Copyright 2010 Bob Henneberger
www. temptpress. com
Crackstone Chronicles – Extinction
Crackstone Chronicles – Connections
Crackstone Chronicles – Extraordinary Solution
PO Box 77
Colchester, VT 05446
Published by Tempt Press
P.O. Box 77, Colchester, VT 05446
Electronic Book Edition, 2010
Copyright © 2010 Bob Henneberger
Library of Congress Control Number: 2010936746
The events and characters depicted in this novel are fictitious. Any similarity to any person living or dead is merely coincidental.
No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the express permission of the publisher and the author. Conversion of this print book to any electronic form is illegal and punishable by law; besides, ebook versions are for sale from many vendors. Your support of this and all authors rights are greatly appreciated.
Things done well and with a care, exempt themselves from fear.
1.THINK FAST, NOT DEEP
2.BYE, BYE LOVE
3.BUSINESS IS BUSINESS
4.HOME IS WHERE THE RENT’S FREE
5.WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR?
6.OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD.
7.ALL YOU CAN EAT
8.ALL’S QUIET ON THE WATER FRONT
10.THE HARE AND HOUND
11.AS BEST AS I CAN REMEMBER
12.THE BOX REBELLION
13.HAVE IT YOUR WAY
14.A HARE’S BREATH AWAY
16.NO REST FOR THE WEARY
17.JUST ONE MORE LITTLE THING
18.SOUTH OF THE BORDER
19.WHAT’S UP, DOLT?
20.THE TIE THAT BINDS
21.A SHOT IN THE DARK
22.WHO WAS THAT MASKED MAN?
23.WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY HEAD?
24.COME OUT, COME OUT WHOEVER YOU ARE.
25.NO REST FOR THE WEARY
26.CAN THE FAT LADY SING YET?
27.THE KATZ BOX
28.I DO, AND THEN I DON’T
29.GUESS WHO’S KNOCKING ON MY DOOR?
30.IT COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE
31.I TOLD YOU IT COULD GET WORSE
32.LIFE IS GOOD
Think fast, not deep
It was half way through the year, August, 1980 to be exact. I was on a container ship so this wasn’t the cruise of a life time, it was just business. This was another one of those jobs I’d rather not think about until a week after it was over. I’m a private investigator and I do a lot of different jobs each year, but those that take turns like this kind of leave me scratching my head in amazement.
In times like this, I’ve realized I should take stock of my life and asked the question, have I chosen the right career? Did I miss an opportunity that could have changed my life for the better, or at least something safer? But, not having the time to debate the relative merits of this situation, I attributed it to my predilection to act with gargantuan gobs of chutzpa.
Right next door to me, the Japanese couple’s cabin mirrored mine. Obviously the couple had settled in for a much longer haul than I was in for since they had way more personal stuff crammed into their space.
I’m only six foot one, but the doors were so low that I had to stoop over slightly to stand in the entrance of their disheveled room. Deciding not to go in yet, I scanned the area for something not trashed; nothing leapt out at me. All the books had been searched, then thrown in a pile on the floor. The shaving cream can lay emptied into the sink, where someone had cut the can with a large knife, something with enough strength to splay open the moderately thick metal. The toothpaste, deodorant and makeup containers had suffered the same fate as the shaving cream.
Stacked in the corner of the shallow closet, six empty suitcases made quite a tower. Actually the closet formed only an indentation in the wall with two metal bars to hang cloths on, one bar near the ceiling and the other half way down. Two dressers stood on either side of the double bed the only bed in the room. My room had two narrow single beds and I swear those beds in my room were at least three inches narrower than a real single bed.
The dressers were small, with only four short drawers, but they looked large in that small an area. Like the ones in my room, these dressers were constructed with solid wood and finished with a high gloss varnish; I think they were made from white pine. I noticed that the drawer was constructed of solid wood with dovetail joints at the front and back; the construction was quite fine for a place like this. All eight drawers had been not so meticulously emptied on the floor then stacked in the small shower stall. Whether to call it a shower stall, a toilet room or a wash room since all three occupied the exact same diminutive space, I never could figure out. Whoever had done the hurried rearranging, also did a through job of searching the contents of the drawers and all the hanging clothes; seams were ripped, and shoe soles cut off while someone had looked for something.
A faint smell of sandalwood hung in the air, although I didn’t remember smelling that before as I passed the door several times in the past day. My cabin held a slight musty odor to it, accented by the scent of a lemon wood polish. Behind all these up front smells was the faint odor of diesel fuel, the life blood of this ship. I wondered if they had burned incense the night before while they were keeping me awake, bumping the wall next to me. Perhaps they were smoking tobacco, either wacky or real, in their cabin in violation of ship rules and needed a cover-up. Perhaps one of them had a killer gas attack and didn’t want the embarrassment. It no longer mattered.
I did notice the silence, the louder engine noises were now absent since we were in port. I couldn’t hear any voices, nor loud banging from containers being moved about on deck. Ten minutes earlier, some noises had come from the stern of the ship, as if the crew were shuffling boxes in preparation for a major off loading, but nothing now. The whole time I was on that ship, I noticed that no one listened to music. Even bad music would have been appreciated once and a while.
About the only thing in the room that hadn’t been slit open was the body on the floor.
I looked more carefully at this poor guy’s head wound; the dark red flow almost stopped, blood had begun to coagulate. A heart beat would make the fluid spurt with a pulse, but the wound oozed so I guessed the murder had taken place within the last half hour or so. I didn’t see any breathing, and I debated if I should actually enter the murder scene to check for a pulse. I had a strong sense that I should not go into that room, I also had a strong sense that the man was quite dead. He had to have been there for the destruction of all his material goods, or shortly thereafter, because he lay on top of all the junk on the floor. Unless he still hid behind the partially opened door, the killer had to be long gone since one could see almost the entire cabin from my vantage point; as I’ve said over and over, these cabins were quite small. I had not heard any loud gunshot, so it had to be a silenced automatic.
Yoshihiro was a pleasant man, he didn’t deserve to be killed. His pockets were turned inside out and some of his clothes were torn. I wondered if whoever had tossed his room found what they wanted before killing him. I kind of doubted it.
“Mr. Katz .” Wolfgang slid around the corner of the hallway behind me. I guessed my decision to enter the cabin was made for me; I would not be going in. “Drop your gun slowly to the ground.”
I cautiously turned to face the crisply dressed officer who was pointing a shotgun at me; it was a nicely engraved Beretta over and under twelve gauge.
“I don’t have a gun, I didn’t shoot him,” I insisted.
“I think the police should decide that.” Wolfgang lowered the shotgun to his waist, still pointing it at my chest.
“Just think about it.” I raised my hands slowly in the air. “My gun is in your safe. I walked here, in fact I haven’t yet walked all the way into the room; did you hear a gunshot?”
“No.” He thought about that for a second. “But the ship is quite noisy, that might mask a shot.”
“Not in a metal room with lots of hard surfaces for the sound to bounce off of,” I observed quickly. “It had to be a gun with a silencer, and for the silencer to work it had to be an automatic. I have a revolver which hasn’t been fired in a while, as well as it being in your safe, if I haven’t already mentioned that.”
“It’s not my place to investigate anything like this once we’re docked in port.” Wolfgang shook his head, as if he had made up his mind that I was some mass murderer who deserved hanging in that disheveled small room. “I’d rather handle it myself, but that’s impossible now. We’ll wait right in this hallway until the police get here to arrest you for murder.”
“It could be you who killed this man, or one of your crew.” I pointed to the body. “Have you considered that?”
“I’m sure the police will question all of us before they are through.”
The Captain tried to appear grim but couldn’t. He appeared happy that I was the one he found staring at the dead man.
“But I’m sure they will question you more than any of the rest of us,” he added.
Damn, things like this put a real crimp in an investigation, you know. This whole thing started more than a week ago when Cassandra left me, and Billy Sullivan showed up on my front porch a few days later. I should have known that two bad things are usually followed by a third.
Bye, bye love
“And, why am I supposed to like this?” I asked, looking as much like a hurt puppy as I could.
“Well.” Cassandra sighed, not wanting to injure my feelings any more than she already had. “I still think I need to finish what I started. We’ve talked about this for over a year, since before we moved here.”
Mostly she talked about it; I agreed with her in the long run, although I felt like a dog locked in the run at that moment. It’s that I didn’t look forward to her doing the deed.
“But, why now?” I asked.
I hate to whine, but I was now more in love with her than ever. I didn’t want her to leave me, or Atlanta now, not after our move to the East coast and right after I thought we were starting a closer phase in our life together. It wasn’t a bad premonition, I didn’t want to be Cassandra-less for the next four months.
“If I don’t go back and finish my dissertation I’ll lose all the years I worked for it.” She sat back down on the edge of our bed. “The whole time I worked with you in Los Angeles, I took classes. Sometimes only one a quarter, but I kept at it; I want to finish what I started.”
“I know, I agree with the logic.”
I knew I was acting hurt. On one level I was pissed at myself for acting that way, I couldn’t help myself.
“Can you turn that music down.” Cassandra glanced at me. “Ever since you’ve gotten on that opera jag, you’ve been playing it a little too loud.”
I got up and turned the volume down some. This was my favorite version of Verdi’s Rigoletto, with Callas, Di Stefano and Gobbi. Opera was meant to be heard loud and our neighbors were gone. Besides, it was better than the incessant drone of the air conditioner, but I guess she wanted to concentrate on our conversation.
“I’ll only be gone for four months,” she said, sounding kind of happy I was going to miss her so much. “You can visit me a lot if you like.”
“I guess I could move back there while you finish.”
“You could, but since we decided to sell our Los Angeles office, where would the money come from to pay all our bills? Remember, as private investigators, we work cases to make money.” Cassandra didn’t sound pissed, just somewhat annoyed. “You have to stay here unless you want to close this place down and move permanently back to California.”
“I know we’re going to sell the Los Angeles branch soon, at least I hope our buyer stays interested,” I said.
I liked Atlanta slightly more than the City of Angels, and we were settling down here better than I had expected. Our Los Angeles office was doing great and I was happy for that. Our cut of the profits turned out to be over four thousand dollars last month, but that’s not what my life is all about. I calculated that if we could sell the business for at least three hundred thousand, we could bank around two hundred thousand after taxes and expenses and that could be our retirement, or it could be one hell of a honeymoon. Or, it could be I was hatching eggs before I laid them.
“Exactly, so you have to stay in Atlanta or there’ll be nothing here when I finish. I can’t work cases, finish my dissertation and teach a class all at the same time. What if we sell the Los Angeles business and there’s no income from Atlanta?” Cassandra put her hand on my arm. “We can’t live on what they pay a graduate assistant, besides I won’t stay in California that long.”
“We could live well off the income from the Los Angeles branch. My real question is, are you sure you want to sell the Los Angeles branch right now?”
Maybe if we waited, I could go back out there and stay with her. I know, I know, I was thinking impulsively.
“We’ve talked about this a lot since we moved here to Atlanta.”
She glanced away from me for a moment.
She was getting impatient. We had sort of agreed on all this before, so I understood why she was annoyed. If I became a serious businessman, we would have no time for fun, let alone any time for cases. My government friends wouldn’t approve anyway, so I had to sell and keep our operation small, just the two of us. The Company had asked that I be the only one running this detective agency, but it was too late for that, Cassandra was too important to me now. I wanted to tell her then and there the real reason I needed to ditch the growing business on the West coast, but I couldn’t, not yet.
“One quarter.” I looked down at her sitting on the bed. “Four months, no longer?”
“I can finish it in one quarter, it’s almost done now but they require I be enrolled and on campus for the quarter I defend.”
“Damned, I’m going to miss you.” I sat next to her on the edge of our bed. “I want you to promise me something.”
“What?” She looked at me like she knew I was up to something.
“When you finish your degree, you’ll move back here and we’ll get married.”
“Yes, that again.”
“Okay.” Cassandra smiled as she squeezed my hand.
I knew that smile, it was different from her ‘you moron’ smile. This was the ‘I love you’ smile.
“Is that an okay, you will?” I quickly asked. “Or, is than an okay, you bother me but I still love you?”
“It’s just an okay, I will marry you.”
“You finally mean it?” I couldn’t believe she agreed.
“Why not? We’ve solved a lot of conflicts on this working together thing.” Cassandra shook her head slightly. “So I don’t see anything wrong in running the agency as an official, legal couple.”
I sat there dumbfounded for a second. I had hoped for this, but now I had to reassess more than filing joint taxes. How would my government handlers take this? I felt like a dog on a choke chain.
“This is great. So, right after you finish? When is the quarter over?”
“Wait just a minute, mister.” Cassandra held up her hand. “Assuming it does take only one quarter for me to get my diploma, how big a deal is our wedding going to be, and who’s going to plan it?”
“Are you looking at me?” I pointed to my chest.
“Suppose I am?”
“A Justice of the Peace as soon as you get back here.”
“I don’t think my mother would put up with that, do you?”
“I guess not; do we have to tell her?”
“I guess we do.” Cassandra stood up. “I think Dad would like a word in this also. I suppose I could plan something small, Mom would like to help too.”
“That’s the spirit.”
“Yeah, right.” Cassandra shot me one of those looks that was something between ‘you’re so cute’ and ‘you’re so dead’. “I have to get to the airport now.”
“I’ll get the big suitcase and meet you at the car.” I stood up and followed her out of the bedroom.
“So,” Cassandra’s demeanor changed as she focused on her trip back to California and all the work she would have to do. And, at least I hoped so, she would regret all the time we would be apart. “What do you plan to do with yourself until you come out to visit?”
“I don’t know.” I picked up on the need for light conversation. “I guess I’ll try out my new gym.”
“Yeah.” She looked around the living room, as if to take a mental picture before leaving. “Did it look good?”
“It looked more than good.” I nodded in agreement. “They teach Taekwondo. The guy I talked to down there said they have a female teacher too.”
“Maybe when I get back.” Cassandra glanced at me, then at the front door. “I’d gotten used to that gym in Los Angeles.”
“I’m glad you started some training.” I picked back up the two suitcases and headed to the door. “When you get back, maybe you could try out the new fitness center.”
“What cases do you have pending?” Cassandra asked, as we muscled her several suitcases down to the car.
We had too many suitcases and not enough car; I had to do something about that.
Looking down Euclid, towards the neighborhood and away from Little Five Points, I took in a deep breath. At ten in the morning, temperatures were reasonably warm but not the humidity. By now, in late summer, our windows stayed shut, two wall unit air conditioners busily humming away cooling and drying out our apartment. They also blocked stagnant car fumes from the street. Still, outside air pollution was a hell of a lot better here than what I breathed in Los Angeles.
“I don’t have many cases left,” I answered. “I did get a call yesterday from a friend of mine from the Marines.”
“What did he want?” Cassandra dropped one big and two small suitcases next to our car. “That’s something I wish you’d talk about more. I know it’s a sensitive subject, but if we’re getting married you need to confide in me more.”
I had been honest with her about most aspects of my existence, but she hit the nail on the head this time. Cassandra not only knew things about me that most others didn’t, but she had helped me deal with the darker parts of my childhood, like my life growing up on a farm in Pennsylvania, my mother killing herself and the deadly emotional distance of my father after that. She knew all about my summers in Brooklyn with my aunt and uncle and my two cousins. But, my time in the military and the life long changes brought about in those years, I had not confided at all. I wanted to, but more than my trauma was stopping me; I had to push along a chain of events with my government employers.
“Earth to Benjamin.” Cassandra patted my shoulder.
“Sorry, I got lost in thought.”
“I love you much.” Her expression softened. “I’d like to get lost in there with you.”
“Now’s not a good time, you’re due at the airport soon.”
I had to have that discussion with her soon and I had to have a discussion with Billy Sullivan sooner.
As I stared around the neighborhood again, I focused on the trees; I sort of needed to soften my focus for the goodbye scene. Two red oaks rose from our front yard, as well as a magnolia tree, that species was required in Atlanta; there must be one per block at least and we were the lucky ones here. The wisteria in the back yard apparently thought it was kudzu and had taken possession of most of the small parking lot behind our building.
Since moving here, I had enjoyed watching the different greens of summer. By August, the leaves turned a darker green, to prepare briefly turning colors before falling. Shade from the poplars in our side yard had grown more intense; the reflected green color from all the foliage on our block also darkened. A light breeze blowing the leaves felt good on my face, even though days were getting hotter as the summer wore on. I supposed it could be worse. A faint honeysuckle scent intermingled with the odors of deep fat fried whatever from the several eating establishments up the block from us.
“I guess we’d better get to the airport,” she said. “Maybe you could visit me around the beginning of the quarter? ”
“I’ll try.” I opened the door for her. “When is that?”
“A few weeks from now.” She sat in the passenger seat. “What about your friend from the Marines, does he have a job for you?”
“I don’t know, He might have a corporate job for me.”
I hadn’t seen him in a while. But, every time I did see him it wasn’t fun.
“Have I met him?” Cassandra opened the window.
“No,” I replied as I slid into the driver’s seat. “I don’t think so.”
“I hope he has a big paying job for you.” Cassandra settled into the passenger seat.
“I think he does, judging from the way he sounded.” I started the car. “I think it has to do with the company he now works for.”
“I forgot the name.” No, I knew it well. “His firm provides services for several large insurance companies.” I shot her an ambiguous grin. “He’s sort of an insurance pimp.”
“Well.” Cassandra put her hand in my lap and stroked my leg. “Don’t get involved in anything too risky; I love you. Be careful and call me every day.”
I wish I had followed her advice.