Lupée Plays the Drums
After closing time, John and George sat in Gilbert’s sandwich shop munching on salty shakes and drinking beer in the dim light. On and off, they stopped chatting to watch the late night crowd straggle home. The crowd of just an hour before was quite thin, as much because of the hour and because of the cold. Everyone was bundled and muffled against the bitter wind blowing off The Mersey.
“It’s a pity at this time of year,” said John, his eyes following people down the street to the square.
“The world is cruel,” said George. “Everything’s money now.”
“Service is all gone to hell,” echoed Gilbert. “Any more, John?” Gilbert drained his glass.
“I put it in your cooler.”
Gilbert made his way behind the counter. “Anyone else?”
“Need you ask?”
“My mother trained me well.”
Gilbert returned with three bottles.”
“You didn’t open them?”
“There goes Robbie,” said George in an off-hand manner.
John and Gilbert looked up.”
“He don’t look too good.”
“Would you, John?”
“We’ll lose a lot of business when he goes.”
“You said a mouthful, Gilbert.” George raised his glass and drained it. He popped open another bottle. “Have we to just sit by?”
“What do you propose?”
“We’re not his only friends in this area.”
“The whole block,” said John.
“The whole block,” echoed the others.
They were quiet awhile, sipping their beers, each lost in his own thoughts.
“We could throw him a party…”
“Oh. Great idea, George. Just what he needs. A going away party,” snapped Gilbert.
“Come as you are, eh mate?”
“No, you mindless bastards.”
“Here. Here. We both have fathers, George.”
“And we know who they are.”
“A sort of welcome back party.”
“One man’s lost his life, Gilbert. The banks have given it to him.”
“If he can’t pay it off.”
John and George stopped, glasses part way to their mouths. They turned and stared at Gilbert.
“Give him some food from our shops for Christmas and donate to the cause.”
“We cater?” asked John and drank.
“Not just us. All ten of us.”
“Not all of us sells food.”
“So much the better. Little mementoes.”
“And money,” added George.
John emptied his glass and poured another, very slowly. “How much does he owe?”
Gilbert cleared his throat. “￡1000.”
“And they’re closing him down for that?” Gilbert nodded. “Bastards.”
“He’s got nothing to fight with?”
“He’s not had such a good year, then?” John proffered.
“None of us had. But he’s been hit the hardest.”
“Has he lots of stock left, Gilbert?”
The three men sat quietly drinking their beers and watching the people pass by.
“Winter’s a bitch,” complained George. “You can’t see if the girl’s worth it.”
“You’ve been single too long, George. You need to find one to marry—and quick. Your face is starting to get creased.”
“Why’d I want to do that with a bird? She’d turn dowdy in no time.”
Laughing, Gilbert rose. “Now that calls for another round,” he said topping his hooting companions.
“Just two, Gilbert. We’ll split.”
Gilbert brought the beers, popped them open and poured.
“A Christmas party, then?”
“All of us? All ten of us?”
“How do we find out what they need? In the way of food,” said George over the rim of his glass.
John leaned in. “Now, there, George, is why you need to be married.”
“And why’s that?”
John and Gilbert chorused, “Women talk.”
* * *
Christmas Eve was unduly mild, considering the weeks leading up to the high point of the holidays. Everyone on the block closed up shop early, wished Robbie a good Christmas and followed their friend with concerned looks. Robbie looked none too happy trudging down Slater St. on his way home. His friends shook their heads at the beating a good man could take in this world .
The men meandered down to Gilbert’s. The women had already arrived leaving little room to manoeuvre between themselves and the baskets of food and wine. George, with no woman to gather, showed up with a half haunch of ham smothered in pineapple and cloves from the smell that blew in the door with him…and an over dressed woman in gaudy clothing. All cleared their throats but they should have known.
George liked tarts, they did not last long and, therefore, did not tax him.
When they were all ready, they trooped through the early evening to Robbie and Sheila’s. The group of 20 were loud, raucous even, and the enthusiasm did not lessen when they knocked on the door and pushed past the astonished couple.
Before the evening’s feasting began, Gilbert stood and made a little speech. He produced a small barrel, put his £100 in it and passed it round. When it came back round to him, he capped it and handed it to Robbie. Robbie was speechless, Sheila cried.
The remainder of the evening was joyous and left a warm feeling in the heart of Robbie and Sheila. They sat for a long time at the empty table. The friends had cleared up the mess. This was an unforgettable Christmas Eve.
Robbie and Sheila were suddenly alone in a great silence once the raucous friends had left for their own homes. Robbie shook his head as he closed the door behind his guests.
“Surely we are blessed, my girl.” He sighed. “With such kind, thoughtful friends, this will be a good New Years. After all, the bankers will have a hard time when I give them this!” said Robbie.
Husband and wife laughed. They hugged each other and kissed. Holding each other and almost in tears, Robbie and Sheila sat quietly looking at their barrel of good fortune.
“Shall we open it, then?” Sheila asked.
Robbie set the barrel on the table, so thankful to have such good friends. It rattled a bit. Some of the guests had given coin: “Give the bastards a hard time having to count their bad wishes!”
Sheila opened the barrel.
Both looked inside.
The barrel was empty.
* * *
“Why is it, Lieutenant, people do their dirty work at such times?”
“What such times, D?”
“Some people have nothing better to do than make life difficult for others.”
“This is a bit on the far side of difficult, if you don’t mind my saying so, sir.”
“I do not.” Lupée was silent for a moment. “It goes double, I’m afraid.”
“I was at my mum’s.” Lupée said nothing. “She’s not happy with my being a cop.”
“You’re not a cop. You’re a detective. Big difference.”
“Not for her. She’s sure I’m going to get shot. Anxious and worried all the time. Sometimes it’s all I can do to be with her.”
“It’s why I’m no longer married. When I came on the force, I started as a copper. She wanted a man she could be sure would come home every night.” He turned down Seel St. “I was shot at once. I think it would be best that we park here. Artists and low-lifes. Neither have much use for our kind.”
“Even the shopkeepers?”
“They cater to the artists. End of co-operation.”
“And here we are protecting them!”
“Sometimes, D, you are so naïve. It isn’t as if the police are angels. The bad cases give us a bad reputation.”
“How long will we be sitting here, sir? It’s getting a bit cool.”
“Yes. I suppose it is. I’ve got to drum up the courage to get on with this one.”
“Wrong choice of words. Robbie and Sheila Collingsworth are old friends. Very good friends.”
“Yes. Perhaps that’s it.”
“Let me take the lead, then. You be my sidekick.”
“As the Yanks say.” Lupée heaved a sigh and smiled. “Bloody rebellious colonists. Look what they’ve done to that country.”
“Look what we’ve done to this country.”
“Yes. Well. Shall we get on with it?”
They walked down Fleet St., took a left at Slater Street and then a right onto Seel Street. About halfway down the street, an alley more than a street, Lupée stopped before a somewhat narrow door. Lupée raised his hand to rap on the old faded wooden door. Sgt. Dumqik stopped him.
“My lead on this one, Lupée.”
Lupée moved back and D stepped up to the door.
Robbie Collingsworth opened the door so quickly he must have been waiting just on the other side. D recoiled.
“Oh, sorry,” Robbie said. “A bit anxious, you see. Hallo, Tones. I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“Not exactly the type of visit I’d like to make on an old friend.”
“Right. Come in, then. We’re in the kitchen. Bit warmer there.”
“I’ll get the door, Robbie. Still only room for one in this hall, eh?”
“Cozy, that’s for sure.”
“Makes friends stay longer. Only this time they weren’t such good friends, it seems.”
They mounted the stairs in single file.
“I’m sure it’s not all of them, Mr. Collingsworth.”
“You work with Tones?”
“Yes. Just call me D.”
“Her name’s rather embarrassing to her, Robbie.”
“Then why not change it?”
“Mum’s still alive.”
“Look who’s here, Sheila! Tones and some woman detective calls herself D.”
* * *
After they made their report, signed by Lupée to keep the higher-ups believing that everything was going along as it should, with D’s initials as the subordinate, Lupée and D retired to their favourite thinking spot, Renard’s Den.
“What a pleasant change. Warm, spiced wine. Lovely idea. Here’s to you, Lt. D.”
“Wouldn’t that be brevet? Temporary battlefield promotion?”
“I’ll see if I can scrounge you up a few stripes. Your mum will like that.”
“As long as I don’t have to wear a copper’s uniform.”
“At least not in public.”
“She watches the newspapers every day expecting to see her daughter in danger. She tells me it’s my fate to be tabloid front page.”
“Ahh. Fate. Funny thing, fate,” commented Lupée.
“I’m not sure I follow you, sir.”
“Fate we give in to. It explains everything and relieves one of responsibility.” D looked over the rim of her glass as she sipped her wine, breathing in the cinnamon and clove. “Not responsibility to begin with, mind you, but what’s done with it once it comes into one’s life. Fate gives, ever so negatively often enough, a meaning to life.”
“Don’t we all need a little of that?”
“Catching up, Lieutenant.”
“I see. Well. Fate is the word we use instead of chance because chance, I think you could say, is too unsettling and chaotic for the
civilized mind that likes reason above everything else.”
D sipped her wine, waiting ’til Lupée was drinking, his mouth full, before she spoke. “But, Professor, what of the Greeks? They not only believed in Fate, they led their lives based on it. It was their religion.”
“Yes. I do sound kind of pompous, don’t I? It’s usually you makes such observations, though much more pleasantly.”
“Does wine always give you such a silver tongue?”
“Wine over cynicism. I’m sorry, D. He’s my friend. It’s the holidays. Bastards are ruining it for everyone.”
“Robbie called it fate. His fate,” D reminded Lupée. “As if the theft, the bad friend, was his fault. Fate is a part of him. A person to whom bad things happen.”
“Most certainly not. He works hard. He’s built his business from nothing. No. I think he doesn’t want to admit he has bad friends. That is too much pain.”
“Fate hides many ills.”
“It’s so much easier to lie to ourselves than face an uncomfortable truth.”
“You? You lie to yourself?”
“Every day I tell myself I’m making a difference—at least in this city.”
“And your cynicism?”
“Those are the days I admit the truth.” He finished his wine. “My treat. More of the same?”
With freshly warm drinks before them, D and Lupée relaxed a bit more. They leaned back in their chairs.
“It’s nice. This fire,” said D.
“Mmm. Yes, it is. When I was a boy, we only had a fireplace for heat. Not very effective.”
“I can’t imagine.”
“We spent most of our time in the kitchen. The coal stove was always going so that the room was quite warm enough.”
“Your mum cooked on a coal stove?”
“How else would she cook?”
“Oh. Right. How silly of me.”
“Not at all.” Lupée sipped his wine. “I imagine that’s why Robbie continues to sit in the kitchen. A hold-over.”
“And you, Lieutenant?”
“I’m lazy, D. I go home and inhabit the sofa, hoping someone will magically appear with supper.”
“Never happens, does it?”
“No wife.” Lupée toasted the young woman.
“It’s a good thing I’m not married, then.”
“Perhaps. Perhaps. Some men are more thoughtful, I’m sure. But hard to find.”
“Like a true friend is hard to find.”
Lupée sipped his wine. “Finally,” he sighed.
“How do you judge character?”
“Certainly after the fact is no good.” Lupée shook his head. “They’ll all deny doing it upon questioning.”
“What petty thief admits his guilt?” D sipped her wine. “How shall we proceed?”
“After the boring part?” D nodded. “Not by the book I should think.”
* * *
The invitations from Lt. Detective Lupée went out a few days after Christmas, asking the 20 guests to gather at Robbie’s house the day after New Year’s. A small keg with straps stood to one side of the entrance. Sgt. D answered the door and ushered the friends upstairs to the kitchen where the party had been held. The warmest place in the house. Any house for that matter. Robbie and Sheila were not present. Lupée stood at the far end of the room watching with apparent disinterest as the 20 filed in. They stood around not knowing just what to do.
“Please,” said Lupée. “Take a seat.”
Everyone found a place to sit, looking from one to another uncomfortably. Lupée did nothing to relieve the tension.
“Let me introduce myself,” began Lupée, leaning against the wall. “I’m Lt. Detective Lupée.” He paused.
“Where’s Robbie and Sheila, then?” asked Gilbert.
“They’re off on holiday.” Lupée paused again. “This is a very interesting case, this bit about the missing Christmas money. All we know is that one of you friends is a thief. A traitor, if you will. I think there is nothing more despicable than a traitor. Don’t you agree, Sgt.?”
“Yes, sir. A killer only takes a life. A turncoat steals a soul. As I see it.”
“Well said. Right, then. Shall we get to it? Good. The Sgt. here will take one couple downstairs and out the door. The rest of us will wait here until the next couple is summoned. As the Sgt. dismisses each couple, that pair is free to go and the subsequent couple will be summoned. Understood?”
The group as a whole nodded their heads and murmured assent.
“Excuse me, Lt.,” asked Gilbert. “How shall we decide which of us goes first?”
“Good question, Mr. Dortman. I think we shall do it in good old schoolboy sporting fashion. I have here,” he said, suddenly holding up a hand, “ten sticks each one numbered one to ten. I think that’s pretty clear, yes? Good. Only the men draw.”
Sgt. D led the first couple down the stairs and out onto the street. D stood by the keg, placing her hand on it.
“Mr. Dortman. Your wife will carry this keg while you walk alongside. You will go down to Seel St. where you will see a police officer who will direct you along the square. At Duke St. there will be another officer who will direct you up Duke St. and then you will cross over and up Slater St. to me, at the corner of Slater and Seel Sts. Alright?”
“It shouldn’t be difficult. But why are we doing something so…”
“Silly?” his wife finished. “Everyone will be watching. Is it now the police’s practice embarrassing people?”
“Consider this punishment for the theft.”
“We didn’t take it!” snapped Mrs. Dortman.
“All of you are implicated. As we do not know who did the deed, we are punishing the lot of you.”
“I really don’t like it,” said Gilbert.
“Neither do I, Mr. Dortman. But you have no choice. It’s only 25 lbs.”
Sgt. D helped Mrs. Dortman into the straps and sent the couple on their way.
So it went for the remainder of the day. As each couple made its way round the course, the spectators grew in number, as did the catcalls.
The last couple to make the rounds was George and his girlfriend of that night, who complained bitterly.
“This is unbearable! How dare you put me through this, George Crane.”
“It’s not my doing, Candy.”
“Buck up, my sweet. Putting up with this is far easier than stealing £1000 with people all round.”
“And when I set this keg down, you will never see me again.”
So it was and so it goes.
Unbeknownst to the couples, a little tape recorder was sitting atop the 25 lb-weights. Poor George.
* * *
Lupée and D sat in their customary corner, quieter than usual. The fire crackled and popped. Both held their hands loosely around hot rum toddies.
“I don’t know how many of these I can handle, Lt.” D said, finally breaking the silence.
“Nor do I, D. Nor do I.”
“Both,” sighed Lupée, taking a tentative sip of his steaming drink. “The rum will force us to leave the cars and our friendly thieves will dampen any scrap of sentiment I might have had for the salvation of humanity.”
“That’s a mighty burden to carry, Lt.”
“What makes you think I’m the saviour of such a pack of venomous black hearts?”
“Oh, dear!” D sipped her toddy.
“You’re the one read the riot act, D.”
“Good dramatic touch, don’t you think?”
Lupée took a long sip. “Christ! Well! That put a little life back in the old windbag!”
D pursed her lips and pumped with her left forearm. She squealed nasally and hummed, breaking into a good imitation of a bagpipes.
Lupée added his voice underneath. Both took heaving breaths and held forth again. It didn’t take long for the barmaid to arrive. She stood silently in the entryway, hands on hips. Catching sight of her, Lupée stopped. D looked up and stopped. Never have pipes come to such a sudden and complete stop.
“If I’d wanted the Black Watch in me pub, I’d’ve invited them, Lt.”
“It’s not the Black Watch, Molly, my girl.”
“I’m not your girl.” She waited. “Well, then, if not the Black Watch, who th’ell are you?”
“Macbeth’s Witchy Watch. Now we’re all come together.” Lupée toasted Molly.
“Double bubble toil and trouble.” D toasted Molly.
Molly waited for the glasses to come to a rest on the small round table.
“Right, then. I’ll bring you a couple more hell-raisers.” Molly shook a finger at the two detectives. “But I’ll not bring me cauldron out o’me kitchen for the likes o’ you two to ruin me with your spells and such.” She turned on her heel and walked back to the taproom, imitating a slightly more wheezing pipes and she limped while doing so.
“If only Shakespeare had had her!”
“Och, laddie! Ye’re doin’ the’auld bird less due than she’s wor’eth.”
“Your brogue is awful, D.”
They both drank.
Molly returned with two more toddies.
“If Shakespeare had had me, he’d a’been writin’ for real women and not prepubescent boys or cross-dressers.”
“Rescued just in time.” D reached for the drinks.
“On the ‘ouse—but only this once, mind you. A girl’s got to have friends, y’know.”
“Ah! Hecuba! Do ye foretell the worst o’ our fears?” And Lupée saluted Molly with his drink.
“If bein’ friends with me is the worst you can do, God give me strength.”
“Here’s to you, Molly.” D saluted Molly.
“And here’s to you two—I’m closin’ up early as me old man’s ailin’.”
“We’ll keep ‘er goin’, Molly.”
“A fine lot o’good I’ll get from two liquored up detectives.”
“We’re not liquored up.”
“No. But you’re sure whinin’.” Hand still on hips, Molly looked from D to Lupée. “Hmm? What is it this time?”
D looked to Lupée. Lupée took a swallow.
“Did you put a little extra into the pot, Molly?”
“I’d take a bit more than a little to make you two to notice a difference.”
“We thank you,” chorused the detectives.
“You know we can’t talk business, Molly.”
“I’m not for lookin’ into your secret book o’ spells.”
“Alright. Alright.” Lupée sipped again. “You tell her D.”
“Right.” D took a long sip. “It’s the Robbie Collingsworth case.”
“Well! It’s about time that someone caught up with that George Crane. What a menace to society that man is!”
“Is that so?” Lupée leaned in.
“It is so. He’s been scammin’ the government and the neighbourhood association for years. Lets an unheated house to oldsters to get the government freebie for central heating. And all these other folk needin’ it be not getting’ it because of Georgey orgey porgey suckin’ up all the funds. He’s the one could give you what a life’s worth. Him and that aunt of his. Blustering snooty know-it-all bitch with a voice a football manager would be proud to own. She foots the upfront costs, George cuts corners and then gets the work done for free. The old tightwad. Th’only thing on that bloke’s mind is money and how he can get it without spendin’ any in the process. He’s not a case of a bad apple, Lt., he’s the bad apple itself. Some people are just plain bad.”
“You think there are bad genes?”
“I do. I do. If they wasn’t, how’d I make any money with a pub like this? You check it out, Lt. Might even run in families. Bad genes.”
“Lupée and I are bad?”
“Some good people like to drink, D.”
“Well, thank goodness for that! I’d certainly not like to disappoint my genes.”
“No drunks in your family, D?”
‘Oh, Lt., lots of drunks. But no bad eggs. Yourself?”
“Worst of the lot.”
“It’s good to know you.”
Lupée and D clinked glasses and drank.
Molly turned from one to the other.
“Let us know when you’re going to close shop,” said Lupée.
“You’re the last lot.”
“Well, then. Shall we?”
Lupée and D followed Molly into the taproom, paid their bill and stepped out into the cool night air. Lupée walked D to her little Cooper, perhaps the only neon green car in the city. They stood facing each other, hands in pockets, breathing into the air.
“Is traitorousness a genetic characteristic, Lt.?”
“Perhaps we should do a little checking into that aunt of his. And perhaps his family. But for another night. I’m frazzled on this one.”
“How’s Robbie doing?”
“The other boys are moving him out of the neighbourhood.”
“I don’t think I could go back into that neighbourhood, either. People knowing I’d been had and the show that was made to find the thief. Bad memories.”
“Recent bad memories have a tendency to obliterate all the good accrued over many years.
That kitchen would wreak of crime and friendship lost. Yes. It would be hard for me, too. A worse crime than a thieving friend.”
They stood silent a moment. D was looking beyond Lupée’s shoulder and down the street that disappeared into the wintry haze of street lamps, thinking of the rich people who had once exclusively inhabited this area. Lupée stared at the sidewalk, the little swirls of design frozen dampness made, beauty in the worst of climes.
“It’s getting very cold out here,” he said. “I don’t know how much longer…”
“Well! It’s of no consequence. It doesn’t take winter to bring it to light.”
“Is it always this way?”
“Apparently. The raw edge of humanity forever being…” Lupée sighed. “Certainly not caressed.”
“What was once good gets handed down and then run down. Social destruction.” She returned her gaze to her superior. “Why is it the common lot don’t feel satisfied ’til their betters, as they like to call them, are brought low, down to the lowest common denominator?”
“The lowest common denominator. Yes. I suppose that’s what thievery is.”
“Robbie and Sheila. Poor Sheila. The likes of such good people being trampled on.”
“They’re out of it now. At least externally. They live down that way.” Lupée motioned with his chin, the opposite way from D’s concentration. She turned. “Less showy artists, I think you might call some of that area. Good place for Robbie to be.”
“You know where he’s gone?”
“He’s my friend. Of course I know where he’s gone.”
“We’re not supposed to—“
“One of the most important aspects of this job, D, is building resources. Not only those who can do for you but who of those resources has resources to be tapped if they don’t have the answer to hand.”
“Like a house.”
“For a good price.”
D stepped back and looked hard at her superior.
“There is some sentiment to you after all, Lt.”
“Of course there is…why else is it cynics become cynics?” Lupée coughed. “Would you do a follow-up for me, D? I don’t want to visit my old friend on official business again. The distance, as you pointed out.”
“Yes. Of course.”
“About two weeks’ time, I think.”
“Ever the boss.”
“We’ve work to do in the morning. Family connections and all.”
“Sins of the fathers.”
“You’d be surprised at who the fathers turn out to be!” Lupée smiled at D. “You’re okay to get home?”
“Oh, yes, sir. The cold has topped the rum.”
Bio: Jimsecor is the creator of the Liverpool detective, Lt. Anthony Lupee who has been tasked with solving the odd and mysterious rather than homicides. Det. Lupee~~ awarded Second/Third in P&E detective stories [properly cite this, please]. Det. Lupee can be found at Amazon or ordered directly from XX [you] or from bookstores in your area. Jimsecor, though, can only be found in eastern Kansas with his huge svelte yr old black cat (20+ lbs). a true cowardly lion, and occasionally at Minna vander Pfaltz’s blog:- http://labelleotero.wordpress.com. More directly: firstname.lastname@example.org. He is a playwright/director and sometime actor, a writer of award winning tanka, and a teacher; and has produced and published in China and Japan, aside from the States. He took a doctorate in Japanese theatre, performing kabuki, kyogen and noh, and thence studied at the National Bunraku Theatre in Osaka–the only foreigner to do so. He is aware that the web site the FBI, et al, have been directed to is written in Japanese, the translation of which is “you’re a real idiot,” though his language skills have all but disappeared after 20 years.