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Chuck Spanner, Interior Decorator two I was driving back to my office with the boy, after the hostage gig. It was getting on in the afternoon, and the sun made the river in the heart of the city burn with red and gold. I stopped at the newspaper stand in front of my office building, and bought my afternoon coffee. I've been buying coffee from Jimmy for about 4 years, ever since his old man got too sick to work. He's an honest kid, and a good pair of eyes to have on the street. "Whats the word, Jimmy?" "Nothing to report, General," Jimmy quipped. I picked up the car seat at my feet, the boy was still sleeping. "I've got some work to do this afternoon, so keep an eye out, and if anyone comes by looking like they need a decorator, give me a warning, ok?" Jimmy gestured to the old two-way radio on the counter behind the newspapers. "You got it, Chuck." The elevator was empty, as usual, and the doors protested and strained as they opened with a "ding" at the 11th floor. I've been meaning to call the landlord about the elevator, some day I'm going to get stuck in there at an inopportune time. I walked down the stained maroon carpet to my office at the end of the hallway. The windows behind my desk overlook a back alley and some dumpsters, so I keep the blinds closed. Many people have remarked that an interior decorator should have a nicer office, but the clients of most interior decorators are not on police officer budgets. Its the price of doing what I love, I console myself. I was drinking my coffee with my feet up on the desk when the phone rang. "Twice in one day, looks like Christmas is back on," I said to the boy, who was playing with some fabric swatches in the corner. I pushed the answer button, not in a hurry to move my feet. "Chuck Spanner." "Hi, are you the interior decorator?" A woman's voice came over the speaker. "Sure am. Are you calling about the police officer's discount?" Sometimes a first time client needs a little help getting through the formalities of my work. "Umm...no. I'm not an officer, I'm an accountant. My name is Tracy Richards." She sounded puzzled. "An accountant with the police?" I prompted, expectantly. "No. Whats all this about the police?" "What seems to be your trouble, miss?" Perhaps we could cut to the chase, I thought. "What are you talking about? There's no trouble. I'm remodeling my kitchen and I need a decorator." "Oh, right, of course." I struggled to collect myself, swinging my feet around to the floor and picking up the phone reciever. "May I ask who referred you to me?" I never advertise, and I don't hang a sign out. This is not the sort of client I usually do business with. "My girlfriend's sister just had their den redecorated. I liked the look of it so much, I had her get me your number from her husband's address book." Lenny doesn't have a den. It must have been Tony Fisk. I've often wondered about the benefit of asking my clients not to refer me to their friends, but explaining that to a cops wife would be suspicious to say the least. "So, would you like to set up a consultation visit? I just finished a job, so I have most of the rest of this week free." "That would be great, thank you. How about tomorrow at noon?" "That will be fine." I marked her appointment and address in my book, and hung up the phone. Great. A customer who is only looking for decorator work is much harder to please then a cop who is looking for a little extra service. My specialty is not redesigning kitchens, my specialty is a little more hands on. I had no sooner set down my pen when the phone rang again. I expected it was Ms. Richards again. "Chuck Spanner." "Mr. Spanner. We have a job for you." The voice was deep and smooth, with a slight accent that I couldn't quite place. "Who is we, and what kind of job?" I replied. Why do ominous phone voices always make vague statements and wait for a response before filling in the important parts? Am I supposed to say whether I'd take the job or not based on this statement?" "You have a reputation for not looking too closely at the type of job. This is what we require at this time." The voice was still calm, not elevating at all. "Well I'm quite particular about who I work for, so you may be wasting your time." I was not amused. "Perhaps we better speak in person." The line went dead. I hung up the phone and before I had lifted my hand from the reciever I heard a knock at the door. Mental note: Speak to Jimmy about the meaning of keeping an eye out. Before unlocking the three bolts on the door, I picked up the boy and put him back in his car seat, which I slid behind my desk next to the chair. Motioning to him the need for silence with my right hand, I reached with my left for the roll of quarters in the inside pocket of my jacket, hanging on the back of the desk chair. I gripped the quarters in my right fist, approached the door calmly, releasing each bolt from the top down. The man at the door was clearly no threat. Holding a briefcase in one hand, his other was resting on an antique ebony cane with a gold ball at the top. He appeared to be in his early 70's, with his suit appearing to be in its early 20's. "Mr. Spanner, I presume?" The distinct voice was that of the caller, I was sure. I slipped my hand into my pants pocket, releasing the roll of quarters in a manner I considered inconspicuous, but the elderly visitor was of keen eye. "Quarters? A man like you doesn't carry a firearm?" "Interior decorating isn't that dangerous a business, if you do it right." "Ah yes. Very well, then, I'll play along. May I come in?" His demeanor seemed to lighten a little, his face softening into a more grandfatherly smile. I had the feeling that although he was being polite, he may not take no for an answer. Realizing that the only way I was going to satisfy my curiosity was to hear him out, I took a step back from the door and watched him shuffle in towards one of the chairs facing my desk. As I walked around to my chair behind the desk, he began. "My name is Samuel Doyle. I represent a private agency that has been contracted by the U.S. Government to take care of a few," he paused for a breathe, "loose ends." "Let me guess. Their new bathroom tiles don't match the fixtures and drapes?" "Don't be coy, Mr. Spanner. You and I both know what you are." "And what, exactly, is that?" "You've been doing private detecting and the occasional muscle work for the police force and other clients for quite some time now. You don't ask a lot of questions. They can't pay you directly, because that would imply that the police condone your methods. Any implication which, for political reasons, they are not in a position to allow. As a result, you hide behind this childish ruse of imitation expensive lamps and wall hangings in order to facilitate the exchange of money from the force to your pocket." I decided there was no benefit in arguing the facts, but neither could I see how affirming his words would help my position, so I changed the subject. "So the feds are outsourcing spook work now? That doesn't sound likely." "The feds, like everyone from time to time, need the benefit of an outside perspective on things. A second opinion, if you will." "And you, somehow, convinced them that you were the perspective that they need?" "Exactly. A small task, when you consider that they are not willing to trust the details of this case with any of their own agents at this time." I was beginning to understand the situation. "So, the feds have a mole, they aren't sure how high up the mole sits on the chain of command, and they hired you." "Correct, I knew you'd understand. And we, in turn, would like to hire you. The job involves someone who is leading a double life, something that you obviously know a little about yourself." He smiled warmly, nonthreatening, but confident. "I don't see it that way." "Really? You charge money for amateurish decorator work, which you wouldn't be hired for by anyone who didn't also need some other problem taken care of for them, discretely. What exactly do you call that?" "A fortunate convergence of my career choice and my hobbies." "I see. You have interesting hobbies, Mr. Spanner." "Well here's the part that escapes me, Mr. Doyle. How did you manage to land this contract with Uncle Sam if you didn't have people ready to go to work? Don't you have your own resources?" "Ah, well I'm glad you asked. My company is more of a placement agency, not a vigilante group." "Great, so I'm supposed to give up being self-employed to do some temping?" "I have a unique gift for finding the right people for the right jobs." "But not necessarily in that order? You said you already have the contract." "Oh, we've had our eye on you for quite some time, Mr. Spanner. We were just waiting for the right job to come along." "Well, you may be wasting your time. As I mentioned, I'm a little bit particular about who I work for. Its one of the perks of being my own boss." "I think you'll want to consider our offer very carefully. Obviously the government does not know of your dealings with the local authorities. I assume you want to keep it that way." "Are you blackmailing me, Mr. Doyle?" "Not at all, Mr. Spanner. I'm simply stating the facts: if we are to inform our clients that the best man for their job is unavailable because his schedule is filled with under-the-table heavy work for the police, it may raise an eyebrow or two that you do not want raised." I said nothing, staring at this gentelman, trying to decide my next move. I was between a rock and a hard place, and about to jump from over the barrel into the fire. He broke the silence first. "And besides, the job pays very well, and I think you'll really like the people we have assembled to work with you." This last statement I at least had an answer for. "I work alone. You want me for this job, because of what I can do, then you have to let me do it my way." "For now, that is acceptable," Doyle said, rising to his feet. "But you are never alone, Mr. Spanner. Remember that." He removed an envelope from his inside jacket pocket, set it gingerly on the desk, patting it once to straighten it with the edge of the desk, and shuffled out of the room. I stared at the envelope for a full minute after the door had clicked shut. I picked it up and carefully used my letter opener against it's seam. Inside was a single business card with one word printed in the center, in small, neat lettering. "Tomorrow."

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