“I was being followed today,” said Cedric Gorman, CFO of the renowned Huber Moneda Hospital, to his wife, Sophia, human resources manager for Cactus Sunrise East medical clinic.
They were sitting on the patio of their condominium, admiring a spectacular red desert sunset.
“Really?” said Sophia. “How do you know?”
During his former less-than-respectable life, long before accepting the post at HMH, Cedric had benefited from certain highly developed skills, such as those involved in detecting a tail. However, in this case, not much skill was necessary.
“Obvious,” he said. “Someone ducking around corners, staring in random windows.”
“Geez. Who?” said Sophia.
“The new GI doctor,” said Cedric. “I have an appointment with him in three days for a colonoscopy.”
“Oh,” said Sophia. “Brad Flannery. The hot guy with the crew cut.”
Her husband gave her a look.
“Not my type,” Sophia said. “Too tall. Maybe he just wants to tell you something about your appointment.”
“Then why not just tell me? Have his office call me?”
“Are you going to ask him?”
“There’s an idea,” said Cedric.
“I know you prefer being subtle, but maybe this time…”
“The direct approach, you think?” said Cedric.
“I do,” said Sophia. “And, speaking of the direct approach, feel like going to bed?”
“I do,” said Cedric.
Married nearly a year, they were still in newlywed mode.
The next day, Cedric executed a classic mouse-chases-cat maneuver and cornered Dr. Flannery in the hospital gift shop, where the gastroenterologist was pretending to examine a display of knitted toilet-paper-roll covers.
“Dr. Flannery,” said Cedric.
“Mr. Goram,” said the physician, whose face was pale.
“You wanted to talk to me?” said Cedric.
The doctor stared at him for a long moment.
“I’ve been trying to get up the courage to tell you, but...”
“Come to my office,” Cedric said.
“My wife, Lee, has been kidnapped,” said the doctor a few minutes later. “She’s a real estate agent. Someone set up a fake appointment with her at an empty house, then kidnapped her. They called me yesterday. They used some kind of voice synthesizer. It was awful.”
“Go to the police,” said Cedric.
“No.” The doctor shook his head.
“They said not to. They made her scream.”
The doctor put his head in his hands and moaned. When he looked up, his eyes were watering.
“Why come to me?”
“Uh, because you’re, well in a way you’re involved.”
“Er, what they want is, um, they want me to kill someone.”
Brad Flannery shifted uneasily in his chair, grew a shade paler.
“You,” he said.
“Is that technically possible?”
“Let me count the ways,” said the physician. “Adulterated anesthetic, cutting a deep vessel, direct insertion of pathogens or poison…” He put his head back in his hands.
“He’s supposed to do it during my colonoscopy,” said Cedric to Sophia that evening.
“Oh, shit,” said Sophia.
“Indeed,” said Cedric.
“But why? I mean, why kill you?”
“The answer to that could be complicated.”
“You mean, there are a lot of possibilities?”
“Something like that. Look,” said Cedric, “I need to make some phone calls. I think I’ll take a short walk up the canyon.”
“Well,” said Sophia, “don’t stand out in the open too much.”
“I don’t think the good doctor is going to come after me with a sniper rifle.”
“Nevertheless, someone wants you dead, and he might not be the only one they’ve lined up. Whoever ‘they’ are.”
“Don’t worry,” said Cedric, “I’ll dodge around in a crouch from rock to rock.”
“Good,” said Sophia. “Be careful of your bad knee.”
A quarter-mile up the canyon, Cedric stopped and sat on a granite outcrop, having examined its nooks and crannies for rattlesnakes.
“You’re the snatch guru,” said Cedric into the disposable phone. “Help me out here. And by the way, who is this guy, and who’s his wife?”
“That’s me, the go-to fella for body snatching. OK, give me a few hours,” said his old Irish friend, Whiskers. “But something rings a bell for some reason. Must be drugs, though, a doctor and all.”
“It so often is,” said Cedric. “But what does it have to do with me? I’m out of the game for a while now.”
“And well out of it, you are. Anyway, who goes through such trouble to get someone bumped off? There are simpler ways, as you yourself have reason to know.”
“Agreed,” said Cedric, whose resume included a few assassinations.
“Plus, kidnappees – is that a word? are a pain in the arse,” said Whiskers. “Remember that dickhead banker in Kuala Lumpur? God love the bastard, no one else would. I thought we’d never get rid of him.”
“I can’t imagine what you’re talking about,” said Cedric primly.
“Ah, lad, the mind’s wandering in my old age, here’s me thinking you had a shady past,” said Whiskers. “Well, tomorrow, call me back.”
Later, lying in the dark beside Sophia, Cedric thought about that hapless banker. He and Whiskers, hired by a small kidnapping consortium out of Hong Kong, had taken the terrified man to a cement-block building in a mangrove forest in the steaming middle of nowhere. And there they had stayed. It was supposed to be a quick turn-around. The consortium carefully vetted all targets, confirming their financial status, checking their credit reports, analyzing their investments, so there was no question the family could afford to ransom him. But after several weeks of negotiations that repeatedly broke down, it became clear that his wife didn’t actually want him back.
“The bloody bitch,” wept the banker.
“Got another bloke?” asked Whiskers.
“Must have,” the banker sobbed. He wiped his tears and said, “Whoever it is must be filthy rich.” He considered this, then began to cry again.
“No,” he said, “I’ll bet it’s that damn pool boy from the health club. She’s counting on getting rich herself, when I turn up dead. Oh, God,” he wailed, “don’t kill me, I can give you money, take me to the Caymans, or Geneva, it’ll be easy, no worries, I’ll give you anything.”
Cedric had contacted the consortium headquarters.
“Well, it happens,” said the contractor liaison officer. He sighed.
“Get him to Port Dickson and turn him loose,” he said. “No ID, no documents, no money, let him find his way home.”
In the Range Rover bumping down Malaysia’s back roads, the banker tried to hire them to kill his wife.
“Revenge, lad,” said Whiskers to Cedric afterwards, “a most powerful forceful motivator. Just ask me long-suffering pals in the Old Country. Those fellas are still plotting ways to get even for the Battle of the Boyne.”
“Seventeenth century?” said Cedric.
“Right you are, and 300 years is but the blink of an eye for a vengeful man.”
“You were talking in your sleep,” said Sophia. “Something about ‘boring’? Gee, I hope you weren’t dreaming about me.”
“No, it was about the Battle of the Boyne,” said Cedric. “Except the combatants were all Chinese.”
“Funny thing,” said Whiskers on the phone a few hours later. “Your man Flannery’s clean as a whistle, dull as dishwater, but the wife spends a lot of time going back and forth to Hong Kong. My informant’s opinion is that she has a sweetheart on the spot, been seen around town there with a muscle-bound type. Quite a funny thing, since we were just after speaking about those parts. You wouldn’t happen to recall the name of the wife in that long-ago adventure, now would you? My mind, as I’ve mentioned, isn’t what it used to be.”
“Stipulating that I had nothing to do with any such criminal activity, I believe I recall hearing her name was Li. Oh.”
“Dr. Flannery told me his wife’s name was ‘Lee’ – which I visualized as being spelled L-E-E.”
“Oh, my, what a coincidence,” said Whiskers.
“You think?” said Cedric.
“It happens,” said Whiskers.
“Maybe not this time,” said Cedric. “Look, I need to find her, immediately. Phone records, skyping, tweeting, something.”
“Not my expertise, lad.”
“How about with a little sweetener, say a couple thousand dollars?”
“Please, mercenary I’m not. Anything for a friend. However, a little honey could draw in some expert flies I happen to be acquainted with.”
“That’s great,” said Cedric. “I need it within 8 hours.”
“Make it five thousand,” said Whiskers, “for expediting.”
“OK,” said Cedric.
“Prospering there in the States, are you, lad?”
“Moderately prosperous,” said Cedric.
Late that night, a black-clad man ducked carefully between the strands of a barbed-wire fence and, using a small, dim flashlight, followed a deer trail through dense desert until it emerged near a large, low house. A few minutes later, Cedric stood at the side of a chintz-covered bed. A night light faintly illuminated the bedroom.
“Mrs. Flannery?” said Cedric.
The slight figure under the coverlet stirred, then jerked, sat up.
“My God,” said the woman.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” said Cedric. “Do you know who I am?”
“Of course,” said the woman.
“I don’t know how you found me,” said Cedric. “Quite an accomplishment, actually. I’m impressed. But I suspect you’re a resourceful woman.”
“Yes,” said Li Flannery. “Apparently you’re not bad, yourself.”
“Given your intelligence, I’m rather surprised you’d expend so much effort on revenge.”
“You and your employer reneged on a contract and cost me a lot of money,” said the woman.
“What matters is,” said Cedric, “your husband isn’t going to kill me. You’ll go home and let bygones be bygones. Forego revenge.”
“Why should I?”
“Because, my dear lady, if you don’t, some hints will be dropped here and there, and you’ll likely find yourself arrested for murder.”
“You people made me do it,” said Li. “You were supposed to kill that bastard banker when you didn’t get the ransom. Then he turned up, and I had to do it.”
“I read about that, actually. Clever, but maybe not a good idea to do it here in the US.”
“I had to. He refused to stay in Hong Kong after the kidnapping.”
“I see. Well, I have some information about it all that I feel the police will find fascinating.”
“If I kill you the problem goes away.”
“I would only observe that the same goes if I kill you, here and now. But I don’t want to. Messy. Why risk everything you and I both have? Dr. Flannery is a good husband, and your toy boy in Hong Kong provides some needed spice, I imagine. Give it up. Oh, and I assume Brad doesn’t know anything about the young man? Thinks you’re visiting your mother?”
“Auntie,” said Li.
“Well, then,” said Cedric. “What do you say?”
“You owe me something,” she said.
“I tell you what,” said Cedric. “How about if you find me a house? I’ll get a good place to live with my wife, and you’ll get a nice commission.”
“Twenty percent,” said Li, “five percent under the table.”
“Done,” said Cedric. “What will you tell Brad?”
“I’ll think of something.”
“I bet you will,” said Cedric.
“They were just stupid kids, stoned or something,” said the doctor on the phone early the next morning. “They sobered up and ended up letting her go. She promised not to tell the police.”
“Oh, glad to hear it,” said Cedric.
“How’s the prep coming?”
“Awful,” said Cedric.
“Good,” said Dr. Flannery. “See you in a few hours.”
“A new house?” said Sophia.
“We could just look,” said Cedric. “Set up some showings, go to open houses. This place is getting to seem a little small.”
“Maybe,” said Sophia, “especially if we make an addition to the family.”
Cedric raised his eyebrows at her.
“I saw a beautiful yellow lab rescue at the mall yesterday.”
“Ah,” said Cedric. “A large pet.”
“Yes,” said his wife. “What did you think I meant?” she added, cocking her head.
“Bitch,” said Cedric with a smile.
“Actually,” said Sophia, “I think the pooch in question was a boy.”
Annie Osborne lives in Arizona with her husband. She enjoys reading, writing, and editing. She follows her doctor’s advice and gets colonoscopies regularly.