26. Frostbite

Melda had just tucked her pistol under her leg, essentially sitting on it, in order to hold her knife and fork. She was still wary of Reese but knew that she could not go on using only one hand (now that her lunch had been brought out) without looking ridiculous. When the fire alarm went off, she jumped up and instinctively turned to the kitchen.

“Is it an oil fire?” she shouted over the din and commotion to one of her staff.

“We’re not sure, ma’am,” the girl replied, panic obvious in her eyes. “I didn’t see any smoke…”

“Get the customers out to safety,” she ordered, heading towards the kitchen herself – her Derringer completely forgotten. “Everybody gets a free lunch voucher for their next visit!”

While Carl trailed after his aunt, Reese grabbed the pistol she had left behind and followed them to the kitchen, combing back his wet hair with his fingers. He had retrieved his cell phone as soon the other two’s attention had turned away, keeping the device relatively dry, and now tucked it into an inner pocket for safekeeping.

Although there had been no smoke to start with, once the water had hit the deep-fry vats, the steam created by its contact with hot oil had swamped the kitchen, making it difficult to see. The cooks had managed to open the back door and run out, leaving nobody of whom Melda could demand answers when she stormed in.

“Carl!” Reese shouted over the continued ringing of the alarm as he caught up with the younger man. “Were you followed here?”

“What?” he responded, confused.

“I said, were you followed here?” Reese repeated, even louder, noting out of the corner of his eye that he had gotten Melda’s attention as well. “This feels like a Bureau tactic – using a false fire alarm to get us out!”

“You think it’s the FBI?” she cried, catching on.

“It could be… If I could track Carl, I’m sure they could, too. They might be waiting outside with their guns drawn,” Reese said, his eyes dead serious. “Is there another way out of here? A secret tunnel, or at least a way into the sewers?”

“No! Just the front door and two back doors,” she answered in horror.

“Do you have a freezer – industrial freezer, with thick walls?”

“Yes, of course…”

“Take cover in it, in case they start shooting,” Reese advised. “I’ll go out and see if it’s the Bureau. If it is, we’re all screwed, but if it’s not, I’ll come back to get you out. Don’t worry – I’ve got your back.”

So saying, he returned the Derringer to her – an act of good faith – as well as drawing his own Sig Sauer. Impressed in spite of herself with Reese’s efficiency, Melda led Carl to the walk-in freezer on the other side of the kitchen, glancing over her shoulder to see Reese stalking towards the open doorway, gun at the ready. However, as soon as the duo had stepped into the freezer and closed its door, Reese hurried to break into the fire equipment niche, then grabbed the axe and placed its sturdy shaft through the two handles of the doors. Thoroughly wet, Melda and Carl were now trapped (though they did not suspect it yet) inside of the industrial-grade freezer.

Meanwhile, the fire engines’ sirens had been growing louder and closer. Reese retrieved Stills’ police badge from a hidden pocket in his suit jacket before walking carefully out of the building. As he’d expected, a few local police officers had already arrived and were assessing the situation.

“Detective Carter,” Reese introduced himself, holding up the badge and his gun in a non-threatening manner. “There’s no fire – false alarm – but I could use your assistance with a wanted felon. His aunt owns the restaurant, and when she figured out that I was here for him, she pulled a gun on me! I managed to trap them in the freezer, but not before her dear nephew triggered the fire alarm in an escape attempt. Can you contact the FBI for me? My cell is fried from getting wet…”


When the local police chief arrived on the scene, Reese explained everything again, but the man (a regular at the restaurant) was incredulous that Melda could be involved in any criminal activity.

“She’s the brains of the outfit,” Reese insisted, “and she nearly blew my head off before Carl made a run for it! The FBI has been looking for him for months now. Carl Herschel, a.k.a. Carl Banks, a.k.a. Carl Vogler, et cetera, et cetera, is wanted for fraud in New Jersey and Massachusetts, not to mention conspiracy and kidnapping charges in Maryland. He recently tried to convince a retired Senator’s son-in-law to kidnap his baby daughter for ransom – Senator Russwood has the surveillance devices Carl had planted in his home. I have his number if you’d like to call him…”

There was so much confusion and chaos that the police and firefighters had yet to realize that Reese’s timeline of events didn’t jive with what the other restaurant clientele and staff were saying, but – believing that Reese was NYPD – they agreed to wait the twenty minutes it would take for the closest FBI agents to arrive before opening the freezer. It helped immensely that the FBI office confirmed Carl Vogler was wanted for fraud and extortion in multiple states.

The firefighters had given Reese a blanket to wrap himself in since his clothes were soaked and the outside temperature far from comfortable. The restaurant workers (and the few lingering customers) had been advised to go home, so the street gradually began to look less like a refugee camp, although some gawkers remained.

“Say, is there a store around here where I can get a change of clothes?” Reese asked a knot of local police officers and firefighters.

“There’s one right there,” a firefighter told him, pointing down the street. Reese looked at the fancy shop and shook his head.

“On my salary? You gotta be kidding!”

“There’s a mall down the highway,” a young officer told him over the friendly laughter, “with a Sears, Penney’s, and Macy’s. Just take the Parkway to US 9 – it’s right past the Turnpike.”

“Thanks. Can I borrow this?” Reese asked, indicating the blanket.

“Keep it,” the firefighter told him with a grin.

So Reese walked to his car and drove off before the FBI agents arrived. When they found out that the detective who had summoned them had gone to purchase dry clothes, they got as much information out of the local police as they could, waited a bit for “Detective Carter” to return, and then decided to open up the freezer and apprehend the two suspects without him.

Melda was still clutching her useless Derringer, but since she pointed it at the agents and officers, she was quickly overpowered and taken into custody. The only problem was that in removing the pistol from her hand, they tore the skin of her palm, to which the wet metal had frozen in the sub-zero temperatures. She was taken to the local hospital for treatment – for her damaged skin as well as frostbite – before being booked for resisting arrest, for starters.

Carl was too miserably cold to put up a fight and was arrested without incident. Having been forewarned as to his many aliases, the agents had come prepared and had no trouble in identifying him as the wanted man. The police chief was left shaking his head in amazement that Melda and her nephew – who had been a part of the community for years – had been running such an extensive criminal operation.


“Hey, Harold?” Reese asked as he pulled onto the highway. “Have you had lunch yet?”

“No, actually… I’m sorry yours was interrupted, but I can have something ready for you here. If you’re coming back here, that is…”

“My clothes are there, Harold; and I haven’t forgotten my promise to come back for you.”

“Ah… Yes, of course. What would you like?”

“I’d like nothing better than to clear your desk of all the monitors and set you up on it instead, then ride your cute little ass until you pass out or beg for mercy, whichever comes first.”

There was a slight pause as Finch processed the mental images.

“I meant what would you like for lunch, Mr. Reese.”

“Oh! That. I don’t care, as long as it’s something hot.”

“That can be arranged; my monitors, however, are staying right where they are. It took me a great deal of time and effort to set them up this way.”

“Oh, well… at least there are plenty of other desks there…”

After another pause, Finch remarked evenly, “I’ll inform Senator Russwood of our progress, Mr. Reese. Drive carefully,” and disconnected the call.


Finch sent an edited version of Reese’s conversation with Melda and Carl (which he had recorded over the cell feed) to the FBI as an anonymous tip, in order to provide proof of the woman’s role in their schemes. Then he talked to Fred Russwood, who was extremely pleased with their success.

“I can’t tell you how relieved I am to know that he’s been apprehended,” the Senator said with sincerity. “We’ll all sleep better tonight, I’m sure! And about your payment, I realize we never went into details, but just send me an invoice. Whatever you charge, it’s worth every penny!”

“Thank you, Mr. Russwood, but as you may already have suspected, we’re not exactly what can be described as a… legitimate business. I would rather not leave a money trail for the police to follow, if you don’t mind.”

“I don’t mind, of course, Harold… but I still want to compensate you for your time. John told me that you’re quite wealthy, independently, but if you’re doing this sort of thing pro bono for those who can’t afford it, I’d like to at least make a contribution to your funds – your war chest, as it were. When I was a lawmaker, I would’ve been obligated to denounce vigilante justice on a stack of Bibles, but hell – I’m retired now! And I appreciate what you’re trying to accomplish. There are some things that conventional law enforcement simply cannot do.”

“Well, that’s very generous of you, Mr. Russwood… If you really wish to send a… ‘contribution,’ I can set up a temporary account where you can make a deposit. I’ll leave the amount up to you, as frankly, I have no idea what the going rate is for such services.”

They shared a laugh at that, and bid their farewells with Finch promising to send the account number and an e-mail address that Russwood could use to contact them again in an emergency. Finch turned the thermostat in the library up a few degrees before walking out to a nearby deli, his stomach growling as it was now well past the noon hour.

“What can I do ya for?” the fat proprietor asked over the glass counter.

“Soup,” Finch answered. “I’ll take a pint each of the chicken noodle, chicken rice, and beef barley, and… one roast turkey sandwich and one roast beef. Horseradish sauce for the roast beef, please.”

“The sandwiches come with cole slaw. You want pickles and chips?”

“Why not,” Finch replied, pulling out two crisp bills to pay for his order. It was a rather hefty bag of food that he carried back to the library and (with a sigh of relief) set down on a table.

“Is that all for me?” came Reese’s voice from the doorway to the next room. Finch glanced up and gulped, for the taller man was standing there in nothing but his socks.

“I… was hoping that you would be willing to share, Mr. Reese,” he remarked, tearing his eyes away with some difficulty and missing the devilish grin that spread across Reese’s face.

“Well, I suppose I could be persuaded,” he drawled, turning back into the room to pull out dry underwear from his pilot’s case. “The crab cakes were delicious, by the way… too bad the restaurant will probably be closed, now that Melda’s arrested.”

As Finch set out the food on the table, stacking up some books to make room, he couldn’t help but remember Reese’s comment about the desk.

Well… why not? At least it’s private, he thought, knowing that the security system he had installed in the building was tamper-proof.

Aloud, he only asked, “What kind of soup would you like? You’re welcome to two…”


Carter was surprised to receive a phone call from an FBI agent, but the agent was absolutely flabbergasted when she claimed to be Detective Carter.

“Is there another Detective Carter?” he checked.

“None in this precinct,” she replied.

“Well… damn! This was the number he gave the local LEOs, too… Uh… I’m looking for the tall guy that just collared a wanted felon in a restaurant in Newark. They said he just ran out to the mall to get some dry clothes…”

“Tall guy? Wearing a suit?” she demanded.

“Yeah! You know him?”

With a sigh, she pulled out her notepad. “Yeah, I know him. Long story. Where in Newark are you?”


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