6. Harry Hogan - A Spy Among Us
Harry inserted a bookmark between the pages and placed the book he was reading on the end table. Rising to his feet, he headed towards the kitchen to rinse his coffee mug but a loud knocking on the front door caused him to stop. Laying the mug on top of the book, he went to the door instead. Who in their right mind would be calling at this hour, so close to bedtime?
At the look on Harry's face, the man on the doorstep suddenly scrunched his head down into his shoulders. It was obvious that Harry was not in the mood for late-night visitors. "Sorry to disturb you," he said, "but there's something you should know Harry, something very suspicious."
"I am retired, Max," Harry bellowed. "R-E-T-I-R-E-D! I don't do night shift anymore. Do you understand?"
Max took a deep breath and said quietly: "I... ah... I think there's a spy in Thompson's house. He's out of town... Thompson, I mean."
"Are you sleepwalking, Max?"
"I don't do that anymore," Max replied. "Not often anyway, not since the time I walked off the wharf and almost drowned. Anyway, she was... it's a woman and she seemed to be talking on the phone. I heard her say some things that... well, things that sounded criminal."
"Such as?" Harry prompted
Max swallowed nervously. "Do we have to do this on the doorstep?"
Harry sighed and swung the door open all the way. "Okay, Max, come in, but this had better be good. And count yourself lucky I wasn't asleep when you came pounding on my door loud enough to wake the dead.'
"Have a seat," Harry said as he picked up his mug and went to the kitchen. Returning with two mugs, he handed one to Max and sat down in his favourite chair again. "Okay, now tell me what this is all about."
"Well, you know I walk around town every night. I find it helps me to relax..."
"Except for tonight," Harry grumbled. "Go on."
"Well it does... help me to relax I mean, and then I sleep better and I don't sleepwalk... That got to be pretty scary...
Harry sighed. "Stick to the story, Max."
Max nodded. "Okay. Mr. Thompson is away visiting his daughter but tonight there was a light in the window of one of the bedrooms upstairs. I know he isn't due back for another two or three weeks so I wondered who could be in his house. I didn't think a burglar would have the light on and I wondered if some homeless person or squatter might have moved in."
Harry sipped his coffee and nodded. "That sounds possible, I guess." He frowned. "You didn't go in there, did you?"
"Good Lord, no! I'm not that brave," Max assured him.
"So what makes you think it's a spy?"
"Well, I wanted to be sure that someone was actually in there before I contacted anyone so I went closer and crept around until I was under the window where the light was on. The window was open a bit so I could hear her talking and that's how I knew someone was in there." He paused for a sip of coffee.
"And that's when you came knocking on my door," Harry said. "Max, did you stop to think that Mr. Thompson might have accidentally left the window open?"
"Not Thompson," Max said, shaking his head. "He's too careful about such things, paranoid you might say. So, anyway, I stood there under the window, just listening, and I could hear her talking but she wasn't talking loud for me to understand what she was saying. I'm pretty sure she was talking on the phone because I could only hear one voice, and sometimes there was silence, like she might be listening to what someone else was saying."
"Max, are you sure Mr. Thompson didn't come home earlier than planned?"
"It wasn't his voice I heard Harry, it was a woman," Max said.
"Maybe it was the television," Harry pointed out. "He might have been watching a movie in bed."
Max was silent for a minute and then said, "No, Thompson's bedroom is at the right front cornerr. This room was at the back left corner."
"How can you be sure it wasn't the television?"
"Because of what I heard."
"But you just said that you couldn't understand what she said."
"Well, I think she must have moved closer to the window and then I could hear most of it."
"Okay, so what exactly did you hear?"
"I only got bits and pieces but I heard her say that: '...a decoy team could come in by chopper first to draw everyone's attention... then hit from inside... they'll never know what hit them until it's too late... need someone who knows how to get inside as quietly and quickly as possible... someone with intimate knowledge of the building... perhaps someone who's upset about being fired or laid off...' Just scraps of conversation but to me it sounds like someone is up to no good."
Harry rubbed his chin. "Hmm, it could be someone planning a burglary I suppose."
"I don't think so Harry," Max said. "I still say it's a spy, maybe scouting for some terrorist group, I don't know... It sounded like someone was planning to do some serious damage somewhere so I got out of there as fast as I could."
"Somehow, I still think there's a simpler explanation behind all this." Harry drained his mug and replaced it on top of the book. "But I'll swing by in the morning and have a look around."
Max stood up. "Thank you Harry. I think I just might be able to sleep tonight, after all."
"And no sleepwalking," Harry added as he opened the door.
"I hope not," Max said and chuckled as he went down the steps. "Good night, Harry."
"Good night, Max." Harry shut the door and turned off the lights behind him as he walked on to the bedroom. The coffee mugs lay forgotten as he pondered the bits of conversation Max had overheard. He had tried to downplay the potential seriousness of this because he knew it would cause Max to sleepwalk for sure. In reality, however, considering the things happening in the world these days, anything was possible and it certainly needed to be checked out. At this moment, however, his pillow was calling and he intended to go keep it company.
When Harry woke the next morning he missed the smell of coffee. Then he realized that following his conversation with Max the night before he had forgotten to fill the coffeepot and set the timer. When that was done he collected last night's mugs from the living room, rinsed them and left them in the sink. As soon as the coffee was ready, he filled a mug and took it with him as he walked across the lawn to the office that had once been a garage.
Laying his mug on the desk, he turned on the computer and while it was booting up, he started the coffee there. Then he sat at the desk, sipping coffee and scrolling through the overnight and early morning headlines. Nothing earth shattering there, he thought. His next stop was a little cafe downtown that served oatmeal for breakfast. His daughter had finally convinced him that he had to start paying closer attention to his diet. This change in his morning routine replaced his previous eggs and bacon and it was taking some getting used to but he had promised to try. His wife had often make oatmeal and it was only since her death that he had skipped the healthy eating habits.
Finally, he knew it was time to go check out Mr. Thompson's place, to see if there was any truth to what Max had told him the night before.
It was a fairly quiet neighbourhood. He met several vehicles going in the opposite direction, probably people going to work. Kids of various ages were waiting at the school bus stop. An older lady was out walking two small dogs. All the usual morning activities. He drove slowly past Thompson's place but, from the street, nothing looked out of place.
At the end of the street Harry turned his truck around and went back again. He parked in front of a house just across the street from Thompson's with a 'FOR SALE' sign on the lawn and took out his phone. If anyone came along he would pretend he was talking on the phone so no one would wonder why he was parked there. "Okay, Hogan," he muttered. "Start talking to yourself to make it look good."
After a while he looked at the clock in the dashboard. "Twenty minutes... no sign of life... is anyone in there or was Max dreaming?" He put the phone back in his pocket and continued watching for another 10 minutes. "Okay, time to get to the bottom of this." He got out of the truck and strode across the empty street. There was no window in the front door and he could hear no sound coming from inside. Harry knocked on the door.
After a few minutes he could hear sounds, not exactly footsteps but more like... thump - swish, thump - swish. Well, that definitely meant someone was in there. But what the heck was going on?
He took a step backwards as the door opened abruptly. Speechless for a minute, he stared at the young woman peeking around the edge of the door. He guessed her age at probably mid-to-late thirties, a bit too young to be Thompson's daughter. The lower half of her left leg was encased in what appeared to be fairly heavy plaster while she supported herself on two crutches. That explained the unusual sounds he had heard moments before she opened the door. He didn't think they had ever met but there was something about her, something that told him she was intelligent and also independent.
"Can I help you?"
"Sorry. You caught me off guard. Is Mr. Thompson around?"
"I'm sorry but he's out of town," she said.
"I see. May I ask who you are and what you're doing in his house during his absence?"
"Excuse me?" She frowned. "Who are you? I don't have to tell you anything... unless... are you a cop?"
Harry shook his head. "Former detective... retired. I just stopped by to see if someone might be using his house without permission. A friend of his saw lights and was concerned."
"Oh!" She swung the door open further. "That's why you've been sitting out there in your truck for the past half hour. I'm sorry for any confusion, Mr... ?"
"Hogan." Out of pure instinct, he held out his new ID, attesting that he was now a Private Detective.
She glanced at it briefly before backing away from the door. "Please come in and sit down, Mr. Hogan. I can't stand here like this for very long. I still tire easily."
Thirty minutes later, Harry returned to his truck, chuckling to himself. Max was going to be pleased with himself over the fact that he had been right about seeing the light, and what he had overheard. But he would probably be a bit disappointed to learn there was no spy or terrorist plot.
Harry had just finished supper when Max showed up on his doorstep once again. "Well, what did you find out?"
"Come in, Max." Harry poured coffee into two mugs and handed one to his guest as they both sat down.
Max sat on the edge of his seat. 'Did you go over to Thompson's place?"
"Yes, I went over there this morning," Harry told him.
"Well, what did you find? I was right, wasn't I?"
Harry shook his head. "You were right about seeing the light."
"And... come on, Harry, what's going on over there?"
"Not much, really. In fact, everything is perfectly normal."
Max frowned. "What do you mean, normal? Is there, or is there not a spy over there?"
"No spies, Max."
"Then... part of a terrorist group?" Max asked hesitantly.
"Sorry, Max, no terrorists either."
"You're not going to tell me Thompson is home. I won't believe that because the light was not in his room."
Harry sighed. "No, Thompson isn't home. A friend of his daughter is staying there temporarily."
"Friend of his daughter. A likely story. I thought you were smarter than that, Harry."
"It's true," Harry said. "She's an investigative reporter, a pretty good one too. I've seen some of her documentaries."
"Are you pulling my leg?" Max asked.
"No, Max, I'm not. She has a badly broken leg and needed someplace to recuperate in privacy. Thompson offered her the use of his house while he's away."
"But... what about that stuff I overheard, the things she was saying?"
"She's trying to make a career change, wants to settle in one place and write."
"Isn't that what she's been doing on television?"
"Sort of, but she wants to write books, espionage and thrillers, using her travels as background. You overheard her dictating notes and ideas she wants to include in the book."
Max looked disappointed as he stood up and walked slowly to the door. "So then... no spy?"
"The only spy among us, Max, is you. Now please stay home tonight or at least walk only in well-lit areas. I have some sleep to catch up on. Good night."
"Good night, Harry."
Harry shut the door behind him. "And no sleepwalking," he mumbled under his breath.
© Fay Herridge
Published in Story Quilt, May 2020
Harry Hogan Series
© Fayzworld & Sugarwolf Designs, All rights Reserved.