pipelines, and I’ll do it from there. Your friend here goes home, we all end up happy. Get stupid with me and I’ll send him to you in pieces.”

Verne’s voice, when it finally answered, was as calm as usual; but, now that I was familiar with it, I detected a hint of iron anger I’d never heard before. “Mr. Carmichael, my… contacts would be useless to you. When I stopped, they stopped. They no longer trade in the same merchandise.”

“Well, baby, that sounds just too bad. You’d better tell ’em to start trading in it again, and give me the names double-quick. I ain’t got too much time, so my patience is totally gone.” He pointed at the other thug, who stepped up and kicked me hard in the shin.

I know I screamed or shouted something in pain, then cursed. I hadn’t been ready to try to stay quiet at that.

“Hear that? That wasn’t much, Domingo. Right now he’s just got a couple bruises.”

“I will need some time.”

“You never needed much, buddy, so don’t you even think about stalling me. I’ll give you to midnight tonight, Domingo, to start coming through. Either you start the supply back up yourself, or you hand me the people who were doing the job for you, or I’ll finish your friend here off.”

There were a few moments of silence. “Domingo, do you hear me? I need an answer, buddy, or do I have to make your friend uncomfortable again?”

“I hear you,” Verne answered. “I will have something for you before midnight, Carmichael. But if you harm Jason again, you will be exceedingly sorry. That I promise you.”

“Not another touch, Domingo, unless you try something cute. His safety’s all in your hands. I’ll call you later tonight. Be ready.” He hung up, and so did the thug holding the receiver.

“You did that good, Mr. Wood,” Carmichael said. “Now, boys, you can untie him, take him to the bathroom if he needs to go, and we’ll get him some food. You’re not going to do anything stupid, are you?” he asked me.

“Nope,” I said honestly. “I don’t know exactly where we are, and I’m sure you’ve got lots more where these guys come from.”

“Great. Y’know, I grabbed another guy once, few years ago, thought he was a frickin’ action hero. Busted up a few of my guys, tried to get out, ended up shot. Nice to see not everyone’s that stupid.”

Privately, I wondered. Verne was an honorable guy; he’d probably see it as his obligation to get me out of this, but it would really suck if a bastard like Carmichael got access to his drugs again.

But no point in worrying now. Using the bathroom sounded good, and now that my stomach was settling, so did food. I figured I’d just try to be a good Boy Scout and Be Prepared.