A Sydney Reardon Mystery

      "Sit there." Hugo pointed to a chair beside a small table in the center of the room. "Easy to watch you there in the middle."
            "Obviously you were planning to bring me here. Everything was set beforehand."
            "Yeah. I always plan ahead. We don't need a lot of talk. Just tell me where the box is."
            "I don't have it."
            "That's not what I asked you." He placed both fat hands on the table, leaning forward menacingly. "That's not what I asked you," he repeated. "Where is it?"
            Sydney did not answer as she looked up at the big, bald man towering over her.
            He drew back one huge paw as if to strike her and then let his arm drop. "Where is it?" he repeated in a voice frighteningly quiet.
            Sydney considered her answer. "I don't have it," she said once again.
            "Aren't you scared?"
            "Of course. But I've been frightened before. You can get only so scared, as you put it. Beyond that you can act, though not always rationally. I'm reaching that point and that's when it becomes dangerous for you."
            "I don't know what you're talkin' about. Beautiful watch. I'll take it."
            He reached for her wrist.
            Sydney jerked back. "No. Let me."
            "And those pearls and chains. Rings too."
            Sydney removed the jewelry and handed it to him.
            "You're not only a murderer, you're a common thief."
            "You're smart assin' me again. Be careful. I'll . . ."
            Suddenly there was a sound and the bathroom door opened.
            Hugo spun around.
            "Howdy Hugo."
            A small, grey, wizened figure entered the room.
            "Christ Edna, what are you doin' here?"
            Until he called the person by name Sydney had not been sure whether this stranger was a man or a woman.
            "Hugo, I wish you wouldn't take the name of our Savior in vain. Andy and Henry picked up that awful habit from you."
            "Shit, Edna, you don't make sense. You pay me to kill. You lie. You steal from sick old ladies and you worry about me takin' the name of the Lord in vain? Why are you here?"
            "I followed you Hugo. You killed both my boys. I been thinkin' all the way over about what to do with you."
            "I only killed Henry," Wolf blurted out. "I had to before he told them everything."
            Edna was chuckling-more a gurgle than a laugh.
            "That a confession Hugo? You are dumb. Mean and strong but dumb. Henry told them plenty. Andy killed hisself when the police started closin' in. I figure that's the same as you killin' him."
            "Edna, you blame me for everthing that happens."
            "No matter. While the police was foolin' with Andy I cleared out the back door. Where's the box?"
            "I wish I knew."
            "What've you been doin' since you got here?"
            "Followin' her mostly." He nodded toward Sydney. "Santiago fucked up. Had to kill him."
            "No great loss. Where's the box?"
            "I don't know."
            "I bet she does."
            She stared at Sydney across the table.
            Sydney stared back. This strange creature was somehow familiar. She could be anywhere between fifty and seventy. She could be a man or a woman. She was wearing faded jeans, a blue cotton sweater, a black leather cap, and heavy high-topped shoes. The eyes that peered out from under the bill of the cap were cold and blank. Sydney tried to look away from the evil gaze.
            "Don't move," Hugo said.
            "Won't she tell you?"
            "Ain't really asked her serious yet." He moved the dead cigarette from one corner of his mouth to the other. "I thought it was at the monastery but they said no even after I shot that nun."
            "Shot a nun! I should kill you Hugo."
            "Unless I kill you first." Hugo started to raise the gun he had been holding by his thigh.
            "I wouldn't if I was you."
            She nodded and for the first time Hugo realized there was someone else in the room.
            "This is my new boy. I named him Hugo."
            Named him! Sydney trembled. It was as if the woman were referring to a precocious animal.
            "Can you beat that?" Edna was making the gurgling sound that passed for a laugh. "He's a Mesican. Don't speak English but he'll learn. Oh, a few words. He knows 'hit' and 'kick' and 'shoot' and 'kill.' I can't speak Spanish but we communicate. He'll do anything for money. Anything!"
            The new Hugo was sauntering toward the old Hugo. He was what-maybe twenty-short and thick with slick black hair. Strong muscles bulged where the white T-shirt sleeves had been cut away. A tattoo of the Virgin of Guadalupe decorated his left forearm. An unfriendly grin revealed two rows of small pointed teeth. He took a step or two, clenching his fists.
            "Stop," Edna said and held up a hand as if gesturing to restrain a bright guard dog. He stopped.
            Edna gurgled. "Lucky for you that's one of his words. I figured all the way over here what to do about you after I got the box. And now you don't have it."
            "We'll get it."
            "Maybe. But I bet the police get it first." With her new Hugo beside her, Edna could move at will. She stalked over to fat Hugo reaching up for the dead cigarette in his mouth. She pulled a match from her pocket and struck it on the leg of her jeans. Taking a drag, she blew smoke in the big man's face. "I could of used that ten million Hugo. Sure could of. But I've got a new territory in mind that'll make what we've got so far look puny."
            "Then you'll need me Edna."
            "Don't think so. I got him. I always know when it's best to do nothin'. That's what I've decided to do about you. Nothin'. Just walk out of here and leave you."
            "You can't do that Edna."
            "Watch me."
            The young Hugo put his hand on his hip near the gun in the belt of his jeans and followed Edna out into the hall.
            "She can't do that to me," Hugo muttered as the door closed.
            Sydney smiled her wide, enchanting smile. "I think she just did."
            The blow from his beefy hand knocked her to the floor. She thought her jaw was broken. At any rate it was paralyzed.
            "Get up."
            Sydney moaned as she tried to rise.
            "And shut up."