"Global Manwhore Association. Mason McDaniel speaking." I groaned inwardly. Truly, I was going to have to find another greeting. My greeting was dry as salt. Maybe something flashy, like..."GMA, McDaniel here." Said in a brisk tone. Yes, I would try that greeting the next time I answered the phone.
"Morning," came the curt reply. A grin suffused my face. I knew that voice!
"Antoine! Top of the morning to you!" I sat up straight and put a smile onto my face. "What can I do you for?"
"Grrrr," came the reply. Uh, oh. Antoine must be in a bad mood. Since we rescued Deuce Bigalow from the Modsters--a group of young petty thieves--Antoine had been getting rather growly in the morning, perhaps as a result of the rainy English weather. Or perhaps Antoine's gruffiness was a result of all the late nights he's been putting in training the new manwhores.
Then I remembered the last time Antoine had phoned me. Deuce Bigalow had been kidnapped! Antoine had discovered the plot and he had phoned me for help. After a hasty meeting, it had been decided to meet the ransom demands without going to the Yard. I had taken out a loan on a few pieces of jewelry that GMA owned.
When Antoine and I had delivered the ransom money and had retrieved Deuce at the same time (at least the Modsters had some shred of honor; they returned Deuce--albeit very drunk and very hungry--but return him they did), we had thought our run in with the Modsters to be over and our pounds 250,000 to be very well spent.
Until a few days later when the news broke about a gem heist at the Millenium Dome. While watching a newscast and chatting with me, Antoine had spotted the Modster ladies trademark canary yellow trenchcoat scrunched into a refuse basket behind the left shoulder of the news presenter (the lovely Lana). Antoine had hastily phoned me, and devilishly clever man that he is, Antoine had hatched a plan to catch the gem thieves.
Turned out that not only did we, Deuce, Antoine and myself, catch the foursome (the same four who had kidnapped Deuce), Antoine also solved a series of perplexing antique jewelry heists that had plagued Inspectors at the Yard for several years. And in the process, we had received a sizeable reward. Naturally, we all went off and spent a wad.
Now I shuddered. Was Deuce kidnapped again?
"No, my friend," Antoine said. Apparently I had spoken my question aloud without realizing it. I would have to lay off the whiskey, I promised myself. And I would, too, just as soon as I finished my newly acquired stash.
"But I have arranged for a boat ride!" he finished triumphantly. I smiled again and looked out the small window. As usual, rain spattered against the pane glass.
"In this weather?" I inquired.
"It is a lunch cruise."
Now Antoine had my full attention. GMA paid a pittance; most of my fees came from its members when they needed my services. I had run up some serious debt, requiring a goodish portion of my income to be remitted to my creditors each month. Naturally, I was left with a skimpy food budget. My father, a minor noble, had cut me off financially because I refused to carry the title of Sir. Until I had received my share of the reward money, I was, like so many other young barristers, struggling with my bills.
Out of sheer hunger, I had taken towards reading food magazines, slavering over the full color pictures of prepared beef wellington, lamb stew, chocolate bread pudding (now there's a blast from my nursery!). Instead of an allowance my father's estate holdings doled out each month, I was spending my own money as I pleased, without having to account to my father's lawyer for each pound spent.
In other words, I was in a transition period, moving from the pull of family money and going towards my own life. Antoine, however, had no such compunctions and he was quite used to spending large sums of cash on the whim.
"And is this lunch including steak?" I asked, hope crawling into my voice.
"It is a free lunch cruise," was his reply. "So I do not know what the menu is," Antoine continued. I smiled. Antoine was turning out to be an expert in discovering how to live freely in London. Of course, as a gigilo, he had learned to live well anywhere he chose.
"What time?" I inquired quite happily.
"1 pm." The phone clicked off. I leaned back in my chair and glanced at the clock.
"Yikes!" It was nearly noon. Where ever did the time go? I had been
sitting in GMA's London offices since 9.30 and I had not done a sliver
of work. I hurried through my toilette, hunched into my trench, grabbed
a brolly and off I went.
As I stood under the awning of the building housing GMA's offices, I made to place my trilby on my head. Then I smiled, scrunching the trilby into a little used pocket. No more would I have to use my Vespa to get around London's streets; I had the option of taking a cab. Preferably one of London's black cabs.
"I can take a cab just like that!" Absently, I snapped my fingers. As if I had summoned a cab, one magically appeared through the London rain. The passenger door opened and I watched a young lady trying to extricate herself. Always the gentleman, I strolled down to the curbside and assisted the lady.
"Umpf! Thank you," she told me as she stood up. I tried to hide my surprise at her height. She was easily towering over me and I thought the lady would tower over even Antoine. Gargantuan, almost viking like appearance was she. Brutish was the term that came to mind. I hid my surprise at her appearance.
"My pleasure," I told her, trying to get a glance at her face but she brushed past me.
"Ride?" the cabbie inquired amiably.
"Yes," I replied and climbed into the cab. "To the Millenium Dome,"
I told the cabbie. As he pulled the auto away, I glanced back, hoping to
get a glimpse of the tall mystery woman making her way into the office
"Deuce! You're looking better this time around!" I told Deuce. And truth be told, Deuce was looking smashing. His hair was still long, but he'd had it styled and colored to a honey blond. He wore a custom tailored suit and his shoes were, to my eye, spit-shined.
"Here," Antoine said, handing Deuce a plate of appetizers. "Eat! You look thin," Antoine told him, smiling hugely. I chuckled.
"I can never eat too much," Deuce replied, taking the plate. "I do have to admit, Mason, that my short time in captivity taught me the value of food. Of course," Deuce added, "the instant fame was getting to be a bit much."
"Being famous can have it drawbacks," I commented.
"I noticed," Deuce replied thoughtfully. "Maybe if we could create some media repellent..." he trailed off, a sly smile on his face.
Within a few days, the papparazzi had found other prey (I was thankful none our of happy trio had encountered the far worse stalkerazzi). Only wicked whispers went around about us now--and I was glad. After a week or so of cameras snapping in my face, I was glad to sink anonymously into the madding London crowds.
As if he could sense my train of thought, Antoine snickered at the wrong time and inhaled a large quantity of his drink. His face turned bright red as he stoically tried to keep his composure--there were ladies around, you know. Deuce smiled and slapped him on the back. After a few moments, Antoine calmed down.
"Now there's an idea. Media repellent," Antoine said. He tossed his head, and his well tended curls bounced on his shoulders. "Mason? Any ideas of how we could corner the market on media repellent?"
"GMA's Media Repellent. Guaranteed to scare away pesky paparazzi," Deuce intoned seriously.
I nodded, and accepted a drink from a lovely, lovely lad. The lad moved away and I craned my neck catch a parting glimpse of him.
"Let's think on this a moment," I intoned, hoping to hide what I thought was a blush coming to my cheeks. I motioned towards a table with a window seat. Antoine and Deuce followed, smiling into their drinks.
We sat down at the small table. Rain still hammered at the window, obscuring our view. I sipped my drink. "Ahh. Pure whiskey. Just what I needed." Dooo! Like I didn't make a promise to myself to lay off the whiskey. Wait. Didn't I say that I would lay off the whiskey after I finished my newly acquired stash? Yes, I seem to recall that was the case. I raised my glass in a toast and then...someone's phone shrilled to the tune of Beethoven's Fifth. All three of us scrambled for our phones; evidently we had, at some time, decided to choose the same ring tone.
"Mine!" Deuce commented, flipping open his phone with expert ease. "H'lo?" he said. I grabbed an appetizer from Antoine's plate and munched on it. Cheese and spinach. Not bad.
"And it's missing?" Deuce now asked, nervously glancing over at Antoine.
Antoine twiddled his thumbs, perhaps wondering, I thought, what the deuce was going on. Speaking for myself, I would like to know what was going on. Antoine slid sideways in his seat and lounged there, catching many a woman's eye.
Antoine's shoe somehow managed to slip off his foot. Grinning slyly, I wrinkled my nose and waved my hand in front of my nose as if there was a nasty smell in the room. Since the conversation seemed to be going nowhere, I risked a glance at Antoine. He chose to blind me with those white teeth of his. By the smile on his face, I knew he realized I was ribbing him.
Deuce coughed and I turned my attention back to the one sided conversation.
"Uh, well, I suppose you can count on me," Deuce replied slowly.
"Good!" came the loud, jocular reply which caused Deuce to pull the phone away from his ear. He grimaced.. "I shall be expecting you at five!" the hearty voice sounded from the ear piece of Deuce's cell phone. And before Deuce could reply, the dial tone rang loud. Deuce over and clicked off the phone. He looked at Antoine and myself. Antoine raised an eyebrow.
"What mess have you gotten us involved in?" Antoine asked amiably. He bounced his foot up and down and I had to admit that I rather liked his bony foot, sheathed as it was in what looked like cashmere socks.
"It's not a mess. It's more of an...opportunity," Deuce replied. I could see his hesitation and I wondered why.
"I hope," I commented, "that my services will not be needed."
Deuce looked startled at my comment. "No. No, of course not, Mason." He tried to sound reassuring but my antennae were raised where Deuce was concerned.
"Deuce, my man! What went down?" I was, I hoped, sounding like a casual California surfer dude.
Now Antoine raised an eyebrow at me and Deuce glanced at me sharply. "Nothing. It's just some old friends phoning. They're here."
"Here?" I asked, surprised. Like Antoine. I looked around the boat's cabin. The large cabin of the dining boat was only partly filled with office types celebrating Mister Somebody's Retirement Party.
"Not here here," Deuce corrected. "Here. In London."
"And you will meet your friends?" Antoine congenially asked. "Friends can be useful when one is in a foreign city." Antoine had slipped his shoe back on and now he turned around in his seat so that he was facing Deuce.
Now it was Deuce's turn to be surprised. "Well, yes. That's what friends are for, aren't they?"
"I don't know about this Deuce," I commented. I watched him carefully so as to gauge his reaction. Deuce seemingly had recovered from his earlier nervousness and he confidently replied,
"I've known them since high school, Mason. They're my buds."
"Mmm, hmmm. And the last time you were phoned to "meet some friends," you ended up trussed and drunk in the tunnels underneath Edinburgh," I commented, choosing not to mince words. As I expected, Deuce looked away, his confidence drained in an instant. I couldn't blame my man Deuce for being nervous. Trussed up and drunk in those Edinburgh tunnels was not a very nice way of spending a few days.
"Deuce! We'd like to meet these friends of yours." Antoine commented and smiled at Deuce. I nodded.
"Yes. They would need a London city guide," I offered congenially. "And who better than me to guide tourists around London?"
Antoine nodded, a huge grin suffusing his face. "And Mason's just the person!" he said. "I have another helicopter ride I can take them on."
When lunch was done and the skipper had docked his lady love, Deuce, Antoine and myself walked down the plank. Antoine looked at the murky water splashing against the dock pilings.
"Ugh," he commented, making a face. "Look at that trash."
I complied and immediately commented, "Ewww!" And this was definitely an ew moment. Either somebody's trash bin had been dumped into the Thames or Londoners are dirtier than I would want to admit. Disposable nappies, Beer cans, Big Mac wrappers, and a clump of...I bent down for a closer look.
"Oh, gads!" I commented, scrabbling backwards. I tripped over someone's shoe--Antoine's, I now saw--and sat on the ground, fanning my nose. Great. Now my suit would need to be sent to the cleaners. Fortunately, I was sitting on wood, not mud.
"What is it?" Antoine asked, extending a hand to help me up.
"A dead cat," I replied. "I thought it was a clump of fur."
"Ew!" Deuce commented. "Can't you ring animal control?"
I nodded. "I could, but the scavenger birds have already gotten there before me."
I indicated with my head to the place where scavenger birds were already
circling the cat's corpse. Poor kitty, I thought. I wonder who left you
out in the cold to come to a fate like this?
Parting ways with Antoine and Deuce--both of whom elected spa services for the remainder of the afternoon until we were to meet Deuce's friends at their privately rented flat, I hailed one of London's famous black cabs and headed back to the office to close things up for the weekend. I enjoyed the ride back through London's wet streets, people-watching in silence instead of engaging in my usual chatter with the driver. Upon arrival at the small office building housing my small office, I tipped the driver with pounds fifty, feeling rather generous. He was, naturally, overjoyed at receiving such an excellent tip.
"Cheerio!" I called after the cab as I entered the building.
I strode down the hallway towards my office, whistling a happy tune. I stopped momentarily to straighten the brolly vase that had tipped over in my absence. I should have taken the overturned brolly vase as the first clue. Still whistling, I continued down to my office. The door was slightly ajar.
Funny. I swore I had locked the door, but there is a chance that I hadn't. I was, after all, a bit distracted over the thought of going to lunch. I pushed on the door. Entering the office, I had the funny feeling that someone had been there. I thought I scented a whiff of perfume. I breathed deeply, trying to discern the scent. Was it my own scent?
I wear perfume but the perfume I was detecting wasn't my own. I sniffed again, then decided that the floral scent was a woman's scent.
Immediately my mind wandered back to the statuesque blonde who had I had seen earlier in the day. Did she enter my office? Why? I wandered around my small office, poking my head here and there. Nothing seemed out of place. Even my computer seemed to be in order, the screen displaying my favorite screensaver: a melange of beauties from both genders parading across my screen.
Sighing, I reached to shut the computer off. As I did so, my hand knocked the mouse to the floor. I bent down to pick it up and when I rose again, I got the shock of my life.
The computer screen was showing GMA's financial accounts. Now I knew that someone had been in my office, for I had been playing Scrabble online when Antoine had phoned to set up the lunch date. With hot panic rising in my throat, I sat down and logged onto the internet. I tapped my foot impatiently as I waited an eternity for BT to decide whether or not to make the connection.
Finally deciding that Inland Revenue had no quibbles with me, BT decided I deserved access to the internet. BT logged me on, and I quickly accessed GMA's financial accounts at our brokerage. If GMA had indeed been robbed, the deed could have taken place while our happy trio was lunching on the Thames.
I scanned the accounts. All seemed to be in place. No transactions had been performed for the day. I breathed a sigh of relief. Then I phoned the brokerage and made arrangements for the accounts to be changed, just in case my unwelcome visitor was planning something later on. Happy to accomodate my request, the brokerage assured me things would be taken care of shortly. I promised to drop by their offices at 4 to look over the new account numbers.
Then I shut off he computer, closed up my office and decided to go to
the Ritz for tea.
Upon arriving at GMA's brokerage promptly at 4, I was shown to the waiting area. Not suspecting anything was awry, I sat down and waited for the representative to appear.
I heard clacking footfalls a moment before the owner appeared.
"There you are, Mister McDaniel. Come this way," she told me brusquely. I got up and followed her. She was very short, with dark red spiked hair severely cut. Her suit was also cut very tight over an ample figure. She took me down a hallway. As we went, I glanced into the open office doors. Most of the offices were occupied with serious looking people hard at work.
"Here we are. If you'll just have a seat," she told me.
I sat down and glanced at her desk. Martha Mathers, her nameplate told me. Martha sat down with an audible grunt.
"Now," she told me. "You just need to verify the amount of money you asked to withdraw this afternoon, sign here and all will be well." She smiled at me, and tapped her finger on the papers lying on the top of her desk.
My mouth must have dropped open. Martha looked at me with surprise.
"Surely you remember a withdrawal request in that amount," she informed me.
I shook my head. Bile rose in my throat. GMA had been robbed! Or almost robbed. Mentally, I smacked my forehead. The thief must have pressed the back button in the browser software in order to show the opening GMA accounts. And fool that I am, I didn't check the forward button to see if someone had been trying to fool me. Wait! Didn't the brokerage earlier tell me that there had been no transactions today?
Whew! That was a close call, I thought ot myself. Must slow down. Must pay attention to details and I simply must lay off the whiskey.
"Not lately, no," was all I could stammer out. Not lately, no? What the heck was I saying? Perhaps Martha would figure it out, for I had no clue what I was saying.
"Pounds two hundred fifty thousand was the request," Martha briskly informed me, almost as if she had read my mind. "With that large an amount, there is a 24 hour waiting period before the cash is available," Martha told me.
I opened my mouth a few times, trying to take in Martha's words. The amount, was, if you recall from our last escapades, the same amount that we had doled out to the Modster's to redeem our Deuce Bigalow. Then we turned in four Modsters to the Yard. I had no doubt that the Modsters were exacting their revenge. I narrowed my eyebrows, then raised an eyebrow at Martha. "I do not recall having difficulty extracting pounds two hundred fifty thousand on the fly just the other week," I told her smoothly.
"And that you did," Martha replied immediately. "However, had you read the fine print on your monthly statements, you would have known that we were enacting a 24 hour waiting period on all transactions over pounds one hundred thousand."
Ah. That was smart. "And when did this occur?" I enquired, hoping I wasn't sounding the fool. I am a barrister. I trained in law. It is my duty to pay attention to the details. So why had I missed this important detail?
"On Monday," came the reply.
I mentally calculated. Deuce was kidnapped on that Sunday; we got the ransom on the Monday. We got him back on the Tuesday and by Friday the Millenium Dome gem heist had occurred. The following week we had managed to entrap and have arrested the four renegade members of the Modsters who had orchestrated the kidnapping and gem heist. The reward was paid out the following Tuesday, two weeks after Deuce was returned to us.
And today was just a mere week after that. I chuckled lightly. "Seems like I came in just under the wire," I commented, looking at the steel grey of Martha's eyes.
She returned my look quite blankly and I wondered if she was privately mocking me for my lack of attention to detail.
"Still," she said. "you'll need to verify the transaction request."
"I wasn't aware of any transaction for GMA today," I said quietly, hoping that Martha would understand.
She blinked at me. "Are you reporting an attempted crime?"
I nodded. "I suppose I am."
"Well," she breathed. "I suppose we must phone the Yard."
It was nearly 8 pm when all the details of the crime scene had been noted down. From memory, I gave the details of the tall blonde woman and of the cabbie who dropped me off at the Millenium Dome. Surely he would remember me, with my pounds fifty tip. The last inspector from the Yard had just left and my office was a shambles. Black fingerprint powder was over everything and I knew it would be a bit** to get off. I reserved that task for tomorrow morning.
Fortunately, the Yard had found on identifable fingerprints on the doornob. Good thing I had pushed on the door instead of using the doornob. The prints would be traced and by lunchtime tomorrow there would be a lead. Or so I was told.
I had my own theory about the theft: the Modsters. But who? The four we had captured in the last go-round were only on the fringes of the main group. And even the main group of Modsters steered clear of those four deadbeats. Petty thievery, nothing major was their motto.
"Grab em and leave em," the police were told. If you come to London, you know what to look for: well dressed young folk, under the age of 24, casually sipping coffee at an outdoor cafe. You, the hapless tourist, sit at the same outdoor cafe, your purse or duffel bag in sight and unsecured. A Modster, perhaps sitting nearby, signals a partner (they always work in pairs, they do) and before you know it, you are relieved of your belongings. All in broad daylight, all without fuss.
Or perhaps you ride the Tube and in the crowded cars you do not notice the fingers slipping into your pocket. Until later, when you discover that you have been robbed. Happens all the time. Lines at the police station are well marked; few belongings are ever found and their owners leave shell-shocked. Some are directed towards their embassy for emergency financial relief and to get their passports replaced. Others need help in locating the nearest American Express office so they can pick up new credit cards. Still others, used to thievery in London, shrug their shoulders and merely report the crime in the hopes that at some later date, the thieves will commit another crime and there will be a prior record.
That's the Modsters. Thieves that they are. But apparently, they have gone high-tech, breaking into financial accounts and stealing monies directly from the offices of GMA. Clever, too. For how am I supposed to claim that someone stole GMA's money when the Yard can trace the transaction back to the very computer that GMA owns?
Only the fact that I am well known to the authorities enabled me to make the claim. Sighing, I looked around the now-empty office once more, then shut the door and leave. Tomorrow's another day.
Next morning, I was having my usual tea and scones when the doorbell rang.
I answered and discovered Antoine standing at my front door, his hair sopping wet. I left him in and directed him towards a shower and some dry clothes while I settled down to breakie. When Antoine came back into the kitchen, he had a newspapers rolled under his arm.
"Guess what Deuce did yesterday?" Antoine asked.
"Won the lottery?" I asked.
Antoine shook his head. "No. Here," he said and thrust the paper at me. I unrolled the paper and looked at the cover.
"He what?" I asked, shock infusing my voice.
"He tippled the bottle and swam in the Thames," Antoine replied.
I coughed lightly. To swim in the Thames is not very hygienic these days. All one has to do is go down to the riverside and look at the riverbanks. Trash. Trash. Trash.
"Well, that's all of him," Antoine commented.
"All of him?"
"As in all of him." Antoine indicated that I should open the paper. I complied and there, in the middle like a centerfold, was our Deuce Bigalow, all of him. Just like Antoine promised.
I shall have to speak to Deuce about this," I commented. "This could
have some ramifications for Manwhore Academy."
Antoine busied himself about the kitchen (it seems he is a neat freek) while I busied myself pouring another cup of tea and phoning Deuce. After what seemed to be fifty rings, Deuce answered.
"Deuce! I heard."
"You too? Word gets around fast," he complained. I furrowed my brow. Deuce sounded tired but that was to be expected with his setting up Manwhore School, being kidnapped, ransomed, participating in the recovery of gems, then partying around Europe.
"Yeah. Bum deal," I told him.
"And it was Maven," Deuce said quietly. He sniffed. "I trained him myself."
I felt a ball of panic squirm in my guts. "Maven?" I managed to ask, in a voice that I hoped belied my growing panic.
"Maven," Deuce confirmed.
I didn't want to ask any further questions so I allowed Deuce to continue. "The Yard doesn't quite know how the murder was committed."
Now I leaned over and threw up, quite politely in my opinion.
"That's how I felt, too, Mason," Deuce comforted me. I heard his voice distantly. Maven Adams, twenty three. On track to become Global Manwhore Association's best manwhore, except Antoine. There had developed a friendly rivaly between Antoine and Maven and the pranks and jokes had flown like a river.
Quickly, I glanced at Antoine. He was humming to himself, apparently unaware of Maven's demise. He was looking at me and mouthed the word Maven.
"Maven," I said and had to choke back tears. Now Antoine was concerened and he came towards me. His face was pale. He took the phone from my numb fingers.
"Deuce? What happened to Maven?"
I knew the answer and I watched Antoine's face grow shocked. He sat down and held the phone out to me. I took it.
"We'll be around shortly."
Deuce said thanks, he'll make the arrangements for the memorial service, then clicked off the phone, no less shocked than Antoine and myself were.
"Maven," was all Antoine could say.
"Do you think it was the Modsters?" I asked.
Antoine shook his head. "Don't think so. They're into petty thievery, things like that."
"Glad you agree, because I don't think this murder was done by the Modsters. Still, let's get over to Deuce's rented flat and help him with the memorial service."
"He would have made a great manwhore," Antoine sighed. "Perhaps, with time, even greater than me."