Just got back from my second meeting with the “Lanky Man”. It was as weird as I was expecting.
Getting to McAffrey’s Place was as thrilling as usual. After riding the T as close as I could, I took a cab. The driver let me out by the dilapidated brick warehouse. The only remaining part of the old advertisement on the side of the warehouse was the single word “McAffrey”. Because of the late hours, the place was dotted with shadows and dark alleyways. It looked like a rat’s warren.
Walking fast, hands tucked in pockets, I rushed down the sidewalk, keeping my eyes alert for the sign for Wither’s bar. Once a thriving center of Boston’s sea trade, McAffrey’s Place had fallen into ruin over the 20th century. Rotting warehouses and the skeletons of once prosperous hotels now housed grimy nightclubs, bars, crack dens, illegal casinos, human traffickers, and who knew what else. The Boston mob had planted roots in McAffrey’s Place a decade ago and had been using it as a haven for their illicit activities.
A gang of three teenage guys emerged from an alley, crossed the street, and started following me down the sidewalk. With every step, they got a little closer. If they were going to mug me, they could’ve gone ahead and done it: no one who was watching would have cared. But they didn’t. They just stalked me for more than a block. When they had gotten close enough I was sure they would attack me, I saw the battered, old sign for Wither’s up ahead. I dashed inside. The boys didn’t follow me.
Inside the bar was pretty much what I expected. Dim lighting and blaring music. Groups of lonely souls huddled in booths or at the bar. TVs showed a baseball game in Fenway Park.
I felt terribly out of place. People watched me as I approached the bar. I put my hands on the bar and leaned on it uneasily.
The barman said over the music, “You look lost, pal.”
“I’m looking for someone—”
“Doubt any you’d know end up here,” he sneered, his ugly face wrinkling.
I sensed rather than heard someone walk up behind me. Fearing the worst, I spun around. The Lanky Man, in all his narrow height, stood behind me. He smiled pleasantly at me then looked at the bartender.
“This is the man I was expecting, Charlie. Be a good host and fix him whatever drink he wants.”
Barman Charlie’s face changed immediately when he saw the Lanky Man. He nodded his head and looked attentively at me. I was glad for the drink: I needed something to ease my nerves.
With my White Russian in hand, I followed the Lanky Man to a private backroom. We both sank into leather chairs. The room, while lit only by one incandescent bulb, was much nicer than the rest of the bar. And quieter too.
“Well, Raymond, you said you had questions for me. Here I am. Ask whatever you want, but I cannot guarantee an answer to everything—not yet.”
“What do you mean not yet? When will you answer me, if not now?”
The Lanky Man grinned and said nothing. I muttered swears to myself but tried not to let my mood show.
“Alright, how about I start?” he said. “I represent a private organization that is very, very interested in you.”
“What for? My writing?”
“No, Raymond, for you—the person of Raymond Madsen. You are much more than a journalist, shackled to the whims of editors and critics. You’ve begun a journey; one which you’ll need a guide. We want to be your guide, Raymond.”
“Ok, well ‘guide’ me this: what the hell was that box you gave me? It made me black out for a whole fucking week? This seems to me like some sick … prank, I guess.”
“If I were to explain to you everything concerning the chest, you would not understand. Suffice to say, you had a strong reaction: stronger than we thought. But everything is alright. That was your first tentative step. Now time for the next one. I have a job for you: one that will put your investigative skills to the test. You like a mystery don’t you, Raymond?”
“I suppose,” I grumbled as I swirled my drink. I felt like I was being jerked around, which I was. But I had to learn everything about this guy and his organization.
“We want you to find the missing painting, the Wicker Man. I suppose you saw the news?”
I peered at the Lanky Man. Did he know I was connected to that? Not that I myself was sure, I just had a strong feeling I was. His face was completely unreadable, betraying none of the thoughts that moved behind it. It was the face of a marble statue.
“I did,” I said.
“Good. Find the painting. Once you have it, contact me and I will retrieve it. In return, I promise you more answers and more knowledge. Not just of the events that are moving like invisible gears around you, but of the inner workings of your own mind. You are a key, Raymond. This job is as much for your own benefit as ours.”
I downed the last my drink as I though it over, “How will I even begin investigating? I know nothing about the theft, except that it happened.”
“You’re a smart man, Raymond. Convince your editor to give you the story. Therefore, under the guise of writing an article about the theft, you can talk to the museum and the police. Get whatever details you can. Piece the mystery together. I believe you can do this.”
He made it sound doable. I wasn’t wholly convinced, but I felt I had no choice. He was offering me an opportunity to get closer to him and his organization. The art theft isn’t going to be the only thing I’ll investigate.
“What is this organization? Why are they interested in helping me—if that’s what they call fucking up my life?”
The Lanky Man smiled and said nothing. That habit of his was getting highly annoying.
“Alright, I’ll do it,” I said in frustration. I wanted to get back the safety of my home as quick as possible. And I was afraid to discover what would happen if I said no to the Lanky Man.
I continued, “But only because I’m in the mood for some field work. And this could actually turn into a nice story to add to my portfolio.”
When our meeting ended, the Lanky Man rose and escorted me personally out of McAffrey’s Place. No hooligan teens even showed their faces. If Bostoners were afraid of McAffrey’s, then McAffrey’s was afraid of my narrow-shouldered mystery guide.
So, now back in my apartment, I’m gathering myself for the task ahead. I need to find a priceless painting that’s gone missing and which I believe I stole while sleepwalking.
This is going to be a really weird month.