For All Nails #265: Turncoats and Telephones
by Mike Keating
Harold Pickett blinked at the sun shining in his face. He didn't remember going to bed for the night, so it seemed strange to be waking up in the morning. But then again, his bedding down for the night wasn't anything he remembered much of late. He glanced at the night table to see the cause of that: alcohol. This morning, it was a bottle of rum. The bottle was only half full, but had been brand new when he started drinking the night before.
The rum bottle made for an uncomfortable reminder of what he'd been doing with his life. He'd warned Brian not to back this Lamb assassination thing. It was nuts, just plain nuts. Brian probably worried that Harold was getting soft. It was after they'd gone through with it that Harold had begun drinking heavily.
"You see, Harold," Brian had opined, "these people think they're free. They point at the elections and all that, and they buy into it. But they're a bunch of mindless sheep led along by the Tories. We need to save them from themselves." Harold had nodded at that and said he agreed or something. But he didn't really, at least not completely. In the last week or so, he had wondered if he agreed at all.
Harold's hangover was mostly gone after a shower. He changed into a new set of clothes and checked the amount of cash in his wallet, especially the pocket change. Then he headed downstairs.
Brian was the only one in the kitchen at the moment. "Harold," he said, "you all right? You look like the bottle got you bad last night."
"I'm better than when I woke up," he answered, pouring a cup of coffee from the pot. "Thought I might go into town for a bit." The two of them chatted about the Swords for a bit, then Harold walked out to his loke.
Harold drove into Black Rock and found a pay phone near a diner he hadn't tried before. He'd certainly never been in there with other Brotherhood members, or even heard them mention the place. He picked up the receiver and put in three pence, then dialed a number he'd memorized a few days ago. Then he realized he'd be spending some time on hold, and put in two more.
- 11:23 AM (Harold has been on hold for 6 minutes)
Kevin Fleming looked up from his paperwork as his secretary buzzed him. "Sir, there's a call on line 2 . . . says he might have information for us on the army clubs."
The chief superintendent's left eyebrow rose. "All right, thanks, Deanna," he said. Fleming pushed the button for line 2. "Chief Superintendent Fleming."
"Mr. Fleming? The people who took my call apparently thought you'd be the one to talk to. I told them I wanted to tell someone about one of your agents. A man named Richards-Keith."
Fleming's jaw dropped for a second. He had been starting to think he'd never get to the bottom of that case. Now this call was coming out of nowhere. It seemed a little odd . . . was it too good to be true? "Who are you, sir? Is there somewhere we can meet?" It was rare for someone of his rank to personally handle cases, but he had a stake in this one. He wanted to make sure it was carried through to a conclusion.
The reply stunned him even further. "I'm somebody who saw him die. And there's more you may be interested in. I'm at a diner on 4th Street called Anderson's. Do you know the place?"
"I know it. How will I recognize you, Mister . . . ?"
"I won't tell you my name over the phone. When you come in, I'll be wearing a brown leather jacket and a black Swords cap."
"I'm leaving my office right now. I should be there in ten minutes or so." The diner was close by; Fleming figured that might have been one reason why the man chose it. He hung up the phone and left the office, slipping on his shoulder holster first . . . He checked to see that his gun was loaded. Just in case it's not what it seems, he thought.
- 11:54 AM
When he walked into the diner, Fleming saw several men with Swords hats. But only three were wearing black ones, and only one of those had a leather jacket on. My God, it's that bloke from Boston, he realized. It wasn't just a close resemblance that explained the wrong man getting nabbed in Boston. It was the very same man, sitting ten feet from him drinking coffee.
What was the name in the report from Boston? Fleming thought a second, and then sat down. "Edward Allen? Or is it Schultz?"
The man stirred the coffee idly and looked him in the eye. "I've gone by those names," he replied. A waitress came over and Fleming ordered a turkey montagu and tea. Allen/Schultz asked for a ham montagu and more coffee.
"Well, Edward, what exactly brings me here? What can you tell me?"
"Well, for starters, the man you know as John Hanson is the one who killed Richards-Keith. Seems he knew your man because you picked a one-time school cricket star. Second, his real name isn't Hanson. It's Brian Donaldson."
Fleming thought about this and was shocked. "But that would mean . . . "
"Right. You've been holding an innocent man, based on testimony from others who perjured themselves to let the real Donaldson escape cleanly. And that's not all. Let me tell you about the Lamb assassination . . . "
The two of them talked in hushed tones for about an hour. Fleming heard about the original assignment, the fake use of Moctezuma's name which had eventually killed the whole USM War Department operation, and then about its rebirth as a private venture. It wasn't until he was ready to leave that he asked the most obvious question. "Do I get to know your real name?"
"I suppose you do, since you have the power to put me away for life. It's Pickett. Harold Pickett. And thank you for listening."
(Forward to FAN #266: No Oil for Blood.)
(Forward to 2 March 1977: Mawlid al-Nabi.)
(Forward to Harold Pickett: You Say You Want a Revolution.)
(Return to For All Nails.)