Johnathon Steven Mitchel went aft to the top deck of the steam ship ‘Apathetic’ forty nine hours out of San Diego. Born and raised in Montreal and as many Canadians apathetic in nature, he thought the ship’s title appropriate. The freighter had a passenger section to help pay costs and while not luxurious it was comfortable. An excellent galley with a walk in fridge and a foreign cook made up for a lack of amenities.
The captain concluded a welcoming dinner and a few shots of brandy gave him a healthy glow. The ship, slightly off course because of his miscalculation regarding currents in the Pacific would save the ship and the lives of all aboard. All accept one.
The Canadian draft had reached out to Johnathon. Most Quebecers escaped the legislation but it was Johnathon’s nature to be safe. Fiji was a scheduled stop. He planned to jump ship there and live out the war on the South Pacific Island. The universe had other plans. Johnathon was to find that reducing the odds of death were not the same as assuring life.
Jonathon had drifted from one thing or another avoiding responsibility and opportunity all his life. He was not rich but comfortable. His job as an inventory clerk was easy in wartime Canada with materials to be counted and recounted. He lived alone, had a couple of friends and a family member abroad somewhere that he rarely spoke of. Well-read, a library was close to his flat. He indulged in gourmet cooking. He was slightly overweight.
Jonathon undid his zipper. It was a long way back to his room and there was no one around.
In 1941 few people knew what a tsunami was. The universe had started one some hundred or so miles in front of the Apathetic. After its voyage the tsunami had diminished in size. The Apathetic, off course plowed straight through a wave less than a foot high.
The trouble with tsunamis is that they move at about five hundred miles per hour, just below the speed of sound. Even a small wave has a lot of energy. The wave hit the bow head-on which was lucky or planned depending on your point of view. The ship went through the wave at first but rose up abruptly, stopping all forward motion and then crashed back down flipping the stern high in the air. Guests were thrown to the ceiling. Several passengers suffered broken limbs and the captain was knocked out.
This was the exact time that Johnathon had decided to relieve himself.
Holding on to his zipper with both hands he flew thirty feet in the air and landed head first astern in the propeller’s froth. The Apathetic continued on her way, now by accident, on course.
After the initial shock Jonathon floated to the surface. By the time he figured out what happened the ship was gone. Jonathon could not swim and now was not the best time to learn.
It is said that death by drowning is one of the most horrible ways to die. Not so with Johnathon. His soul left the body as soon as it was assured of its hopelessness.
The scavenger creatures of the sea efficiently disposed of the body.
Johnathon found himself in a waiting room. The walls were white. Everything was white. It was hard to discern where the walls left off to become something else. ‘The Lords of Karma’ appeared above huge doors. Noticing he was now dry, Jonathon did up his zipper.
The doors opened slightly. A beautiful lady aglow in white passed through and handed him a letter. It was not to be that he would even be given an audience. Johnathon opened it and read.
“Because you have drifted through many lives with no improvement and continually accrued lifetime after lifetime of negative karma we have decided to send you to the lower level training camps designated as the Red Zone. If you survive and pass the tests we will reconsider your application for re-embodiment. If you don’t pass the tests and survive you will descend to the lower levels commonly known as Hell to drift forever.”
Johnathon vowed he would try his apathetic best.
Josh Johnson walked to school wondering if he should play hooky and how to get away with it. It was his 12th birthday and he felt he owed himself a day away. School was boring. You need a little excitement on your birthday. He found it as he thought it.
John and his wife Carol cruised along in their new Chrysler minivan returning from a four day weekend at Disney World. Their two young children sat in the back strapped in seat belts following the example of their loving parents. One child played a game on her new IPad and the other listened to music on his new IPod. Carol talked to her mother in law Gertrude, informing her that they were now home and everything was all right. John text his boss he was back and would be in to work in the morning.
“You shouldn’t be texting while you’re driving,” Carol reminded John. “It’s a bad habit.”
John’s mother, hearing this yelled out over the cell phone. “John. Listen to Carol!”
“You’re right of course dear. I’ll be done in a second,” John replied and threw her a kiss.
The kiss was a fitting end to their marriage. An 18 wheel truck went through the red light of the intersection. The driver, lost, should not have been in suburbia. Loaded on several coffee bennies and oblivious to everything he casually consulted Apple maps on his cell. A car behind saw the truck wandering and honked helplessly. The truck driver looked up and did try at the last second to swerve but it only shifted his cargo. The load of steel on the flatbed slid off onto the front of the minivan crushing it. The truck driver hid his cell phone in a pocket behind the seat.
Carol, bloody and dazed quickly regained consciousness hearing her kids crying. For a moment she realized it was a good thing as the kids were still alive. People were yelling and a brave soul passing by was pulling the kids out. They were banged up and bloody as well and then Carol realized where all the blood had come from.
John’s arm was in her lap and it was not connected to John. He was unconscious. He didn’t look good. A sheet of steel was between them and it had cut off his arm.
Carol thrust her shoulder to her door, got out, ran around the minivan and ripped open the driver’s door with what later would be described as superhuman strength. Reaching over, she undid John’s seatbelt, pulled him out, and dragged him away from the vehicle.
Collapsing to the pavement she held his head in her lap sobbing hysterically, pulling him tighter and praying. John’s head separated from his body.
Josh watched the accident standing on the corner. He was about to walk across the street into the truck himself but had stopped to watch a cute girl crossing toward him. The girl saw the truck coming through the red light and leapt out of the way.
“Cool!” Josh approached the accident with others watching Carol pull her husband from the minivan. He saw the cell phone dropped behind the vehicle and went over and picked it up.
Gertrude’s voice was yelling from the phone. “Carol!”
Josh spoke into the cell. “Hello. Who’s this?”
“I heard a bang. Where’s Carol? Has there been an accident? Who are you? Let me talk to Carol.”
Josh decided that it wasn’t going to be a boring day on his birthday after all. “Is Carol the one laying on the ground?” he asked the phone.
“Let me talk to her!” Gertrude said.
“She’s busy right now so she can’t talk,” Josh said. “There’s a lot of blood. There’s a lot of blood everywhere.”
Josh, aware of the cell phone’s advanced features including video streaming fiddled with the cell’s settings. “Just a moment. I’ll put you on video.”
Josh propped the cell phone in a tree so Gertrude would have a good view of everything that was going on at the accident scene.
Satisfied, he walked away knowing he would have something to talk about with his friends at school. “It’s my birthday.”
Meagan Johnson, two years older than her brother Josh and a head taller, completed her second sale of the morning before arriving at school. She had secured a cheap source of oral anabolic steroids online and was now making serious money. This combined with her call girl activities at the local university had given her enough to buy a Miata convertible. There would be additional costs for a forged drivers licence, but one of her clients at the university promised a discount. Meagan contemplated a loyalty card program for both her businesses and was already incorporating network marketing strategies.
Meagan had found bodybuilding 4 years ago. Bullied at school by three older girls, she had in one year with the help of steroids put on ten pounds of muscle. This combined with her karate lessons had made her one tough eleven year old. The following year she brutally beat senseless all three together at the same time. One went to the hospital with four broken limbs. She made each promise to not say who and now they were more or less her personal slaves. REVENGE IS SWEET was printed on her tight fitting tee shirt. Meagan vowed to never wear a bra.
This morning after breakfast she had pinned down her brother in the washroom and made him pay for his first dose of steroids. There was a sense of pride in subduing her little brother but she had concluded he needed the stuff if he was ever to survive in this world. She watched as he winced swallowing the pill. “Get to the gym today,” she ordered, “or you’ll be in deep poop.” Meagan felt she should take care of her little brother. She smiled at the prospect of toughening him up.
Steroids had advanced Meagan’s body and age. She had worked hard at it. Undiagnosed as obsessive compulsive she placed in body building contests and at fourteen, looked twenty. In a word, she was built.
Genetics played a role. Her mother Francine was beautiful and her part Asian blood had given an exotic edge that Meagan inherited. Meagan knew it and was having fun manipulating men. By a simple change of clothes from little Bo Peep outfits to too small miniskirts her personality changed as well. She acted the part she dressed.
Young men fought over her. More than once they had stolen for her. One male teacher had said to another. “If you are ever alone with her, make sure you have a hidden recording device, voice activated, on your person.”
Meagan strutted into the school and glanced at prospects as she made her way to the lockers. Her plan was to head down to football practice later and make a few sales. A sub dealer selling for her would free up some time. Maybe one of her buyers might fulfill the need.
Meagan’s friend Melisa appeared and snuggled up close as she hung her jacket in the locker. “The police are in the principal’s office. The word is somebody’s dead.”
“No way,” Meagan gushed back in a loud whisper.
“I think it’s a student here.”
“I didn’t do it,” Meagan retorted and they both laughed.
“No, but they’ll blame it on you,” Melisa giggled.
“Like do you think I should get a driver’s licence that says I’m 21? Then I can get into the pub at the university?”
“You already get in but it sounds like a good idea. Why not?”
Melisa tore off her blouse using Meagan as a visual shield and put on her tee shirt. It was as tight as Meagan’s and said I’M REVENGE.
They started walking to class as Meagan rambled on, “It will pass some guy at the door to a bar that’s had a few beers if I flirt with him enough. If there’s a problem, he can always say he checked my ID.”
“And so what’s the problem with that?”
“It’s one thing for a guy at a bar to pass me through but if a police guy stops me driving he might not believe I’m 21,” Meagan said.
“Other thing,” Melisa said. “How are you going to get insurance? They’ll check your driver’s licence number and then the jigs up.”
“Oh. I thought of that. Forging an insurance slip is easier than the driver’s licence. It’s just a pink paper with a funny background and a computer printed statement. The driver’s licence has a laser etched photograph that’s really hard to do. It’s embedded right into the plastic. They say you have to send it to Nigeria to get it done right.”
Melisa stopped in her tracks and grabbed Meagan’s arm. “Holy Cow! Why don’t you just get two! One says you’re 17 and the other says you’re 21.”
Meagan high fived Melisa. “Great idea!” They strutted into class.
Francine Johnson got out of her Mercedes in front of the client’s house. An oval driveway complimented a modern brick castle complete with turrets. The house was worth 10 mil and it was a divorce. It had to sell no matter what. Francine smiled at the Mercedes and said to herself again, “A Honda Civic just wouldn’t do here.”
She had slept with the owner of the car dealer and got half off the price of the car. That and the invoice showed full list so she could write off more than she paid. The dealer wanted it that way as his wife often checked the sales sheets and selling a new demo Mercedes at half price would have raised some flags. A few minutes on the leather couch in his office with no windows enduring hot liquored breath and cheap after shave was a small price to pay for the Mercedes’s image.
She would rather have had the Lexus (and the owner) across the street but his wife was part of the organization and always nearby. Why wasn’t Francine’s husband always nearby?
Her former divorce lawyer had arranged an introduction to meet the new divorcee. She slept with the lawyer occasionally as well. It was a good arrangement.
Francine was making more than her husband and he was always late getting home and tired when he got there. It was good to keep a divorce lawyer handy.
Francine grabbed her briefcase and straightened her tight fitting dress, tastefully coming to the knee. It would come up higher at her choosing depending on how she sat. She strutted up to the massive door, pushed the button and was startled by an impressive gong. “Now that’s a proper doorbell,” she said.
A maid opened the door. A foreign maid of course. They were always used by the rich Francine heard. At least her skin was dark and her hair black and under a hat or something. She forgot what it was called. The maid spoke with an accent.
After Francine had introduced herself and purpose, the maid said, “Oh yes. Master Henderson is expecting you.”
Francine was escorted to the library. She found a chair that would show off her muscular thighs as her dress slid up. It was now determined that her client was male.
Francine noted the hidden camera right away. It was one of those book things, only this book was one she knew of and it was in the wrong place. She suspected she was being watched and adjusted her legs for the camera to get a better view.
Her eyes glanced around the room. It would make sense to have a hidden camera watch a hidden safe and this place certainly must have one. The opposing wall was an elegant book shelf engulfing the entire wall. It had to have a hidden panel. The owner, she thought, had been watching too many detective mysteries.
As Francine was sure she was being watched, she decided to give the owner a show. Not only that, she wanted a better look at the bookshelf. Francine got up from the chair and wandered over to the bookshelf to inspect them. She was an avid reader. In front of the books she bent over ungracefully and gave the camera a head on view of her butt. While looking at the lower books, she noticed a slight discoloration of the floor in an arc from the bookshelf. An entire section swung away somehow.
Francine wondered if she would be showing the safe system as part of the real estate sale or would it be hidden and maybe even the client might take it with him. Some people loved their safes more than their house. She would need the codes to turn off the alarm system to show the house. Who else had the codes? Are the codes different for each person? How long after the house was sold would it take for the new tenant to change the codes? Could they be turned on and off remotely over the internet?
She heard a door open behind her and rose turning in practiced motion with a smile.
Johnathon Steven Mitchel walked down the busy street looking at street signs. He couldn’t remember his name and was surprised that it didn’t bother him. As a matter of fact, he couldn’t remember anything about who he was or how he got here. He did know that he had a card in his hand with an address and name on it that he was to report to.
Other people walked by on the sidewalk dressed in suits and jackets, many with brief cases looking very Wall Street business like. Somehow Johnathon knew he was walking in the right direction. He was dressed in business attire as well. Passing a window he saw his reflection in the glass. He appeared very dapper, suit and all. It felt like he was going for a job interview. No. That’s not it. It seemed that it was to be his first day on the job. What kind of job was he going to?
Johnathon kept walking. After about 10 minutes the crowd of people passing by seemed to thin. It was hotter now. The sun was getting higher and Jonathon was getting flushed. He thought of taking off his jacket when he saw his street. He looked at the address on the card. 666 Fireside Street. Johnathon turned up the street and shortly stood in front of the building.
It was a large building, very non-descript. He couldn’t tell how many stories as there appeared to be no windows, but it was a skyscraper like all the rest he had passed.
Johnathon stood for a while and was about to enter the large glass doors when he heard a commotion around the right of the building. Normally he would have ignored it and went straight on in but his curiosity got him and he went around to the side. Johnathon paused, puzzled at his new found curiosity. He’d never had it before.
There was an alley with a garbage container at the end and a fence between this building and the next. Sitting on the steps of his building a young boy with jet black slicked-back hair loaded a paintball hand gun. A large box of ammunition lay on the steps beside him. The fence was covered in splats of red paint.
An alley cat peered over the edge of the fence from the other side. It wanted to get at the garbage container. The boy shot at the cat and just missed. The cat ducked and after a few seconds looked over again a little further down the fence. The cat was, Jonathon could see, covered in red spots. The cat screamed as the boy fired again. Another crying meow sang back from behind the fence.
The boy looked up and Jonathon wondered if the youth was going to take a shot at him. It would not do the first day on the job to show up with a red splotch on his jacket.
Jonathon said, “It might improve the neighborhood if the color matched the fence.” Without waiting for a reply, Jonathon turned and walked back to the front of the building.
Inside a large open space gave way to two security guards hiding behind a counter. Both were engulfed in watching monitors. Behind them a battery of elevator doors occasionally opened and closed but no one appeared to enter or exit.
Johnathon walked up to the closest guard and waited, card in hand.
After a moment the guard looked up, took the card, scanned it with a laser wand and said to Johnathon. “Take off your jacket, roll up your left sleeve.” The guard stood up laser wand in hand pointing it at Johnathon.
The guard was big and had an authoritative voice. Johnathon did as he was told. The guard reached over, grabbed his arm and waved the laser wand over it. There appeared under the laser light three pdf417 barcode images tattooed in sequence from his wrist to his elbow.
The guard sat back down and went back to looking at his monitors. “You can put your jacket back on now,” he mumbled, still looking at one of his monitors.
After a minute he said, “Ah! Here it is. This is a really low number. Someone must have gone down permanently.”
Johnathon just looked at him. Finally the guard look up. “You’re here in the Red file. It just took a few seconds to find you.”
“That’s good,” Johnathon said.”
“Nothing’s good around here,” the guard said. The two guards looked at each other and chuckled.
“Section; ANGEL,” the guard announced.
“Division; RED,” he continued.
“ID Number; 3517.”
Johnathon continued looking at him.
The guard printed out a ticket and handed it to Johnathon, “Take any one of the green elevators to the 66th floor and report to Mr. Fishbait’s secretary, Miss Hotstuff.”
Johnathon took the card.
“You put the card in the elevator slot to activate it.” The guard went on, “don’t be late.”
Johnathon went around the counter and stopped in front of the first green elevator door. It opened as if just for him. Inside a brass control panel with a number of blank buttons ran from the floor to the ceiling. A slot dominated the center of the panel. A green blank LED was above the slot and a red blank LED was just below the slot. Johnathon entered the card. The doors closed and Johnathon pressed the now lit 66th floor button about half way up from the center of the panel. The green LED now said “UP’ and Johnathon now felt a slight lurch and it appeared he was going up.
The red LED was now lit as well. It said, ‘HOPELESSLY DOWN.’ The numbers on the panel buttons below the slot were continually rotating to higher numbers.
The elevator pinged and the door opened at the 66th floor. Johnathon stepped out and into a luxurious office.
Mr. Fishbait’s secretary, Hotstuff, was certainly hot. Johnathon could actually feel the heat coming from her several feet away. She was tall, trim, voluptuous, and had an 18 inch waist. Johnathon knew that as she had a red and white belt strapped around her that said so several times. Blond hair hung down past her shoulders and floated over a too small tight fitting red dress. Her calves burst through white leather thong wraps holding leather floppies on her feet. Red toenails and fingernails almost went unnoticed as she beamed red eyes. “Oh. You must be the Newbie,” she said.
“Johnathon,” replied and held out his card now surprised that he remembered his name.
“Oh that means nothing here. You’re just a number. We’ll call you Red for short.”
She wiggled away back to her desk as Johnathon watched mesmerized.
“Mr. Fishbait will see you after keeping you waiting for an inappropriate time. You may sit over there,” she said pointing to a chair too small for anyone but a child. “You’re late by the way.”
Johnathon, now Red, sat in the chair too small.
Hotstuff went about fiddling with stuff behind her desk. She sat on a stool that was just a bit too high and took some effort to get on. With a practiced effort she leaned over to show deep cleavage. If her eyes had not been red Johnathon’s eyes would have travelled lower. Her knees had to shift to the side and it showed her thighs as she crossed her legs. It was easy to pass the inappropriate amount of time. Johnathon wondered if it would be inappropriate to ask her out. Funny, Johnathon thought. He’d never have thought of that before.
After too short a time, a resonate voice boomed from Hotstuff’s monitor, “Hotstuff. Send the late little angel in now.”
Hotstuff fluttered her eyes. “You can go in now.”
Johnathon walked through a set of doors hissing as they opened. The room was larger than expected, even with the huge desk sitting in the center. There were no carpets, no windows or curtains to surround them. The only decoration were several ‘Success’ type paintings that kept changing captions as Johnathon walked into the room. Johnathon caught, ‘The only good angel is a fallen angel and he’s bad!’
Light glowed from the ceiling to reddish walls and floor. A single chair sat in front of the desk. From behind the desk a large man in a dark suit sat looking down into his monitor. Without looking up he bellowed. “Sit.”
Johnathon sat. Time went by. The man did not look up. Johnathon watched the Success monitors. ‘Winners create ignorance, anger, pride, greed, jealousy.’
“You’re late,” he finally said.
Johnathon nodded yes.
“I see you’re an expert in drifting. I assume that’s why you were sent here. Your subject’s only chance of getting here is if he continues to drift through his life and there’s a lot of opposition to that presently. The consensus is that we may lose him. Do you understand?”
“No sir,” Johnathon replied.
“Oh. Then let me make it perfectly clear.” Mr. Fishbait got up and started circling Johnathon. “The pain you receive here is inversely proportional to the pain you give out or in this place the souls you capture.”
“Sir?” Johnathon replied.
“This is Angel Section, Red division. Our sole purpose here is soul capture. Your job is to ensure a steady stream of souls to the Lord of Light’s assets. If there are not enough assets in the Southern division the game’s over and no one has any fun for all eternity.
“Game sir?” Johnathon asked. “My subject?”
“Client 3517,” Mr. Fishbait said, “you only get one to start. Do well and we give you two to work on at the same time. Eventually you can get a nice office like this and a secretary that can’t spell. Didn’t they tell you anything before you got here?
“No sir. I didn’t meet with anyone before I got here. All I can remember is my name and knowing I should go here. They did give me a card but that’s all.”
“Oh poop. They forgot to program you.”
A deep voice cracked from the ceiling. “No swearing. This is Hell not Earth. Please deposit a tooth in the well.”
Mr. Fishbait shrugged and with his fingers pulled out a bloody tooth from his mouth and dropped it into a hole that appeared in the floor with a hiss.
The hole closed with a hiss and Mr. Fishbait walked back behind his desk and sat down presumably deep in thought.
After a minute Mr. Fishbait looked up, pressed a button on his monitor and called out, “Hotstuff. Find Squid and get him in here.”
“Yes Mr. Fishbait.”
Mr. Fishbait looked at Johnathon. “3517. I’m going to give you a junior apprentice tempter to show you around. Squid has been around for some time and was once in a higher place but screwed up. He was given a choice. Become a creepy crawly thing or be reduced is size and station. There is a hierarchy in Hell and you can move up or down. You never have a choice and usually it’s down.
A hiss came from behind Johnathon and he felt the heat. “Mr. Fishbait. Squid is here.”
“Send him in.”
Squid came in. He was three feet tall, dressed in a Lincoln green Robin Hood outfit complete with tights and a floppy hat. He was all wet and holding a writhing eel in one outstretched hand. “Sorry I’m late. I came as soon as I could sir.”
“This is 3517. They forgot to program him. Show him the ropes and get out of that ridiculous outfit and dry off and get rid of the fish.”
A hole hissed open in front of Squid and he dropped the eel into it. It hissed closed. “How did he get such a low number?” Squid asked drying himself off with a towel that appeared from somewhere.
Mr. Fishbait stood again. “Some old soul went through the second death. We like to use all the numbers here so there’s never a miscount on the score between Heaven and Hell. I’m told that’s why they created talking in tongues, so they could say the really big numbers without gagging.”
“Things are really great in the sewers. Thanks for asking,” Squid said, “Where’s his pad?”
Mr. Fishbait reached down, opened a drawer and pulled out an Apple I-Pad. He walked around and handed it to Johnathon, now 3517. “We had more luck promoting the Blackberry as texting killed more people than alcohol. It took some doing to get Apple to text. My superior got advanced to supervisor for that. I got here for getting Android to do it. Keep your imagination open 3517.”
“3517, who’s the client target?” Squid asked.
“How would I know?” 3517 answered.
“It’s on the front of your pad.”
Johnathon, 3517 looked on the pad and read out loud, “a Mr. Joseph Johnson. He’s a bus driver.”
“Shouldn’t be too hard,” Mr. Fishbait said. “Now both of you out of here. I have some serious work to do with Miss Hotstuff. 3517, Make sure you report back here regularly. Don’t be late.”
Joseph Johnson stepped off his bus at the terminal after a twelve hour shift. It was noon and it was hot and his bus had no air conditioning. Someone had vomited in the bus to make the day seem longer. It really was longer. Traffic had made him a half hour late. He handed a ‘Bus Condition’ sheet to the mechanic who acknowledged the smell. Johnathon made sure he knew the brakes were grabbing.
Joseph spotted his friend Leo Roberts leaning against a post near the exit and waved as he approached. “You’ll get that suit dirty leaning against anything in here.”
“I sprayed it with Scotch-guard,” Leo replied. “It’s not as bad sitting on one of your bus seats getting to a crime scene.”
“You just push paper Leo. When was the last time you were at a crime scene?”
“So happens, an hour ago. Diamonds stolen from a house in the west end. Up for sale and there were people going through. Someone got into the safe very fast. Looks professional.”
“This your case?” Joseph quipped. “Seems you just do the legwork for real prosecutors. Don’t the police do stuff like that? Why you?”
Leo overdid a frown. “Yes, but if I do well with this I might get moved up to junior assistant deputy prosecuting attorney. Someone that knows the mayor asked for special attention. ”
“That’s a lot of letters for your new business card. They won’t have room for your name.”
“It’s hot and I need a beer.”
“Just one and a lite and no more than a half hour in the pub,” Joseph reminded Leo of their deal.
“I know,” Leo said. “Gee Joseph. You need a deodorant.”
“You drive a bus for twelve hours that someone threw up in and see what you smell like.”
“It’s not contagious is it? I have a date tonight. She’s picking me up later this evening”
“A date? I thought CNN cancelled the news tonight. What else is on?”
“Funny. I’m having dinner with a real estate broker. I need to learn the ropes of how showings are held for estates so I can submit this as a legitimate expense.”
They started walking. Around the corner was a coffee shop trying to make it as a sports pub. It had some success as it was near the bus terminal. Three large screen TV’s all at high volume and air conditioning that was too cold helped. The floor and the walls were perpetually dirty but the patron kept the dishes and the counters clean.
“I’m assuming this real estate agent is female and cute?” Joseph said after they commandeered a booth.
Two lite beers arrived unannounced. Both pulled out some cash and gave it to the waitress.
“And single.” Leo looked at the beer for a time before sipping. “The twelve point system really means you have to sip the beer twelve times before it’s done.”
“You don’t really care if she’s single,” Joseph said. “You’re not going to get her anyway if she’s good looking. You just want to ogle her and ride in her car. You really should get your own car. It makes for a better date experience. You can even talk while you’re driving. You might even get to know her.”
“Oh ye of little faith. I’m going to wear my gun and even have a shower before I meet with her.”
“You’re not allowed to wear a gun for two hours after having a beer.” Joseph downed half of the beer in his glass. “It’s so nice to be cold for a little while after that heat downtown.
“How’s teachers college coming? Kids OK?” Leo said, asking more to change the conversation than for answers.
“It’s a lot of work especially after nights like this but I’m making it. I’ve had a couple of technical writing jobs as well. They’re easy. Some are simply re-writes, mostly grammar and spelling edits, but they’re time consuming.
“Kids? Thank heaven for small favours. They take care of themselves. What do you call it? Latch Key kids. They’re both getting A’s. Josh even skipped a grade and they both started early.”
“Someday I’ll get married and have a family.”
“A shower and a shave might be a good place to start,” Joseph laughed. “Leo. Leave the gun at home.”
Josh walked up to the front door of the school and stopped to strategize his day’s activities. His number one priority was to lose his virginity. He knew he was smarter than anyone else at school but the problem was he just didn’t look the part of a desirable catch.
School might be the place to be to accomplish that. He knew of his sister’s activities and was jealous of the fact that she was having sex and getting money for it. Josh knew at some point he was going to be bigger than his sister and there would be a reckoning for her bullying. It might even be a good idea to have sex with her especially if she was abhorrent to the idea. Meagan was good looking. And he knew for sure she would never tell anyone. He filed the thought for future rehash.
Meagan had a friend, Melisa that had approached him about selling drugs. Payment might be arranged for sex instead of money. Melisa was hot too. Another thought filed for future expansion.
Josh’s friend Ralph sprinted up the stairs and stood beside him surveying the grounds. They had a routine of walking into class at the last second. It was ‘making an entrance.’ Ralph was big, semi-illiterate and now today because of Josh’s birthday, only two years older than Josh at 14. It was good to have him around as the girls were attracted to him and he was definitely one to stop anyone bullying Josh.
“Was-up?” Ralph sauntered up the steps. He was dressed sloppy urban poor even though his parents were wealthy. “Coming to stadium after football practice? Got to see coach later about my marks. You can tell him you’re coaching me. We actually should do that sometime to make it be more legit.”
“Sure thing. We could do it while you’re sleeping in class.”
“I was up late last night. John Wayne marathon. Love that guy.” Ralph proceeded to imitate John Wayne’s swaggering walk.
“Any girls coming to watch you? I could sit with them.”
“Don’t know. Sometimes they just show up,” Ralph continued. “Your sister was there once. She’s hot.”
“Maybe I can arrange something with you and her. She sells droids.”
“I heard. Don’t really need them. I’m bigger than anyone else now. You should though. Maybe I can pay for them with sex and you can use the droids. I can coach you at the gym and you can teach me to read.”
“Not sure that will work. Guys pay her to have sex with them.”
“Girls do homework for me to have sex with me,” Ralph said. “One said it’s like having sex with John Wayne.”
“Who told you that?” Josh quipped.
“Not supposed to tell. Something about a gentleman never does.”
“Meagan’s pushing the droids on me anyway,” Josh said. “It’s a source of income for her. The gym can’t hurt though. Maybe I’ll take you up on it.’
“Deal,” Ralph quickly countered. “Hey. Did you hear some guy hung himself in the school washroom last night? Cops all over the place. Forensic truck was here and everything.”
“I saw an accident this morning. Guy got killed. Lots of blood. I was this close. It was over before I even thought to film it. Would have been great on YouTube. Who hung himself?”
“Not sure. Should be on the news soon.”
“Would droids effect my long distance running? It’s the only sport I’m good at. I did a marathon last month and broke three thirty. The world record is just over two hours.”
Ralph thought a second. “Hundred yard guys use them. It seems to help. Olympic guys got caught. Watch out where you pee. I think the world record is about two hours, three minutes plus a couple of seconds.”
“Piece of cake.” Josh laughed at their standard response.
The school bell rang signalling the day’s start and Josh and Ralph went in. They stood outside the room door until all the other students had entered. The teacher was late. Josh shrugged at Ralph and they went in to their seats.
The teacher came in and plopped his brief case on the desk. He looked spent as if he hadn’t slept for some time. He stopped and looked at Josh.
“Josh. Would you go down to the principal’s office please?”
Everyone shut up and the room got very quiet. Josh stood and looked at the teacher. “It’s only 9:00 o’clock. I haven’t had time to do anything wrong yet.”
This got a laugh from the rest of the room. The teacher gave a tired look at Josh, “I don’t think it’s about you. They just want to ask you some questions.”
“They?” Josh asked.
The teacher didn’t answer but shook his head in the direction of the door. He had dealt with many students with smart answers before. It was obvious that he had had enough already today. Josh grabbed his backpack and left for the principal’s office.
On the way Josh stopped at the washroom to check his stash as well as have a pee and get a drink of water. It was not good to have a dry mouth talking with the principal and sometimes he kept you waiting for some time so you were squirming to pee while talking. He had read of the procedure from Nazi interrogation technique files on the internet. They weren’t going to be able to use that on him.
His stash was still there and the human hair that he had placed just above the loose tile to detect tampering was there as well. No one had touched his hash. He carefully replaced the hair with a new one thanking the old James Bond movie where he saw the strategy.
Josh walked into the office boldly only to be confronted by some suits and a couple of uniformed police.
The office secretary said, “Just a minute Josh. I’ll tell them you’re here.”
A minute later she nodded for him to go in.
The principal sat on the edge of his desk. He was a huge man with a girth almost as big as his height and he was six three. Beside the desk another big man stood sporting a bad fitting suit twenty years out of style. He had cop written all over him.
“Please have seat Josh,” the Principal said pointing.
Josh turned to have a seat behind the door and got a shock. There, sitting in the next seat was his sister Meagan.
Leo walked into the office after lunch and found his cubicle in-box covered with brown and vanilla envelopes. The vanilla came internally. The brown came from anywhere but were often from the court clerk so he ruffled through them first.
He shared a cute articling student with four other guys. She was determined to become a lawyer even if it meant putting up the alpha men in the system. “It’s better than waitressing for the rest of my life,” she had said more than once. Her name was Alice and she was single.
“You must like me best to give me the most paperwork,” Leo said as he hung up his jacket on the edge of the cubicle. He thumbed through the vanilla files tossing some in the garbage as he progressed.
“It’s the paper fairy that has an attraction for you.” She stood and brought him some more files. “We’ve got three guys off sick. Two long term. I’m taking on some real lawyer stuff that technically I’m not supposed to do but I get brownie points for it. Boss wants to see you.”
Leo watched her behind as she walked off.
Leo’s boss’s secretary Martha watched him watch her. She was past time to retire but kept on working. For some reason she liked her job. Everyone liked her. “Why don’t you ask her out?” she teased.
“I have way too much paper work to indulge,” Leo feebly replied. “What’s his nibs want?”
“I think you are in for double shift rotation. We really are understaffed. I’m working on getting some more students here for the summer as part of the governments make work program the feds pay for.”
Leo nodded acknowledgement and went into George Briggs’s office. Leo liked him but kept a professional distance. “What’s up boss?”
“Do you have a gun Leo?” He asked without looking up.
“Sure. It was a requirement to start here. I got a deal on a Smith & Wesson 357. Fifty bucks at the police charity auction. They got rid of a stash of illegal confiscated weapons.”
His boss looked up. “You any good with it?”
“I’m OK. The reason I got it is it can put a big hole in something and it can stop a car by putting a bullet into the engine block. It does take a lighter 38 police special shell that cost a lot less. I practice with it once a year and say a thank you prayer that I’ve never had to use it. Why do you ask?”
“Traffic court got shot up yesterday. Two police and a clerk got hit. Somehow a defendant got a gun past the metal detector. A news reporter swung his camera on a sling into the perks face stopping the guy. Wrecked the camera good.”
“Good guys OK?” Leo asked taking a seat. It was going to be a while before he learned why he was here. It was his boss’s way.
“As they say. Just a flesh wound.” George pulled out a flask and a couple of shot glasses offering Leo one.
“I’m still on duty,” Leo declined.
“You still on the wagon?”
“I never was. Thing is I don’t want to get where I have to be on the wagon. Sometimes it’s very tempting.”
“I hear you,” His boss poured one for himself and went on about the virtues of drink. “If everyone was drunk all the time there’d be less crime and I could retire.”
It was going to be a while before George got to the point. Leo pulled out his note pad. It was funny that he hadn’t even thought of his gun but it had come up in his conversation with Joseph at lunch. Maybe the universe was trying to tell him something. Leo made a mental note to get to the range. Hand guns required constant practice and it had been a while. Leo made another note to use the heavier ammunition.
“Traffic court incident has got the upper court judges in a frizzy. There’s some heavy cases coming up and they want some fire power in the court and they don’t want to let the public know they are changing the policy of no guns in court. Uniformed cops still will have to check their weapon and there will still be a metal detector for everyone to go through.”
“I take it there’s a way around this?”
“I’m getting to it,” Leo’s boss sipped his drink. “The detector operator will know you and others on a list and press a button that lets you go through without setting off the alarm.”
“It sounds like I’m going to spend some time in court. At least it’s air conditioned. I’ll have to keep my jacket on to hide the gun.”
“You got the picture but there’s more. You just got a raise. It’s more title than money but you just moved up a notch. You do get your own office out of the deal. It doesn’t have air but it does have a small window that actually opens. That’s the good news. The bad is there are three guys off. That’s how you get the office. I know two are not coming back. One got malaria on vacation and he’s the one coming back. How he got vacation I don’t know. If I had some say he never would have. You got their workload. Or at least most of it. We’re rotating prosecuting in court. We all have to wear guns. You have the morning shift. Alice has the list.”
George stood and Leo did as well. He extended his hand and they shook. “Congratulations. Good luck”
Alice was grabbing files from Leo’s desk as he approached. “This way mister.” She pointed at his desk. “Grab some files and follow me.”
Leo did so and followed her to his new office.
“We knew last night so I got the staff to help clean out all the old files and they gave the room a clean as well. They even scrubbed the dirt off the window,” Alice dumped the box of files on top of one of the cabinets and left.
The office was smaller than the coat room in the hallway. Two small chairs in front of an old wooden desk blocked the way to the window. The surface along the front edge of the desk had burn marks from cigarettes. An old worn oak swivel chair sat behind it. Leo noted it had arms unlike his regular chair in the cubical. Two Filing cabinets four feet high formed countertop space along one wall crowding the office even more. A credenza sat under an opaque window beside the door. On the desk was a black rotary dial phone. The handle had a support to hold the receiver to his ear with his shoulder. Six clear plastic buttons protruded from the bottom of it.
Alice came in again with more files. “Here’s your court schedule. I’ll get the rest of your stuff shortly. Congratulations by the way,” She shuffled off as he nodded thanks.
Leo sat in his chair, surveyed his new home and mumbling to himself, “I should get a Dick Tracy hat.”
Alice poked her head back in. “You’d look cool in a Dick Tracy hat,” She smiled and left.
Francine drove into the Annette Real Estate parking lot, empty except for Annette’s Cadillac. She wanted to get her listing into the system as soon as possible and Annette needed to sign off on it. There were photos to edit and get on the internet and an advertising campaign to strategize. Annette was very good at it and of course she got a sizable portion of each listing as her income.
Annette took pride in her success and flaunted it. The building was a converted two hundred year old barn-wood tavern. Historical photos on an encased billboard marked the entrance to an adjacent park with a garden and a children’s wet splash pool. Trails with plaques explained the types of trees and flowers and their significance. The park had won a local award.
Annette’s office was a showcase and the entire tavern interior had been a feature of more than one magazine. Annette’s desk once belonged to a sultan from some Eastern country. The original tavern bar stood along one side of the office complete with the original stools.
Annette had another business as well and to accommodate it Francine had photos of the safe and security system as well as the entrance security codes so she could show the house. This was going to be a doubly lucrative sale. The house was well priced and Francine knew there were jewels in the safe. To quote the seller. “My wife is never going to get my grandmothers jewels!”
“Got your text Francine. Good job!” Annette said as Francine came into her office. “You get a few more of these and I’ll have to make you a partner just like those lawyer people do.”
Francine smiled back as she put the folder on the desk. Opening it to the spot she said, “Sign here.”
Annette went over to the listing and scanned it. Putting it down, she signed it with a flourish. “Good price. Should go quick.”
“Another divorce. He has a villa in Europe somewhere.”
“And probably a new wife on the go there as well.”
“I think he has more than one on the go and open to more. He offered me a drink that I humbly declined as recommended in the Annette school of Real Estate.”
“Celebrate.” Annette pulled out from the bar a bottle of sherry and without waiting for an answer poured two shots.
They clicked glasses and downed them.
“Let’s see the photos,” Annette said and grabbed Francine’s camera.
After flipping through she quietly whistled. “A hidden bookshelf wall safe. This guy watches too many movies.”
“That’s what I thought but didn’t say anything of course. He was quite proud of it and even showed me the camera opposite it.” Francine put down the shot glass.
Annette went over to her desk and from a drawer pulled out an envelope. “This is your commission from the last job.”
Francine opened the envelope and a single sheet of blank white paper was in it. In the upper left corner was typed $15,000.00.
Annette said, “You got a burner phone and phoned the Swiss and changed your password?”
“Yes and then I destroyed the phone,” Francine said, “This is a little more than usual. What happened?”
“There were some other things in the safe that were very lucrative. It appears our last client had some very large amounts of cash in the safe. He probably was about to fly the coup as they say. We got a bonus. I’ve never seen anyone get a bonus before. Don’t question it.”
“He seemed like such a straight guy. I never would have known.”
“That should put you over $100,000.” Annette poured herself another glass. She knew not to offer Francine another as Francine was strict about her physical regiment and her driving.
“I’m kind of curious. He phoned the police about the jewels. There was no mention of cash.”
“That means it was not legit cash,” Annette said. “Another thing. I don’t want you showing this property regularly. Yes we get all the commission if you move it but if we were rarely there after the poop hits we can imply we knew little of what was going on. The police will follow up on anyone seen in the cameras after the fact. I’m not saying never but unless you got a hot buyer back off.”
“I know the stats are that 90 percent of sales are not though the listing agent,” Francine acknowledged.
“There’s a party here next Saturday evening. I’ll send an invitation to this Mr. Vincent Henderson. I’ve already invited some other clients. There will be some dignitaries there as well as some politicians. Some city officials too. You’ll fit right in. Black tie. Bring your husband. I know he does morning shifts. If there’s a problem with schedules I know someone at Transit.”
Annette handed Francine the invitation.
“I should get home and get this listing in the system.” With that they shook hands and Francine left quite proud of herself. She always felt that way after being with Annette.
Leo opened the door to his one bedroom basement apartment and picked up his briefcase with his free hand. The button keyless entry bolt freed him from carrying keys. Leo had taken up jogging.
Under one arm was a case of Diet Crush Cream soda with Splenda rather than Aspartame. It said on the can zero calories. Sliding on top of it was a frozen vegetarian pizza with several toppings and no cheese. Tomorrow’s supper it was and it would do for breakfast as well.
Leo turned on his computer to check e-mails and changed into his jogging clothes as he waited for Windows to churn up. His cell rang as he pulled on his T Shirt.
“Can we move our dinner up earlier as I have a showing later tonight?”
Leo said sure. She would pick him up in a half hour and there was a good vegan restaurant around the corner. Leo went for a shower. No jogging tonight. How did she know he was vegetarian?
Leo put on his nice pants and jacket, checked his lock box and pulled out the gun. After dinner it was a few blocks more to the police gun range. He needed some practice.
Annette rolled up in front of Leo’s apartment exactly on time in her Cadillac. Leo got in and heard a barrage of small talk. After they got settled in the restaurant Annette said. “This is on me. I know what cops make.” It set the tone for the evening. It was not going to be romantic.
“I’m actually a prosecuting attorney. Normally this would be handled by detectives but some people that supported the mayor’s elections asked for a personal touch. The irony is we probably won’t do as good a job as would have been done if the detectives were allowed to do their job.”
“Humble too. I heard you were smart and single. How come you’re not married?”
“I almost was once but she met a guy with his own Lear Jet. I suppose you could say I was lucky in some way. If that’s what she wanted most she never would have been happy with me.”
Annette ordered a glass of wine. Leo declined, “I’m sort of on duty.”
They both ordered the vegetarian pasta. Leo ordered a black coffee.
“Of the past fifteen diamond robberies in two years all the houses were just up for sale and your agency listed twelve of them.”
“That would not be a coincidence,” Annette replied. “We cater to and have a reputation of serving the wealthy and often our listing contacts are by referral. There are only so many people that have diamonds on site and that would correlate with many of our clients. We would be almost exclusively the ones to list them as there are few agencies that have the means and expertise to expedite the sale.”
“The bad guys seem to be very professional and disabled all the security equipment. They seemed to know everything about their targets.” Leo sipped his coffee. The food came, “I’ll need a list of the listing agents as well as the buying agents and of course anyone that had a showing of the houses. Do you have any ideas on how these guys would go about something like this? We don’t seem to have any leads at all. Anything you can suggest might help.”
“My ex-husband used to know something about diamonds. This five carrot ring was part of the divorce settlement,” Annette showed off the ring. “He’s probably hard to get hold of right now. He moved to Amsterdam to be closer to the tramp he was seeing and his business was diamond wholesaling. I don’t know much more about diamonds other than I like them.”
“We were thinking of setting up a sting operation and see if we can catch them in the act.”
“It might be a long wait and you of course have to get the right house. I would think Interpol would be the ones that finally catch these guys.”
“How would we find the right house?” Leo noted that there was something she said that was diverting the conversation.
“What do you mean?” Annette asked.
“You just said we would have to find the right house,” Leo was alert.
“Oh. I meant you would have to know they had diamonds on the premises,” Annette took a sip of wine.
“How would one know that? More to the point how would the bad guys know that? I mean these guys target explicitly these houses and they’re only after diamonds.”
“I’m not sure detective. We don’t list stuff like that on our property listings.”
“I’m not a detective as I said before. I’m a prosecuting attorney,” Leo watched Annette closely now.
“Sorry. Yes. You did say that. It’s the gun. When you’re sitting it’s quite visible under your jacket.” Annette finished her glass and poured some more.
“Ah. Yes. I’m not used to wearing it. I have to wear it for a court appearance tomorrow and I thought I’d go to the gun range after.” Leo noticed that Annette had changed the subject.
Leo left Annette at the restaurant and walked the few blocks to the gun range. On his way in he phoned the office to leave a message for Alice. To his surprise she answered the phone.
“You did hear that we are short staff and I’m doing double duty here?” She said. “I get off after midnight and I’m back here at 3 AM.”
“Sorry Alice. I thought I was the only one that worked 60 hours a week.”
“Well. I am paid hourly and after 45 I do get time and a half. What can I do for you Mr. new Deputy Assistant Prosecuting Attorney?”
“Can you have one of those new computer geek students of yours do a run on Annette Realty? Check her phone calls. Check diamond heist history in this area back say ten years. See if she’s still in touch with her ex in Amsterdam. Anything you can think of. I’m not sure she’s involved but I am sure she knows more than she’s saying.”
“No problem. I’ve got a young high school student just itching to do something interesting and this will get him out of my hair. Anything else?”
“Yes. Can you find out how very large amounts of diamonds are sold illegally? There are at least fifteen robberies that we know of and that’s a lot of diamonds. I’m out of my league here. Maybe there’s someone that’s a specialist in this that I could meet with.”
“No problem. I know of one from school. He lectured at the university. A detective in New York. I’ll get his info and you can contact him.”
“There’s another thing. She asked me about Interpol. That implies she thinks this is international. I only implied a local heist.”
Leo thanked Alice, hung up and walked into the range area, signed in and went to the officer in charge. “I brought some factory ammo for this cannon. I was wondering if you could give me a few pointers on hitting what I’m aiming at.”
The officer looked at Leo’s gun closely. “OK. It’s in good shape. The first thing I would do though is get rid of the factory grips and put on a set of rubberized Pachmayrs. This gun has a kick and you need to be able to hold on to it. When the adrenalin kicks in your aim will be off anyway and you need everything going in your favour. I’ve got a set here. Twenty five bucks.
“That’s half what I paid for the gun. Leo said.
“That was a good deal even used. New that gun’s over five hundred.
“Do it.” Leo said and the officer brought out his tool kit.
“There’s video we have for the forces on shootout procedure and tactics. It’s less than half an hour and then you can try the gun with the new grips after. Basically it says when the shooting starts find cover first and don’t try and shoot this thing on the run. You won’t hit anything. Two hands and triangulate. Remember that you have an advantage as this gun can shoot right through many things the offender might think is cover like a wall or a car door. Think before you shoot.”
Leo watched the movie and then spent considerable time practicing after. His arms were sore but he slept well. Pizza for breakfast!
Squid led Johnathon to the elevator. When he pressed the down key the Hopelessly Down LED flashed and a computerized voice asked, “What level please?”
Squid answered, “Earth level, ground floor, Fear door.”
“Fear door?” Johnathon asked.
“We’ll go out the side of the building. It keeps the guard guessing as to who is in and who is gone.
“Gone where?” Johnathon asked again.
“Gone to Hell!” Squid laughed. “Ha Ha Ha!”
“That’s awful. What’s the fear door?”
“It’s just something someone made up. It comes from Fear Is the Side Door into Hell,” Squid opened the door and they both went out.
The boy was still there on the steps but now he had a slingshot shooting paint balls at the cats. He had a new twist. There was a can of cat food on the fence just out of reach of the cats. “Here Kitty, Kitty.”
They walked on by him. Johnathon asked. “I assume I didn’t make it. I’m in Hell, right?”
“You got it drifter. Most people think they will make it upstairs but heaven’s an exclusive club. Who do you think Jesus and Lincoln and Moses and all those other do gooders want to hang out with? You? What have you done? Nothing. You haven’t even felt empathy for those suffering. You hid from contribution. You drifted along taking the easy. Sometimes they even let some souls in that have at least grown. They’ve loved life to the fullest. The juice of life is somewhere between growth and contribution. What have you contributed? Nothing. Have you grown? No.”
“Gee. I thought I was a good guy. How did I get here? If I’m in Hell why have I this job? Why aren’t I burning or something?”
They walked out onto the street.
“You are here because you are an outstanding drifter. Drifting is the absolute number one tool of the entities of darkness. If you’re good at drifting then maybe they think that you can instil that quality in others.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to just trick someone into killing Christians or something? I mean this seems like a lot of effort for each soul.”
“It doesn’t work. You need intent. It’s like Saul killed all those Christians before becoming Paul but he thought he was doing the right thing. There was of course an adjustment. Lightning striking anyone will adjust your thinking. Both Saul and Paul, same person did his very best to do what he thought right. Heaven spits out mediocrity.”
“Hitler thought he was doing right.” Johnathon said.
“No. Hitler, that black magician knew what he was doing was bad. He disappeared. Some say he went to the second death.”
“What is that? It was mentioned before.”
“We can’t even do it. Only one I know of that has done it is Archangel Michael and that was somewhere around 1956 to 1958. Lucifer, God of the Red ray and his second, Satan and a bunch of other lieutenants’ souls were eliminated.
If you can’t lose your soul what’s the worst that can happen? Why bother with anything.”
“Oh. They can sent you out into the deep. Some may never return. It’s worse than the second death in some ways.” Squid pointed to a turn in the street and they proceeded up it.
“So why is that so bad?
“They transport you way out beyond the edge of the universe. There’s no light going to reach it or you for trillions of years if ever. You are just there alone in the darkness with your thoughts forever.”
“There’s no coming back? The light will get there sometime.”
“Oh yes. There are different degrees of time punishment for souls right out of the box so they say. I know a couple of them. Suicide is ten thousand years and abortion is twenty thousand years.”
“What’s wrong with abortion? You didn’t mention killing or any of the Ten Commandments.
“Killing goes back to intent. Abortion is murder by torture just because it’s inconvenient and double jeopardy because in order to right the act you need to re-embody and you can’t because you’ll have to be aborted to get to where you can save a life. It’s a really hot tool for us.”
“So what’s our job and how do we do it so we can keep this cushy job?”
“This is Joseph’s house,” Squid pointed to the front of a small raised bungalow. “He’s our target and all we have to do is keep him doing nothing. It may be a bit of a task as the rest of his family is a piece of work. In short they are without doubt and any help from us, going to Hell in a hand basket.”
“How do I do that?”
“I’m glad you asked. The technical term is radicalization. What we primarily do is disengagement. If you can remember that disengagement can occur without de-radicalization but de-realization can’t occur without disengagement.”
“I’m sorry I asked. In English please.” Johnathon moved out of the way of Joseph coming home.
“He can’t see us unless we concentrate. Sometimes it’s good to just be a Joe in a bar that puts ideas in his head but mostly we just turn the volume up on the television at a suitable phrase or something like it,” Squid said. “If you concentrate on a place you can just go there instantly. Sometimes you just have to concentrate on the subject and you’ll go there.”
“So as you were saying, how do I get this guy’s soul?”
“It’s really simple with this one. He’s half way there. Like Fishbait said all you have to do is to get this guy to drift through life. No matter what happens he just takes it in stride.”
Won’t some things no matter what get him angry?”
“Yes and that’s another tool if used correctly. Anger fogs the brain. If he just gets angry and forgets what he’s angry about then he becomes bitter. And that’s a great tool too.”
“How can I use anger incorrectly?” Johnathon was now curious.
“Any emotion can fuel a cause. Anger is a very powerful emotion. There are things in the world to get angry over and if used correctly can inspire noble causes. In all cases we must avoid that.”
“So if this guy does nothing, he’s going to hell?”
“There’s more to it but that’s about it. It’s why you were chosen. You were a drifter through life. It’s how you got here. Apathy is a cousin of drifting. Think Canadian.”
“Are you telling me all Canadians are going to hell?”
“I wish,” Squid said. “Some won’t of course but the ones going will miss the snow.”
“Back to our subject. All I have to do is make sure he avoids doing good acts or anything at all or what?”
“He has to go through life. He thinks he’s doing his part by going to night school, writing a book and making money for his family driving a bus.”
“It seems like a normal course of action to me.”
“What he’s doing is being realistic and that leads to mediocrity. Heaven spits on mediocrity. We get the spit.”
“He suspects his wife is sleeping around both for pleasure and financial gain. He suspects she is getting money from somewhere and not telling him. We know it’s illegal gain and he may find out soon as he’s quite bright and she’s not.”
“Yes. His two kids are a piece of work. They are both on drugs and selling them and are advancing into other really bad activities. They are bullies, con artists, thieves and using sex for advancement and money. I would be annoyed if I was their parent.”
“Does he suspect his kids at all?”
“Not yet, but sooner or later he will. Both kids are smart beyond their years and portray an image of respectability. They are in appearance what would be considered the ideal child but there are subtle signs that have alerted Joseph.
“Sometimes they say they’re somewhere and Joseph knows that cannot be.”
“So. What’s next? Where do I start?”
“Oh. Careful. Enthusiasm is a heavenly trait. It’s not good on your record to show too much. A little is needed to appease the bosses. Fishbait is a great example. You just do your job and it won’t change and you get just a little bit of reward for doing it.”
“The reward would be HotStuff.”
“Yes, but it’s not as perfect as you think. Next time you see her watch for her tongue.”
“Yes. It’s actually a snake that slips out once in a while. You have to make sure you never kiss her and it is very tempting. It’s what she does.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“They’re about to have a family dinner. Let’s go in and watch. You’ll learn a lot from this.”
Joseph slung his bus kit in its place behind the couch and kissed both kids on the forehead. Josh smiled up from his laptop at the coffee table and Meagan broke from reading at the kitchen table. Francine pulled something from the oven and placed it on the counter.
Joseph gave Francine a peck gracefully on the lips and said he was going to wash up.
“Daddy’s home. Meagan, would you set the table?”
“Yes mom.” Meagan closed her book and got out the dishes. “Melisa’s mom said it was OK if I came over after supper to study if it was OK with you.”
“As long as you’re home by eleven.”
Josh said, “And I’m going over to help Ralph with his reading and writing. He says he’ll help me with sports if that’s OK with you mom.”
“Same deal. As long as you’re home before eleven.”
“Thanks Mom. We will,” Josh said for both.
Joseph came back in and helped with the table.
Francine said, “Your daddy will be asleep and I won’t be back to check on you until after midnight as I’ve got a real estate meeting later tonight. Oh and dear, Annette’s having a party next Saturday night. Black tie.”
Joseph nodded affirmation.
The four of them sat down and held hands repeating out loud, “For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen.”
Roast beef and potatoes and gravy and peas and corn were passed around. Buns and butter disappeared from the center.
Joseph said to his wife, “So. How was your day?”
“I got the listing for that multimillion dollar house in the West end. It’s going to be a lot of work but it should go quickly. This will put me in the sales person of the month club. Annette was very pleased. She’s going to arrange for a professional staging company to come in and go over the entire place.”
“Isn’t that expensive? Does the client pay or you?” Meagan asked.
“It’s negotiable with the client listing dear. This one Annette’s taking care of as we got the full commission structure with the listing. It’s a minor cost compared to the commission and it’s tax deductible.”
“Does Annette get a deal with the staging company for stuff like this? I mean there has to be some volume or economy of scale here,” Josh injected to be part of the conversation.
“Good question Josh,” Francine smiled. “I’m sure she does. And the staging company can use the before and after photos as for future references as well.”
“Did the Mercedes really help get the listing?” Meagan asked.
“I’m sure it helped me in my confidence level. It does have the aura of being part of the richer crowd. The company slogan, ‘You’ve Arrived’ is very well thought out.”
Joseph asked, “So Meagan. What did you accomplish at school today?”
Meagan looked quickly at Josh and Joseph noticed his skin flush but she answered smoothly. “I got put on the dean’s list for achievement in math. There are two others on the list but it will definitely help me get into an upper level university and maybe even help with a scholarship.”
Joseph was quick as well and not sure what was really happening. He just went with the flow. “So. Josh’s helping you with calculous really paid off.”
Meagan seized the opportunity. “Yes. Josh is a little too shy to admit it or take credit but he was a big help. I couldn’t have done it without him.”
Josh gave a shy, humble, acknowledging smile.
“And Josh. How was your day?” Joseph asked.
“I can’t get on the dean’s list until grade ten like Meagan but I found out there is a scholarship for running which I might be good at. Ralph says he’ll help me if I help him with his literacy. We made a pact and shook on it. We start with him first later on tonight and then it’s practice for me after school tomorrow. Also there’s a guest lecturer at the university Thursday night on quantum physics. If it’s OK with you I’d like to go. I’ll be home at ten thirty.”
Joseph looked at Francine and she nodded her approval. Joseph said OK.
Josh said to Meagan, “You wash. I’ll dry.” They both got up and cleared the table.
Joseph left for his converted bedroom office to work on his technical writing and homework. Francine went to the washroom and then left by the back door.
Johnathon, against the back wall of the kitchen invisible to all, leaned over to Squid. “It seems like an absolutely perfect family. Most people would die to have a regular family supper like what we just saw. How am I supposed to instil drifting in this soul? He’s a hard worker, bright and cares about his family. He’s destined for the enemy as you call them.”
Squid answered pointing at brother and sister washing the dishes together, “All is not as it seems. Did you notice that no one asked what Joseph’s day was like? He’s a very lonely man. He knows his wife lied about where she’s going and he doesn’t know what’s going on but he’s alert that all is not well with his kids. As a friend once said to him, ‘no two kids are that good.’ Watch what happens after the two kids are sure their parents are gone.”
“What was in the suicide note of the guy that hung himself in the school washroom?” Josh asked his sister.
Meagan hesitated gathering her thoughts. “You did well with the cop and the principle in the interview. I don’t think I could have done better if I scripted it and had you read it. I’m going to give you some droids to get you started for helping me.”
“I want more than that,” Josh was quick, reflecting that his Boy Scout training had paid off in him ‘Being Prepared.’ Josh knew exactly what he wanted and how to say it. “I need to get laid. I want you to arrange something with Melisa or one of your other friends.
This caught Meagan off guard and she almost dropped a dish.
They stopped and stared at each other for a couple of seconds. Meagan sized up her little brother. He just looked at her and said nothing. He was playing what he thought was an edge on her she decided. Well. She could play too and maybe it might just be profitable.
Meagan stalled and said, “Oh.”
Josh continued, “I’m spending too much time thinking about it. I could and should be concentrating on something else. It needs to be regular and good. I don’t care how.”
“OK,” Meagan said slowly. “But it won’t be Melisa. She’s too close and would never agree. She does have some friends that work for her though and they’re quite attractive. We’ll arrange something. But I want something as well and it might be profitable and beneficial for you at the same time.”
“Like what,” Josh’s heart was beating faster now and he tried to hide it by slowing his speech.
“I need someone to start selling droids in the school. It’s too hard for me to sell in the men’s side. I attract too much attention. The girl’s side doesn’t take to it as much or as fast. You can take some extra for yourself especially if Ralph is really going to help you work out.”
“OK. Deal,” Josh realized he was holding his breath and let it out slowly.
Together they both resumed the dishwashing in silence.
“Holy cow. That’s one interesting twelve year old,” Johnathon said. “And her sister as well.”
Squid nodded in reply, “I thought you’d find this interesting.”
“So what was in the suicide note?” Josh asked again. He used his firm voice thinking it might reaffirm his power over his sister.
Meagan was frustrated and saw that Josh had seen the look on her face. She stopped doing the dish she was holding, “It was the wrong time of the month and he asked in front of his buddies to have sex with me. He said it out loud that everyone else had sex with me so he should too.”
“Holy cow. That’s just a bit much. So what did you say?” Josh said sympathetically. He fancied that it would be good to keep her talking. He might learn something.
“I didn’t say anything. I just beat the crap out of him.”
“You hit him? He’s a big guy.”
“I didn’t just hit him. I beat him senseless. They had to pull me off. He was unconscious and his friends carried him away. It was the last I saw him. I told his friends that if I ever saw him again he’d better be on the other side of the street or at least moving towards it.” Meagan was getting red in the face and put the dish down for fear of breaking it.
Josh gave her a second, “And all this was in the suicide letter?”
“They wouldn’t let me see it but my name wasn’t on it they said. It was just that someone had said they knew we had been in a fight and he had lost badly in front of his friends. That’s why we were called into the office. It wasn’t because of drugs or anything.”
“So when I told them you were trying out for the church quire it helped?”
“I think so. They were clever. I didn’t know why I was there or even that he’d hung himself. I thought sure they’d found a stash or someone had turned me in. You actually told them I was trying out for the church quire?” Meagan smiled at her little brother.
“I thought it might be a bit much but if nothing else it threw them off and gave me time to think. I’m sure now that all they wanted was confirmation that you were studying with me all last night. Where were you by the way?”
“Out with Melisa. No one will know. We both have fake ID with other names.” Meagan resumed her dishwashing. “That was quick by the way to figure out that I had used you as an alibi.”
“Glad to be of service.”
“I’ll talk with Melisa tonight. Maybe we should bring you in as a junior business partner.”
Leo rolled into court an hour early. He had five cases, each in a brown envelope under his arm all started by someone else. One was for an organized crime lieutenant that had taken some time to get to court. Leo had not seen any of the work done on it and needed enough time to acquaint himself before it came up on the docket. High level stuff was usually last but you never knew.
Waved through security as planned he sat down at the front desk spreading out files. High liner in hand he went to work. People funnelled in after him doing the same.
The judge came in just as Leo finished. The all rise and all sit initiated the proceedings. The morning got boring.
Low level crime cases were mostly pleaded and the court was verification of what had gone on over phones and lunches the days and weeks previous. It required the suspect to plead in front of the judge and everybody shook hands and went on their merry way.
Leo had packed a sandwich and water bottle for lunch to go over the files. A quick trip to the washroom and he was ready for the afternoon session. It might be a little more interesting. Leo texted Alice about her search on diamonds but there was no reply. Leo turned off his cell for his court presentation.
The afternoon was devoted to prosecution of the medium high drug lord that he now was ready for to give the initial presentation to the jury. Leo was a good speaker but this was a strategy presentation as well.
The prisoner was brought in. He had on a very good suit and Leo noticed that his fingernails had been manicured. With the right kind of gown and cap he could preside over the church congregation and give first and last rights as well as baptize babies. Leo straightened his tie and wondered if Alice knew of any good tailors.
The judge came in and everybody rose and sat. Leo saw the defence attorney switch with a new arrival in the room. His three piece suit was custom fitted. Leo suspected the suit sleeves had real button holes. A dash of grey accented a well-groomed head giving him a distinguished look. He was no doubt a very expensive lawyer.
Leo gave his initial presentation before the judge and jury, keeping to the facts and short. This was a very bad guy and he should go away forever was the gist of his speech. There would be time to be flamboyant and philosophical in the summation and there was no need to give the defense ammunition.
The new defense attorney did the same. The accused was a saint that had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and associated unknowingly with bad people as he tried to conduct his charity work.
“No way!” A shout came from the back of the courtroom. Everyone turned to look.
“This one’s not getting away with it! You’re not getting off on a technicality with an expensive lawyer.” A large man walked forward down the aisle. Those close pressed back and gave him a clear path. He had a gun held with both hands at eye level and he shook it between the judge and the accused and his lawyer.
Leo stood his ground. The man was about to walk right by him. He put his hand on the chair behind him. As the man went by Leo grabbed the chair and swung it overhead and down onto the man’s arms. The gun went off and fell to the floor. Several people grabbed the man and he was led off.
Leo picked up the gun on the floor and walked up to the judge, “It looks like one of those three D printed plastic guns.” Leo handed the gun to the judge.
“Nice work,” The judge said. “You could have shot him.”
“Yes, but that would involve shooting the victim.” Leo said in a loud voice. There was no doubt that the jury heard. Leo noted if he had shot him the bullet would have gone right through him and into someone else’s head. It would not be good to tell the judge that.
The judge felt it would be good for everyone to take the afternoon off. Leo headed for the office.
The office was hot. Alice had put a couple of fans up and one was in the window of Leo’s new cage as she called it. On his desk was a cupcake with a toothpick in it and a post-it note folded over the end as a flag marked HERO!
George looked in after Leo had sat down, “It appears you scored some points today. The bad guy’s lawyer wants to talk. Say’s he has something we might be interested in but I’m sure he’s going to want something back.”
“I hesitate to deal with this guy but life in prison is over a hundred thousand a year each for taxpayers. OK. I’ll give him a call.”
“Nice cupcake. I heard there was a reporter that got your photo with his un-confiscated cell phone. You’ll be in the papers tonight.”
Alice came in with a folder. “Hey Mr. Celebrity. Here’s the stuff on how to fence diamonds. Apparently what they do is cut them down to size. They become like common currency and they are easy to transport, smuggle and are very hard to trace. We can trace some things. Colour and quality stays the same and sometimes we can tell where they’re originally mined. If the original cut is unique we can trace that. Some diamonds have laser marks etched on them. Canada uses a maple leaf and there could even be a serial number.”
“Anything on who cuts the stuff down in size?” George asked.
“There’s a list in the folder of knowns but nothing about where they are now,” Alice passed the folder to George who handed it to Leo. “It’s tight in here. You need a bigger office.”
“Thanks for the cupcake,” Leo said.
Alice walked off and both Leo and George watched her go.
Martha walked across her path and gave a look at both men with just a little shaking of her head and eye roll.
George walked out mumbling, “It’s a good thing my wife doesn’t come into the office.”
Leo ate the cupcake and attacked the file.
The phone on Leo’s desk rang and one of the little lights flashed. Leo hit the button. It was Annette.
“I’m having a party next Saturday. I thought you might like to attend. You can meet several of our clients and maybe this will help your investigation. The mayor and the police commissioner will be there as well. It helps us to have a police presence. Bring your gun. Black tie.”
Leo sat back in his chair and contemplated the call. “That was interesting.”
Squid held on tight to his vibrating pad.
A three dimensional image of Hotstuff popped up from the screen, “Mr. Fishbait would like to see you both in his office with a full report on your progress.” The image sank back into the screen with a hiss.
Johnathon said, “It’s a little soon for a report isn’t it? We’ve been out less than a day. We haven’t done anything yet.”
Squid put his pad away. “It doesn’t matter. It’s a paperwork thing. He has to fill out a report for his superior, so we have to give him something to put in the report so he can fill it out. It’s a one liner for us. We engaged the subject and have formed a battle plan. By the time it gets up the system it will be forty pages.”
They were instantly transported back to the front of the building and Squid and Johnathon walked in together. The two different guards were there and after they had checked the bar codes on each arm, the two walked into the elevator.
Hotstuff was making tea, or at least it looked like tea. Squid and Johnathon sat down in the two small chairs too small and prepared to wait the inappropriate time without asking.
Hotstuff put her hand on the mug of liquid. After several seconds it started to boil and she took her hand away all the while looking only at her screen. After a minute she took a sip and then placed the mug down. Hotstuff looked up, catching the two in their chairs watching her. “Its herbal tea. They say it’s an aphrodisiac. “I’ll make some more if you’d like some.”
Both shook their heads no in synch.
“Mr. Fishbait will see you now.”
Johnathon followed Squid into Fishbait’s office. It was hotter than Hotstuff’s office which was always hotter than hell. Johnathon was surprised he wasn’t sweating. Maybe you don’t sweat in Hell.
“Sorry sir. The barcode readers are slow this morning,” Squid ventured.
Johnathon stood still. Fishbait was in a tub of black liquid with a number of logs burning underneath. Red hot coals spilled out onto the floor around him. He was naked and had a scrub-brush with a long handle scratching his back. Smoke came from the logs and steam came from the liquid.
“Ah. Boiling oil. There’s nothing like it,” Fishbait said. “It does wonders for my psoriasis. Hotstuff does draw a good hot bath. What have you two got for me?”
“Johnathon has been introduced to the subject and the appropriate parties. We are forming a game plan.”
“You haven’t introduced him to that cop, attorney prosecutor guy. He’s bad news. If the subject spends too much time with him we could be lost. I want him discredited in the eyes of the subject.”
“Yes sir,” Both Johnathon and Squid said at the same time.
“Don’t patronize me Squid. That is how you got demoted before.”
“Yes sir,” Squid moved around to the side of Johnathon and just a little back.
“You Red, what’s your number? Don’t you let Squid lead you off on just zapping the subject! This guy could change the whole game.”
Johnathon bravely, or so he thought, answered, “how so sir?”
“There are two things that will change a soul’s direction. One is a change in his identity. The other is a change in his peer group. The two together are major tools of the enemy. They even use them in prisons. A drug addict comes out on bail with his new identity called ‘I am now an ex con.’ And then he goes back to his old group. Of course these people are bad dudes and we have his soul forever. You change that dude’s identity with something like ‘I’m now a top machinist’ and we are on the first step of losing him. He won’t even hang out with his old chums anymore.”
“So we get our subject to change his identity?” Johnathon was intrigued.
“No. You get him to like the attorney and crush his image of him when he least expects it. That way he loses faith in humanity, his ability to decide what’s good and the hopelessness of it all.”
“Yes sir. We’ll get right on it,” Squid yelped.
“Now get out of here and tell Miss Hotstuff to bring in the wire brush to do my back.”
Squid and Johnathon were back in the elevator before Johnathon spoke, “How come neither of us sweats?”
“It’s not allowed. Sweat can dampen the fires below. Let’s find this guy. I think his name is Leo.”
The ‘Hopelessly Down’ light flickered. “What level please?”
Leo walked into the office with two full brief cases in hand and dropped them on his desk. Alice came in with a box of papers and was about to put them down but stopped as there was nowhere to put them. Leo put one of the cases on the floor. “I need a bigger office.”
“Already? You haven’t even got your Dick Tracy hat yet.”
“And my cell phone needs a bigger screen.”
“You can transfer files to your computer. Here let me show you.”
Leo held his breath as she leaned over him, grabbed his cell and blue toothed it into his laptop.
“I think you should think seriously about the hat. It might be a good image for you.”
Johnathon watched her as she walked off. He then saw Martha watching him with a bit of a smile on her face.
The box that Alice brought in was full of printouts of Annette’s life. Alice came back with another box.
“That is one interesting lady Leo. That third husband of hers, the one that’s supposed to be in Amsterdam? It turns out he doesn’t surface there at all. No one has seen or heard of him since he boarded the plane years ago. There is speculation that’s he’s dead and that she took him out.”
“I’ll make it a point to not marry her.”
“Good idea but she only marries rich guys. But there’s more. It turns out her first two husbands are interesting reads as well. One died shortly after her first divorce in a mysterious climbing accident in the Alps. It was odd that he took up climbing just after the divorce. He was 67 years old and fell three thousand feet.”
“And the second husband?”
He’s in a Russian prison in Siberia, or at least that was the last heard of him ten years ago.”
“I’m supposed to go to a party next Saturday at her invitation. There are to be several dignitaries there. Black tie. Maybe I should get a hat.”
“I’d wear a wire if I were you. Be careful of what you say to who.”
“You know, that’s not a bad idea.”
“I have a voice active recorder that I use in class to assist my note taking. You can borrow it. I won’t need it until next semester.”
“It would be worth a dinner for sure,” Leo blurted out and immediately felt flushed and hoped Alice didn’t notice. “What else?” Leo recovered.
“She has some interesting friends. The mayor, several councillors and many business builders and contractors. She is in the real estate business but some of the people she associates with have questionable histories. I made a list. It’s in the box. I also got a guest list for you to memorize before you go.”
“You’re welcome, but my minions did most of it. They’re very enthusiastic. Do you own a black suit? Is it big enough to hide the gun?”
“Very funny. Yes I have suit that will do. It’s for weddings and funerals and to wear in upper level court.”
“I’ll hold you to that supper.” Alice walked off before Leo could say anything. Leo watched her and then dug into the box and spread the folders on his desk.
Martha stuck her head in after a few minutes. “That was very smooth.”
Leo buried himself in the files.
Leo’s cell rang. It was Joseph.
“I need a beer and lunch. You free?”
Alice came back with her recorder. “It’s really small and you can hide it in your pocket. One of the tricks you can do is date stamp it. That makes it easier to find stuff later if you want. All you need to do is speak the date and time and the voice activation picks it up. You may want to do location and who you are going to talk to or who you did talk to. You need to practice a bit before you go so you get in the habit. It has an extended memory. You can go 24 hours and then it rolls over on itself. If you want to save the previous 24 hours you need to download it which wipes it clean.”
Alice set the recorder and put it in Leo’s vest pocket. “You’re all set.”
Leo pulled it out and had a good look at it. “Thanks.” Leo watched her walk off.
Leo looked around for Martha. She was nowhere in sight.
“Maybe we can get her pregnant,” Squid said. “If nothing else it might be fun to watch.”
“What’s so great about this guy? He seems like kind of a loser to me. He’s borderline alcoholic according to my file and he’s afraid of women. He doesn’t even know that he’s afraid to go to Annette’s party,” Johnathon said.
“Fishbait knows this stuff. If he says so it’s so. Let’s get you started on doing something to him or at least make him do something.”
“OK. Let’s make him buy that hat. He’ll look foolish in it but he won’t even know. No one will ever tell him.”
“Great idea. All you have to do is make it stand out in front of him as he’s walking to see Joseph. Let’s get ahead and find one in a shop on the way. We may even have to divert his path but that’s good practice for you too. One of the ways to do it is just make time stand still for a second as he sees the hat. He will think it a revelation and his impulse buying will take over.”
Leo left his briefcase in the office and went down the street to the bus terminal talking to his pocket, “Eleven forty five. On my way to the bus terminal to have lunch and one beer with Joseph.”
Leo saw a haberdashery shop across the street. He crossed over and went in and bought a Dick Tracy hat. The whole transaction took less than five minutes. Leo hurried to the coffee shop. He was sweating when he arrived.
“Look who’s sweating now,” Joseph kidded Leo. “I had a good morning and I even got to use one of the busses with air.”
They went into the diner and the waitress dropped their regular in front of them. Five minutes later they were chomping veggie burgers.
“What’s up?” Leo asked. “It sounded like you need a sounding board.”
Joseph sipped his beer, “I do. The principal of my daughter’s school phoned. Apparently my daughter beat up another student who shortly after committed suicide.”
“Oh.” Leo sipped his beer too. One sip.
“At supper last night she said nothing.”
“Kids don’t normally bring up stuff like that. No one does unless they’re confronted with it. I can see multiple reasons why she wouldn’t bring it up.” Two sips.
“He said the guy’s father wants to talk with me and the guy is really upset and somewhat irrational.”
“I can see where I would be somewhat irrational if my son committed suicide,” Three sips.
“I’m supposed to meet with him. I was wondering if you would come along with me.”
“Is this a big guy? I can arrange for a police officer.” Leo counted four.
“I think that might be inappropriate and maybe a little hard on the guy,” Joseph sipped again. “What I’m looking for is you to listen to this guy and maybe get some more information about what really happened. I feel that I’m not getting the full story.”
“How so?” Five.
“No one’s talking with me. The principal was short with his call on the phone. He did say he had both my kids in his office for over an hour. The police were there and still investigating after two days. They are not ruling out foul play.” Joseph sipped again.
“I can look into that. I’m going down to the range later. I’ll see who’s in charge of it.” Six.
“You still carrying that thing?”
“I’m finding it somewhat therapeutic.” Seven. “You know that some people even take shooting up as a hobby.”
“Who has time for a hobby?”
“Me. You have three jobs and work 80 hours a week. I have one job and only work 60 hours a week.” Eight. “I need something to fill the time.”
“I have an interview with a college next week for a teaching job. It doesn’t pay as much as the bus line but it could lead to something. It would be normal hours though and I could still do the technical writing.”
“Good luck!” Nine, “Hey. You know that dinner I had with the real estate person? She asked me to a party next Saturday. Black tie.” Ten.
“What’s this lady’s name?” Joseph looked up. “I might know her.”
“Oh my-gosh! My wife works for her. We’re going to that party too.”
“I better bring the gun.” Twelve.
“By the way, where’d you get the goofy hat?”
The school gym stayed open to 11 PM in order to help the losing football team. Half a dozen students worked out on weights to loud rock music echoing over the PA system. Three students shot hoops at one end of the court. A teacher watched over it all while marking papers in the gym’s office.
Josh pushed up the 45 pound bar of the bench press. There were no plates on the ends. The safety bars were up and Ralph was standing over him on the back platform.
Ralph said, “We’re going to start you with really light weights but you’re going to do a lot of reps. It’ll give you some tone. Then we’ll increase the weight. You’re going to be sore tonight and probably tomorrow and maybe even the day after.”
“I had a talk with Meagan. She wants me to sell droids here and she’s going to get Melisa to hook me up with one of her friends.”
“I know some of Melisa’s friends. We’re going to have to get your strength up. See if you can do 20 reps.”
Josh started moving the bar up and down. At 14 reps he couldn’t get it all the way up. Ralph lifted it up to the holding bar.
“OK. Good job. I want 10 more sets and I want you to do them a lot slower; say about half that speed. You may not even do as many as 14 but that’s OK. Count to 60 and start again.”
Josh did so and started to sweat.
“Other thing. We’re going to change your diet. You are now officially in training. Broccoli, spinach, brussel sprouts, bananas and blueberries are your new friends. That and lots of water. Three quarts a day minimum. Get 6 of those half quart water bottles and fill them each day so you know you did it.”
“Gee it’s a lot of work to get laid,” Josh was really sweating now.
“How are you going to teach me to read and write?”
Josh was panting now and took a few seconds to reply, “It’s just repetition like we’re doing. I found a list on the internet of 100 words that are used 50 percent of the time. You’re going to memorize them.”
“I know more than 100 words,” Ralph said.
“You don’t know these words in writing but you use them all the time. You’ll recognize some, like the words I and me and you. Most are pretty common to hear but you never read them. Once you know just these words you’re half way there. I tried it. I took a novel off the shelf and opened to a full page and crossed out the words that were on the list. When I was done you could see that half the page was crossed out.”
“OK. Quit stalling. You’re down to 10 reps on your second set.”
Josh started. He knew he was stalling and went back at it hard. His t-shirt was soon drenched in sweat.
“Slow it down,” Ralph said. “Enthusiasm’s good but haste is not.”
Josh slowed down. “I want you to count for me but using letters rather than numbers. A, B, C, and so on.”
“Next comes D, right?”
One of the students came over to Josh and Ralph. Ralph’s guard was up.
“You’re Josh right?”
The student looked at Ralph.
“He’s with me,” Josh said firmly.
Ralph played the part standing taller on the platform.
The student hesitated.
“So?” Josh said again.
“Your sister said that you’re my contact now. I’m to give you this up front. How do I get my stuff?” The student nervously handed Josh a hundred dollar bill.
Ralph said, “I’ll take a washroom break,” and left for the washroom.
Josh sat up. “Tomorrow, any time after school starts you go to locker number 1,742. The combination is 15-37-20. Your stuff will be there. It’s off the security camera’s view but make sure no one see’s you go there.”
The student repeated the number, nodded and left. Josh waited for Ralph to come back before starting again.
“Your sister seems to be running a pretty big operation,” Ralph said counting, “A, B, C,”
“She is very entrepreneurial,” Josh struggled. “I wonder how big her operation is. More important, I wonder how much money she’s pulling in.”
“I know she has several girls working for her,” Ralph said. “What’s your cut?”
“If she had ten girls working for her and they did three a week each that would be half of $3,000.00 less her cost which is probably half again so she pulled $750.00 last week. That would be tax free dollars of course.
Josh got to G. “How come you’re so good at math and can’t read or write?”
“It comes from music. I play the piano. There’s a lot of math involved sort of.”
“I never thought of that. How so?”
“Time signatures, tempo, beats per bar. There’s letters too but they only go to G or seven which is as far as you got on the last set. When you get down to half on the fifth set it’s time to stop. Tomorrow we do shoulders.” Ralph stepped down from the safety stand.
“You don’t have to leave when someone comes to buy something Ralph. We’re friends.”
“Yes, but I kind of want to stay away from that. If someone asks the wrong thing at the wrong time it ends my football career. We’re still friends though.”
“You any good on the piano?” Josh sat up and grabbed a towel.
“They say I have a bit of a knack. I’ve got my grade twelve piano and I’ve done a couple of recitals. I like Beethoven.”
“My sister’s been doing this for a couple of years. Let’s say she started making money one year ago. That’s $375 times fifty two. $19,500.00 Wow!”
“No offence mate but I’ve heard she has a couple of other businesses as well. She’s making some real money,” Ralph said. “Let’s get a beer and call it a night.”
“Great idea,” Josh said. “Where did you get beer?”
“My parents buy it for me. They say that if they drink then they shouldn’t be hypocritical and say I can’t,” Ralph said. “Dad sits with me once a week and we have a beer and talk over things. I keep a few cans in my gym locker.”
“Maybe I should run that by my dad?”
“Or your sister,” Ralph laughed.
“She’s really set this whole thing up as a business. They put the droids in an orange through a razor blade slit and put it in the locker drop box. That way if anyone come by you just have an orange. No one ever sees the transfer as well.”
“I’ll be careful the next time I bite into an orange.”
“That’s just it. No one bites into an orange. Everyone peels it and pops the wedges into their mouth. Meagan says she got the idea from mom. When mom and dad were in high school they’d inject vodka into an orange with a needle and eat it in the cafeteria. No one ever found out.”
“What can you put into a watermelon?” Ralph laughed.
“A really small elephant!” Josh laughed back.
Meagan rode her bike down the ramp to the underground of the industrial building and stopped at the keypad. The ground floor had a small restaurant and a 24 hour variety store that served suburbia. The six upper floors were designated to medical, dental and financial advisory and insurance offices that specialized in rich widows and orphans.
Meagan adjusted her back pack and punched in the code. The garage door opened smoothly and Meagan rode through and turned left passed rows of more garage doors. Stopping at her door she opened the combination lock and rolled up the door. Melisa was inside and smiled. Meagan dragged her bike in and rolled the door down after her.
“Sorry I’m late.” Meagan dropped her back pack on the table and slid on to the bench beside Melisa. “I had a long conversation with Josh. I’ve set him up as a dealer in the boy’s gym. He’s kind of bartering or blackmailing me but it’s OK. How’s Debbie doing?”
Melisa grabbed the oranges out of Meagan’s bag and started slicing them carefully with a hobby razor tool. “Physically she’s coming around. Her broken arm will heal of course and the bruises will take another month. She’s a mess psychologically. We can’t put her in the field anymore. That’s going to take a long time.”
“I’m sorry. I thought beating the crap out of that guy would send a message. When I heard he was taunting her on line I was sick. I know she’s your girl but I feel responsible. I set these things up.”
“That’s two I’m sorrys in one minute. She’s my cousin. She was ready. And up until this guy she was doing well. It’s not either of our faults. It’s that guy’s and he won’t bother anyone anymore.”
“No one saw you? The cameras were off I heard?”
“Your little brother helped with that, hacking into the school’s system but he didn’t know what was going on at the time.”
Meagan started putting the capsules into the orange slits, “So that’s how he had an idea as to why we were called into the principal’s office. You’re sure no one saw you.”
“Eight girls slipping into the boy’s washroom was a bit of a mission impossible exercise but we pulled it off. You know of curare? It doesn’t kill as long as you keep the respiratory system going. They use it in experimental psych labs on animals to study the autonomic system. There have been several break-ins lately.”
“Let me know and I’ll share the cost.”
“Not necessary. It was on the house but I’ll probably owe some kind of favour. Watching the eyes of the other girls as he looked back hanging from the washroom hook slowly suffocating to death was worth a lot of oranges.”
“I wish I had been there too but I needed an alibi. I know you wanted to record it but I still feel that’s too dangerous. Forensics now is very sophisticated. They brought in a truck and it stayed a whole day. I’ve heard they no longer think it’s a suicide.”
Meagan went to the boxes stashed behind them, “A new shipment came in this morning. Here’s the bill,” Melisa handed a black page with a number of letters on it.
“$6,000.00 I’ve got it here,” Meagan pulled out a zip lock bag full of bills from her back pack, “Check it.”
Melisa went over to the bill counter at the next desk and ran the wad through. She then put it back in the zip lock bag and pulled out a brick from the back wall. Depositing the money she said, “What’s the ratio of this to hooking?”
“Oh this is way better; about five to one. Why?” Meagan finished up the oranges and stated packing them in sequence five to a bag.
“Wow. I didn’t know it was that high. Then why are we hooking? It’s dangerous. On top of that there’s a higher chance we’ll get caught. If we concentrated more on this we could get way more money. You’ve said before we should get a bigger place than this. If we concentrated on this alone we could be making double with no more outlay. Other thing. We’re helping people get stronger faster. We’re benefiting society.”
“Yeah. We need some place like a legit office and maybe several of these types of drop stations. It is getting hard to handle. And having two separate businesses is dragging on me as well.” Meagan packed the rest of the oranges. “We’ve got five lockers to do tomorrow before bell. At six minutes each that’s thirty minutes. At an hourly wage it’s better too. There’s a business saying that says eighty percent of your time is spent on making twenty percent of your money. We need to reverse that. Let’s see how the other girls feel about it before we make a final decision. I hate to just dictate what’s going on. It might be better if they feel like they’re part of the decision making process.”
“You’ve been taking those leadership classes seriously,” Melisa said. “There’s another thing. It’s probably a good idea for us to lay low with the hooking for a while until this blows over.”
“Yeah. I was thinking the same thing,” Meagan said. “Heh. I want to run something by you.”
“OK. Hurry up. We need to get home soon.”
“My little brother needs a girlfriend. As a matter of fact he’s demanded I set him up. I think he’s a virgin. What about Debbie? They might be good for each other.”
“No offence but your brother is a manipulative little brat.”
“Yes. For sure. But Debbie would wrap him right around her little finger and it would be good therapy for her.”
“How would it be for him?”
“He won’t mind as long as he’s getting laid and Debbie’s cute for sure.”
“Good point. OK. I’ll run it by her. It might just be a good idea and solve some problems both ways.”
“Good business meeting partner,” Meagan said. “High fives! Let’s get out of here.”
Melisa checked on her laptop the camera hidden outside the garage door and made it spin a full circle. “Clear.”
They turned out the lights and opened the garage door and hauled their bikes out. Waving good-bye they took off in opposite directions.
Johnathon leaned over to Squid. “I noticed their personalities are different here. They’re adults running a business. I just witnessed a board room meeting. I wonder where they’ll be in ten years if they’re still alive.”
“My vote’s president and vice president.” Squid said. “Josh will probably be head of state whatever that is.”
“Those girls actually plotted to murder that guy.”
“Not only that they revelled in watching him die,” Squid said. “Sometimes it’s hard to keep in mind that these girls are doing a good job for us. We’ll have to watch out for them. It’s not really our job but Mr. Fishbait will approve. A few extra brownie points never hurt especially when things sometimes don’t always go our way.”
“Do you have anything in mind? They seem to be doing alright without any help from us.”
“Let’s make sure Debbie is attracted to Josh. We can do that with some very simple behaviour anchors. Even before they meet we know a lot about Josh and we can make those traits very attractive to Debbie.”
“Do we need to do it both ways? I mean will Josh be attracted to Debbie?”
“I’ve seen her. She is really pretty. Josh will like her on that alone. Plus Josh, like they said is a manipulative little brat. Debbie will figure it out fast and play him like a fine piano. He won’t stand a chance. Like they said she will wrap him right around her little finger.”
“How do we do that? The same way we made Leo buy that ugly hat?”
“We are given some minor use of the Siddha Yogas, or occult powers. One of them is psychokinesis. You can feel your mind touch things and move them. Practice with small objects like a dime or even smaller. What we do is when Debbie is seeing something that is a trait of Josh’s we stimulate a pleasure center in the hypothalamus. It won’t take long and it’s a tool you need to develop.”
“Shouldn’t we be doing more about the prosecuting attorney Leo? Mr. Fishbait was very specific on that one.”
“He’s checking into this guy’s murder but we make sure he doesn’t find anything. We drag him down running around on dead end leads and it discredits him slowly. If it’s too fast he’ll be able to recover by some gallant act later. He’ll be exhausted and not think as well.”
“I’m thinking we can also distract him. That girl in the office is definitely the distracting type. If he’s thinking about her he’s not thinking about his friend or his job.”
“I’m not sure about this one. She’s kind of the supportive type. It could backfire,” Squid said. “Together they could form a mastermind group and that would not be good for our side.”
“It may happen anyway. If we don’t do something it’s our fault. If we do something and it works at least we can claim victory.”
“Flawed thinking,” Squid said. “We could also be doing something to keep them apart. And then it’s our fault anyway.”
“OK let’s have me practice on Debbie first and then we can make a decision about Leo. Something may change by then and we’ll know better.”
“Good idea,” Squid said. “Say, you’re starting to think like a devil.”
“I’m going to have to get better. By the time those girls get to Hell I’ll be out classed.”
Leo walked into the building, proceeded downstairs to the gun range and checked with the desk clerk. “Is Frank here yet? He’s going to give me some pointers.”
The clerk pressed a buzzer letting Leo in and said, “He’s on lane six. He’s a good shot and even won some national competitions. Have fun. Be safe.”
Leo found Frank loading up clips for his 1911 forty five semi-automatic lying beside the ammo box.
“How many shots do you take in a practice session?” Leo said as he set up beside him.
“After a hundred your hand gets sore and if it gets bruised you’ve wasted your time as you’re back to where you started,” Frank said.
“I took your advice over the phone earlier and bought a pair of left and right hand golf gloves to help with the practice.”
“Good. First you need to learn what that gun is capable of. It will go through some things but not all. Down range I put up some obstacle targets to let you see what kind of damage you can do and what the 357 shell will go through.”
Leo looked down the range. There was a car door, a concrete block, a brick and a solid wood door.
You can’t see them but the bricks and the concrete blocks are three each thick. It will let you see penetration. But first we have to dial your gun in so let’s take it over to lane ten and get it in the vice.”
They did so and after the gun was in the vice Frank pulled out a tube and put it in the barrel. Twisting the end made a laser beam come out and hit the target down the range.
Frank adjusted the vice so the beam hit the bull’s eye and then he pulled the tube out. “Now we fire a clip and see how close we are to the center and if the spread shows a pattern off center. Then we can file the sights to match the center of the spread.
Leo loaded a clip and they fired 7 shots. Leo pulled the lever that brought the target back to the desk and took it off.
Frank looked at it as he took the gun out of the vice. “You’re right handed?”
“That’s a good thing as this gun shoots two inches to the right. If you’re holding it with both hands and you took time to aim, the gun will twist in your hand as you shoot. Your second shot will shoot a bit to the left as your right hand will straighten out. As long as your height is right your second shot should be a bull’s eye. That’s a very tight pattern by the way. This is a very good gun and it looks like someone has already set the sights.”
They went back to the shooting lanes and Leo shot through the obstacles.
Someone yelled, “Make the guns safe.” The all clear lights went on and Leo and Frank walked up to the target zone. A couple of curious shooters at other lanes came to look. They all knew Frank.
Leo pulled back the car door. The bullets had gone right through.
Frank drew everybody over to the concrete blocks. “These bocks are like Swiss cheese to even lighter rounds. Even my forty five will penetrate them,” Turning them around you could see a hole going through two blocks, “The bricks are a different matter. They’re solid and hard and make excellent cover. You can see the shell went through it but was spent and didn’t even scratch the second brick.”
Leo went over to the door. ‘Hey. This is a steel door used in warehouses for fire code. It stopped the shell too.”
The men standing around thanked Frank and went back to their lanes. The shooting light appeared and the warning bell rang. The clerk announced over the speaker, “Clear to shoot.”
“Let me watch you shoot a few rounds and see if I can pick up some things that may help you.
Leo started shooting and said, “I have an ulterior motive for getting you to help me shoot.”
“You sound like my wife. She said she had an ulterior motive for marrying me. I fooled her. She thought I was rich. What’s up?”
“A very good friend of mine asked me to look into that school suicide. I heard you were lead on the case.”
“Keep shooting. Let’s see how you are after about four clips. The more you shoot here the closer you will get to second nature in the field. Shooting there should be automatic and exactly the same as on the range.”
“Apparently his daughter was in a fight with the suicide shortly before he died.” Leo reloaded the next clip.
“Ah yes. Meagan. She’s 14 and obviously knew more than what was said at the principal’s office. Her brother knows something too. He’s 12. By the way it’s no longer a suicide. It’s now a homicide.”
“That’s interesting. What did you find? Any leads?” Leo kept shooting.
“It’s going to cost you a beer, maybe two.”
“The shooting lesson is worth that alone. I’ll pay and write a glowing report to your captain.”
“No leads so far but I’ll know more after the autopsy. There is some strange drug in his system. He just looked weird when we pulled him down. His eyes were still open and his skin was blue. The belt around his neck was too close to the railing. He couldn’t have jumped off the toilet and hung himself.”
“He has a history of being a bully and the street says he beat up a prostitute. He was a known steroid user and not a nice person but there’s nothing specific as far as enemies go. We do have one lead. The security system was hacked and several of the cameras froze and then came back on line. That does require a bit of sophistication and for sure this was premeditated.”
“I thought you said you had nothing?” Leo emptied his fourth clip and the slide stayed open.
“Let’s see your targets.” Frank spaced them out on the desk. “Well at least you’re hitting the target. Don’t get me wrong. That’s not bad. Your second clip is the best as you’re starting to get into it and the jolt and noise aren’t affecting you as much. The first shot sends adrenalin into your blood even here. If you use that time to move to cover, your first shots will be better as you’ve got used to the higher energy. You won’t be shaking as much. First thing. Find cover. Move. If you don’t see cover move anyway. You’ll find something after you start moving. Targets three and four look as though you’re getting tired. There’s shots all over the place.”
“I’ll never carry four clips anywhere.”
“Now you’re getting it. Keep in mind sometimes bad guys have ten clips with them. I noticed you were standing with your legs resting against the desk. Stand up straight and put your feet at right angles. Do some shooting with your arms resting against the bench in a kneeling position. It’s the ideal thing to do in the field. That’s enough for tonight and you owe me a beer. Make the gun safe.”
As they walked out of the building Frank was still talking. “You’re doing OK. All you need to do is spend some more time at the range. The more you shoot the better you get.”
They walked into the bar next door and Leo ordered two beers. Several other police officers were there; some in uniform. They both waved to a few friends.
“I need some food too. Do you want anything?”
“A burger would be good if you’re buying.”
Leo ordered a regular burger and a veggie burger. They found a booth.
“How come the sudden interest in shooting?” Frank asked after the beers came.
“They want me to have it on me in court for a while but there’s something else.”
Frank’s burger came. “That was quick!” Frank dug in.
“Call me a bit paranoid if you like but it just seems like after having this gun for a couple of years and not touching it, everywhere I go the gun subject keeps coming up. I truly feel like the universe is trying to tell me something or getting me ready for something.”
“I’ve heard this before, or at least something similar. Not just once but a bunch of times. On more than one occasion listening to that little voice saved someone’s life.
“Is Meagan a suspect?” Leo asked.
“She said she was with her brother at the instance. Her brother lied as to where they were but both are accounted for. Josh was at the Gym and Meagan was at the library. We have Josh on camera in the Gym and Meagan as well coming in. Josh was startled though when he saw Meagan in the school principal’s office. He recovered well. He knows something but didn’t know Meagan knew it or something like that. That they both lied may only be that they were doing something else that they weren’t supposed to be doing.”
“Kids lie a lot don’t they?”
“I suppose. It just seemed strange. The truth would never had set me looking. There is one other thing about the suicide note.”
“What’s that?” Fingerprints?”
“None. It was printed on a school computer printer and stuffed in his shirt pocket.” Frank took another bite. “The thing is he couldn’t read or write. Whoever put it in there didn’t think that a high school student would be illiterate.”
Leo’s veggie burger came. “They take a little longer to cook.” Leo bit in.
“The forty five 1911 design is over a hundred years old. For some reason it’s still my favourite gun.”
“It has stood the test of time,” Leo answered, “I find this gun is heavy after even a short while.”
“Even small guns seem heavy until you need them and then you want them to be twice as big and heavy.”
“That brings to mind something else. Do you take it wherever you go; even off duty? I have to go to a black tie party this Saturday and having this thing will be kind of obvious.”
“Good question. You’re in kind of a unique position, not being a cop and all. Some uniforms shed it as soon as they’re home. It helps with the transition to home life. Others, and especially detectives like me are paranoid that they might get caught without it. The truth is I’ve never had to use it off duty and in twenty years I’ve only been in one gunfight and only drawn my weapon twice. Some cops have another gun somewhere where they can get at it quick but I can’t see anywhere that’s practical. The car is not a good place to hide a gun.”
“I don’t have a regular car. I guess the answer is to rent a suit with an oversize jacket.”
“Got a hot date?”
“Sort of. I mean it’s not really a date. I’m investigating a bunch of diamond robberies linked to listed houses and the real estate lady that sold some of them invited me to a party. I don’t really think she’s interested in me. The word is she’s interested in money and I’m not in the running.”
Alice walked up to the end of the booth and dropped a large file on it, “One of you two men needs to buy me a beer. No make that both of you need to buy me two beers. What’s that? A veggie burger. I could use with one of those too.” Alice pushed Leo over. “Move over. If I have to work all this overtime while you two are in the pub drinking then you can feed me too.”
“Alice. Meet Frank. He’s helping me with a case.”
Frank said hi and he and Alice shook hands across the booth table.
Leo asked, “how did you know I was here?”
“Those kids working for us for school credits hacked into the phone system. They now have a trace on everyone’s cell phone in our office. You can’t hide from me anymore.”
“You could have just phoned me and I would have told you where I was.” Leo waved over the waitress and ordered for Alice. “There goes this month’s raise money.”
“You got a raise?” Frank asked, “I haven’t had a raise in five years.”
“They’re running out of people that will stay at our office,” Alice interjected. She grabbed a letter from the file folder on the end of the table, “I got your invite to Annette’s party. It say’s AND Guest. So you can take me to the party as your date.”
“Oh.” Leo said.
“That’s too small of an OH,” Frank said. “It should be OH! I’d love to take you.”
“Such a nice man,” Alice said to Leo pointing to Frank. “You should hang around him more often.”
“He’s teaching me to shoot; or at least giving me pointers.”
“I have some stuff for you. There’s more on Annette.”
“Is this Annette realty the social butterfly that has those charity parties?” Frank asked.
“Yes,” Alice said, “You know her?”
“The mayor does. He and several council members will be there,” Frank said. “I seem to remember something about she knocked off a husband or two.”
“I promise not to marry her and if the mayor is there it will look like we’re doing our job. He asked our department to look into this.”
“You didn’t hear it from me but some people are a little ticked off. It looks bad on the department kind of like they can’t do their job if you get what I mean,” Frank said.
“I was thinking it might make waves. I don’t even know who was supposed to handle this. It was just dropped on my desk cold.”
“Our desk cold,” Alice said. The veggie burger and one beer arrived. Leo flushed at the word ‘our.”
Leo slid his beer untouched over in front of Alice suddenly realizing it would be his second for the day. No one said anything.
Alice dug in, “We still have nothing from any of the past investigations. The only things we have is stuff we dug up ourselves.”
Leo said, “Frank. Can you find out who should have got this? Tell him we’ll give him the collar. Our department having the collar doesn’t do anything for us anyway.”
“It’ll cost you several more beers and that’s just for me. The whole section is going to want a case of scotch.”
“I’ve never met the mayor. I think I dislike him already,” Leo said.
“Frank. Why would the mayor not use the police to investigate this? They have more resources than us and this is their thing. They know how to investigate better than us. We’re just learning,” Alice said from between bites.
Frank hesitated, “He might think there’s someone involved internally is the only thing I can think of. Holy cow! I hadn’t thought of that.”
“You’ve been watching too many old Batman reruns. Holy cow indeed,” Alice said.
“There’s a lot of money involved I take it?” Frank said. “That’s the number one thing to expect for a cop on the take. There has to be money for him to take.”
“I’m into hundreds of millions so far and I’m not sure that’s all. It’s why I tracked you down Leo.”
“What else you got?” Leo ordered a water as the waitress went by.
“I brainstormed with the kids this afternoon. They’re really getting into it. We started by asking who goes into a house and who’s involved with someone selling and moving. The first thing that popped up was movers. We tried looking for common elements among the known burglaries. No luck. There’s a lot of movers and not one used the same as any other,” Alice took a breath and downed half a glass of beer, “So, one of the guys got on to staging companies but even though we had a couple of hits there wasn’t enough correlation among all the robberies.”
“So. What did you find out?” Frank asked finishing his beer.
“Some guys get hired by several different agencies. They’re temps. They rotate working for different companies. All of the hit houses had a staging company that used the same temp agency.”
“Holy cow Alice. I’m going to have to speak to Martha about getting you a raise,” Leo said.
Frank said, “Maybe we should get her a job as a cop. What do you think Alice? More pay. Less hours.”
“Thanks, but I’m after Leo’s job.” Alice downed the beer and pointed to the next asking Leo if the other was for her.
“The other thing is this may not be local to this city. The guys are checking on it now. The same operation seems to be in a couple of other cities. If so, this is a very big operation. That means billions of dollars. Can you teach me to shoot a gun Frank? When I’m a prosecuting attorney I want to fit right in.” Alice sipped her second beer.
“If it crosses the state line we’re supposed to call the FBI,” Leo said.
“Let’s go to the party first and hobnob with the mayor. If nothing else it’s a good career move,” Alice said.
Francine rolled into Annette’s Office parking lot, got out of her Mercedes and bleeped the door lock. Several other cars took up the closest spaces and men were carrying boxes from vans to the side door. The side door led to the industrial kitchen which serviced the main ballroom. A string quartet practiced in the background.
“Show-woman-ship is how to sell real estate,” Annette announced as she saw Francine enter. “At least if your clients are rich and need an excuse to have a party and maybe an affair with someone they meet at a party.”
“My husband tells me you invited a cop to the party. It’s his best friend and apparently the mayor asked this cop to investigate some diamonds stolen recently.”
“Yes dear. I did. I’ve arranged for a number of young attractive women to attend as well. It wouldn’t do if most everyone at the party was male.” Annette was looking over lists and directing service trades people in what to put where.
“Is that wise? I mean he might put something together.” Francine sat down at the table that Annette had covered with scattered papers and sample books.
“Sun Tzu said once keep your enemies closer than your friends.” Annette put several papers in a box and sat down herself. “He’s not a cop dear. He’s a prosecuting attorney and the mayor who will also be here put him up to it. There’s nothing here to incriminate anyone. As well it will give both your husband and the mayor someone or something to talk to or about. Often men can get bored at parties. We need to keep them entertained.”
“I got another listing today. It’s a small condo but quite elegant and show’s well. It would make a good hideaway for someone as it’s right downtown.”
Annette took the file from Francine and scanned it. “Very good. I think I have a buyer for it now. By the way your listing sold this morning and closes at the end of the month. There will be a healthy commission soon after. Just to let you know the client will be at the party and our friends will be opening his safe while he’s at the party. It is always a great policy to have iron clad alibis.”
“Just curious and you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to,” Francine hesitated, “You’ve been doing this for a while now. How is it that no has ever been caught?”
Annette gave Francine the look before answering, “Of course I’ll answer you dear. I’ve been thinking of bringing you into the inner circle anyway so here goes.”
Annette got up and went over to her cabinet and poured a drink. She offered one to Francine who accepted and leaned back to hear the story.
“There actually have been some caught but not near here. First the actual thieves are way down the totem pole. They are mercenaries from other counties that specialize in this type of stuff. They know nothing, not even who hired them. In some cases they are disposed of after if there seems to be some risk. There is even a guy that specializes in it. He’s known as the Black Assassin.” Annette took a long sip. “Second, the hacking of security cameras and electronics is actually done from another country as to be absolutely untraceable. Third, the diamonds are shipped out of the country fast, cut up and then sold. All payments are made to banks overseas just like to you.”
“It all sounds so very businesslike,” Francine said.
“That’s what makes it work,” Annette took a sip that was more of a gulp. “Now enough worry. Money lets us have some fun once in a while even if it’s business. I’ve ordered dresses for all my real estate agents. You have to go tomorrow to get fitted. It’s a little conservative but very elegant and of course you keep it. I bought suits and dresses for my staff that they could use after as well. They are a little toned down from what we’ll be wearing but they’ll be able to use them later for business. I like to reward my staff occasionally.”
“The party will help with real estate referrals in the future.”
“Absolutely. After the party we follow up with a thank you gift that’s specific to that individual. It’s more work but definitely worth it. By the way what does Mr. Henderson do for a living? I need to figure a gift for him as well.”
“He’s a chemist by trade. His company has some contracts with the department of defense. He bragged that he holds several patents.”
“I’ll have to make sure there are some military types here then. It will give him someone to talk to.”
Francine laughed, “I’m sure he’ll find some pretty young lady to talk to.”
Annette said, “By the way, remember that we have high definition cameras all over this place. It helps with our alibi and it keeps the guests from stealing the silverware. Keep an eye out for some of our politician’s less than respectable behaviour with regard to the young ladies. It would not be good to have it on camera if the police check the whole hard drive.”
“I have an idea. I’ll give that job to my husband. It will make him feel useful and give him something to do while I circulate.”
“Great idea. You’re becoming an outstanding real estate agent.”
“I’m learning how to be a bit of a scoundrel as well. I’m not driving for a bit as I’m helping you here, so I’ll celebrate with you.” Francine held her glass out.
Annette took the glass and refilled both.
Josh skipped down the steps of the school and started across the parking lot. His cell buzzed a unique sequence denoting a text coming from his sister Meagan. Josh stopped to look.
“Set you up with Debbie. She’s going to find you after school.”
There was a photo attached. Josh stared at it for some time.
Ralph came up behind him. “Heh! What’s up?”
Josh handed Ralph his cell showing the photo.
“That’s Debbie. Really cute. She’s my age. Started lifting weights six years old. Her hip to waist ratio freaks most guys out.” Ralph handed the cell back. “I heard she got beat up by some guy. Been off school for a week or so. Goes to school across town.”
“I was going to ask if you knew her. That explains some things. I think it was that guy that committed suicide in the school washroom that beat her up.”
“Word is, wasn’t a suicide. Those cops were there for two whole days.” Ralph handed Josh a banana from his backpack and took one for himself.
“If that’s so then Meagan and Melisa might be involved with that guy’s murder.”
“Holy cow dude. That’s heavy stuff.”
“Spoken like a John Wayne cow puncher.”
“I swear I have never punched a cow in my entire life. I hear you can tip them over at night. Drives farmers crazy. Seems they have trouble getting up.”
“Cow punching is just a slang term. What they really do is wrestle them to the ground and then hog tie them. I don’t know why it’s hog tie them as it really should be cow tie them. Truth is I’ve never seen a cow. Have you? They don’t seem to have them at zoos.”
“How’s business? Did you make any sales today?” Ralph asked. He took his and Josh’s banana peels and put them in a close by container.
“Five. All in two drops” Josh answered. “That’s 300 bucks in two days and I might have a date in the process as well. Life is good. At least I’ll be able to afford a date.”
“Isn’t a hundred bucks kinda steep for a shot?”
“Actually it’s 5 pills in a packet. They’re small and timed release. They’re supposed to be really leading edge stuff.”
“Do you get an allowance?” Ralph asked.
“Yes, but it’s just pocket money. It wouldn’t be enough for a date by anyone’s standards.”
“You’ll have to make sure you still get it from your parents and look like you need it. If you don’t show a need for money they’ll suspect something and start digging.”
“Good thinking,” Josh said, “Where do you think I should take her on our first date?”
“From what I know of Debbie she’ll let you know.”
“What do you mean?”
“I think she’s been on a lot of dates. She’ll know what to do.”
“You mean she’s one of Melisa’s prostitutes? I kind of gathered that already.”
“She’s also Melisa’s cousin and I expect she’s quite a handful.”
“Not to worry. Your sister and Melisa know a lot about things like that. You may find it works out well.”
“Do you think she might be involved in that guy’s murder?”
“She just got out of the hospital so I doubt it. Say. Does your sister and Melisa have alibis for that morning?”
“Meagan does. She was in the Library loading one of her stashes. I was asked at the school by one of the cops if I knew where she was. To throw them off further I told them we were both at church.”
“The bigger the lie, the more they’ll believe it.”
“Who said that?”
“John Wayne of course!”
“I should have known.”
“Tell me more about Debbie. I’d like to be prepared.”
“Nothing’s going to prepare you for Debbie.” Ralph laughed and poked Josh as he spoke. “She has huge round, brown, banjo eyes and the cutest little turned up nose. She won a junior body building contest at 12 and she’s also a runner. You’re going to have fun keeping up to her.”
“You’re putting me on.”
“Not so grasshopper.” Ralph was motivated now. “She has a smile that melts stone. She wears miniskirts even in winter and always flaunts some cleavage just to make sure your attention is not on her eyes. On top of that she’s short so you’re always looking down and the only thing you can see is cleavage and she has a lot of it”
“I assume she has a nice personality as well?”
“No one’s ever found out grasshopper. Maybe you will be the first.” Ralph looked up. “Speaking of Debbie. She approaches yonder past the corral.”
Debbie walked toward them across a field adjoining the school parking lot. She wore a black track suit including a hoodie covering her completely. You could see part of a cast on her arm protruding and she had a backpack slung over her other shoulder. When she got closer she waved and called out. “Josh?”
Josh waved back somewhat mesmerized. Even fully covered at a distance he could see her figure protrude through the track suit. There was no doubt she was built.
Ralph poked Josh and got him moving. “I think it’s best if I got going. Gym at 10 tonight. Text if you can’t make it.” Ralph poked Josh again.
Ralph waved and said hi to Debbie as he left.
Debbie walked right up to Josh. “Hey. Meagan says you can help me with learning computer coding. I have this course and I’m falling way behind.”
Josh managed to stumble out a, “sure.”
“Let’s go and I’ll buy coffee and we can get started. Oh. I’m sorry. Maybe you were going somewhere and I interrupted?” Debbie flashed a huge smile with perfect teeth and fluttered eyelids that a butterfly would be envious of.
Josh slowly started to get it together when he remembered to breathe. “No. Coffee’s good. I mean I’m free now and yes we could start at a coffee shop.”
Debbie, seizing the initiative, grabbed Josh’s arm and the two of them started walking across the field towards a strip mall on the other side.
“Holy Cow! That young woman must be related to Hotstuff,” Johnathon said.
“As they say, fourteen going on thirty.” Squid answered. “Meagan and Melisa had hopes for her and trained her well. Remember that she is one of several in Melisa’s business. They’re all like that.”
“They weren’t around like that when I was a kid. They weren’t around like that when I was an adult. Only now after I’m dead are they around.”
“Welcome to hell,” Squid laughed.
“So how do we get Debbie to really like Josh and not just take him for a bit?”
“Debbie has a stash of money; just a little over $2,000.00 Josh is about to invest in stocks and use options to make them grow at an exponential rate. We’re going to show Debbie just how beneficial it is to have Josh as a permanent partner.”
“How do we do that?”
“It’s easy. Josh will be showing off what he can do with a computer shortly and stock options will come up. At that point you just direct Debbie’s vision and she’ll figure it out from there.”
Debbie without letting go of Josh’s arm asked. “Can you carry this for a bit? It’s getting a little heavy and I can’t switch it to the other arm.”
“What’s in here?” Josh grabbed her backpack with his free arm making sure not to let Debbie lose hold of his other arm. He hoped his arm would not go asleep on him before they got to the coffee shop.
“Laptop and books. You and Ralph are buddies?” Debbie kept the conversation up. “I don’t know him very well but he seems like a nice guy.”
“He’s helping me lift weights and I’m helping him with school.”
“Your sister said you were really smart.”
They got to the coffee shop and grabbed a booth off to the side out of sight of the evening traffic. Josh threw both backpacks in the end of the booth beside him and went for two coffees.
Debbie sipped it carefully, “How’d you know I take it black?”
“It’s on your Facebook page somehow. I think I saw you drinking it or something.” Josh didn’t say anything for a bit just looking at her as she sipped her coffee. “Are you OK? I heard you got beat up.”
“My arm still hurts and you have to be careful when and how you touch me. I have a lot of bruises. I don’t normally wear a lot of makeup but it hides some of the blue on my face. Mostly I’ll be OK in a couple of weeks but I think my dislocated shoulder will reduce some of my athletic abilities forever. Track pants and jackets are my new friends.”
Josh sipped his coffee.
“Debbie hearing a bit of silence, “If we’re going to hang out together we need to get some things straight.”
“I believe in some honesty as we get to know each other.”
“I have a lot of secrets but I’m willing to give it a try.”
“Me too; Secrets that is. Your sister told me you blackmailed her into getting me or someone like me to, shall we say, take care of you.”
“True. How did you become the one chosen?”
“I probably owe her my life. She found me like this and got me to a hospital with a story about muggers.” Debbie looked Josh straight in the eye. “That was pretty gutsy of you.”
“Your sister is bigger than you and she’s beat up more than one bigger man.”
“She knows someday I’ll be bigger than her and she also knows I’m already smarter than her. I think soon she’ll need my smarts to expand her and Melisa’s business. It’s already gotten too big for them. I’ve hacked their emails.”
“They want to close down a certain part of their operation and concentrate on selling droids.”
“That’s probably smart. It has a lot better risk to reward ratio.”
“I really do need help with school. I’m just short of failing. On top of that as you can see I’ve other problems.” Debbie nursed the coffee. “Mom’s works part time at McDonalds and I bring home some money. Dad left years ago. I don’t know where he is. I was doing OK until this. Meagan thinks together can sell a lot of droids.”
“I just started. Part of my deal with Meagan. You’re probably a pretty good choice for me though. Kudo’s to Meagan for choosing you for me.”
Debbie laughed. “Nice slide in the compliment Josh.” She touched him with her free hand.
“Your Facebook page says you do read as part of your hobbies or something. Is that true?’
“I read a lot and now I have time to read some more. Why?”
If we’re really going to get your marks up you need to read stuff. I could hack your school computer and change the marks slightly but it won’t work forever.”
“I just finished Napoleon Hill’s ‘Think And Grow Rich’ – very cool.”
“How come? Why should I read it?”
“Oh Professor Josh. How very teacher-ish of you to ask.”
“No fooling. It’s a valid question.”
“OK. It’s 16 chapters so I’ll just do one that kind of stuck out with me. It says that when you make a contract with someone you should always do something more for the other party than you contracted to do.”
“Does that go for blackmail too?”
“He doesn’t broach that but I would assume so.”
“Well I’m going to make sure you excel in your grades and beyond that maybe I can show you how to do it yourself.”
“Well I said I’d take care of you as a boyfriend but I can show you how to become really hot boyfriend material. Besides, if you’re going to hang out with me it would be better if you looked and acted the part.”
“How so?” Josh said, “Ralph’s already helping me lift weights.”
“That will help a lot but it will take a year before you see any big differences. It’s more like how you walk and how you talk. I brought you some homework. That’s what’s in my backpack.” Debbie reached over and got her backpack and with Josh’s help pulled out three books. “David Deida’s ‘The Way of The Superior Man’ talks of masculine and feminine energy. You need to exude masculine energy.”
“OK. What else?” Josh said.
“Neil Strauss’s ‘The Game’ talks of how and why some men get women and others don’t. Finally ‘The Mystery Method’ by Mystery talks of the sequence of attraction, comfort and seduction and how the order gets out of sequence. Most men for instance start out with comfort and become friends with the opposite sex. They need to start with attraction. Once they’re reversed it’s hard to get the sequence back.’
Josh thumbed through the books, “Very cool.”
“There’ll be a test in the morning.”
“On that note when are your next series of tests? We need to concentrate on getting you through this year.” Josh took out a notepad.
“How can you do this? I’m a year ahead of you?”
“I skipped a grade in junior. They won’t let me skip another but that doesn’t mean I can’t get ahead. Some of the stuff like math I’ve had to go to the universities to get to the lectures.”
Doesn’t that cost a lot?”
Josh pulled out his laptop from his backpack, “No. It’s all free on line. The entire courses and lectures from many universities are posted on a web site for anyone that wants the equivalent of a university education. Here it is. https://www.coursera.org/about/ . You just watch the lecture and learn. You have to pay and write the tests to get the actual degree but you’re watching the exact same lectures that the students at university attend.”
Squid leaned over to Johnathon, “You see? Debbie is intrigued by Josh. She’s never had a conversation with anyone that can match her. Even adults bore her. She needs Josh just as much as he needs her. If you watch closely Debbie has found that Josh is actually having a conversation with her as a partner and equal. She’s figured out he will be a good match for her. ”
“Don’t say it. It’s a match made in,,,”
“It’s not ever a good idea to say that. The point is we can use this. They’re going to become business partners and make a lot of money. We’ll have to see they don’t get caught at least not in the near future.”
“I still can’t get over how intellectual they are. This conversation sounds like it’s out of a murder mystery between two adults and even then it’s a little highbrow.”
“You forget that all souls on this planet have lived many lives before. The previous memories are wiped clean as part of the rules but often many of the talents and attributes slip through. Look at some of the world’s great musicians. Many times they show remarkable abilities at ages less than five years old. It would be impossible for them to have this talent at that age but still it happens many times.”
Debbie reached over and put her hand on Josh’s arm, “It’s getting late. Can you carry my backpack home with me?”
“Sure.” Josh said and he packed up his laptop. “Hey I forgot. What’s your exam schedule? I need to figure out when the tests are and what you need to work on.”
Debbie fished in her backpack and pulled out a sheet. “Here’s the timetable. I’m pretty good in geography and history but everything else needs work.”
“I expect that comes from reading a lot. Great. Do you know who the teachers are for each of these subjects?”
“Of course. Here. I’ll write them down beside each one. Why?”
“I should be able to hack into a couple of them and get the tests so we’ll have an edge. On top of that we can see posted some past tests that will give us an idea of the ones we can’t get directly.”
“I should have met you in the first grade Josh. My academic life would have been a lot easier.”
“We can only do this a couple of times and you still have to understand the basic principles. If someone questions your knowledge because you got an unusually high score you at least know what’s going on and you can claim you crammed for the exam and have since forgot the answers.’
“Why can we not do it all the time?”
“One of the rules of cheating is to not do it all the time. You can get away with some things once in a while but sooner or later if you keep at it someone will catch on.”
“Do you still get the tests for your own courses?”
“Yes. Sometimes. For the most part I’m in the teacher’s class after school asking questions they have trouble answering. I don’t usually need to cheat but once in a while I like to show I can do a perfect paper. I’m bucking for a scholarship in math.”
Josh clipped Debbie’s backpack to his own and slipped them over his shoulders. He led the way out.
“Very masculine of you to lead the way out mister. You can hold the door for me as it makes you look like gentleman.”
“It may take a while. I’ll get into these books tonight after my workout with Ralph.”
They approached Debbie’s apartment building and she turned and grabbed Josh with her free arm and kissed him. It lasted for a good minute. Josh came out of it flushed.
“Just to let you know what’s coming after these bruises heal. Goodnight Josh. Text me later. I think we have some lockers to stock in the morning.”
Debbie went in to the apartment but before the door closed she turned back and smiled at Josh.
Josh stood for a long time before moving.
Frank drove up to Joseph’s house with Leo already in the car. Joseph was ready at the door. He had his suit on.
“We look like three cops.”
“Frank’s head of the investigation Joseph. He wanted to talk with this kid’s father anyway. You won’t have to say anything. He may ask you some questions though.”
“I’d be asking some questions if my kid was found hung in the school washroom,” Joseph said.
Frank talked as they drove. “The father’s name is Donavan. Divorced. His son’s name is, was Markus. He owns a construction company that specializes in high rise buildings. On the phone he made it clear that he knew the mayor and contributed to his election campaign. It should be an interesting conversation.”
They arrived at Donavan’s house and parked in the circle driveway. Donavan opened the door before they got even got out of the car.
“That’s a very big man,” Leo said.
“Forgot to tell you,” Frank said. “Donavan won a state bodybuilding contest a number of years ago.”
Donavan walked up to the car and cordially shook hands with all. He stopped at Joseph. “Pleased to meet you. I hear your daughter beat up my son.”
Donavan invited them inside and they sat in down in the living room. Donavan offered drinks. No thank you.
“I’ll not beat around the bush,” Donavan opened. “See this?” Donavan took off his jacket and flexed his muscles. “I built this over several years with hard work and determination. This is also a drug free body and always has been. My son on the other hand found steroids. He figured it was faster and easier.”
Frank went to speak but Donavan stopped him. “Let me finish. I know my son was a jerk. I have personally seen several episodes of steroid rage. His personality changed. He started stealing things. He hit a store clerk once and I had to bail him out and settle with the store. He thought he was entitled to everything and everything was someone else’s fault. My ex-wife had sole custody and we’ve never talked since the divorce but she asked me to take Markus as she got hit more than once and finally she couldn’t handle him anymore. I loved my son and if given more time I’m sure I could have got him around.”
Frank said, “That about confirms the questions I had to ask. Understand sir that it’s hard to interrogate students. We’re sure that some of them know more than they’re telling and it will take some time to get answers.
“I also know my son was murdered. The autopsy shows a lethal dose of anabolic steroids and an experimental drug known as curare was found in his body. His noose couldn’t have reached the beam above the toilet stall and have him jump off the can. The security cameras were turned off, apparently hacked.”
“I would appreciate it if you would keep that quiet as we could use it in our investigation,” Frank said. “How do you know all this? I only got it yesterday and it hasn’t been released.”
“I have money mister, as you can maybe see. I paid cash for this house and the one like it in Hawaii. I have money my ex doesn’t even know about. I went around and asked several police officers which detective that caused them the most problems. You know the name that came up consistently?”
“The Blunt Force Trauma Detective Agency.” Frank and Leo said simultaneously.
“Right.” Donavan said, “And you know what? He doesn’t have any trouble interrogating anyone including students that are murderers.”
“I know that. I’ve arrested the owner, Mr. Ramsey several times for assault.”
“Then it might be in your best interest to find the killers before he does.”
“It’s absolutely my first priority.”
Donavan looked at Joseph, “Mr. Johnson. How is it your tiny little daughter can beat up my six foot one 185 pound boy?”
Joseph hesitated. “I’m sorry for your loss sir. A few years ago my wife had our daughter take karate lessons as she was bullied in primary school. My daughter took it seriously and excelled in it. I heard her say once she would never be bullied again.”
“You should know that she is one on the list that Mr. Ramsey will be talking to.”
Joseph cowered and Frank stepped in. “Are you threatening Mr. Johnson Donavan?” Frank stood up.
Donavan stood up. “No sir. I’m threatening the entire police force. Let me make myself clear. I’m upset. When I get upset people tend to have very bad days. You had better find those killers very fast. If I find them first I will make an example of them and it won’t be pretty. Good day sirs.”
Back in the car Leo said, “That went well.”
Frank said, “Joseph, I think it would be a good time for your daughter to stay home from school for a while. This Ramsey is known for his brutality and your daughter being a minor won’t make any difference at all.”
“I’m not sure it would be safe at home. There’s no one there through the day. My daughter is somewhat rebellious too. She might not stay even if she promised.”
“Ramsey once beat a witness to death. He got off somehow. We managed to take away his gun licence but I’m sure he’s ignored the order anyway. He’s a big guy. Bigger than Donavan,” Frank said. “It might be a good time for a family vacation in the Caribbean.”
“I’ll talk it over with my wife but we both have obligations coming up. That guy just threatened my family. Isn’t there anything the police can do? ”
“You’re right but it would take time to prosecute and Donavan will only get a slap on the wrist after losing his son.”
“What about Ramsey? Can’t we get a restraining order or something?”
“Better idea but we have to find him to serve it and we have to get a judge to do it. It would take days and by then it would be too late. He would just get one of his goons to do the dirty work anyway.”
“My wife wants me at Annette’s party this Saturday.”
“Where are your kids now? Why don’t you text them and tell them to stay away from big men with guns?” Frank offered.
“And tell them to stay away from their usual haunts. Ramsey will figure out these and lay in wait.” Leo added.
“I don’t have a cell. I’ve never had use for one. My wife has one,” Joseph objected.
“Do you know your kids cell numbers?” Frank asked.
“Yes. I do keep a phone and address book with me.” Joseph pulled out a small notebook.
“Let me have it. I’ll text them.” Leo went to work with his cell.
Meagan looked at the text and called Melisa over to look at it.
She flipped her joint into the school washroom toilet and said, “This is weird.”
“I’m borrowing Leo’s phone to warn you. Detective Ramsey is looking for you regarding Markus death. Stay away from him. He is dangerous. Stay away from all the usual places you hang out. Love Dad.”
“Love dad? I’ve never heard your father say anything like that. Does he even know what happened to Markus?” Melisa said.
“No, but I know his friend Leo is some kind of cop or something. Let’s get into the school’s computer room. We’re here anyway and we can use the school computers to google this Ramsey guy.”
“Why not just phone this Leo guy’s phone back? Check to see if it really is your dad.”
“Good idea. I knew there was a reason I liked you.” Meagan hit dial and put it on speaker phone.
“I’ll take that!” A huge voice came from up behind them. Detective Ramsey stood there and flipped open Meagan’s cell in front of them chucking the battery into the toilet. “I need to have a talk with you.”
Melisa yelled, “Heh! You can’t do that!” Melisa grabbed for the cell phone still in Ramsey’s hand.
Ramsey back handed a swinging blow to Melisa sending her against the wall. She hit her head, went semi-conscious and slide to the floor.
“I’m glad I found the two of you together. It will save time. I can put this nice pretty necktie around your friend’s neck and you can watch her until you tell me what happened with Markus.”
“I wasn’t even near the school when that happened!” Meagan shouted hoping someone might hear.
Ramsey grabbed Meagan’s jacket just below her chest and lifted her off the floor pushing her against the wall. Meagan struggled but Ramsey was a big man and his arms longer than hers. Pushing her against the wall hard Meagan struggled to breath.
“No one’s around little lady. I locked the outside door and I know the camera doesn’t see this end of the hall. And don’t give me any more crap. I know all about your little drug steroid deals and your little prostitution ring. Who killed Markus and why?”
Melisa still dazed but coming back to consciousness realized her purse had spilled out onto the floor in front of her. Her dart gun was an inch from her hand. She grabbed it and fired it into Ramsey’s neck. Quickly reloading, she fired again. Ramsey grabbed for the dart in his neck instinctively and got the second dart in his wrist. He got the third dart in his cheek as he turned to see Melisa sliding up the wall loading a fourth dart. Ramsey fell in front of her, face down to the floor.
“I thought you got rid of that,” Meagan said grasping for breath.
“I procrastinated. I wanted to get it a long ways away from here and kept meaning to take a cross town bus trip but I just got busy.”
“I see what you mean when you said looking into his eyes as he struggled to move and can’t do it. I already had some adrenalin and that was a very unique experience.”
“He’s still alive. It takes a few minutes to die from affixation. We can roll him over and look him in the eyes as he dies.”
Meagan and Melisa rolled Ramsey over and leaned against the wall watching him.
“He should go on a diet. Gosh he’s heavy,” Melisa laughed.
“It might be a little late for that. Eh Mr. Ramsey?”
“We’re going to need alibis. Your dad or Leo or someone now puts us in motive territory.” Melisa started undoing Ramsey’s tie. “See this fat boy. Good idea. We can string you up like you were going to do me. I hope you don’t break the stall’s railing.”
Meagan went after her battery in the toilet. “At least it had been flushed before. There’s only my joint in there.” Meagan washed the battery and her hands under the sink. “We need some help to get him up. I’ll call the girls.”
“I’ll start cleaning him up. Find a cloth and I’ll work on fingerprints as well.” Melisa started pulling the darts out of Ramsey. “Hey there’s a rope in his pocket.”
“How do you know when he’s dead?”
“He turns blue.”
Meagan put the battery in her phone. It lit up. “I think I should reply to Leo’s text. Any idea what I should say?”
Melisa thought for a second. “I know. Say we’re at Debbie’s. She the other side of town and you can even tell him that we plan to do a sleepover in view of the text. Tell him it’s not our usual place to hang out. He’ll like that. Say love you too dad. Only use text short form.”
“Good. Nice touch. I’ll get some rags from outside and wipe down the entrance on the way back in.”
“I’ll make some phone calls,” Melisa answered.
“Oh. Phone Josh and tell him to get an alibi other than Debbie. Maybe Ralph. He might even be with him anyway.”
“I just thought of something. You know this was really self-defence. He did threaten to kill you. He might not of but there was certainly the implied threat. There’s only one reason for this rope. And he was if nothing else going to blackmail us. We had no choice to act. I’m glad you still had the dart gun.”
“It was part of the heist from an animal humane society thing. The curare came from a lab testing animals that was another break in from a protest group. I mixed some steroids with it to speed up the process.”
“I mean I know that we couldn’t let him get away knowing what he does, did, know about us but I feel better that he tried to kill us, you so we can justify killing him.”
“You know, you can get really philosophical at times, but like I really enjoyed that. I don’t know whether I enjoyed it more than Markus or not. I think I enjoyed Markus more in anticipation of killing him rather than the act. We should start some sort of justice vigilante league or something. Find really bad dudes and do away with them.”
“OK but we really should get through high school first. Get his wallet and gun. At least that will keep the authorities guessing on motive.”
Melisa laughed, “OK boss!”
Squid opened up his pad. HotStuff jumped out three dimensionally again. She had a big smile on her face. “Mr. Fishbait would like to see you immediately.” She licked her lips with her snake tongue and smoke steamed off her body before disappearing.
“We better go.” Squid said and they instantly transported back to the lobby of 666 Fireside Street. The regular guards were ready for them.
“You bypassed us last visit,” one of the guards said, “That’s not nice Squid. We get demerit points for missing you. You can now wait until we finish our break before we process you. It will make you late and we all know that Mr. Fishbait will not like it if you’re late.”
“That’s OK,” Squid said, “I’ll tell him you are now taking breaks which is specifically not allowed according to your union contract.”
The other guard stood up. “Just get.” He gestured for them to go to the elevators.
“I wonder what he wants,” Johnathon said.
“You never know what he wants. Most of the time he’s just bored and needs something to do to justify his existence.” Squid said as they stepped into Miss Hotstuff’s office.
Hotstuff was still smoldering. The steam was enveloping her office, “He’s in a good mood. You will not have to wait an inappropriate time in a chair too small. Go right in.”
“I cannot remember ever seeing Fishbait in a good mood. Watch yourself Johnathon.” Squid led the way in.
Fishbait was already up from behind his desk and dressed in a red tuxedo. He rush to them and said. “Welcome gentlemen. It’s a beautiful day.”
“Mr. Fishbait. To what do we owe your pleasure?” Johnathon said.
“I got my horns Johnathon!” Fishbait pointed to a pedestal. On it was a headpiece with two red horns gleaming under a spotlight. Behind, hanging on the wall was a plaque embolden; Presented to Mr. Fishbait for long and devoted service to our Lord.
“Horns are irreversible Johnathon.” Squid said, “It means that Mr. Fishbait now has tenure and can’t be fired if you’ll excuse the pun. Congratulations sir. As I remember even the esteemed Mr. Screwtape never got a set of horns.”
“This was my final conquest.” Fishbait pointed to the other side of the room. Hanging upside down from the ceiling by his necktie was the former Detective Ramsey. His hands were tied behind his back and there was duct tape over his mouth. He was flailing to get free. “I wanted to share with you my victory and help with my cow flactuation.”
“Cow flactuation?” Johnathon asked.
Squid inserted, “Every time an angel gets their wings a bell rings. We get a cow to flatulate. It’s quite an honour. Perhaps you can do the honours if I may suggest. Just lift up the cow’s tail.”
Johnathon went over to the cow at the other side of the room and lifted its tail. A noise appropriately came forth and the cow moo’d contentedly.
Fishbait bowed as if accepting an Academy award. “Pride was my primary tool. He could have just reported those two girls to the police. They would have been convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, drug trafficking and enticing minors into child prostitution. They were minors as well but Ramsey would have got his fee and Donavan would have his pound of flesh. But no! You had to go play the big man.” Fishbait poked Ramsey causing him to spin around. “You needed to show you could beat up two little young girls. Gee! They talk of students acting the bully part with their classmates. Don’t you know fat boy there’s a program on for anti-bullying?” Fishbait ripped the duct tape off of Ramsey’s mouth.
“I wasn’t going to hurt them. I just wanted to scare them a little so they would talk.” Ramsey said, “Let me down.”
“Oh sure. That’s why you had a rope in your pocket. You were just going to string them up to scare them. I got news for you fat boy. They got high watching you die!”
“Let me down!”
“Of course. What’s your hurry? I was taking my time as down there they like to have the duct tape removed so they can hear your screams. You know this use of duct tape is not in Red Green’s book on a bunch of uses for duct tape. I’ll bet it tops making a boat out of a K car. Did you know Mr. Ramsey that my predecessor got his horns by instilling on the public the K car?’
“Let me down!”
“Of course.” Fishbait pulled a rope hanging from the ceiling and a hole appeared below with a hiss. The necktie released from the ceiling and Ramsey fell though the floor screaming. The hole in the floor closed with another hiss.
Fishbait turned to Johnathon. “So. What’s happening with our client? I see you made Leo buy a hat. Good job. What else?”
“His secretary that he has a crush on and advised the hat now sees it as a bit goofy rather than eccentric. She also sees him getting glory as being a hero in the newspaper while she does all the work. We are working on getting them in bed where we hope to instill in her further disappointment.”
“Be mindful of the flagrant use of the word hope. It’s like a four letter swear word here.”
“Yes sir. Of course,” Johnathon said. “We are also creating situations where our subject has a tough time acting even if he wanted to. He couldn’t warn his kids of danger because he doesn’t carry his cell phone. He keeps forgetting it. No one ever calls him and he never gets an answer when he calls someone. He lied from embarrassment to Leo saying he didn’t even have a cell phone.”
“I like it when you make them lie. It’s the first step to complete evil. The more they lie the more the habit gets easier and then the more they lie about anything. At some point they don’t know themselves what is truth and what’s a lie even if they invented it.”
Squid popped a question. “Any advice on our next move sir?”
“Yes Squid. It might be a good idea if this Alice girl gets pregnant. We can’t specify who the child is of course. That comes from up above through the Lords of Karma but I expect that these two have some kind of history together from a previous life. One of the things it will do is distract Leo from his friend our target and also it will put him off track in his job. This guy is just too much of a goody two shoes for us to allow to exist.”
“We will make it so.” Johnathon replied.
“Now off with you,” Fishbait said. “I have a very important memo to dictate to Hotstuff.”
After Johnathon and Squid were in the elevator Johnathon asked. “Won’t getting Alice pregnant give Leo a boost?”
“It might or it might not. It depends on their previous karma. It was wise of you to agree with Fishbait quickly though. It’s always wise to agree with him even if you plan to do something different. He’ll think the something different is his idea if it works and if it didn’t work it was your idea even if it was his.”
“That doesn’t seem quite fair.”
“Welcome to Hell.”
Alice climbed out of her ten year old Honda Fit clumsily pulling her gown up to keep it off the ground and proceeded to Leo’s basement apartment. Leo opened the door and smiled.
“You’re supposed to invite me in,” Alice said.
“Sorry. You look beautiful. It took a second to take it all in. Yes. Please come in.”
“You look beautiful too Leo. Nice tux.”
“I just have never seen you in a dress before.” Leo gestured to the couch, please, have a seat. I’d offer you a drink but you’re driving or is it me?”
“I drove but we should take a taxi as probably there’s a lot of champagne there.” Alice sat down in the couch. “Hey. This is a nice place. It’s bigger than you think from the outside.”
“I got a deal on it. Actually I own the building. It’s all financed of course but the upper floor apartments pay the costs, I basically live for free and twenty five years from now I’ll own it. One of my tenant’s acts as the super, does repairs and I give him a free apartment. There’s even a garage where I store my project.”
“So you’re an entrepreneur as well as a prosecutor.”
“Assistant Deputy Prosecutor now. I never saw that coming. I thought it would take several years.”
“I put in a good word for you. You offered a drink?”
“Oh yes. Sorry. What would you like? I have only beer.”
“Beer would be fine.”
Leo went to the fridge, popped a beer and reflecting went to the cupboard and got a glass. “How’s your course coming? When do we make you a real lawyer?”
“I defend the bar next summer.” Alice accepted the drink, “Are you wearing your gun? What about the recorder?”
“Yes and hence the rented oversize suit and yes to the recorder as well. I copied a couple of interviews that I had with Frank and sent them to him. I think I’ll get my own soon. It’s a useful tool. Even in court you sometimes forget what a witness said.”
“Frank suggested if I was to hang around with you I get a 22 so I did. I’m not very good with it yet but it gives weight to my purse. I could swing it in a bad guys face and he wouldn’t get up soon.”
“I’ll arrange for you to test it in court.”
“So what’s your project hidden in the garage?”
“I’m restoring a reproduction 1954 Allard hemi V8 that was in an accident. It’s almost finished. I thought we’d take it tonight but it might draw too much attention to us.”
“I’ll bet it’s black to match your tie.”
“True. It also might be a little hard to get in and out of in a gown.”
“I’ll wear my blue jeans to our next party.”
Leo ordered a limo to take them to Annette’s. “I do have a bit of leeway on expenses but it will be standard taxi on the way home.”
“Just so long as I don’t have to pay and or walk. These shoes are already killing me.”
Alice and Leo arrived in style met by a Swiss guard complete with white ruffles and red leotards. They walked arm in arm up the red carpet to a valet in tux. A quartet played Vivaldi’s Four Seasons for the arriving guests. The valet checked their names and Alice and Leo made their grand entrance.
Squid said, “This is quite a party. There has to be 200 people here and it’s still early. Annette has some wealthy friends I see.”
Johnathon replied, “Here comes our subject Joseph and his wife Francine. Her dress has to be worth at least $1,000.00. Leo didn’t wear his hat. I suppose it wasn’t in the cards but I was hoping. Alice has a gun too. She is an interesting lady. I wonder if we can start a shootout. Who else here has a gun?”
“There’s a couple of gangster types but we should probably stick to the assignment. It should be easy enough. Joseph hasn’t even told his wife about telling his two kids to hide.”
“He doesn’t know Ramsey’s dead. I wonder if we can use that.”
“The kids both have an alibi. Francine’s pre occupied with money and with looking good in front of her mentor Annette. Joseph certainly is playing the part of drifting. Mr. Fishbait will be happy. All we have to do is make sure he does nothing. What could be easier?”
“Is there something above getting your own horns? It sounds like tenure in a university.” Johnathon said.
“Oh yes.” Squid said, “There’s a hierarchy in Hell just as there is in Heaven. I saw a ceremony once where someone got a trident. We all had to attend. There are rewards for being bad. I know there’s red wings too but I’ve never seen one. That’s really high up.”
“I feel we should be doing something. There’s a whole lot of bad people here.”
“Just hanging out with bad people sometimes assists our cause. Remember all these people think they’re good people. If they only knew.”
Alice took a small flute of champagne from a server’s platter drifting by. Leo passed, “I need to stay sharp.”
“There’s Francine and Joseph,” Alice said. “We should say hi.”
Francine did the French double kiss with Alice after being introduced and Francine gave Leo a peck on the cheek. Leo and Joseph shook hands.
Francine said, “Would you two take care of my husband for a bit? I have to help Annette with some of the guests. Sorry. It is a working party for me.”
“Of course,” Alice said. “Nice dress Francine.”
After Francine left Joseph said, “I was given a job as well. I’m to make sure none of the dignitaries get caught on camera too close to the young ladies.”
Alice said, “I know some of these young ladies. I’ve seen them in court. It’s nice to see they’ve found a regular job.”
Leo and Joseph smiled.
Joseph said, “Do you two know anyone here other than those you’ve prosecuted?”
“There is the mayor and several city councillors.” Leo replied.
“Yet.” Alice added.
Francine came back with a gentleman on her arm, “This is Mr. Vincent Henderson. I, we, just sold his house.”
After handshakes and some more champagne Vincent replied to who and what he did. “Just got taken over by a conglomerate. Can’t complain. It was time to retire to my villa in Fiji anyway. My wife left last year and got the diamonds or at least half of them. The other half went to charity.”
“So all your diamonds are now gone?” Leo asked, “There’s been a raft of diamond thefts from safes locally in the last few years.”
“I know. I invent security systems that catch bad guys,” Vincent went on. “The safe in my house was designed to catch them or at least demonstrate how to do it before the divorce. I guess we’ll never know now if it works.”
Leo prodded, “I’m kind of involved with this. How would you catch them?”
Vincent need no prodding. “My company mostly sold to the military. They wanted a non-lethal crowd control. I invented Sticky Goop. Originally it sprayed onto the crowd and hardened stopping them in their tracks. It worked very well. It would even stop a tank. Problem was if it got on their face they couldn’t breathe and died.”
“I guess that makes it lethal,” Leo said.
“We made several versions of it but even the weakest that you could wipe off could kill if there was enough of it.’
“So how would it stop burglars? You didn’t mean to kill them?”
“No. We made a type that went through tiny holes in the floor. This type has a negative isthmus so that it creeps up small areas and then hardens. If my safe door opens then the floor transforms and the Sticky Goop crawls up the burglar’s shoes and even up his socks. He’s frozen until we apply the antidote.”
“And what’s the antidote?”
“Oh. Water. Just spray it with a garden hose and it dissolves.”
“Really?” Joseph was now intrigued as well. “And this is installed now at the home just sold by my wife?”
“Yes. I’ve asked the army to come in and dismantle it next week before the new owners come in. There’s several hidden cameras as well. They operate separately from the cameras that everyone can see. It would have made quite a show if someone had just thought there were diamonds in there and gone after them.’
“Is there an alarm system to alert you if it happens?” Leo asked.
“Sure it comes up on my cell phone. I can even spray water if I think someone’s in lethal peril.”
“Could you link that to my cell phone as well? There may still be an attempt and I’d like to be informed sooner than later. The mayor has made catching these guys a priority.”
“If you want I could have the army hold off until the end of the month. The new people don’t move in until then.”
“That would be wonderful.”
“Hand me your cell.”
Vincent fiddled with it for a few minutes and handed it back. “If it goes off you will hear a bell like this.” (A bell sounded) “Then four cameras will show you what’s happening and if you need to, you can hit nine and the fire water sprinklers will open up. After that you will have less than ten minutes to get there or they’ll be gone.”
“Very cool,” Joseph said.
Vincent said. “After this weekend I’ll be gone so you’ll be the only one other than the army that can shut this off. Give me your card and I’ll have them put you on their OK list.”
Leo handed Vincent a card.
Vincent handed back a card with six rubbery pads on the back. “This is one of the derivatives of Sticky Goop. It kind of works like a post it note like 3M made only it sticks an object to something once only. We tried to market it but it didn’t go. I thought it was great. If you ever find a use for it let me know and I’ll make you rich.’
“You just put it on something and then attach something to that?” Leo said.
“That’s about it. There’s more if you need it,” Vincent said, “I understand this is a thank you party for me and others like me. I see a young thank you over there that has my name on her. If you’ll excuse me I’m here to have fun and hope it gets back to my ex. If you’re ever in Fiji look me up.” Vincent left picking up another flute of champagne on the move.
“Interesting guy,” Alice said. “We should go to Fiji Leo.”
“Interesting stuff,” Leo said playing with the back of the card.
Francine said, “The mayor and the councillors are my charges. It appears I must leave and interrupt some crucial conversations with young ladies that may have lasting consequences.”
“The mayor’s with my boss, George Briggs,” Leo said as Francine started to leave, “I’m trying to not get into conversation with them if possible.”
“Got it.” Francine said hurrying.
Annette came over. “Leo and Alice. Don’t you two look divine? Leo. I promised you a list of houses and clients that were robbed and the other real estate firms that were involved. If you’ll come to my office for a second I printed them out for you. Please don’t let anyone know where you got them. I have to deal with these people all the time.”
“Of course Annette. I’ll be very discreet.” Leo followed Annette with Alice in tow. “Wow. I never did get to see your office. This is a very impressive desk.” Leo rubbed his hand over it.
“I’ve never have been able to authenticate but there is evidence Napoleon used it.” Annette pulled out a single sheet of paper and handed it to Leo.
“Thank you. I’ll keep its origin secret.”
Annette pulled Alice over. “I know Leo won’t touch it but let me give you a taste of Napoleon Brandy I keep for special occasions.” Annette pulled open her cupboard as much to show it off as to get to the Brandy. She poured a small brandy glass for Alice and offered it to her.
Alice held the glass in her palm to warm the brandy and smelled it before taking a small sip. “Very nice. This for sure will last me all night. Thank you.”
“We should get back to the party,” Annette said and they left.
After a bit Leo found a beer and Alice and Leo found an empty seat on a veranda outside that allowed them to take in some fresh air.
Alice said, “Did you use Vincent’s Sticky Goop to stick my recorder to Annette’s Napoleonic table?”
“Yep. Thanks for the diversion.”
“This is very good brandy. I do think you should take me to Fiji. I understand that Jean Michael Cousteau has a hotel resort there.”
“Yes. I heard its right next door to the Tony Robin’s hotel.”
“How are you going to get it back?”
“You mean the recorder? I wasn’t thinking of that when I did it. There wasn’t a lot of time. I’ll have to ask her some more questions. Or I could get a search warrant for her office.”
Leo’s phone started ringing. It was the bell sound that he’d heard earlier. He opened his phone and four moving squares appeared. Cameras switched to infra-red and Leo saw three men struggling to get loose from the floor. Leo and Alice watched for a few seconds.
Vincent came running up behind them. “I may just sell this goop yet. These guys are caught. I do think we should call the police though. “
Leo switched to his phone, called 911 and had dispatch send a couple of cars to the scene. “I should go to this. It’s supposed to be what I’m doing.” Leo got up to go.
Alice grabbed him, “No you don’t. I’m going too. But I’m taking the rest of this brandy.”
Alice and Leo got into a cab waiting in queue outside the party. Leo gave the address and told the cabby he would get extra if he exceeded the speed limit. The cabby, enthusiastically told them to fasten their seat belts. Alice still had the brandy and downed it in one gulp. She put the glass in her purse and pulled out her gun, checked it and put it back.
“I’m told a brandy can sometimes improve a woman’s aim,” Leo said.
“Ex-husbands can verify that.”
Leo’s cell phone rang. It was Vincent, “You may not have noticed but the application for the security system went blank. No cameras or any communication with the house at all. It means someone took out the internet. Someone else is there. Be careful!”
Leo thanked Vincent and called dispatch again to warn the incoming officers.
When they arrived the house the entire street was totally dark. A single black and white cruiser flashed red lights - its door open and no one in sight.
The cabby stepped out of his car to watch. Another cruiser pulled up and an officer got out. “Shots fired. Officer down,” he said to Leo. “He’s still alive in the house. Shot in the leg. Follow me but be careful. We’re surrounding the block.”
Leo and Alice followed with guns drawn. Inside the officer was on the floor with a piece of drapery wrapped around his leg. Three men lay dead nearby. Their feet still trapped in the solid goop that covered the floor.
“They were dead when I got here,” The officer said, “but someone was still here and he got a shot off before I even saw him. He went out the back.”
“How Long?” Leo asked.
“Only a couple of minutes,” The officer on the floor said. “I was waiting for backup but then I heard shots and men crying out.” The officer groaned.
Two more officers came in. “Ambulance three minutes away.”
One of the officers said to Leo. “I understand you’re in charge of this Mr. Roberts. What now?”
More officers came in and a siren could be heard pulling up.
“Secure the perimeter,” Leo said. “I’ll call forensics. See if you can get some power back.”
The downed officer was helped out to the ambulance and another officer came in. “Looks like some kind of missile took out the transformer up the street. With it went the cable and telephone lines. Gee. These guys don’t fool around.”
Leo nodded. “See if you can get some temporary lights in here and see if you can find a watering can.”
“A watering can?”
“Yes. Like they use in a garden. This stuff dissolves in water but we want to keep most of it intact. We just need enough to get these guys out.”
An officer came in with a couple of flashlights that he taped to a floor lamp. “We have some better lights coming.”
Alice came over. “Careful. This stuff on the floor captures footprints and it’s still a little tacky. Maybe we can identify them later.” She took off her shoes and went over closer to the dead men.
Leo realized she was still in a gown with her gun still drawn and holding a small dollar store flashlight. It was an intriguing picture.
“These men each have a small hole in their forehead. One made from behind. Powder burns on his hair.”
Leo looked closer now that there was better light. Two of the men had fallen backward tilted over from their knees lying on their backs. The third was still half upright, bent over from the waist sagging down, his head on the floor.
Another officer came in with an industrial work light. A generator outside had started.
“Electrical works guys are coming but it will be some time before power is restored,” the officer said.
Leo said to Alice, “There’s not much more we can do here. Let’s get out of the way and let the forensic guys do their job.”
Alice said, “Just one minute. I found a casing! Looks like a 22 magnum.”
“Don’t touch it. It’s evidence. It seems that this goop gets harder with time. I think you can put your shoes back on now. Maybe they can get some photos of the footprints. It might tell us something.”
“I read somewhere that professionals don’t leave any brass lying around. Sloppy or something.
“I think that refers to snipers and this guy probably didn’t have a lot of time to clean up.”
“He had enough time to take out the electrical transformer and get here. This must be from the shot he took of the officer. I don’t see any others.”
“Interesting that he knew to take out the transformer before coming in to take out these guys. He had to be close while these guys were doing the job,” Leo said.
Leo and Alice made it outside. Alice said, “I thought there was going to be some friction between you and the cops. They seem to be very cooperative.”
“A cop’s been shot. Now we have a common enemy.”
A black limo pulled up and Leo recognized the Chief of Police get out. He came straight over to Leo. “I heard the 911 call. Thanks for calling dispatch back and warning my men of the danger. It might have saved a life.”
Vincent’s chauffeur driven limo pulled up and he got out. Obviously there were a couple of ladies still in the limo.
“Looks like the chief beat me here,” he said. “Sorry to cause dragging the three of you away from the party.”
The chief answered, “I hate political parties anyway.”
Vincent looked at the house and then the street. “Power’s out. I have a backup generator system in the shed. Let me get it going.” Vincent went back to the limo first. “I’ll just be a few minutes’ girls.”
The chief nodded for an officer to follow Vincent back to the shed.
The chief pulled Leo aside. “Leo. Frank asked me who I assigned to this case and I’d not assigned anyone as I knew the mayor had undermined our authority. As Frank asked I gave it to him on the spot. I had to eventually assign someone. This afternoon a couple of FBI agents stopped by. An hour later a couple of CIA agents just happened to be in the neighborhood. Do you have any idea why?”
Leo said, “We have no verification yet but it appears there are similar diamond robberies in other large cities across the country. It also appears there might be people from other countries running it. We’re still looking into it.”
“Along with your other duties as prosecutor,” The chief said.
“Yes chief and on top of that we’re three lawyers short staffed. Quite honestly, Frank has the recourses and experience to do a much better job. I asked Frank to find out who was the designated investigator so that person would get credit if we ever got an arrest.”
“Really?” the chief said.
“This fiasco came from the mayor’s office as I’m sure you know.”
“Yes I do. For some reason his he thinks your department can do better than us. He’s trying to appease voters who never take the time to vote let alone make campaign contributions. If during next election you know of anyone that might want to run for mayor let me know and I’ll find a way to support him or her,” The chief said.
Suddenly recognizing Alice. “It might be a good idea for you to run for office young lady. My spies in your office say you’re doing good things. You’ll have your bar just in time to get elected. Excuse me. I need to attend to my officer.”
After the chief left the lights came on around and in the house. A generator sounded from the back.
Alice started to call for a cab but then saw their cabby was still there. “Who do you think is the spy in our office?”
“It has to be Martha. She knows everyone and talks with everyone. Maybe she’s bucking for mayor.”
“Is there anymore beer at your place?”
Squid’s pad vibrated violently. Hotstuff sprung out. Steam spewing from her body enveloped the room. She fanned her face with a wad of papers. “Something’s up. Mr. Fishbait wants you right away.”
Jonathon and Squid arrived in Hotstuff’s office. “You’ll have to wait a bit. Mr. Fishbait is practicing for the annual Hells Bells Memorial Charity Golf Tournament.”
Hotstuff wore bright red golf shoes sporting huge spikes that clicked when she walked. Tight red shorts, a striped red and black golf shirt (with a plunging neckline of course) and a matching red golf cap completed the picture. Hotstuff went back to her desk to file her nails. After she filed each nail, it retracted.
Johnathon and Squid went to the too small chairs to wait an inappropriate time after rushing to get there.
Johnathon said to Squid, “I have to ask. What kind of charities are there in Hell?”
“Oh there’s lots of charities in Hell. I was on a committee of one once.”
“What committee was that?”
“Hell needs and uses lots of energy. The coal furnaces need to be fed and the manpower required is astronomical. Needless to say those shoveling coal get burnt out in short order. Burnt is the operative word. I was on the committee to get funding for a liquid fluoride thorium nuclear reactor. It finally went through and there are plans for more. They can’t melt down, they’re cheaper than uranium and there’s lots of thorium around. On top of that its half-life is fifty years and it’s environmentally friendly. Our biggest obstacle was the coal shoveler’s union. They thought we were trying to put them out of a job. We finally got approval as it was noted that thorium can’t be turned into weapon grade fuel.”
Johnathon pondered for a moment, “There’s currency in Hell? You mean we get paid for our job? Should I have a bank account?’
“Oh yes. You probably already have an account. We’ll have to get you a debit card. Hotstuff will get you one. You get double money back if you use it for certain things like bribing officials.”
“Is there actual money?”
“Yes. We print it whenever we need it just like the US Federal Reserve Bank. Actually they got the idea from us. One of Fishbait’s ancestors, a Mr. Wormwood went to Jekyll Island in 1910. Several bankers wanted to insure their banks didn’t go under when they over extended their loaning limits of ten percent so they got an act of congress to cover them by raising taxes the sneaky way though inflation. The more their banks went under the more money they made. It was a grand plan. Not only that, Hell got several of their souls. They tried to buy their way out by giving it away later in life but it was with inflated money and they were short the minimum required to stay out of Hell. It’s taken almost a century to make the Federal Reserve work. We got some more souls along the way and a couple of world wars.”
“Mr. Fishbait will see you now. Here’s your debit card Mr. Johnathon.”
Johnathon thanked Hotstuff and followed Squid into Fishbait’s office.
Fishbait was dressed in red Scottish plaid complete with knickers and cap. He bellowed to Johnathon and Squid to come in and sit. Putter in hand he addressed the golf ball on an artificial putting green. At the end of the green, tied up with most of his body under the floor was a balding old man sweating. Fishbait putted towards the man and the man grabbed the ball with his mouth and spit it back to Fishbait who set up to put again.
Fishbait hesitated before his next put, “Meet the head of the largest pharmaceutical research company in the Western hemisphere. Three times the company found a cure for cancer and three times this man along with some others hid it.”
“Do tell us why,” Squid asked.
“If everyone knew they found a cure for cancer then there would be no more research money. Do you know that heart problems cause ten times more deaths than cancer and that cancer gets ten times more money for research?”
“My understanding is that a plant based diet will cure both so why the research anyway?”
“Absolutely Squid! Can you believe this guy’s actually vegan?”
“No way! He’s really going to fit in here.”
“Yes Squid but first we have to teach him some stuff. He actually had the nerve to say it can’t get any worse than this.”
“How can it get any worse than this?” The putter ball retrieving man said.
Fishbait said, “In a short while I’m going to be practicing my driving. You are still going to be the ball retriever. I hope you have a strong jaw.” Fishbait dropped his putter and pulled out a huge driver from his golf bag and proceeded to address the ball. The man’s eyes at the end of the putting got very big and he screamed “No!’
“Just funning with you newbie. Now off with you to training.”
Fishbait stepped down from the practice green and the whole thing retracted into the floor taking the man with it in a hiss. “It’s so much fun to indoctrinate newbies.”
“I didn’t know you played sir,” Squid said. “I’ve never had the pleasure. Golf was invented after I came here.”
“I forgot Squid. You have been here since the inquisition. I’ll bet those were interesting times. You could still take it up. There is a junior devils league that with the right word we could get you in.”
“Thank you sir. After this assignment I’ll take you up on that. Perhaps I could caddy. It would let me see how the pros play.”
“Sorry Squid. Hotstuff has volunteered to caddy. She will be a nice distraction for my competitors. I expect at least five extra strokes.”
“Good plan sir. I’m learning already.”
How about you Red? You ever play golf?’
“I don’t think in my previous life that I’m not allowed to see I was much of a sportsman. I do seem to have an infinity for chess. Perhaps I could caddy for Mr. Squid.”
“Right. Down to business. I have a report from the Hell or High Water Intelligence Division of a spy in our section. This is serious. One could even lose a position of favour if it went unchecked or at least there were really good excuses and graft to alleviate the problem.”
Johnathon said, “I know I’m new Mr. Fishbait but who should we be on the lookout for that would want to spy on us.”
“It’s those angels. There’s no lengths they won’t go to save a soul. I heard once one even disguised himself as a sheep. Whoever heard of an angel in sheep’s clothing? Can you imagine? Did you know sheep are vegan? This angel wanted to protect the plant eater from the meat eater. Something about shepherds watching their sheep by night. The wolf came up disguised as a sheep and Bam! Wolf had a stroke and forever after only dined on broccoli.”
“So you suspect someone that is part of our target’s life is really an angel in disguise?” Johnathon asked.
Squid asked, “How would the Division know sir? Is there any more information? There must have been something to raise their suspicions.”
“That’s all I got. This is Hell after all. There’s not a lot of perfect here. The spy angel could even be a lamp post for all I know. It’s never come up before in my section. I guess as you rise up the system you become more of a target for the opposition. The spy might even be part of the staff downstairs if we had stairs.”
Johnathon said, “Do we have spies in heaven?”
Fishbait said, “Of course not. That would be cheating. And we tried it and we were found out too quickly.”
Squid said, “It’s easy for a good person to look bad but it’s hard for a bad person to look good when they can see right through you.”
“And I need you two to start seeing right through anyone and everyone that might even remotely be an angel in disguise.”
“Yes sir,” Squid replied.
Squid and Johnathon made their way down the elevator and out onto the street.
Johnathon said, “I have a question. How come I didn’t go to the lower levels for training?”
Squid answered, “Everyone goes through some kind of training Johnathon. You’re not allowed to remember it in most cases. If you think back your passing was around World War Two and yet here you are and you have knowledge of technology that didn’t exist at the time. Because you’re a drifter you didn’t have to go through much because you’ve lived the part and when our subject is going to do something non-drifting you will recognize it instantly and be able to do something about it.”
“I’m afraid the catch 22 is that because I’m a drifter I’ll do nothing about our subject because I’m used to doing nothing.”
“Welcome to Hell Johnathon.”
Josh poked his head up from under the covers his face flushed and sweating. Debbie poked her head up beside him her hair dishevelled.
Josh caught his breath and said, “You are so going to ace that calculus exam!”
Debbie laughed, smiled at Josh, kissed him and pulled him back under the covers. Josh pretended to struggle.
A short while later they popped up again. Debbie looked at the alarm clock beside her bed and smacked Josh with her plastic cast. “Hey preppy. Mom’s due home soon. Off with you down the fire escape. Sometimes she gets off early and sometimes she brings a man back with her. Either way you shouldn’t be here.”
“I could sneak up here later. I’d be quiet. No one would know.” Josh got dressed as he talked.
Debbie dressed too. As she struggled to get here arm though the sleeve on her tee shirt she looked out the window that Josh was about to go through. “Hey look. Across the wall over in the ritzy district. There’s a whole bunch of police cars and ambulances. The whole area’s blacked out as well. Must be something serious. There’s a lot of red and blue lights.”
Josh looked out. “What’s the wall for?”
“It’s to keep out riff raff like me from stealing from the rich folks.”
“They don’t do that anymore silly. They use electric fences. Look. There’s a railway track on the other side.”
“It’s not used anymore. We used to play down there when we were kids. It’s easy to get over the wall. We even made steps by laying bricks down on this side and on the other side we dug out foot holds to get back. There’s even a tree on the other side to hold onto as you climb back.”
“Hey. Let’s go over and see what’s going on. I could take pictures with my cell and we could sell them to the paper or even the school newspaper.”
Debbie thought a moment and then said, “I better leave a note for mom. She gets upset when she doesn’t know where I am. I’ll tell her I’m at school getting tutored and that’s not entirely untrue.”
They dropped everything and made their way down the fire escape, across the parking lot and through a barrier of brush. Debbie showed Josh the bricks still forming steps up the wall.
There was room for them to walk side by side but the going got a little tricky as it was clear she would need a boost over the wall. The last section of the original bricks were gone and they stood looking over the wall just under Debbie’s chin.
The rail tracks were visible below and beyond a fence with a gate long in disuse bent open to a laneway. A few hundred yards passed the fence police lights flashed.
Josh said, “There’s got to twenty cop cars there. I think three ambulances too.”
Debbie looked down over the other side. “Give me a boost Josh. I keep forgetting I only have one good arm.”
“Will you be alright going down the other side? We don’t have to do this.”
“The tree is bigger now. I can lean against it as I walk down the footholds.” Debbie jumped up and with one arm under her swung her legs over and got one foot in the first foothold. With Josh’s help she swung the other leg over and soon was leaning back against the tree.
Looking straight down for the first time she said. “Hey. There’s a car parked under the tree. It must be stolen or something. It had to drive over the tracks to get here.
Josh looked over the edge of the wall and saw it too. “Let me get a photo of it. Maybe there’s a reward or something?”
“Can’t hurt to try. Josh took a photo with his cell.”
“Let me get down before you come over. If you push the tree back too far it’s hard for me to keep balance.”
Debbie reached the ground smoothly and called back the Josh. “OK. No problem. Come on down.”
A sound behind made Debbie turn around. A big man stared at her. He looked surprised. He pulled out a gun and fired three shots in her face.
Josh heard the shots. “Debbie?” He started down. “Debbie?” A little louder. No answer. “Debbie!” was now a shout. Still no answer. He heard the car start and drive away thumping along track’s wooden beams. “Debbie!”
Leo walked into the office early, morning coffee in hand carrying two packs of files. Alice, close behind also with coffee threw her backpack on her desk. Leo went straight to his new cage as he called it and dropped everything except his coffee on the floor. Martha followed him in.
“What’s up?” Leo asked putting his new hat on the shelf.
“You tell me lover boy. You both have that silly grin on your faces and you both came in at the same time with that Canadian Tim Horton’s coffee that you can only get near your flat.” Martha laid down on Leo’s desk several post it notes. “The mayor wants to speak to you. Before you call him though there’s been two other murders last night. I know you went to the Henderson mass killing.”
“It was a busy night.” Leo said and sipped his coffee waiting for Martha to continue.
“There was another murder at that school. Same as before only this time it was a detective. Ramsey’s his name. Apparently a pretty tough character.”
“Same as before? You mean curare?”
“Is the boss in yet?”
“Nope. He was at a party until late last night. Apparently he and the mayor hit it off. He called in and said he’d be in later after he had a dozen or so coffees and aspirins or something.”
“Two other murders?”
“Yes. This one you might want to follow up some. A young girl shot point blank in the face dead.”
“Sounds horrible but why should I be interested?”
“A couple of things. 22 caliber same as the Henderson hits and it was a couple of hundred yards away from his house.”
“A young boy called it in and went in with the ambulance. You know his father. It was the son of your friend the bus driver.”
Leo sat back for a bit and sipped again. “Thanks Martha. Can you let Alice know as well?”
Leo called Joseph at the bus station and was put on hold while they found him.
“Dispatch pulled me in. I’m still here now. I know Josh’s girlfriend was shot. Her name was Debbie. My wife’s on the way to the hospital. I had just met her. Debbie I mean. They were helping each other with homework or something and taking a shortcut home so I hear. Josh is pretty shook up according to the police officer that called.”
Leo talked for a bit with Joseph promising he would go down and look in on Josh.
Alice walked in. “Martha’s having fun playing detective. Did you call Joseph?”
“Yes. That was him. He’s at work still. I would have thought he would have gone and saw his son at the hospital. I would have. He sent his wife.”
“Are you going down there?”
“I guess so. I said I would. It seems to be part of the Henderson diamond hits anyway. 22 caliber. Close by,” Leo said.
“There were no other cartridges found. The assassin must be using a revolver and dropped the one we found reloading to shoot the cop. Very careless and now we know he can make mistakes. The forensics are checking out the slugs in the bodies. We might get a match between victims and even the type of gun used. It’s a long shot but it’s still a clue.”
“You’re really getting into this. How many shots does yours have?”
“Twelve. And I have a really long barrel so don’t mess with me,” Alice said.
“Can you call the mayor? I have to call Frank and meet Joseph’s wife at the hospital and then go and see about Ramsey’s hit at that school.”
“No way. Just because you bought me coffee and breakfast doesn’t mean you can dump the mayor off on me.” Alice left the office.
Leo called the mayor and to his relief he wasn’t in. He left a message that he’d call later and left for the hospital.
A half hour later, stepping off the bus Leo bumped into Francine coming out.
“How’s Josh doing? I came as soon as a heard.”
Francine hesitated, a fact that Leo stored wondering. “My daughter Meagan came and got him before I got here. She texted me earlier. I think he’s alright but it must have been a horrifying experience. The police are still in the hospital. They said they were done with Josh as he didn’t really see anything.”
Leo went in to check with the police. “They found toxic substance indicators and sent the body sealed to the FBI forensic lab.”
“That’s weird,” Leo said. “Any idea what the toxic stuff was?”
“No sir but the doctors were pretty agitated about it and wanted answers back quick. Until then everybody working on the body is in quarantine.”
“This is the young teenage girl we’re talking about?”
“Yes sir. Even the early response team is quarantined with a doctor and two nurses.”
Leo went up and found the area and a doctor in a white lab coat that was longer than the other doctors milling around.
Leo flashed his badge that looked like a police badge, “Is anyone that contacted the girl a danger to health?”
“We don’t know what was in the bullets that hit that little girl’s face as we don’t have sophisticated equipment here but our toxic detector lit up like a Christmas tree, brighter than I’ve ever seen it. It could be anything on a list of hundreds of knowns but we’re not taking any chances.”
“Wasn’t the young boy with the girl touching her? I understand it was his girlfriend.”
“Oh my-gosh! I forgot about him. He was covered in her blood. And his sister came and got him. They both might be infected.”
Leo left the doctor who immediately was on the phone.
Leo called Frank and got his voicemail, “Frank. The bodies that were assassinated in the Sticky Goop might be toxic. Apparently the girl that was shot nearby was hit with some special shell that have something in them. The girl’s body is at the FBI’s lab.”
Melisa threw the garbage bag into the corner. “His clothes are covered in blood. I hung some new ones near the shower. A long walk will help him later. I still can’t believe Debbie’s dead. I want to kill someone. So does Josh. If we ever find the guy that did this he’s going to pay.”
Meagan sat on the couch and nodded, not saying anything.
Melisa went on. “Josh was good for her and she was good for him. It’s one of the good things I’ve done in my life and somebody’s going to pay.”
“He’s talking now? He hardly said anything all the way over here.”
“Kind of broken sentences but yes.”
“At the hospital they said the ambulance guys had to pry him apart from her so they could take her to the hospital. He answered a few police questions but after that he shut up and just sat there almost comatose. I had to grab him by the arm and then he just followed me here, me leading him by the arm.”
“Somebody’s going to pay and if anyone gets in my way they’re going to get real hurt.”
“I like the idea of finding the guy that did this and making him pay slowly. Let’s get everybody on it. The police will just list it as another and it will get swept under some rug.
Josh came into the room obviously just showered wearing pants and a sweatshirt a bit too big for him. He stood quiet for a bit and then said, “Can one of you get back to Debbie’s house and get my laptop and backpack?”
“Sure,” Melisa said. “Oh my-gosh. Debbie’s mom probably doesn’t know. She’s a piece of work but still.”
“I’ll go. I know her too. The police will find her soon enough but it’s probably better if I see her first.”
Josh said, “I have a photo of the guy’s car on my cell. I can trace him with the plate number.”
“And you’ve got hacking and tracing software on your computer.”
“Right. I can start with your computer right here but it will be faster with the stuff I’ve already installed on my laptop.”
Meagan got up and went to the door.
“When you get it don’t open it. There’s a security kill switch on it.”
Meagan left and Josh turned his attention to Melisa. “Can I use your laptop for a bit? It’s best to get started. This guy might even be long gone by now.”
Melisa pulled her laptop out from her backpack and Josh proceeded to set it up on the coffee table. “Are your parents coming home soon?”
“They’re away for the day so we’re OK. That’s why Meagan brought you here.’
“How many shots of that curare do you have?”
“One and that’s it. These are really close range shots as well. Normally these packets are used for tranquilizer needles. I might be able to get a few of those though.”
“One will do. Can you get a few handguns and maybe one high powered sniper rifle? I’d like to have some options once we’re close. I expect this guy isn’t some amateur. We’re going to have to use surprise and stealth and brains to get him.’
“Why do you think he’s not an amateur?”
“Only assassins use a small caliber gun. I don’t think he had a silencer like they sound like in the movies. It had a pop but not a big noise. It took me a second to figure out what it was.”
“I’ll make some phone calls. One of my girls deals with this guy that deals with guns. We might even get a discount.”
“This laptop will do well, Josh said as he manipulated Melisa’s laptop, “Sorry. I erased some space and saved it to the cloud. You can get it back later.” Josh paused, “This licence number is from a rental car at the airport. It will take some time to watch the cameras to see the guy from here but I can use both the rental’s cameras and the airport’s. I’m going to find this guy.”
Johnathon asked Squid, “I expect the guy is on the plane and long gone by now?”
“Not at all. The plot thickens. The guy just got a call from his employer. It seems that Annette has become a liability and so a change in plans for the assassin. He’s to take out Annette and anyone involved with Henderson’s house which means Francine as well. If I can guess as a professional he will probably try to make it look like an accident. He has in the past created a natural catastrophe that’s killed dozens just to hide the target. We are looking forward to recruiting him when he passes from this life.
Just a curious question. Has anybody been assassinated in Hell?
“None of us has the ability to invoke the second death. That’s pretty well limited to Archangel Michael and a few others but I can tell you this. There has been and will continue to be a lot of backstabbing. You can rise and fall easily in the hierarchy of Hell. Often people rise because many above have fallen. Of course it’s the same on earth.”
“I did learn to avoid it both ways. I believe that’s one of the reasons I’m here.
“It is pretty rare to see anyone rise in Hell on merit.”
Francine was mad. On her way to Annette’s she went through a red light after stopping and gave a finger to the opposing car that had the nerve to honk at her. Several four letter words darkened the atmosphere of the plush leather interior of her Mercedes.
Arriving at Annette’s she parked right in front of the entrance on an angle in spite of the No Parking Fire Route signs. Just let anyone try and give her a ticket.
Leaving her purse in the car she didn’t even bother to lock it slamming the door enough to wake the gardener asleep on the bench behind the bushes. Francine walked straight into Annette’s office without knocking.
Annette who stopped talking mid-sentence as the office door banged against its stop.
Francine looked at the servant that was receiving instructions from Annette, “You. Out!” She ordered and accented the order with a thumb gesture to the office door. The servant with a quick look at Annette left hurriedly avoiding Francine as best she could and discreetly pulling the office door closed behind her.
Francine walked straight towards Annette now standing, “You told me those guys were professionals!”
Annette started to answer and then thought better of it. Let her blow off steam.
“That hit man put three slugs in my son’s girlfriend’s face! If my son had been a little quicker or gone in front of her it would have been him dead instead of the girl! I didn’t sign up for anything like this.”
Annette started to say something but Francine wasn’t finished.
“On top of that this so called professional hit man put something contagious in the bullets and that girl’s blood and brains is all over him and now he’s with my daughter and the blood is all over her! Do you think a few extra bucks is enough to pay for both my kid’s lives?”
Annette, recovering from Francine’s burst into her office came around from behind her desk, “OK Francine. Settle down. We’ll get help for your son.”
“Don’t you dare tell me to settle down! My son is now missing. He won’t answer his cell. And Meagan is now not answering her cell either. The doctors and nurses that worked on that girl Debbie are now in quarantine and they could die as well.”
“He’ll turn up soon. His sister will as well. She’s just comforting him I expect. After all he has just been through a traumatic experience. Are the police looking for him?”
Francine had had enough of Annette, “You’re not getting it woman!” Francine was now red faced, “This operation is over. I didn’t sign up for murder. I didn’t sign up to have my kids murdered and I don’t need you to tell me how to raise my kids!”
Annette by now had got her composure back and walked over to Francine and slapped her face. “Now settle down. This operation is over when I say it’s over and you are going to do exactly as I tell you to. I’ve too much invested in this to have a hysterical woman blow it.”
It was the wrong thing to do. Francine took it for a second. What Annette had thought to be her powerful presence did not hold it for Francine. Francine was a champion bodybuilder and a kickboxing trainer and stood a head above Annette. Annette did not know what steroid rage was but Francine was all too ready to show her. She drove a straight armed karate punch in Annette’s jaw and then a good old fashioned haymaker right hook set Annette flying several feet where she banged her head into the bar adding to the assault.
Francine waited for Annette to get up. Annette didn’t. She was still alive Francine figured and Francine seriously debated finishing her off. Then Francine had a better idea.
Annette struggled to get up her arms flaying. It took a few tries before she could half stand leaning against the bar. Francine came over and kneeled close to her.
“Now you listen and you listen REAL good. You are going to call your friends and tell them that I’ve lost it and am going to blow the whole operation and need to be taken care of and I’m going to be at your place tonight to pick up my final cheques at 9 o’clock.”
Annette shook her head. “No.”
Francine grabbed her shirt just below her neck and lifted her up with one arm and threw her at her office desk. She then said in a lower voice calmly. “Yes,” Francine’s voice was slow and low now, “and right now if you want to live to see another day.”
Annette still staggering from the blows reached for the phone.
“It might be a good idea if you gave the servants the night off and you spent the evening at a hotel.”
Annette started dialing.
Alice was having a lousy morning. She was in the court house which is what she asked for but all the cases were minor drug cases and every one had some kind of plea deal. It was an exhausting day and very little time was actually in court. Worst of all she knew that this was how you started as a lawyer but it didn’t help. 99% of legal stuff is paperwork and phone work and more paperwork.
She got a text from Leo. “Can you go to a school downtown and check with them on the other school murder? I have to follow up on Joseph’s son’s girlfriend’s murder and I’m on my way to see Frank at the Henderson house. File attached in e-mail.”
Knowing she would miss lunch but the morning court was over and she wanted to help Leo for some reason she texted back, “Yes. But I get to drive the Allard.”
Alice signed out at the court house, got into her car and within a half hour was at the school. The forensic van was parked near the side entrance. Alice proceeded to the principal’s office and was waved right in.
“Thanks for coming,” the principal said, “I need to see a police presence here to head off the school board and the PTA and a whole bunch of parents who, quite rightly are asking a lot of questions.”
“I’m actually with the DA’s office. Leo asked me to look in as he’s checking out another murder at the request of the mayor.”
“Leo did phone me. The mayor phoned me. The chief of police phoned me. I’ve closed the school for a day until we can get some of this sorted out.” The principal offered Alice a seat as he sat down behind his desk.
“I thought it was supposed to be apples that you gave to the teacher.” Alice said pointing to two oranges on the principal’s desk.
“We found them in a couple of orphan lockers when we did a locker search this morning.”
We have some extra lockers and when a student leaves sometimes the locker still has a lock on it and looks like it’s in use. Some students figure it out and think they can get a second locker.”
“Oranges are part of their lunch? It sounds like you have a healthy student body.” Alice’s stomach growled as she said it and she excused herself. “Sorry. I haven’t had lunch myself.”
“The principal smiled and pushed the oranges over to her. “Help yourself. I have a luncheon after this.”
Alice dropped the oranges in her purse. “My understanding is that Mr. Ramsey was hired by the father of the boy that was murdered last week. Donavan I believe his name is.”
“Yes. I got a phone call from him too. It appears that our cameras were not hacked this time but the one near the washroom simply does not show the whole hallway. There is video from the outside cameras so we know when he arrived but that’s all. I’ll have someone take you down to the washroom so you can talk with forensics.” He got up to shake Alice’s hand. The interview was over.
“You’re assuming that a student did this?
“I’m still trying to make sense of any of this. I’m not assuming anything.”
Alice went to talk with forensics and peeled back an orange on the way. “Now that’s interesting,” She said out loud as she discovered the steroid packet.
A couple of men were just taking the body out. Alice found the lead officer and quizzed him on what he had so far.
“It looks like more curare, same as with the young boy last week. We’ll know more at the autopsy. This is a big guy and whoever did this did not have the strength to get him up to look like a hanging although it appears he or she tried after he was out.”
“The boy was a young bodybuilder. I think he was about 180 pounds. She?”
“Just a figure of speech. He or she. And it could have been more than one.”
“Did you see the video from the parking lot? It was a weekend so not many people would have come into the school.”
“One of the responding officers took it back to the station. From what he said there was no one except the janitor that seemed to be in and he is known for sleeping a lot in the boiler room on weekends. He just has to be here so it’s not unusual he heard nothing.”
“Someone else knew how to get around the cameras.” Alice said. She thanked the officer was about to go back to her car when the officer remembered something.
“One more thing. Ramsey’s gun and wallet are missing but his cell is still here. We’re running the cell now. He’s not supposed to have a gun but there’s still a holster attached to him.”
Alice remembered the orange. “I found this in an orange that was kept in a school locker. It might have something to do with the murders but I’m not sure.”
Alice got in her car and pulled the other orange out of her purse and put it on the dash. A knock on the passenger window startled her. Thankfully she automatically always locked the doors after she got in even before starting up. Alice rolled the passenger window half way down to a big man.
“I’m Donavan. Markus’s father,” the big man said.
“Yes. I recognize you from our files,” Alice said. “Sorry about your son.”
“What can you tell me about Ramsey?”
There seemed no point in withholding anything from him so Alice responded. “Not much. We’ll know more after the autopsy of course but it appears curare was used. His gun is gone and we know when he came in but the only other guy on the videos was an asleep janitor.”
“You can tell Leo and Frank that I’ve hired another agency from out of town to take over for Ramsey. I’ll be doing some investigating myself.”
Alice said, “OK. I’ll tell them.” Then Alice had a thought. “Say. What’s your cell so they can call you directly if they have anything?” Alice wrote it down knowing she could have her guys ping it if they needed to find Donavan in the future.
Donavan reached in and grabbed the orange from the dash.
“Help yourself,” Alice said.
“Keep me informed,” Donavan said as he left.
“I need a real lunch and to sit down and make some notes.” Alice departed for a nearby fast food chain, got food, sat down and pulled out her cell and laptop. She started to text Martha when text came in from Leo. “Quarantine lifted. Turns out the bullets were drilled out and a mixture of something like 50% cyanide and the rest arsenic and some delivery accelerant. It’s very lethal but does seem a bit amateurish. All the same don’t get hit by a bullet.”
Alice replied, “Nothing new with Ramsey except they took his gun. Whoever did it is now armed. His last weapon confiscated was a 45. Don’t get hit yourself. The principal won’t admit it but I’m sure he thinks all this has to do with a student. There’s a steroid thing going on. They put packets of it in oranges for distribution.”
Alice spent the next hour on her laptop sending files to Martha about the morning’s court activities and a report on her trip to the school for Leo. Two coffees later she was packing up when she saw Francine drive by in her Mercedes unmistakable with the vanity licence plate bordered in red REALADY. Francine was obviously in a hurry.
Alice hurried to her car and followed her. Twenty minutes later Francine pulled up to a gun shop on the edge of town. Alice pulled into the parking lot across the road and called Leo.
“Is Frank there? I’m at this gun shop at the end of town and Francine just went in there.
Frank came on Leo’s cell. “This guy sells some illegal weapons as long as the price is right and he doesn’t think he’ll get caught. After Francine leaves go in and tell him that Frank wants to know what she bought. Call me in the store if you have any trouble.”
Alice waited in her car across the street for a while and watched the gun store. There was only one other car there. It had to be the owner’s.
A short while later a man came out carrying a box followed by Francine who opened the trunk of her car with a key fob. They both went back in and then came out with two more boxes. A third trip later Francine got back in her car and drove off, still in hurry. The man went back into the store. Alice drove across the road and followed him in.
The man was dabbing blood from his face with a wet rag. There were boxes of goods strewn about the floor. Alice pulled out her badge. “Frank told me to ask you what that lady bought.”
The man just shook his head. “I was about to call him but as you can see the lady as you call her, tore my phone out.” The man pointed to the wall phone now smashed on the floor.
“What did she buy?” Alice repeated.
“Well at least she paid cash. Told me Annette was buying it and threw a bundle of bills on the counter. I’m supposed to know who Annette is.”
“What did she buy?” Alice repeated.
“One M9 Bazooka, six rockets, five grenades, one fully automatic AK47 with four clips, two smoke bombs and a pair of night vision goggles. Oh, and a 45 1911 pistol.”
“How cow!” Alice opened up her cell but wasn’t sure who to call, the police or Frank or Leo. She decided 911 was the best.
The man watched still wiping blood off his face. “As my store is now going to be closed for having illegal weapons on site you might tell the police that this woman is armed and dangerous.”
Alice got hold of Leo moments later. “I think I should take a trip to Annette’s and see what happened there.”
“You do have your gun with you?” Leo asked.
“You’re so romantic.” Alice replied. Then Alice had a thought and went back into the gun store.
Alice walked up to the store owner. “Do you have any deals on now that your store’s about to be closed? And, do you take cash?”
Leo was ankle deep in sticky goop, bare footed, his pants rolled up past his knees. The water did dissolve the goop but it didn’t go away. It just turned into a mud like substance that had to be shoveled and bucketed out of the library. Henderson had returned and was wearing fisherman’s wading boots. With the bodies now removed, Frank was waving a metal detector around to see if he could find bullets or shell casings. A strainer had been set up outside do sift through the sticky mud.
“The hidden cameras kept running after the power shut off and they have an infra-red feature. I’ll pull the box from downstairs and get it to your forensic guys.”
The mayor came in with the chief of police in tow. Henderson stopped to say hello. After Henderson left the mayor came over to Leo. “The only thing saving your job is Mr. Henderson contributed to several charities that I favour. There are multiple bodies since you took over this investigation and I’m told one is of a young girl, a minor in fact.”
Frank jumped in. “That’s not fair your honor. Leo wasn’t responsible for this.”
The police chief stepped up. “That’s just it. Maybe if there had been someone responsible on the job none of this wouldn’t have happened.”
Leo kept his mouth shut.
The mayor had to have the last word. “Get this case closed quickly or several people are going to lose their jobs. Got it?”
Frank and Leo nodded yes. There was no point in arguing.
Frank said to Leo. “Why don’t you go to the other crime scene and see if you can see of anything the other guys might have missed. Take the metal detector. Maybe you can find something with it. I’m done with it here.”
Leo walked out, found his socks and shoes and went to Frank’s car to wipe off his feet with a rag from the trunk. He rolled his pant legs down now crumpled and dirty while watching the mayor get into his chauffeur driven limo and the chief of police get into his officer driven squad car. Leo put on his shoes, swung the detector over his shoulder and walked up the street to the wall where Debbie had been shot.
A couple of officers were collecting minute items on the ground nearby but it was obvious what they were collecting was mostly garbage. Leo swung the metal detector and switched it on sweeping a pattern back and forth across the ground. He was about to give up when he got a hit. Under the grass overgrowth he found a USB memory stick. Carefully he packaged it and kept going.
Alice called. “I’m at Annette’s. There’s no one here and the place is wide open. I got the recorder that you planted and I’m going back to the office to listen to it. I’ll call you later.”
Leo went back to Henderson’s house and called Frank out, “I found this,” handing him the USB memory stick. “It’s kind of chewed up so I don’t think there’s going to be any fingerprints on it.”
Frank took the stick. “Let’s see if there’s anything still on it.” Frank pulled out his laptop from his car and after booting up shoved in the USB stick. Immediately a program came to life on screen. “This is a hacker’s toolbox. It appears that it’s a backup with a bunch of passwords and serial numbers on it. I can see one that I recognize though. It’s the machine ID of the camera system at the school where the boy was killed. Our lab might be able to see more but it’s doubtful. We’ll give it a try anyway.”
“We don’t even know if the assassin dropped it or just some passerby.” Said Leo.
“True.” Said Frank, “But it’s something to check out. Good find mister. Say, wasn’t the boyfriend of the girl that was shot a student at the same school?”
“Yes and he was Joseph’s son as well. Another coincidence.”
“Something to ask him about for sure.”
“Thanks. I’m going home to shower and change and then I have work back at the office. Francine bought some heavy weapons and Annette appears to have gone to ground. There’s an APB on Francine. I’ll let you know if anything else comes up.”
“You might give your buddy Joseph a call. It’s his wife with guns for some reason and his son with a dead girlfriend and maybe a hacker’s toolbox.”
“Yes. That’s going to be a heavy phone call. Maybe I can meet him after his shift for supper and beer.”
“Good idea. I’ll let you know what comes off of Henderson’s hidden camera recordings.”
Annette was scared. She knew her life was in danger and it wasn’t from Francine. “Francine’s going to die,” She said to herself, “She has no idea who or what or how powerful these guys are.”
Annette stood in line at airport. It was the last of three separate airlines she’d bought three tickets to three different countries in her own name on three separate credit cards all in her own name. Leaving her car in the airport parking she got a cab paying cash back to the city. Getting off at a townhouse complex Annette walked six blocks to the bus depot and bought a ticket cash to the next town. In the bus lobby she bought a paperback novel, sunglasses and a baseball cap. Walking next door she found a dollar store and discarding her high heeled shoes bought a pair of flip flops. She then went back to the ticket counter in the bus terminal and bought a ticket to a different town. Annette got on the bus, sat half way back and started reading. As soon as the bus started she breathed a full deep breath.
The three hour scheduled bus made several stops on its way out and more as it arrived in the next town making the trip closer to four hours. Annette planned to get off at the second stop arriving wherever that might be. Watching outside from the dirty bus window she suddenly had an inspiration. At the last stop leaving the city she stepped off and watched the bus as it left and walked into a used car lot with her purse full of money.
Annette knew of the used car dealership by reputation. It bought serial numbers from a contact at an insurance company that were supposed to have been delisted as the cars were destroyed in an accident. The car dealer then installed the serial numbers on stolen cars. Many cars were sold for cash no questions asked. Annette had seen a used fifteen year old Honda civic that had Ontario plates on it. That was unusual as Ontario had plate to owner and the plates should have been taken off after it was sold. It had $499.00 painted on the window. Annette bargained for a full tank of gas, a second state licence plate that she would change later and a fake insurance certificate. Annette was on the road in less than half an hour.
Annette stopped at a Walmart and picked up a suitcase, some blue jeans, sweatshirts, underwear, sneakers and toiletries. A quick washroom stop and a bite at the in store MacDonald’s and she was on her way again to the next town as planned on the bus.
An hour past and Annette felt better. She had lots of money in the Caymans and it was a short stop from there to Costa Rica which would be a good place to retire. Annette made a mental note to get a book on Spanish lessons. The car’s radio didn’t have a CD player or Mp3 slot but it did have a cassette player. She could learn as she drove if she could find some cassettes.
Ahead a road block slowed traffic. Many police cars and lots of flashing lights guided cars into one lane. There was no turn around. Annette’s heart sank. As she got closer the road block turned into a detour down a side road. The officer waved her through and Annette followed the other cars. There was some smoke ahead and shortly Annette could see the fire trucks cleaning up. A bus was laying on its side black and wet from fire and still smoldering. The body was twisted and bent from a roll over and a gaping hole was torn in the bottom. It was the bus that Annette had just got off and she shook, shivers creeping up her spine. It was time to get off the beaten path and truly go to ground.
Four hours on the interstate later Annette needed gas and from there she found a winding state road heading west that was busy but moving well. Annette, now paranoid avoided streets and gas stations with cameras.
She past a car stopped by the roadside and reached over to the pad on the passenger seat to write down the licence number. The pad now had over twenty plate numbers on it. Not one matched twice as far as she could see. So far no one was following her. Annette took another second to glance at the pad with some satisfaction. It was a fatal glance.
Annette rounded the next corner. A truck stopped in the middle of the road had its four ways flashing. Annette barely hit the brake. Death was instantaneous.
“That seems almost kind of sad,” Johnathon said. “All that way and she loses it all in a common traffic accident. Will she be joining us?”
“No, but she will have to go through some extensive training. She did treat her employees well and ran several charities that aided many people. “
“Did the enemy cause her death? It does seem kind of premature?”
“No. They don’t do that and neither do we. It’s all caused by karma. It’s the universal law and the creators made it as a self-regulating system.”
“In Annette’s case greed and fear took over. The greed generated the karma and the fear directed it. You might have heard the phrase, ‘that which I fear most is upon me.’ Karma is a material thing if it’s negative. It’s like molasses. Electrons in free space travel at the speed of light. When an electron is ‘In the Earth’ it slows down dragging through the karma actually in the atom. As a person grows more toward heaven the molasses dissipates and the electrons speed up and the soul is on the way to the enemy. Our mission is to create lots of negative karma.”
“Is there positive karma?”
“Oh yes but we don’t talk of it much. It’s how the enemy gets their souls. Positive karma is more like energy sitting above the soul bringing it up. Once the soul balances their karma they are candidates for the ascension into heaven. They have to pass some tests and the tests get harder as they get closer but the enemy cheats sometimes with nudges here and there.”
“Is anyone keeping score? How are we doing?”
“Oh yes. This is the ultimate video game. We have many advantages in that’s it’s easy to create negative karma with most souls. In this solar system we are two to one in blowing up the planet. Then the games over for ten thousand years or more.”
“What do you mean?”
The enemy has a requirement in their game plan that at least one soul a year must ascend into heaven or the planet is destroyed. We’ve almost done it here a number of times. We did it on Mars and Maldec.”
“A bit of it’s left as the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. We really blew it up good. Mars we just destroyed through war. Later, many of the souls incarnated here on earth in the Asian communities. They are still warlike although Siddhartha put a bit of a kibosh on that.”
“And all we have to do is stop anyone ascending from this planet for a year?”
“Yes. It’s worth a set of horns and even a trident. Your place in Hell would be assured if you could pull that off.”
“A lofty goal. Maybe we should just concentrate on our subject for a start. What’s he up to anyway?”
“He’s about to finish his shift while his family kills a bad guy, sells drugs and become candidates for Hell.”
Francine, at the local hardware store had bought three pipes four feet long and just a little wider than the bazooka rockets. She’d watched a world war two army training video on YouTube that showed how they functioned. On top of the building across the street from Annette’s office she taped the pipes to the air conditioner on the roof and sighted through each lining them up so they pointed at the parking lot below. The rockets had two wires that the bazooka normally triggered with a small battery. The trigger for the tank destroyer was simply a switch. She clipped all three sets of wires to a throw away cell phone’s speaker. Proud of herself, she preprogramed a speed dial on her own cell to the throw away number. She watched as Alice came and went from Annette’s office. Francine tried Josh’s cell again. No answer. She texted him to call. Where was her husband? He should be here helping.
Francine went down and moved her car to a spot in front of Annette’s office and then went over to a building behind it, climbed up to the roof with a sack full of ammunition for her AK47, a bazooka with three rockets left and five grenades and two smoke bombs.
Francine tried on the night vision goggles dangling from her neck and aimed both the bazooka and the AK47 with them on. It was still daylight but she figured they would work OK.
The smoke bombs were for her escape if someone started to shoot back. She surveyed her rooftop. Yes there was a back fire escape. It was time to get cool, think and be an agent of destruction. No one is going to mess with her son and get away with it.
Francine settled down and took a drink from a water bottle. It was going to be a bit of a wait. She took one of the grenades and went back to the door to the roof that she had come up. It had a dark inner stairwell - perfect for a trap. With some duct tape and a coat hanger she opened the door and set the grenade on the spring near the top of the door. Tying the coat hanger around the grenade loosely she wrapped the rest of the coat hanger to the hinge and taped it fast. With a string tied to the pin she carefully closed the door - the string going over the top. She pulled the string and felt the pin come clear. On the outside she tied a rope loosely to the doorknob and the frame around the corner so the door would open an inch but no more. No one was going to sneak up behind her.
As an added precaution she taped another grenade to the fire escape and ran the string from the pin back to her position. She could pull it or grab it if she had to exit down the fire escape for some reason. Good luck was preparation meeting opportunity she told herself. No. Success is preparation. Yes.
Francine found a cement block to sit on. From her vantage point she could just see over Annette’s office to the front parking lot. The back of her Mercedes was visible and the approach from the road. She did not have long to wait.
Sometimes men do some very stupid things. When you get two different organizations both with testosterone one-upmanship it seems everyone involved forgets that the two agencies were supposed to be known for their intelligence work. The FBI somehow found a name or a phone number, no one remembered what after the instance that brought up Annette’s agency or her, or her phone number or someone in the organization or something. Supposedly after the fact the person that knew was now gone or the file was lost in the fires. The FBI spokesperson did remember that the reason the CIA was involved was that by law after 911 they had to inform them if they thought an international crime occurred on the North American continent. The suits were then brought in and a joint task force was formed and it was decided that Annette’s agency should be investigated. As a joint operation it was decided the best thing to do would be to search the place before anything (evidence) could be lost or destroyed.
The local constables were not to be notified. Secrecy was need to know only. Someone, too junior to be of notice did speak up and suggest that only one or possibly two men just knock on the door and ask some questions or maybe just put a tap on the phone or follow Annette as she went about her daily business. He was told that he should watch how it was done by the experienced experts with field experience by older veterans with a lot of experience.
A double swat team was arranged between the two agencies who patted each other on the back complimenting each other on a new era of co-operation.
An armored car was backup just in case and battering ram officers were to hit both the front and back of Annette’s office at the same time. Timing was crucial. Snipers would be posted at the top of the two nearby buildings and bulletproof SUV’s would converge together. In all 30 men in battle fatigues all dressed in black moved in.
Francine caught the first movement on the top of the building in front of Annette’s office. A man in a black suit carrying a rifle with a scope was coming out of the door and walking toward Francine’s rocket tubes. He stopped and looked at the tubes obviously knowing they were not normal roof stuff.
The man reached in his pocket and took out a cell phone. Francine knew she had to stop that phone call. She let loose half a clip from her AK47 and the man went down. Both legs shot out and his cell phone now over the edge the sniper crawled back to the safety of the door to the rooftop.
Right after the man went down Francine heard the door behind her twang and five seconds later the door boomed open a few inches. The rope held. Francine heard something yelp and bang down the stairs.
Francine’s adrenalin was now pumping. She thought maybe that the assassin would bring along someone as back up but two snipers seemed over kill. Francine smiled at the pun.
“Shots fired! Go! Go! Go!” Francine heard from somewhere. It sounded like over a radio but she could not ascertain from where. From behind Annette’s office below two men rushed with a battering ram to hit the back door and three others rushed in behind to jump through the door once it was down.
Three big black vehicles roared into the front parking lot and men poured out. Two took the lead with a battering ram and went for the front door at a run. Six men followed and rushed through the front door.
“Holy cow!” Francine said out loud. “They must really want a piece of me. Well they’re going to get learned as to how much a mom can be ticked off when her kids are in harm’s way.
Francine levelled the bazooka and fired at the back door of Annette’s office. She then lobed a grenade just to see what it would do. A fire started and engulfed the back of the building within seconds.
Francine let it go for thirty seconds and then fired the rest of the AK47 clip into the back of the building. There was yelling and screaming and she did hear someone yell, “Let’s get out of here.” Francine gave it another ten seconds and hit the speed dial on her cell phone. Three rockets fired instantaneously at Annette’s front door miraculously not hitting Francine’s Mercedes.
Francine figured she could do no more and went to the back fire escape, picked up the grenade, stuffed it into her bag with the bazooka, grenades and smoke bombs and made her way down the stairs with the AK47 slung over her shoulder. Coming around the front, she lobbed a smoke bomb in front of the building, got into her car and drove away. No one remembered that there was a Mercedes parked there in the interrogation later. Ten were hospitalized, half due to friendly fire. Annette’s building burned to the ground before the fire department was thought to be called. A passerby finally phoned it in to a local radio station who figured out that there was no fire truck there from the call. The radio station called but it was too late to save the building. The FBI and the CIA said that the building was destroyed by bad guys to destroy evidence. It appeared in the confusion the bad guys got away.
Francine needed something to eat. “It’s exhausting killing bad guys.” She went to a local restaurant that specialized in healthy food and ordered the soup and salad special with a fruit smoothie. She texted Josh again. He still wasn’t answering his cell.
Leo walked into the coffee shop near the bus station, found a booth and ordered two beers. Joseph, he figured should be along shortly.
Alice called and told him that Annette’s house was reported to be on fire.
Five minutes later after six sips she walked in with a bag under her arm and sat down in the booth seat across. “Oh good I need a beer.” Alice downed half in one gulp.
“Good evening,” Leo said and sipped his seventh sip.
“Annette’s office is on fire and the police are all over it. It’s on the news. Nothing on Francine yet but I have a feeling she’s involved. Listen to this. I made copies.” Alice pulled out her laptop and started a program. Annette’s and Francine’s voices were easily recognizable, “It’s the tape you planted in her office. Did you order food?”
“Not yet,” Leo said between gaps in the tape voices, “I’m actually waiting for Joseph. He’s late.”
“Alice flagged a waitress and ordered three veggie burgers, one with fries for her. “You two can be healthy. I’ve been working while you two have been playing.”
Leo listened with astonishment until the end when Annette, after Francine left gave the staff the night off and the door was heard closing after.
“That’s all there is. No sign of Francine after I called 911 but the police must be busy with the fire. Does Joseph know?”
“I don’t think so. Last I heard he was just aware his son’s girlfriend had been shot. There’s still no sign of Josh or Meagan either. I thought Francine would be out looking for Josh but it appears from this she’s not.”
“Look what I got from that dealer before the police came to shut him down.” Alice pulled out a pistol from her bag.
“Very cool. Heckler and Koch VP70”
“That’s not all. It’s an ‘M’ type.
“You can switch it from regular semi-automatic to a very fast three shot burst.”
“Isn’t that illegal?”
“Yes but just like you no one would know that wasn’t familiar with it. It gives me some firepower just like regular people.
“Regular people never see a gun except on television and the good guys only need one shot fired after the bad guy missed.” Sip eight.
“I got an Uzi too. The dealer was having a sale if I gave him ten minutes before calling the cops so he could get rid of some of his inventory.”
“I think that makes you an accessory.”
“I’ll plead. I got the names of some bad guys that he thought maybe might have been supplying dealers with illegal weapons. He swore that he only sold his stash to people that needed home protection and of course target practise. Ah. Here’s food!”
Frank came in and sat down beside Leo. “Food. What? You didn’t order me a beer?” Frank flagged the waitress. The place was now busy.
“Show him the HK.”
Alice handed over the VP70.
“Oh. You got the ‘M’ type. Good choice. If Clint Eastwood had been up against this he’d be dead.”
“How so?” Alice asked.
“Just think in all those movies the bad guy fires all those shots missing him altogether and Clint fires five shots out of his cannon and five miss their mark. He only gets the bad guy because he runs him down and at point blank range blows his head off. He could have done that with a club. This is a good hamburger!”
“It’s a veggie burger.”
“Ugh! It tastes awful.”
“It’s got the same ammo as my Uzi. 9 Mm”
“Squirrels in the attic are going to be running scared. Where’s my beer? Two more all around,” Frank said to the waitress. “And another French fry with gravy.”
“Any luck with forensics at the Henderson house?” Leo asked.
“The video shows the assassin coming in and shooting the stuck guys for sure but it’s not much. The guy had a knitted face mask like skiers use. We could only see his eyes at best and it’s in infrared black and white. The labs might be able to pull something but I doubt it.’
“I found a USB security key that unlocks a search hackers program but it didn’t have any prints or anything. It was muddy and I was surprised it worked,” Leo told Alice.
“Would the program it unlocked hack into the security cameras like the ones used at the high school?” Alice asked.
“It showed the machine ID of the school’s camera system,” Leo said. Nine. “What’s your thinking?”
“I think kids were involved with both murders and they’re related. Ramsey might have found something and paid the ultimate price,” Alice said.
“Speaking of Ramsey, have you heard anything from the guy that hired him, Donavan?” Leo asked Frank.
“No. But it might be an idea to keep tabs on him. There’s no telling what he might do now. I’m surprised he hasn’t called someone or something,” Frank said.
“Oh. I forgot.” Alice said. “He approached me very cool like at the school. He said that he’d hired an agency from out of town to investigate. I did get his cell. I told him I would keep him in the loop but what we can do now is ping his cell and find out where he is.”
Three more beers arrived with a giant plate of French fries and gravy. Leo sipped ten.
Joseph arrived and sat down beside Alice. He grabbed one of the beers and a waitress automatically brought him a veggie burger. “Sorry I’m late. There’s a fire downtown and traffic was rerouted several blocks.”
“It was Annette’s office on fire Joseph.” Leo said. “You’d better take a long sip of beer. I want you to listen to a recording of a tape I planted in Annette’s office.”
Donavan finished cutting the barrel down on his twelve gauge to the edge of the stock. The shoulder piece was now just a handle and the overall length was now illegal. The wooden plug in the pump section was gone and with one steel slug in the chamber Donavan now had five shots instead of three. He grabbed a round file and smoothed the edges of the barrel end. With black friction tape he wrapped what was left of the wood stock so as to have a good grip. He lifted it out of the vice and admired his work.
His cell rang. “Yes.”
“I have a driver outside in a black SUV. Take the money in a plane envelope and walk out and give it to the driver and say nothing. Then walk back inside.”
Donavan did as he was told. The driver had his window down, a gun in his lap, a hat on and huge dark glasses covered most of his face. Donavan went back inside.
Ramsey had given him a list of people that were to be interviewed. He had stressed the word interview but there was no doubt his intentions. Donavan hadn’t cared how Ramsey conducted his business as long as he got results.
Donavan had to assume that Ramsey started at the top of the list and as there hadn’t been much time since he had formulated the list and his demise, his killers might be at the top too.
Most of those on the list were students. Addresses followed some of the names and many had a photograph. Ramsey had been thorough. Beside several names were italicized things like hooker and drugs. Some of the names had both. The list included a couple of teachers, the janitor, the principal, several parents and a couple of homeless friends of Donavan’s son Markus.
Donavan had seen the principal who seemed like a normal guy but was more concerned with the school’s image than Markus’s killer. Understandable, but Donavan wondered what the principal’s priority would be if it had been his son. Donavan had told him as much.
Donavan sucked back a shot of vodka. He thought a new tactic might give some answers. That cop’s friend Joseph seemed somewhat scared that Ramsey was going to do something to his kid, or was it kids. Donavan checked the list that he a printed out from the spread sheet Ramsey had created. Yes. Joseph had two kids. They were on the list as well. Meagan had a double italics. Interesting.
Maybe if Donavan ‘interviewed’ all of the parents it might shake up something. It was worth a try. He had spent some serious money in hiring what was called the Underground Detective Agency but didn’t really have high hopes of their success. If it had been a straight hit Donavan figured the success rate would be higher. If they did get something or didn’t, either way it was money well spent just to shake things up.
Joseph’s wife was on the list too. It listed where she worked. Donavan went back to his laptop. It might be better if he hit on the wives of the students and interviewed them.
Donavan walked over to his gun safe in the garage and dialed the combination. He brought out an underarm holster and checking the clip first, slid it in his Desert Eagle .50 caliber semi-automatic. Donavan figured this protruding from under his sport jacket while interviewing a mother about her kid might have an effect that may accomplish something. Donavan locked the door of his gun cabinet Donavan knew were Francine worked. He would figure out the rest later. He dropped his laptop and shotgun into a gym bag and threw it in the passenger seat of his Chevy Suburban. Climbing in the driver’s seat he hit the garage door opener and backed out.
A short drive through town brought him to Annette’s office now a co-ordained off area surrounding a fire crime scene. Several fire trucks had priority near the building. Water hoses draped over each other. Men were still spraying what was left of the building and wetting down the neighboring houses.
News camera trucks had set up wherever there was space and junior news people in suits interviewed anyone they thought might add to the story. Yellow tape set a perimeter that no one was allowed past. It was a jumbled scene of smoke, lights, noise and people crowding to see the carnage. A helicopter flew over with a high powered light beaming into the wreckage.
Donavan parked his suburban and made his way to a nearby coffee shop he saw had a flat screen TV inside. A small line had formed but most were getting coffee to go back outside. Donavan got a coffee and went to a booth and watched the news unfolding on the TV.
This was just too much of a coincidence. As a matter of fact there were a lot of coincidences involving his son’s murder and Donavan was bright enough to know that he needed to sit down and think about how they were all related.
The news person rambled on. “We have an unconfirmed source that says the FBI and the CIA were involved in a joint task force raid on a terrorist plot to unleash a biological weapon and their plan was to use this city as a test site. We have seen at least twenty body bags whisked away in special vehicles with no markings. We can only assume they are going to a decontamination area. We know for sure they did not go to the local hospital and as near we can tell they did not go to the city morgue. There has been no word from the police and the FBI and the CIA have refused to talk with us. The hospital confirms that there are officers with gunshot wounds but are not allowed to say more. We’ve tried to get in touch with the mayor but he is and we quote ‘unavailable’ at this time.” At this point the talking head heard something in his earphone and the scene switched to another reporter that had grabbed a bystander eyewitness to the whole thing.
“The FBI had rockets and flame throwers. You should have seen it. They weren’t going to let any bio hazard stuff escape into the air. There were flames everywhere. They had a special smoke to kill the bio stuff leaking I’m sure. You could see canisters of just smoke being set off as a precaution. They did a thorough job.”
Donavan shook his head in disbelief of the newscast. He took out his pad and wrote. ‘The police guy Frank, had Francine’s husband Joseph with him when he came to call and now Ramsey’s dead and his wife Francine’s place of work is gone. Is Francine dead?’
As he wrote it Francine walked into the coffee shop and ordered a green tea. Donavan was sure it was her but opened his laptop and checked the photo Ramsey had supplied. For sure it was her.
Donavan was about to go up and confront her but thought better of it. He finished his coffee and went back to his Suburban. In the back he had his spy kit and he pulled out a tracking device. Dropping his laptop in the car he went back to the coffee shop and looked around to see if he could see what kind of car Francine drove. Ramsey had not listed it.
Francine watched the news in disbelief. She knew the news was totally not true but she didn’t know what true was. It was time to find a hotel and get a good night’s sleep.
As she walked out she was confronted by Donavan. “You’re Joseph’s wife Francine aren’t you?”
“Yes and you are?”
“Donavan. I met your husband with a detective Frank and Leo. They’re investigating my son’s murder.”
“Oh yes. I’m sorry. I did hear about it. I know how you must feel. My own son’s girlfriend was just brutally murdered. I’m out looking for him now. I think he’s out walking it off with my daughter or at least I hope that’s what she’s doing.”
Francine’s Spidey sense was up. Who was this guy and why was he here now and what did he really want?
“I’m sorry. I really have to get going. There’s evidence they’re contaminated with some virus. I have to find them soon.”
“I’ve been in touch with the police. The toxic stuff has been shown to be arsenic. It’s bad stuff but not a virus and not contagious. I didn’t mean to hold you up. You still have to find them. If there’s anything I can do give me a call. Here’s my card.”
Donavan left first to give the illusion of being non-intrusive and went back towards his car. His intent was to give her a little space and then follow her and see if he could get the tracking device on her car. At least he would be able to get her car identified and maybe her licence plate. Donavan got in his Suburban and sat for a few seconds. He was about to get out and follow when he noticed another guy get out of his sedan and start to follow Francine down the street. “Now that’s interesting. That’s not a cop. Private detective? No. He’s too well dressed.”
Instead of following Francine and the guy Donavan got out and put the tracking device on the guy’s sedan. Donavan went back into the coffee shop and sat down to watch the fire. The guy came back twenty minutes later, got in his car, sat for ten minutes and then drove off.
Meagan rushed into Melisa’s house, laptop and backpack under her arm. “There was no one home so I broke in through the fire escape and got it.”
“Great. Melisa’s computer is just too slow and I’ve got hacking software on here that will speed things up.”
“Later. Pack up. We’ve got to get out of here. Melisa’s parents are due home early. We’re going to move you to the storage shed. It’s way more private. No one will find you there and Melisa says she got a couple of guns and is on her way now.”
Josh gathered up the two laptops and stuffed them into his backpack. “Let’s go.”
A short while later they checked before going down the drive into the garage entrance to make sure no one was watching. Melisa was already there unpacking a hockey bag of guns and ammunition. She handed Josh a bolt action rifle with a scope attached.
“It’s a 22 Swift. It cost me but it should be worth it. I got a couple of 1911 45’s as well. Oh and lots of ammunition. Oh and we have Ramsey’s gun as well.
Picking up the rifle Josh said, “It’s only a 22. That’s not going to stop this bad guy.”
“Oh yes it will. This is a special 22. It’s called the Swift because the bullet’s exit speed is the fastest ever. The guy that sold it to me explained. For a new sniper it is so fast up to a couple of hundred yards that you don’t have to worry about wind-age or even elevation. The bullet’s speed gives it energy too and that means stopping power. Here. Look at the cartridge. The bullet’s small but the powder behind it is huge. The bullets come out at over 4,000 feet per second. That’s three times what these 45’s do.”
Josh picked up the rifle and looked through the scope. “OK.” He said. “Good job.”
“He also threw in a video on army snipers. They operate as a team. The spotter uses a pair of binoculars and helps the sniper hit the target. He threw in a set of binoculars. He did say we should practice before we actually do anything.”
“OK. After we get a handle on this guy. It’s going to take some time. I tracked his licence plate to a rental at the airport but I think he dropped it off at a center in town. That means he’s still here. I need my own computer to hack into the rental’s cameras to see if I can get a face to scan. Once I have that I can find him using the town’s cameras or even a coffee shop’s.’
“Oh. One more thing. I think I saw your mom going into the gun shop after I left.”
“Mom? Are you sure?” said Meagan.
“I didn’t stick around but I’m sure it was her. I know the Mercedes. She looked mad and was sure in a hurry. I made sure she didn’t see me but it was hard going through the back trails on my bike with a hockey bag full of guns and ammunition.”
Josh looked at Meagan. “What would mom be doing in a gun shop?”
“Maybe he’s a client. She does sell real estate. He could be buying a house or maybe the shop’s up for sale.”
“Oh course.” Melisa said. “I’m getting paranoid. Let’s get some food and let Josh set up. I need to call mom and let her know I’m staying at your place and maybe you better do the same.”
“Hey. Can you text Ralph and let him know that I can’t make it tonight? I forgot all about him.” Josh said.
“OK. We’ll bring you back a vegan hamburger.”
“With fries and a shake.” Josh retorted.
“Check the cameras before you open the door to this storage garage. There’s a washroom at the end of the hall. It’s kind of dirty but functional.”
Outside Melisa said to Meagan. “He seems better now that he’s doing something. I think he even smiled at the vegan shot.”
“Right. He’s recovering. Let’s see if there’s a spot we can test shoot at the back of this building. There are some trees there but I’m not sure how far they go back.”
They got around to the back but the trees just hid a small park.
“This won’t do. I forgot we’re still in suburbia. We’ll put a hole in a house if we fire from here,” Meagan said. “The park at the end of the city will do as long as it’s late and there’s no one there.”
“Don’t some of the homeless sleep there?” Melisa asked.
“Oh yes. That won’t do either. Do you remember the movie Shaft? He used a potato as a silencer.”
“I heard it was a myth and there’s a YouTube with a video holding it together in a water bottle. It muffles it a bit but this 22 swift shoots a bullet faster than the speed of sound. It will give a crack that will be heard no matter what.”
“Hey! I got an idea. It will make more noise but it won’t matter. You know the flood overflow system. It’s got concrete tunnels. We can fire into them. We’ll set up a flashlight a hundred yards in with a target and no one will hear. No one goes there as it gets wet often. The city sewers exit through them so the water’s stinky as well.”
“Oh yeah. We used to throw firecrackers in them when we were kids. Great idea!”
Meagan and Melisa made their way to the local eatery. It served healthy food mixed with fast food to accommodate the local high school and the industrial factories nearby. They ordered and sat in a booth. Food came. An old television flickered on the wall behind the counter normally tuned to whatever sport was in vogue. News pre-empted baseball. It was ten minutes before Meagan recognized that the building on fire was Annette’s Realty and only then because someone in the eatery repeated the name Annette.
Meagan nudged Melisa. “Hey. That’s where my mom works.”
The two of them watched with interest now. The commentator had dreamed up all sorts of scenarios as to what was happening or had happened and the two of them watched for some time before they realized that the talking head was making stuff up. More than one of the customers at the restaurant said the same thing.
“Let’s get something to go for Josh and get out of here.”
Outside with a package of food for Josh they were silent for a ways. Finally Melisa said, “That’s just too much coincidence Annette’s Realty on fire.”
“If Annette’s office was burning mom would go there and comfort Annette or see what she could do. I should phone dad and leave a message on the house phone. He doesn’t have a cell and mom would forget.”
“Good idea. You can let him know that you’re staying at my place as well.”
“Hey. There’s ten texts from mom here. She says to call her.”
“Probably not a good idea to call her now. I like the idea of leaving a message for your dad at home.”
Meagan phoned home and left a long message for her dad saying that mom was probably at Annette’s as it was on fire and he shouldn’t worry and she was staying at Melisa’s.
Josh was hunkered over his laptop and barely looked up as they entered the garage storage. Melisa pulled the garage door down and Meagan opened the Styrofoam package encasing a hamburger and fries and a milk shake.
“One vegan burger.” Meagan sat beside her brother. “Any progress?”
Josh pointed at Melisa’s laptop open beside. “I got a photo of him bringing the car back. He was smart inside but I got him on the outside camera. It’s kind of grainy but enough for the face recognition program to get a fix. It works on triangulation of things like the eyes in relation to the tip of the nose and stuff. I’ve got it running on both laptops on a couple of different cameras. One’s in a grocery store near the car rental and the other’s on a quiet bar in that end of town. I’m working on a third at the mall. It’s got 16 cameras. I’m thinking it has the best odds.”
“Eat mister. You need to keep your strength up. Melisa and I have an idea on how to practice firing the 22 Swift.”
A half hour later Josh had the third system watching cameras at the mall running and had downed the vegie burger, fries and shake. They left for the water flood system, hockey bag in hand. Now after midnight the city had settled down for the night.
They got to the concrete entrance and with a bit of relief saw the water was but a trickle and they could walk in along the sides without getting wet.
There was a fence they had to get over and Melisa said, “It still stinks. To think we used to play here as kids.”
Flashlight in hand Melisa said to Meagan, “I’ll flip you for it. Someone’s got to go in and set up this target.” Melisa pulled out a folded white cardboard box from the hockey bag, “and you’ll need to prop up the flashlight so Josh can see the target.”
“I’ll go in,” Josh said. It’s better if I shoot out as it’ll hide the sound better. Just shine the light from the berm up there. I want to see how well I can see through the scope in dim light. I might take a couple of shots so don’t just come back down to the target until I say.”
Josh went in to the concrete tunnel and Meagan and Melisa set up the cardboard box. Melisa took a black magic marker and drew a cross on the face of it. They called to Josh OK and went up the berm and waited, shining the light down on to the target.
Josh fired and the noise was deafening. There was no doubt about cracking the sound barrier. The target jumped and fell over. He had at least hit the box.
“Set it up again. I want to take a second shot.”
Meagan went down and set it up again, “You’re about four inches high.” She called back.
Josh was closer on his second shot. He called and came out.
“It was very loud anyway. We should get out of here before someone comes checking it out,” Melisa said.
When they got back to the storage garage they found Josh’s software had flagged a hit at the grocery store.
“Got you!” Josh said.
Ralph ran to school each morning. It was his meditation time and the run got him going for the rest of the day. It helped with thinking. The physical exertion slowed his mind down and stabilized his thoughts.
His friend, Frank at the police station had text him late last night and wanted to meet with him before school. Frank had long ago promised a recommendation at the police academy after he passed high school. Ralph knew he was never going to be an engineer like his dad and a college athletic scholarship was possible but not probable. With Josh’s help he might have a good shot at finishing high school and being a cop sounded like a good idea. Ralph’s dad had highly encouraged it. Now Frank needed him to help him solve the murders at Ralph’s school.
Ralph looked forward to meeting with Frank. He was cool and a couple of times had taken Ralph to the shooting range. Frank was one of the few people that Ralph really looked up to. He knew what Frank was going to ask about even if he didn’t know exactly what was going on. Ralph also knew was going to betray a friend.
Ralph rounded the corner by the school and walked the rest of the way up the block to the coffee shop as a cool down. He could see Frank’s unmarked car in the parking lot and saw Frank wave through the shop window. There was a banana smoothie waiting.
“You should run with me in the morning.” Ralph said, “It’s a good way to start the day.”
“I was up all night. The coffee is going to keep me awake through the day. Some superiors are going to be asking questions that I can’t answer but I’ll have to look like I know and have everything under control.”
“So you think I might have some answers for you?” Ralph sipped on his smoothie.
Frank pulled out the USB stick that Leo had found and put it on the table in front of Ralph. “This was found at the site that Debbie was shot. Josh is, was her boyfriend. Does Josh engage in hacking activities?”
“He’s better at it than most.” Ralph admitted. “He is really bright. He’s helping me with math. I’m helping him work out.”
“I’ve got two murders at this school, Markus and Ramsey, another student shot, Debbie, and a few more shot at a house and some FBI and CIA agents shot. Josh’s mother is missing and her boss is missing and her boss’s house is a war zone and burned to the ground.”
“Oh.” Ralph said. “I didn’t know all that. Dad said I should watch the news regularly.”
“I think they’re all related. There are just too many coincidences.”
“I know Josh started selling steroids but he’s new at it. He wanted to get bigger so he could get girls. Before he even worked out a few times he’s dating Debbie. She’s, was two years or so older than him and seriously hot. It didn’t make sense other than he helped her with computer work. She’s kind of bright too.”
“Is there anyone else that’s good at hacking that I should know about?”
“I understand there’s a hacking club but I don’t know the members. They’re kind of secretive. There’s another thing though. Debbie was raped and beaten up pretty bad before she met Josh. I was there when they met. She had just come out of the hospital and had some bruises and her arm was in a sling.”
“Do you know if there was a police report?”
“I don’t think so. She was plenty scared. Almost killed I heard.”
“So there probably was not a rape kit or DNA sample.”
“I don’t think so. There’s a mistrust of the police on the south side.”
“Both Markus and Ramsey’s blood was full of curare. I can see a student pulling up Markus’s body to look like a hanging suicide and even taking him by surprise but Ramsey’s a big guy and used to rough tactics.”
“Word is Marcus was a bully and did it just for fun. He was a big guy too. I’m one of the few guys that he didn’t pick on for fun. He was not well liked.”
“Would he have picked on woman as well?”
“No doubt about it. I walked over and stood between him and more than one girl he was about to smack just to let them know he could. Nobody smacks a girl when I’m around.”
“Did you and he ever have words?”
“No. He knew better. He just walked away.”
“All the cameras were turned off for Markus but not Ramsey. I’m getting the idea that Markus’s death was planned but Ramsey’s was impromptu.”
“Every student knows where the cameras are and the blind spots. They’re making out spots.”
“You would know where those spots are?”
Ralph just smiled.
Ralph walked back to the school gym. It was still well before nine when school classes began and the schools weight room had a shower. Ralph prided himself in looking and smelling good and thought the ladies might appreciate it.
Toweling off after he heard a loud whisper. “Ralph”
Turning around with only a towel in front of him he was surprised to see Josh’s mother Francine in the men’s change room. She had a towel draped over an AK47 only slightly hiding it.
“Mrs. Johnson! You’re not supposed to be in here.” Ralph said trying to cover himself the best he could with what now seemed to be a very skimpy towel.
“Sorry. Have you seen Josh? You’re his friend. He’s not answering his cell and no one seems to know where he is.”
“I got a text from Melisa saying he wouldn’t be showing up for weight training but that’s all. I kind of expected him not to show up with Debbie dying and all. Sorry by the way.”
“If you see him or hear from him will you ask him to call me? Melisa as well and Meagan. No one seems to be answering their cell and I’m sort of getting worried.”
Francine left in a rush without saying anything more.
Ralph put on his pants and called Frank. His cell didn’t connect because in the basement gym facility there was very poor cell reception. Ralph realized it immediately, put the rest of his clothes on, grabbed his backpack and went outside.
From the back school steps he could see across the soccer field where a couple of side streets converged. A few cars arrived dropping off students. Parked on one of the side streets was Mrs. Johnson’s Mercedes. Ralph had seen it before with Josh and Meagan in it. Ralph called Frank again. When he answered Ralph told him of Francine’s gun and coming in the men’s locker room.
“She’s just parked there. I can’t see from here but I think she’s on her cell or doing something. OH! She’s started up. There she goes.”
“OK Ralph. Thanks. I’ll let dispatch know. There’s an APB on her.”
“Hey. Wait a minute. There’s another car following her. Hang on a minute. I’ll see if I can get a picture.”
Ralph took a picture with his cell phone and then got back to Frank.
“I’ll text it to you when we’re done. Just a minute. There’s Markus’s father following them both. He’s got a big Chevy suburban. I know him from a couple of body building contests we were at together.”
“You’re telling me there are two cars following Francine, Mrs. Johnson?”
“Sure looks like it. The guy in the first car had a suit on. There might have been another guy with him but it was hard to tell.”
Thanks Ralph. Send me the photo.
“Will do,” Ralph signed off and text Frank attaching the photo. After Ralph checked the photo. Yes. He could zoom in on the licence plate.
Leo rolled into the office early. He knew he had to go to court and wanted to get his files before anyone at the office could corral him and make him answer questions he couldn’t answer or worse chew him out for murders he didn’t know about or fires he didn’t set.
To cheer himself up Leo had taken the Allard to work rather than the bus. The problem was it attracted attention. Once he parked between a Lamborghini and a Ferrari, both worth double his car and people had gathered around his and ignored them. Today he was trying to fade into the wallpaper and it was very hard with the Allard.
Martha sat at her desk, “Good morning Mr. early bird!” she said overly cheerfully. “I’m here on orders to tell you that you’re to be here at noon to meet with the chief of police and the mayor and his nibs. They all knew by the way that you would be sneaking in here early to avoid seeing his nibs. I’ll have you know that you owe me five coffees for making me come in early.”
“I’ll buy you an automatic coffee maker if you tell them you missed me.”
“That’ll work if you send me to Italy to pick up my expresso machine.”
“Let’s see. With my dollar a week raise that I got last week I should be able to do that in about two thousand weeks.”
“That’s 38 years from now. It’ll make a nice retirement package ten years after my retirement.”
“Well. After today I expect I’ll be going into private practice, probably in another state.”
“I still like your hat. It gives you a distinguished look.”
“Thanks. I still can’t throw it onto the hat rack like Sean Connery.”
“Anybody that calls me Miss Moneypenny can expect to get shot.”
Leo grabbed his docket files, hopped into his Allard, drove to the courthouse and paid extra to get a very visual spot in the courthouse parking garage that had cameras watching it. Checking in with the court clerk he found that his dockets had all been arranged for early morning slots. Leo was sure the mayor had made a phone call.
The morning dragged. All the prosecutions were plea bargains arranged earlier and Leo had to sit down with lawyers and fill out forms and then verbally submit them to the judge who approved and then the clerk stamped them, copied them and everybody signed them.
Alice texted. “Frank has a lead on Francine. Call me when you’re free.”
Leo was worried about Joseph. He hadn’t said much after hearing the tape from Annette’s office and decided the best thing to do was to go home and wait for either Josh or Meagan or Francine to call or show up.
After lunch on his way back to the office Leo called Alice who filled him in on the latest development. She had been at the office but had found an excuse to leave before Leo got there or at least Leo thought. Martha had disappeared as well. Leo stopped at the local electronics store and bought a recorder just like the one Alice had given him. If he was about to be fired it would be good to have the whole thing on tape. It would help in a wrongful dismissal lawsuit which is where he thought he might be heading and also it might help if he was called up against the bar for his lawyer’s ticket. In any event it would give him some leverage after the fact if he needed it.
Leo liked his nibs but his nibs worked for the mayor and the mayor’s only agenda was to keep being elected. The chief of police was of the same ilk. He was hired and his only concern was to keep his job. He worked for the mayor. If they were looking for a fall guy it would be the low man on the totem pole and Leo couldn’t see anyone under him. There was potentially more money in private practice but Leo did know of a lot of starving lawyers. Maybe he should become a private eye. Ramsey had made a living at it. He was dead, which was not a good end to a career but on the other hand all of his former clients were now for the taking. Leo headed up to the office. The mayor, the chief of police and George were the only ones there. They were all sitting around George’s desk waiting for Leo.
The mayor spoke first, “Good afternoon Leo. Please sit down.”
Leo got a look from George but both he and the police chief said nothing.
“Leo. I won’t take up much of your time. We’d like your resignation.”
“Oh?” Leo said.
“Quite frankly we’re not happy with the way you handled this investigation. There are several people dead and a building burned down and suspects still at large.”
“And you’ve been interfering with a police investigation,” the chief of police added. The mayor looked at him sternly and the chief shut up.
“Oh?” Leo said again.
“My fiend Annette is missing and her place is burned down,” The mayor added.
“No.” Leo said.
“Yes. Don’t you watch the news?” The mayor said. “It’s all over the papers as well.”
“I meant no I won’t hand in my resignation. You’ll have to fire me.”
George made like he was going to say something but remained silent.
“The chief of police jumped in again. “Either way, you’re out of here.”
George just shook his head in disbelief.
“Are you just going to sit there George? Fire him,” the mayor said.
George finally spoke up, ignoring the mayor, said to Leo, “It would be an interesting law suit.”
“What do you mean, law suit?” the mayor said.
The chief was tired of being ignored and put down, “You’re still interfering with a police investigation. ‘That’s an indictable offence which will mean your lawyer’s licence which will mean your job.”
Leo talked over the chief and the mayor. “And the chief of police was aware of the FBI’s and the CIA’s investigation and he supported the mayor who will be indicted for accepting campaign contributions from the very criminal that caused the crimes he asked me to investigate.”
Both the mayor and the chief looked at each other. George spoke up, “Like I said, it will be an interesting law suit.”
“What are you talking about?” the mayor said.
“We sent the tape over to the police station yesterday. Didn’t the chief give you a copy?” Leo said.
“What tape?” the chief said.
“We sent a copy to the joint task force of the FBI and CIA as well,” Leo said, “They’ll probably release it to the news later today.”
“What tape?” the mayor said to both the chief and Leo.
“I accidently dropped my dictation voice activated recorder at Annette’s party. It was still running after we picked it up and it captured Annette orchestrating the diamond heists and the hit on the Henderson property.”
George said to the mayor, “We also record every phone conversation coming into this office. So there is a record of your asking that Leo investigate over the police as they seemed to be incapable of doing their job.”
At this the chief faced the mayor and turned red.
“I have to say that without several officers help I wouldn’t have solved this case,” Leo said.
“At the mayor’s request I did upgrade Leo’s status to Assistant Prosecuting Attorney and in the papers shortly after he was deemed a hero. The press will probably be asking questions as to why Leo was fired right after.”
The mayor looked at the chief and said, “You knew that the FBI and the CIA had a task force here and you didn’t tell me?”
“They never told me of any task force.”
George took the initiative as the topic had changed and the chief and the mayor were not only on the defensive but at odds with each other. “Look if you want me to fire Leo you’re going to have to put the request in writing and then I’ll take it from there. While we’re at it right now I need three new lawyers to keep up with the workload already. If Leo’s gone make that five. I also need a pay raise for both Leo and Alice too as she’s doing a lawyer’s work right now. She’ll get her degree shortly. You can claim they both are hero’s just doing their jobs.”
“Is Alice putting together the press release?” Leo stepped in.
George pulled out a piece of paper from his top drawer. “I have a raise request right here if you’ll just sign it we can get back to work.”
The mayor leaned over without saying anything, signed it and left leaving the chief standing there. The chief, not knowing what to say or do, left in a huff.
Leo looked a George for a moment and then asked. “Are you really recording all our phone calls?”
“No. But it might be a good idea.”
“And you just happened to have a raise request in your top drawer?”
“It’s an old one, undated, I sent over a year ago. Alice and Martha are there too and it’s in percentages so it will be from where you are now to whatever. There was also a request for three new lawyers and some new computers. Is Alice really putting together a press conference?”
“No. But it sounds like a good idea,” Leo said.
“Where is Alice anyway? Aren’t you two an item now?”
“She doesn’t report to me. As a matter of fact it seems often that I’m to report to her. That makes three, with you and Martha. What happened to Martha anyway?”
“She said something about going to Italy to get a coffee maker but I also report to her.”
“Shouldn’t we be doing something? After all, Fishbait did say that he wanted us to discredit Leo.” Squid said.
“We did discredit him. I made him buy that hat. It still looks goofy.”
“Yes. But his, now, girlfriend likes it. She likes him too.”
“And let’s not forget, that even though Leo won this battle, the mayor and the chief still don’t like him. They just got bested by a junior and they’ll remember that until they die. It will be even worse when Leo takes over George’s job in the future. He’ll constantly be at odds with them.”
“That’s not the point. Fishbait said to discredit him so he won’t be a positive influence on our target Joseph.”
“I was hired because of my experience in drifting. That means for the most part doing nothing. Doing nothing in itself is doing something. It’s a fine finesse art developed over many lifetimes of resistance to taking a stand without anyone noticing.”
“You need to get something straight. This is Hell and you weren’t hired, you were sent here for your failure in life. In Hell you’re always at the bottom of the pit and that means everybody is above you and uses you to make excuses for their incompetence. Fishbait will use your failure to do something as an excuse for some failure on his part. Believe me. I’ve known him for over five hundred years. He didn’t get where he is by being nice.”
“That hardly seems fair.”
“Now you’re starting to get it. This is Hell. You must have known even on Earth that nothing was fair.”
“I was always fair. I mean I didn’t do anything but I was always fair about it.”
“Even in Heaven they aren’t fair! Oh they do recognize merit but just think about it. They have a spy in Hell. How fair is that?”
“You mean if I went to Heaven I might end up as a spy in Hell. Why would anyone want to go to Heaven if you’re going to Hell anyway? You may as well have fun and go straight to Hell.”
Squid just shrugged, “I told you. It’s like a giant video game. It’s Heaven versus Hell and the playing ground is Earth.”
“You still haven’t convinced me that Heaven’s better.”
“In Heaven if you win you get accolades, merit and a pat on the back. In Hell you sink lower until finally you end up in the deep or the second death. There’s no job satisfaction for a well done in Hell. In Heaven you get this thing called Joy. They even had a quote for a correct lifestyle on Earth. ‘Life should be lived in joyous anticipation.”
“Oh, like there’s no anticipation in drifting.”
“Now you’re getting it.”
“I’m still at odds over Heaven spying in Hell. That seems to me against gaming rules and therefore total anarchy.”
“We can cheat too but it’s harder for us as heaven knows we always will. Of course there are rules that we break too.”
“Is there a list? Maybe I should get one and memorize it.”
“It’s not so much an act as we have an advantage.”
“We get to prey on the weak.”
“A long time ago our lord Lucifer, head of justice had a conflict with the head of mercy. It’s kind of like Portia versus Shylock in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venus. Anyway what happened was a third of Heaven followed Lucifer and his lieutenant Satan and a third followed Archangel Michael in Heaven.”
“That leaves a third.”
“We call them sheep and most of them are on earth.”
“And the sheep are weak.”
“Sheep are for the most part followers and easily tricked by wolves.”
“In sheep’s clothing?”
“Yes. And followers are good candidates for drifting. They don’t know where they’re going and at some point aren’t even following and if they are following they don’t know who or what they’re following.”
“So when they’re near anything that is part of the seven deadly sins, Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy or pride we just highlight this to them and they follow it.”
“That’s pretty well it. There are other lists. Buddha had just five. Ignorance, anger, pride, lust and jealousy,” Said Squid. “You can keep it simpler by just remembering Siddhartha’s ‘All suffering is from inordinate desire.”
“So all we have to do is keep the sheep poor with children and dangle a lottery ticket in front of them.”
“Easy pickens from our point of view. You can see why the enemy cheats.” Squid said, “We have another advantage as well.”
“You’ve heard of the salutation; Health, Wealth & Love?”
“These are three aspects of humanities’ makeup. Each affects the other and can do so either positively or negatively. For example a sudden expense can affect a family relationship or even the recipient’s health. A relationship setback such as an affair by one of the spouses can affect the health of each. Health can put a stain on both finances and relationships.”
“So all we have to do is hit them with one of these and all three go down?”
“That’s it. One of the easiest is health. We had one of our own put together what is now known as the Standard American Diet. Note the acronym is SAD. It’s full of dairy and meats and low on plants.”
“I thought things like dairy were good for you.”
“You’re in Hell. How do you think you got there?”
“I didn’t think dairy got me here.”
“You drank your own Kool-Aid. Those fifty foot high billboards that say milk is healthy and builds strong bones and teeth are an outright lie. One of Fishbait’s superior’s had a hand in it. Truth is it takes calcium right out of your bones to digest it and the mucus formed by it destroys your teeth.”
“It’s a good thing then that we don’t need to drink it down here then.”
“Yes. We don’t need it but sometimes because of the heat a drink of water is considered compensation for extraordinary bad stuff,” Squid said.
“So the SAD diet is basically three food groups, salt, sugar and fat.”
The earthlings would rarely have any health problems if they would just move to a plant based diet. It helps us in other ways as well. It’s the number one cause of pollution, more than all the others combined. It takes 4,000 gallons of water and 20 pounds of grass to make a pound of hamburger. It cost twenty times as much to feed the planet. The removal of health problems if everyone moved to a plant based diet would close down 95% of all the hospitals.”
“And it draws energy from each individual. They become slothful, lazy and without drive. This is a recipe for drifting.”
“I still think that we should let Leo have his way. Our target is Joseph and Leo might solve the day before Joseph even gets that idea that he should do something. Right now Joseph is just sitting at home waiting for something to happen and that’s where we should keep him.”
“OK. Let’s send a memo to Fishbait and let him approve our plan. It will then suddenly become his idea of course but this is Hell.”
“Have you ever wanted a secretary that can’t spell?’
“I’d never admit it but the thought crossed my mind.”
Francine had seen the black sedan following her for a few blocks now and decided it was time to take action. For three stoplights now she had timed how long it took for the car following her to pass the spot where she had stopped at the light. There were two cars between her and the black sedan. She’d need 5 seconds. As she left the stoplight one of the cars between her and the black sedan turned off. Now it was possible. Francine grabbed the hockey bag next to her. She drove to the next light she rolled the window down and pulled one grenade from the bag. Still watching the mirror it now appeared there was another vehicle behind the black sedan. It looked like a large black suburban. So! The bad guys are bringing up reinforcements!
This time just before stopping she had turned the car just a bit to the right. They would not be able to see her drop the grenade from the side and roll it under her own car. The light turned green and Francine pulled away as before but counting, one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand. The car directly behind her followed but half way through the intersection decided to turn left. The black sedan slowed. Francine slipped away gaining speed as she got further from the intersection.
The grenade went off under the front of the black sedan. It didn’t kill the driver but it did stop the car and destroyed the front end. Both front tires blew out and the front end after rising in the air a bit settled to the ground still sliding forward slowing as the metal frame ground into the pavement.
The driver got out of the car somewhat stunned. Both legs were covered in blood. The passenger fell to the ground crawling out the car door. Both had their guns out. The driver saw the suburban SUV behind and figured it would be a good one to commandeer. He picked wrong.
Not expecting any resistance to carjacking the black sedan driver waved his gun at Donavan who rolled down his window and shot him in the hip. The fifty caliber blasted half his hip away and the force knocked him to the ground. The passenger on the ground quickly recovering got up and started firing at Donavan’s suburban. Donavan pulled to the right around the now on fire black sedan and drove into the passenger who tried to leap away. Donavan stopped and the passenger slid off the front of his SUV. Still alive but barely, he rolled in front of his own burning car. Donavan pulled away checking to see if there were any traffic cameras at the intersection. As far as he could see there were none.
Francine drove all the way around the block and parked her car on a side street. Putting on her baseball cap and sun glasses she walked up to the intersection to see what all the fuss was about like several other people. Just in case she carried her now very heavy purse with the 45 in it and an extra clip.
Donavan had the same idea. He didn’t know Francine was doubling back but when he saw her Mercedes he turned around in a driveway and went back up the street well out of site. Donavan then turned around again and got another bug to plant on the Mercedes as he walked back up toward the intersection. A few minutes later he was watching the police and fire truck and a happy tow truck driver who happened by discussing what should be done how and when. A couple of junior police officers were hovering over the injured men now handcuffed and barely moving. Other officers pushed people back, put up yellow caution tape and photographed everything. Finally the ambulance came, sirens wound down as they stopped.
Donavan saw Francine standing on the closest corner watching the activity. He made his way across the street and then further down he crossed the intersection so eventually he was on the opposite corner. He had a good view of what was going on and what Francine was interested in and if she might happen to talk with anyone.
“It looks like a gang hit,” someone beside him said.
“Did you see it?” Donavan asked.
“Oh yeah. Came up just as it was going on. There was a bomb in the car. The driver wasn’t dead and the other guy came from across the street and started shooting. The driver got him though before he died.”
“Must have timed the bomb just right to blow in the middle of the intersection.”
“They must have had one of those remote cell throw a-ways hooked up,” The guy said.
“What’s the world coming to? This used to be a nice peaceful city.”
“You got that right.”
Donavan’s cell rang.
“Are you watching the TV?” The cell asked without saying who it was.
“No.” Donavan recognized the voice from the agency he had just hired to find Markus’s killer.
“Two of my men just got hit at an intersection. Both are dead according to the news. Someone planted a bomb in their car. What have you got me into?”
“I don’t know but your guys aren’t dead, just shot up. I just talked to a cop I know. You did know that you were investigating a murderer? You must be getting close if someone hit your guys. Sorry to hear of it. I’ll double your fee if you find those guys.”
“Now I have a personal stake in it. I’ll find them.” The caller hung up.
Donavan waited for a while watching the workers clean up. Francine hadn’t moved but seemed very interested in what was going on. She took a couple of notes on a pad. Donavan assumed she took down the plate number but couldn’t know for sure. She made a couple of calls on her cell but didn’t talk to anyone.
Donavan decided to go back to his SUV and wait. On his way back he stayed across the street from Francine’s Mercedes. Two men in suits were walking the other way along the sidewalk. ‘No one wears suits anymore. What are these guys up to?’
The two men stopped beside the Mercedes and one lit a cigarette. As he did the other quickly placed a bug on the inside of the curb side fender. Both men walked on as if nothing had happened.
Donavan went back to his SUV and grabbed another bug. His kit came with five. There was no better use for them than here. He walked back up and down the street hoping to figure out what car the two men had come from. Finally down a side street he saw a full size new rental sedan. ‘No one buys these anymore.’ He planted the bug on the car and went back to his SUV.
A couple of teenagers were inspecting his Suburban. “Hey. Can I help you boys?” Donavan asked.
One of the youths said. “We were wondering where you got those bullet holes. They are very cool.”
“Sorry. My son got them for me as a Christmas present.”
“They’re the best I’ve ever seen. There’s actual holes in the body like the real thing.”
“A body shop did it. It came with a couple of bullet-hole decals for the windshield but they finally wore off in the car washes.”
“Still looks very cool.”
“Have a good day.” Donavan got in and drove off to look for a coffee shop.
As Donavan pulled away one of the youths pulled out his cell phone.
“You calling the cops?” The other said.
“Yeah. That guy must think we were born yesterday. Body shop bullet holes indeed. That guy was walking back from that shooting at the intersection. He had to be involved. I got a photo of his licence plate.”
“That bulge had to be a gun under his jacket too.”
“911. What’s your emergency? Police, Ambulance or Fire?”
Josh, Meagan and Melisa left the underground storage garage separately, waiting a few minutes between them so not to attract attention. Meagan toted the hockey bag over her shoulder as they met up some distance away at a bus stop.
“We need to make a stop at the surplus electronics shop,” Josh said. “I need to pick up a couple of remote cameras. Where we are going is a motel near the airport. We can’t just sit and wait outside for this guy. We’ll need to be well hidden and google earth shows a woods across the street.”
“Can we see if we can get a small tripod for these binoculars as well? “They’re really powerful and hard to hold still so I can spot for you like in the sniper movie.”
“There should be something there we can adapt,” Josh said. “Say. I should ask. Are you guys sure you want to go through with this? She was my girlfriend and I know she was your friend too but this is different. These guys are pros. This might not come out well.”
“She was our friend too Josh,” Meagan said, “We took out Markus as he was still threatening Debbie. Ramsey was an accident but he did threaten us as well. You know what they say. In for a penny. In for a dollar.”
“Debbie was my friend and cousin,” Melisa said. “I want to be part of getting this guy.”
They walked into the electrical surplus store together. The manager recognized Josh who told him what he wanted. Meagan paid with her credit card and the three left with another bag of goodies.
“He gave me a deal on the cameras. I got three for the price of two.”
“And the tripod,” Melisa said. “Hey. Let’s go by the army surplus on the way. We can pick up some camouflage. If we’re going to do this, let’s do it right.”
Shortly they had another bag full of stuff. They made their way to the edge of town and the motel.
“This has to be the place. It’s the only motel within miles of that grocery store,” Josh said.
“What now?” Meagan said. “Where do you want these cameras?”
“I’m thinking I’m going to be up on that hill across the road with my laptop. These cameras work on a Wi-Fi type signal but their range is only a few hundred yards so we need one at the back of the motel and one at each end.”
“Why do you need the cameras at all?” Melisa asked, “You can see him through the binoculars from the hill or even through the scope on the rifle.”
“Actually I don’t know what he looks like. I’ve only got a rough image of him. That’s the other reason for the cameras. The software with its facial recognition will identify him and then I’ll be able to pick him off.”
“OK,” Meagan said, Melisa and I will set up the cameras and meet you back across the road in the bushes up the hill.”
Josh was ecstatic. He was going to avenge Debbie. Not only was he going to take out his lover’s killer like a true man’s man he was going to rid the world of an evil bad guy. It was his duty and he would be a hero.
Climbing the hill with his backpack and hockey bag he reached the trees to find behind a thick brush that was quite difficult to walk through. That suited Josh fine as it meant few people ever came through here. In front of the hotel was its rusting van sporting the hotel name that shuttled guests to and from the airport. Seven other cars lined up neatly in front of the building like suckling pigs at dinner.
Josh found two trees very close together. Behind was a hollow that he could lie prone. The tree gave him cover if anyone shot back and would definitely hide his movement and the gun barrel from all but the most trained eye. Josh noted the sun behind him. He knew he had been watching too many Hollywood movies. Josh set up camp and carefully pulled out the rifle from its sheath. There was just enough room between the two trees for Josh to swivel the gun and scan the length of the hotel from left to right.
Without any ammunition in the gun Josh practiced aiming, firing and then pulling the bolt back and aiming and firing again. In short order he was confident that he had three in a row down pat. He saw the two girls meet down the road, walk across the street and into the bush. Shortly they found him and sat beside him.
“We got the cameras set up. One at each end and one at the back central entrance. There’s a couple of abandon cars at the back and a garbage bin. It looks like there’s a back window for each room but the only entrance is from the front. At the end is the motel register and lobby. It has a back door but it doesn’t look used. I wanted to get one of the cameras inside but thought it too risky. I could see in though and there doesn’t seem to be anyone there. The manager must be in the back. I got the camera at that end positioned to get a face shot of anyone going for ice or the coin pop machine. How long are the camera batteries good for?”
“They’re supposed to be good for 24 hours. My laptop is only good for ten but I have a backup battery for it. Let’s hope we don’t have to sit here longer than that.”
“I brought some snack bars and a few water bottles,” Melisa said and pulled them out of her backpack.
“Great,” Josh said. “Let’s hope we don’t have to pee soon.”
“Hey. Women can pee in the woods Mister.”
“Sorry. I meant me. It takes away from watching closely,” Josh said. “Melisa. I know you want to spot but I don’t think I need it. I know where I’m going to shoot. I want you and Meagan to split up on either side of me and find a tree setup like this. Take the 45’s. If someone starts shooting back at me hit them with a rain of bullets. I would say go through two clips and then get out of there. We can meet back at the garage later. I’ll keep Ramsey’s gun and if I need to run I’ll abandon the rifle. I won’t leave until I’ve heard both of you go through two sets of clips. There might be an opportunity after you quit shooting to get one more shot in. Remember to put your phones on vibrate.”
Meagan and Melisa nodded and grabbed their stuff. Meagan went left and Melisa right. Josh set up his laptop and saw the three cameras come on screen. He adjusted the power saver and the screen went dark. It would beep if he got a hit and the screen would come back. Josh got comfortable and adjusted the camouflage that Melisa had the foresight to get.
What would it have been like to be married to Debbie? Josh couldn’t picture himself having children but that’s what married people did. He figured they might have traveled the world on his yacht fighting modern day pirates. Josh scanned the motel with the binoculars. “I’m going to get this guy.”
“Should we help him?” Johnathon asked. “This is without doubt a bunch of really bad guys and they need to be part of our fold.
“It’s an interesting question,” Squid answered, “On the one hand they are somewhat more value here doing very bad things. They’ll come to us sooner or later. I did some planning by the way. I just like gunfire and blowing up things. Gosh. It’s more than luck that the Black Assassin is here.”
“I have a confession to make,” said Johnathon.
“Oh, and what have you been up to now?” Squid asked.
“The Black Assassin isn’t here. I fudged Josh’s face recognition software to get a hit on one of these minor bad guys.”
“Oh. You are learning,” Squid said.
“He is an interesting guy though. The Interpol Police have a very large file on him with several hits and crimes in several countries. Say. I’m getting the hand of this pad. It’s got this thing called Google on it.”
“What may be interesting is our own file on bad guys. Sorry. My pad has a higher level of clearance than yours. It seems that this guy is just a hired gun to clean up Annette and Francine and the guys that are already dead. He was hired by a terrorist organization to make sure the organization is not suspected. They are also worried about skimming of the diamonds.
“Call me old fashioned but I kind of want to see Josh eventually shoot this guy. It’s an eye for an eye thing maybe.”
“Me too,” Squid said, “but let’s see if we can make this shootout more interesting. Maybe we can get someone else or something else in here. It would be wonderful to have a news team in the area that rushed in to see what all the shooting’s about.”
“I’m on it,” Johnathon said. “We can make an anonymous call to the local TV station that some heartthrob is hiding at this motel before he boards the plane.”
“Brilliant!” Squid said, “I have to say you’re coming right along as a soul procurer.”
Johnathon made the call.
Alice walked into the office. It was empty except for one of the juniors and Martha.
“What’s up Martha? Where is everybody?”
“Everybody got a raise so his nibs decided to take everybody out to lunch.”
“It’s well after lunch.’
“I think it was to be a liquid lunch.”
“Yes. You too.”
“And what brought that on?”
“That boyfriend of yours out testosterone’d the mayor and the chief of police.”
“Oh. That’s why the chief wants to see me. Apparently because of all the shootings he wants six more cars and double that in men for the next budget. He said he wants to put something the mayor said in writing and wants it to be legal like.”
“Apparently Annette was a campaign contributor for the mayor during the last election.”
“No she wasn’t. All she did was support the mayor’s charity.”
“Oh my-gosh. The mayor didn’t even know. How could he not know? Your boyfriend has some stuff.” Martha reflected.
“The chief seemed somewhat happy. It sounds like he took advantage of whatever happened. Give me the gory details woman.”
“Sorry. I wasn’t here but I did hear his nibs get a phone call back from the chief about releasing a press statement having the mayor authorizing more funding for the police and the prosecution department. Of course I didn’t listen in.”
“Leo was here and told me. I really wasn’t here.”
“But I would have listened in if I was here.”
“Of course. I would have too.”
“And his nibs said I’m to order one of those fancy Keurig coffee machines. No more rot gut diesel fuel.”
“Speaking of Leo, where is he anyway?”
“He left just after I came in. His nibs had already left but not without leaving several memos on my desk.”
“Anything interesting?” Alice asked. “Left? Where?”
“I’ve only got through the first one and acted on it. The coffee machine. I scanned the rest and they weren’t important. Questions two and three I don’t know.”
“How many ended up on my desk?”
“Enough to keep you here all afternoon while I go out to get our new coffee machine.”
“You can get a hundred pack at the big box stores. Get seven boxes to start off with.”
“Your raise will be that of an acting lawyer. Don’t tell anyone I told you. His nibs wanted to tell you himself,” Martha smiled.
“Oh. I suppose I should earn my keep then. Thanks Martha. I will act surprised.”
Martha grabbed her bag and started to leave, “I think I’ll get some hot chocolate packets too.”
“Get some marshmallows and we’ll celebrate when you get back.”
Martha left and Alice settled down at her desk. The in box was eight inches high and the out box was empty. The office had a small television that with rabbit ears could get three local channels. Alice turned it on to eat through the background quiet. The temp had quietly left when she and Martha were talking. There was a news pre-empt that was talking about a bomb and shooting at a local intersection.
The news person asked a couple of bystanders if they thought this might be related to the gunfire at Annette’s Realty.
“It must be retaliation of the CIA and the FBI taking down those criminals,” an elderly couple said.
A group of youths heckled in the background. The reporter having none of it asked them over. “Are you going to the University?” She asked.
“Yeah. We’re taking law,” one of them said.
On hearing this Alice looked up and recognized one of them from her night class. The students had obviously been drinking.
“It’s not safe to walk down the street. Two guys got out of the car after it was bombed and this big guy behind in a black SUV shot them both with some kind of huge cannon. The noise was defining,” one said. The other pitched in. “Those bullets could have gone right through those guys and hit one of us.”
“You’re law students?” The reporter asked. “And you saw the whole thing?
“Did you happen to get the licence number of the SUV?”
“Did you happen to think of taking a photo with your cell phone?”
The reporter didn’t wait for an answer and the station went to a commercial.
“Good job lady,” Alice mused out loud. “Speaking of cell phones, where is my boyfriend? He’s supposed to report in to me on a regular basis.”
Alice texted Leo, “Where R U? You’re supposed to report to me on a regular basis. Martha dumped a load of work on me. Not fair. Thanks for the raise that I’m not supposed to know about. Pick me up for supper.”
Alice texted again, “Do you know who got shot? The SUV sounds like Donavan.”
After a few minutes of no reply from Leo Alice decided to phone Frank and see if he knew anything. It went to his answering machine.
“Dash! Men are never around when you need them.”
Francine wondered what happened to the huge black SUV that was behind the car she just blew up. As near as she could figure, whoever was in it shot the two guys following her. Who was he and why was he helping her? There were too many men at Annette’s. She had expected just one assassin with maybe a backup guy. There had to be twenty guys there all with guns and sniper backup. Were the police involved? The news said the FBI and the CIA were there. Were they after her as well? Who shot Debbie? Where was her son now? And where was Meagan? She took him out of the hospital. Why wasn’t anyone answering their cell?
Francine wanted answers and stayed at the scene of the intersection shootings as the news was now calling it for as long as she dared. She made small talk with some other bystanders hoping to get a clue or something to help her with her next move. After the scene started to get back to normal Francine casually made her way back to her car.
Fact. She was now a target. If she was a target she shouldn’t be near people she loved. The enemy would be waiting near to take her out.
Francine stopped a block short of her Mercedes. A police car was behind it. The officers were out and looking it over, one of them talking on his personal radio. The other was looking at the hockey bag she had left on the front seat. Did she remember to close it up tight? Could they see inside it? Francine was now on foot. She turned around and walked slowly back to the intersection. From there she climbed on the next bus and went back to the center of the city. After sitting she thought it funny that she had not even checked to see if her husband was the driver. She felt the weight of her purse on her lap. Francine knew she needed some sleep and food. Food first. Francine got off at a health food store that had a deli section. Eating too quickly she decided it might be a good idea to get out of the city for a bit. She checked her cell for flights to the Caribbean. It didn’t matter where as long as it left soon. She booked a flight to Jamaica on her cell that was to leave at 10:00 AM tomorrow.
Where to get a good night’s sleep? Francine googled motels. There was one near the airport. Francine hailed a cab.
“You had to have done that,” Squid said. “There are no coincidences in fiction novels that could match it.”
“Just like you Squid,” Johnathon said. “I like to see some shooting too. This just has to make it a lot more interesting.”
“That was very smooth. I didn’t even see you do it. Who else are you planning on bringing here? I must say you are becoming a very good soul procurer. Fishbait will be pleased if it can be said he ever is.’
“Speaking of Mr. Fishbait, he hasn’t called us in some time.”
“He does have his golf tournament to prepare for.”
‘Weren’t we supposed to do something with that like caddy or something?”
“He said he was using HotStuff. Just as well. There are some big wigs there that are good idea not to be around.”
“They tend to build themselves up by putting others down. It’s a trait they acquired before they got to Hell and one of the reasons they got here. As juniors we tend to be the ones they put down and down when you’re already in Hell is not good, it’s bad. Forgive the pun.”
“I thought you said there is no forgiveness in Hell.”
“Oh Hell. I did say that didn’t I? You avoided the question very well Johnathon. But who else do you have coming?”
“It would be nice to have everyone there but it might get crowded,” Johnathon said, “I confess that I tried to get our friend Leo but he’s off enjoying himself in that fancy car.”
“Let’s see. There are seven cars at the hotel and 14 men all part of the diamond smuggling organization.” Squid said.
‘And they all have weapons.”
“Did you get our assassin to come?”
“No. He’s staying at a better hotel downtown. This is too low life for him He’s reported back to his superior’s and they’ve told him there is no point in further hits. Annette, we know is dead but they think gone to ground will never be a problem and Francine is never going to be able to trace anything. His only job now is to pick up the diamonds.”
“Then I expect we will meet him someday.”
“By the way, did you see who planted the bug on Francine’s Mercedes? It can’t have been the assassin.”
“Probably the diamond thieves have several operatives in the area. There are 14 at the hotel. Some are from nearby cities that have been called in to clean up. The stash of diamonds from multiple robberies is in a safe deposit box in a downtown bank. There’s enough there to get the attention of the higher ups to make sure the stuff is transferred out of the country. There is a distrust of the Black Assassin. He’s just too invisible and that gets the higher ups worried.”
“And that gives us an opportunity to do something devilish.”
“We’re starting to think alike Squid. Is that a good or a bad thing?”
“Who’s making puns now?”
Frank sat in the back of his unmarked squad car watching Donavan sit in his SUV. Frank was pretty sure Donavan had taken out the guys at the intersection but had no idea why. It had been confirmed that the two guys were out of town private investigators and while each had a somewhat sorted past they were not really bad guys. They might shed some light on what was going on after they recovered in the hospital.
Frank had seen Donavan watch two guys put a bug on Francine’s Mercedes and then go to his SUV and sit. Frank, sitting several cars back thought he might catch Francine come back to her car but it had been some time now and Frank had to pee.
While Frank was waiting, a black and white had come up to the Mercedes and recognized the licence. They were processing the car now and Donavan was still watching. Frank decided to get out of his car and go for a pee. His in car video camera would watch for him. There was a coffee shop around the corner and it was time for a coffee anyway. If Donavan took off he would be easy to find later. Frank hoped he wouldn’t kill anyone else while he had a coffee.
Frank sat with his coffee and cell phone. A missed call from Alice and a text as well. “Where are you?” She asked.
“I’m here tailing a suspect in a coffee shop.” He texted.
Frank phoned Leo. Where are you was a good question to ask. But Leo picked up immediately.
“I was just going to call you. I found the FBI office and am on my way there. Did you know they have an office here? Apparently it’s hidden. Where are you? I’ll pick you up.”
Frank gave the location of the coffee shop, “I didn’t know you had a car. Should I get you a coffee to go?”
“Yes. I’ll be there in ten minutes. Make it a small as I only have one of those stick on cup holders.”
Frank waited outside as Leo pulled up in the Allard. A few bystanders gathered to get a closer look at the car but as soon as Frank got in Leo pulled away before he had to answer questions.”
“Did you get a raise?” Frank asked depositing Leo’s coffee in the stick-on cup holder, “You know you can get a real car rather than a kit that will have a top for rainy days that might even fit your budget of cheap.”
“It’s a reproduction, not a kit car. It’s made by a company in Montreal and I got it as part of a deal when I bought the rental building I live in. It’s got a modern engine and real disk brakes and I just can’t bring myself to sell it. I’ve ordered a full windscreen and a soft top for it but it takes ten weeks to make and get here.”
“It beats my ten year old Chevy pickup but I have a radio, power steering and an automatic transmission.”
“It will never get you the girl like they try to make out on the TV ad.”
“I married the girl already and I can pick up my own furniture at IKEA.”
“Oh and yes I did get a raise. And I got a raise for all our staff. The police chief got a few more cars and some more personnel as well.”
“You didn’t think to get me anything? I bought you coffee.”
“Sorry. I was about to be fired and I played a hunch.”
“And pray tell what hunch was that?”
“I figured that the mayor didn’t know that Annette didn’t support his mayoral campaign contribution.”
“As I understand it, conning the mayor is a municipal offence.”
“You and I are going to try the same trick on the feds.”
“These are the same feds that shot up Annette’s office?”
“Yes. The shootout just doesn’t make sense.”
Frank sipped his coffee. “When I first heard of it they said there was a joint task force with the CIA. I’ve never heard of such a thing. They never talk with each other and less with us. I figured at first they were firing at bad guys but then I heard they hit each other. They’re not good shots.”
“Alice said she saw Francine at a gun shop known for selling military guns.”
“A short while ago we picked up her car. There was a bazooka in it along with grenades and smoke bombs and an AK47. No sign of Francine though.”
“I’m still not following why she would blow up Annette’s office with the CIA and FBI in it. She’s only guilty of aiding diamond theft as far as we know. Now she’s hit some federal officers.” Leo opened the lid and sipped from his coffee, “I wonder if there more to this than we know?”
“Has to be,” Frank said. “There seems to be a lot of interest in Francine. I watched two guys put a bug on her car and our friend Donavan saw them too. He’s probably still there watching Francine’s car but we may have towed it away by now. I think he’s also good for the hits on two private detectives at an intersection a short while ago.”
“He doesn’t strike me the type to be involved in Diamond heists.”
“No, but he is the type to be a one man vigilante. He said as much when we talked with him.’
“He did lose his hired detective. Where is Annette by the way?”
“There’s been no sign of her but we did find her car at the airport and there was a ticket to the Caribbean in her name. It looks like she never got on the plane though.”
“Francine on the tape was really mad at Annette over her son’s girlfriend’s shooting. She did set up for the diamond heist guys to meet with her at Annette’s. I’m thinking maybe the feds and CIA had a tap on Annette and they were there waiting and they got into a shootout with the bad guys that came to see Francine.
“Francine must have anticipated the diamond guys would try to kill her. That’s why she bought all the heavy weapons.”
“The question is who got killed besides the FBI agents?”
Leo rumbled up to the address he had for the FBI building. “The chief did say that the FBI wanted to talk with me.”
“Are you going to record this?
Leo led the way into the building. Inside was a secure entrance. Leo and Frank flashed their badges and were let in.
“The Chief of Police said that someone here wants to talk with me,” Leo said to a clerk in a white shirt with a black tie at the high walled entrance desk.”
The clerk looked down at Leo. “Do you know which agent asked to see you?”
“No. The chief didn’t relay that information. How many agents are here?”
“Three.” Said the clerk.
“Are all three here?”
“Maybe it would be in your best interest to ask each. If no one wants to talk with me I’ll just leave and he or she can find me later.”
“There are no she’s here.”
Leo just looked at the clerk who finally said. “Wait here. I’ll go check.”
A short, fat agent also in a white shirt and black tie came out after a few minutes. He had a file in his hand and waved Leo and Frank in without saying anything. He sat down in his office and motioned Leo and Frank to chairs.
“Leo said, “Leo.”
“I’m Special Agent Albert. I run this facility.” Turning to Frank he asked, “And you are?”
“Detective Frank Ferguson.”
“Gentlemen, you may keep your guns while we talk but Mr. Roberts, I need you to turn off that recorder in your vest pocket.”
Leo reached in and pulled out his recorder, turned it off and left in on the desk between them.
“Thank you. Contrary to popular opinion some of us at the FBI actually do know what we’re doing. You were scanned as you came through the front door. What I’m about to say is part of an ongoing investigation and as part of the official secrets act you will be required to sign that you will say nothing of what you hear in this office at any time in the future.”
Agent Albert pulled out a couple of sheets and put them in front of Frank and Leo.
Leo and Frank viewed the document and then both signed shoving the paper back to Agent Albert.
Looking at Leo Special Agent Albert began, “The mayor tells me he assigned you to investigate the diamonds being stolen from several prominent business men in this city.”
“That’s correct.” Leo looked at Frank who just shrugged as if to say let’s see what he has to say.
“And by now you must know that this is just a small part of an international ring that has stolen assets of several billion dollars.”
“We know that it’s at least in other cities in North America,” Leo said.
“Agent Albert said, “and you’re aware that Annette Realty was a base of operations or at least linked to the organization?”
“Yes. I accidently made a recording when I accidently dropped my dictation machine in Annette’s office. I made a copy for you in case the police hadn’t got it to you yet.” Frank pulled out a USB flash drive and handed it to Agent Albert.
“One of her agents was involved as well as you’ll hear on the recording.”
“Yes. We’re looking for her and Annette as well. Do either of you know where they are?”
“No. Annette’s gone to ground and we found Francine’s car but not her,” Frank said. “Someone put a bug on her car. Was that you?”
“Yes. A couple of our agents happened across it and were going to follow it when a black and white took possession of it.”
“Francine’s the wife of a friend of mine just so you know,” Leo said. “I know she must have killed those FBI agents but I’d like to take her in alive.”
“She didn’t kill anyone Mr. Roberts, although it was not for lack of trying.”
“I heard two agents died,” Leo said.
“They were hit and in the hospital Mr. Roberts but they were shot by our own men. Friendly fire. There was no one in the building.”
“I thought you raided the building as you knew the diamond thieves were in it and you had them in custody.” Frank said.
“There was no one in the building. When the first shot by Francine went off everyone panicked and shot anything that moved. Our own guys got shot by our own guys.”
“So Francine is not guilty of murder.” Leo said.
“No. But she did severely injure a sniper with a booby trap grenade and she shot another in the leg. If she cooperates she’ll get off with manslaughter. Adding her other crimes she’ll go away for a long time but it won’t be life or the death penalty.”
“Can I tell Joseph?”
“Her husband. Yes, but only those things that he would find out anyway. We, the FBI would like the Annette incident to quietly go away. The fact that we shot our own men made public will not look good for anyone as I’m sure you can see.”
“So. What do you want us to do? Why are we here?”
“I need someone and better the two of you to deflect some parts of the investigations ongoing that might make everyone, mostly the FBI look bad.”
“That might be almost illegal. I am a lawyer and a prosecuting attorney.”
“Yes. I know but think of this,” Agent Albert sat back in his chair. “I’m not a heartless FBI agent. If it comes out there’s an inquest into these agents their pensions will be held up for years. What I can do now is give the agents a medal, a raise backdated so the pension is higher and everybody thinking that these guys are heroes, including their kids, years from now. I already have signed approval from higher ups.”
Frank looked at Leo and shrugged.
“And I’ll owe you a favour sometime in the future,” Agent Albert said.
“Each,” said Frank.
“Each,” Agreed Agent Albert.
Everyone stood up and shook hands.
“One more thing.” Agent Albert said. “We know that an international assassin is in the city. He is extremely dangerous and wanted in several countries. He executed those operatives at the Henderson house and we’re sure he shot a young girl that saw his face. His floor price is a million dollars to give you an idea of who you’re dealing with. His name is simply the Black Assassin. Reports are he has over 100 kills. Keep in mind also that the CIA thinks the ring is linked with a terrorist group.”
Outside Leo checked his cell. “It appears Alice has told me I’m to take her to supper.”
Meagan slithered up next to Josh. “You daydreaming?”
“Yeah. I guess I haven’t had much sleep. Did the beeper go off?’
Melisa slid up shortly after. “That’s your mom!” she said in a loud whisper, pointing.
Josh looked through the rifle’s scope, “What’s she doing here?”
“I don’t know,” Meagan said. “I can’t believe she would be mixed up with these guys. She doesn’t have any luggage though. She must be meeting someone here.”
“Maybe she’s having an affair,” Melisa said. “From the looks of this motel it would be the ideal to meet someone for love or whatever.”
“That’s my mom you’re talking about,” Josh said.
“It makes sense Josh. I can’t believe that she would be involved with these guys either. Maybe she’s just meeting some real estate person and signing a contract or something.” Melisa said. “You mom does do some work on the road,”
“Where’s her car then? Why did she come in a taxi?”
“Maybe she didn’t want anyone to see her licence plate,” Josh said.
“So what’s the plan?” Meagan said looking at both of them.
“Same as before,” Josh said. “Let’s hope mom doesn’t get in the way. Can you two check on me every half hour and make sure I’m still awake?”
“Sure thing big boy,” I’ll check first and then Meagan.
Josh gave a smile, “Debbie used to call me that.”
The two girls left to go back to their posts. Josh watched his mom go to the room closest to the motel office. Francine closed the door and all was quiet.
* * *
Dianne Starch (Starchy her friends called her) was an ambitious roving reporter for the local television news team with photographic good looks (her eyes were set far apart) and a smoking hot body that she used to control men. Mildly talented and sleeping her way up the ladder she was destined to be in her own mind a news anchor. She did have a crisp voice that made additional money for her in commercials. Doing the weather many times in skin tight outfits had further advanced her career.
Dianne had slept with her younger driver once who now followed her around like a lost puppy. He was a technician that ran the remote van and a good cameraman. Dianne commandeered him and a newbie cameraman to follow up on a lead that some heartthrob singer with the cocaine raspy voice was staying at a motel near the airport. Dianne wondered if she could catch him with a new girlfriend or even an old one. Either way it was news and an exclusive for her and a notch on her way to anchor-hood. Dianne said to her two young men, “Leads like these are a long shot but we have to follow up on every one. This is where the work comes in. You might have ten dead leads but one may pan out that makes it all worthwhile.”
The two men nodded in agreement but they had heard this speech before.
Dianne watched from the passenger seat of the television van as they pulled into the motel parking lot. It was clean but cheap. There were twenty rooms and seven cars all black sedans parked together side by side near the center of the motel strip.
“This looks good,” Dianne said. “Obviously those seven cars are from the same outfit. Get a photograph of the plates. We might be able to use them later to follow someone. It might be that our target uses all the same vehicles to confuse paparazzi followers. Drive around back so we can see if there are any back doors.”
Driving around back they came out again and parked at the farthest end from the motel office. Dianne said to the driver, “Set up a camera on the motel and roll the feed to the studio.” To the other junior cameraman she said, “Grab the remote camera and follow me to the office. As we walk by those cars point the camera in the windows. I think the drapes are drawn but we might get lucky.”
Dianne and her cameraman walked the length of the motel and went into the office. An elderly Chinese lady that spoke only broken English finally came after several rings of the bell on the desk.
Josh watched all this unfold. It didn’t make any sense but something was happening and he told himself to be patient.
A few minutes later two men exited from one room and went to the office. They nodded hello to Dianne but said nothing. Dianne thought her jig was up as her cameraman was standing right beside her. The men seemed oblivious to the fact.
A minute later they walked out of the office with some ice and walked into a different room further down. Josh reverted to his scope sight to watch, scanning the whole length of the motel.
The same door opened. A man in a suit walked to the office. Dianne watched him go to the cigarette machine and buy a pack. He seemed oblivious to the cameraman too.
Shortly after he stepped outside, stopped and lit a cigarette.
Josh’s computer beeped. He looked at the screen that had come to life. A circle appeared around the guy standing smoking the cigarette.
Josh checked the 22 swift clip and pulled the bolt back and slid a bullet into the chamber. He then pulled out the clip and entered another cartridge so he would have a full complement of shells if he needed them.
Josh took his time and adjusted his whole body to get firm, triangulating all his body parts. Holding his breath he focused on the man’s head and whispered. “This is for you Debbie.” Josh slowly pulled the trigger.
There is no doubt about the noise that a faster than the speed of sound bullet can produce. Josh was right on target. After the initial jerk of the gun he pulled the bolt back again and reloaded. Sighting again through the scope he saw that the man was laying down on the ground not moving. His cigarette lay smoldering beside him.
Josh swung the scope around scanning down the motel doors. For a moment nothing happened. It was somewhat anti climatic Josh thought. He felt adrenalin shoot through him and he breathed deeply to steady himself as the video he had watched said to do. He looked up from the scope and watched the motel. It was hard to hear exactly but he thought he heard something like, “What was that?’ and “Was that a shot?”
Francine’s door opened first. Josh almost shot her. She had a handgun in her hand. “Holy cow!” Josh whispered out loud.
From the second door a man came out with a gun in his hand. Francine was looking at the man lying dead on the ground several feet in front of her. Her back was to the man that had opened the door behind her but she did hear the door open.
Francine turned at the sound and saw the man with the gun. The man went to raise his gun but Francine was faster and shot him before he got his gun half way up. Francine ducked back into the room wondering how these guys had found her so fast. Maybe the taxi driver had been part of it.
Francine braced herself and took a quick look outside her door and saw the man down half lying inside his door. She took a second look and a man from the same room had his head out and fired at her. Francine had pulled her head in just in time.
From Josh’s point of view the second man had been standing in the doorway for a few seconds giving time for him to focus. He took him out and reloaded.
A third man dove out the same doorway to behind one of the cars parked but missed seeing Francine standing behind her doorway wondering what she had walked into. Without hesitation as soon as she saw the guy crouching she put two slugs in the back of his head.
Josh got a third shot that hit a man crouching in the next door but the bullet just grazed him.
Another man opened a door farther down but he was ready. He’d been watching through the window and saw where Josh was. He opened up with a Thompson Machine Gun right at Josh’s tree. Several other men took the queue and made it out their various doors. All of them crouched in between cars.
At this point Melisa and Meagan opened fire and while there was a bit of a pause when they each changed clips a rain of bullets fell on the cars. Neither Meagan nor Melisa were good shots but two men were wounded. Two clips of 15 rounds each meant 60 shots were fired into the group of men that still didn’t know what hit them.
What it did was give Francine freedom to get out of there and she did running to the end of the building and around the corner and straight into the bushes behind. Francine kept on running for some time. She knew she was in good shape and could out run all but the best athletes and she figured these guys were not. After a bit she stopped and went out on to the street and calmly boarded a bus.
Meagan and Melisa slid back into the bush now out of ammunition. It was time to leave. Both threw the guns in their backpacks and made their way out.
Josh hesitated after the firestorm was over. Still perched where he was he saw one of the men peek over the hood of one of the cars. It was a fatal mistake. It took some time before anyone else moved.
Josh packed up his stuff making sure to collect the last of his brass shells like a good sniper and slid back into the bush as well.
As he made his way out he heard a siren in the distance.
The men left alive, keeping low made it into two of the cars and in a flurry of gravel and dust sped away.
“I must say that was fun. It was kind of like Wyatt Earp at the OK Corral.” Squid said.
“Yes. I almost wish we had some guns to shoot too.” Johnathon replied.
“Say. I’ve been meaning to ask you.”
“How is it that you’re able to come up with some of this stuff? You’re still only a junior tempter soul recruiter. You haven’t gone through very much in the way of training yet.”
“Oh. It’s online on my pad. The complete course of how to be a soul procurer is there with ideas and suggestions and practical how to courses. There are even tests that give you some accreditation for future assignments. It’s very well done. I’ve learned a lot from it. I expect in a few years I’ll have the junior dropped from my title. I don’t have access yet but there’s an administrators course and a trainer course as well.”
“Well. I’ll be dammed.”
“You already are. I guess in Hell you have to keep up with the times just like everybody else.”
Dianne crawled out from under the desk behind the counter where she and a talkative Chinese lady had hid.
Her cameraman was at the window and still filming. He called his friend in the remote van. “Are you OK?”
“Yes, but there are some bullet holes in the side of the van that I’m going to have a tough time explaining. I got it all on camera direct to the studio. You had better get Dianne on camera to announce it.”
“This is Dianne Starch reporting live exclusively on site where another gang shooting has taken place. We’ve captured it all on camera exclusively.”
Leo and Frank left the FBI office and climbed into the Allard.
Leo asked, “How would you go about being an assassin?”
“What do you mean? Are you thinking of taking up a new occupation? I heard you just got a raise.”
“No. I mean I was just thinking. To be an assassin requires some technical skills for sure like shooting sniper stuff but the weak point is getting hired. It’s not something you can put in the yellow pages or the want ads. Even with the internet and code words if there are any, you’re going to get caught. This Black Assassin has over a hundred kills and each paid a million dollars. How does he find customers?”
Frank pondered a moment, “If I was going to do it I’d reverse it.”
“Do you remember an old black and white western called Have Gun, Will Travel?”
“Well at the start of each show, Paladin, the gun for hire would respond to ads in the newspaper. He found customers that needed him.”
“Oh. Makes sense. This Black Assassin must have some filter method of finding who needs him and has the ability to pay.”
“There might even be a more sinister method. He might create the reason someone with ability to pay needs to pay.”
“I wonder if that might be a way to catch him.” Leo said.
“You’ve been watching too many Hollywood movies.”
Frank’s cell beeped message and he pulled it out to read. “There’s been another shooting. Several dead at a motel by the airport. There’s an APB on two black sedans with plate numbers.”
“You need a raise. Keep close and I’ll see what I can do.”
“Funny.” Frank fumbled with the cell and pulled out his pad to write the two plate numbers down.
“This Black Assassin must be pretty good. I remember an Interpol training saying that the average fee was ten to twenty thousand and the very high was a hundred thousand.”
“It probably means too that he specializes in accidental deaths. We never know a crime has been committed.”
“There are reports of entire planes been destroyed in order to kill one passenger.”
“It would be nice to catch this guy just for the sake of doing it,” Leo said.
“Yes. I’ll get right on it. Where do you think would be a good place to start.”
Leo smiled back, “We could try hire him to assassinate the mayor.”
“There would go your raise.”
“I don’t have million bucks either.”
“Assassinating lawyers is done for a discount,” Frank said. “Hey catch up to that car!”
“Why?” Leo dropped a gear and sped up.
“Yes! That’s one of the plates I just got,” Frank pulled out his cell and called the police station dispatch for backup. “As they say in the movies. Follow that car.”
“They’re going to figure it out very quickly. Following a car in an Allard attracts attention more than a black and white with sirens going.”
“No they won’t. Who would think that there’s a cop in one of these tailing them.”
“Maybe,” Leo said. “We’ll find out soon enough.” Leo followed the car around a turn and onto the freeway. It looks like there’s five guys inside. It’s hard to say. The windows are dark.”
Frank, talking with dispatch over his cell relayed their position and direction.
“Say. When you get off with dispatch, would you text Alice and tell her I’m going to be late.”
“I’ll get right on that,” Frank said. “Say. Why don’t you marry her?”
“I think it might be a good idea to go on a few dates first.”
“I think you better do it first before she finds out what you’re really like. For sure after getting to know you I wouldn’t marry you.”
“This might surprise you but I’m really glad to hear that.” Leo let a car get between the black sedan and the Allard. “I think I saw one of them turn around and have a long look at us.”
The black sedan in the left suddenly crossed over across three lanes through heavy traffic and made an exit ramp.
“They’ve made us,” Frank said partly into the cell and partly to Leo.
Leo, not to be outdone pulled the same trick amid blaring horns and executed a four wheel drift around the exit ramp. The black sedan pulled away amid a screech of tires, horns and curses.
The ramp was access to another freeway and the black sedan was now moving very fast. Leo weaved through the traffic to catch up and saw the rear windows of the black sedan open. Twisted heads and guns appeared.
“Watch it,” Frank said. “Something’s happening. I think those guys in the back are not wearing their seat belts.”
Two AK 47’s started shooting.
“Hey. Bullet holes in this car do not increase its value. You’re supposed to be the hot shot. Take these guys out.’
Frank had already got his 45 out and was bracing it on the side of the Allard’s windshield. With one shot he the guy on the left dropped his gun on the road and slumped half out of the window. The car sped up, now at more than a hundred miles per hour weaving through traffic and shooting back.
The weaving kept the accuracy of the shots low but Leo knew some had hit his car. It was from a machine gun. Some stray bullets had to hit something. Better the car than me Leo thought.
“Hey Frank!” Leo yelled. Use my gun. It was designed to take out cars.” Leo handed Frank his 357.
Frank finally took out the gas tank. There was a steady stream of fuel spraying onto the road. They could both smell it and some got on the Allard’s windshields.
“It won’t be long now. Five minutes at the most depending on how much he had to start. You can back off a bit. No need to take any more bullets.”
“I thought you were trying for the tires. Do you know how hard it is to clean this car? I have to hire a student all day with a toothbrush.”
“Rolling tires are hard to shoot out. They tend to deflect bullets no matter what. The tank is vulnerable and if you can get it, it doesn’t cause an accident.”
A police cruiser pulled up behind them at the same time the black sedan started to slow down. It finally stopped on the side of the freeway as other police cars showed up. Officers from behind their cars yelled at the occupants to get out with their hands up.
The driver finally called out. “Don’t shoot. We’re coming out.” He threw his gun to the pavement, held his hands out the window and made his way out. One rear passenger did the same.
The driver called out to the police. “The guy in the back’s unconscious. The guy in the passenger seat is hit real bad. He needs an ambulance.”
“Where’s the other car?” Frank asked.
“Don’t know.” The driver said as he was being handcuffed. “After you guys hit us at the motel we took off as best we could. Your ambush shot half our guys and we took off in two cars.’
“We didn’t shoot anyone at the motel. We weren’t even there.”
“It couldn’t have been that assassin they sent,” The driver said. “He works alone and there were several shooters and even a lady-cop with 45 that took out one of our guys. The assassin would never call the news media either. It had to be cops.”
Leo had a question, “Do you know where the diamonds are?”
“I don’t exactly but it’s downtown because we were to get it there together before we left the city. Probably that assassin knows as well.”
“How do you know about the assassin?” Frank asked.
“One of our guys came from another city. This guy took out a couple of guys that tried to skim some of the diamonds. We were told by our employer that he existed and they made sure that we knew about it whenever something happened. There was no more skimming.”
The officers took the men away. An ambulance came for the wounded.
Leo went back to the Allard. “There’s three bullet holes in the front of my car.”
“It might increase the value,” Frank said, “Think of the sales potential. Actually used in a police chase.”
There’s no top. You can’t take this through a car wash.”
“You should sell it and buy a real car. If you ever get married you’ll need a minivan anyway.”
“Did you ever text Alice that I was going to be late?’
“Sorry. I have this thing that I never text while shooting. It’s a traffic violation called distracted shooting.”
“I see there’s a text asking where I am. I was supposed to pick her up for supper.”
“I’ll text her now if you want.”
“It’s probably better if I phone her. She has a bigger gun now.”
“Why would they hide the diamonds downtown?” Frank asked.
“Where would you put a lot of stolen diamonds?”
“Probably in a safety deposit box,” Frank said.
“Maybe that’s where we can find our Black Assassin,” Leo said. “How many banks have safety deposit boxes downtown?”
“I think there’s five. All big national chains.”
“There’s got to be a way to narrow it down,” Leo said.
“You better call Alice. She’s better at stuff like that than you. You might start the call with reminding her you got her a raise.”
“Here’s another text,” Leo said. “And don’t bother bringing me flowers and chocolates. You’re in deep poo and the only way out is a very expensive dinner and soon!”
Leo text. “I’m on my way.”
Hotstuff strutted about her desk, “I got a trophy too.”
“Oh really. Pray do tell show,” Johnathon said.
“Be careful about praying around here,” Hotstuff said. “It’s kind of frowned upon.”
“Of course,” Johnathon said. “Let’s see your trophy.”
Hotstuff pointed to the wall and a credenza appeared with a big trophy on it.
“Most distracting Caddy!” Hotstuff said. “Mr. Fishbait gave me a raise too!”
“I take it then that Mr. Fishbait did well?” Squid said.
“Oh yes. He got the title of most dishonest golfer.”
“How did he do that?” Johnathon asked.
“When he was putting I went around the green and bent over to pick up some lost golf balls. When I bent over he made the hole bigger for a second.”
“How did anyone ever find out?”
“Oh. Someone realized later that there shouldn’t be any lost golf balls around the green.”
“Where did the lost golf balls come from?”
“They belonged to the other players of course.”
“Of course,” Squid said.
“I have to sit down now so you’ll have to sit too for a little while.”
“Why do you have to sit down?” Johnathon asked.
“Because it would be inappropriate to be standing when you’re sitting,” Hotstuff replied.
“We’ll try not to sit too long.” Squid said.
“Just out of curiosity what’s that aroma?” Johnathon asked.
“Oh. Mr. Fishbait also gave me some perfume. It’s called Sulphur and Brimstone.”
“Very nice,” Squid said before Johnathon could comment.
A small orange cat climbed out from under Hotstuff’s desk.
“Mr. Fishbait got me a cat too! Say hello to Lucifer,” Hotstuff said.
“Hello Lucifer!” Johnathon and Squid said together.
“Lucifer was a lion before coming here. Of course you knew I was a Leo.”
“My three ex wise were Leos,” Squid said, “They were a living Hell. They’re around here somewhere I think at deeper levels. I often attribute my being here because I was married to them.”
“You were probably a dog man.” Hotstuff said.
“Yes. I do miss him.”
“Where is he now?” Johnathon asked.
“Oh. All dogs go to heaven.” Squid said.
“I miss marshmallows,” Hotstuff said. “All this fire and not one thing to roast on it.”
“You would think there would be at least hot dogs.” Johnathon put in.
“Yes. There are, but they’re vegan and always burnt,” Hotstuff said. “Ah. There’s Mr. Fishbait’s beeper. You can go in now.”
As they went in they were greeted by a loud shot from Fishbait’s shotgun.
“Ah. Red or Johnathon or whatever your name is. I decided to see what all the fun was about. Shooting up everything is fun. Of course skeet or trap give a respectability to just shooting stuff and there does seem to be some skill involved. I may take this up. Maybe I can work it in with my golf.”
“Congratulations sir on winning the trophy.” Squid said.
“I’m in a good mood so I’ll overlook your transgressions. I did tell you to discredit the Leo guy. It seems he’s a hero and going to get the girl. What’s the story on your subject Joseph? Are we going to welcome him to our fold soon?”
“He’s sitting at home doing nothing sir.” Johnathon said. “It’s the ultimate drifting strategy.”
“Really?” Fishbait said. “Pull!”
“No. I don’t want to go!” A real pigeon was pushed out of a cage screaming. “No!”
“A hand holding a cattle prod came out of the floor and zapped the bird forcing it to fly.”
Fishbait fired his shotgun and out came a paint ball pellet and the bird was hit with yellow paint almost knocking it out. The bird fell to the floor amid feathers.
“Hah! You didn’t think I’d be so cruel to hit the bird with real bullets did you?” Fishbait said to Johnathon.
“No sir.” Johnathon said.
“Well you’re wrong.”
Fishbait fired the shotgun again over his shoulder without looking and hit the bird. Feathers exploded and fell everywhere.
“That’s what’s going to happen to you if I don’t see that soul here in sorry order. I’ve been easy with you because you’re new Red. But make no mistake. This is Hell and there are rules and you only have to know one of them and that is I’m right and you’re wrong. Got it?”
“Yes Sir Mr. Fishbait,” Johnathon cowered.
“One more thing. Sometimes doing nothing is doing something. Inaction might be the right thing to do and we don’t want that at all! Got it?’
“Yes Sir. Mr. Fishbait.”
“Yes Sir Mr. Fishbait.”
“If he doesn’t get this soul you’re going down too and you know that this time you’re going down a long ways. Got it?”
“Yes Sir Mr. Fishbait.”
“Now get out of here and get back to work! And no flirting with Hotstuff either. Pull!”
Another bird released. “No!” Bang! More feathers.
Johnathon and Squid left quickly.
In the elevator Johnathon asked Squid, “I didn’t know pigeons could talk?”
“They used to be human. Fishbait brought them up from the lower levels.”
“He blew them up.”
“No. It just looked like that. He did blow off their feathers and that might be a good thing.”
“Well, feathers are kind of like a fur coat for birds and it’s hotter than Hell down there.”
“It still must have hurt.”
“This is Hell you know. There’s a lot of hurt here.”
“We don’t seem to be hurt much.”
“You’re new. Be patient. The hurt will come. Fishbait does have a reputation for hurting. He didn’t get to his esteemed position by being nice.”
“I guess we had better look in on Joseph.”
Francine sat in the bus seat for a long time. It was safe on the bus she thought. No one would shoot at her here. She thought that her husband might feel safe driving a bus sometimes. It must be kind of meditative. Of course there would be interruptions with passengers getting on and paying but the day was laid out in order and you could even think about other things like writing a book or whatever.
She wondered where Josh was and if he was all right. Francine was still mad at Annette for getting her into all this. She didn’t really need the money and now her son’s girlfriend was dead.
Francine’s bus reached the end of the line. The bus driver told her so. The only passenger left, she got off, walked across the street, waited for a while and got on another bus going the other way.
Francine needed time to think. What was all that shooting about? After some careful thought she believed that they weren’t all shooting at her. Maybe she just got in the middle of some gang war. There definitely was someone else shooting at the guys in the motel. They were shooting back into the bushes across the street and there were a lot of bullets coming from the bushes. There had to be multiple shooters. She saw a couple of them go down and in thinking back no one actually shot at her. The guy that surprised her was surprised himself. But the guy knew her and was pulling out a gun to shoot her.
Francine looked out the window of the bus and watched the city go by. She knew she would have to get off soon and do something. Should she still go to Jamaica? Would there be someone waiting there to kill her?
Suddenly she saw Meagan’s friend Melisa walking on the sidewalk. Francine pulled the rope to get off. The bus stopped at the next curb and Francine stepped out. Should she just follow Melisa or should she call out to her? Francine said out loud. “Dam. It’s time I got some answers. Like where’s my kid? Where’s my other kid?”
Francine yelled out Melisa’s name.
Melisa stopped in her tracks and swung her backpack over her shoulder reaching in for the now reloaded 45. She heard her name again. A lady was running toward her. It was Josh’s mom. Melisa, not knowing what to expect kept her hand on the 45. Could she shoot Josh’s mom? Was Josh’s mom going to shoot her?
“Mrs. Johnson. What are you doing here?” Melisa managed to spit out.
“I’m looking for Josh and Meagan. Have you seen them?”
“They’re OK I left them a little while ago. What were you doing at the motel with all those bad guys?”
This took Francine by surprise, “How did you know I was there?”
“We were across the road. We saw you in one of the rooms beside all those guys that shot Debbie. What were you doing there?” Melisa still had her hand on the 45.
Francine now more taken by surprise took a second to answer. “I didn’t know they were there. One of them tried to shoot me.”
“I know. I saw you shoot him.”
“Melisa. Why were you there?” Francine by now had seen that Melisa’s hand was still inside her backpack.
“Josh tracked the guy that shot Debbie to the motel and then you showed up.”
“And you think I had something to do with Debbie getting shot?”
“I don’t know what to think anymore. My friend’s mother shows up at a bad guy’s motel with a gun.”
Francine let out a long breath. “Melisa. I’m not sure what I was doing there. I was part running away from people shooting at me and part hiding. The motel was close to the airport and off the beaten path. I didn’t think anyone would be there.”
“Someone called the TV station.”
“Not me. A couple of cars were following me. I stopped one but another car behind shot the guys in the car following me. My boss, Annette set me up with a diamond theft ring. It appears they are a lot bigger than anyone knew and really bad people. I think they really want me dead.”
“Annette’s office was all shot up.”
“I was there. Someone tipped off the police as well.” Francine relaxed a bit. “Are you going to shoot me with that?”
Melisa pulled out her hand from her backpack, “No Mrs. Johnson. Come with me. I’ll take you to Josh. We have a good hiding place. Let me text him first and Meagan too so they don’t freak out when they see you.”
“Are you the ones that were shooting at those guys at the motel?”
“Leo pulled up in front of the District Prosecutor’s office. Alice was waiting at the curb with her brief case in hand.
“You’re late,” Alice said as she got into the Allard, “and this car smells of gasoline and gunpowder. You’ve been having fun while I’ve been slaving away behind a desk for you.”
“Please fasten your seat belt and make sure your brief case is firmly secured,” Leo answered. “I did get you a raise. Would you like to marry me?”
“Yes. But there has to be a pre-nuptial of no less than 60 pages that says I get everything and you can keep our minivan.”
“Sounds good to me. I’ll have Martha write it up and witness it. I made reservations at the mayor’s favourite restaurant and made sure that he wasn’t going to be there.”
“If our honeymoon’s soon and in the south Pacific I’ll let you keep the Allard.”
“If you were a professional assassin, how would you go about getting clients that would be willing to pay a lot?”
“I’d consult divorce lawyers and pay a fee for a list of their most insane clients”
“Good idea but you run the risk of getting caught.”
“Is this going in our pre-nup?”
“I was simply looking for something as a conversation starter over diner.”
“You’re so romantic.”
“I’m trying to figure out how this Black Assassin gets his clients. Interpol says they believe his starting fee is a million dollars and he has over a hundred hits.”
“I wonder what his pre-nup looks like?”
“I wonder if he has a wife and does she know what he does for a living?”
“It makes for a good plot in a murder mystery.”
“Oh. I have an assignment for you.”
“Again. You’re so romantic.”
“Frank and I interrogated a bad guy that said the stolen diamonds for this city are somewhere downtown. We’re guessing they might be in a safety deposit box. Your assignment is to figure out which one.”
“Before the bad guys empty it?”
“Maybe while they’re emptying it,” Leo said.
“If it involves guns, I’m all in.”
“The Black Assassin might be the one that’s supposed to empty it.”
“To go back,” Alice said, “this Black Assassin is associated somehow with the diamond thieves. He might have found them and offered his services. One million dollars a pop for things gone wrong and maybe a contingent fee for collecting the diamonds.”
“He has to find the bad guys and offer his services you mean,” Leo said. “That makes sense.”
“Private eyes find bad guys. Maybe that’s what he does on the side,” Alice said. “How much farther. I’m hungry.”
“I’m thinking he’s quite wealthy and part of society.”
“The wealthy part makes sense. Does Interpol have a profile on him?”
“They do have stats on him. He’s very internationally travelled and probably speaks more than one language. He has a custom made 22 pistol with special ammunition. He has a knowledge of electronics and has made several bombs that have caused what may appear to be accidental deaths.”
“They must have caught someone that hired him if they know how much he gets.”
“Yes. He was shot shortly after,” Leo pulled into the restaurant parking lot.
“Smells good from here,” Alice said as she got out.
Leo led the way in and they sat down.
Alice opened here laptop. “There are five big banks downtown. Where would I put my millions in diamonds?”
“You’re so romantic,” Leo said as the menus came. “Do you have a vegetarian menu?” Leo asked.
“The safety deposit box needs a key. How did our guy get it? The box needs to be in a location that would not attract attention. Maybe it might be the busiest with the most traffic,” Alice said, “I’ll have the vegetarian steak.”
“And how would you liked that cooked?” The waiter asked.
“Like most lawyers,” Alice said, “burned.”
“I’ll have the broccoli lightly steamed,” Leo said.
“Domestic wine. Red. Leave the bottle. My friend is driving.”
“Your fiancé,” Leo added, “Who needs you to stay focused.”
“You can take the unfinished bottle home with you,” The waiter said. “It’s a new city by law to reduce impaired driving.”
“I’m thinking we have two separate crimes here that seem related as they crossed paths,” Alice said. “There’s a steroid market going on at the school and that might have resulted in a gang war that killed Markus and later Ramsey. I think that the diamond murders were separate and some bystanders got in the way.”
“Like Debbie,” Leo said.
“Yes. And maybe Annette’s office people.”
“The motel doesn’t make sense. It’s like another gang war but the diamond people were there. The guy said they didn’t know who was shooting at them but was sure it wasn’t the Black Assassin.”
“After supper let’s take a drive around the banks downtown and see if we can see a likely prospect from outside. We might be able to at least narrow it down,” Alice said.
After supper they drove downtown and parked. Alice had a list of the banks and they were all within a block of the city core.
“Let’s compare security cameras from the outside,” Leo said.
“OK. But you need to remember that your future wife has a half bottle of wine in the car waiting to be finished and you only get so many brownie points for getting her a raise.”
Ralph had gone on another run after school. His talk with Frank had him dreaming more about joining the police force. Life as a cop on a beat might be pretty cool, helping people and once in a while catching bad guys. It was fun to talk with Frank. There was a murder at the school to solve and he knew he was right in the thick of it. Correction. There were two murders and they were similar.
For the first time in his life Ralph was motivated to finish school. He needed to find Josh to help him with his studies. Oh yeah. His girlfriend Debbie was murdered too. That’s three murders. Josh was probably busy for the time being and maybe didn’t want to be disturbed. And there’s those other murders. A real estate place, some house and just on the news a motel out by the airport. Ralph knew there would be a need to hire some more cops. Frank had said as much many times. There was just too much work to do and now there seemed to be more crime. A cop on the beat deters it.
Ralph had come around the corner and seen Frank sitting in his car watching Donavan watch Francine’s car being towed away an hour ago. It looked like Frank was on a stakeout. Ralph found a tree to sit under and watched from a distance. Frank got out and walked up the street leaving his car. After Francine’s car was gone, Donavan didn’t move. He just sat there and so did Ralph, watching him.
After a half hour more and an apple, a banana and a bottle of water from his running backpack, Donavan was still sitting there.
Now Ralph was probably the most unobtrusive potential undercover cop in existence. Even a professional with years of training would not have thought Ralph to be on a stakeout. And so too the most professional criminal in the world missed him.
Ralph sat under a tree texting this week’s girlfriend. He was in his jogging shorts and had fruit garbage laying by his side that was positioned to be put in a garbage container as soon as he decided to leave. The shade and his stillness made him almost invisible.
Josh had encouraged Ralph to text. It would help him to read and write. What was cool about it was spelling didn’t count. Ralph looked cool texting and the girls liked him anyway so they texted back.
A man very English in appearance with a flattened cap and tweed jacket and even a cane umbrella came along whistling one of Ralph’s favourite songs. It was from the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Disney’s Fantasia with Mickey Mouse. The man even at times gave way instead of whistling to imitating an oboe as he swung his cane around cheerfully.
Ralph saw the Englishman look just a little too long at both Frank and Donavan. He had originally come from the corner where Ralph figured the shooting had taken place.
The Englishman came walking back some time later along the sidewalk across from Ralph. Having already taken a photo of him through his cell phone, now Ralph had the video camera on to get a full profile of his height, gate and maybe even his shoe size. He made sure he didn’t turn the camera too far before shutting it off and immediately sent the two files to Frank as an attachment to his text explaining what it was.
Donavan took off with a little chirp of tires. The Englishman going back to the corner turned after Donavan left and started walking downtown. Ralph gathered up his garbage and wandered after him texting as he walked like any other overgrown teenager.
It’s hard to text and follow someone Ralph found out. How do people drive and do this? Twice Ralph bumped into someone and said sorry but felt it OK as it helped his cover. That’s what teenagers texting do. After walking all the way downtown the Englishman got into the back seat of an old Lincoln limozine. The rear doors opened backwards. Ralph photographed the licence and sent it to Frank. The limo took off slowly and went into an underground parking beneath a hotel.
Ralph decided to phone Frank at this point. He felt a little stupid and maybe Frank might think he was overdoing it. Frank wasn’t available. Ralph left a long convoluted message and walked down the drive entering the hotel garage.
The underground was dark and seemed darker coming from the bright evening sun. Ralph turned off his cell phone and walked in further. A giant man stepped from behind a pillar and pointed a gun point blank at Ralph’s head. Ralph froze.
The Englishman stepped from behind the giant man and spoke, “Before I shoot you I’d like to know who you texted on your way here. Hand me your phone.”
“I don’t have any money on me,” Ralph handed over his phone.
“Very quick,” said the Englishman, “but while I did miss you at first, shame on me, credit to you, I’ve been followed by the best and you are not.”
Ralph didn’t have anything to say.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” The Englishman said. “This is Bartholomew, my chauffeur and I’m known as the Englishman. Who is Frank that you texted?’
“Ah. Was he the one watching Donavan and then took off?”
“He’s very good. Another cop would have arrested Donavan earlier and I didn’t expect he would employ you. You look kind of young to be a cop.”
“I’m in high school.”
“Then we wouldn’t want to shoot you now would we?”
“No,” Ralph let out.
“But I’m afraid we are going to have to tie you up. I have a job to do and you might get in the way and there’s been too many people shot in this city already. It’s very unprofessional. Put these on behind your back.” The Englishman handed Ralph a pair of handcuffs. Ralph dropped his backpack on the ground and put on the handcuffs.
The giant Bartholomew ducked taped the cuffed Ralph to one of the pillars in the back of the lot and then taped Ralph’s mouth shut.
“Someone will find you I hope before you have to pee. Very undignified but it can’t be helped. I’ll have to take your phone too. You should have a password to keep people like me out. Ah. I’ll turn off your GPS finder. This cop. I take it you’ve known him for some time?”
“Yes.” Ralph could only nod.
“Enjoy the rest of your evening as best you can,” The Englishman said. Bartholomew pulled up in the limo and seconds later they were gone and the garage became very quiet.
Frank found his desk covered with files, the real phone as he called it buried and a coffee cup sitting on his keyboard. He examined text from Ralph, said thanks I’ll look into it and proceeded to catch up on his e-mails. While some files downloaded he watched the video of the Englishman walking by. “That kid’s going to make a great cop if he lives past high school.”
Frank uploaded the files to his computer, opened the photo, zoomed in on the face and copied it to Interpol’s facial recognition system. While waiting he ran the plate of the limo. It didn’t exist. That got Frank’s attention. He called his tech support guys and told them what he had. Frank’s boss, the chief of police was there in less than ten minutes.
“And you got this where?” The chief asked.
Frank told him of his school snitch network that he had set up to help youths that might go the wrong way.
As the chief contemplated this someone came in and called Frank, “Frank. Interpol on skype. The guy says it’s urgent.”
Everyone went over to another computer screen.
“It’s after midnight in France.” Frank said, “What’s up?”
The man at the other end said, “We’re a 24 hour service. We just got a hit from your facial recognition request. I thought I’d make sure you got this back. The man you sent is called The Englishman for reasons I’m sure you’ll guess. He’s wanted in several countries. He’s extremely dangerous and so is his chauffer.”
“What’s he done?”
“He’s an assassin for hire. We only have one other photo of him and it’s not very clear.”
“I have video of him as well. I’ll send it. We were told that maybe the Black Assassin was here as well. Do you have any Intel on him? Why would there be two supper assassins in our little city?”
“We heard you have a diamond heist case there but it seems a little overkill for two of this caliber.”
“Could they be the same person?” Frank asked.
“It’s a possibility but I have them in two different places at the same time.”
“A question. How does one hire an assassin? It would seem that’s how they would be vulnerable.”
“The logical answer is he finds you if you need someone to kill. You need to be a bad guy and everyone knows it. One country tried to set up a couple of ruses but they were pretty weak. One other thing. His chauffeur is a very big guy and they seem to like limos.”
The chief said as Interpol signed off, “Just a what-if; Say the first assassin is about to steal the diamonds and the second assassin is here to stop him.”
“My friend Leo thinks that they might have a large stash in a safety deposit box downtown.”
“All we need is another shootout downtown. The mayor will freak out.”
“I’ll get this photo out on the system so every police officer has it.”
“You might take a trip downtown yourself,” The chief said. “Is this snitch of yours still downtown? You better check and make sure he’s out of there.”
Frank texted Ralph, “Do not go near subject. Very dangerous. Call me.”
Frank’s cell immediately rang. He swiped the green answer button, “This is Frank. Where are you Ralph?”
“I’m afraid he’s tied up right now. I only have a few minutes but I’d like to talk with you.”
“Who is this? Where’s Ralph?”
“I believe they call me the Englishman. The young boy sent you my photo. I must say it was very clever both of you and him but he overdid it.”
“He did that on his own. I didn’t, wouldn’t, put him in that position.”
“Ah. Rest assured he’s alright. It’s not my style to have collateral damage.”
“And the young girl, Debbie was not collateral damage?” Frank was waving at the tech guys to locate the call.”
“The young girl? No. That was not my doing. As to that matter I’m here to clean that up and then I’ll be out of your fair city.”
“Then who shot Debbie if you didn’t?”
“He’s called the Black Assassin. He’s very efficient but has a horrible reputation and quite frankly has given my occupation a black eye. There’s no need to have so many casualties to hide the elimination of a single client. By the way I turned off the GPS and if you help me with my quest I’ll tell you where your young friend is.”
“Go ahead,” Said Frank.
“I already have the diamonds and they’re being couriered to their new owners as we speak so there’s not much point in having your friend in the Allard waiting for me. If you pull out all the officers from downtown for the next 24 hours I’ll be on my way and you’ll have the body of the Black assassin as a trophy.”
“The chief’s here beside me and he says yes as he’d rather not have another shoot fest in his city.”
The tech guys wrote a note and placed it in front of Frank, “No GPS but triangulated to downtown core.”
Frank wrote back, “Send every available cop we got downtown with this guy’s photo.”
“You hesitated Mr. Frank. I’m afraid I’ll have to go now. You’ll find your young friend under one of the hotel parking garages.” The Englishman hung up.
“Didn’t he say Leo was downtown in the Allard?” Frank said to the chief.
“Yes. What’s an Allard?”
“It’s a car,” Frank dialled Leo. It kept ringing. “I thought he was going to have supper with his girlfriend,” Leo’s phone went to voicemail. “Urgent you call me,” Frank said. Frank texted the same thing after.
Frank’s phone rang a few seconds later, “Leo. Where are you?”
“It’s Alice. Leo’s driving. We’re downtown checking out banks that have safety deposit boxes. What’s urgent?”
Frank told Alice what happened.
“Well. I don’t see a limo around but we can check a couple of garages while we’re here. Maybe the limo’s still in one of the garages as well.”
“I got the impression that the Englishman was driving when he called. Be careful.”
“I see the bullet holes in the front of the car. Oh. Did you know I got engaged?”
“That was my doing.”
“Oh. That makes sense. Leo says you can be a maid of honour.”
“I meant the bullet holes but the proposal as well I guess. He never would have thought of it. Again. Be careful. This guy and the other guy are very dangerous and very sharp.”
“OK. I do have a better gun than you and now that I have half a bottle of wine in me for sure I’m a better shot.”
Frank looked at the chief, “I’d better get down there.”
The chief shook his head and nodded yes.
Josh, now exhausted had fallen asleep in the garage storage unit propped up against the wall in a corner. Meagan sat in a chair watching him. Somehow it seemed anticlimactic now that they had killed the guy that shot Debbie. Meagan thought she would feel better. Josh had gone back into a slump. Meagan watched the emotion flow out of him and then collapse into sleep.
The text from Melisa was both a relief and apprehensive. What was she going to tell her mom? What was her mom going to tell her? What had Melisa already told her mom? Meagan could only wait and find out. There was nowhere to go or should go to. She had to see her mom sometime.
What were they all going to do now?
Melisa opened the garage door and Francine walked in behind her. Meagan started to cry. Francine followed suit and after a few seconds they were hugging. Melisa standing alone not knowing what to do started to cry too.
After a minute of this Josh woke up. “Mom? What are you doing here?”
Josh joined the hug.
Francine, started, her motherly instincts kicking in, speaking mostly to Josh, “I understand you were the ones that shot up the motel.”
“I had to get the guy that shot Debbie,” Josh welled up again, “I just had to.”
“But he wasn’t at the motel. He couldn’t be. He works totally alone. He’s called the Black Assassin. Annette told me about him. He’s the guy that cleaned up, killed the diamond thieves at the Henderson house and then shot Debbie. He would never let any of the diamond thieves see his face.”
“You mean I shot the wrong guy? But I found him and located him with facial recognition. I verified it twice.” Josh was wide awake now and had stopped crying. Meagan and Melisa were attentive as well.
“So where is this guy?” Josh asked.
Francine saw the look in her son’s eyes and said, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
“What.” Meagan asked.
“It’s from Star Trek,” Josh said. “I’m like one of the characters. The character dies in the end.”
Francine looked at her son, “OK. I’ll help you get him. I’m responsible for getting us all in this mess. Annette and diamonds and guns and assassins and real estate. I’ve had enough. Let’s get rid of them all.”
“How do we find him?” Melisa popped up.
Francine turned to her and said, “He has to pick up the diamonds yet. I know that Annette had them put in a safe deposit box at the City Trust Bank downtown. It opens at 10 tomorrow. We’ll be waiting.”
“How will we know who it is? The facial recognition system didn’t work,” Josh said.
“One of the diamond thefts included a king’s crown. It’s quite heavy and large so he’ll have to have some kind of carrying bag or box or duffle bag.”
“How can we be sure? We can’t just shoot everyone with a big heavy bag.” Meagan said.
“No but with the three of us we can all bump into people with a big bag and see how they react.”
“And I’ll be on the building across the street with the 22 swift.”
“I have question,” Melisa said. “How much are these diamonds worth?”
Francine answered, “Annette said that this was the deposit box for all of North America including Canada and Mexico. There has to be at least a hundred million dollars’ worth of stuff. This city alone has to be millions.”
“So what’s to stop this guy from taking the diamonds for himself? I mean I wouldn’t let any single person touch my organization’s loot.”
Meagan suddenly got it. “This guy also has to be head of the diamond ring. It’s the only thing that makes sense.”
“Maybe the assassin thing doesn’t pay as well as it used to,” Melisa said, “I’m thinking this diamond ring has to be front for a terrorist organization. There’s too much involved for just a crime ring.”
“That makes more sense. Everyone is hired or part of a mercenary group.”
“I still have a feeling that our guy might be going to take off with the stuff,” Josh said. “What’s the size of the largest safety deposit box?”
“10 by 10 by 24,” Francine said.
“A gym bag will do. It will hold a crown.” Josh said.
“How did he get his key?” Meagan asked.
“There’s a lot of keys. Annette had one,” Francine said, “I just remember something. She said he was known for disguises.”
“He’ll dress up as a woman?” Josh thought out loud.
“A woman with a light bag going in and a heavy bag going out. It’s worth a try,” Meagan said.
“What have we got to lose?” Melisa said.
“Our lives,” Francine said.
Josh said, “No. He’s smart. To throw us off he’ll have a heavy bag going in. The bag will be lighter going out. He’ll discard something along the way. That’s what we watch for.”
Morning found Frank still cruising parking garages. He had sent Leo and Alice home as he and several officers had set up a system for searching the downtown garages. He was thinking the Englishman had sent him on a wild goose chase but the third time in this garage he got out and walked the whole thing. In the back he pulled back a sheet of cardboard and found Ralph shivering. Ralph got him to hospital to be checked out and called his father who was frantic and on his way home from Europe.
Frank needed a coffee. The banks would open soon and he had no idea what to do. There wasn’t enough manpower to cover all the banks and filter every person going to a safe deposit section.
Leo called. Alice was now sober and they would meet him for coffee downtown. Frank said he could use the manpower and even the woman power.
“There’s a lot of people coming downtown with guns,” Squid said. “Fishbait will be pleased. Many of these souls are due to work the lower depths.
“What do they do down there?” Johnathon asked.
“They stoke the fires of course. Hell has lots of coal stored up from the big bang.”
“Why do they need fire anyway? I mean what’s the use.”
“Oh. We need energy to support our system. Heaven has sunlight. We don’t so we need to keep those fires burning. Others work the bellows. There is a shortage of oxygen in Hell at the lower levels.”
“I never thought about it.”
“How’s our subject Joseph doing? Have you checked on him lately?”
“Yes. This morning he was still at home supposedly waiting for someone in his family to come home or call. He did get some sleep last night and he’s drinking coffee right now and watching the morning news.”
“I must say he really is drifting. I would have thought he would at least made a couple of phone calls,” Squid said.
“I almost feel sorry for him,” Johnathon said. “As a drifter myself I never had a family so I don’t know what it’s like but I’m sure he must be going through Hell.”
“Let’s just make sure he stops there permanently. Fishbait will be pleased or at least not mad.”
“I think we should get him downtown,” Johnathon said. “It might finalize his drifting.”
“That could be dangerous,” Squid said. “If he does anything at all it will change his lifestyle and he will no longer be a drifter.”
“Sometimes doing nothing is still a choice. If he does nothing he might be choosing to do something. Joseph thinking deeply could upset us in the long run.”
“I must say you’re thinking very deeply on this yourself.”
“It’s hard to be a drifter when you have a purpose.”
“Amen to that. Oh. Sorry about the four letter word.”
* * *
Donavan woke up in his truck to his cell ringing. It was the investigators he’d hired. “There seems to be a lot of police activity downtown. Do you know what it’s about?”
“No, but I’ll take a drive down there and see if I can find some answers. I’ll let you know if I find anything.”
“My men are there now. They’re in blue jeans and wearing Blue Jays baseball caps.’
“I’ll say hello to them.” Donavan hung up.
Donavan drove downtown, parked and walked to a local coffee shop that had an outdoor sidewalk café. Donavan ordered breakfast and sat watching the street.
Frank, sitting inside a coffee shop across the road saw Donavan though the window. Leo and Alice came in. Alice dressed in blue jeans.
“I’m taking the day off,” she said.
“You deserve it,” Frank said and waved the waitress over.
“I see our friend Donavan is here,” Leo said. “I wonder why or how much he knows about what’s going on.”
“My thoughts too. I’m wondering if I should arrest him now or wait and see if he knows something,” Frank said.
“Ralph’s OK?” Leo asked.
“Yes and I’m thinking that this new guy the Englishman might be about to shoot up the city. How did we get to have so many bad guys with guns in this city?”
“They’re attracted to women with guns,” Alice answered patting her shoulder bag.
“It’s only morning and it’s already hot,” Frank said. “We’ll get an indication of who has a gun on as they will still have a jacket on.”
“There’s a couple of guys out there with gym bags too,” said Leo. “That might hold a bigger gun.
“There’s a couple of women with them too. I think there’s a gym around the corner. Of course a more dignified woman would put her gun in a shoulder bag.”
“We’ll assume the dignified women are on our side,” Leo said.
“Alice perked up. “Hey. There’s a couple of guys with jackets and baseball caps sitting with Donavan.”
Josh set up on top of the building across the street from the city bank. The rooftop was gravel with tar but covered with wooden pallets and planks to walk on. There amid some storage of old parts for the building air conditioner Josh found a perfect place for his sniper perch. Sitting on an old wooden crate he scanned the street below through the scope of his 22 swift. Hidden by the low rooftop wall, Josh and the point of the rifle were barely visible from below.
“Mind if I join you?” A voice came from behind.
Josh was shocked. He had locked and bolted the door to the roof so that no one would disturb him. Turning, he faced an elderly man dressed in a tweed jacket and tie holding a brief case in one hand and an umbrella in the other.
“Who are you and how did you get up here?”
“Sorry to startle you. I was up here already having morning tea when you came up. I assume you are the one called Josh?”
“How did you know that?”
“It’s part of my business to know. Let me introduce myself. I’m the one some call the Englishman. I’m a professional assassin by trade. May I sit and join you?”
“You’re the one that killed Debbie.”
“No. That was another. He’s the guy I was sent to kill. His name is the Black Assassin and he’s about to pick up the diamonds as you figured.”
“He killed my girlfriend.”
“Yes. Sorry about that. I only arrived that day or I could have prevented it. Now this has gotten out of hand. I’m very good at what I do. Do you mind if I give you some pointers?”
“I’ll take all the help I can get.”
“Is that your mom down there checking out the bank before it opens?”
“Yes and my sister and a friend Melisa.”
“She’s the one that killed Markus?”
“Yes. Markus almost killed Debbie and then threatened to do it again after she got out of the hospital.”
“Markus’s father is sitting down there with a couple of cronies at the outdoor coffee shop. They all have guns. We might use them as a distraction.”
I’ve been hired by a descendant of an Eastern king to retrieve a crown stolen by this diamond thief ring. When the black assassin comes out of the bank and you shoot him my associate will grab the diamonds. It will help him get away if there’s a lot of shooting or at least appears to be a lot of shooting.”
“Mom says there are a lot of diamonds and there is a crown.”
“Yes. I’ll give most back to the police. I’ll keep the small loose diamonds, give something to Debbie’s mom and I have several charities that I support.”
“That’s very generous of you.”
“Oh. I’m well paid. After the king’s descendant paid me I negotiated with the diamond thief ring to take out the Black Assassin. People think that the Black Assassin gets the same fee as me but he’s just another hired hood. The only thing he’s done well is keep his identity secret.”
Josh scanned the street below careful not to miss anything. He checked his watch. It was 10 minutes to 10. “How did you get into the business?”
“My father was a well-known assassin. He was kind of a ruthless guy until one of his clients during world war two tried to set him up and kill him along with all of New York City. After that he developed a morality. It made the job harder but much more lucrative and there came a sense of job fulfilment.”
“I may have to make it a career myself after this. I’m probably going to jail.”
“I doubt it. You’re still a minor. You’ll go through some stuff but not life imprisonment. If you decide to take this up as a career later in life I’ll check with you after university. Maybe I can pass on the title to you. I’m due to retire in a few years.”
“We’ve got about five minutes. I’ll think about it.”
“How were you going to recognize the Black Assassin? You can’t have his photograph.”
“My mom and Meagan and Melisa are going to bump into him and see how he clings to the bag he has to be holding. Mom thinks he’ll be disguised as a woman.”
“He’ll have a disguise alright but more to his passport likely. It will be simple. Maybe a hair color change and mustache. He’ll have a suit on. Also he’s over six feet tall. That would make for a big woman and might attract attention.”
“How were you going to recognise him?” Josh asked.
“You set yourself up well as a sniper. No one can see the barrel of your gun unless with binoculars. I put a pipe protruding from the next building pointing down towards the bank. Any assassin surveying the surroundings would see it. As the assassin comes from the bank he’ll look up to see if the barrel is still there. He’ll do it subtlety so you’ll have to be watching close. If he sees it’s still there he’ll turn the other way and be in a hurry. I’ll be watching too. The best place to shoot is just before he steps off the curb. He’ll hesitate there to check traffic and may even turn toward us so you can get a clean head shot. Hopefully we can get him without killing any pedestrians. I pride myself in clean kills. Do you think you can get him first shot or do you want me to do it?”
“I can do it. What’s your diversion?”
“I planted a bunch of firecrackers under Mr. Donavan’s table hooked up to a throw away cell. He and his friends will jump up, pull out their guns and not know where to shoot. Hopefully he’ll then be arrested and not get into any more trouble.”
“Melisa shouldn’t have killed his son. She could have just taken out his legs or something. That’s what started all this.”
“True. The bank’s opening.”
“Will he go in right away or will he wait?”
“I expect he’ll go in after the initial crowd and try to mingle in.”
“There’s a lot of men. Most are tall from here. Not all of them have some kind of bag though. He’ll need it get all the stuff out,” Josh said.
“You realize that what you just said about Melisa could just as well be said about you,” the Englishman said.
She took revenge on Debbie by killing Markus and you’re about to take revenge on Debbie’s death by killing her killer.”
“I don’t care. You must know that I’ve already killed.”
“You made a judgement about Melisa just a moment ago and you’re going to make that same judgement about yourself years from now.”
“Have you something to suggest? You just said that you’re an assassin yourself.”
“I submit that it might be a better punishment for the Black Assassin to be caught. Let the authorities deal with him. He might even be extradited to another country where he will be executed. He’ll have more pain in dealing with that than a quick death. Think about how you felt after you killed. I know. I’ve felt it. It’s a very empty feeling. Unless there’s some purpose to what you do, that’s how you’ll feel always.”
“My mom just bumped into a lady holding a duffle bag. Shouldn’t we tell her and the others that it’s probably a big man?”
“I don’t think so. They might get in the way of your shot.”
“You still want me to shoot? Make up your mind.”
“I suggest that a head shot is very difficult for an amateur. Odds are he didn’t bring his gun as he has to go through a metal detector to get into the vault area so he won’t be a problem after he’s hit. Shoot him in the hip. The police are all over and will be on him in an instant.”
“How come the police are all over here anyway?” Josh asked.
“I bargained with them not to come downtown if I told them where I tied up your friend Ralph.”
“You tied up Ralph? Why?”
“He was playing detective for his father’s friend Frank who’s a cop. Ralph followed me and I had to stop him and it gave me an opportunity to catch the Black Assassin. He’s OK. They found him this morning.”
“I was helping him with his homework. That means the cop knows I was selling steroids at the school.”
“Really bad stuff Josh. Anything that affects your mind destroys that part of you that no one can ever touch.”
“You mean like steroid rage,” Josh said still watching through the rifle’s scope.
“That was probably what caused Melisa to kill Marcus and maybe what caused Marcus to beat up Debbie. This is what you’re selling and what you’re taking. Think about what you might have done to Debbie later in Life if she said something out of the ordinary and you beat her to death.”
“I started taking droids to get someone like Debbie,” Josh turned and looked at the Englishman.”
“You got her without them. The steroids couldn’t have taken effect in that short of time.”
Josh got a little misty and his eyes welled up. He turned back to his rifle and watched the scene below.
“When the Black Assassin comes out and sees the pipe still there he’ll turn to his left quickly making sure the bag is between him and the building so no one will be able to grab it. I’ll let you know when to shoot.”
The two were quiet for a while. The noise from down below became distinct as they watched.
“That’s him,” the Englishman said, “stop breathing now.”
Josh held his breath and followed the man with his scope.”
“Shoot,” the Englishman said.
Josh squeezed the trigger and watched the man crumble. The noise was louder than he remembered. He felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Leave the gun to me. You won’t need it anymore. Go down and see your mom. She and your sister and Melisa will need you now.”
Josh got up with wet eyes and walked over to the door he had secured shut and walked down the stairs.
Donavan chomped into his egg muffin and followed it with a slurp of black coffee. He had been trying to get information from his two hires to no avail and they were trying to do the same with him. It was hot and all three had jackets on to hide their guns and sunglasses to hide who they were watching. The two men had baseball caps on as well. Donavan saw the mayor sitting a few tables over and waved to him.
Donavan recognized Francine acting mysteriously in front of the bank. He mentioned it to the two hires. After a few minutes they picked up on the other two girls bumping into people in front of the bank.
“Francine doesn’t strike me as a pickpocket,” Donavan said.
“Gee there’s a lot of cops out today. There’s five in this coffee shop alone.”
“Six,” Said Donavan. “The mayor has a plainclothes connected to him now in view of all the shootings lately.”
“Yeah,” the other man said, “what’s up with that? I haven’t seen that many shootings in Detroit and New York combined. Look down the street. There has to be twenty cops here. There’s some more plain clothes as well.”
Just then Donavan heard a crack. Knowing it was gunshot he stood up and pulled out his pistol turning all the way around as he did. The other two men just about as quick and seeing Donavan pull out his gun did the same. As they stood firecrackers went off under their table.
Five police officers, already primed for something to happen were quick to pull their guns as well and in less than a minute Donavan and his two hires were handcuffed.
Down the street in front of the bank Francine pulled her gun as well and because she did, so did Meagan and Melisa. More cops converged on them and shortly after they were in handcuffs too.
Leo pulled his gun and so did Frank and were about to run outside but Alice pulled them back. “Wait for it. It’s a diversion. There’s too many bangs for no one shooting.”
The Black Assassin went down in pain. A passer-by stopped to help him. A huge man appeared out of nowhere with a gym bag and kneeled beside them both. The Black assassin moaned. The bullet had hit him splitting his hip bone and severing his sciatic nerve. The huge man grabbed the other bag now on the ground and said to the passer-by, “I’ll call an ambulance,” He then disappeared with the bag.
Frank was watching all this and had just noticed the man on the ground. “There,” he pointed. “That man’s been hit.”
Frank was about to go outside when his cell rang. It was Ralph’s cell.
“I’m sorry to bother you again Mr. Frank but I thought you’d like to know the man on the ground in front of you withering in pain is the man you call the Black Assassin.”
The phone went dead.
The ambulance came. Frank cuffed the Black Assassin and rode with him to the hospital.
Leo sat back down inside the coffee shop. So did Alice.
“I think I saw the mayor being pulled out of the outside coffee shop across the street.”
“I wonder if we can put breakfast on our expense account,” Asked Leo.
“We have to put in for time off for our honeymoon.”
“They’re not going to let us get away without starting prosecutions on all these bad guys,” Leo said.
“We’ll have to deal most of them. Once we’ve set the parameters the office can deal with the paperwork.”
“Martha will be furious,” Leo said.
“I think we should go on a cruise in the South Pacific.”
“I’ve always wanted to stop by Fiji. I heard of a nice hotel there called Namale.”
“I didn’t get to use my gun.”
Francine pulled back the orange sleeves and put her hands through the square opening set in the closely linked steel bars. It was normally a platform for the food tray but this time it was to expose her wrists to be handcuffed. The officer snapped the cuffs closed and then opened the cell door and motioned her to follow. A second guard fell in behind as Francine was led through a maze of hallways until the guard’s hand went up. Francine was to wait before getting the OK to enter the interview room. Neither guard said a word.
A black dressed guard with a radio on her shoulder came from another room and faced Francine. “If any part of your body or the interviewer’s crosses the black line on the table the interview will be over and you both will be stripped and cavity searched.”
Francine nodded and was led into the room to a large table. The black uniformed guard snapped a second handcuff from between the one on her wrist to a hook on the table. Francine sat down and waited. She looked around the room. She didn’t think there would be anyone else there but there were eight tables arranged in two lines and six were in use. A black dressed guard stood at each end of the lines of four tables watching the inch wide black line painted down the center of each table. Francine could hear the conversations of each and knew that the guards were listening as well.
As the FBI and the CIA were involved Francine had ended up in federal court. The rules were different from state court and Francine had been told by her lawyer that federal law supersedes state law and the death penalty could be on the table.
Francine waited for several minutes. Joseph was escorted in by another black dressed guard. He sat down in front of Francine. They didn’t say anything for a full minute.
“I’m sorry,” Francine started.
“I know,” Joseph answered. “They tell me you’re cooperating with the police and there might be a sentence reduction. Leo got us a good lawyer. I have the house up for sale. It will help pay for him.
“I’m really sorry.” Francine started to well up and went to wipe her eye but couldn’t because of the handcuffs tied to the table. She managed to wipe her eye with her shoulder. She kind of gave a bit of a laugh over this.
“The kids are in a juvenile court run by the state,” Joseph said. “They’re minors but they’ll still have to do some time. I talked with Melisa’s mom as well. They’re dropping the Ramsey case as self-defence but Marcus will be a manslaughter charge.”
Francine just nodded not able to say much.
“Josh might escape jail time. There’s a possibility of a temporary insanity plea and they’ve not been able to find any weapons used by him.”
“That’s good news,” Francine managed to blurt out.
“I’ve quit my job at the bus terminal. I’m going back to school and finish teacher’s college. The college has offered me a job contingent on graduating. That and my technical writing will be enough to live on until I finish. I’ve got a deal on an apartment where Leo lives. He owns it. His maintenance man is quitting so I can do that and it will pay for the rent. It won’t take much time and I’ll have more time now that I’m not driving bus anymore.”
“I just got caught up in it all. It got out of hand. I didn’t even know what I was really doing. I’m not making excuses. I did it. I just didn’t even know I was doing all of it. It was exciting and glamorous. I didn’t think of what I was doing. I didn’t need any of it. It was just easy and then it was easy to do a little more and then I was in too deep.”
“Oh-oh. This doesn’t look good,” Squid said.
“I know. This is what had to come about,” Johnathon said.
“You know? What do you mean?” Squid asked.
“I used the tricks you showed me to highlight things in Joseph’s life that would have him take a look at it closer. It’s kind of romantic even. She has regrets. So does he but he hasn’t admitted it yet. Admit it Squid. Doesn’t it seem a good ending to Joseph’s and Francine’s story up to now? They’ll have to go through some stuff but there appears to be a happy ending.”
“That’s not what we’re supposed to do. You’ll find out what a happy ending isn’t when Fishbait sends you to the lower levels.”
“I know. I should have gone there in the first place.”
“What do you mean? This is probably the cushiest job in Hell. You’re going to throw all that away? What for?”
“You can claim rightfully that you knew nothing. I did this on my own.”
“You’re not making sense to me Johnathon.”
“I know it sounds ungrateful but I can’t seem to be able to pull someone to Hell just because I’m here. I’d rather take my medicine even if it means going into the deep or the second death. My life amounted to nothing. It doesn’t mean I should make someone else’s like mine.”
“That’s what Hell’s all about. Don’t you remember the Beatle’s song line ‘Let me take you down, because I’m going too?’ Fishbait will send me down with you by association. I was supposed to train you. You can’t do this!” I’ve been here for over 500 years. They’ll crucify me.”
“Sorry, but I’ve found a new coldness in me in Hell of all places. Who would have thought a drifter trying to teach another to be a drifter would suddenly see how much I should have done with my life?”
“That was not the plan,” Squid was pleading now, “Fishbait will intervene anyway. He will find some way to get this one’s soul as we should have.”
“Yes. But it won’t have been me that did it. If I’m going to die in Hell at least it will be with a final piece of dignity. It may have been a little late but it’s not never.”
“You really take the cake. All you had to do was nothing just like you did all your life and you can’t even do that right.”
“Let’s watch my final fall into the lower depths. Quiet. Joseph’s about to say something.”
“They found Annette. Apparently she was the victim of a traffic accident.”
“Oh,” Francine said, “I was kind of hard on her. I’m sure it was me that caused her to run.”
“She’s the one that started all of this. The FBI has confirmed the diamonds were to finance a terrorist organization.”
“I could have said no. I was making good money selling.”
“There was no reason to kill Debbie. There are just some bad people out there.”
“What’s going to happen now? With Meagan and Josh I mean. Can you take care of them? I guess that’s silly question. You’ve been doing that all along. I haven’t been much of a mom.”
“I haven’t been much of a father either, or much of a husband, but that’s going to change.”
“What do you mean? I don’t want you waiting. I don’t think you or the kids should even visit. I’m going to be here a while. You need to get on with your lives.’
“I made a vow years ago, for better or worse. It doesn’t get much worse than this but a vow is a vow. The kids and I will visit regularly and we’ll be waiting when you get out.”
Francine went to put her hand on Joseph’s but a sharp, “Hey!” came from the guard at the end of the table, “Time’s up.”
Both Francine and Joseph stood and Francine was led away. They kept looking at each other until Francine was out of sight.
Leo had hired a student to clean the Allard. The student said after he would have cleaned it for free just to crawl all over it. Leo gave him a ride home in it telling him he could help install the new soft top he had coming. Leo had a new friend.
He decided to leave the bullet holes. It gave it some unique character or so he thought.
Before Leo started up the car again his cell phone rang. The caller ID said, “Ralph? Did you get your phone back?”
“Sorry Mr. Leo. It’s not Ralph. I still have his cell. I bought him another and I sent it to him in the mail.”
“The Englishman? Interpol now has your photograph. Your days are numbered.”
“I’m semi-retired anyway. I only do jobs that shall we say involve a social consciousness.”
“You’re an assassin anyway you call it.”
“True. But your own military has assassins or snipers and we both know that there are black operations in play right now both on the mainland and abroad. My father, a well-known assassin, developed a social conscience in World War Two and actually worked with the FBI in New York City to stop a terrorist organization. I’ve carried on the tradition.”
“And you’re a thief.”
“Now you’re just name calling. I’m quite wealthy and I don’t need the money. This is why I’m calling you.”
“And why is that?”
“I had Bartholomew put a bag in the trunk of your Allard. It’s a very nice car by the way. One of my regrets is I can’t drive or own one. It would draw too much attention.”
“You have chauffer driven limo,” Leo got out and went around to the trunk. There was a bag in it. Leo opened the bag and saw it was full of diamond jewelry. “Stop on by and I’ll give you a ride in the Allard.”
“I kept the crown to return it to its owner and there were some loose small diamonds that are untraceable that I can put to good use. The rest you should be able to get back to the rightful owners.”
* * *
Bartholomew drove the limo into the shipping container, walked out and closed the doors. Fixing a seal on them Bartholomew waved to the crane operator and the container was loaded carefully onto the ship.
The Englishman started up the ramp to the ship with Bartholomew, “I hope we meet again someday Mr. Leo. It’s been a pleasure working with you.”
Before Leo could answer The Englishman turned off the cell, pulled out the battery and tossed both into the sea water as they went up the ramp. The Englishman started to whistle the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
Smoke rose from Squid’s tablet. Hotstuff’s head appeared. “Mr. Fishbait would like to see you and Mr. Johnathon very soon which means right away or yesterday or something like that.” As soon as Hotstuff retracted Squid’s tablet exploded with a bang and shattered into pieces.
Johnathon waved the smoke away, “That’s not a good sign.”
“It’s never done that before,” Squid said. “I don’t think warrantee’s going to cover it.”
“You mean it’s less than a year old?”
“Warrantee is a time allotted for hidden manufacturing defects to occur. This tablet is four hundred and seventy two years old.”
“Oh. Then it’s time for an upgrade anyway.”
“I think where we are going there won’t be any use for one anyway.”
Squid and Johnathon walked up to 666 Fireside Street.
The two guards snickered wickedly at them as they approached the counter.
“Oh, you two can go right on in. I think you’re expected. It says so right here on my tablet.” The bigger guard pointed at his and asked. “Where’s your tablet Mr. Squid?”
Squid ignored the comment, “Come on Johnathon.”
“You can take the express elevator Squid. You’ll be taking the tube down.”
“Tube?” Johnathon asked as they entered the elevator.
“I goes straight to the lava pits below. I hope you know how to swim.”
“I seem to remember that it only came up once before and at that time it didn’t matter.”
“It probably won’t matter too much now either.”
They exited the elevator and Hotstuff was watering flowers. One of the flowers reached out and grabbed a flying beetle and devoured it. Shortly after it belched.
“They are so much better than a can of insect spray. There seem to be a lot of insects around here during Halloween.
“Halloween isn’t for many months yet,” Squid said.
“Oh. I must have been using last year’s calendar. I’ve decided to learn to type. They say a good secretary should be able to type and dictate nations.’
“That’s take dictation,” Squid corrected, “but typing is a good start.”
“Mr. Fishbait got me a book ‘Typing for Dummies.’ There’s a section in it just for blond devils. I can’t wait to see what else is in it for me.”
“I didn’t know you had a typewriter.”
“Oh dear. I’ll have to get one. You can go right in. Mr. Fishbait is waiting for you.”
“Thank you,” Squid said.
“Oh wait! Mr. Fishbait said to get some appropriate music for you. I got you Chopin’s Funeral March. I hope you like it.”
“Goodbye Hotstuff. It was nice knowing you,” Squid opened the door and went in in front of Johnathon. The music started to play.
Fishbait was sitting at a judge’s bench dressed appropriately with black robe and wig. He had a blacksmith’s hammer that he pounded the desk with. It sparked as it hit. Asphalt paving lead up to the desk. Squid made his way stopping ten feet in front.
“Nothing to say Squid? You’re usually quite talkative.”
“It’s my fault sir. Squid had no idea what I was doing.”
“Shut up newbie. He’s supposed to know what you’re doing. That’s his job. And while we’re at it, what’s come over you. You developed feelings or something? One would almost think you had some kind of moral breakdown. We have had people lose their minds here before. As a matter of fact it happens quite often. We have an area that we put them in to correct those moral thoughts. After a few thousand years they come out of it. It’s not pleasant but it works.”
“My mind is in very good working order sir. Truthfully, it seems to be working better than it ever has before. I hope you’ll be lenient on Squid sir. He did his best.”
“You’re telling me that you lost this soul on purpose?”
“Yes sir. He was just like me. I know I don’t have any memory of me but I knew I couldn’t send him on the path that I was on.”
“You know the consequences of what you’re saying. The penalty is far more than you earned in life. It’s also double indemnity. That means it’s irreversible for eternity. It’s the same as working for the other side. Back on the planet it would be like the death penalty for spying. We can’t do the second death here or even send you out into the deep but we can make you wish we could.”
Yes sir. I know and I did know before I made my decision.”
“Very well,” Fishbait said. “I’m sure I’ll be the first to lose a horn over this but at least I’ll know there was some pain involved. Goodbye Johnathon.”
A hole opened up underneath Johnathon with a hiss. Johnathon waited for the fall.
“What’s happening? Why aren’t you falling down the tube?” Fishbait said.
“I don’t know. Normally I fall down tubes very well,” Johnathon said.
“I’m sorry Mr. Fishbait but I can’t allow that.”
“Squid? What are you talking about? Did you do that? What’s going on?”
“You see Mr. Fishbait there is a way out of Hell,” Squid said stepping forward. “Once one decides that he is willing to go deeper into Hell than have another follow him into Hell he moves to a higher level. It’s then possible to float him as you can see I’ve done.”
“So what’s going to happen now? Is he going to levitate back to heaven?”
“Nothing quite so grand. He will be allowed to reincarnate but he’ll have to earn his way into heaven,” Squid said.
“And how do you know all this?”
“I’m afraid I’ll be leaving too as my covers blown. It has been a slice though.”
“Squid. You’re the spy? You’ve been here for over five hundred years. How far will heaven go to save a soul?”
“We even planted Hotstuff as a diversion. Can we get her to stop that music by the way? The funeral’s over.”
“It may just be starting for me. I’m going to lose my horns for sure.”
“I’ll put in a good word for you. You’ll get to keep Hotstuff.”
“Squid,” Johnathon said, “you’re the spy. I had no idea. Can you get me down?”
“I can do better.” Squid grew a small set of wings on his back. “They don’t really work but I like the image.” Squid pulled out a sword from nowhere and pointed it at Johnathon. He was gone in a puff of white smoke.
“I’ll be leaving too Mr. Fishbait,” Squid said as a halo started to form over his head. “I wouldn’t want the others in this department to see me. It might give your division a bad name.”
Squid left in a puff of white smoke.
* * *
Johnathon found himself back in front of the doors leading to The Lords of Karma. The same lady that he had seen before came out from a side entrance.
“I recognise you. You sent me down there.”
“Yes. It’s good that you remember.”
“So this was all a test? It wasn’t really real?”
“Oh, it was real alright,” the lady in white said, “if you had failed you would have stayed there forever.”
“I have Squid to thank.”
“He’s a very hard working angel. He wrote a book on how to save souls. It’s required reading up here.”
“I’d like to read it. Where can I get a copy?”
“I’m afraid that’s not allowed.”
“So what now? Is there more testing?”
“There was a saying on Atlantis as a greeting instead of hello or good day to you, “May You Pass Every Test.”
“So the testing never ends.”
“It helps you grow,” the lady in white said. “I have some reading for you while you’re waiting. They were written with some guidance from us by people on earth and have become classics. They are Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and Viktor Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning.”
“Waiting for what?” Johnathon asked but the lady in white had disappeared.
A wall to Johnathon’s left appeared. It was more than a wall but a complete library of books. An arm chair with a reading lamp beside it lit. The table beside it had the first three books on it.
Johnathon sat down and started reading. He sat there for months before anything happened.
The antique luxury ship Apathetic refurbished and refitted with modern engine and gear had been featured in several magazines as the ultimate get away from it all. Each room was elegantly finished by artisan crafters using only exotic woods. The walk in fridge was stocked with the finest of food and renowned chefs prepared meals fit for only the very wealthy.
As sometimes happens there is a shortage of passengers and as the ship must sail anyway occasionally a sale is allowed to let the lower class view what might never be part of their lives.
Alice and Leo now married for several months made their way up the ramp. They were met by the captain in full dress whites flanked by the purser and the first mate all in whites as well. Lesser mates also in whites made way and grabbed the client’s bags.
“Welcome,” said the captain.
“Thanks,” said Alice, “we’re on our honeymoon.”
“We’re happy that you chose the Apathetic. We will make sure your honeymoon is full of pleasant memories,” the captain said.
Alice, obviously pregnant and struggling with the added weight said, “Another few weeks to go and I’ll be skinny again.”
Leo and Alice were led to their room where they both showered and changed.
“There’s a list of stuff we have to do before we can sleep,” Alice said. “Cocktails after launch, lifeboat drill, dinner with black tie. You did bring a black tie didn’t you?’
“Yes dear. It’s packed with something else you told me to bring.”
“I’m not sure I got the order right. I think the lifeboat drill is before the cocktails.”
‘That would make sense. You shouldn’t have a bunch of drunks drilling life boating.”
“Hey. This boat has a history. It started out as a freighter but then was used in World War two as a spy ship. It went back to being a freighter and then it was bought by a conglomerate a few years ago and refitted. It says the main owner of the conglomerate is a reclusive Englishman living on a remote island somewhere in the south pacific.”
Leo took the flyer that Alice had been reading. “It can’t be.”
“I’m looking forward to cocktail hour. Oh poop. I’m not allowed. Wait another few weeks. I’m going to catch up.’
“Maybe they’ll have vegan booze just for you. I’ll have one only beer just for you.” Leo reached over and gave Alice a kiss.
* * *
Three days out to sea, Alice gave birth prematurely to one healthy boy. The crew and guests had an excuse for a party and Alice found herself with some champagne. Leo had a beer.
“I have the perfect name for him,” Alice said.
“OK. What’s that?”
“Let’s call him Johnathon.”
“That sounds like a name of someone with a strong moral fiber.”
* * *
Squid leaned against the wall in the cloud overhead watching the Apathetic sail across the glass-like ocean of the South Pacific.
“I guess this is one for you,” Fishbait said leaning up beside Squid.
“They’re not all happy endings though. You have won your share.”
“By the way, have you seen my nephew? They found his paint gun at the side of the building.”
“You know you shouldn’t let him shoot that thing at those baby saber tooth tigers.”
“You have a point, but he’s such a little devil.”
“Give them lots of fiber to eat and I’m sure he’ll turn up soon.’
“I suppose. Hotstuff sends her regards. She said she misses you.”
“I’ll miss her as well. I was thinking of sending her a typewriter.”
“That would be nice,” Fishbait said. “Do they have her equivalent in heaven?”
“I don’t think you should know.”
“You might change sides.”
“Until next time Squid.”
Fishbait left. Squid watched the Apathetic until it was out of sight.