Copyright 2010 Bob Henneberger
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Books by Bob Henneberger
Crackstone Chronicles – Extinction
Crackstone Chronicles – Connections
Crackstone Chronicles – Extraordinary Solution
Published by Tempt Press
P.O. Box 77, Colchester, VT 05446
Ebook Edition, 2010
Copyright © 2010 Bob Henneberger
Library of Congress Control Number: 2010936745
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. Your support of this and all authors rights are greatly appreciated.
The attempt and not the deed confounds us.
1.Hell of a way to start the day
2.The old hat trick
4.Home sweet home
5.Life goes on
6.Hindsight is better than no sight
7.And blow your house down
8.Boys will be boys
9.Who’s the fairest in all the land?
10.It’s always darkest
11.Through the mist of time
12.A rolling stone
13.Lost in my work
14.This is where I left off
16.The tie that binds
17.Fit to be tied
19.As you were, so shall you be
20.Checking it twice
21.Down the hole
23.Lost and found
24.Only the lonely
25.Somewhere to run, nowhere to hide
26.What goes up, must come down
27.Turn over a rock and you have a rolling stone
28.Now, where was I?
29.Good night, sweet prince
30.The Katz’ Pajamas
31.No rest for the weary
32.Watch your mouth
33.Who comes around, goes around
34.Home sweet home
35.He was a dark and stormy knight
36.Who’s that knocking at my door?
37.Reach out and slap someone
38.Will you have fries with that?
39.By any other name
40.I can see clearly now
41.Are we there yet?
42.All’s well that just ends
Hell of a way to start the day
I’d been on this case for less than three days and up to this point I’d been shot at, propositioned, and sent on a six thousand mile goose chase. I felt like Captain Ahab, with only a suburban clapboard wall to wail on. Excuse the bad metaphor, but I was about to drop this whole deal as fast as a gnat on a frying pan and tell the woman who hired me that I wouldn’t be working for her much longer. Not to toot my own horn, but I’m a damn good private investigator and I can make a decent living without cases like this one.
The drive to my soon to be ex-client, Marcia Satterwhite, felt somewhat relaxing after a difficult week. The temperature was in the low eighties, a good breeze blowing in off the Pacific Ocean. In this part of the civilized world, a stiff breeze off the ocean means clean air to breathe. Plus the skies were as clear in LA as they had been for months.
Along the route to Marcia’s address in Maywood I noticed neighborhoods change; at first middle class, then run down tract houses as I got closer to her street. In daylight, her small dumpy ranch didn’t look like it fit a woman who drove an expensive car and could push hundred dollar bills at me as fast as she had. But that had been a nighttime visit, only dim outlines of the place were visible. I expected a home in Malibu on the ocean from her, not this hole.
I rang the bell for a solid minute with no answer. Stepping back, I walked to the driveway and peered in through a narrow grimy window in the garage door; window and siding hadn’t been cleaned since the Eisenhower administration. But I could make out Marcia’s late model silver Mercedes parked between unopened moving boxes.
Maybe she’s out with a friend. That bitch has friends? Well, ace detective, where’s your client now? Maybe the person who kidnapped her daughter also made off with the mother.
Wondering who would pay my final bill, I moved back to the front of the house, peeked into another window. Nothing there. The living room looked the same as it had when I was last in it; that same stale atmosphere forced its way into my nose. All was quiet, but the hair on the back of my neck began to stand at attention. I always pay attention to my subconscious; so far it has kept me alive.
Slowly I placed my left hand on the door knob and turned it.
Why am I even thinking of going in there?
The front door slipped open as I drew my revolver and walked in.
Oh shit, what now? Go in you dummy, this feels just like a patrol back in my insane Marine days, except now I don’t feel quite so invincible since I now realize I can get killed doing this type of crap, and I do want to live past 100, you know.
Pulling back the hammer of my Smith and Wesson Model 58 revolver, I walked into the living room.
So, I forgot to get her to sign a contract when she first met with me. So, I need to have her sign one before I can tell her I quit. My partner, Cassandra, has been the business minded one ever since she started at Cheshire Katz Agency. I can recall all kinds of minutia, but my mind sometimes just ignores business details; it’s not my thing.
If I die trying to get this woman to sign a lousy contract I’ll come back and haunt someone for sure!
I stepped through the living room to the closed swinging door between the dining room and the kitchen. With the barrel of my revolver on the white enameled door, I inched it open.
Oh no! Mama!
A woman was laying face down, her legs half bent, her arms close to her hips and her head turned to one side. Lying there just as my mother had. I felt cold, as if I was wading through a silent, deep snowy landscape. An atavistic part of me dreaded seeing her better. Meanwhile I found that I had automatically moved around the body; finally I glanced at what I could see of her face. At first it didn’t register. Another slow motion wave of cold dread washed over me as my thoughts chattered along. I clung to logic. No, this face was Marcia. This was not my mother lying on the linoleum floor. That had happened so many years ago.
I started breathing normally again. Traffic sounds from outside registered. Marcia Satterwhite lay lifeless near an overturned chair while thick dark red blood pooled beside her head, spreading towards the back door demonstrating that even after death, blood tries to clot in an open wound, a detail that also told me that she had been dead for a while.
Just late yesterday, Cassandra had phoned her, so my client had to have been shot less than eighteen hours ago.
I stared, dropped my revolver to my side and slowly released the hammer, barely able breathe around the tight knot forming high in my throat.
“Damn it! Damn it!” I said in a hoarse whisper.
Things like this just don’t happen by themselves. Somebody does it, then leaves the mess for everybody else. It was hard for me to switch gears. Scenes from distant childhood kept intruding. Long ago, I had discovered my own mother like this, in our kitchen, in another pool of blood.
Snap out of it, get out of the past. I had to think straight. Stop thinking altogether, even better. Call the cops and don’t touch a damn thing.
But, for a murder scene, nothing seemed out of place. I didn’t feel good thinking that, but it looked normal. It didn’t appear as if she had tried to flee the kitchen, and I could see no defensive wounds on her, save the single bullet hole in her head. She had been surprised, either by someone she knew, or by someone who had managed to sneak up on her. The entry wound was against the floor, so I couldn’t see any gunpowder residue, but I did notice a small torn corner of paper still clutched in her right hand.
How do I get myself into these situations? It has to be a flaw in my personality. Just what happened here, leading up to this moment?
It started with this woman, Marcia Satterwhite, calmly walking into my office two afternoons ago, hiring me to find her missing daughter, Becky. No, it started several months ago just as I was finishing another case; that’s when I first met Fred Lepus. But, before I ever met Fred, he had complicated my life in so many ways. No, he screwed up my case before I ever got it.
The old hat trick
It was a warm, inviting Southern California morning in late May of 1977, the suburbs smelled of blooms. Early Summer flowers in pastel and bright colors, splashed against trellises hung on clapboard walls, pleased the eyes. For what is essentially a desert, Los Angeles and its suburbs sprouted gardens as if it were a Hawaiian Island, a lush green paradise that lived on borrowed water.
A short, thin thirteen year old girl walked towards the front door of the compact, three bedroom ranch house where she and her mother lived. A solemn pause. She looped a strand of her dark blonde hair around one finger, considering her options. Her mother had told her never to answer the front door bell, like now, while she was alone at home. She must always obey her mother; to do anything else was dangerous. In situations like this, she would always walk to the front bathroom window and peek out at the person ringing the bell. If it was her only and best friend from down the street, she would open the door and talk through the screen. That would still be living up to her mother’s orders of not going out of the house, or not letting anybody in.
So she stood on top of the closed toilet seat, letting her blue eyes settle on the man who was still ringing the front bell, loud, impatient jerks.
“I know you’re in there, so listen up!” He raised his voice while looking at his watch. “Your father sent me here, and I’m not leaving until you read this note he wrote you.”
The man was going bald in the middle of his scalp. She could see where the leftover fringe of hair turned white around the edges. More whitish hair, longer, formed tufts between the top of his head and his ears. He leaned on the button again and continued to talk to the door.
“It’s getting late. I have lots to do in my life besides wait around, so at least talk to me through the damned door, kid!”
The girl slowly walked to the front door, looking at the floor.
“Daddy sent you?”
“Yeah! Somebody’s there!” The man paused. “He sure did, and he sent you this note.”
The man pulled a small piece of yellow paper from his coat pocket, bent over, and stuffed it under the front door. He looked again at his wristwatch, then loosened his tie before he unbuttoned his top shirt button.
The girl took just the edge of yellow paper, pulled the entire note to her side of the door, then opened it as if it were dangerous. In a near whisper, she read it out loud.
“Honey, I thought about what you asked me last week, and I’ve decided that it would be better for you to come live with me. I hired this man to take care of you for a short while so I can arrange everything. His name is Mr. Lepus and he will keep you safe and bring you here, so go with him as quickly as you can. Love, daddy.”
She looked at the dark, stained texture of the closed door, and began to cry.
“Daddy sent you? Where is he now?” she asked, her voice still quiet.
“What! I can’t hear you!”
“I said why can’t he come here himself?”
“It’s getting late, kid,” Lepus reached into his rear pocket and produced a white cloth handkerchief. He patted his sweating brow with the cloth. “Well, he has to fix things legally so you can live with him. He’s at his home, and I’ll take you there, so open up the door now, kid.”
“This is Daddy’s writing,” The girl paused. “But how do I know he sent you here?”
“Here, look at my driver’s license. It’s got my picture and everything,” He pulled it out of his wallet and shoved it under the door.
The girl looked at the plastic encased card two times over, and smiled. “That picture makes him look like an old Bugs Bunny,” she said to herself as she bent over and shoved the small card back out under the front door.
“But, how do I know Daddy sent you here?”
“Gees!” The man leaned against the door. “What ya want for proof?” His voice grew more exasperated with each breath.
“I don’t know,” The last syllable stretched into a question. “What about his address?”
“That’s easy! 148 Lakefront for his office, and 2744 Garden Lane for his home,” The man stood up straight. “He said you’d be tough to convince, so he told me that he used to call you kitten, like the girl on the TV show, but you asked him to call you honey, after your cat, Pokey, got run over.”
“Daddy sent you! He’s the only one who knows that.”
The girl opened the door with a growing smile on her young face. She felt happier than she had in several months, even though this was a stranger.
As the door opened, the man rushed in. About five feet seven inches tall and a slight build, he looked shorter than she expected. Collapsing on the couch, he glanced at his watch. His breathing was still labored, panicked.
“God it’s hot out there! Listen, we’re running out of time; you’ve got to get some clothes and come with me.”
“What about my Mommy?” The girl hesitated for a second.
“What about her?” The man stared at the girl. “What would she do if you waited here to tell her?”
The blonde girl looked at the floor. “She would hit me again.”
“That’s why I’m here. That’s why your old man paid me to get you, so hurry up.”
“I want to bring some of my toys. If I’m leaving, I want to bring my dolls and my books,” she insisted.
“Look, we have to go now,” The man looked at his watch. “We’re late and it’s getting nothing but later. We have a plane to catch, and we won’t be alone for much longer, so get a change of clothes and get back here.”
“I have to bring my small box of jewelry,” Becky insisted.
“How small?” Fred asked.
“Fine, stuff it in a backpack or something,” Fred acquiesced.
“All right, I’ll be back in a minute.”
She turned and walked to her room as she mulled over the reasons she should leave, and if she should stay.
“Kids! Why do I take jobs like this?” Fred muttered to himself.
He looked again at his wrist watch. His left eyelid began to twitch. He rubbed his nose rapidly several times, then got up from the sofa and began to pace in front of it.
“Look at the time! He’ll have my head served up on a platter because of this, and it’s all that kid’s fault!”
The girl walked back into the living room with some clothes and her small jewelry box stuffed into a small backpack slung over her right shoulder.
“I’m ready, let’s go.”
“Great! You’ll see your dad in a week or so,” The man opened the front door for her and continued to talk. “I hope you like to fly, I’m not ready for airsick kids!”
“Don’t worry,” The girl looked straight at the man as they left the house. “I love to fly.”
And, here I was, about to meet Lepus, the bane of my existence from that point on. My life was complicated enough.
“Did you ever wonder about the difference between fiction and reality? I can tell you there isn’t much. I mean for the most part people fantasize about what they can’t do, while other people write about it. Outside of fiction, all possibilities are out there in reality, somebody’s reality.”
“And what does that have to do with how we send you your payment?”
“Nothing, it has more to do with the job I just did,” I replied.
What did he expect, call me fishmeal?
“That’s what I thought. So, we can move the four thousand nine hundred and sixty five dollars directly into your account?” The bank manager remained expressionless. “That’s your daily fee, plus expenses, plus our bonus for this job.”
“I guess so, if it’s easier to do it by computer.”
Somehow I guessed it was easier for him than for me.
“This is 1977, after all. From one bank to another, it’s easier since we all use much the same computer systems.”
“I suppose there’ll be a charge.”
“Just ten dollars at each end.”
“Now I know to over charge twenty dollars next time,” I commented.
“Just sign these bank forms, and we’ll be through.”
The balding bureaucrat shoved three sheets of paper at me with several places to sign and initial with my bank routing and account numbers already neatly typed. It seemed simple, although I never did like humorless bankers, the bane of my financial existence since I became an adult. Well, since my girlfriend often tells me I have yet to assume adult status, perhaps guys like him will be my foe forever; such windmills I shall forever charge.
At least his institution was depositing a tidy sum in my Los Angeles bank for a two week job that could have been much worse. I guessed this would make the next quarterly payment to my bank loan and to the government. What an existence, the exciting life of a private investigator; covering expenses and meeting payroll.
Sighing, I opened the door to the hallway. This particular bank, in Silver Springs, Maryland, had just moved into their new office building sided with that reflective glass which made it look like a four sided mirror. I suppose the reflective siding helped keep the inside cool on those hot humid summer days, but I didn’t like the architecture; it looked like a Rubik’s Cube I had seen in Germany just three days earlier, yet something else new to confound the masses. On the fourth floor, the manager’s inner office led to a much larger room with a dozen smaller cubicles made from neck high, subdued orange partitions. Many of the small cubicles had personal pictures tacked to their inner walls and other small things to show individuality; good luck to the galley slaves with that concept. Near the elevator, I saw a friend waiting for me.
“Benjamin,” Billy Sullivan motioned for me to hurry.
“What are you doing here, I thought we were through with business?”
“Just one more thing before you head back to Los Angeles,” Billy walked towards me.
“My flight leaves this afternoon,” I stabbed my finger at the down button.
“I know, I took the liberty of changing it,” Billy’s face fell into a sheepish expression as the elevator door opened and we both walked on. “You’re leaving in two days.”
“No, really, I’m though for this time,” I insisted.
“Not quite,” Billy patted my back. “Something has come up, it’s connected to the job you just did.”
“For the bank?”
“Sure,” Billy sounded sarcastic for just a second. “That gentleman you handed over to the German police not three days ago for stealing all that money has an acquaintance right here in Washington who thinks he knows you.”
“I have a fan club, that’s nice,” I gave Billy my best business expression. “I have a very beautiful girlfriend back in Los Angeles who I haven’t seen in two weeks and I don’t want her to forget what I look like.”
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” Billy said, with serious expression.
“For you, I’m willing to make myself absent,” I patted my chest.
“When do I get to meet her?” Billy asked, something else sneaking into his tone. “She sounds interesting.”
“Oh, I don’t think you need to meet her right now, mostly because you might be bad luck for whatever the two of us decide our relationship is,” I paused. “Besides, I get the feeling lately you don’t even remember who I am.”
“You’re Benjamin Katz,” Billy grinned for the first time. “You own Cheshire Katz Detective Agency, you’re six foot one, one hundred seventy pounds, light brown hair, brown eyes, twenty six years old and you’ve worked with me since you were an eighteen year old corporal in the Marines.”
“You know what they say, smart asses make wise cracks.”
Losing my smile, I wondered what the subtext to all this was.
“Maybe the next time you come out to Los Angeles we can all go to dinner, I suppose,” I paused, more for effect than anything else. “I haven’t told her a thing, and I won’t.”
“Anyway,” Billy said as the elevator door opened on the lobby of the building, wanting to change the subject again. “I need to fill you in on a problem that’s come up while I give you a ride to the hotel that I’ve checked you back into.”
“Thanks,” I shook my head slowly as we walked to his car. “There had better be another fee for this tacked on addition to the job.”
“There always is,” Billy unlocked the car doors. “You don’t have to play the starving small businessman with me, you know.”
“I know,” I slid into the passenger seat. “It’s just that the business now has two mouths to feed. Besides, if I relied on what you paid me for these part-time gigs, I’d starve.”
“Right,” Billy didn’t look at me. “That’s not the real reason you’re sent on these missions, just remember that.”
“Well, what is it this time?”
I was annoyed. Although money isn’t a big motivation, I do like to have enough to pay the rent and eat.
“The fee, or the problem?” Billy looked at me.
“How about both?”
“One hundred fifty dollars a day plus expenses, and Fred Lepus,” Billy looked through the front windshield.
“The first item I know and love,” I said sarcastically. “Somebody with a name like Fred Lepus, however, will need some explanation.”
“Lepus is a low rent detective here in DC and he’s on a case to find a missing person.”
“Let me guess, the person should remain missing?”
“I should say so,” Billy glanced at me, then looked back out to the heavy traffic in front of the car. “The missing gentleman in question is an informant, the one who gave us the location of the person arrested in Germany.”
“So, why not just have the local cops tell this Lepus fellow to take a hike?”
“This informant wants to deal only with the person we sent to Germany, for some reason we have yet to ascertain. And then, well, there’s the person Lepus is working for. Third, the boss does not want any other agency to work with this informant.”
“Why?” I asked. “Lepus is working for someone who wants to rat out our informant, right?”
“Something like that.”
“Okay,” I paused. “Who’s the informant?”
“I can’t say.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
“Does it matter?” Billy looked at me.
“The only thing that matters to me is who this informant guy is and why he’s singled me out to save his ass,” I mused.
“Like I said,” Billy kept looking at the traffic in front of the car. “I can’t say.”
“And that’s worth a few hundred bucks, I suppose.”
“Probably more than that, but that’s all you’re getting,” Billy chuckled.
“Okay, who is Lepus working for?”
This would be easy, or at least it should be, and the money could go for fun stuff instead of taxes or bank loans.
“Paul Robertson,” Billy paused. “Robertson works for the Chinese embassy here in Washington as a public relations consultant.”
“Oh, this sounds like a bunch of fun.”
“Keep your shirt on,” Billy smiled, still looking into traffic ahead. “No double ought stuff, just get this dumb ass Lepus fellow out of the way if you can, or least help the informant get lost again. We can’t take the chance of him becoming known, he can’t be compromised. You offer the most expedient way we could think of right now to make sure he isn’t.”
“Okay if I shoot this Lepus fellow?”
“After you meet him, you may want to.”
“If Lepus is that stupid, why bother? Why not just hide the informant again after dumping Lepus?”
“Because he isn’t quite that stupid. Lepus has already found our informant and stashed him somewhere nearby. Didn’t I just say we’re paying you good money to do all that?”
“So, you want your corporate muscle to stop Lepus and to hide the informant again.”
“I suppose I’m still working for the bank?” I asked.
“My going rate, just to be clear?” I asked.
“Give me the address where I can find Lepus.”
Billy reached into his inside coat pocket and handed me a medium sized envelope.
“His addresses, his photograph, and some other useful items.”
Billy pulled into the parking lot to the hotel I had just checked out of several hours before.
“Your rental car is still here, rented for another two days. The keys are in the envelope,” He added.
“Thanks,” I scrambled out of his car.
“You’re paid well, and this last job you did wasn’t that bad.”
“I guess so.”
Billy drove away as I looked for the dark blue Ford I had left in the parking lot. Ah, there it was.
Lepus’ office was shabby and hard to find, but find it I did, on twenty second street, not far from the Lee Highway in Arlington, Virginia. His office had begun its life as a working class one story brick structure, topped with shaggy shingles. On a brick house the only painting required is the wooden trim so how hard can it be to paint the trim? I wondered how badly the roof leaked in a downpour as I scanned the jungle of trees and overgrown, small thickets which wound around the sides of the structure; I assumed it was the same or worse in the back yard. The bushes out front didn’t look like they had been trimmed anytime in the last decade.
Continuing to scan the area, I parked on the opposite side of the street and walked, casual walk, to the front door. I don’t think families inhabited many of the houses anymore since most bore signs proclaiming that a chiropractor, or travel agent, or whatever, resided inside. Standing on Lepus’ postage stamp porch, I looked up looked up at a ceiling composed of half rotting four inch bead board. Never repaired. The storm door’s return spring was missing and I had to pull the damned thing after me as I walked into Lepus’ office.
Before I could focus anywhere else, the pungent odor of forty years of mold growth hit my sinuses like a sledge hammer. Then I saw the actual secretary, perched behind an old metal office desk. There was no sign of anyone else in this front room. Leaning on the desk with her elbows, wearing a low cut blouse with a big scoop in the front of it, her ample cleavage greeted me as my eyes got used to the dark. A ratty couch and coffee table stretched just to my left. Three rickety wooden chairs clustered in front of her desk. The room was covered with old wall to wall carpet; that had to be the source of much of the moldy odor, at least I hoped it was.
“And, your name is?” she asked. She seemed to be somewhere around thirty, made up to look like a blonde teenager.
“My name is Benjamin Katz.”
“Why did you want to see Mr. Lepus?”
“Is he here?”
“No,” She smiled at me. A vacuous smile. Well, maybe that’s not how she intended her expression to be, but it was. “Will I do?”
“No,” My smile was a friendly, non-committal smile. “Well, maybe.”
“What sort of work are you looking for?”
“Actually, I’m a private investigator from Los Angeles, and I have some information about a case he’s working on right now.”
“Really,” Her voice took on a southern drawl. “What agency did you say you’re with?”
“Now, that’s in Los Angeles?”
“Like I said before.”
I heard a soft noise in the back room, maybe the kitchen. It was a shoe shuffling on the floor. The game’s afoot.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Cathy Rumson,” She still hadn’t lost the fake cheery disposition. “I must say, you’re a real cutie.”
“Thanks, I think,” I kept looking at her. “Can we continue talking about the case your boss is working on right now?”
“Which one would that be?” She fluttered coy eyelashes at me.
“Kidnapping a mysterious man for someone named Paul Robertson.”
“If I did know what you’re talking about, what’s in it for us?”
“Unless you’re Fred Lepus, nothing.” I listened harder. “Where is he?”
“I’ll tell him you came,” Cathy finally dropped her smile. “Are you doing anything for dinner?
“Will I be having dinner with your boss?”
“No, he’s not as much fun as I am.”
“Maybe not, but I do need to talk to him, soon.”
Another muffled noise from the back.
“Well,” I tore off a message note from the pad on her desk. “Here’s the phone number at my hotel, please make sure your boss calls me very soon; there might be a lot of money at stake.”
She also tore off a piece of paper and wrote her phone number on it. “Call me anytime.”
Taking the note, I left. I quick stepped it back to my blue Ford. drove off, then circled the block, backing into a driveway five doors down from Lepus’ office. I didn’t have to wait long until an old Chevrolet Impala with faded green paint, accented with rust spots, shot from Lepus’ driveway and turned left, away from me. I followed it. He didn’t seem to pay attention to anyone behind him as he rushed towards the DC Beltway. A few minutes later, he sped south, turning off on US One, then he headed south again towards Mount Vernon, never once noticing my car. Right after a large shopping center, he turned into a tightly packed subdivision, then parked his old car in front of a another house in need of repairs, although not as many as his own office.
As he rushed to the front door, I drove by at slow speed, looking at everything, then parked my car on the street three doors down. Lepus stormed through the front door. I cautiously approached the house. I looked up and down the deserted street. No faces staring out any windows that I could see. At two in the afternoon, most people were probably still away at work. The door was ajar.
Revolver drawn, I pushed the door open. There Fred Lepus stood, staring at a man crumpled on the floor. A bright red pool of blood spread from around his head onto the parquet floor. a series of handcuffs and manacles lay in a stuffed chair pushed to the center of the room. Perhaps he had been trapped there before someone had let him loose, then shot him in the head.
“At least I know you didn’t shoot him since there was no gunshot after you came in here,” I said, using a booming voice.
Lepus jumped straight up in the air, maybe several inches, grabbing his chest, then fumbling for a holster tucked in his waist at the small of his back.
“Don’t move your hands anywhere near that gun,” I leveled my revolver.
“Who the hell are you?” Fred stuttered. “What you got to do with this!”
“Nothing,” I paused. “My employer hired me to stop you from turning this man over to the person who hired you.”
“Who the hell sent you!” Fred yelled.
“Why not stop shouting,” I motioned with my free hand for him to lower his voice. “Do you want the cops to come here right now?”
“Hell no!” Fred shouted, this time in a loud whisper. “How did you find me here?”
“Do you mean to say you never saw me behind you?”
“Damned, you must be really good,” Fred hissed the rest of his breath out between aborted gasps. “Will you put that oversized gun away, for Christ sake.”
“Don’t think so,” I had some reservations about this man’s abilities. “I was tracking you no more than two cars back the whole way here, and you never saw me?”
“Impossible!” Fred stammered again. “I’m a professional and I know when I’m being tailed, and you sir, did not follow me.”
“Then,” I shook my head, “how did I get here?”
“You already knew he was here, you must have killed him.”
“You were going eighty to ninety miles an hour on the Beltway, how could I beat you here?” I didn’t know why I was explaining this to him, but I did it anyway. “You waited in the back room while I was talking to your secretary, and we both drove here at the same time, you idiot.”
“I don’t know how you did it, but you’ve got to be the one who shot this guy,” Lepus pointed to the body and shuddered.
I continued to aim my revolver at his head. “You can’t tell when you’re being tailed, so my guess is that the last time you came here, the person who hired you also followed you here, and killed this man after you left.”
“Keep it down,” I motioned again with my free hand. “I want to get the hell out of here before the cops get here.”
“I guess you might be right,” Fred seemed to calm down. “You really think that Robertson guy killed him?”
“That would be my guess,” I pointed to the corpse. “Did you even do a short background on Robertson?”
“No,” Fred pointed to the front door. “Can we get outta here?”
“You might want to wipe your fingerprints off the door,” I didn’t want the cops getting to me through this idiot, at least not right away. “I can only hope that whoever shot this poor man wiped down the place before they left.”
“Oh,” Fred pulled a handkerchief out of his rear pocket and wiped the doorknob. He looked around the room quickly. “Can we leave now?”
“Just a minute,” I snapped.
I moved closer so I could see the dead man’s face. I didn’t recognize him at all. Why would he ask for me to help him? Oh well, I may never know.
Lepus was agitated, garbled sounds. I motioned for him to go first. As he passed me through the door, I holstered my revolver and followed him.
“Why should I have investigated Robertson, the guy who was paying me two thousand bucks, to snatch that stiff back there?” Lepus’ voice had taken on a slight whine.
“You kidnapped that man?” I pointed back at the house and deliberately leaned into Fred Lepus’ personal space.
“Hell no!” Lepus backed up a bit. “That guy, the stiff over there, called me and asked if I could come up with a place to hide out for a while.”
“Did he know you before he hired you?”
“No,” Fred paused, thinking. “He said he got my name out of the yellow pages.”
“And how did Robertson come into all this?” I asked, amazed.
“He called me right after and said he was a friend and he would be paying me well.” Fred looked worried.
I didn’t think he was bright enough to see that he had made a huge mistake.
“You could have done a ten minute investigation into who these people were,” I shook my head.
“If you had, you would have found out that Robertson worked for the Chinese embassy.”
“He don’t look Chinese,” Fred said, surprised.
“You really are a moron.”
“I’m a professional. I’ve been an investigator a long time in this town,” Fred turned and glared at me. “Who the hell do you work for?”
“Right now, the Chase Manhattan Bank.”
“What the hell do they have to do with this?”
“That was my case, but now it belongs to the cops,” I stared back at him. “Are you going to call the cops to report this?”
“Hell no!” Lepus insisted. “I just finished up a hot case out West and I got some serious follow up work on that case I gotta get to right away. Can’t afford to waste time here on this mess. My other job pays a lot more than this thing anyway.”
“I’ll call them.”
Apparently it didn’t occur to him that there was more to this murder than he had so far figured out.
Lepus raced to his car and roared away; forever, I hoped. I drove to a safe location, called Billy and explained everything to him. He said that he would handle all the details with the local cops and he promised my name would not show up in the police investigation. At least I didn’t have to get involved any further, plus I got one more day’s pay, again minus the twenty dollar transfer fee. When will I learn.