Libretto (Books)

Strange Acquaintances – Part One

He didn’t like early mornings, and he never wanted to get a “real” job. Perhaps that was the main point of contention between the world and Thaddeus Pintz, the man now hunched over a large desk analysing what looked like mathematical formulae.

He took a deep breath. It has been several years since he established his private investigation practice, and although his clientele was somewhat assorted, he never complained about a lack of work. There was always a something and a someone, and a conflict between the two that needed him and his unbiased perspective.

He was in his mid thirties, thin, of average height and poorly dressed. It looked like he may have been living and sleeping here in this ground floor office that was the hub of operations for his fledgeling business. His face was sharp, defined, with a few nicely chiselled wrinkles, his eyes adorned by a spectacle frame of thin wire.

The morning was early, and the desk lamp flooded the room with its soft warm yellow glow. He didn’t like early mornings, but he was up for almost the whole night and it didn’t matter to him what the hour was, so long as no one would tell him what to do. The city outside was beginning to wake, but there were still a few hours of peace ahead.

Or maybe not. The sound of the little bell above the front door, agitated by someone from the outside, warned of his first guest for the day. His head darted to the side, then shook lightly with a mixture of humour and disbelief, darting momentarily at a wall clock.

Scrambling inside was a young woman, shaggy and dishevelled, with a wild glint in her eyes. Her clothes were wet even though she was donning a cheap plastic raincoat and holding an umbrella. She looked at him and smiled. He took a deep breath and coolly smiled back, knowing that his early morning peace was about to be shattered into a million pieces, stomped on, and swept under the rug. This was the prelude to the chaos that was Marin Kraus.

Marin: Frankie! You will NEVER believe this!

It is perhaps good to add at this point that Marin seldom called Thaddeus by his actual name and preferred, instead, to use her own favourite, Frankie. She used this alternative so often, in fact, that many people, friends and professional acquaintances alike, would often use it too. No specific ties were ever established between the real article and Marin’s seemingly random preference.

Thaddeus: Good morning Marin. Could you please close the door?

Marin: Oh yeah, sure! Sorry.

She spun around and slammed the door; her eyes never relinquishing their wildness. Thaddeus winced softly at the noise but otherwise carried on with his work. Marin ran towards him, dropping several articles of… whatever. She back-pedalled again to collect her belongings. He didn’t care to observe the spectacle. This was the order of the day, every day.

Marin was a wild, free spirit, devoid of fear and those certain delicate and inexplicable qualities that we often associate with sanity. She started working with Thaddeus two years ago… for many reasons really. She could not find a job anywhere else, and Thaddeus always thought that no one could really be blamed for that, crazy and unpredictable as Marin could be sometimes.

Being extremely accident-prone was also something that deterred many a prospective employee from holding onto this chaotic but ultimately good soul. Thaddeus never thought that he took pity on her, or that she was in any way indebted to him, convinced as he was that this was the way things were supposed to be.

Illustration by Jacek Gaudasinski

Despite what some people thought, there was nothing going on between Thaddeus and Marin. He loved her like a friend loves a friend, with compassion, respect, understanding and more than his fair share of compromise.

He loved her energy and the way she thought outside of any norms, and could often have the most thought-provoking ideas at the most opportune, and often inopportune, of times. She loved his kindness, eye for detail, and that he treated her so straightforwardly. Though seemingly strained, their mutual respect really knew no bounds.

Marin: Frankie, you have to have a look at this! It’s a bomb! OK, here’s the scoop! Master at Arms, Sinclair Corsley, was out with his “wife” last night… to the OPERA! I may or may not have followed them. And I have pictures!
Thaddeus: [with resignation] Right… so you HAVE followed them.
Marin: Ummm, look, that’s not important. He was sitting in row B, seat 12, or was it 13? Anyway, next to him was… [eyes widen]

Thaddeus: His wife?

Marin: Pffft… yeah, “wife”. Get outta here, Frankie; they’re not married! And I’m talking about the seat on the other side. It was our Shadow Man! He was right there! And then I busted them in the act, Frankie. In the ACT! Mister Shadow Man person handed Sinclair an envelope. THE envelope! It had the black butterfly stamp on it and everything!

Thaddeus: Slow down. Take a deep breath, Marin. First, Corsley is a powerful man, and likely a fraud. Second…

Marin: But what about Shadow Man?

Thaddeus: Second… this Shadow Man of yours, I’ve never seen him.

Marin: I have pictures! Here!

Marin scrambled and her arms dove into her bag filled with… whatever. Somewhere inside was a camera. She handed it to him.

Thaddeus: Prints?

Marin: No. Frankie, it was late. Just look, please.

Thaddeus: Alright.

He turned on the little digital camera, relieved in a way that it was a digital camera, and not some celluloid antique the likes of which Marin used to employ. The little display came to life and, as he plugged it into an old computer monitor on his desk, so did the first of Marin’s photographs. Marin hunched over to see and prompt.

Marin: Yes. That’s the one.

Thaddeus: That’s Corsley there? [points]

Marin: Yes, and that’s his… fake… wife.

Thaddeus: There’s a ring on her finger. Where’s Shadow Man?

Marin: I don’t understand, he was there! I swear!

Thaddeus: Maybe in another photo?

He advanced the preview, shuttling through the pictures.

Marin: This is weird!

Thaddeus: Marin, are you sure that…

Marin: Frankie, damn it, why don’t you ever believe me?!?

Marin was visibly, and audibly, agitated. And then, as if on cue, the little bell above the heavy front door rang again, and a gust of cold wind tore through the room.

Thaddeus and Marin both darted towards the door which closed behind the new arrival.

Standing on the landing was a beautiful, sharply-dressed woman, attache in hand, the likes of which one would not expect to find calling into this kind of establishment… or at the very least that was what Thaddeus would necessarily think, and redirect the “stray” clientele, as he called it, to the shops adjacent. Likely, like many others throughout the working week, this woman was lost, and was probably after the printery, or the tailor, both in the same block of pavilions. He quickly sized her up, and judging purely by her clothes, he proceeded.

Thaddeus: Good day, miss. My apologies for the confusion. The tailor is two doors down. This happens all the time. My signage has been inadequate for a while.

Mysterious Woman: Oh no. I’m after… ummm… [looks at card in hand] Thaddeus Pintz. Is this the right address?

Thaddeus: Indeed it is. Please, come in.

Illustration by Jacek Gaudasinski

She was tall and slender, dressed with impeccable style of a haute couture tailor, donning a beautifully crafted one piece dress and a wide-brimmed hat. She walked across the floor with a delicate manner of distinguished grace and purpose, never breaking her confident gaze trained squarely on Thaddeus. He did not look away, and indeed felt a little flustered, strange as this acquaintance seemed to him. She walked right up to Thaddeus and offered her hand. The musky smell of expensive perfume followed suit.

Mysterious Woman: Angela Briar.

Thaddeus bowed slightly and kissed the top of her hand. She smiled, accustomed as she seemed to this sort of cosmopolitan old-world etiquette.

Thaddeus: Please, have a seat miss Briar. This is my assistant, Marin.

He offered her one of the chairs in front of his desk. She took off her hat, placing it on an adjacent chair, and took a seat without so much as a glance in Marin’s direction. Thaddeus quickly scrambled to turn the camera monitor on his desk off.

Thaddeus: So, ummm, what brings you here, miss Briar?

Angela: I won’t waste your time, Mister Pintz. This is a matter of great importance to me and my superiors. It is also a matter that requires a modicum of discretion.

Without breaking eye contact with Thaddeus, Angela turned her head slightly towards Marin.

Thaddeus: Oh no, please feel free to talk. Marin is a trusted colleague.

Angela glanced at Marin, but only for a moment ever so brief, her lips momentarily pursed.

Angela: Very well. You are a detective, mister Pintz, are you not?

Marin: Only the best detective there is in this rotten town.

Angela: [tepid smile] I have every reason to believe that. I’ve been sent here by my superiors to engage you and your particular agency in a job that involves finding something. Something valuable.

Thaddeus: Who are your superiors, miss Briar?

Angela: That’s unimportant.

Thaddeus: If you excuse my personal annotation, you appear to be a woman of… stature and considerable means.

Angela: [raised eyebrows]

Thaddeus: I suppose the obvious question here is “why us?” Any other agency will have resources far outweighing ours, staff with capabilities outperforming anything we can offer.

Angela: In a word, mister Pintz; precision. You are a learned man, a man of science, a man of patience, a man of an inquisitive mind and nature. That, and the fact that you need this job, and needing it means that you will likely do exactly what is necessary to complete it.

Thaddeus: In that case, miss Briar, what IS necessary to complete it.

Angela: Discretion.

Thaddeus: That’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. Are you getting the same feeling, Marin?

Marin: Oh, you know I am, Frankie.

From within an attache, Angela produced a small dossier bound with twine, and placed it on the desk in front of Thaddeus. She then produced a fountain pen, and on the margin of the math-ridden scrap in front of Thaddeus she wrote… well, he wasn’t sure what just yet.

Angela: My superiors are generous. They are offering a payment, half of which you’ll get now to get you started, and the other half upon completion of the job. The job is to find the item described in this dossier. This item is protected by a person, the clues to whose identity and whereabouts you will also find in the dossier.

Thaddeus: I hope you excuse me if I say that you’re treating this as if it was a done deal, miss Briar.

Angela: Oh, but it is.

And just like that, Angela Briar got up from the chair, attache in hand, and proceeded towards the front door.

Thaddeus quickly looked at Angela’s scribble in the margin. The sum was… substantial. It was only a moment before Angela Briar would leave.

Thaddeus: What if I refuse?

Angela: Will you?

She opened the front door and walked out, disappearing into the cold rainy morning crowd now amassing on the street.

Marin blinked.

Marin: Frankie, what just happened?

Thaddeus: I don’t know.

Marin looked at Angela’s scribble.

Marin: Holy Moses! Is this what they want to pay?!?

Thaddeus: Apparently so.

Marin: Frankie, this feels weird.

Thaddeus: Yeah, tell me about it. Look, we are not doing anything until we know what we’re actually doing.

Marin: Who do you think she was?

Thaddeus: There’s only one way to find out.

The dossier looked old and weary, and the length of string keeping it bound was frail and crumbling. There were no external markings, no names, no numbers. Working carefully, Thaddeus unwound the twine and opened the cover.

Inside, atop all else, was a business card belonging to Angela Briar, bearing only her name and a phone number. No company logos, no addresses, no other identifying markings. Curious.

Below a number of documents lay ordered in a stack, the topmost a white sheet with a dark stylised emblem… a black butterfly.

Marin gasped.

Further down in the stack were several sheets of yellow graph paper, each numbered in the corner with sequential numbers and dates, but otherwise blank.

At the bottom of the dossier was a note:

It is ever so lovely for you to accept the job, Mr. Pintz. I have forgotten my hat. Please keep it safe. I shall collect it soon. AB.

Marin: Frankie, what do we do?

To be continued in Issue 2…

This story was first published in The Serenade Files Magazine Issue 1 (January – March 2019). Visit the Members Magazine page to read more content like this.

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