Monday, June 29, 2015

Walt Murphy – PI – 25

I chuckled wryly at that thought as I turned on my computer and fished my camera out of my pocket. I downloaded the pictures I'd taken of Carmichael's felonious employee and printed them out. Putting them in a file folder, I went to tell Chelsea I was heading to Carmichael's to give them to him and wrap up his case.

He wasn't too surprised to see me since he knew the thief had struck again. I handed him the file, he looked at the photos and shook his head. "He was the last person I thought would do this."

"Unfortunately," I told him, "that's often the case. It's how they get away with it for more than a few times."

He thanked me, settled up what he owed me, and promised he'd recommend me highly to anyone who needed my services.

I was heading back to the office when Chelsea called to tell me Philips had phoned, saying he wanted to see me. Since the next item of business on my agenda had been to let him know what had gone down last night, I switched course to go to Things Past.

Philips greeted my like a long lost friend, immediately taking me back to his office. The minute we were inside with the door closed his demeanor changed. He became somber and—if I was reading him right—conscience stricken.

He was. But before I let him talk, I put a finger to my lips and then removed the bugs for the time being. I pointed to the safe, he opened it, and I deposited them inside then closed the door.

He began pacing the room as he said, "I haven't been fully open with you. Everything I told you that happened did, but…" He hesitated. "When it comes to the break-in… Obviously they didn't get the necklace, however”—he swept his arm out, pointing to the glass-fronted bookcase—"they did take something else."

"A book, and a valuable one, I presume," I said when he didn't continue. "Why didn't you tell me before now?"

"I didn't realize it until yesterday afternoon when I got a phone call. It came right after you'd left for the appraisers. The man said he had something of mine and was willing to return it in exchange for an item of his—that's the way he put it—that was in the possession of either me or my hireling."

"Meaning me."

"I suspect so."

"Did he identify himself?"

"No. It took me a while to figure out what it was he had." Again he pointed to the bookcase. "That's better protected than it appears." Beckoning to me, he showed me a small keypad attached to the side away from the office door. "It's wired into part of the security system and if anyone unlocks the doors without putting in the code, an alarm goes off and the security company is notified."

"Which one is missing?"

"A first edition—first printing in nineteen-thirty–of Dashiell Hammett's 'The Maltese Falcon', in fine condition. It's worth in the neighborhood of forty-five thousand dollars."

"Holy shit!" It took me a minute to assimilate that. "And you kept it in there"—I thumbed toward the bookcase—"not in a bank vault or at least your safe?"

"Up until the break-in a couple of days ago, I was certain the security on this building was beyond reproach. As I told you, there have been attempts, all of which failed or were thwarted."

"Makes sense I guess, but this time you're not dealing with amateurs. You're dealing with a sophisticated theft ring. They know what they're doing. I'd say it was dumb luck they didn't manage to get into the safe before the cops showed up."

"You know who's behind this?" he asked in surprise.

"I have a damned good idea. The men who attacked me dropped a name. Caiazzo. A cop friend of mine says he's rumored to head a large theft ring."

"Nicolò Caiazzo? The bookstore owner?"

"One and the same."

"But he's… His store is well-known and very reputable."

"That doesn't mean he can't be a crook on the side."

Philips nodded. "True enough I suppose. What are you going to do about this?"

"Are you willing to make the trade?"

Sunday, June 28, 2015

'Never Let Go of Hope' is out!

Never Let Go of Hope

Well-known artist Ellis Williams is in a slump and feeling all his fifty-three years. He's lost the joy which used to permeate his painting and despairs of ever regaining it. It doesn't help when he runs into a young man who comes on to him to win a bet, thus destroying more of Ellis's confidence.

Then, at a party, Ellis meets Martin Lovell, a man his age whose partner died soon after they adopted their son. Will these two middle-aged men learn they should never let go of hope? Or is it too late for men their age to open themselves to the possibility of love and being loved?

    When they were seated, Dean rested his elbows on the table. "From what you've said, it sounds like you don't come into town very often."

    "I don't."

    "That was short and to the point. Do you live far from the city?"

    Ellis shook his head. "I have a house to the west of here, on the river."


    "Not really. It was a small plantation at one point in time. I bought it a few years back and did my best to restore it and still make it livable by today's standards."

    "So it's just you there?"

    Ellis laughed. "You're fishing again. It's me and Jive, my dog. Plus my housekeeper during the day. And to answer before you ask, that's all she is."

    "To be honest, by now I've figured out you're not into women."

    "Astute of you."

    Dean chuckled. "I have my moments."

    They both went silent, concentrating on their drinks the way men in their position will when they're not certain what to say next.

    Is he really interested in me as a person? Or does he just want to be with me for who I am? Ellis studied Dean, trying to find an answer in the varying expressions darting over Dean's face. The man would look at Ellis and then away, apparently checking out the other men on the balcony. Then he'd glance back again, sometimes with a small frown, other times with a smile on his lips.

    "Do you ...?" "Are you ...?" the two men spoke at the same instant, then laughed. "You first," Dean said.

    "Are you going back home tonight?" Dean asked.

    "I haven't decided yet," Ellis responded. "Why?"

    "I was thinking, if you'd like, we could go down the street to Fritzel's for a while, and then maybe you could come by my place for a nightcap."

    "Sure. Why not. And," Ellis took a sip of his beer, "if you decide later you don't want me coming home with you, that's fine. Listening to good jazz with a nice young man would make my evening all on its own." Emphasis on young.

    "Deal. Shall we?" Dean stood, leaving his half empty drink on the table, and with Ellis following right behind him, they exited the club.

    * * * *

    Three hours later, they left Fritzel's, heading for Dean's apartment.

    "I swear, that was the best band I've heard in forever," Dean said, putting one arm around Ellis's waist.

    Ellis nodded in agreement. He felt slightly lightheaded from the beers he'd drunk -- and in a romantic mood. So he stopped momentarily in a darkened area under one of the overhanging balconies, intending to kiss Dean, as he had a few times at the club. His plan was instantly thwarted by three men who came up to them. They were obviously very drunk, and more obviously, knew Dean since one of them slung his arm around Dean's shoulder.

    "So you found an old man needy enough to believe you wanted him to come home with you," the guy said, looking blearily between Dean and Ellis. "Guess you won the bet."

    Ellis froze momentarily before yanking out of Dean's grip. "So this was all a game to you?" he said icily.

    "Ellis, hang on. I don't know what he's ..."

    "Do not try to lie your way out of this. I hope you had fun letting me make a fool of myself." Ellis glared at him, and then at the men before turning to walk away.

    "Ellis, please ..." Dean grabbed his arm. "At least listen to me."

    "What do you have to say I might want to hear?" Ellis snarled, pausing but not looking at the young man.

    "I'll admit it started out like they said. But after spending the evening with you ... I like you, Ellis. Honest, I do like you, and ... I wish --"

    "Sorry, but your apology is way too late, if that's what this is. Go find someone else to torment with your games." Not waiting to hear if Dean replied, Ellis strode back down the street the way they'd come, turning at the next corner to return to his car.

    Go to town. Relax. Get some inspiration. Yeah, right. The only thing I'm inspired to do right now is get home and create a dark, dreary, horror painting. Something with a stormy sky, tortured trees, and ...

    His anger at Dean's deception deepened. Then, suddenly, he smiled darkly. What the hell. Why not?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Walt Murphy – PI – 24

One look at Chelsea's face when I walked into the waiting area and I knew something was wrong. So I asked.

"You phone's off," she stated. "If it hadn't been I could have let you know we had visitors last night."

Taking a quick glance around, I didn't see anything wrong where we were standing, so I went into my office. Yeah, we'd had visitors. At least they were neat—sort of. No papers from my files tossed around, no desk drawers emptied on the floor. But they'd left everything open and it was obvious they'd done a fairly thorough search for—what? The necklace? Maybe. Something else? Maybe.

Chelsea stood in the doorway, arms akimbo. "Was your desk searched?" I asked. "And was the security armed when you came in?"

"Yes on both. And the door was locked. If it hadn't been I'd have called building security or the cops, since I couldn't get hold of you."

I took out my phone and turned it on. The battery was low because I hadn't charged it for over twenty-four hours. Once again, as I had many times before, I made a mental note to buy a charger to keep at Ricky's place. Maybe this time I'd actually remember to do it.

Next I went into the storage room. There was no way whoever did this would know the safe was in there, but I'm not stupid enough to think they couldn't have found it if they were experts at searching. Experts—not the goons. I think, and I'm fairly certain I'm right, that the goons are just that. Caiazzo's hatchet-men. Paid to deal with any problems that crop up with fists and guns.

There's a set of shelves along one wall, loaded with office supplies and banker's boxes filled with out-of-date files that I kept for tax purposes. A quick check showed me the boxes had been rifled through. I was surprised they hadn't left the tops off to show they'd been there. I figured that's why they'd left my office the way they had. To let me know they—Caiazzo's people I was real sure—had paid me a visit.

I took two boxes off one shelf. The area behind them appeared to be just like the rest of the wall unless you knew the trick to open it. If you did figure out there was a movable panel there, you'd have to take a prybar to it to open it unless you had my phone. There were no pry marks. Taking my phone out again, I punched in a number and a moment later a panel slid to one side, revealing the safe. I opened it because I needed a gun until I was able to retrieve the weapons that Officer Parker had confiscated last night.

After closing everything again, I went back to my office. Chelsea was straightening up. She turned to look at me, muttering, "At least they left things in the drawers." Then she apparently took a closer look, because her next words were, "You look like hell."

"Thanks," I replied with a bit of a smile. "Not the nicest thing you've ever said to me but…"

"What happened to you? Sit down before you fall down."

"I'm not in that bad of shape," I protested. Yeah, I still wasn't one-hundred percent but I didn't think I was going to fall on my face any time soon.

Obviously she thought differently because she pointed to my desk chair. "Sit." When I did, she asked what had happened so I told her, ending with, "Our nocturnal visitors probably came here after I was taken to the hospital."

"You're going to change the security codes, I hope," she said with some asperity.

"Yeah. Not that it'll stop them if they decide to come back. It didn't last night."

That was no real surprise. If Caiazzo did run a theft ring, then the people working for him would be experts at B&E. Not however expert enough to find the safe. Of course if they had, they wouldn't have found the necklace. That thought brought up another one. If they were looking for the necklace, why go through my files? The desk was somewhat obvious, if they figured I was stupid enough to stash it there. I guess the same held true for the files. 

Between us, we finished putting things back in order. Then, on the off chance they'd planted bugs while they were here I ran a check. Nothing. I'm not sure if that made me feel better that they hadn't, or hurt that they didn't think I was worth their doing so.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Walt Murphy – PI – 23

The second time involved a missing person who didn't want to be found. He figured if he got me out of the picture he'd be home free. So he tried to stab me. I tried not to get stabbed and ended up with a slashed forearm before I managed to disarm him. That didn't make Ricky too happy, and sometimes when he's feeling pissy about what I do he points out the scars and says I wouldn't have them if I was in a less dangerous line of work. He's right, but what can I say. I like helping people out of the troubles they've managed to get into. Usually by no fault of their own.

Back to what I was saying.

Ricky re-bandaged my arm and then I got dressed in clean jeans and a shirt which were stored in my quarter of his closet.  While I did, he fixed us breakfast, after calling in to say he'd be late for work. It might be a Saturday, but it was tax season and the end of his company's fiscal year so he was putting in a half day of overtime.

All the time we were eating he kept an eye on me.

"What?" I finally asked.

He smiled. "Just thinking."

I cocked an eyebrow.

"Despite everything, I'm glad we're together."

I chuckled. "Everything meaning the fact I seem to get into trouble on occasion?"

"Yeah. It scares the shit out of me but still, being scared is better than never having had you in my life."

"I don't mean to…"

"I know. It's just…what you do. What you are." He got up, came over, and when I looked up at him he kissed me, murmuring, "And despite what you might think, I wouldn't change you for the world."

Wrapping my good arm around his waist, I pulled him onto my lap. "The same goes for me because without you in my life… well… hell…"

He laughed. "You never were good with telling me how you feel, but I know."

He was right. Telling? No. Demonstrating? Yes. And I was about to drag him back to the bedroom to do just that when he kissed me quickly, said with a knowing look, "Not now", and pointed out he was going to be late enough as it was. "So I'll drop you off at your place or your office, whichever you want."

"I need my car," I replied before finishing the last of my coffee.

"That works."

Fifteen minutes later we parted company. He headed to his job; I got into my car after doing a quick check to make certain no one, meaning the goons, had done anything to it that I wouldn't approve of.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Walt Murphy – PI – 22

"How are you feeling?"

I opened my eyes to see Ricky looking at me, deep concern on his face.

"Like hell," I growled, then immediately apologized. "I've felt better," I told him, trying to smile.

"What can I do to help?"

"How are your amputation skills?"

Ricky rolled his eyes, muttering, "Wuss."  He handed me a couple of pills and waited for me to sit up before giving me a glass of water so I could take them.

By that time I was actually awake enough to realize that most of the pain I felt was all in my head and I told him so. That earned me a laugh—and the suggestion he could remedy that. And he did—being very gentle in the process. You gotta love a man whose every touch can make you forget there's anything, or anyone, in the world except the two of you.

By the time we finished I was feeling a hell of a lot better. So the slave driver made me get up and hit the shower.

"Don't get the bandage wet," he reminded me.

"I know. Been there, done that."

I managed to keep it dry, much to his relief. Then he insisted on checking my wound. It passed his inspection and he expertly wrapped my bicep in a fresh bandage. You see he's been through this before with me. Twice.

The first time almost ended our budding relationship. He knew what I did, obviously, since I was the one who got him out from under the embezzlement charges. That didn't mean he got the fact I sometimes ended up in dangerous situations. Though not often. In fact I 'm more likely to get hit by a car than fists or a bullet. But shit happens in my line of work.

So anyway, the first time, I ended up on the wrong end of a baseball bat, wielded by an irate husband who didn't like that I'd gotten the goods on him for a divorce case. When I woke up in the hospital—with a blinding headache and a bandaged cranium—Ricky was standing at the end of the bed.

"Is this going to be the norm?" he asked tightly. "Me visiting you in a hospital?"

"Not if I have anything to say about it."

Somehow that answer didn't do much to placate him. He left, came back when they released me so he could drive me home, and then informed me he didn't think he could deal with a relationship where he spent twenty-four/seven wondering who'd try to kill me next.

It took a lot of cajoling, which is not my strong point—trust me on that—but I managed to change his mind. Mostly because I finally told him I thought I loved him. The L word has a lot of power.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Walt Murphy – PI – 21

"You know what you're doing," Ricky growled once we were in his car. "You know the ropes. Famous last words?"

"Almost," I admitted groggily. The loss of blood, the drugs and the fact I wasn't running on an adrenalin high any more were getting to me. I leaned my head back, closing my eyes.

The next thing I knew, someone was trying to get me out of the car. Now realize, Ricky is three inches shorter than me and a good forty pounds lighter. That didn't stop him from having me halfway standing. I came fully awake and damned near punched him before I realized who it was.

"Down, tiger," he said with a slight chuckle as—with his help—I was finally on my feet.

I looked around. "Why here?" We were in the parking garage at his place.

"I figured it would be safer than your house."

"Let's hope they didn't have someone at the hospital," I replied with a worried frown.

"If they did, they got a grand tour of the city," he told me. "I took more turns than a corkscrew before I decided it was safe to come home."

He put his arm around my waist, even though by then I was able to walk by myself, and that way we made it up to his apartment on the fourteenth floor.

"Get to bed," Ricky ordered the minute he'd closed and locked the door and armed the security box.

I had no problem with that. Believe me. At least until I found out he actually expected me to sleep. I protested. He told me to suck it up. Unfortunately he didn't mean that the way I wanted him to.

"Walt…" he said sternly, "you're in no condition to do anything but sleep and you know it."

He was right of course. With his help, I managed to get out of my blood-spotted jeans and the T-shirt he'd brought with him to replace the one I'd been wearing. When I asked, he said he'd rescued my cargo jacket which was a damned good thing. My camera was in the pocket and I really did not want to have stakeout Carmichael's place again.

When I was safely under the covers he joined me. We shared a few kisses—of course—but nothing more. 

Then he pulled back, leaned on one elbow and looked down at me. "If you ever pull something like that again…"

"Like what?" I stared back at him innocently.

"Setting yourself up to be attacked again. You know that's what you were doing"—he jabbed a finger against my chest—"and so do I. Next time…"

I put a finger over his lips. "There's not going to be a next time. I'll come up with another plan."

"It better include body armor and…"

A kiss shut him up. Followed by a few more.

"I mean it!" he said a couple of minutes later when we pulled apart. "When you called… It scared the hell out of me."

"I'm sorry," I replied contritely. And I was. When you frighten the man you love that way—well it hurt to see the fear in his eyes and know that it was there because of me.

"So you promise no more playing the lone wolf?" he asked.

"I promise." I almost added 'Unless I have to' but I knew that would earn me a ten minute lecture on stupidity. All I wanted right now was to fall asleep with his arms wrapped around me. I got my wish.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Walt Murphy – PI – 20

I spun the steering wheel, taking a hard right on two wheels. The car settled back down. The pain in my arm didn't. Gritting my teeth, I kept going. Right. Left. Left again. A stoplight straight ahead of me turned yellow, then red just before I got to it. I may be law abiding most days but with four men on my tail with deadly intentions I decided to forego that this time and didn't stop.

I almost—almost—grinned when flashing red and blue lights appeared in my rearview mirror as a patrol car pulled out of the side street. Sometimes there is a cop around when you need one. Actually—it occurred to me—twice in twenty-four hours. I pulled to the curb and stopped. As I did, I saw the goons' car go past, now moving just above the speed limit. The patrol car stopped behind me. One of the officers got out and a moment later a familiar figure appeared beside my door.

"License and registration," Officer Parker said. Then he took a second look and swore softly. "Again, Walt?"


"You do know you're bleeding," he commented with a trace of a smirk as he opened the door.

"Noticed that," I admitted. "Just a flesh wound. I think." I swung my legs out so I was facing him.

From there things took their usual course. He called for an ambulance despite my protesting I didn't need one. Then he and his partner quizzed me about what had happened and why. I told them the truth—sort of—letting them know it was the same men as from last night, plus one. The sort of part came in when I said they thought they owed me because I'd been instrumental in getting one of their friends arrested. When Parker asked who, I gave him the name of a man I'd gotten the goods on for vandalizing several stores in a strip mall on the far side of town. I figured he probably had the kind of friends who'd do that—if they weren't so hopped up on drugs they didn't have the energy to do anything at all. The last thing the officers did, just as the ambulance arrived, was take my weapons. "For safe keeping," Parker said, "since they won't let you carry them into the hospital."

Much to my disgust, the EMTs insisted they had to take me to the ER. There I was checked out and bandaged up—because I was right, it only was a flesh wound although a deep one. The docs gave me antibiotics, a tetanus shot, and with the warning that I should go home and sleep, they let me go.  

Of course, my car was still where I'd left it. I considered calling a cab to take me back there then figured that wouldn't be my smartest move. The goons, if they had brain one, would probably be waiting there. At least a couple of them. Whether they wanted to try beating some answers out of me—again—or just kill me and bury my body in the nearest landfill, I wasn't up for dealing with that at the moment. So I called Ricky to pick me up.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Walt Murphy – PI – 19

I got to Carmichael's and set up—as I had last night—in a spot where I could see the back and side entrances. Then I settled down to watch and wait for Carmichael's thief---and for Caiazzo's goons.

The thief showed up first. I saw something move in the shadows behind the building. Picking up my camera, I zoomed in and the shape coalesced into a man. He stopped by the back door of the store, looking around furtively. I snapped a couple of pictures. He returned his attention to what he was doing, getting the door open. Then he was inside. Ten long minutes later he was back, a carrying case slung over one shoulder. While I took more pictures he locked up and after a quick look around he came my way down the alley. When he turned the corner onto the sidewalk I followed his progress to a car parked a few hundred yards from me, snapping two more pictures. One was of the license plate, the second of him getting into the car. What I had on the camera would be more than enough to give Carmichael—and the cops when he brought them in—evidence about which employee had been helping himself to the goods.

I'd been there for two hours at this point, with no sign of the goons. Of course the fact I was parked on the street and had no intention of going into the nearest alley might have something to do with that. Yeah, I wanted round two with them, to settle the score if nothing else, but I wasn't stupid. Besides which, I suspect they wouldn't buy it if I made myself an obvious target again.

So I started the car, fully intending to head home. In the morning I'd download the pictures I'd taken and email them to Carmichael along with the final bill for services rendered. Speaking of which… I leaned over the console and got the camera out of the glove compartment where I'd put it when I was done shooting pictures of the thief. Sure a hell if I left it there I'd forget I had until I got up to the office and needed it.

When I straightened, sticking it in my pocket, a tap on my window told me someone else had other plans for the rest of my night. I turned to look and saw the muzzle of a gun pointing at me. I recognized the man at the other end, his finger on the trigger. It was the third assailant from last night. The one who'd been asking me questions while his compatriots did their best to make me answer.

He nodded toward the front of the car and I saw the big goon standing there, arms crossed over his massive chest. Then the scrawny goon opened the passenger side door, a gun in his other hand.

I had two choices. One, find out what they had in mind. I had the distinct impression it was not going to be good. Two, get the hell out of there since this time they were armed and dangerous. Not that they hadn't been dangerous the last time we'd met, but if they'd had guns they hadn't shown them.

I took option number two, kicked the car into reverse and backed away from them fast, thanking whoever was watching over me they hadn't parked behind me. The question man fired a shot. It hit the front fender.

Scrawny took more careful aim. I figured he wanted to take out a tire so I swerved, changed gears and floored it. The car sped forward, barely missing him. The big guy was in the middle of the street, moving faster than a man his size should be able to. As I swerved around him, a gun appeared in his massive hand. He fired.

Pain blossomed in my left bicep. "Lucky shot," I growled and kept going. It was damned obvious they were playing for keeps when all three men continued shooting as they raced for a dark sedan that pulled out of the alley across from the one I'd been staking out. Four on one? Guess they thought I was Superman.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Walt Murphy – PI – 18

Her mouth tightened. "I don't like most of his friends. They're…tough."

"Like how?"

"Like…like I can see them all hanging out in a pool room," she replied with a small smile. "I know that's prejudicial, but it's true. They're not the kind of men I'd have thought he'd be friends with when I first met him two years ago." She looked at me, those big brown eyes tearing up. "I love him. I don't want to think he's…a criminal or something. And I really, really, don’t want to find out something bad happened to him. But after a week…"

"Given what you've said so far, I'm afraid it is a possibility. Unless, of course, he did sell the item then decided he wasn't ready to settle down yet and just took of with the money."

"He loves me! He wouldn't do that."

"Probably not, but it had to be said."

"I know." She bit her lip. "Don't think I haven't wondered about that myself, but I can't believe he'd do it." She hesitated. "Can you, will you, help me?"

Whether this was a set-up or not, there was only one answer to her question. "I can, if you're willing to pay. I wouldn't be in business for long if I worked for free."

"How much?"

I took a sheet of paper from a folder on my desk, handing it to her. "Prices for my different services are listed there. A simple check with hospitals, the police and the morgue aren't too expensive." She winced when I said 'the morgue'. "From there, they go up. I require a retainer to start with and you pay for my time by the hour as well as any expenses I incur."

She read it over, nodding. "I want you to find him or"—she gulped—"his…his body if…if that's what it comes down to."

"All right." Taking out another sheet of paper, I gave it to her, along with a pen. "This is the contract. Read it, sign it, and then I'll need a check or your credit card to pay for the retainer."

She read, filled out the space for her personal information on the bottom, signed it then wrote me a check. Finally I gave her one last paper. "Fill in everything you know about Mr Williams. If you don't know something, leave it blank."

That took her a while but in the end she'd answered most of the questions. I thanked her, told her I'd be in touch, and escorted her to the door. When I unlocked it, I put one hand on the butt of my gun, just in case someone was waiting in the hallway, intending to use her exit to take me by surprise and do nasty things. And not the sort of 'nasty' Ricky and I engage in on a regular basis. The area was clear so I watched her walk down to the elevator before closing the door again.

"Okay," I muttered to myself as I got ready to go stake out Carmichael's building, "was she for real, or a diversion? Am I going to get a call in an hour saying someone broke in here, using the information about the place she gave them?"

I figured only time would tell at this point. Worst case scenario, they were waiting for me at my car. So I made sure I was armed with more than the gun at my back. If they didn't attack me there, I'd be willing to bet someone would follow me to the job since they didn't know where I'd end up when I left here. Even if Ms Bell was a spy, I don't have a desk calendar with notes like 'Carmichael's Electronics-ten pm' jotted down on it.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Walt Murphy – PI – 17

"I can't help you if you're not being honest with me," I said quietly.

"I know," she whispered. "I just… Okay, I think maybe he wasn't telling me the truth about where he got whatever it was he said he could sell. I think… I'm real sure… he stole it from someone."

"Why do you think that?"

She looked at me with worried brown eyes. "If you lost something that was worth a lot, wouldn't you go back to the store to see if they found it?"

"For sure I would," I agreed with a smile. "That doesn't mean you boyfriend would have been honest enough to say he'd found it if the owner did come back."

"I guess. I just had the feeling he was lying to me but I didn't push it. I… didn't want to find out I was right. I mean the story he gave me was bad enough. Right?"

"Yeah. It didn't make him seem like a saint. Question number”—I grinned a bit—"five hundred. The guy you ran into this evening. Did you really run into him by accident or did he come to you."

"I'd just gotten off work and didn't feel like cooking so I stopped to eat at a fast-food place. I looked up and he was standing there. He…" She frowned. "He acted like we were old friends and asked about… Bill. So I told him what was going on and asked if he'd seen him and… well I told you the rest."

"Yep. All except 'Bill's' real name."

"Hugh Williams," she said hesitantly.

"That's better. Thank you."

She nodded. "Do you think…something bad has happened to him?"

What I thought was, she'd been set up by Hugh's 'acquaintance' to come here as part of some scheme of Caiazzo's to find out if I had the necklace—either here or somewhere else. Or she was working directly for Caiazzo and was supposed to get the lay of the land—as it were—before they broke in to look for it. It was late enough now that he or one of his people would have called the appraiser and found out it wasn't there. Either way, I guess, the end result would be the same. She was here and had had a chance to get a good look at the place. Not that there was anything to see. I don't have a large metal box with 'Safe' written on it standing in the corner. I do have a safe, but it was well-concealed in the storage closet off the waiting area.

When I didn't answer immediately, she said with a tinge of anger, "You don't believe me."

I shrugged. "I believe you think something's happened to him. I'm not all that certain you don't know what, or why, other than that it relates to this item he said he had."

"I don't!"

"Okay, take it easy. Tell me about his friends."

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Walt Murphy – PI – 16

"Two questions, to start with." I smiled at her. "One. Do you know what this thing was? And two”—how to phrase this?—"is he old enough to know for sure it was valuable? If he's your age…" She looked like she was maybe twenty-two at best.

"Of course he's old enough," she replied indignantly. "He's thirty-one."

That fit with how old Philips said the mystery man was.

"Okay. What was the item?"

"He wouldn't tell me, even when I pushed. Just that he'd found it at work and thought someone had lost it."

"But he didn't turn it in, I take it."

"Well obviously not." Again she looked at me as if I was stupid.

"Where does he work?"

"He's a clerk at a shoe store."

I nodded. At least she didn't say he worked at Caiazzo's bookstore. That really would have told me I was being setup. Then again, how would I know at this point if she was telling the truth?

"Another question. Why'd you pick me to come to?"

"Because you're a private investigator." Then she got what I meant. "I've been asking every one he knows if they've heard from him. This evening I ran into a guy I'd seen him with a time or two, so I asked him. He wanted to know what was going on, I told him, and he suggested maybe I should hire an investigator. I asked if he knew any and he said he'd heard about you from a friend. I thought it was a stupid idea at first, but the more I thought about the more it seemed like maybe it wasn't. So here I am."

"Here you are." I chuckled. "I'm not saying yet that I'll take the case. But if I do I'll need to know more about… Bill."

"Like what?"

"For starters, what does he look like?"

"He's five eleven, brown hair, blue eyes."

"That could be any of half the men in the city. Do you have a picture of him?"

"I do." She dug through her purse, came up with a wallet and took out a photo that she handed to me.

It was of the two of them and a bit out of focus, like the ones you get with a cheap cell phone. Still, it was clear enough that I could see what Philips had meant about the man's ears. They protruded, though not horribly so.

"What's this?" I asked, tapping what appeared to be a chain with a pendant hanging around his neck.  

She smiled brightly. "I gave that to him on his birthday and he hasn't taken it off since then. You can't tell from the picture, but there's a circle on the square with our initials woven together."

"A B and B C?"

She nodded but she looked away guiltily .

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Walt Murphy – PI – 15

I made it to the appraiser's without any problems. When I entered his office suite, a young woman asked if she could help me to which I replied, "I must be in the wrong place. I'm looking for Mr Steven's office." I'd snagged that name off the list in the lobby. She told me I was on the wrong floor. I thanked her and left. I'll give the appraiser kudos for one thing; he has a hell of a security setup from what little I saw of it. Philips' security company could take lessons from whoever set it up. If I really had left the necklace with the appraiser, Caiazzo's people would have had a hell of a job trying to get it back.

Now I had time to kill until tonight. Okay, not really. I do own a business and my clients like it if I do what they pay me for. I headed back to the office.

Chelsea informed me the minute I walked in that the man from the insurance company had returned the signed e-contract and wired the retainer to my bank. My first thought was, 'Damn, had it only been this morning when I'd talked to him?' It seemed like at least a week ago. I settled down at my desk, emailed him a personal thank-you for his business and then returned to running background checks for one of my regulars. Not exactly the most exciting job, but right now I was glad to be doing rote-work.

Chelsea came in a while later to tell me she was heading home, and caution me to be more careful tonight than I had been last night. I smiled, nodded, thanked her, and she left.

An hour later I was typing up my report on the background checks when I heard someone rattle the doorknob. Given the time, I figured it had to be one of the security guards for the building, checking to be certain the door was locked. I was quickly disabused of that idea when someone knocked, and continued knocking when I didn't immediately answer. Getting up, I pulled out my gun from the waistband holster, holding it behind my back, and went to open the door.

A very pretty, very distraught looking woman stood there. "I need your help" were the first words out of her mouth as she pushed past me into the waiting area.

I cocked an eyebrow, feeling like I walked into a forties movie. After closing and locking the door, I surreptitiously holstered my gun and asked, "With what?"

Instead of answering immediately, she looked around then walked into my office. Only when she'd taken a seat in the chair by my desk did she reply. "My boyfriend's missing. He has been for the last few days."

"Okay." I settled in my chair, looking at her. "Who are you and why do you think he's missing?"

She looked at me like I was stupid. "Because he is? I'm Anna."

"Last name? And his name?"

"Bell. He's"—she hesitated—"Bill… Cooper."

I had the distinct feeling she was lying about his name, but I'd tackle that problem later if I decided she really did need my help, and could pay for it. "Did you two have a fight?"

"No!" She sighed, twisting a strand of her long blonde hair around one finger. "No," she said less emphatically. "He called me a week ago saying he had some business to take care of and when it was finished we'd finally be able to do what we'd been planning."

"That being?"

"Move back to where he'd grown up and get married."

"That certainly makes it sound as if he didn't have any intentions of running off without you."

"He didn't. He wouldn't. I mean…" She held up her left hand, showing me the diamond ring on one finger. "He gave me this when he proposed. Three weeks ago."

"Congratulations," I said somewhat sardonically. "Okay, do you have any idea what this 'business' was he was talking about?"

She nodded. "Maybe. He… found… something valuable, he said. Something he was sure he could sell for a lot of money."

That instantly put me on alert, given what had happened in the last twenty-four hours. Maybe I was jumping to conclusions. But I didn't think so. I also didn't like that she'd come to me. It was too pat. I decided to play along for the moment.