A Bat out of Hell
Under normal circumstances Steele would have collected his fee and called it a night, but the circumstances were far from normal. Questions lingered in the mind of the curious detective.
Julia and Isabella had gone though enough. Steele didn’t want to burden them with his theories so he concocted a reason to stick around.
“Julia if you and your aunt don’t mind I better stay here with you two until the bank opens on Monday morning.”
Julia shook her head and smiled. “Don’t be silly Mr. Steele. Everybody who knows about the gold is dead, besides you have done enough. We’ll be fine.”
“No,” Isabella held up her hand, you can never be too careful.” Steele motioned to the couch.
“Then it’s settled, I can sleep right here.”
Julia and Isabella spent the evening and part of the night at the kitchen table talking and making plans to go on a Caribbean Cruise. It was 2:18 when they finally called it a night. Steele turned off the lamp to settle in after arranging the bed sheets and pillows on the couch in the living room. As he drifted off to sleep he began second guessing himself. Maybe Julia was right; if my hunch was right… At that very moment Steele heard movement coming from the dining room.
“What the hell?” Steele quietly picked up his gun from the end table and clicked off the safety. Still sitting on the sofa in the dark room Steele watched as the figure of a man holding a small flashlight began searching the draws of the sideboard then the china closet. Steele has seen enough.
With his gun drawn he approached the robber, “Freeze!”
Startled by the voice the burglar whirled around threw the flashlight at Steel’s head then lunged at him. When the men crashed onto the coffee table Steele nearly lost his grip on his gun. Shaken by the fall Steele rose to his feet holding the gun down on the robber. Just as he was about to turn on the lamp Julia and Isabella came barreling down the narrow staircase and before Steele could react Isabella wacked him in the back with a wooden baseball bat. Just as she was about to take another whack at Steele Julia turned on the light. Realizing that Isabella had made a mistake she grabbed the bat from her aunt and shouted “Stop!” Up until that point the woman had not noticed who the man lying on the floor was. Julia was stunned. Starring in disbelief as if she had seen a ghost. she dropped the bat and slowly shook her head. “Greg. It can’t be. I thought you were…..”
“Steele finished her sentence “dead” Holding his gun in one hand and trying to massage his aching back with the other Steele winched as he explained Greg’s miraculous resurrection.
“He had me fooled for a while too, at first.” Greg slowly sat up on the floor next to where Julia dropped the bat.
“How could you have possibly known Steele? I was careful. I had everything worked out.”
Steele shook his head, “no brother. You were careless. Too many things just didn’t add up. I get why you showed up at the old barber shop a couple of days ago. You figured it was your last shot at finding anything left behind by Romone. You figured the construction guys would do the work for you. Tear out some of the walls then you could barge in and find the gold. You knew that once the remodeling started you wouldn’t have another chance. Then there was the dead body in your apartment, must have been there what two maybe three days. You wanted it to be found but not by me. You probably figured Julia had shown me your photo. It was you who called the cops that night. Hoping they would get to me before I got a look at the poor bastard you murdered to take your place. The police weren’t just in the neighborhood; it was you who put them on me.”
Greg scoffed as he rubbed his ribs.
“Lucky guess Steele but wrong, I didn’t off nobody. I planted a few of the gold coins in my place before I invited that poor sap you found dead in my apartment. I knew Cecil wanted the gold almost as much as I did. I knew he was following me back home so I ducked in the staircase. The door to my apartment was opened so he thought the dude standing in the kitchen was me. If you knew it wasn’t me then why didn’t you tell Julia?”
Steele waved his gun around, “I didn’t have any proof.
Your biggest mistake was trying to get rid of anything that could identify you. The dead guy was in your apartment. He was about your height weight and age so without any ID the police assumed it was you. The ash in the kitchen sink was from you burning his Id and your picture.
Yeah, that’s right I saw the perfectly good picture frame in the trash. Couldn’t have that lying around either could ya? That whole scene in Laura’s Lounge with Julia’s Uncle Cecil was also staged. That’s the only thing I couldn’t figure out.”
Greg quickly picked up the baseball bat and got up. As he stood Steele raised his weapon and pointed it at Greg’s chest. “Drop the bat. Trust me, you don’t wanna test me. My back’s acing and that’s reason enough for me to shoot you already. I’m not in the mood for filling out more police reports.”
Greg sneered at Steele before looking over at Julia. “Okay smart ass, I was trying to lure Slick into my apartment. I knew he saw the gold coins too. Since I ain’t got no friends I needed a way to get somebody around my size into my apartment. I guess they don’t call him Slick for nothing. I would have killed him but he never did show, it didn’t matter. My luck had changed. I was thinking about how to kill that guy in my place when I walked over to my window and saw old Cecil going into Laura’s Lounge everything fell into place. It was the perfect plan. Cecil wanted that gold. I needed everybody to think I was dead. If I could get Cecil out the way on a murder charge and fake my own death, then hey. Once you found the gold on old Cecil no one would think twice about me since everybody thinks I’m dead. That stash of gold you brought back from
Canada is mine. I earned it
and I ain’t leaving here without it.
Ain’t no point in you lying. I followed you two to the airport parking lot. I
saw you get on a flight to Canada
then camped out in my car in the parking lot waiting for you guys to come back.
I know you got it.”
Steele shook his head, “yeah, I know. You did a piss poor job of tailing me. So you let Cecil go to his grave thinking he murdered you.”
Julia had seen and heard enough. She had been duped and she was angry. “You bastard,” she yelled. “I can’t believe I felt sorry for you. I pitied you. That money belonged to my parents and you won’t get a damn dime, you hear me.”
Steele briefly turned to Julia. Her words had thrown him into a fit of rage. In the split second that Steele had turned away Greg raised the bat and lunged at her. Pow, pow, without giving it a second though Steele pumped two rounds into Greg’s chest at point blank range.
Julia screamed when she heard the shots. Greg staggered around a bit. Crimson pools of blood quickly covered his blue shirt. He dropped the bat and fell to the floor on his back.
Greg tried to speak but couldn’t get the words out. Julia fought back the tears as she watched the life of man she once loved drain away but her aunt was not so forgiving.
Isabella stood over Greg’s lifeless body and smiled. “Well at least this time we know he’s dead.”
By morning Julia had managed to wash away years of her aunt’s guilt but time would have to do the rest. Steele and Julia paid off the mob. As they sat inside
Rosa’s Rib Ranch she asked Steele, “Do
you think I will end up dead like the rest Mr. Steele?”
Steele chuckled; “the only man who could ruin Isabella’s life is dead. You just paid off the mob, you and your aunt are about to take the cruise of your life and you have enough money to last till you are a hundred years old. I’d say the curse has been broken.”
Julia kept her end of the agreement and handed Steele a check for his fee. As the two chatted Steele checked his watch and looked at the front door. “Julia I have a surprise for you.” Steele’s girlfriend Shakia walked in and Steele introduced the two.
Steele explained that her mom and dad had gotten a bad rap. “For twenty years your parent’s good names have been slandered, dragged through the mud. It’s time for that to change.”
Shakia opened a sketch pad. “With your permission we would like to reinforce the roof and build an observatory in your dads honor? Of course we would build a six foot wall around the roof for safety and …….” before Shakia could finish Julia leaped from her seat and hugged them both. Steele smiled at Shakia; “I’ll take that as a yes.”
Now enjoy this first chapter preview of
Alexander Steele brushed away the snow clinging to the bronze plaque on the wall outside his nightclub. The words Club Inner Sanctum were now visible to those who passed by but hadn’t already heard of Philly’s most popular night spot. It was ten in the morning, too early for his employees but not for his good friend and club manager Sugar Bear who lived in one of the apartments above the private club. “Welcome back boss,” Sugar Bear gave Steele a brief hug. “How was Carnival?” “Too short,” joked Steele. “Here, I got you something.” He tossed Sugar Bear an expensive looking wallet. “Thanks boss.” The dark completed heavy set man examined the black leather wallet before gently slipping it into his back pocket. Steele pointed to the last booth in the rear of the club. “Would you bring my mail and that thing we talked about on the phone back to my table?” Without waiting for an answer Steele poured himself a cup of coffee, picked up his laptop from behind the bar and headed to the booth that his friends joking referred to as his office. The unsuspecting detective thought he would ease back into his routine of running his successful club. Steele had no clue that what Sugar bear was about to bring him would lead him on deadly manhunt.
The corner window at the back booth was small but it was Steele’s window to the world. Steele was six feet tall; he wore a mustache and kept his hair cut fairly close. His medium brown complexion had gotten a few shades darker during his trip. Alexander Steele sipped his piping hot coffee as he watched the snow flakes drifting down from the heavens. What a difference a day makes.’ He thought to himself, twenty four hours ago I was relaxing on a warm, white sandy beach in Rio De Janeiro and now….. Steele’s thoughts were interrupted when Sugar Bear brought a copy of The Philadelphia Daily News. He dropped the paper on the desk and handed his employer a large stack of mail addressed to Club Inner Sanctum attention Mr. Alexander Steele. Steele looked up at Sugar Bear and slowly shook his head. “Why do I do it man? I mean, why do I keep coming back to this town to freeze my ass off every single winter?” Sugar Bear had heard it all before. He looked at Steele and laughed. “Come on man, you love this city and besides you love Shakia and Shakia loves her mom too much to leave her here alone. End of discussion.” Sugar Bear reached inside his pants pocket, “Oh here’s that thing your cousin Johnny brought over from one of his boys at the teen center in South Philly.” Steele examined the small grey piece of plastic. “It’s a memory stick, you plug it into the computer,” Sugar Bear explained.
Steele seemed slightly irritated, “I know what it is, what I don’t know is how the kid got it, and why Johnny left it for me?” Sugar Bear pointed to the telephone on the wall. “Dude, I swear you’re getting senile. I told you on the phone. There was a scuffle on the subway. Two guys jacked this foreign guy’s I-pod. When the train doors opened they ran and he dropped this when he chased after them.” Steele waved him off. “Yeah, yeah now I remember. It’s encrypted.”
Steele spent the better part of an hour trying to open the files on the travel drive. When Sugar Bear returned with more coffee he could see Steele was running out of patience. Steele flung the object on the desk. “I’m a detective not a computer programmer. Why did he give this to me?” Sugar Bear slid into the seat on the opposite side of the booth. “Ex-detective boss, you’re retired, remember?” Steele waved his hand, “Whatever, I’m calling Stan. I bet he’ll have this thing open in five minutes.”
Steele spent the rest of the morning opening mail most of which consisted of checks for members dues to the club and reading the paper. The headlines read, Canadian Officials Baffled by Blackout. It would not be long before Steele whishes that he had taken the time to read the entire article. The jetlag from his trip had begun dragging Steele down. It became more and more difficult for him to concentrate. “Sugar Bear! Yo! Sugar Bear! I’ll be back around five.” “Okay!” yelled the husky voice from the front of the club.
Shakia was Steele’s lady love; she was as smart as she was beautiful. The 34 year old interior decorator looked twenty four at the most. Steele hooked up with her at her apartment for an early lunch. “Hi, baby.” She gave him a warm hug and a kiss. “You hungry baby?” she asked as she turned slightly and pointed over her shoulder to the kitchen. Without waiting for an answer Shakia strutted back to the kitchen in faded blue jeans so tight that Steele found himself wondering how she got into them. Shakia dashed from the kitchen to the hall closet. “Oh, I forgot all about this last night. I brought you something, a gift.” She smiled proudly as she handed Steele a small box containing the one thing that he had managed to avoid up until now. A cell phone, or as Steele called it the electronic leash. His feeble attempt to fake his appreciation fell woefully short and Shakia’s beautiful smile quickly turned into a look of disappointment. Her bright cheerful tone had also vanished.
You can cut the act Alex. I can see you don’t want it.” “No, no baby it’s just that…” Shakia put her hands on her hips. “What?” Steele chose his words carefully. “Well, you know I have big fingers and those buttons are so tiny. On top of that I don’t have a clue how to send one of those text messages.” Shakia dropped her arms to her side. “That’s the same thing you said about e-mail a few years ago. Just try it for a month or two, okay?” You’re a detective, I’m sure you’ll figure it out.
After lunch Steele headed back to the club. When he reached over to unlock his car door he noticed a woman in a parked sports car staring at him from across the street. Steele was an attractive man who had always kept his vanity in check. He had grown accustomed to the flirtatious looks given to him by the ladies but this was different. This face looked very familiar. When he crossed the street to get a closer look the woman smiled and sped off. On his drive back to the club Steele got his first cell phone call. “Is this Paul’s Pizza Parlor?” the voice on the other end of the line asked. “No.” Steele answered then hung up on the caller. He parked his midnight blue Jag in the back garage adjacent to the club. Business had been good every since Steele first opened Club Inner Sanctum a few years ago and on this late afternoon a couple of regulars had already started trickling in. Sugar Bear spotted Steele and called him over to the bar. “Hey, boss. Stan’s down stairs in the lounge, says he found something and for you to come see him pronto.”
Stan didn’t fit the stereotype of the average computer geek. He stood a tad over Steele’s six foot frame and always dressed in the latest styles. Sporting a charcoal Armani suit with a deep blue opened collared shirt Stan saw Steele coming down the stairs and got up to greet him. “What’s happen brother?” he slapped Steele five and spun the laptop around on the table in Steele’s direction. “Check it out man.” Stan pointed to the monitor. “You are not gonna believe this, dog.” What Stan uncovered was a detailed description of the Canadian blackout. “Okay,” Steele shrugged his shoulders. “What’s the big deal? Everybody knows about the blackout, it’s been all over the Internet, the TV news and the papers.” “Naw man.” Stan’s baritone voice grew louder. “Check out the date. Steele looked more closely this time.
December 21, 2010. Stan and Sugar Bear could
hear Steele swearing under his breath. “Son of a bitch, this file was made
three months before the blackout.” Steele stroked his mustache. “Sugar Bear,
call my…” Sugar Bear had anticipated Steele’s next move. He cut Steele off in
mid sentence. “Call your cousin, Johnny.” “I already did.” He looked at his
watch. “He should be here…” “Hold up.” A few seconds later Johnny came
lumbering down the stairs. He was breathing heavy and had trouble trying to
catch his breath. By the time Johnny reached the last step beads of sweet were
starting to form on his forehead. Stan grinned at the obese man. “Damn homie,
don’t they have a gym at your youth center?” “Alright, alright,” Steele waved his
hands. “Cut the crap.”
The guys filled Johnny in on what they knew so far. Steele had Tina bring drinks down as the men continued talking. Everyone knew that Johnny and Stan disagreed a lot and today was no different. Stan wanted Johnny to go straight to the police but Jonny wasn’t having it. “Well, cuz your boy has got to take this to the cop’s. The guy who lost this thing is still hanging around after the blackout. That means this ain't over. Who knows what they may be up to or just how bad this could get?” His jowls wobbled when Johnny shook his head. “No cops. I already talked to him. Young blood got a record. He don’t trust
finest.” Steele tried another approach. “John, this is a new world. After 9/11
those dudes in Washington
have come up with all kinds of new international bull crap. Think of what will
happen if they pick him up first.” Johnny shook his head again. “Alex, don’t
you see that just makes it worse. You guys don’t understand - the boy is
nervous. He’ll only talk to you.”
Steele took a sip of Pepsi and leaned back in his chair. “Okay, fine, bring him by tomorrow when he gets out of school. Make sure you take him through the back entrance. Stan, make a copy of the files and let me know the second you get any more of them open. Sugar Bear make sure Johnny gets the check for the center. Thanks for coming guys. I gotta go upstairs, I have a club to run.”
Dozens of snow plows worked through the night clearing the three inches of fresh snow and by the next day the roads weren’t the only thing that was clear, Steele’s jet lag was gone as well. Johnny was a man of his word. Shortly after three he and the teen-aged boy were sitting in Steele’s back booth. Calvin wore blue jeans and black jacket. He was a skinny dark skinned kid who looked to be about fifteen. He seemed nervous and kept looking around as Johnny directed him to the booth.
Steele apologized for the mess. He had been reading old newspapers trying to catch up on what had been going on while he was away. “Let me get some of this crap out of the way.” Steele stopped to shake the young man’s hand. “It’s Nice to meet you Calvin. I have a couple of questions for you. So this Asian guy, what did he look like?” “Hang on a minute, Steele paused. I just got back in town and I’ve been working and reading old papers all morning.” “Sugar Bear! Come take this stuff! Sorry Calvin, go ahead.” “Well, Mr. Steele, it happened so fast.” Sugar Bear walked over and reached for the papers on the table when Calvin’s eyes suddenly grew wider. He slammed the palm of his hand on top of the stack that Sugar Bear was about to pick up. “That’s him!” he yelled pointing to the picture in the morning paper. “That’s the dude from the train. “ Steele picked up the paper and took a good look at the man in the photo before handing it to Calvin. “Take another look Calvin. This is very important. Are you sure this is the same guy you saw in the subway?” The teen shook his head. “I’m positive Mr. Steele.” “Well,” Sugar Bear hunched his shoulder. “At least you know where he is now.”
Blackout is the first novel from the Alexander Steele series. The second novel The Missing Men will be released later this year.