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   Chapter 8 Brownie Oxford and the Ashland Affair

Brownie Oxford and the Ashland Affair: Brownie Bk1 By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 15976

Updated: 2018-03-07 14:23

Chapter 8

Scattered though my things were, it took very little time to gather them. Swift directed me to hand him the room key as he had already taken care of the bill.

"Won't people be watching for checkouts?" I asked him, slinging my laptop bag to my shoulder and picking up my small duffle. I knew Swift would want his hands free to deal with any issues that arose and as I had maxed out my available defensive maneuvers in the cemetery a few nights back, I didn't mind. After all, even though he wasn't as blatant about it as the thugs had been, I knew Swift was well armed. Call me chicken, but I believe in letting the person with the gun deal with the bad guys.

"The room is booked for another week, " Swift told me. His voice sounded distracted and I knew he was searching for anything that might be out of place. I decided to keep my mouth shut. Even I know when to keep my questions and comments to myself, despite the oft quoted opinion of the Riverdale psychiatrist.

We made it out of the hotel with no problems and Swift led me up to his car d' jour. Today's car was a forest green Land Rover that looked like it had seen better days. It had a few nicks and scratches as though it had been attacked by low hanging tree limbs. Swift's comments about tracking me through vehicle logs echoed in my head. I looked at Swift as he gestured for me to add my two bags to the already stashed gear.

"Where did you say you were taking this one when they made you file the paperwork?" I asked as I moved to the passenger side door.

"I didn't. It's mine. I don't drive it much, but I figured it would be a better bet for now. No records."

"An actual Swift owned vehicle?" I said sliding inside, surprised by the admission, after all I knew nothing of Swift outside of our working parameters.

"According to the registration papers it belongs to Roger Steele, " he said, sliding behind the wheel. "Seatbelt." He reminded me.

"Who is Roger Steele, " I asked. Swift smiled. "Oh right, " I said as I realized the name was made up so it couldn't be tracked back to him. I shook my head, shoving the paranoid tangles aside and hoping I would never reach a point where I had to live with such constant layers of spider webs.

"Why does it smell like stagnant water?" I asked as I fastened my seatbelt.

"Because I only use this for camping, hiking and fishing."

"Oh, " I said, looking around the car's interior with interest. I hadn't known Swift camped, fished or hiked. Although from the level of comfort he showed when taking me into wild places that I would rather forget, I suppose it made sense. I tried to picture Swift sitting in a canoe with a fishing rod in his hands, but couldn't. But then I also couldn't see him wandering around in the woods without a weapon and a specific destination in mind. Somehow a scenic over look or a picnic ground didn't seem like an appropriate destination. Unless he planned to shoot one of the people at the picnic tables before heading home. That I could actually see.

I leaned back in my seat as Swift took an odd, meandering pathway towards the bank and my safety deposit box. At least I supposed it was a long and meandering pathway. As I had always used the city bus to get there, I wasn't quite sure. In time, he pulled up in front of the bank. In a stroke of luck a car was just pulling out from one of the metered spaces in front and he darted into the vacancy. As Swift inserted a handful of change into the meter, I walked around to the back. I quickly transferred my things from the small duffle to the larger one, leaving the small one empty so I could fill it inside. With that and my wallet and keys in hand, I followed Swift into the bank.

As always the bank made me smile. It was one of the city's earliest banks and had a grandeur one normally didn't associate with financial institutions. Outside were Corinthian columns and inside, marble and brass gleamed. Behind the old brass teller grates, bullet proof glass had been installed, adding protection for the tellers, but little changing the overall effect.

"I didn't realize you could still get a box here, " Swift said softly as he looked around. I smiled a little to myself, pleased that I had managed to surprise Swift.

In actuality, Swift was right. Normally there were no boxes available for rent. The bank no longer offered that service. They did however maintain older boxes that were often passed down through families. They had however, still been in the practice of renting out boxes when James was alive. At that time he had been flush and opted for an extremely long term lease, figuring that he could pay up when he had the cash so he wouldn't have to worry about his secret hideaway being taken away when

as Swift pulled out into traffic.

"Family legacy inherited from your grandfather?" Swift asked as we left the bank behind.

"It's a long story, " I replied. Swift smiled.

"Very hard to tie you to it. I certainly wouldn't have thought of it."

"Thanks, " I said recognizing the compliment. As was his habit, he let the matter slide, not pushing about things that didn't immediately concern him. I thought I sensed approval though and smiled a little to myself. I managed both surprise and approval from Swift all in the same day, not too shabby an accomplishment. Feeling like I had finally managed to score a few points instead of just being moved from place to place like a useless package, I turned to look at him as he drove.

"So who do you need me to talk to before we leave town? Is it for a different case?" I figured there was little likelihood that yet another corpse would be turned up from the Ashland affair, but I had no idea what else Swift was working on.

Swift took a deep breath and I saw a muscle twitch in his jaw. "George Whittaker, " Swift said.

"Mr. Salesman?" I asked with a frown. "That's odd, usually you don't want me to talk to folks until they are dead. Do you think I can convince him to talk or something?"

"He died last night, " Swift said.

"How?" I asked suddenly feeling cold. Swift lifted an eyebrow. "Oh, " I said, realizing that he had died while being questioned and that not only would no further comment on the topic be forthcoming, asking was not a good idea. I sighed. I always hated talking to those who had died through torture. I didn't agree with the method of information gathering even before I was treated to scenes and snippets of that particular brand of hell.

In addition, it was harder to get the sprit to speak. What was left of them tended to curl up in the deepest darkest recesses of what was left of their bodies and hope that no one ever noticed them again. Sometimes, I could convince them to talk to me, sometimes not.

About a year prior, I had worn myself out trying to get six torture victims to speak with me. I had gotten flashes of hell and a slew of new nightmares, but no actual information Swift could use. After that, I told Swift that I had an anti-torture policy. He had informed me that so did the US Government. Despite the dry mockery of his tone, I had ceased to be consulted about any cases of death by torture. I was fairly certain it was the lack of results rather than my personal wishes taken into account, but my nightmares had slowly faded and I wasn't going to go poking around the decision too much.

With a start I realized that this reading could be a test of sorts to see if I was better able to extract information when I was properly motivated. It meant that if I was successful, torture victims could be back on the table for me. Of course if I failed, I still wouldn't know who was after me or what they intended to do with me once they established that I had abilities with the dead. It was a catch twenty-two.

"Damn, " I said out loud all of my positive feelings draining out through my feet and leaving me unaccountably exhausted and sagging in my seat.

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