Part 135: Phantom Woman
to pick up the receiver seemed like too much work for him today. At last he lethargically stretched his arm across the bed.
"Morning, handsome." It was Rachel. Her dulcet tones could be heard loud and clear through the receiver. "Do you still feel like working for Red Crown?"
Having just woken up, Hyde wasn't in the mood for any games. He had never felt any particular attachment to this salesman gig, but losing it had left him with a growing sense of helplessness that made him very uneasy. "You don't think the old man's beginning to regret firing me, do you?"
Suddenly, Ed's booming voice was assaulting Hyde's ears. "Firing you must have messed with my head. I had this really strange dream where you were lying dead by the roadside."
Hyde could just picture the scene on the other end with Ed forcibly grabbing the receiver from Rachel's hand. And yet, the words that kept spilling out of Ed seemed so uncharacteristic of him.
"Waking up with that image in my head has got me genuinely worried something might happen to you, Hyde."
Ed being worried about him was unexpected enough, but it didn't end there.
"How about it? If you want to work for Red Crown again, I'll give you one last chance."
Hyde replied that he truly did want his job back. He meant every word.
Hearing that, Ed commented that he would have to find some way for Hyde to prove it, and then passed the phone back to Rachel.
"Feeling more awake now?" she asked in a playful tone.
*Did Ed believe me when I said I wanted to work for him again? What's he going to make me do to prove it? And will he ever stop being so angry at me?*
A million thoughts were running through Hyde's mind. Above all, though, he was grateful to Ed for giving him another chance, no matter how slim.
*It'll be nice if things look a little less bleak by the time Christmas rolls around...*
Rachel told Hyde that she'd do everything she could to help him get his job back. Hearing that made the world seem just a little bit brighter.
*I guess I should tell her about what happened...*
Hyde explained his encounter with Rex Foster from the previous day.
When he'd met the man in Lucky's Café, everything about him had seemed fishy. Hyde asked Rachel to see if she could dig up any information about him that might shed some more light on the whole situation.
Rachel's sleuthing abilities were impressive, even to a former cop like Hyde. She always seemed to know exactly which avenues to search down to find all the information she needed.
*It'd help to know something about the guy at least.*
It was probably all that work talk with Ed that had got him feeling wide awake all of a sudden. As soon as he was finished talking to Rachel, he set about his daily routine. He put on a suit just as though he was headed out to work, even if it did mean he was all dressed up with nowhere to go.
Then came an unexpected buzz at the door. It was Mags -- a rare treat indeed. She was there to demand his overdue rent, but Hyde saw it as the perfect opportunity to ask about what Sidney had told him the previous day. He decided to phrase it as if he had simply "overheard" something about an incident 13 years ago.
Upon hearing this, Mags's initial reaction was to feign ignorance. "Whatever could you be referring to?" Persistent as always, Hyde aske again. "Oh, that," she finally said, as if it was nothing. "Mr Hyde, I thought you'd know better than to pay attention to idle gossip and rumours. Now, about your rent?"
Mags remained as cold as ever. As soon as she had reminded him of his promise to pay up, she was out the door.
*Gotta pay my rent... Gotta pay my rent...* Those same few words, obvious as they were, kept repeating over and over in his head.
Hyde felt like a pathetic excuse for a man. He'd lost his job, was about to lose his home, and on top of it all he somehow had to scrape together enough cash to pay the rent.
*I'm sure I've got around $400 left in my bank account...*
But that line of thinking hit a snag when he realised that it was Saturday, so the bank would be closed.
Hyde cursed his own bad luck. His only remaining option was to search every corner of his apartment to see if he could muster up enough cash.
He was interrupted by the buzzer again. This time it was
venture himself, so he enquired as to whether Hyde wanted in. "You don't have a problem with me using some of your money on this, do you?" he asked, an air of presumption in his voice.
At that moment, the phone started ringing agian.
Hyde would have wanted no part of this even if he did have money to spare. He gently encouraged Tony to be on his way. "My phone's ringing," Hyde growled. "I really should answer it."
Tony's smile faded. "You know, man, I'm in a tight spot and I really need your support right now."
*What does he mean, a tight spot?*
Despite Tony's protestations, Hyde left him waiting while he answered the phone. It was Mags again. Houw could this situation possibly get any worse, he wondered?
"I forgot to mention this earlier, so I'd just like to say that I'd like the rent paid in full by the end of the day."
That was how. Hyde couldn't help but laugh to himself.
Or at least, he thought it was to hilmself. From behind him, Tony commented, "That was Mags on the phone just now. I noticed how you were speaking."
*Damn. I almost forgot he was still here.*
"When she wants something from you, there's no stopping her. She was on the phone to me not long back." As Tony continued, his words rapidly became a sob story. "If I don't strike it rich with this deal, I'm never gonna settle the rent."
He quickly realised that the get-rich-quick scheme Tony had spoken of earlier was just a gambling scheme of some kind.
*So much for no risk involved.*
Hyde was stunned by Tony's audacity, and without even meaning to he raised his voice quite noticeably. "You think I'm going to lend you cash out of my own pocket just like that? Maybe you should try working for your money!"
Perhaps not expecting Hyde to react with such vitriol, Tony left with his tail between his legs.
But with Tony gone, his real problems were staring him in the face once again.
*I'm gonna have to look for a new place, not to mention find some cash pretty fast...*
Hyde was in the habit of putting any spare change in his pocket into an empty whiskey bottle he kept on top of a chest of drawers in his room. He picked up the bottle and turned it upside-down, then counted all the coins that fell out.
Some bills were stuffed inside, too, but no amount of shaking would get them out. He'd just have to find some way to break the bottle.
Hyde searched for a tool like he might be able to use to break the bottle, but he couldn't seem to find anything. The most obvious solution seemed to be a hammer, but he didn't have one. All of a sudden, however, someone sprang to mind who might. Dylan.
Dylan was a handyman by trade, so he undoubtedly had all kinds of tools at his disposal. Hyde decided he would go and ask Dylan if he could borrow a hammer.
Dylan was surprised at the sudden visit, but when Hyde explained that he needed a favour, he invited him into his room.
He was careful not to say that it was all in aid of paying his rent. Instead, he simply explained that he had accidentally dropped something important to him into a bottle, and the only way to get it out was by force.
With a friendly smile, Dylan said he would be happy to lend Hyde the hammer he kept in his car. He went off to get it, leaving Hyde alone in the room.
While he waited, Hyde wandered idly around the room. At first he didn't find much of interest, but then he came to a halt before a certain picture he found hanging on the wall. Up close he could see that it was actually a framed jigsaw puzzle.
This picture was one he knew well. It was Osterzone's famous painting, "Angel Opening a Door". *I never expected to see it here...*
The original had once been stolen from a New York art museum by a crime syndicate. The same crime syndicate Bradley had later investigated undercover. Yes, this painting had quite the chequered past. It was a genuine surprise to find the angel staring back at him in a place like this.
Hyde gently ran a finger along the dust-covered puzzle. Then, without warning...
*Crap! That's done it!*
With a clatter, the picture fell to the ground and puzzle pieces scattered everywhere. Hyde rushed frantically to gather them all up. *I can't leave it like this! I've gotta fix it before Dylan gets back!*
All he'd wanted to do was borrow a hammer. Now Dylan was going to realise he'd taken
hanging on the wall... Did you put it together yourself" he asked Dylan. "It's Osterzone's 'Angel Opening a Door', right?"
Dylan replied that it was, but in Hyde's estimation it seemed like he didn't want to talk much more about this jigsaw puzzle. Hyde saw his cue to take the hammer and leave.
Once he arrived back in his apartment, it was time to break open that bottle of his. To Hyde's relief, the hammer did the trick perfectly, leaving the bottle in pieces.
Finally he had the money he needed to pay his rent. He checked the time. It was 2 o'clock, which meant he could keep his promise with plenty of time to spare. He headed to Mags's room, and once there he got straight down to business.
"Sorry about the wait. I've got the money for the rent."
He followed her through into her living room. In the four years that he had lived in the building, this was the first time she had invited him in like this.
Once he had paid up, Mags mentioned that there were two other residents still behing on their rent payments. One was Tony, and the other was Marie.
*So the dame who caused all that fuss about her ring hasn't been paying her rent, huh?*
She explained that she symphatised with Marie's situation, since her own was very similar. They were both widows, and that made it difficult to raise the money for these things. No sooner had she said that, however, the conversation took a sharp left turn. Suddenly Mags was asking him if he could have a word with Tony and Marie on her behalf. All Hyde could do was stand there and nod.
Mags then asked if he would like a cup of tea since they'd never really had the chance to sit down and chat properly before. At first he was reluctant, but when she said, "I hope I haven't said anything to offend you," he couldn't exactly refuse. He decided to humour her.
It seemed that giving up this apartment building was sending all kinds of memories flooding back to her. While he drank his tea, Hyde listened as she began to tell him about her past.
Mags's husband had apparently been a jazz musician, specifically a saxophone player. "If only he was still alive..." She cast her eyes in the direction of a photo frame sitting on her cabinet. It held a picture of a man playing the saxophone.
Hyde asked, as tactfully as he could, how Mags's husband had passed away.
"It was an accident," she replied. "Just an unforeseen accident."
As a change of subject, she asked him about his own family. If Hyde's mother was a widow, she wondered, what happened to his father? "My dad died when I was still a nine-year-old kid," he told her. "He was murdered."
Mags fell silent, and her eyes grew wide. As he went on to explain that the killer had never been caught, she wore an expression of deepest compassion on her face. And then, as if the memories of her husband had come bursting forth again, she murmured with a sigh, "If only I could switch things back to how they were 13 years ago..."
*13 years ago...* Hyde tried asking her again about the rumour he had heard. "Is it really all just gossip? About 13 years ago, I mean."
She was just as cagey as before. Not only that, but she drove the message home by admonishing him not to bring up such silly rumours around her ever again.
Hyde felt that the conversation had run its course, so he left Mags in peace.
*Guess I'll have to ask Sidney about it instead.*
Hyde stepped over to the
Claire had her very best smile out for him, just like always. "Come on in! Welcome to Lucky's Café"
After asking for today's coffee and a hamburger, he made the same request as always. "Throw in plenty of cheese and pickles, but hold the tomato, will you?"
Sidney, the owner of the café and Claire's father, came and told her off for not remembering his usual. It was a scene that had played out many times before, but she seemed not to pay him too much mind.
Regular customers knew to tell Claire their order straight away instead of expecting her to remember what they usually had. Sidney always seemed disgruntled at having a daughter like that. It wasn't exactly conducive to working in a café.
Sidney came over to Hyde's table. Sidney was his way of finding out if anything was going on around town lately. To the unsociable Hyde he seemed like a fountain of knowledge. "Could you tell me more about what you said yesterday?" he asked. "You know, about the incident from 13 years ago."
But despite this attempt to find out more, Sidney stubbornly insisted on maintaining his silence. As far as he was concerned, he had nothing more to say on the matter. "It's not exactly good for business making it public that a murder happened here," he said.
Hyde knew he was right. It even explained Mags's secretiveness about the whole affair.
"You have to understand that she put everything into the running of this place." Sidney explained. "She took on the business by herself and has had her fair share of troubles. I didn't want to add to them so I agreed to keep the incident to myself."
Then he expressed his terrible regert for slipping up and mentioning it to Hyde, and urged him to simply forget all about it. Seeing how much this meant to Sidney, Hyde had no choice but to drop the subject.
A brief silence followed, and then out of nowhere, Sidney asked a curious question. He wanted to know if Hyde had any particular affinity for puzzles.
As it happened, Hyde was rather confident on that front. "Puzzles? Never met one I couldn't solve."
In response, Sidney handed him a Lucky's Café crossword puzzle. He explained that anyone who correctly filled in the crossword would be eligible for a prize draw, and the winner would receive $1000.
It seemed like a pretty generous prize for a small local café. Sidney's reason for this was simple enough: he felt it would boost everyone's spirits, since the entire apartment building, including his café, was closing down. "But it's not like it's the end for me. I'll open up somewhere else," he said, a cheerful air about him, before walking away from the table.
Sidney was a café owner through and through -- Hyde definitely couldn't picture him in any other role. But that only scratched the surface of the situation, Hyde was sure. This café had regular customers that Sidney knew and loved. It wasn't hard to imagine how Sidney must have really felt about suddenly being forced to pack up and find a new location.
When Hyde realised how soon this would be gone forever -- this experience of just sitting in Lucky's Café and doing nothing in particular, just passing the time -- Hyde couldn't help but be overcome by a feeling of emptiness.
As he wolfed down his burger and drank his cup of coffee, Hyde decided that, for want of something better to do, he would take a look at that crossword. *I'll bet I can solve this in no time.*
Once he had made his way back out into the lobby, a voice called out to him. "I just wanted to apologise for my behaviour yesterday."
It was Marie Rivet, the very same woman who had caused a huge commotion by accusing Tony of stealing her ring.
In a muted tone, she said that she hoped she hadn't given him any reason to hate her.
With a bitter smile, he replied bluntly that he was too much of an easy-going guy to make a big deal out of something like that.
"You're very kind," Marie, who until now had always seemed to be looking at the floor, lifted her head and gazed directly into his eyes.
Hyde brushed aside her compliment. All he meant, he explained, was that he didn't want to waste any more time on the matter. That set her off in a way he hadn't expected. "I'm sorry, Mr Hyde," she said through a stream of tears. "I must be getting on your nerves."
Hyde was rather flustered by this. "Seems like things are a little rough for you right now. Are you in some sort of financial trouble?"
While he was still talking to Marie, Rex came in through the front door. All of a sudden, Marie turned white as a sheet. She clammed up and left the lobby behind in a cloud of dust.
Hyde glared at Rex. "What're you still doing lurking around here?"
"I've got no business with you, Hyde," came the dismissive reply. "I just came round to pay a little visit to someone in this building."
Rex's brazen attitude really got on Hyde's nerves. Hyde asked straight up who Rex was looking for, but the man wouldn't play ball.
"There's just someone here who I have business with."
And with the most cursory of goodbyes, Rex headed back the way he came. Hyde chased after him and asked, "Is it someone who lives here?"
Rex smirked. As he left, he said over his shoulder that there was someone in that apartment building who was far more interesting than an ex-cop who put a bullet in his partner. Every word dripped with scorn.
*I wonder why Marie reacted like that when she saw him?*
He went up to the second floor, but he waited in the corridor for a while, unsure as to whether he should pay her a visit or not. It was then that he noticed a small envelope someone had dropped next to the bench in the hallway.
It was addressed to Marie Rivet, and it appeared to be from an insurance company. Instantly Hyde thought back to the "lump sum" she had mentioned in their conversation.
He knocked on the door to room 206, and it wasn't long before Marie appeared.
As he went to hand her the envelope, he casually mentioned that it was from an insurance company. As soon as she heard those words, her expression changed dramatically. In a flurry of haste, she asked him to come into her room. Evidently she didn't want anyone else to hear about this.
This letter was apparently of great importance to Marie. She started to explain the situation to him. She told him that her husband had died in a car crash, and that this letter detailed the amount of money she would be receiving from his insurance policy. As soon as she received that money, she would be able to pay her rent and move out.
Hyde wasn't sure why -- perhaps it was on her mind after talking about her husband? -- but without even being asked, she went on to reveal why she had decided to move into this particular apartment building half a year earlier. "It was somewhere I was fond of. I met my husband here. It was quite a while back, when Cape West was still a hotel."
She felt that living there would help her keep the memories alive of the time she spent with her husband. Hyde simply stared at her as she relayed all this to him. This wasn't the Marie he was used to. He was surprised at having his image of her shattered so dramatically. This Marie was fragile and helpless. He started to feel like maybe he shouldn't leave her alone like this.
Then she told him there was something else she wanted to talk to him about. She went off to get something and came back with a small piece of electronic equipment that fit into the palm of her hand.
*A bugging device...*
Marie suggested that the only person who could have planted this bug was Rex. He had already got this impression from her reaction to Rex in the lobby, but now it was perfectly clear: Marie was scared of Rex. "Lately, wherever I go and whatever I do, I feel like I'm being watched. I only noticed him watching me about three days ago."
Marie seemed quite desperate as she asked for his advice, and he reassured her with a promise that he would talk to Rex on her behalf. He couldn't help but wonder, though, how Rex had managed to plant the bug. When he asked her, Marie wasn't sure, but she thought he might have done it aroudn three days ago, when she first noticed somebody watching her.
Anyway, regardless of how or when, this device had been hidden in her room. Just thinking about it sent a chill down her spine, she said.
Hyde had used bugging devices like this one in his days as a detective. He had attended seminars about the police force's use of them, and he had learned that the most important detail was where the bug was placed. If Marie had found it, that meant it had been placed rather carelessly. Had Rex broken in and been forced to bug the room as quickly as possible?
Admittedly, Hyde had no proof that Rex would go that far. The other key question on his mind was why Rex was investigating Marie -- and for an answer to that one, he would have to ask the man himself.
For now he turned his
rished her memories of those days so much.
He thought he'd try asking her about the incident that happened in the hotel 13 years ago. She said that she'd heard about someone being murdered there, but she didn't know any of the details. In fact, until he mentioned it, she wasn't even aware that the case was still unsolved.
He also asked her if she knew anything about the Scarlet Star, but she simply shook her head.
There were too many questions to count bubbling over in his mind, and he couldn't find answers to any of them. *What's his game, this Rex Foster guy? What's he trying to achieve?*
Until now Hyde had usually tried to avoid getting involved with other people's problems, but this was one matter he couldn't just ignore. Rex was snooping around more than just Hyde's friends and relatives -- he was investigating the other people who lived in his apartment building too. Hyde needed to find out more about this guy, and fast.
Back in his own room, Hyde sat down on the sofa. Rex's name kept repeating over and over in his head. It was a moment or two before he noticed the hammer sitting on the table in front of him. It occured to him that he never did give it back to Dylan.
As if on cue, Dylan showed up at the door in search of his hammer. Having apologised for his forgetfullness, Hyde was about to close the door when Dylan asked him a strange question. "I wanted to ask if you'd noticed a shifty-looking man in sunglases hanging around the building recently."
He could only have been talking about Rex.
Dylan suggested that, based on how he acted and teh way he'd been looking around, Rex had to be an undercover cop. He had even been thinking about just going up and asking him. Dylan explained that he loved TV cop shows and thought it would be exciting to ask a real detective if he had any leads or secret tip-offs.
Hyde thought Dylan needed to grow a few brain cells.
*Secret tip-offs, huh? I've had more than my fair share of those. Got sick of 'em, even. They're nothing an amateur like him should get so excited about.*
Hyde gave Dylan a stern warning not to approach Rex. Dylan didn't look entirely happy about it, but he nodded, if reluctantly.
While he was at it, Hyde asked, "Have you noticed anything unusual or out of place in the building lately?"
Dylan had noticed that his radio reception had been bad lately. He doubted that Hyde meant something as simple as that, but he asked anyway. "There's been a weird noise on my radio lately, like static. Is that what you meant?"
Hyde said that he hadn't noticed any particular problem with his own radio, although he realised it had been a while since he last listened to it.
Once Dylan had left, he instantly went and turned on the small radio he kept in the corner of his room. He used it so rarely that it wasn't even turned into a station. All he heard was static.
He tuned in, and then he started to hear what Dylan was talking about. An odd sound was audible in the background of the song that was playing. Listening closely, he realised it was Sidney's voice.
*If this is being recorded in Lucky's Café, does that mean the café has been bugged? I guess he must pick up the transmissions from the bugs by radio...*
Just as he was heading off to give Lucky's Café a once over, the phone rang. It was Rachel.
"I've got an update on Rex Foster like you asked. He's 38 years old and appears to be a freelance insurance claim investigator."
According to Rachel, the rumour going around was that people whose cases were looked into by Rex never received their payout. Hyde asked her to find out something else for him next: he needed information about Hotel Cape West.
Deciding that he should tell her at last, Hyde explained that he had to leave his apartment before the end of the month.
"That happened pretty quickly."
"Tell me about it. Hey, while I'm finding somewhere to live, maybe I'll just head over to your place and crash there in the meantime," he joked.
Sensing from her reaction that he might have gone a little too far, he added a simple "Just kidding".
On that note, he headed towards Lucky's Café. *That wasn't like me,* he thought to himself as he walked. *I wonder what Rachel thought. If she didn't find it funny, it probably sounded like I was being really forward.*
He paused briefly in front
came across something that looked almost like a black branch. It was a bugging device, with its wires still attached.
He took the device and left the café. Out in the lobby he found Rex Foster, whom he accosted at once.
"You've been targeting Marie Rivet," he thundered, "and don't try to deny it!"
Rex just produced his usual wry smile. He didn't even bat an eyelid.
Then Kyle produced the bugging device -- and that wiped the smile off his face.
Hyde was finally closing in on why Rex had been setting up bugs around Marie. "So I can catch her out in a lie," Rex spat out at last. He said that she was always going around telling lies to swindle people out of their money.
Hyde asked him what, precisely, he was investigating Marie regarding.
Rex fell silent. Hyde continued without missing a beat. "I know all about you, Rex Foster."
Finally realising that his identity had been discovered, Rex admitted that he had been employed by the insurance company responsible for Marie's husband. All of this was to gather evidence that Marie was committing insurance fraud.
Hyde remembered the forlorn look on Marie's face as she had told him about her deceased husband through a stream of tears.
According to Rex, Marie had also received a substantial insurance payout 13 years ago, when her brother had died -- and her brother had died in a car accident, just like her husband. Suspecting fraud, the insurance company had hired Rex, and while he was investigating her he had overheard some other interesting bits of information.
Hyde asked if Rex knew anything about the murder that had happened 13 years ago.
"Of course I do!" he replied with a patronising smirk.
"Then you probably know about the Scarlet Star too."
"The Scarlet Star?" exclaimed Rex. And with a startled face, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, he said, "Your father was the one who knew the most about that! Perhaps you should go and ask him?"
Whatever Hyde had expected him to say, it wasn't that. What had his father known? What was his connection to the Scarlet Star?
Unable to even responds coherently, Hyde just watched as Rex left the building.
*Marie's insurance fraud... The murder 13 years ago... The mysterious order sheet...*
There was a lot he still didn't know about this apartment building and its inhabitants. Hyde thought to himself. He got the feeling