Previously: Bill arrives at his secret rendezvous with Bowler Hat
“I’m glad to see you have some uncommon sense, Mr. Dickerson.”
I turned around and there he stood, the man whom in my mind became the epitome of evil, worse than Caligula, Hitler, and Darth Vader combined. A man of obvious wealth and taste, and considering I’m quoting a Rolling Stones song, “Sympathy for the Devil”, in stating that, very appropriate. That’s what I truly felt like I was doing here, playing chess with Satan himself.
“Uncommon sense, that’s a very interesting turn of phrase, sir.” I answered, apparently doing a great job of hiding the fear within me. “In fact, it sounds like something I would say.”
“ I believe you’ll find we have much in common,” he said, his voice flavored with a honeyed warmth that sent chills down my spine. “If you give yourself the time to get to know me and the friends I represent.”
“ About that,” I responded, “you seem to have me at a disadvantage, sir. You obviously know my name and probably a bit more about me than I am comfortable with, especially since all I know about you is that you dress well, have a penchant for wearing bowlers and are most probably from the United Kingdom.”
“ Ah, forgive me Mr. Dickerson. You may call me Smythe-Mr. Smythe, if you are feeling overly polite. But Smythe will do if you choose not to stand on formalities.”
“ I’m not one for formalities,” I said. “Please call me Bill, or, if that offends your British sensibilities, call me William. Either way, Mr. Dickerson was my father’s name, and one I prefer not to use, even though he left this world more than a decade ago.”
I extended my hand to him. He took it with a tight grip, as if taking my measure in the gesture, which I made sure was as tight as his. If one could shake hands with a rattlesnake, I’m sure this is akin to what it feels like.
“Bill it is then,” he answered with a wide grin. “Out of curiosity, have you eaten dinner yet?”
“Not yet,” I replied, “ I was going to pick up something on the way back.”
“Well, I was planning on dining across the street at Elephant and Castle this evening. Would you like to come? My treat of course”
“Sounds like a plan, Smythe,” I said with a crocodile smile. All the years crashing at the Pavilion had indeed made me curious about the cuisine at Elephant and Castle. Well, occasionally a well-meaning passerby might have dropped Kittie and me off a decent-sized doggee bag of leftovers from there, but it’s nothing like eating there. Not to mention, half the experience of dining at a restaurant is the atmosphere, which I knew nothing about.
Smythe led me across Pennsylvania Avenue to the restaurant in question. I always did like the stained glass rendering of the Elephant and Castle logo visible from the front window: an elephant, with what looked like an enormous rook piece from a chess set made of brick. Might sound funny, but while I liked the logo, I always felt sorry for the elephant, carrying what had to be many times the proverbial ‘ton of bricks’ on his back.
As we entered, Smythe made a beeline to the hostess’ stand. A pretty woman in her mid-20’s was working it that night, and her eyes lit up like the National Christmas Tree when she saw him approach.
“Is my usual private table available this evening, my dear?” he asked, extending his hand. Several bills were barely visible, almost poking out of his fingertips.
“Of course, Mr. Smyth,” she responded, “anything for one of our favorite customers.”
She shook his hand in a most lady-like manner, and the bills were nowhere to be seen when he drew his hand back. She picked up a pair of menus and gestured for us to follow her. I was surprised when she started leading us through the kitchen and into an intimately sized room, of which the dim lights were augmented with candles on wall sconces as well as a 4-candle candelabra in the center of the table.
“OK…,” I said, “this seems a little too … romantic of an atmosphere for what I thought we might be here for.”
“Ahh, you can relax Bill,” Smythe responded, “I usually have this room made available to me for, shall we say – more illicit, rendezvous than what I have planned for tonight.”
“Well, the hostess didn’t seem put out by my presence here,” I commented, “so does that mean that you’re…?”
I left the question hanging, not really wanting to finish it and possibly angering him and thereby messing this up.
“Bisexual, I believe, is the word you are looking for Bill,” he quickly answered. “As the Roman emperor Caligula once put it, ‘I like both nymphs and satyrs.’ I hope that’s not a problem?”
Wow, I thought, behind closed doors and he’s quoting Caligula in less than 10 minutes. If he says ‘Luke I am your father’ at anytime during this conversation, I am out of here.
“Of course not,” I answered, hoping I didn’t sound as creeped out as I felt. “Just understand that this ‘satyr’ is not for you. I am strictly into ‘nymphs.’”
“I wouldn’t dream of ruining you for that charming young lady I saw you with at the monument the other day,” he said. Normally I would conduct a meeting of this nature at the Caucus Room or some other similar establishment, but I suppose your previous economic status left you, not of your own fault mind you, rather ignorant of proper style and attire. Since Elephant and Castle was nearby, it seemed capital to bring you here to discuss things. To do so over a meal seemed only civilized. And at any rate, the food here is quite good for a three-star restaurant.”
With that, an attractive young woman, looking barely out of high school, walked in. She wore a black shirt, black pants, and a black apron around her waist.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” she said, with much more poise than I would have expected from someone her apparent age. “My name is Angel, and I’ll be your waitress this evening. May I get you something to drink? An appetizer maybe?”
Smythe ordered a Manhattan and a shrimp cocktail. I opted for mozzarella sticks and a cup of coffee.
“You don’t want anything stronger than that?” he asked, surprised.
“I might have a Jack and Coke after dinner,” I started to explain, “but after the first year of, let’s just call it ‘my situation,’ I saw alcohol ruin a lot of lives. I’ve all but stopped drinking after that. Not to mention, living on the streets generally requires you to have your wits about you as a matter of survival. You never know when some group of punks is gonna want to take advantage of you, one way or another.”
Plus, I don’t trust you as far as I can throw that statue of Ben Franklin outside, I thought. If I’m gonna pull this off, I need my wits about me. And I’ll be damned if I let you get me drunk enough to take this ring off my finger.
“We were talking about Frank’s death,” I interjected, not wanting to get distracted from the reason I was there, not to mention that I didn’t want to appear sucked into Smythe’s wealth, “You really want me to believe that he was poisoned by the Masons?”
“Whether you believe it or not, the evidence is right in front of you,” he replied calmly. “In black and white, signed by the city’s Medical Examiner, and properly sealed as well.”
“So let me ask you this. Why?”
“Well,” he began. “You see Frank was essentially some kind of social experiment that they were conducting, to see what a man with nothing would do if he was given the resources to drag himself out of poverty. Instead, he wasted the gifts he was given on alcohol and narcotic pills. Over time, the Masons got so disgusted with him that they pulled the plug on their experiment, exactly how scientists who do animals testings euthanize their test subjects when they are finished with them.”
“So you are saying that Frank was nothing but a guinea pig to them?” I asked incredulously, “a freaking monkey?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Smythe replied, “But more than that, Bill, that’s all you are to them.”
My jaw almost hit the floor with that one. Just the insinuation of it made me want to take the chair I was sitting in and smack him upside the head with it. Oh, any doubt that the man sitting across from me was the Antichrist was completely erased at that point. I knew something he didn’t know. My best friend, hell, the woman I loved more than life itself was part of an organization with far reaching connections to the Masons. No way in hell would Kittie led me down a primrose path to my death. We’d been through too much together, watched each other’s backs through some pretty hairy circumstances, and talked each other through more, shall we say “psyche” moments that I could count on a hundred fingers and toes. No way in heaven or hell that she’d be involved with anyone who’d use, abuse, and dispose of me the way that Smythe just described.
But I kept my poker face on, and kept the hatred that was beginning to foment within me in check. I had a game to play and I was up against a master. I remembered my reason for being here, to play the player like a violin. Instead of beating him to win an inch of his life, all I did was say, “You do know I’m not gonna go out like that, right?”
“Ah, and there’s the fire in your eyes that I’d hoped to ignite,” he responded smugly, “so I take it you’re ready to join me in my crusade to crush these charlatans, these snakes, these wolves in sheeps’ clothing.”
I was waiting for that tone, the use of the “power of three.” Now I’m not talking about the belief in the power of the number three, I’m talking about a trick that every speechwriter, from political writing for the President to your pastor at the local Baptist Church uses to get a point across. Whether you repeat the same thing three times or use three synonymous phrases, the effect is the same. It almost hypnotizes the listener into falling into whatever verbal trap the speaker has set, with the effect that the listener begins to believe exactly what had been multiplied by three and be more upon to believe whatever else the speaker had said in the conversation.
The “Power of Three” effect has been well documented by psychiatrists and sociologists. There’s one thing about its use though, anyone who’s aware of it doesn’t fall for it. I certainly wasn’t and unlike before with my anger at Smythe’s insinuations about the Masons, this time it was to my advantage to resist.
“Not so fast Smythe,” I said. “Now you got me thinking about the Masons, but the jury is still out on them. I have things you’ve given me, granted, but things nonetheless to confirm. If I don’t like what I find out, I have ties to sever. However, whatever my final opinion on them ends up being, I’m still not sold on your side of the issue either. In fact, for as much as you’ve argued against the Masons, you haven’t said so much of a peep about you or your people.”
“Very good Bill!” Smythe beamed, “An analytical mind combined with a skeptical nature, the ability to hear and understand exactly what is said and not said, as well as the courage to speak one’s mind when faced with adversity. Frank chose well in his heir.”
With that, Angel returned to see if our drinks needed to be refilled. Smythe ordered a Manhattan this time, while I asked for two more cups of coffee. She smiled and rushed off to fill our orders.
“Well,” I started as soon as the door closed behind her, “I guess this is where you start your pitch.”
“Straight to the point,” he responded. “Very well, but remember, you can’t assume all men of business are but well-dressed salesmen. There is education and refinement to take into account as well.”
Spoken like a consummate snake oil salesman, I thought.
“Of course not,” I lied, “But even the most refined businessman has to make a pitch every now and then. You might trick it out in a fancy package, which you might call a proposal, but at the end of the day, it’s just a sales pitch.”
To Be Continued……