Forged in Fear: Nigel Tries to Explain ...
FORGED IN FEAR
"I believe I told you the Treasury Department made me retire a few months ago,” I told Della as we sat round the woodstove in her charming outpost canteen. It felt good on a chilly October morning.
“Yeah, you did, and I figured it was about time,” Della said. “I knew lots of folks who had to retire well before the age you are now.”
“Ah, yes, don’t remind me. I am well past the mandated retirement age, but they’d kept me on because, well, I’m so good at what I do.” She gave me her raised-eyebrow look, and I quickly added, “I’m not bragging, it’s true.”
“Yeah, I know it’s true—and it’s true those talents got you in a load of trouble in the past. What’s the story this time?”
“I’m getting to that.” I got up to help myself to more coffee. Della made a delicious brew from an old percolator, and though I preferred tea in the afternoon, morning coffee was my preference. I brushed crumbs from my whistle and flute,* which I’d managed to iron and get back into something presentable. A good hot shower and close shave completed the restoration of my person. As I sat back down, I continued. “Some bureaucrat declared I was too old to work there. As if crime—and outsmarting it—knows time.”
“Okay, but I haven’t heard anything that would necessitate your skipping town in the middle of the night.”
“It wasn’t the middle of the night. You know that train schedule better than I. I got here, Timbuktu, in the middle of the night.” Della nodded, conceding that volley, then nodded more emphatically for me to continue. “So back to D.C. You know me. I’m not used to sitting around doing nothing, and I was feeling, well, all sixes and sevens.”
“That has a financial ring to it.”
I managed a wan smile. “Yes, I was feeling itchy to do something, and of course that led to itchy fingers. That’s the only reason. I don’t need the money. I was just bored.”
“Oh, Nigel. What have you gotten yourself into?” Della said with such a plaintive tone that I felt the blood rush to my face, ashamed. For a moment, anyway.
“A bit of bother, I’m afraid. Seems the man I was doing forgery for wasn’t some hapless bloke, but rather a gangster of what I’ve only recently learned is considerable ill repute. RICO, if you catch my drift. And to make matters worse, the feds think I’m the man that RICO paid me to forge the signatures of. Oh, it’s all very complicated, and quite unforeseeable, but needless to say, I couldn’t stay in D.C. And I had nowhere else to go. My daughter and her children moved to New York recently, but that turned into a blessing. Thank heavens they’re not close by in case RICO or the feds come looking.”
“Oh great,” Della interrupted. “So instead they follow you down here to us!”
“Now, now, of course not, my dear. The feds aren’t looking for Nigel Steadman—they don’t realize it’s a forgery because I did such a good job signing for Rodney Kelly.” Della gave me a harsh look, so I hurried on with a most plausible explanation. “They’re looking for Kelly, and no one—RICO, Kelly, the feds—have any idea where I am. This is the last place anyone would look for Kelly. And I’m good about covering my tracks. I forged a few documents so this boyo I know could take a long trip to Mexico—as Kelly. It’s just a red herring, but it will throw them off-track for some precious days. He’s still down there on a beach somewhere with enough money to travel before returning home to his real life as Michael Krebbs.”
Della didn’t look consoled. “Oh, great. One crime begets three or four. Isn’t this how you got caught before?”
“Oh, let’s not get into all that past history.”
“What other kind is there?”
“I’m sorry, my dear. What is your question?”
“There’s only one kind of history, Nigel. Past. Which is what your penchant for forgery should have been. Quit stalling—and don’t you dare wave your hand at me, dismissing me as though I were just being silly. I wish I were, but you’re not cut out to be a, a, cheese monger.” She waved her hand toward the rather impressive cheese counter in the store.
“I wouldn’t mind, you know. It all seems rather pleasant.” I sipped my coffee and quietly enjoyed the lulling quality of the lovely old rocker I'd chosen earlier that morning.
Luckily, some customers came in then, saving me from Della’s grilling. She let it go, at least for a time, and introduced me as her friend from Washington, D.C. We all nodded and smiled at each other in that polite, if somewhat awkward, social custom. Rather a sweet gesture on Della’s part, as though I were a visiting dignitary from the nation’s capital. Sadly, though, I knew there wasn’t a speck of dignity about what brought me down to Laurel Falls.
Before I knew it, one woman grabbed my arm and walked me over to the very cheese counter we’d just been discussing. “What is your favorite English cheese?” she asked. I’d already determined that Della didn’t stock Stilton, and since I didn’t want to diminish her offerings, I lied and said Wensleydale, which sat foremost in the case. It’s a fine cheese, just not my personal favorite. But that woman wasn’t really cheese shopping, was she?
Within minutes another customer joined us and asked me about tea and scones and everything British. I’d lived in America almost as long as Old Blighty, but I played along. Anything to avoid Della’s probing, reporterly questions.
Another woman (Della later informed me she was one of the wealthier second-home customers) cornered me about England, inquiring about where she should go on her trip later that summer. She actually took my arm and got so close, I was worried she was about to lay a big hit and miss** on me.
I managed to avoid telling Della anything more about my troubles, at least for the time being. I assumed it would all come out in the days ahead.
It did. Just not the way I expected.
* Rhyming slang for suit
** Rhyming slang for kiss