the smuggler’s bible

Pontchartrain

They take him out the front, past the sheet covering the butler’s body. Someone has tipped off the newspapers. Flash bulbs sparkle in the evening snow.

“I had good intentions,” Cratchit whispers as they put him in the car. “Marley found out I was donating to the shelters. He would have stopped it then.”

“You can keep quiet. This is admissable.”

“I don’t care.”

“Fine,” Pontchartrain says. “What about Scrooge?”

“Scrooge.” Cratchit pauses. “Well, Mister Scrooge deserved it. Will he live?”

“The medics think so. Probably. But he’s going to wake up different tomorrow. You changed the man, all right.”

Barraclough

They pore over the records for two days. Finally, Christmas Eve, cups of cocoa gone tepid, Barraclough shuts another book.

“Marley had a theory,” he says.

Pontchartrain tucks a folder back onto a shelf. “Several. Mostly about where the company could dump its unused lead paint.”

“No, more personal. He thought someone was shaving profit. He was chasing it for months.”

“Who’d he figure?”

“Nobody. He died instead.”

“But all his work—”

Barraclough gestures to the book. “Pages missing.” Then, “Call Cratchit.”

Pontchartrain dials and murmurs into the phone. “No good,” she says. “He didn’t show up for work today.”

Cratchit

The head clerk is called Cratchit. He takes them up a flight of bare metal stairs to a room in the rear of the warehouse. They wait, breath misting, while he shuffles through his keys. His fingers tremble.

“Cold isn’t it?”

“Mister Scrooge won’t pay for heating,” Cratchit says, “because documents don’t shiver.”

The bolt clicks. Inside is a cramped desk and several shelves. A bitter wind rattles through a cracked window pane.

“Does anyone use this office now?” Pontchartrain asks.

“Not since Mister Marley died. After all, it’s, uhm.”

“Go on.”

“This is where we found him,” Cratchit says.