"We will be more successful in all our endeavors if we can let go of the habit of running all the time, and take little pauses to relax and re-center ourselves. And we'll also have a lot more joy in living.",

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Tác giả: Val McDermid
Thể loại: Trinh Thám
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Chapter 16
wouldn't have hurt the fish. I knew that, but Denzel Williams didn't. "For fuck's sake!" he yelled, starting up from his seat.
"Sit down and chill out," I growled. "I only wanted to ask you a couple of questions, but you had to get smart, didn't you?"
He subsided into his chair and scowled at me. "Who the fuck are you? Who sent you here?"
"Nobody sent me. Nobody ever sends me anywhere," I said. I was beginning to enjoy playing the bastard. I couldn't remember the last time I'd had so much fun. No point in lying, though. He could find out who I was easily enough if he cared enough to make trouble later. "The name's Brannigan. Kate Brannigan. I'm a private eye."
He looked shaken but not stirred. "And what do you think you're going to see here?" he sneered.
I shook my head, wonderingly. "I can't believe Dennis said you were worth talking to. I've met coppers with bet¬ter manners."
The reminder of who had recommended Williams to me worked wonders. He swallowed his surliness and said, "Okay, okay, ask your questions, but don't piss about. I've got some people coming shortly, see?"
I saw only too well. Threatening the fish might hold Williams at bay, but it would cut no ice with his sidekicks. He'd also be very unhappy at anybody else witnessing his humiliation. Held to ransom by a midget with a Swiss Army knife. Regretfully, I waved my posturing farewell and cut to the chase. "Fly-posting," I said. "My client's been having some problems. Obviously, nobody likes admitting they're being had over, but somebody is defi¬nitely taking liberties. All I'm trying to do is to check out whether this is a personal vendetta or if everybody in the business is feeling the same pain."
"Who's your client, then?"
"Dream on, Denzel. Just a simple yes or no. Has any¬body been papering over your fly-posters? Has anybody been fucking with your venues? Has anybody been screw¬ing up gigs for your bands?"
"What if they have?" he demanded.
"If they have, Denzel, you just got lucky, because you will reap the benefit of the work I'm doing without hav¬ing to part with a single shilling. All I'm concerned about is finding out who is pouring sugar in the petrol tank of my client's business, and getting them to stop. Now, level with me before I decide to have sushi for dinner. Have you been getting agg?"
"There's been one or two incidents," he grudgingly admitted.
"Like?"
He shrugged. "Yeah, some of my posters have been papered over." He took a deep breath. He'd obviously
decided that since he'd started talking, he might as well spill the lot. Funny how the ones that seem the hardest often turn out the most talkative. "The fresh paperwork has always been promoting out-of-town bands, so I'm pretty sure it's a stranger who doesn't know the way things work here. We've had one or two problems with tickets too. Some of the agents that sell tickets for our gigs have had phone calls saying the gig's a sellout, not to sell any more tickets. We've even had some scumbag pre¬tending to be me ringing up and saying the gig was can¬celed. It's got to be somebody from out of town. Nobody else would dare to mess with me." His tone of voice left me in no doubt that when he got his hands on the new kid in town, the guy would be sorry he'd been born.
"Where specifically?"
He rattled off a list of names and venues. I hoped I'd be able to remember them later, because I didn't have a spare hand for notetaking. "Any ideas who's behind it?" I asked.
He gave me the look I suspected he normally reserved for traffic wardens who thought that giving him a ticket would discourage him from parking on double yellow lines. "If I had any ideas, do you think he'd still be out there walking around?"
Ignoring the sarcasm, I persisted. "Anybody else been hit that you know of?"
"Nobody's boasting about it. But I know Scan Costigan's taken worse shit than I have. The Crumpsall firm's been hit, so has Parrot Finnegan. And Joey di Salvo."
"Collar di Salvo's lad?" I asked, surprised. I hadn't known the family of the local godfather was involved in fly-posting. Whoever was muscling in on the patch was treading on the kinds of toes that hand out a proper kicking.
"That's right."
"That's serious."
"We're talking war," Williams said. He wasn't exagger¬ating. People who deprive the Di Salvos of what they regard as their legitimate sources of income have an unfortunate habit of winding up silenced with extreme prejudice.
"So are you all supposed to take your bats and balls and go home? Does the new team expect everybody to back down so they can pick up the business?"
Williams shrugged. "Who knows? But some of the boys that put the nod-and-a-wink record company busi¬ness our way are starting to get a bit cheesed off, see? They pay us to do a job and they're not too happy when their fancy posters get covered up the night after they've appeared. And one or two of the bigger managers are starting to mutter too. You're not the only one wanting to put a stop to this."
Before I could ask more, I heard the telltale sequence of sounds that revealed the outer door to the anteroom opening and closing. I dropped the electric cable and opened the office door. As I walked swiftly past a trio of sharp-suited youths who looked like flyweight boxers, I heard Williams shouting, "Fucking stop her."
By the time they got their brains to connect with their legs, I was out the door and sprinting down the gallery, head down, tanking past the bodies leaning over the rail¬ings and surveying the dancers down below. I could feel the rhythmic thud of the pursuing feet cutting across the beat as I swung on to the stairs and hurtled down as fast as I could go.
I had the advantage. I was small enough to weave through the bodies on the stairs and landings. My pursuers had to shove curious people out of the way. By ground level, I was hidden from my followers by the turn of the stair. I slid into the press of bodies on the dance floor, pulling off my shades and my jacket. I squirmed through the dancers till I was at the heart of the move¬ment, imitating their blank-eyed stares and twitching movements. I couldn't even glimpse the three toughs who had come after me. That meant they probably couldn't see me either. That was just the way I wanted to keep it.
There was one salt-and-pepper chicken wing left. My heart said yes, my head said no. It would be a lot easier to enlist Richard's help if he wasn't harboring a grudge. "There you go," I said, shoving the foil container toward him. There was none of that false politesse about Richard. No, "Oh no, I couldn't possibly." I filled my bowl with spicy vermicelli and added a crab cake wrapped in sesame seeds and a couple of Szechuan king prawns. "I was at Garibaldi's earlier on," I said casually.
Richard's teeth stopped their efficient stripping job. "For fun?" he asked incredulously.
"What do you think?"
"Not," he said with a grin.
"You'd be right. You know Denzel Williams?"
He went back to his chicken wing, sucking it noisily as he nodded. "I know the Weasel," he said eventually. "So called because of his ability to worm his way out of any deal going. Doesn't matter how tight you think you've got him tied up. Doesn't even matter if you've got your lawyer to draw up the paperwork. If Weasel Williams wants out, he'll get out."
"Does he do the business for his bands?" Richard shrugged noncommittally, filling his bowl again. "I've not heard many complaints. He seems to have a deal going with Devlin-he does the fly-posting for all of the man's venues, and he has a ticket agency going on the side as well. He bought a jobbing printer's last year, so now he prints all his own posters and a lot of the band merchandising too. Tee shirts, posters, programs, flyers. And of course, he manages bands as well. He's one of the serious players."
"He's been having a taste of the same agg as Dan and the boys."
Richard looked surprised. "Weasel has? You must be looking at some operator, then. With Devlin's muscle to call on, I can't see the Weasel taking it from some street punk."
"That's what I figured. I need to find out who is behind it, and I don't think Denzel Williams knows. But some¬body must." There was a short silence while we ate and digested what we'd been saying. "I need your help, Richard," I said.
He stopped eating. He actually stopped eating to look at me and consider what I'd just said. When Richard and I first got together, we'd both been wary, like experimental mice who have learned that certain activities result in pain and damage. Somehow, we'd managed to build a relation¬ship that felt equal. We gave each other space, neither preventing the other from doing the things we felt were important. It had taken real strength from both of us not to interfere with the other's life when we felt we knew better, but mostly we'd managed it. Then a year before, I'd had to call in every favor anybody ever owed me to get him out of jail. He'd been stripped of power, reliant on me, my skills and my contacts. Since then, our relation¬ship had been off balance. His last attempt to square things between us had nearly cost us the relationship and driven me into someone else's arms. Maybe I finally had a real opportunity to let him take the first step toward evening the scores. "What is it you think I can do for you?" he asked, his voice giving nothing away.
"You know everybody in the rock business in this town. Half of them must owe you. I need you to call in a couple of favors and get me some kind of a lead into who's pulling the strings here."
He shrugged and started eating again. "If the Weasel doesn't know, I don't know who will. He's got the best grapevine in town."
"I can't believe it's better than yours," I said, meaning it. "Besides, there must be people who wouldn't lose any sleep at the thought of Devlin and the Weasel getting a hard time. They might be keeping their mouths shut out of pure Schadenfreude."
"Or fear," Richard pointed out.
"Or fear. But they're not necessarily going to be afraid of talking to you off the record, are they? If they trust you as much as you seem to think, they'll have slipped you unattributable stuff before without any comebacks. So they know in advance that you're not going to drop them in the shit with the Weasel or with Devlin himself."
Richard ran a hand along his jaw and I heard the faint rasp of the day's stubble. Normally, it's a sound I find irre¬sistibly erotic, but for once it had no effect. There was too much going on under the surface of this conversation.
"Sure, I've covered their backs before. But I've never asked questions like this before. It's a bit different from getting the latest scuttlebutt on who's signing deals with whom. Nosing into stuff like this is your business, not mine. If I put the word around that I'm looking for info on the cowboy fly-posters, I'm the one the finger will point at when you clear up the shit. I need to keep peo¬ple's confidence or I don't get the exclusive stories and if I don't get the stories, I don't eat."
"You think I don't understand about keeping contacts cultivated? Look, based on what I've dug up so far, I've drawn up a list of places and people who have been hit. You must know somebody on the list who trusts you enough to tell you what they know about who's behind this business." I took the paper out of my pocket, unfolded it, and preferred it across the table. It was so tense between us that if a car had backfired outside, we'd both have hit the deck.
Without taking it from me, Richard read the list. He tapped one name with a chopstick. "Manassas. I've known the manager there for years. We were mates in London together before we both came up here. Yeah, I could talk to him. He knows I won't drop him in it." He took a deep breath and let it out in a slow sigh. "Okay, Brannigan, I'll talk to him tomorrow." "I'll come along."
He scowled. "Don't you trust me? He's not going to open up if I've got company, you know."
"Of course I trust you. But I need to hear what he's got to say for myself. Like you said, these are my kind of questions, not yours. Treat me like a bimbo all you want, but you have to take me with you."
Richard looked at me for a long minute, then he nod¬ded gravely. "Okay. I'll be happy to help." He grinned and the tension dissipated so suddenly it was hard to believe how wound up we'd both been moments earlier.
"I appreciate it." I put down my bowl and chopsticks and leaned forward to kiss him deeply, running my hands up the insides of his thighs. For an unheard of second time in the same Chinese meal, Richard lost interest in food. This time, for rather longer.
Later, we lay too comfortable to move from the sofa. I reached over and pulled the throw over our sweaty bodies so we wouldn't get chilled too soon. My head in the crook between Richard's strong shoulder and his jaw, I told him about my decision to hire Don and claw back enough process serving business to keep him busy. I didn't men¬tion the Charlie's Angels ploy; the moment was too sweet for that, and besides, one lecture a day is more than enough for me.
"Will that do the trick?" Richard asked dubiously.
"No," I said. Sometimes I wish I didn't have such a strong streak of realism. There are times when it would be a blessing to be afflicted with blind optimism.
"So what are you going to do?" he asked, gently stroking my back to show there was nothing aggressive in the question.
"I'm not entirely sure yet," I admitted. "Hiring Don is just a starting point. What I'm really worried about is if Bill goes, we're going to lose a lot of the computer security business. He's spent a lot of time and energy playing games with the big boys to establish his credentials in the field of computer security. Now, when it comes to making your system secure in the first place, or tracking down the creeps who are trying to steal your secrets or your money via your computer, Mortensen and Brannigan is right up there alongside some of the really big companies," I said proudly.
"And that's all tied in to Bill's name, right?" Richard chipped in, shoving me back on track.
"Give the boy a coconut," I said. "Most of the people Bill deals with don't even know who Brannigan is. They're fully paid up members of the laddish tendency. Not the sort of men who are going to be convinced that a woman knows her RAM from her ROM."
"Least of all a cute redhead with the best legs in Man¬chester," Richard said, reaching around me to check the accuracy of his comment with the hand that wasn't hold¬ing me.
"So the problem is twofold," I continued, trying to ignore the sensations his touch was triggering off. "First, I don't have the credibility. Secondly, if I'm being brutally honest..."
"Be brutal, be brutal," Richard interrupted with a mock moan.
"... I don't have the expertise either," I said firmly wriggling away from his wandering fingers.
"You could learn," he murmured, refusing to be evaded. "You're a very quick learner."
"Only when I'm motivated," I said sternly, squirming down and away. "I can't get excited enough to put in the hours it takes to develop the skills. And I haven't got the patience to devote days to finding a leak and plugging it."
"So don't. Do what you've done with Don. GSI."
"GSI?"
"Get somebody in."
"Like who?" I asked sarcastically. "People with those kind of skills don't grown on trees. If they're straight, they're already earning far more than I could afford to pay them. And if they're dark-side hackers, they don't want to do anything as straight as work for me."
"Set a thief to catch a thief, isn't that what they say? Didn't you mention that Telecom had just given Gizmo the Dear John note?"
I could have kissed him. But frankly, he didn't need the encouragement.
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