Legacy of Death
If Walls Could Talk
The last few drops of an early morning spring shower bounced off the battered, yellow, hard hats of construction workers as they entered the old two-story, boarded -up building next to club Inner Sanctum on
It had been nearly twenty years since the double murder that spawned dozens of
rumors and never ending gossip about what happened inside that night. Some say
the murders of the barber shop owner
and his South Philly girlfriend were the result of a love triangle gone bad;
while others whispered strange tales of mysticism and witchcraft. Mt.
With no witness or clues and with no one brave enough to buy the place with the leaking roof and creaking floors the dilapidated building had held on to it secrets…until now.
Despite the recession business at club Inner Sanctum was good; in fact it was so good that retired detective Alexander Steele decided to expand his club by gutting and renovating the dilapidated barber shop next door. His longtime girlfriend Shakia was a licensed interior designer. She, along with Steele designed the interior of the Inner Sanctum a few years ago, so bringing her in on the new project was a no-brainer.
After a full week of demolition Steele had grown accustomed to the constant banging and hammering next door. It was just after nine am; Steele had started on his second cup of hot coffee. He was about to read the sports page in the morning paper when he realized the workers next door had stopped. After glancing at his watch he called out to his manager from back in his private booth.
“Hey Sugar Bear, Sugar Bear!” Alex shouted to the front of the club.
Moments later a husky, dark skinned, man came lumbering down the aisle with a blue and white stripped towel draped over his shoulder. Steele’s club manager and childhood friend was not in his normal jovial mood. His tooth had been brothering him for a couple of days and he was a little on the grouchy side. Sugar Bear held two silver round objects the size of fifty cent pieces up against his left jaw.
“Yeah boss, what’s up?” The club manager grimaced as he talked.
Steele tapped the face of his silver Panerai Luminor watch, “apparently not much,” he answered. “There’s no noise, no banging coming from next door,” Steele used his thumb to point in the direction of the barber shop. “It’s been quiet for about a half hour. Do me a favor Sugar Bear; go see what those guys are up to. I ain’t paying them to sit on their asses all day.”
Steele tilted his head to get a better look at silver objects. “What’s that?” Steele pointed to the objects against his friends face.
Sugar Bear looked disgusted, “Oh, magnets boss, I got them off e bay, $49.95. They’re supposed to make the pain go away.” Steele burst into laughter, “so how’s that working out for ya?”
Sugar Bear frowned, tossed the magnates on the table, nodded and left without answering the question. Before Steele could turn the page of his Daily News Sugar Bear was back yelling from the front door of the club.
“Hey boss, you gotta come see this!”
During his years as a private detective Steele had made more than a few enemies so he always kept a gun nearby. After grabbing his Glock from the secret compartment under the custom made bench the two men jogged next door and rushed inside. The demolition work was nearly complete. A few rays of sunshine streaked through the old cloudy windows into the vast openness of concrete, rubble, and dust that littered the floor.
Exposed electrical wiring and fixtures dangled overhead. It took a while for Steele’s eyes to adjust to the emergency lighting the workers had brought in but it took even longer for his mind to adjust what he saw across the room. All six workers were lined up sitting on the floor. Their hands, feet, and mouths were bound with long strips of gray duct tape. Steele lowered his weapon.
“What the hell’s going on here?”
After freeing the workers the foremen explained that a lone gunman ordered one of the workers to restrain them before the man with the gun tied him up. The man with the gun then frantically searched the entire building.
The big blond guy with the black and red plaid lumberjack shirt shook his Head from side to side. “Mr. Steele we heard some banging when he went up upstairs but that’s about it. I’ve been in this business for twenty two years and I never seen anything like this. He didn’t take any of our money or gold chains and the guy didn’t even look at our tools.”
He waved his arms and looked around at the rubble and dust; “it’s a job-site for Christ sake, there ain’t nothing here to steal. We took the old barber chairs and stuff out to the dumpster the other day. That guy must be off his rocker. Wait,” the foreman stared at the frayed wires dangling from the high ceiling as he collected his thoughts. “Come to think of it, his stomach was bigger than it was when he came in here.” Still holding his brown work gloves the foreman placed both hands on his stomach to illustrate the point. “Yeah, he must have stuffed something under his shirt while he was upstairs.”
Steele was just as surprised by the odd episode as everyone else. He didn’t realize it at the time but Alexander Steele was being drawn into yet another case, a twenty year old case filled with secrets, murder and a king’s ransom of hidden gold treasure.
The behavior of the strange robber was a tiny thread but it was just enough to peak the curiosity of the retired private investigator turned club owner. Steele called a security company and hired two guards while the construction workers filed their police reports giving a description of the man to the two uniformed cops from the 35th District.
By mid afternoon the following day, news of the non-robbery had reached Steele’s good friends Roger aka the Philosopher and Stan. As the three men sat inside Steele’s royal blue booth the Philosopher revealed that his uncle use to take him to get his hair cut next door during the summer when he stayed with him.
“I was about eight or nine when my Uncle James would take me. Man that was ages ago.
I think the dude’s name was Romone. He owned the joint. He was a tall guy with long black hair. He always wore his hair slicked back.” The Philosopher used his hands to demonstrate his description. “Romone had a pencil thin mustache and long sideburns.” Steele listened intently to his friend’s description.
“What else can you tell me about this guy?” Steele asked.
The Philosopher thought for a moment then raised a finger, “Yeah; he always wore a chain. I think it was gold with a blue crystal pendant around his neck.” The Philosopher pointed to the ceiling. “He lived upstairs above the shop. I use to hear Uncle James and his friends talking about him.”
Sugar Bear brought the guys a tray of drinks. He walked up just as the Philosopher got to the part about the roof.
“Yeah,” Sugar Bear chimed in; “I heard he was into witchcraft. A friend of mind said he was doing all kind of voodoo spells and that he was into alchemy.” Sugar Bear leaned forward, “you know they say he could turn copper into gold.”
Stan laughed as he flagged Sugar Bear, “man; get the hell outta here. You believe that Bull?”
Sugar Bear cut Stan off. “Why do you think that guy showed up yesterday morning? It’s true, my Daddy told me he had a stash of gold hidden somewhere and nobody ever found it. I bet that’s what he came looking for.” Sugar Bear turned to Steele. “Shakia’s gonna blow a gasket when she finds out that you’re taking on another case.”
Steele sipped his Pepsi, put down the glass and looked back at Sugar Bear. Trying not to get irritated by Sugar Bear’s comment he slowly shook his head, “There is no case Sugar Bear, I’m just curious that’s all.”
It was less than 48 hours before
finest apprehended the (would be) robber.
The arrest didn’t actually make headlines but the story did appear on page 17 of the Philadelphia Daily News and on their website. It didn’t happen very often but Sugar Bear was right.
The gun-toting man was the son of one of the barbers who used to work in the shop. He also believed the rumors about the gold and thought it was hidden somewhere inside the walls.
That afternoon Steele and Stan sat at the front of the bar chatting. Sugar Bear made last minute preparations as Leroy opened the two, reddish brown, mahogany doors at the clubs entrance. The throbbing pain from Sugar Bear’s tooth had become so unbearable he finally broke down and asked his boss if he could see the dentist a couple of blocks up the street.
The first person through the club’s doors was a young, attractive dark haired woman.
She didn’t look like any of the regulars. The woman appeared to be in her late twenties. She dressed in a light brown business suit. The straps of her beige shoulder bag helped keep it in place. Stan’s hormonal gal-dar immediately went off.
“Well, what do we have here?” he whispered. Stan rushed over to introduce himself.
The young lady smiled as she extended her hand. “Hello, are you Alexander Steele?”
Stan’s smile melted instantly once he realized she was here on business. “No,” he answered, “but I can change my name if it would help.”
Steele walked over an introduced himself before offering her an iced tea. He led the woman to the back booth. After ordering her tea and a Pepsi with lemon for himself he leaned back with his arm draped across the top of the bench.
“What can I do for you?” he asked. Steele’s thread of curiosity was about to unravel just a little more. By the end of his conversation the thread would become more like a ball of twine.
Yes, he had a vested interest in getting to the bottom of the urban legends that engulfed the mysterious shop next door. After all, he was the new owner, but Steel’s cases usually dealt with living, warm blooded humans not cold, soulless bodies that have disintegrated into dust twenty years ago.
The young lady turned out to be the murdered woman’s daughter.
“My name is Julia,
Rosa was my mother.”
That was the first of three bomb shells the soft spoken woman would drop on
“My father was Romone the owner of the barber shop next door. I was just a small child when they…….” Julia paused and lowered her head. Steele reached across the table and gently patted her hand.
“It’s okay Julia, take your time.” She took a deep breath, brushed her long dark hair aside, and looked Steele in the eyes.
“Back when I was conceived people still frowned on mixed relationships. I don’t remember a lot but my Auntie Isabella told me that things weren’t going well between the two and my mother had become close to my Uncle Cecil. Too close if you get my meaning. Things got really ugly when she tried to break it off with my dad.”
Steele noticed the small blue pendant hanging from around her neck. It was exactly like the one Sugar Bear wore. His curiosity went into overdrive but he didn’t want to interrupt Julia’s story.
“From what I was told Uncle Cecil was not an easy man to get along with back then. If what they tell me is true he’s had more fights than Mike Tyson. The night of the murder my dad confronted my uncle and ended up shooting him in the back. My mom was the owner of
Ranch down in South Philly. She was a self made woman who didn’t take shit from
anybody. Pardon my language Mr. Steele. She wasn’t a saint but she was a good
person. The restaurant was a cover for the speakeasy she ran in the basement
after closing time. From what I’ve been told there was also gambling in the
back room and prostitution upstairs.”
Steele gave out a low whistle, “jeez; your Mother was quite the entrepreneur back then.”
“According to my ex-husband my dad used the barber shop to hide the dirty money.
Since the IRS had no way of knowing how many haircuts he gave a year it was the perfect arrangement, but according to Greg, that’s my ex’s name, my dad used the money as leverage to keep mom from leaving him. One hot summer night things finally came to a boil. She demanded her money and when he refused she shot him and he slashed her throat with a straight razor.”
Steele waved his hand around, “Julia, I’m a little confused. What does your ex-husband have to do with all of this? How would he know what happened 20 years ago?”
Julia snickered. “He was the son of one of barbers that worked for my dad at the time.
He was just a kid like me. He used to sweep up in the shop after school and on weekends. I didn’t find out until after we got married. I thought our first meeting was by chance but his plan all along was to get close to me to find out where the money was hidden. Mr. Steele he was obsessed with it. I mean it consumed him.”
Julia leaned forward and used her hand to make her point. She opened her hand wide then made a fist. “One day I came home early from work. I caught him going through my things. I tell you that money is cursed. It drove him to drink, it destroyed our marriage. Greg is an alcoholic, Uncle Cecil got shot, you know they never could get the bullet out and my mom and dad are dead because of it.”
Steele waited until Rita the waitress served the iced tea and Pepsi then glanced at his watch before asking the next question.
“Julia, this is a sad and fascinating story but why did you want to see me?”
Julia sipped her tea then pulled out a pink cell phone from her bag. She showed Steele a text message she received last night from her ex-husband Greg.
The message read: I was rite. Found some of the gold. Meat me at Laura’s Lounge at 9 tonight.
Steele chuckled as he handed her back the phone.
“Okay, besides the fact that he is a terrible speller I don’t have a clue as to what he’s talking about. Did you meet with him last night?”
Julia shook her head no. “That’s just it Mr. Steele. He didn’t show up. He sends me texts when he’s been drinking. I told you, he’s an alcoholic and he knew if I talked to him I would know he’s been hitting the bottle again. Don’t you get it? This is the man who broke into your building next door the other day. I’m the one who bailed him out. I don’t love him anymore but I don’t hate him either. I just feel sorry for him. I just paid his bail and left. I didn’t want to see him but now I wished I did because I don’t know where he’s staying.”
Steele swirled the lemon slice around inside the glass of soda. “You still haven’t told me why you’re here. Do you want me to find him?”
“No Mr. Steele, I want you to find the gold.”
Steele was taken aback by her response.
“I thought you said it was cursed.” Steele was finally getting to the truth.
“Julia leaned back and snickered; I’ll be honest with you Mr. Steele, that money, the gold, if there is any, it was supposed to pay for my education when I was growing up.
Rosa’s Rib Ranch was
all mama left me. My auntie ran the business until I was old enough to take
It’s a legitimate business now; I got rid of all the illegal crap a long time ago.
Business is bad, very bad and now I’m desperate. I will do almost anything to save that restaurant. If there’s gold out there I need you to find it for me. I’m willing to pay you. I’ll give you a finder fee of 10%.”
Steele tossed he head back and let out a loud belly laugh. “Your momma may be gone but you defiantly have her business sense, 20%. After all, like you said there may not be any gold. Then again after all these years someone else may have found it by now. So I may end up with twenty percent of nothing. Besides, your text from Greg says he already has the gold.”
“No Mr. Steele,” Julia waved the phone in his direction, “it says I found some of the gold. If he had found it all there’s no way he would have contacted me. I read the story
on the internet this morning. He found something in your building next door, a clue maybe. A few left over coins hidden in the walls. I don’t know but I intend to find out.
That’s how I heard about you, from the article in the online newspaper. It said you were a private detective.”
Julia thought for a minute then decided to up her offer, “15% Mr. Steele. How’s that sound?
Steele waited a moment then nodded in agreement. He shook hands with his new client however one question still remained. Steele pointed to the jewelry around her neck. “That’s a beautiful necklace, where did you get it”
Julia smiled as she touched the blue pendant, “My Dad gave this to me the day before he died. I haven’t taken it off since.”
Links to chapter 4, 5 and 6
Links to chapter 4, 5 and 6
Legacy of Death chapter 4 Treasure Hunt
Legacy of Death chapter 5 Curse of the Coins
Legacy of Death chapter 6 End of the Rainbow
Legacy of Death chapter 7 Confession
Legacy of Death Chapter 8 Bat out of Hell