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Booking In

Booking In

A Crang Mystery
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Chapter One

Fletcher Marshall’s phone call woke me at seven o’clock on a July Monday morning that already felt sultry.
“This hour of the day, Fletcher,” I said, “whatever you got, it better be good.”
“A little patience, please, Crang. Just let me tell you about the grief I’m enduring down here.”
“At your store?”
“Of course at my store. Where else?”
Fletcher was a guy with the smarts to run one of the last remaining antiquarian bookstores in the city, but he wasn’t someone whose personality I warmed to. On the other hand, a few weeks earlier, he’d arranged a very large favour for Annie B. Cooke, the woman in my life. Given the favour, Annie asked if I could please find it in my heart to end the animosity toward Fletcher, or at least mute it. I was trying but not always succeeding.
“If my call disturbed Annie’s sleep,” Fletcher said, “tell her I apologize.”
“The lovely Ms. C is away doing an interview for the book job you put her onto.”
“Oh my, yes,” Fletcher said. “The recommendation I gave Annie will mean more money from one writing assignment than she’ll ever see in the rest of her working life.”
“This is noble of you, Fletcher. But if we don’t get to the part about your grief in a hurry, I’m going to hang up and see about falling back to sleep.”
“I need you to come to the store,” Fletcher said, his delivery more brisk. “Right away.”
“Seven o’clock in the morning isn’t my prime time.”
“And bring that burglar friend of yours.”
“Maury Samuels?” I said. “Maury’s retired from the B and E profession. Keep that in mind.”
“For the fix I’m in, it’s the man’s past years of expertise I require.”
“Why don’t you and I try dealing with this fix you’re complaining about while we’re on the phone?”
“Somebody broke into my safe at the store,” Fletcher said. “They cracked the combination and took the entire contents. This is a practically brand-new safe, I might add.”
“Fletcher, I’m a lawyer,” I said. “It’s the cops you should be summoning.”
“I don’t want word of this to get out in any form,” Fletcher said. “No police, no media, none of that right now.”
I fought back the feeling that I was putting way too much effort into a conversation so early in the day.
“Let’s go through this one more time, Fletcher,” I said. “Why is it, in the wide world of lawbreakers and enforcers, you chose to ring me?”
“Frankly, Crang, you’re the first person I thought of who might have the contacts to help me.”
“You’re giving me the real goods when you say you haven’t notified the police about the break-in?”
“I thought I made that clear.”
“And you don’t have one of those electronic gizmos that rings simultaneously at your own house and the nearest cop division when somebody makes an illicit entry into your place of business?”
“Call me old-world.”
“Like your store is.”
“For one reason or another, largely dealing with insurance,” I said, “you’ll need to contact the law sooner rather than later.”
“Not before you and your burglar friend inspect the scene of the crime.”
“Maybe I’m beginning to understand your strategy, Fletcher,” I said. “But how do you plan to account for the delay in talking to the cops when they realize they were the last people you invited to the party?”
“Very easy, Crang,” Fletcher said. “We’re closed on Mondays. I’ll tell the police I didn’t discover the break-in until I stopped by the store later in the day.”
I took a few seconds to process everything Fletcher had told me.
“If you have no alarm,” I said, “then I take it you didn’t discover the break-in until you got to the store a few minutes ago.”
“Wrong,” Fletcher said with more than a touch of asperity. “I’ve been here since 3:30 a.m.”
“I’m guessing the predawn arrival isn’t your normal business practice.”
“Hardly normal, for god’s sake, Crang. I was alerted to the break-in by the architect who rents the office over the store. He’s been sleeping on a couch in his waiting room the last couple of weeks because he’s got marital troubles at home. In the middle of last night, he heard loud bangs in my place. He decided the noise was suspicious and rang me at my apartment.”
“Is your secret secure with this architect?”
“He agreed to hold back from the police the part about him waking me up to report the break-in, if that’s what you mean.”
“It buys you time.”
“Much of which you’re wasting,” Fletcher said. “All I’m asking of you and your burglar colleague is professional advice.”
Fletcher was right. I was stalling on any agreement to give him a hand with his break-in, which had trouble written all over it. But I knew my answer was inevitable. It was the big favour he’d done Annie that was the difference-maker. A friend of Fletcher’s, a woman named Meg Grantham, wanted somebody to ghost her memoirs. She had asked Fletcher to recommend a woman writer from among the contacts he’d made in the Toronto journalism community through his bookstore. Fletcher chose Annie, and when he brought Annie and Meg together, the two women hit it off like gangbusters. Meg wanted the book to tell the story of how she got to be so rich, worth in the neighbourhood of three billion bucks. According to Canadian Business magazine, she ranked in the top five wealthiest women in Canada, number one if you counted only self-made Canadian woman success stories. Right off the bat, Meg paid Annie fifty grand just to get started on the memoirs.
“I’ll see you at ten,” I said to Fletcher. “It’ll take me until then to get Maury in gear. Or if you’ll settle for just me, I can be there in a half hour.”
“I envision it as a team concept,” Fletcher said. “You and the burglar.”
“You’ll have to pay Maury,” I said. “These days he’s billing himself as a consultant.”
Fletcher didn’t hesitate. “I’ll expect you people not a minute past ten,” he said.
Then he hung up.


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