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فصل 13

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Chapter thirteen

Battery Park

Friday, October 8th, 7:00 a.m. I was on my way from Grand Central Station to Bowling Green on a number five train. This subway station is just north of Battery Park, which was where I was going to meet Lorraine Houston.

Battery Park is a public area where it would be easier for the NYPD team to watch and wait. I thought that Houston would feel uncomfortable away from the deep carpets and expensive furniture of her offices.

From the subway station, it was just a few minutes’ walk to Battery Park. I walked across to the Sphere, a famous piece of public art at the north end of the park - a large gold metal ball, as tall as a house. Oldenberg’s team was already waiting there with hidden cameras, though you wouldn’t know they were police officers. Two young guys talking on a seat. A couple standing under an umbrella. Their orders were to watch and wait. But if I waved my hat, they would immediately help me.

The sky was full of black clouds and it was starting to rain. I put up my umbrella and looked at my watch. It was eight o’clock, time to call Houston.

“Ms. Houston? I’m waiting for you,” I said. “Bring the money and come alone. If there’s any trouble, my personal assistant has a copy of your accounts ready to email to every newspaper in New York. If all goes to plan, she’ll destroy that copy.”

“OK. That’s understood,” she replied. “How do I know you’re telling the truth?”

“Ask yourself this question: What will happen if you don’t believe me? I’ll need your cellphone number… Thanks. Now, leave the building and wait outside the front entrance.”

I let her wait a few minutes in the cold. I wanted her to feel angry and impatient by the time she arrived at Battery Park. Now for my next call.

“So sorry to keep you waiting,” I lied. “You see a tall white-haired guy in a dark green overcoat, carrying a copy of the Wall Street Journal?. He should be opposite you, standing by a cab.” Houston said she could see him.

“That’s my assistant, Mr. Blaney. Go and talk with him,” I continued. “He has a cab waiting for you.”

We had to make sure that Houston arrived alone. Joe Blaney’s job was to make sure that she took our cab - a cab with an NYPD driver. Houston was going to be taken on a little tour of Lower Manhattan. We were going to take our time and make sure she was in a very bad mood by the time she met me.

Thirty minutes later I called Houston again.

“Tell the driver to drop you at the north entrance to Battery Park, opposite Bowling Green. Then walk south to the Sphere. You’ll see me holding a blue and white golf umbrella. By the way, you don’t need to pay the driver. Hope you enjoyed your sightseeing.”

I wouldn’t like to repeat Houston’s reply - such bad language! The rain was beginning to fall more heavily as I saw her. She was tall and slim and was wearing a red suit with a short skirt that showed a lot of leg. She really wasn’t dressed for the weather. I turned on my little secret recorder. I waved to her and sat on a park seat under the trees opposite the Sphere.

“This had better be good, Marley,” she said. “Do you have my papers?”

“Not so fast,” I replied. “Do you have my money?”

She put her case on her knees and opened it. Inside, it was packed with hundred-dollar bills.

“Count it if you like,” she said.

“Don’t you think the park looks lovely in fall?” I asked.

“I don’t have all day. Hurry up and give me the papers,” she said impatiently.

I slowly reached into my case and took out an envelope, which I gave to her. Then I reached into my coat pocket for my cellphone.

Houston took a single piece of paper out of the envelope and looked at me like a dog which was about to bite.

“Give me the rest of the accounts, Marley, or you’re dead meat!” She had taken a small gun out of her purse and was pressing it into my side.

“Not very intelligent, Ms. Houston,” I said. “Remember, if anything happens to me, my personal assistant will email your accounts to every newspaper in this city. If I press ‘Send’, my personal assistant gets that message. Also, shooting people in public isn’t a good idea. You’ll get the rest of the papers. Just be patient. Like any good businessman, I like to count my money first.”

She gave me a cold, hard look through narrow eyes, then put the gun back in her purse. Now she was beginning to shake with the cold.

“Here, take my overcoat,” I said.

She took the coat and put it over her shoulders. She smiled for the first time and thanked me. Now I felt I might have the advantage.

I quickly checked the money, then took a second envelope from my case and held it in front of her.

“There must be some very important information here. You’re one smart businesswoman, Ms. Houston, and a good employer. I like the way you find answers to problems with your people. Like sending Steinmann on his final drive in O’Neill’s car. Good work. The police think that O’Neill is the killer. That way you can be completely sure it’s the end of your trouble with those two. As soon as I tell the police where O’Neill is, you’re safe.”

She smiled again. “You’re a smart guy. I’m sorry about Steinmann. He was good at his job, until he started to think he was smarter than me. I couldn’t let him tell me what to do. I had to get rid of him.”

At last I had it, and everything was on the recorder. I passed her the second envelope. She opened it quickly, took out the papers and counted them.

“Looks like it’s all here. It’s been good doing business with you,” she said, and returned my overcoat. “Now just make sure the police get ahold of O’Neill.”

As she walked away, I called to her, “Actually, Ms. Houston, I got a message from O’Neill. He’d like to tell you, ‘Smile! You’re on a police camera!”’

I waved my hat in the air. Houston screamed and pulled out her gun, but in seconds the NYPD team was all around her. She dropped the gun and fell to the ground.

A minute ago she had been the president of Ocean Star Finance and a very rich woman. Now she was going to spend many years in jail.

I called Oldenberg to tell him the news. “Good work, Marley!” he said. “O’Neill will soon be a free man.”

The rain had stopped and the sun had begun to break through the heavy clouds. In the sunshine, leaves were dropping from the trees and turning in the wind. The air from the ocean smelled fresh and clean. It felt good to be alive. I should spend more time in this city’s parks.

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