IT WAS PANIC THAT saved Flip’s bacon, panic and nothing more.
The trouble was, it had never occurred to him that once “Jay Gilly” kidnapped Monroe Hall, the person who had recommended Jay Gilly to Monroe Hall would attract the attention of the police. After all, he wouldn’t be anywhere around the Hall compound when the deed was done, but would have a solid alibi, being miles away with a client. Thus, it had come as a real shock when the police came beating on his office door at seven that evening. A shock that should have ruined him but that ultimately saved his bacon.
He was in his office at that hour to videotape his step-board routine for the exercise DVD he planned eventually to release. All at once, a pounding at the door to the front office threw him off his stride, and initially just made him angry. Switching off the camera, fuming, ready to give somebody a good tongue-lashing, he stomped through from the gym to the office, yanked open the door, glared at the two men in suits and ties standing there, and barked, “Now what?”
They both held up small leather folders with shiny things inside. “Police,” one of them said. “Alphonse Morriscone?”
He almost fainted. He nearly fell down in an absolute swoon. He never sweat while doing his routines, but now great beads of perspiration popped out all over him like a tapioca pudding, and he said, “Puh-puh-puh—”
“We’d like a moment of your time,” the same man said, but he said it in a very disagreeable threatening manner, as though what he really were saying was, “You’re under arrest and you’ll never be a free man again.”
“Well, I–I don’t see—I mean, why would—”
“If we could step inside, Mr. Morriscone.”
“I, I, I—”
Somehow, they were inside. Somehow, they were all seated in his office, the talking policeman behind the desk, Flip in the client’s chair facing him, the other policeman in the folding chair from the closet. The talking policeman said, “Tell me about Jay Gilly, Mr. Morriscone.”
“Oh, my God!”
They both looked alert. “Yes, Mr. Morriscone?”
“You heard us, Mr. Morriscone.”
Deny everything. No, it’s too late, they already know. Deny everything anyway. “I don’t, I don’t know.”
“You don’t know what, Mr. Morriscone?”
“Jay Gilly.” Sweat ran into Flip’s eyes, but he was afraid to blink.
“Is that so?” The talking policeman smirked. “And yet somehow,” he said, “you introduced Jay Gilly to a client of yours, didn’t you? Didn’t you?”
“Oh, my God.” Too late to deny everything. “Oh, Mr. Hall.”
“You remember now, do you? You don’t know Jay Gilly, and yet somehow you introduced him to Monroe Hall, didn’t you? Didn’t you, Mr. Morriscone?”
“Where I met him,” Flip blurted, as though that’s the question he’d been asked, because in the shaken kaleidoscope that his brain had become, he knew that was the question he would be asked, and that he didn’t have an answer for it. In his mind, he skittered back and forth like a rabbit trying to elude an oncoming truck, trying to figure out how it was that he knew Jay Gilly, and failing to find an answer he could present. Not through a client—the client would deny it. Not through anybody. So, in his panic and desperation, he answered the question that would destroy him before they got around to asking it.
“You forget where you met him?”
“He was just—I mean, I don’t know, we just talked, and when it was on the news, Mr. Hall, I thought, Oh, the police are gonna get me!”
Both policemen looked very interested at that. “Get you, Mr. Morriscone?”
“Because I forget where I met him.” Flip waved arms around, to indicate just how large the planet Earth actually was, with so many places in it where a person might meet a person. “I mean, we just talked, he just talked to me, he told me he trained people to ride horses, and I said, Oh, I know somebody who needs somebody to teach him how to ride a horse, and he said he could do it but he’d bring his own horse, and I said I’ll call Mr. Hall, and he said fine, and I called Mr. Hall, and he said fine, I mean Mr. Hall said fine, and I told this Mr. Gilly, and he said fine, and I thought no more about it, and then it was on the news, and I thought, Oh, they’ll want to know why I talked to Mr. Hall about that man, and where did I meet him, and everything about him, and I don’t know anything, and they’re going to find out I’m mad at Mr. Hall, and they’ll think I did it on purpose, and they’ll lock me up—”
“Mad at Mr. Hall?”
“Oh! No-no-no, I’m not mad at Mr. Hall, did I say I was mad at Mr. Hall? Well, I used to be mad at Mr. Hall, just a little bit mad at Mr. Hall, but I got over all that, I mean I’m not mad at him now, that was just—”
“Why were you mad at Mr. Hall?”
Oh, why did I tell them that? Flip demanded of himself. Now I have to tell them I’m a tax cheat, and they’ll be convinced I’m a hardened criminal, and—
My mouth has been open a long time, Flip pointed out to himself, and shut it, then opened it to say, “He got me into a little trouble with the IRS. I didn’t know he was going to report what he paid me, so I didn’t report what he paid me, and that’s the only time in my life I ever did anything like that, and I’ll never do it again, and in fact, after I stopped being mad at Mr. Hall, and never was really mad at him, but then after that I was actually grateful to Mr. Hall, because I learned my lesson, believe you me.”
He didn’t want to stop talking, it seemed to hold the inevitable at bay if he kept talking, but all at once he ran out of things to say, and so he just sat there. His mouth was open again. He thought, should I tell them about the time I cheated on the test in high school? No, they don’t want to know about that, they want to know all about Jay Gilly, and I can’t tell them about that, somehow I have to not tell them about Jay Gilly, not the truth, oh, no, not the truth. His mouth closed.
Meanwhile, the talking policeman nodded thoughtfully a while, then turned to the other one and said, “You see what this is, Bob.”
“I think I do,” the other one said, Flip hearing his voice for the first time.
“They talked to people who knew Hall,” the talking policeman said, “looking for that weak link.”
“That’s the story, all right.”
Weak link? Do they mean me?
“Probably met in a bar somewhere,” the talking policeman said, “something like that.”
I don’t go to bars! Fortunately, Flip didn’t actually say that, or anything else.
“So this is another blind alley,” the talking policeman said, “like that foreign embassy.”
“Sure looks like it.”
The talking policeman stood, and then the other policeman stood. The talking policeman said to Flip, “Well, thank you for your time, Mr. Morriscone. Here’s my card.”
They’re not going to arrest me! Fortunately again, Flip also left that sentence unspoken. Instead, he got to his quaking feet, took the card without looking at it, and waited for whatever would happen next.
“If you remember anything else, give us a call.”
“And when we get this Jay Gilly, and you can count on it, we will get him—”
“—we’ll ask you to come in to identify him for us.”
“We’ll let ourselves out.”
They did, Flip staring at them in wonder the whole time. It was true! They were letting him go! They weren’t suspicious! He was a weak link!
He locked the door after them, hurried back through the gym to the changing room, and took a long, long shower. Partway through, he took off his clothes.