Drownings (part five)

Oil painting of river landscape and lock-like structure




(part five)


For good or ill, at this moment her phone rang. She put it on speaker. “Julia.”

“Julia?” the man asked anyway.

“Is this Mr. Herberston?”

“Are you some sort of reporter?”

Her eyes said to McAlley, he’s been checking. “Mr. Herbertson, I’m enquiring after the job. The one asking for business skills.”

“My wife had a different impression.” Cold.

“O-oh.” Faia allowed him a second’s stewing, lowered her voice as before. “But I didn’t lie. What I promised was quite the truth. What you’ll choose to do about it…”

“As to jobs, I don’t know what they’ve got open. Not my area. But if you’ll come see me at my office.”

“Bell Court?”

“Why do you say that? I believe you are a reporter.”

McAlley, unable to resist, leaned to the phone. “Mr. Herbertson, this is Bert Swan. I am the very fellow my colleague refers to. Will you text back to this number a place you’d care to meet us? Name your hour, and we shall arrive.”

A long silence. “It can’t be today.”

“Your choice,” said Faia, ringing him off.



“We know what he’ll do, just what he’s done already. It won’t occur to him to call Mrs. Blaney, but he’ll surely be calling about. Who is Bert Swan? Hasn’t got the advantage of knowing how I spell my nom de guerre.”

“You’re the master of illusion. He’ll meet, though. If he’s got any resources, have himself shadowed by a security officer, get our pictures.”

By consent they made for Bell Court. Two were on the map: an apartment house a few streets off, and a cul-de-sac for wealthier earners, in an incorporated town abutting city limits. Faia tried Herbertson Bell Court Brandleton, and got only Joanel Herbertson, 816 Seventrees Circle.

“If Joanel is female, she could be the wife, and that their address.”

“Brandleton folk.”

“We’ll suppose him a director, or such.”

They took public transport to the poor Bell Court. Nothing about the painted stucco front suggested occupancy. A brave lavender ombre colored a long garage wall, muraled, doors and all…

A girl’s face looking horizonward (with, on this street, no horizon); behind her, smaller scenes of the era suggested by her headgear, the time of the drowned, the timbered shops, the carts and cobblestones.

The outer door was unlocked, the lobby a commercial corridor. E.F. Jellison on glass, a likely suspect for the bearing of this name seen at a desk. Faia rapped, but McAlley strolled on, noting what else. Fentz Aquarium Supply, Colburn Studio…

“I manage the building’s rentals, yes. And several more on these streets hereabouts.”

“In sum, Mr. Jellison, property is your business. McAlley.”

Entering, he extended a hand. Jellison wore shirtsleeves and cheap slacks, was overweight in that doughy way of the terminally indoors.

“Property, yes.”

McAlley ignored this. Not to put Jellison’s back up, but because a figure had paused in the hallway outside the glass—and with a hollow plea in its own, it sought McAlley’s eye.

Faia said: “Carmadge. Tambinder. Herbertson.”

“Herbertson? Mr. Herbertson is the owner…but…Tambinder. I’d been going to say. He is my missing tenant.”






Virtual cover for Short Story collectionDrownings (part six)















(2021, Stephanie Foster)




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