This week’s sentence was taken from Louisa May Alcott’s ‘Little Women’.
‘A pair of silk stockings, that pretty carved fan, and a lovely blue sash.’
Despite their occasional meetings they had never met.
The room was always dark. Twice now he had glimpsed the hands: heavy, scarred, age-spotted, yet always immaculately manicured. Expensive suit. Understated.
And the voice. Surprisingly soft. Mellifluous. In almost three decades that was all he had ever seen or heard of Bartleby himself.
Now they sat, sipping scotch in stygian gloom, idle chatter after Mac's debriefing from the Macao job.
One thing …
There was always a noise. A kind of soft clatter that reminded him somehow of his time in Indochina. It finally registered.
'So what's with the fan?' he ventured.
There was a long pause, Bartleby breathed slow and deep. Mac could almost hear the man smiling.
'It was a gift.' Bartleby spoke at last, snapping it open and handing it to Mac, who strained his eyes to make out the detail. 'Carved bamboo. Meiji period. It was found on him when he died.'
'You know I have to ask.'
Mac couldn't hide his surprise.
'Okay, I'm impressed. Is that all I get to know?'
'Tolson.' Bartleby enigmatic as ever. Mac screwed up his brain to squeeze out the connection.
'Clyde Tolson? Assistant Director FBI?'
Bartleby took another long breath.
'Their relationship was an open secret within the Bureau. In ‘72 it looked like it was going wide. Tolson panicked; he'd lose everything. He couldn't trust the FBI so he came to me.'
Another pause while Mac reeled at the enormity of what he was hearing.
‘I made it look like auto-erotic asphyxiation, though of course it was hushed up. Hoover’s death was officially attributed to a heart attack. He had high blood pressure. There was no autopsy of course. Tolson saw to that.'
Mac swallowed hard. Bartleby continued, as calm and measured as if he were reminiscing about a family vacation.
'They found him naked but for the items with which I chose to array him. A pair of silk stockings, that pretty carved fan, and a lovely blue sash. The sash made a nice contrast with the purple of his face.'
‘Holy crap.’ Was all Mac could think to say.
‘Tolson inherited Hoover’s estate. They even buried him next to the old queen.’
‘And me?’ He sighed. ‘Tolson gave me the fan. And later I got unlimited funding and plausible deniability for the unofficial agency for whom you have killed so many people over the years, Mister Mackinson.’
‘Sir,’ Mac, suddenly scared. ‘Does your telling me this mean that my life is now in danger?’
‘Your life ended back in Cambodia. I gave you a second life, an act of generosity on my part that you should do well to remember.’
‘Yes, sir.’ Mac wondered who was standing behind him in the dark. When the shot would come.
But it never did.
‘As for the tale I just related? Of course, I could be lying.’ Bartleby chuckled.
‘No, Mac, your life is in no more danger than usual.
Go now. But please leave the fan.’