When Cliff arrived at The Garage, Joe and Cecil were standing by the front counter. “What are you doing here?” Cecil wondered.
“He’s right,” Joe agreed, surprised, “What are you doing here!?”
“Just couldn’t stay away from your lovely countenance,” Cliff said as he walked by.
“Your face, Joe, I just missed your lovely face.”
“Are you going to be able to work?” Cecil wanted to know.
“Sure, but if I don’t feel good I will let you know.” Cliff continued to his tool cabinet. He turned around and yelled, “We got anything on today?”
Cecil yelled back, “Nothing we need you for, why don’t you go home?”
“Thanks for the inspiration chief. Go home? I just got here.” Cliff wandered around, organizing and cleaning his tools. Finally he walked to the office and stuck his head in the door. “I am going to go out back and finish tearing down that 190.”
Cecil was running through some invoices. He looked up at Cliff and stared for a moment. “Why are you here?”
Cliff was startled. Why wouldn’t he be here? He worked here. He didn’t understand why Cecil would be curious, maybe even upset that one of his employee’s was on the job. “’Cuz, I work here,” he stated rather quizzically.
“Hmmph, but you could be at home.”
“Yeesss, but like I said I work here and I thought I should be here.” Cliff waited for Cecil to say something. “What you don’t want me here?”
Cecil thought for a moment and then quickly replied, “No, no. Sure you go out back and strip that car. If any of the other guys need your help they know where you are.”
“No problem. By the way, when is the next shipment coming in?”
Cecil froze. He looked hard at Cliff. “Why do you want to know?”
Cliff was getting very uncomfortable. “Did you forget that I work here? Christ, if I didn’t know better I would think that you went out and got married. Your are acting like a man who has a wife who is constantly harping on him. Just don’t take it out on me.” With that Cliff turned and walked across the shop. He wondered if Cecil had noticed the sweat starting to bead on his forehead. Joe caught Cliff’s eye. He smiled as he watched Joe shrug is shoulders in disbelief.
The next couple hours were just what Cliff needed. Alone, quiet and the methodical work of taking parts off an old car, checking for condition and cataloging each one as he placed it into the shops inventory. For a while he was able to forget everything else.. All that changed when he heard Joe’s voice. “Clllliiiiffffff,” came the long drawn out yell, “There is someone here to see yooouuu.”
Cliff walked back out into the shop and saw Joe smiling. Beyond the door he could see the grille of a Daimler. His heart sank. “What now!” he thought as he braced himself for another episode with Mrs. Flanagan. As he walked further he could hear her voice. She was talking to someone and not in a polite tone. He was shocked to see Cecil standing by the driver’s door, unflinching as Flanagan’s full tirade hit him.
“…this is totally unacceptable. As I have said, this car has been in here multiple times and you and your employee’s have been unable to solve the problem. I have about had it. You know that you don’t want me to be angry with you or your employees. I have lawyers that would love to take you to court for incompetence. I just want my car fixed. And I want it done now.”
“Yes Mrs. Flanagan,” Cecil stammered, “I’ll get my best man on it right away. JOE!!!”
“Joe,” Mrs. Flanagan screamed, “Are you trying to insult my intelligence!!? You know that Joe is not your best man for this car. Are you trying to make me angrier?”
“Uhhh, no, no, no, not at all Mrs. Flanagan,” Cecil sputtered, “its’ just that Cliff is not feeling very well today and…”
“Do you think I give a damn as to how Cliff feels?” Mrs. Flanagan demanded. “Get him out here right now and get him in this car!”
“Right away Mrs…”
“What seems to be the problem now?” Cliff interjected as he walked up to the car.
“Get in!” Mrs. Flanagan yelled.
“Yes Cliff, get in and find out what the problem is on Mrs. Flanagan’s car,” Cecil said as he breathed a sigh of relief.
Cliff gave Cecil an annoyed look and headed for the other side of the car. He sat down in the seat and before he could close the door, Mrs. Flanagan had stomped the accelerator. “Slow down!” Cliff screamed as he searched for something to hold on to. He slammed the door as she slid out into the street and pressed himself back into the seat.
“Brilliant,” Mrs. Flanagan laughed.
“Brilliant!” Cliff said incredulously, “you know when I told Mary I thought your were nuts?”
“I was wrong, you are insane!”
Mrs. Flanagan started to laugh. “It was brilliant. How did you ever come up with it?”
“The fainting thing.”
“Look,” Cliff started, “I did not faint. I passed out.”
Mrs. Flanagan looked over at him. “Whatever. It was still brilliant.”
“Coming up with the whole passing out thing. It really threw them off.”
“Coming up with it?” Cliff was confused, yet again.
“Yes, it was…”, Mrs Flanagan studied Cliff’s face. “It was an act wasn’t it?”
“No.” Cliff replied gently touching his forehead.
“You mean you really fainted!?”
Cliff got defensive, “Look, I have a lot on my mind. It was the heat and the motion driving around with you. AND I PASSED OUT!”
“Good Lord. You fainted. And we all thought you were the best actor in the world.”
Cliff just sat there.
“Anyway, it worked.” Mrs. Flanagan’s tone became milder. “How’s your head?”
“What do you want?”
Mrs. Flanagan’s face stiffened. “Cecil is going to have a visitor today. I need you to try and find out what they are talking about.”
“Please slow down,” Cliff said wearily.
“Oh, yes. Sorry.”
“Who’s the guy?”
“His name is Conrad. He is an importer/exporter and does some shipping brokerage. He will be there to convince Cecil to switch his brokerage business to Conrad’s company.”
“Is he a friendly importer/exporter or the enemy?” Cliff asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Your husband was and ‘importer/export’”, Cliff said as he put his two hands in the air and bent his first and second fingers, “this guy is also a spy?”
Mrs. Flanagan was surprised, “Very good Cliff, you don’t miss a thing.”
“In answer to your question, we are not sure. That is why we need you to try and figure out what is being said.”
“How am I going to know?”
“Well, it is not going to be easy. Neither he nor Cecil will want you to overhear their conversation so you are going to have to be creative.”
“What does Cecil care?” Cliff said.
Mrs. Flanagan paused. “We need to find that out too?”
Cliff was shocked. “What, you mean to tell me that Cecil is part of this?”
“He may be.”
“You are telling me that toad is a spy?”
“We have had our eye on him for some time.”
“You have been watching Cecil.”
“Who is everyone?” Cliff wanted to know.
“Everyone,” Mrs. Flanagan replied. “Us, them, everyone.”
“Because he is a prime target.”
Cliff started to laugh. “Yeah, prime like a side of beef.”
“Understand that in this business you want people with very few ties. No family, no good friends, no ties. That way, if you disappear there are fewer voices demanding answers.”
“Well,” Cliff chuckled, “Cecil is one person who wouldn’t be missed that much.”
“No, and we are not sure if anyone got to him.”
“Why don’t you know?”
“Well,” Mrs. Flanagan replied, “for all his faults he has the ability to keep his affairs private.”
“He can do that because he doesn’t have any affairs!”
“You know what I mean.”
Cliff needed to know more. “So you think that Cecil would make a good operative. Now you want me to find out for sure if he is someone you can use.”
“Wait just a minute. You just said that everyone had their eye on him. Cecil is not the type of person that would attract that much attention. He really doesn’t have any skills that I would think are important to the life of a spy.”
Mrs. Flanagan wanted Cliff to go further. “And what type of skills would those be?”
“I dunno, he should at least be able to fit in with any crowd.”
“Like he was invisible.”
“Yeah, like a ‘spook’”, Cliff said knowing that Mrs. Flanagan was having fun leading him around by the nose.
“And what else?”
“He needs to be fast on his feet, physical and mentally.”
“If he his quick mentally, the need to be quick physically is diminished.”
“Oh, well as you said, he couldn’t have any ties. Like an orphan!” Cliff said triumphantly.
It finally dawned on Cliff. “You said you know everything about me. You’ve been watching me since I was adopted.”
“Not since you were adopted, but you were brought to our attention after your stepfather died.”
Cliff started to get angry. “So I have been your entertainment through all these years. Ooooh, lets see what Cliff is doing today and lets see how he scores on our spy application.”
“Its not like that. We have people who monitor candidates. If the time is right we approach them.”
That did nothing to appease Cliff. “Look Flanagan, I have had about enough of being your puppet on a string. Stop the car and let me out. I’m done.”
Mrs. Flanagan veered the car over to the curb and slammed on the brakes. “Look here you immature dunce. You don’t know how lucky you have it. Everything you have is because of us. Don’t you think the police could have arrested your sorry ass a million times over your car stealing escapades? Don’t you think they wanted to seize your assets and buildings? Who in the hell do you think stopped them? Or do you believe it was because of your incredible genius? Think again buddy boy before you take one more step. Right now you have a daughter who needs help and we are your only chance. Get a grip and figure out what you are going to do. We will accomplish our goals without you. But, if you want our help, you better start thinking like a team player.”
Cliff just sat there as Mrs. Flanagan stared at him. “You got the wrong guy.”
“Oh I do, do I?”
“Yes, I am not the one you want.”
“So, the guy who fought back against his stepmother and stepsisters is the wrong guy. The guy who developed an auto theft ring and stayed out of the mob is the wrong guy. The guy who has kept clean and under the radar for the last ten years is the wrong guy.”
“You got it.”
“Well,” Mrs. Flanagan sighed, “I’d better go tell Monica.”
“Don’t even get me started.”
Mrs. Flanagan was still staring at him. Cliff was feeling very uncomfortable. He knew she was right. He also knew that he did not want to go through with this. He wanted it all to go away. He was trapped and Mrs. Flanagan knew it. Cliff’s anger was quickly overwhelmed by a need to protect Monica. He sat up in the seat and took a deep breath. “So, this guy’s name is Conrad?”
Mrs. Flanagan smiled.
“What does he look like?”
“We are not sure.”
“What? How can you not be sure?”
“Well, we know he has had some work done. Nobody has been able to get a shot of him since.”
Cliff felt a wave of anxiety come over him. “So I am flying blind?”
“No, not really,” Mrs. Flanagan started to explain. “How many people have you seen come in for an appointment with Cecil?”
“You’re right. He should be pretty easy to pick out. What accent does he speak with?”
“Anyone he wants.”
“Great. So this guy is a real professional.”
“He is, but you have the advantage,” Mrs. Flanagan consoled.
“He’s not looking for you. You’re looking for him.”
“I’ll bet he’s worried.”
“Maybe. But don’t cross him. He’ll kill if he has no other option.”
“Your telling me this, why?”
Mrs. Flanagan was staring at Cliff again. “I am telling you this,” she said slowly, “so you don’t go into anything unprepared.”
“I suddenly feel all warm and fuzzy,” Cliff chided.
Mrs. Flanagan pulled out into traffic and quickly made a quick u-turn. “Okay, no we are in business. You are going to go back to work and make like nothing has changed. Before you know it we will be on a way to a kidney for Monica.”
“On the way. Yup, on the way.”