As best as I can figure, somebody knew Iris cleaned our condo on Thursday afternoons, that she would answer a cell phone ringing from the couch cushions, and that she would do what she was told to do once she answered. What they didn’t know was that I was doing the chores on that particular Thursday afternoon because Georgia had fired Iris the day before and I had volunteered to vacuum while my wife was out shopping.
And what they couldn’t possibly have known was that I’m a struggling mystery writer always on the lookout for new plot lines. An unfamiliar cell phone ringing in the cushions of my couch struck me as a great possibility for a plot line, and it got even better as I listened to the muffled voice on the other end. “The railroad station. Locker B-13. The key will be waiting at the counter after five.”
That was it. No introduction, no goodbye. He hung up leaving me staring at a blinking light on the screen of the phone — which went dark after about ten seconds and turned into an annoying dial tone.
“You ain’t Iris.” The woman behind the railroad station counter had a suspicious streak.
“Obviously,” I said. Iris is short, round and African-American — I’m a skinny blue-eyed blond. “She isn’t feeling well. Asked me to pick it up for her.”
“How do I know that?”
“You’ll have to trust me.”
She shrugged and handed me the locker key. “No skin off my back. Tell her I hope she’s feeling better.”
Was a regular thing? Every Thursday? Was someone breaking into our place once a week to plant a phone? Georgia would have a fit if she knew but I didn’t want to make the clerk any more suspicious than she already was so I didn’t ask any questions. Besides, I couldn’t wait to see what was in Locker B-13.
Second row down, last box on the right, and the key fit. I sucked in a deep breath and opened the door — and my heart dropped. The locker was empty. I peered in — too dark — so I reached in and patted the bottom until I felt something at the back left corner. I pulled it out. A compact disk, no writing on either side.
Twenty minutes later, back at my condo, the CD was in the D drive and the screen was flashing ‘No Disk.’ I popped it out, turned it over, and this time found myself stymied by a blinking curser in an empty password field. I didn’t even know where to start, but fortunately I knew a guy who was good at breaking passwords. I ejected the disk, slipped it into a jewel case, stood up and turned — right into a very large pistol pointed directly at my nose.
“Give me the disk, please.”
The tall man behind the gun stuck out his other hand and reached for the CD I was holding. I pulled it back without thinking, and he slowly raised his gun and pressed it up against my forehead.
“Do not make this any more difficult than it need be. That disk does not belong to you and I am prepared to kill you if you do not give it to me … now. ”
An icy precision coated his words, and I had no doubt that he would do what he said. I handed him the disk and backed up. “I couldn’t get it open. I don’t suppose you’d tell me what’s on it?”
“I could, but then I’d have to kill you.” It was an old joke, but I wasn’t sure he didn’t mean it.
“Then please, don’t bother. Look, I didn’t mean …”
He cut me off with a wave of his hand as he walked towards the door. His voice was still cold, but not quite as menacing as when he had a gun aimed at my face. “I do not wish to hear anything from you. You interfered with something beyond your understanding and well above your pay grade. I suggest you forget me and forget that this incident ever occurred … and never speak of it to anyone.”
He turned back to me as he opened the door. “Forget it.” And then he was gone, leaving me struggling with a plot line that — like so many others before it — had just run into a dead end.