55. Who Blames Bees?

“It looks so… fresh,” Doris decided.

“Duke’s crew,” I said. “Hard workers.”

The underworld Mexicans had sanded the floors, fixed the cracked walls, painted, washed the windows.

“Dead?”

“Naturally.”

“We owe them?”

“Not money. They don’t care about that.”

Doris was about to say something. She stopped herself. “Got an appointment,” she said.

“You just got back. You’re leaving?”

“See if I can get my job back.”

There was a lot I could have said. Apologized. Told her I’d find work. Offered to drive her. Instead I said, “Okay.”

Once she was out the door I headed for the cellar.

I don’t know what I expected. A new steel door, maybe. A digital lock, a glowing keypad. A portal to let Duke out, keep the rest of the dead in. I wasn’t sure Duke’s crew had gotten that far, or if it was even possible anymore. The robber barons got away with plenty in their day, but at least some of the rules had changed.

Our cellar: One decription is “unfinished.” Concrete floor. Limestone walls. Spider webs drooping from the joists. Bare bulbs. No heat. Pipes covered in asbestos.

As far as I could tell it was the same dingy tomb it had always been.

I was headed back upstairs when I heard a scraping sound, something pushed across the floor.

A wooden slab covers a hole where the water pipe enters from the street. A pair of hands grabbed the slab from below and slid it across the floor. Duke stuck his head out.

“Surprise!” he said.

“Not really.”

“I am. A little. Giving it all away. Moving back here.”

He brushed dirt off his head.

“Let me get out of here.” Duke hoisted himself out of the hole in the floor and pulled himself to his feet. Bits of sand and dirt clung to his suit.

“Seems… inconvenient,” I said.

“But discreet.”

“No lock?”

“Down below. Out of site. Got a box on it. Keeps everybody where they need to be.”

“Except you.”

“I’m here to help.”

“Like the government.”

“Don’t be that way, Fatman.”

“Apparently word travels.”

“What don’t the dead know? Okay, plenty, to be honest. But this? Yeah.”

“Money. Evil. Hand in glove, according to Doris.”

“She’s a difficult woman. We both know that.”

“You made your own trouble with her.”

“You didn’t? Forty million bucks in the bank, a mansion on Summit Ave. All you had to do was relax and enjoy the ride. Instead you had to be prideful. Her money, not yours. You had to push.”

“I had help. As I recall.”

“You blame the bees for buzzing? Better to look within, Fatman.”

Tomorrow: I’m prepared to amend the contract.

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