“You need to call the police.”
Boniface leaned back in his chair, forcing his head and shoulders still as he softly spun his seat from left-to-right-to-left-to-right, twisting at the waist as he waited for his potential new clients to consider his advice.
“I’d call the police now.” Boniface reached for the phone, clumsily grabbing it by the side and dropping it on the edge of his desk toward the bassist. The handset bounced out of the cradle and tumbled to the floor.
Boniface reached across his desk to pull up the handset by its cord and looked up at the bassist, hoping he wouldn’t notice his nervousness. Hoping the other man was accustomed to fans being slightly on edge around him.
“No.” The bassist’s voice was quiet, but his opinion was clear, his decision definitive.
This was a man who understood how to project his presence. A man who performed on stage—Boniface had seen him perform with the band several times. And when the bassist stood on stage—an imposing, muscular figure in his black leather trousers and black sleeveless T-shirt freeing his arms as they exercised complete domination of his instrument—he had a clear understanding of how his audience would perceive his physical presence. He was patient and understood timing; he was a man who wouldn’t play a note if it wasn’t the right note at the right time.
He might not be the frontman, but he was the leader of the band—the general who always stood shoulder to shoulder with his troops and who understood cowardice in the face of the enemy. He understood that if you flinched, you failed—and you can’t fail when people have paid money to see you perform.
This was the man who had said no, and had communicated no.
Boniface sat forward, his frown questioning. He made eye contact with the bassist and waited before raising his eyebrows to suggest he was hoping for elaboration.
The bassist appeared to have said all he was going to say. It was as if those two words were a full explanation. Boniface looked between the bassist and the bassist’s wife sitting beside him, wordlessly cursing himself when he realized that as he stared at the outline of her now-clothed figure, he was remembering what she had looked like when she was modeling.
“We can’t involve the police,” said the bassist. His tone had changed. He wasn’t pleading; it was more that he was trying to be conciliatory. “If we go to the cops, Boniface, it will take time for them to investigate.” He snorted, his solid figure—still sitting—twitched with his indignation. “Seriously, Boniface, the cops have got better things to do. They’re not going to jump just because I snap my fingers.” His tone softened. “And before we make it official, we’ve got to acknowledge that some cops are bent, others are just plain incompetent, and some leak stories. There are huge amounts of poison being spilled about us, and we need to know what the problem is—we’re not trying amplify the hate and the shouting.” He seemed almost apologetic. “No. I’m sorry, the police aren’t an option.”
The bassist sunk back into the leather sofa, his right hand seamlessly joining his wife’s left. The slightest tightening of his hand in hers conveyed reassurance, the only sign that the two lumps of flesh might not be of the same person.
“A private detective?” offered Boniface, standing and walking to the window, a brown strip that spanned two walls. He looked through the tinted glass across the side street and over the girls’ school on the other side of the road, its inmates having departed several hours earlier along with most of their jailers, although the few remaining cars implied that some were still dreaming up fresh torments for tomorrow.
He turned to resume the conversation and sat on the broad windowsill with his back to the school. For the first time since Boniface had shaken hands with his prospective new clients, a suggestion of a smirk started to spread across the bassist’s face. Not a look of joy, but a hint that he was amused by the absurdity of what he had just heard.
“Do you know a good private detective? One you could actually trust?” The bassist rel axed back into the sofa, as if he had decided that he had said all he needed to say to settle the matter—at least to settle that a private investigator was not the right option.
Boniface regarded the other man. It wasn’t one simple detail that suggested he didn’t work in an office, but more the combination: his off-duty bright shirt under under an old sandy jacket, the slightly too long but styled hair, and the almost waxy skin tone from rarely seeing daylight for thirty years. He tried to show some grace as he gave way to the potential client. “No. Not in this country. I don’t know any good investigators.”
The bassist continued. “I don’t have time to go through the process of searching for a good one, only to find that we’ve hired a dickhead rather than a dick.”
Boniface gave a charitable smile for the bassist’s weak joke and changed tack. “You must know other journalists, apart from me—you’ve been in the game long enough.”
“The ones I know are hacks.”
Again, it wasn’t what the bassist said, but how he said it that told Boniface this wouldn’t be a fruitful line to continue, but he persisted. “I was a hack.”
The bassist’s wife noticed her husband’s reaction, momentarily shutting her eyes as if preparing herself for a tale from the road that she had heard before. “Look, Boniface. When we were on the road, we’d set the journalists up with a groupie, perhaps several. They’d be so grateful we’d get a glowing review.”
The bassist looked to his wife, as if silently acknowledging why the groupies that must have followed the band were always irrel evant for him. Without catching his gaze, the coiled spring inside her started to rel ease, letting her body melt softly into his.
“Those journalists—if you can really call those sorts of people journalists—are not the sort of people I respect, and are not the sort of people I want knowing our problems.” The bassist’s voice took on a more businesslike tone. “Tommy rates you. He says you’re the smartest guy he’s ever met—and Tommy’s no fool.” He tilted his head forward so that he looked up at Boniface and pointed with an open hand. “You’re the perfect cover: a serious journalist doing a serious biography.”
As the two potential clients sat together, Boniface understood that the sofa had been a good decision. When he re-carpeted the office—for the second time in less than six months—Montbretia had suggested he dispose of the businesslike meeting table with chairs on either side and replace it with something more informal, in this case a sofa and low table. She had also persuaded him that filing cabinets just wasted space. It took her a few weeks to digitize his archive and a few more weeks for him to get used to accessing that archive through a screen rather than pulling out a stack of papers, but by the time he was ready to concede that she was right—and that he didn’t need filing cabinets in his office—the carpet fitters were ready. One day while he was out at a meeting with a client, Montbretia supervised the carpet fitters and managed to dispose of all the filing cabinets in the office—apart from the one in her room—putting the matter beyond discussion.
Boniface pursed his lips, thinking how to word his next question.
The bassist grinned. “And don’t suggest a lawyer—I’ll shake hands and be counting my fingers, and I need my fingers.” He mimed playing the bass guitar. Where most mimes are a crude indication of how a non-musician thinks an instrument should be played, muscle memory kicked in as the bassist reached for the neck with his left hand, the fingers on his right a blur of rhythm.
“You’re the perfect cover, Boniface. A serious journalist writing a serious biography about Prickle. You have a history: If people google you, they’ll know who you are, and you’ll seem plausible—and Prickle were big enough to justify a decent biography. If we send in a detective, that suggests we think there’s a problem, which will lead to more questions.” He waited a beat. “You can go anywhere, find what the problem is, and figure what our options are.” Another beat. “Find a way for whoever’s got a problem to get out without losing face, and we’re all winners.”
Boniface went to speak but was cut off by the bassist. “Look. Just spend a day or two, and if you find nothing, we’ll call it quits.”