This is a follow-up to Strange Brew.
* * *
Miss Hill got off the subway near midtown. The station smelled of exhaust fumes, oil, and stale sweat as she was carried along by the mob of humanity like a small cork in a swift stream. At street level, she stopped to get her bearings. A cold blast of wind shouldered its way down the concrete streets between the buildings. An exasperated taxi operator hammered on his horn nearby.
She was on the trail of B.Z. Bell, a hard man to find indeed. Her cell buzzed in her pocket and she answered, “Audrey Hill here.” Whoever it was hung up. She didn’t recognize the 800 number.
As she fumbled with her phone, the wind gusts turned into a steady blow and several large, cold rain drops struck her skin. She glanced up. A storm had arrived. Down the street, people were running, holding papers over their heads, ducking into buildings. The leading edge of rain reached her seconds later.
She had no umbrella and sprinted towards the nearest doorway to escape the dousing, soaked-to-the-skin rain. As she came through the doorway, an old brass bell screwed to the door chimed.
The shop was cluttered and poorly lit. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the gloom. It appeared to be an antique store. Furniture, old knickknacks, books, and dust surrounded her, looming oppressively as she stood near the door.
She thought she heard something, turned, and an old woman stood there as if she had materialized out of the clutter itself. Miss Hill jumped, “Oh! You surprised me.”
The old woman turned her head and smiled slowly. “So, you are Miss Hill,” she said.
Surprised but undaunted, she answered, “Yes. You seem to have the advantage here.”
“Ah, yes. That. I am Callista White. Call me Callie. I am an, ah, associate of Miss Black?” She shuffled forward and extended a hand. “I am pleased to meet you. And quite happy you have decided to help.”
“Help?” she asked, shaking the offered hand.
The old woman cocked her head smoothly. “Why, of course. You are helping us with the public relations problem, are you not?”
“Miss Hill,” she scolded. “We both know perfectly well that you are working on the B.Z. Bell story.”
Callie reached behind a stack of old books and pulled out two midnight black hooded cloaks. “Here, put this on,” she said, handing one of them to Audrey.
She took the offered cloak. “What?” she asked.
“It’s raining, dear. You’re going to need a good cloak.” The little old woman had a laugh that sounded like a creaky rocking chair.
“I, uh, yes. But,” she stammered, watching the old woman put the other cloak on. “What are you doing?”
“I’m going with you, dear,” she said. An expression of concern crossed her face. “You didn’t think you were going to go without one of us, did you?”
Copyright © 2014 Eric Schweitz