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Katz Cradle

Bob Henneberger

Copyright 2010 Bob Henneberger

www. temptpress. com

Books by Bob Henneberger

Hunting Paradise

Katz Pajamas

Katz Box

Crackstone Chronicles – Extinction

Crackstone Chronicles – Connections

Crackstone Chronicles – Extraordinary Solution

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Published by Tempt Press

P.O. Box 77, Colchester, VT 05446

Electronic Book Edition, 2010

Copyright © 2010 Bob Henneberger

ISBN: 978-1-4524-3262-5

Library of Congress Control Number: 2010936747

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.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

To Sandy

The object of art is to give life a shape.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Contents

1.SO FAR, AND YET SO NEAR

2.NOW, WHERE DID I PUT THAT DEAL?

3.A DEAD MAN IS HARD TO FIND

4.I’LL THINK ABOUT IT.

5.ZERO IS THE LONELIEST NUMBER

6.TILL DEATH DO US PART

7.HERE, THERE AND EVERY HARE

8.TIME TRAVELS WHEN YOU’RE HAVING FUN

9.CALL ME WHEN YOU GET THERE

10.AND, THEN THERE WERE TWO?

11.COME OUT, COME OUT, WHEREVER YOU ARE.

12.READY ON THE RIGHT, READY ON THE LEFT

13.WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE

14.HOME IS WHERE THE SUITCASE IS.

15.HI, DON AND MIKE

16.HEAR NO EVIL, TELL NO EVIL

17.I HAD A PLAN

18.DON’T CALL ME, AND I WON’T CALL YOU

19.OH WHERE OH WHERE DID THE MISSING BUM GO?

20.I’LL BE AN UNCLE’S MONKEY

21.STOP MONKEYING AROUND

22.THE HOUND AND THE HARE

23.HOME SWEET HOME.

24.WHERE OH WHERE DID MY MISSING GIRL GO?

25.STEAK OUT

26.THE KATZ CRADLE

27.WHAT DO I DO WHEN I GET THERE?

28.CAN I HELP YOU FIND SOMETHING?

29.PUT THE INSECT ASIDE

30.SHOT IN THE DARK

31.A DATE IN THE DARK

32.GOOD NIGHT SWEET Katz

33.WAKE ME WHEN IT’S OVER

34.IT’S BETTER THAN AN EXCLAMATION POINT

35.HELLO THERE

36.ODDS AND ENDS

37.COULD I SEE THE WHINE LIST?

1

So far, and yet so near

Fall was in its full glory in Atlanta, Georgia and the year was 1981. It was mid afternoon and early going home traffic was just a hint of what it would be in mid-town in a few hours. Clouds raced overhead, sometimes hinting that the sun would come out, but it never did.

“Hey Luanne.”

An Atlanta policeman called to a middle aged waitress who had stepped out the side door to light a cigarette. Luanne Hollingbeck was dressed in a nondescript mid-calf black skirt with a light pink sweater and a white plastic name tag pinned to it. Like many long term waitresses who walk eight hours a day, Luanne was fairly trim, although she wanted to lose just ten more pounds. She had long since ceased eating snacks on the job, but she still loved fried foods a bit too much.

“Timmy Parish.” She recognized him.

Luanne’s fifteen year old daughter baby-sat for them from time to time.

“What’s going on over there?”

One of the cooks told her that the cops were swarming all over the parking lot, but she had too many customers to sneak a peek up until then. Luanne slowly walked towards the back of the poorly paved parking lot beside the restaurant where she worked. It was a cool overcast Fall day with a strong breeze coming from the north west, which is why she had put on the pink sweater this morning. The temperature was hovering in the low forties, and that was cold for Atlanta at this time of year. The cloud filtered light pouring through the trees still cast shadows across the parking lot. Even with the strong wind, the smells of deep fat fried chicken and potatoes mixed with burgers being grilled permeated the area. The sound of the wind in the nearly leafless trees wasn’t as loud as it might be in Summer, but was still loud enough to mask much of the background noise. Traffic was light on Ponce De Leon; it was the lull between lunch traffic and going home traffic.

Two police cars with their blue lights flashing were parked askew near a large silver Cadillac while a sizable crowd of twenty or so milled about the parking lot, all of them trying to see something towards the rear of the lot. Officer Parish walked towards her as the other three policemen were busy pushing onlookers away from the scene.

“I think one of your customers sort of took a dirt nap out here,” Officer Parrish said.

Timmy now stood in front of the waitress.

“Do you mind looking at him and maybe you can confirm who he is.”

“Was he shot?” Luanne asked.

“No, I don’t think so,” Timmy replied. “No one sees any blood; I suppose he might have had a heart attack or something.”

“I hope it wasn’t the food.”

Luanne nervously leaned from one foot to the other, not knowing what else to do, given the situation.

“Come on over there.” Timmy pointed to the car at the center of all the attention.

“Sure thing.”

Luanne walked slowly, like a rubber-necker at a car accident, towards the car with the dead man in it.

“Yeah, sure.” She glanced quickly, then turned to the policeman. “That’s Simon Belchamp, he’s a regular here.”

“So, when was he in there for lunch?” Timmy pulled out a small notebook from his back pocket.

“Oh,” Luanne answered. “I’d say it couldn’t have been more than an hour or so, maybe a little less.”

“Did he seem upset, or sick?” Timmy pulled a pen from his breast pocket and began taking notes.

“No, not at all.” Luanne pursed her lips as she remembered. “He seemed to be in a great mood, but he’s always a happy man.” She stared at the car. “He was a happy man.”

…………………..

“Detective Gary Brown, what’re you doing here?” Timmy asked.

Officer Parish noticed a tall man in a suite walking slowly towards the scene of Simon Belchamp’s death.

Gary Brown stood about five foot ten, weighed about one hundred eighty pounds and dressed in a clean upscale suit. He had been with the Atlanta Police Department for about ten years, before that he had been an MP in the Army, completing one tour in Viet Nam, but spending most of his career at Fort Stewart; he met his wife, Alice, while he lived in Hinesville. Gary made detective two years ago, and was now assigned to the homicide department.

“It’s a slow day.” Gary grinned at the uniformed police officer. “The lieutenant likes to send me out to view dead bodies to keep me out of trouble, something about it being my job.”

“I guess so,” Timmy sounded a little flustered as he smiled back at the homicide detective. “But, I’d bet this one was a heart attack.”

“Show me the dead man,” Gary requested.

“No problem.”

Timmy stepped aside, he knew better than to second guess the detective. He had been on the scene of several murder cases with detective Brown and he knew to let the man work.

“So, he’s been dead only ninety minutes at best?” Gary asked as he moved the dead man’s head from side to side, he then moved his arm slightly. “He seems a little stiff and cold for that, but I guess we’ll find out when the coroner’s office is through with him.”

Gary carefully glanced at the inside of the car, then he walked around that area of the parking lot. Too many people had trampled over the area so not much was left of interest. Detective Brown bent over to inspect the car door which was splotchy and grubby looking from the fingerprint powder spread over it by the forensic team which had arrived ten minutes before. Gary cocked his head to one side as he focused on a small spot of white powder barely visible on the bottom eighth of the driver’s side door; the car was silver color, and that spot wasn’t that obvious.”

“Excuse me.” Detective Brown tapped the shoulder of a technician lifting fingerprints from the passenger door.

“Yeah?” The man stood up and faced Gary Brown.

“Could you get a small bag and follow me?”

“Sure thing.” The man dug around in a medium sized container that gave the impression of a cross between a suitcase and a fishing tackle box.

“Scrape that off and tell me what the hell it is.”

Gary Brown pointed to the white substance on the driver’s door.

“Sure.”

The technician began doing what he was requested while Gary walked quickly to the photographer who was loading his thirty five millimeter Nikon with another roll of film.

“Did you get shots through both sides of the front window?” The detective asked.

“Yeah.” The photographer closed up the camera. “I got shots through the side and rear window too.”

“Without being too obvious, I’d like you to take several shots of the gawking crowd on the sidewalk.” Gary thought for a second. “You did get the whole parking area, right?”

“I did.”

The photographer began changing the lens, putting on a twenty eight millimeter lens.

“It seems like a heart attack, one that the paramedics arrived at too late,” the photographer observed.

“Maybe,” Gary Brown surmised.

He liked the photographer, he always worked well with him before.

“But, you know, a dead body in a parking lot of a popular restaurant, we sort of have to go through at least the motions.”

“I suppose,” The photographer muttered.

“When did you get here?”

“Let’s see,” The photographer thought. “The paramedics got here first, they found him dead and cold. They called the uniforms, and the uniforms called the medical examiner, then they called homicide.”

“Just to be sure, I suppose,” Gary chuckled, mostly to himself.

“Do you need all of us here?” Officer Parish asked.

He was the ranking uniform officer at the scene, and he thought it was wasteful for so many uniformed patrolmen to be at the scene of a heart attack.

“I guess not, maybe two to keep the curious back.”

Detective Brown scanned over the scene at the parking lot.

“Sure.”

“Say, officer Parrish,” Detective Brown spoke up as the policeman started to walk away.

“Yeah?”

“Which EMTs first answered the call?”

“Those two over there.” He pointed to two men in white shirts with black pants and black coats on. “The one smoking called us.”

Timmy Parrish walked back to his men to assign the two junior officers to the mindless detail.

“Hi, I’m detective Gary Brown,” Gary introduced himself. “Which one of you two looked at the body first?”

“That would be me,” Charles spoke up. “My name’s Charles Bremerton.”

“Was he in that position when you found him?”

“No, he was slumped over into the passenger’s side.” Charles indicated with his right forearm flopping to his right. “I checked for a pulse first and found none. He was cool to the touch, like he’d been dead for a while.”

“Yeah,” The other EMT spoke up as he put out his cigarette by crushing it under his left heel. “Charlie was pulling him upright when I mentioned that we might ought to call the cops.”

“My partner was right,” Charles agreed. “Even though I’ve seen hundreds of heart attacks, and that man sure as hell had one, I guess a body like this needs the cops.”

“That was a good idea,” Detective Brown spoke to the men. “You guys did give a complete statement to the uniformed officers, right?”

“Sure did.” Charles nodded.

“With the times and observations,” His partner added. “We even took his temperature.”

“Great.” The detective nodded.

“Can we go now?” Charles asked. “Our shift is up in an hour or so.”

“Sure, you guys can go on now.”

The police detective carefully opened the driver’s side door and leaned into the car, rummaging around the front seat. The dead man was slumped over the steering wheel; the body seemed grey in color, truly lifeless.

Cautiously, Gary Brown lifted the dead man’s arms from the steering wheel. He then slid the body towards the passenger side. In most high end cars, the seats adjusts quite easily, in some it adjusts automatically. This corps seemed to fit quite nicely in the driver’s space. The deceased, as most do, had lost sphincter control on dying, but it wasn’t that pungent, yet. The interior was extremely clean, there didn’t appear to be any loose paper, coins, maps, or food on the floor or seats.

Detective Brown walked to the passenger side, leaning into the door, he opened the glove compartment which was clean and almost empty. Inside, lay only the three booklets that came with the car, a map of downtown Atlanta, a box of automotive fuses and one spare turn signal bulb.

On the floor of the back seat, laid a golf umbrella and an ice scraper; the back seat seemed unused. One of the policemen had already opened the trunk, using the remote latch. Gary marveled at how clean the trunk was, as if it had never been used at all.

Gary Brown walked slowly towards the two attendants standing near the coroner’s van who were leaning against the vehicle waiting for the detective to finish.

“I’m through,” Detective Brown said to the younger of the two men from the coroner’s office. “You can bag the body now.”

“I think the EMTs were right, the guy dropped dead from a heart attack, he’s overweight and old, prime target for a heart attack,” The young assistant commented.

“Been on the job long?” Gary asked the young man.

“No, sir.” He became quieter. “Only a few months.”

“When did you say it happened?” Gary turned to the uniformed policeman closest to him.

“Well.” The policeman glanced at his watch. “According to the waitresses in there, this man was inside the restaurant eating lunch about two hours ago.”

“So, you have a good ID on the man?” Gary looked around the parking lot.

“Yeah.” The policeman nodded. “Several of the waitresses recognized him as a regular, and the ID in his wallet matches him to a tee.”

“Has anyone called his family?” Gary asked.

“Not yet,” The policeman fell silent for a second. “We were waiting until you showed up and gave the scene the once over.”

“I guess I’ll contact the family,” Gary sighed. “Give me the address and their names.”

“Right here.” The policeman tore a sheet from his small notebook. “He has a wife and one son, they both live in Decatur. The deceased owned a car dealership in Decatur.”

“I’ll drive out there in a few minutes.”

Gary wasn’t too happy about this, he never was.

“You think something funny happened here?” The uniformed policeman asked the detective.

“That’s why they pay me the big bucks.” He smiled back at him. “I guess I’ll find out if there was.”

2

Now, where did I put that deal?

Cheshire Katz Detective Agency, Los Angeles branch, was about to be sold. My feelings were mixed about that prospect; I think my mind-set had been altered somewhat by my recent wedding, Benjamin and Cassandra Katz still sounded strange.

I run a detective agency out of Atlanta, that’s my day job at least. I’m a tad over six feet tall, mostly in shape, with brown hair & eyes and not too ugly; at least my wife tells me so.

Cassandra and I were in the middle of our fabulous honeymoon, we were staying in the magnificent Hotel Pales in beautiful Hunting Beach, somewhere in the suburbs of greater Los Angeles. Okay, enough of the sarcasm, Cassandra and I were living in her old room at her parent’s house. That, in itself, is enough to make me have mixed feelings about my career.

My partner and now wife, Cassandra, was busy maneuvering her dissertation through all final obstacles and teaching a second year political science class at UCLA. I didn’t have enough time with her. We used to have only one Cheshire Katz Detective Agency office right here in Los Angeles, but a year ago we set up another office in Atlanta. We were now in the process of selling the Los Angeles branch to Peter Schroeder, the office manager here. Cassandra was close to finishing all her school work as we approached the Thanksgiving break; she managed to fix it so the one class she taught would take their final before the coming break so the two of us could have almost the whole month of December alone together. Maybe then Cassandra and I could have more quality time together; I’d settle for more of any kind of time together. At least I could concentrate on selling our Los Angeles branch office while she was otherwise occupied.

Peter Schroeder had put in a bid for the business a few months ago which was only two thousand higher than the next bid, but I was tired of waiting for more buyers. As I told our sales agent, the universe of possible purchasers was quite small.

“So, what’s the plan today?”

Cassandra stood by the front door, ready to venture forth for another stint in front of three hundred eager students.

“I’m headed to our agent to go over the paperwork one more time.” I smiled at her from the sofa. “We have a preliminary agreement signed, but the final papers have yet to be signed.”

I was such a man of leisure these days, no, I didn’t like that one bit.

“What’s the hold up?” She asked.

“I’m not sure.” I shrugged. “Anna wants me to meet with her lawyer, it’s got something to do with the books.”

“I hope it isn’t a problem, the last time I went over the books, everything seemed fine.”

Cassandra shot me a concerned expression as she left for school.

……………….

“I’m your agent, and your friend,” Anna began, I knew this had to be a problem. “I asked Tom to come into this meeting because your buyer has rescinded his offer, and countered with another.”

“Excuse me?” She got my attention all right.

“It seems that the profit for the past six months has not been properly stated,” Tom interrupted as he sat next to me with a stack of papers.

Tom Merchant was a lawyer Anna was comfortable working with on commercial sales.

“Your buyer, Peter, had his accountant go over the books in great detail over the past week and your company, it seems, has actually posted a four hundred thousand dollar loss for the past three quarters,” Tom continued

“How?”

I was shocked, I knew that the company had gotten long term contracts to do background checks on new employees for five Los Angeles based top forty corporations; that income alone was staggering, at least to me it was.

“Apparently your rent has quadrupled this past year, and the medical benefits you offer your employees has gone up ten fold. Then, there’s that contract for cleaning services,” Anna added.

“Excuse me?” I focused on the paperwork. “I didn’t know about any of this.”

“Peter says you knew, and that you signed off on all this?”

Tom seemed to be waiting for another shoe to fall, perhaps on his ass.

“First of all, as far as I know we never offered medical benefits to our employees beyond Peter Schroeder and the two full-time secretaries. And, secondly, how the hell did my rent go up that much? I had a deal with the owner of that building, the rent couldn’t go up more than ten percent a year. And, finally, I thought the building owners paid for cleaning, I’ve never paid for that in the past.”

“That’s not what Peter told us,” Anna studied me.

I was surrounded by people staring at me as if I were Mr. Potatohead who had lost one eye and both ears and didn’t notice a thing.

“Wouldn’t one think that Peter might say that since he’s the one trying to buy the business?”

I shook my head, I knew I was being screwed; at least the people talking to me weren’t at fault.

“How much did he drop his offer?”

“He’s now willing to offer fifty thousand in cash,” Tom replied.

He was now looking at me as if my head would explode any minute.

“The haggled out amount was two hundred and ninety thousand dollars,” I insisted.

I didn’t explode, no sense in exploding there, these two were supposed to be on my side. But, Peter Schroeder was the manager of MY business and he was supposed to be on my side too.

“He said he cannot be expected to pay that much and assume all that debt,” Tom added.

“So.” I turned to face Anna. “What do you think?”

“I think he’s trying to screw you, but unless you take him to court and prove he fixed the rent, and made up the medical coverage and cleaning costs, your chances of finishing this deal with any profit to you are fifty-fifty at best.” Anna shrugged her shoulders.

“You could always fire him, take over the business yourself and fix it,” Tom added.

“I don’t have a year to do that,” I pondered out loud. “I know he’s betting on that.”

“So?” Anna put her hand on my shoulder. “What are you going to do?”

“Stall him.” I began to plot my revenge. “I’m going to do what I do best in the meantime.”

“What’s that?” Tom asked.

“Make that son of a bitch sorry he ever tried to screw me.”

“Now, that’s the Katz I know and love,” Anna laughed.

……………………….

“He what!” Cassandra took this harder than I did. “I scrutinized the books two weeks ago, and none of those expenses were there.”

“Did you keep a copy of the books?” I quizzed.

“No.” Cassandra was still angry. “Why the hell would I? Everything seemed fine, the last quarterly payment we both got from the business reflected what the books told me.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said without expression, at least a visible expression.

“Don’t shoot him,” Cassandra insisted.

She saw what was bubbling just under my surface.

“We can’t afford the legal bills right now.”

“I won’t,” I hesitated, more to cool down than anything else. “I probably won’t.”

“What do you want me to do?” Cassandra thought for a second. “I can’t do that much while I’m still teaching, but I want to do something?”

“Could you do some phone work tomorrow?” I was glad she wanted to help. “The building changed hands six months ago, and the new company that raised our rent without us knowing is Five Star Investment, Incorporated.”

“I’ll find out tomorrow.” She sounded happy to help in this endeavor. “Anything else?”

“Well,” I thought. “If you could find out about the Wellness For All medical insurer.”

“Is that the company overcharging us for medical insurance?” She asked with a sharpness to her voice. “I’ve never heard of that company, are you sure that’s the insurance company?”

“It is.” I nodded. “The last piece of paper I signed was for Blue Cross coverage for Peter and the two full-time secretaries, and that was a huge enough expense.”

“Right.” Cassandra nodded again. “I remember that, all the detectives and accountants were hired as independent contractors. All we had to cover for them was the social security taxes, part of their bonding, daily expenses and some of their mileage.”

“And, I thought that was too generous,” I said. “But, I’ve always been cheap.”

“So, when are we supposed to have changed the insurance, and agreed to the higher rent and damned cleaning services?” Cassandra still sounded pissed.

“Anna showed me the three memos I allegedly signed.”

“Were they real?” Cassandra asked.

“Not hardly.” I shook my head. “He must have taken my signature from another document and put it on those three.”

“So, was it your signature?”

“It appears to be, but I didn’t sign those documents; I’m headed to Whitney’s office tomorrow.”

“The handwriting and document expert?” Cassandra followed my logic.

“It’ll be worth the two hundred to have her check it. We can use her testimony in the lawsuit too.” I then slightly changed thoughts. “Speaking of spending money, I’m seeing our lawyer after I see Whitney.”

“What for?”

“We’re going to sue Peter for at least a million bucks.” I nodded.

“I like that idea, but why?” Cassandra asked.

“I’m going to time the suit to fall on him right after I have a chance to get a few more ducks in the row I’m building.” I grinned. “I have a master plan.”

“I like the sound of that.” Cassandra smiled back at me. “You sound like Fearless Leader when you talk like that.”

“He vill be crushed mit a sneak attack unt a lawsuit,” I faked a Russian accent.

“That sounds like fun.” She shook her head and chuckled. “Let me know what’s really going on soon, though.”

…………………………

“Hi.” I cradled the receiver in my right hand. “What did you find out?”

“Five Star Investment is a holding company, held by Waters Investments, owned by Service Company of the West,” Cassandra said, almost out of breath. “And guess who’s the primary partner in the company that handles our medical insurance?”

“One of the aforementioned companies?” I guessed, it wasn’t a hard question to answer.

“Waters Investment,” she answered. “It took a few hours of digging and begging, but all of the money fronts, and dead ends, are owned by Benton Schroeder.”

“Funny last name, don’t you think?” It was all becoming clearer.

“Where are you, by the way?” Cassandra asked.

“In my old office.”

I leaned back in the comfy chair.

“Where’s our erstwhile manager?” She was apprehensive.

“I threw him out.”

“Literally?” She had to ask.

“He protested a little.” I enjoyed reliving it. “But Bennie held the door while I shoved his ugly ass out.”

“How’s Bennie doing?”

Cassandra liked the picture I had painted.

“He’s doing fine,” I answered. “He said he was going to quit and take a dozen of our detectives with him if I had sold to Peter Schroeder.”

“Why didn’t any of them tell us about this?” Cassandra asked.

“He didn’t know about the money problems, he didn’t like Peter that much.”

“Didn’t he know he had medical insurance?” Cassandra asked. “He should have loved Peter for that.”

“None of the PIs knew they were insured.” I settled into the large chair; I kind of liked the chair that weasel had bought with our money. “It sounds like Peter thought we were real idiots.”

“We almost were,” Cassandra said. “So, I assumed you fired Peter.”

“Fired and more.” I wickedly grinned. “I took out a restraining order against him; he can’t come near this building, and he’s lost all access to any part of this company’s records.”

“What did he say on his way out?” Cassandra asked.

“Something about suing us for firing him, and me for kicking his ass out the door.” I slapped another satisfying grin on my face. “Not that I think he will.”

“Why not?”

“Do you remember the contract he signed?” I was rechecking it as I spoke to Cassandra. “We can fire him without prior notice for a large list of reasons, one of which is falsifying the financial records.”

“Speaking of the books, you have someone we can trust going over the books, right?” Cassandra asked.

“Right.”

“When do we sue him?”

“He’ll be served tomorrow,” I replied. “But, for now, I’m checking out his father, Benton Schroeder.”

“Where’s the old man?”

“I’ll be in Sacramento for the next day,” I said. “I’ve got a few more calls to make from here.”

“Who’s going to run the place?” Cassandra sounded a little worried.

“I called Janet and she agreed to come back to work until we settle all this.”

I knew Janet could pick up all the pieces. I used to work for the Sterling Detective Agency here in Los Angeles before I struck out on my own. The Sterling Agency closed after it’s owner died and we took over most of its business. Janet was the office manager with the Sterling Agency for a long time before she retired, as well as being a life long friend of Cassandra’s mother.

“Great,” Cassandra sounded relieved. “I’m glad she agreed to do it.”

“I shouldn’t be more that a day in Sacramento.” I didn’t want to be gone even that long.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” Cassandra said hurriedly. “Someone named Katzen called from Atlanta and wants you to do a job back there.

“In Atlanta?”

If I was hesitant to be gone for a day in Sacramento, why would I want a job in Atlanta?

“I told him you couldn’t get back with him for a day, and he was okay with that, but, he sounded like he wanted you out there soon,” Cassandra said. “You know, we could use some real income now.”

“I suppose you’re right,” I said with a tinge of resignation in my voice. “I’ll call him back as soon as I’m through with Benton Schroeder.”

……………………..

It’s always a good thing to have a friend on a police force and in Los Angeles, my friend is Mark Hatton. The two of us became friends right as I moved to Los Angeles, actually, we met in Hawaii as we both mustered out of the Marines; he was an MP and I was something else. Mark and his wife were right there a little more than two months ago watching Cassandra and I get married. Mark had a good contact on the Sacramento police force.

Benton Schroeder was well known to the Sacramento police, he owned a string of rent to own furniture and appliance stores. Schroeder’s establishments charged two hundred percent interest in the guise of rent to people who could least afford it. In addition to the legal usury, he was also suspected in actual loan sharking, drug dealing and a major prostitution ring.

No wonder he was able to loan the money to his weasel son to buy our detective agency, I should have followed my own advice and investigated Schroeder a little better before I hired him, and especially before I signed an intent to sell our business to him. Peter Schroeder had a spotless record, he was an upstanding citizen and was easily licensed and bonded by the state of California, but one cursory check of his father, however, would have shown another side to Peter. The acorn, in this case, didn’t fall far from the tree.

……………………………

“Benton Schroeder?” I smiled and extended my hand.

“That’s right.”

Benton was a tall, fat man, maybe six foot two and three hundred fifty pounds. He was dressed in polyester pants, a narrow red tie and a pale yellow blend shirt. His face was large and sweaty, a short, brushy mustache hung from his upper lip, looking like it didn’t belong there; the mustache was sort of like the cheap toupee perched on top of his head.

“Your associate sent me down here to the stock room,” I cleared my throat. “I had to talk to you in person.”

“And, what do you gotta say?”

Benton stopped what he was doing and stared at me.

“Tiny told me over the phone that you was lookin’ for a loan,” he added. “Somethin’ about one hundred large.”

“Actually,” I took in a deep breath.

Tiny was about seven feet tall, and I assumed Tiny could be there in a heartbeat if Benton called for him.

“The amount I’m here about is one million dollars.”

“I don’t loan that much to nobody.” Benton glared harder at me. “Who the hell’re you?”

“Actually, it’s not a loan, it’s a lawsuit and consider yourself served.”

I plastered a stupid grin on my face, pulled the court papers from my inside pocket and handed the papers to him.

“Get the fuck outta here!” He shouted as he threw the papers on the floor. “Tiny! Get the hell in here, now!”

“That’s not a good career move.” I moved back a few steps. “Especially for a two bit mobster like yourself.”

“What kind of dumb shit process server are you?” Benton shook his head slowly. “Do you have some sort of death wish?”

“I’m not a process server,” I insisted. “I serve my own papers, I’m Katz.”

“Oh, I get it,” Benton glowered at me. “Maybe my son can now buy the business even cheaper from the grieving widow.”

“Is that a death threat?” I asked, as the tape recorder was slowly preserving this conversation for future lawsuits and trials.

“Not a threat.” Benton heard the large assistant rushing towards the stockroom. “It’s a promise.”

“Thanks.”

I picked up a four foot long one by six from a half demolished shipping palate I had noticed as I came into the storeroom. Tiny was slowing from a full lumber as he burst through the door of the storeroom.

“Watch out!” Benton shouted, it was too late.

I had enough time for a complete swing; the flat part of the two by six smashed Tiny across his face with enough force to make Tiny’s feet fly forward, while his body fell backwards. Crumpling to the floor, the giant henchman didn’t even make a sound, other than, thud. A small trickle of blood oozed from his mouth, and a drop slowly fell from his right nostril.

“You killed him!” Benton shouted as he reached his right hand around behind him.

“Don’t even think about it.”

I pointed the barrel of my Smith and Wesson at his head.

“Tiny’s fine, look at him breath in and breath out, if you reach for that gun, you won’t be.”

“What now?” Benton hissed at me.

“We wait for the cops, they should be here soon, I called them right before I walked in.”

I motioned for him to move further away from me.