|Death is Only a Bullet Away.
The attempt on my life was a failure. I woke up alone in the recovery room of the hospital. My sight was blurred and my head was throbbing. Attached to me were many tubes going in and out of the various parts of my anatomy; the dreaded machines that go ping, singing their monotonous tune and indicating to me and the world that I was all right. As yet I could feel no pain and whether this was a good thing or a bad thing, was yet to be decided. I lifted my head and glanced down. I was encased with enough bandages and strapping, to be a stand-in for a Mummy movie. The assassin had come close, but in my business, close is not good enough.
There was a tapping at the door. I slowly turned my head towards the entrance. Standing there in a cheap looking polyester suit was my boss, Felix Lydecker: A small man, thinning grey hair and a face dominated by a nose that was too big. The only thing that prevented him from looking both harmless and ridiculous, were the piercing blue eyes which I'm sure were capable of seeing right through to my soul. His voice resonated and sounded like it should have come from much bigger man.
"Taylor. You okay?" I did not detect any note of concern.
I grunted an answer which he interpreted as me being capable of listening to him.
"Okay, Taylor. Firstly the bad news; you were shot in the back. The good news was that it was a small calibre through and through, missing all your vital organs. You must have been your usual self and annoyed enough people to cause them concern. The bad news is that part of the bullet is still in you. A fragment of it split off the main shell and has lodged itself close to your lung. It’s too close to be operated on safely. Back to the good news; you'll be able to leave the hospital later this afternoon, as soon as your transfusion is finished. The case is heating up and I want you back on it”.
I was heartily sick of the tennis match that had developed between the good news and bad news. I held up one hand and indicated that I needed the bowl on the side table. To his detriment, he did not understand my sign language. Turning my head to the side, I vomited over his shoes. I'm sure his language will prevent his ever ever getting into heaven.
A short blonde, blue-eyed candy striper entered the room clutching a clip board. Quickly taking in the scene, she ordered my boss from the room. He left unwillingly and with a glare that I interrupted as, “ I'll get you for this, Taylor!” I shrugged. Life was back to normal.
"Good morning Mr Taylor," she said in an infectiously good humoured way as she moved around the various machines, checking their readouts and entering them on to the forms on her clip board. Finishing, she moved to my side.
"I'm sorry Mr Taylor; but I just need to complete your admission forms, so I'll need to ask you a few questions. First, your line of work and who you work for?" she asked brightly.
"I'm a private investigator. I work for that distinguished gentleman who just left. All medical costs need to go through him. In fact if you catch up to him he should be able to supply you with all the necessary information," I said with a smile. Let him explain how we're not in the phone book. Our operation is strictly by word of mouth.
She did not look overjoyed to have to deal with my boss, but putting on a brave face she moved to the door. Over her shoulder, she said, "I'll get a cleaner to come in and fix up the mess for you."
I laid back and closed my eyes. A few minutes later and there was a knock at the door. A tall thin man in green shirt and pants, trailing a mop and bucket entered the room. He gave a deep sigh on spotting the mess and silently began cleaning it up. After a moment I began to notice that he was giving me furtive looks as if deciding if he knew me or not. Glancing around, I checked the position of the bed pan, just in case I had to bounce it off his head. One can never be to careful, especially if you have been shot in the back by an unknown assailant. Finishing up, he moved to go. With one last look over his shoulder, he turned and came back to the bed.
"Are you…. Jake Taylor?" he asked uncertainly. I nodded. A look of enthusiasm came over his bland face.
"I saw you play in your last game; must have been over 10 years ago. You know the one where you blew your knee. You were one of the best line backers in the minor leagues. I almost didn't recognise you, you've put on a bit of weight," he gushed like a schoolgirl. I had been starting to preen over these compliments, but the bit about the weight soon had my ego under control. I have been an investigator for ten years and so what if over that period my six-foot two and two hundred pounds of ex-footballer frame, had ballooned out to two forty and a gamy leg; so what, if my once dark black hair was now heavily streaked with grey. I’m not the same person. I may have aged some, but if I look at it clinically, I am smarter and wiser and more importantly a survivor. You can’t live with past glories. After signing an autograph and pleading weakness, I finally managed to get rid of my admirer. I prepared myself to wait for the doctor and try and convince him that I’m ready to be discharged.
Three hours later, I was being wheeled out the front entrance of the hospital towards a waiting taxi. It would have been two, but I had to argue with the administration for the return of my guns. I had built a reputation up of being ‘tough ‘and this was being sorely put to the test. Carefully getting out of the wheelchair and folding myself into the back seat, I directed the cabbie to head over to my apartment for a change of clothes. One can't really travel around this town in a bloodstained shirt and a suit with a big hole in it. Semi-dozing on the way there, I tried piecing together the facts concerning the case I had been working on. My shooting had to be tied in with it.
"Hey buddy, we're here." The driver pulled me out of my contemplation; I was not sleeping.
Getting out of the taxi was as painful as getting in. I tipped the driver and entered the building, struggling to the lift. The journey from the lift to my door seemed a thousand miles. I got my key in the lock and pushed my way in. My apartment was no palace, but it suited my needs. It had two-bedrooms and a small kitchen and an even smaller bathroom; all as neat as a pin. Being a bachelor, doesn't necessarily mean being a slob. I divested myself of the two guns I habitually carry; one in a shoulder holster and also a backup piece strapped to my ankle. I admit it. I like guns. Apart from the two on my person, I have one in my car and two others secreted around my apartment. I hate to be caught unprepared. Getting changed into a fresh suit, I threw the bloodied remains of the other onto the bathroom floor. Mental note to self: charge firm for new suit. Feeling a bit more human, I made my way down and hailed a cab. I needed to get to my clients and find out what the hell had happened. Someone, I assured myself, was going to pay.
I returned to the scene of the crime; that is the attempted murder of one Jake Ulysses Taylor. It had occurred in the basement car park of my client CalSoft, who were located in a large multi-storey, glass menagerie in the down town area. Over the last two weeks, I had been twisting and turning through the labyrinth, which were their finances, to try and find out who was betraying their company by dabbling in a spot of industrial espionage. Believe it or not, even though I look like a big, dumb, ex-jock; computers and I are good friends and I can read a spread sheet faster than a newspaper. I had come upon some interesting discrepancies which I needed to talk to them about. I had made appointments to see them after lunch. I had been just getting into my car to go and get something to eat, when it felt as if I had been hit in the back by a baseball bat. I couldn't remember anything else after that till I came to in the hospital. Someone was going to be surprised at my resurrection.
CalSoft was owned by two brothers. It had been a start-up company in their garage, which had spawned a multi-million dollar business. The antagonism between the two was clearly evident the first time I had met them. I brushed past the under dressed, over-paid secretary of the eldest brother who ineffectually tried to stop me with the tired excuse of, “he’s in conference”. I found Christopher in his office, which was approximately the size of my apartment. He sat behind a massive dark mahogany desk which was clean of any paperwork. A large set of windows were behind him, offering a sweeping view of the city and framing him to his best advantage. Well, what do you know? He really was in conference. In front of him sat five of his staff, all with heads bowed. He was reading them the riot act over something or other: then on spying me he stopped in mid-rant. A look of shock came over his face as the blood rushed out of it. His eyebrows raised and he began to make small shapes with his mouth, but with no sound escaping. I turned to the others in the room;
“If you gentlemen could excuse us please, Christopher and I have some important business to discuss". They needed no urging. Leaving the room at almost a run, obviously happy to leave the tirade they had been facing. I turned back to face Christopher.
Christopher was the wheeler and dealer behind CalSoft. Six-foot tall and movie star looks. Blonde and blue-eyed, he was the driving force behind the company and was the type to take the money and run.
"Hello Christopher. You look surprised to see me."
"But you're dead!" He squeaked out.
"We had an appointment this afternoon. Did you forget?" He wasn't quite certain how to respond to that. He indicated for me to sit down. I ignored this and perched a hip on the side of his desk. He was not going to get away with playing any power games with me. His composure and colour was starting to come back, as he tried to take back the situation.
"Well Mr Taylor, tales of your demise have been exaggerated. What have you managed to find out?" His voice was smarmy and low. He said it with such a look on his face that you just wanted to smack it off.
"Let's lay it all on the line shall we. Your company approached my boss to find out who is supplying proprietary software to the marketplace. The leak, apart from losing you hundreds of thousands of dollars is also jeopardising the buyout of the firm by Elron Tektronix, a major wheeler and dealer in the computers and software industry."
"Your brother is not in favour of the sell-out, wanting to keep the company and continue the expansion himself. You though, are prepared to sell it off and enjoy the proceeds."
"All correct, Mr Taylor, but what progress has been made?"
"I've come across a few irregularities in your finances," I said not wanting to beat about the bush.
"I'm sure any irregularities that you've come across can easily be explained. You probably don’t understand the intricacies that are involved in running a business like ours." I really did want to smack him.
There had been a few unexpected surprises. Over the last few months, there had been some large withdrawals and transfers of funds between the company accounts to a number of different bank account in the Virgin Islands. These had been clumsily hidden and I was sure the accountants and lawyers of Elron Tektronix would pick this up when they did their ‘due diligence‘, in readiness for the purchase of the company. I had come up with more questions than answers.
"Can you explain to me, how over the last three months, over ten million dollars has been transferred out of your working account to an unknown account in the Virgin Islands?"
Again the blood drained from his face. He was either the world's best actor, or he really knew nothing of these transfers.
After a few minutes, he recovered enough to loudly start proclaiming his innocence and of having no knowledge of the transactions. I asked him to keep these matters confidential until I had spoken to his brother. I left the room in search of Stephen, leaving a shell-shocked Christopher behind me.
His brother Stephen was the archetype for all things ‘geek’. Well below his brother in height, dark hair standing up in all directions and light brown eyes behind black horn rimmed glasses which hid the brain behind all the ground-breaking software that the company had produced. No flashy big office for him. I found him closeted in a cubicle. Stephens’s cubicle was no different from those around him. He was one of many hunched over their computers, with their printers chatting merrily at their sides. Pinned to the walls were various flowcharts and drawings, written over and crossed out many times. Leaning back in his chair rubbing his eyes feverishly, his glasses were placed on top of a pile of papers which threatened to avalanche and consume his desk. He did not seem surprised to see me. I asked the same questions that I had with Christopher. His reaction was the polar opposite; that is, no reaction at all. Stephens face was deadpan and with a voice that was flat and expressionless.
"Mr Taylor, I have no knowledge of what you're talking about. All financial affairs are handled by my brother. I just don't have the time to worry about such things."
Trying to get information out of Stephen was like trying to get information out of a clam.
I went back to the office I'd been using to conduct my investigations and gathered up my computer and assorted office supplies which had been lying around. I believed that I had stirred things up enough and now I'd just have to wait and see who did something stupid.
I collected my car and drove back to my apartment. The journey from the lift to my door this time seemed to be twice as long and the door twice as heavy to push open. Sitting in the chair facing the door was a man. He had a gun in his hand and was pointing it straight at me.
"Good evening Mr Taylor."
"Hi Steve, I was expecting Christopher."
"Please put your guns on the side table please."
For a nerd he was holding the gun with a great deal of authority. I carefully reached in to my jacket with thumb and forefinger, retrieving my gun from its shoulder holster and then moved to sit down. Steve wiggled his gun at me.
"I did say guns. Also the one in your ankle holster please," he politely asked in a low monotone. With the same care as before, I also extracted this and placed it with the other. Ignoring him now, I carefully moved towards my overstuffed, comfortable, La-Z-Boy chair and slowly lowered myself into it. With a sigh of relief, I felt a comfortable and reassuring shape nestling against my side.
"I'm sorry Taylor. It wasn't meant to happen this way. I'm afraid you upset Christopher. He’s squeamish and a coward, so you’re right; it was he who shot you in the back. You were delving too deeply into our financials and I as usual, had to clean up his mess.
“It was you who had transferred the money, wasn't it?”
“That’s right. I was only taking what was mine. It was my ideas that built this company. I think Christopher was surprised that I had the temerity to help myself before he did. You see, he had been taking kickbacks from Elron Tektronics. He’d been secretly selling my software so that they could claim that the leak in the company would devalue their profitability. They could then buy up the company at a bargain basement price, with Christopher to be paid an extra bonus when the sale goes through.”
“It was you who wanted the investigation, wasn't it? You weren't aware that it was your brother who was behind the manipulations to defraud the company and push through the sale.”
“It was my software, my ideas and my company he was flushing down the toilet. I couldn't stand for that.”
“What are you going to do about that Steve?”
“Why it’s quite simple, Taylor. I'm going to shoot you with Christopher’s gun. After all, he’s already had one try at you. Then I am going to go and kill him with the same weapon. It'll be a simple case of murder - suicide. It’s obvious. You were getting too close to what he was doing and he would never have been able to handle jail. I can retain the company and reject the buyout. Problem solved.”
“Steve, at the moment, you've done nothing wrong. What’s say we forget about this. Your brother can be arrested, leaving you with the company.”
“No. Everything has been planned to the last decimal point. I can’t trust you Taylor," he stated in a forceful monotone as he centred the gun on my chest. “You can’t be trusted,” he repeated with finality in his tone.
“You’re right,” I said ….and then I shot him.
Word Count - 3096