“What were you doing in the lab?” Franz sat on the table in front of the man we just caught. He didn’t say anything. I stood, leaning against the cinder block wall in the tiny and suffocating room and lit a cigarette. He watched me and I stared him down. “How well did you know Gregorio?” I asked. That got a reaction; a small flinch and a frown. Franz looked at me and raised his eyebrow. He knew I was on an idea and wouldn’t interrupt. “How sure are you that you won’t be next? Or did you kill him?” The man looked down at his handcuffed hands and said very quietly, “I didn’t kill him.” Franz took the lead again. “Okay, you say you didn’t kill him. Do you know who did?” The man stayed silent. “We have people testing what was in that lab. It’s only a matter of time before we find out what it is. You want to expedite the process for us?” Again, quietly, the man said, “Its wheat.” Franz and I looked at each other, not sure what to think. “Explain it to us,” Franz said. “I don’t want to go to jail.” “I can’t promise that. But your sentence may be reduced,” said Franz. “I want Gregorio’s killer brought to justice.” “You were friends with him then…Mr?” “Derringer. Benedict Derringer. Yes, Gregorio and I were friends. We worked together in the bio engineer arm of the military for many years. A year ago we were asked to break away from the department and work on a top-secret project. We thought, you see, that we were still working for the government.” “Until a year ago, more or less?” I asked. The man looked up at me, he looked scared more than anything. “Yes.” “Was it Salazar?” I asked. “Yes. When we found out we weren’t working for the government we threatened to expose him. So he drugged Gregorio and told the state department he’d lost his mind and that they should cut all ties with him to save face. And they did. Salazar also showed him pictures…” “Of Mrs. Domingo and Salazar?” I asked. Mr. Derringer nodded. “How did you know?” “We’ve seen them and a bunch of others. Seems he made a habit of bedding top officials’ wives,” said Franz. “I think that’s how he gets away with everything. He has something on everyone and they’re too afraid that they’ll get exposed,” said Mr. Derringer. “What’s he got on you?” I asked. “I’d rather not say,” he answered. “How did he drug Mr. Domingo?” I asked. “It was with the product we are working on. See, Salazar’s politics, they are even more conservative then the nationalist movement that seems to have taken a hold of this country. In the bioengineering branch, Gregorio and I were working on a way to stop the effects on chemical warfare, not to make our own. Salazar was convinced because of our immigrant population, the imminent war of Europe would end up here. He wanted a first strike. Gregorio and I, we aren’t of such conservative thought, we like the immigrants, we were both born here but our parents weren’t. We were disgusted with what he wanted us to do, but we didn’t know how to stop him. He thought if we could combine a strain of wheat berry with hallucinogenic properties, like that found in the atropa belladonna – a plant, or the amanita muscaria – a mushroom, and even ergot - a fungal disease found in rye and other cereals, then we could serve it to the masses. Control by chaos.” “He used this…this doctored wheat?” asked Franz. “Yes, but you see, it wasn’t ready. We’ve been experimenting with all of these different ingredients. The first time he used it was a year ago and Gregorio was lucky that the specimen Salazar stole was only infused with the smallest amount of ergot. What he used this time, two days ago, was heavily laced with amanita muscaria, the mushroom.” “He hallucinated to death?” asked Franz. “Probably the mushroom was too much and it poisoned him after he spent the night delirious and quite possibly frightened.” “Where would Salazar be now, do you think?” I asked. Mr. Derringer shrugged and looked very tired. “Gregorio kept an accurate account of everything we did in the lab, mainly for our research but also for evidence’s sake. In case we could ever get out from under Salazar’s thumb. I know he kept a secret copy of all of it. I just don’t know where.” “Did we find anything like that in his study?” I asked Franz, but he shook his head no. “If you were to keep something that important and worried it could be found easily where would you hide it?” I asked the room in general. “Safety deposit box,” Franz said with no hesitation. “And the key?” I asked. “Bedroom?” said Mr. Derringer. Franz and I looked at each other. Obviously we were thinking the same thing because it didn’t take us three seconds before we were both running out the door, leaving the man to ask an empty room if he was free to go. It felt like it took forever to get to the Domingo house, but that’s how it always is when you’re in a hurry. As we drove down the street I looked for the uniform that was supposed to be watching the house but he was nowhere to be found. Not bothering to park correctly, Franz made a sudden stop in front of the house and we jumped out. No one answered the buzzer and a gut feeling told me it wasn’t cause no one was home. “Gimme a lift,” I said and grabbed high onto the gate. Franz didn’t have to ask what I meant and with a heave and a shimmy I was able to get myself on top and then over the wall. Quickly I unlocked the gate for Franz and we headed towards the door. It was locked. Cursing I got out my lock picking kit but my hands were shaking slightly and it took me a little bit longer than usual. Finally it opened and we burst through the door. I took the left towards the parlor and Franz went back towards the kitchen. There was nothing in the parlor so I headed up stairs. I didn’t hear anything. Opening doors slowly, I checked rooms as I went, making my back towards Gabriella’s room until that was the last door unopened. I took a deep breath and counted to three, grabbed and twisted the handle before I could change my mind. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like what I’d find in the room. There was no one inside. A little disbelieving I opened the closet doors, keeping an eye on the rest of the room. The closet was only filled with things one finds in closets. I stopped and decided I needed to slow down. I closed my eyes and then carefully looked around the room. The bed, the dressing table, the closet I stood by, the chair by the window, the cedar chest…the window. I hurried over and saw that though the curtain had been drawn the window was open. I looked down; there was a fire escape. There were two people on the fire escape and they were struggling. I ran to the stair well and yelled for Franz. He looked up at me and I yelled for him to go out to the fire escape. I ran back to Gabriella’s room, back to the window, and climbed out. He, along with Gabriella, was on a landing half way down the building. I must have made a noise because I heard Salazar curse and Gabriella yell my name. “Give it up, Salazar! You’re cornered!” I yelled down to him. “Don’t you understand? It’s for the good of the people!” he yelled up to me. “Leave her alone. Let her climb up to me,” I said as I continued to climb down. I was now hovering over them, about ten rungs up. I couldn’t see his face, it was hidden in the shadows but the glint of a convincer was next to Gabriella’s head and I stopped. I pulled out my piece, hating that it meant tonight was going to be messy. “What do you want Salazar?” We were about half way up from the ground and it was dark. From a short distance I heard car and sirens headed our way. The noises got louder as it approached and Gabriella must have gotten some courage from it because she tried to elbow her captor and he tried to keep her in check. I heard her yelp as he hit her with the butt of the gat. In seconds the car stopped and I yelled to the uniforms down below. A huge spotlight suddenly broke the darkness and lit up the two on the landing right below me. There was Gabriella but it wasn’t Salazar that was with her. It was the hotel manager. The spotlight was directly on him, blinding him. I had a chance and I took it. Taking careful aim I shouted for Gabriella to get out of the way. She too was blinded but did as I said and ducked. I fired. The man cried out and stumbled back. The railing was at the perfect height, or the wrong height, depending on how you look at things, and he toppled over. I couldn’t move for a moment as my stomach settled back where it belonged. I’d aimed for his hand on purpose but I hadn’t factored in his reaction and the fear of getting shot at. I should have known he would have stepped back, I should have calculated the height of the railing. I quickly climbed down to the landing where Gabriella sat, her arms over her head. I heard the commotion on the street level where the man’s body landed but I ignored it and gently rocked Gabriella until she was able to but her arms around me.
It was late afternoon the next day. Franz sat at his desk and I on it as he filled me in on the day’s activities.
I’d gotten sauced after last nights adventure; a little self-medication had been in order, especially since I used my gun and a man died. I’d also slept in.
The search hadn’t taken long; the hotel manager’s living quarters were filled with anti government pamphlets. The fear that the war would end up on our shores was real on both sides; Salazar and his conservative cronies were afraid of race dilution and the immigrants were afraid of oppression. For as hard as Salazar worked to be safe, so did the people who’d escaped tyranny once before. It was dumb luck on the part of the hotel manager that Salazar chose his establishment for blackmail fodder, but he’d gotten things wrong. In his fear he thought everyone associated with Salazar held the same conservative views, including Mr. and Mrs. Salazar.
Eberstark, the photographer, the one who was good friends with the hotel manager, he’d been in on it too. No surprise when the dots connected, he helped Salazar with blackmail then took the money he got from that to bring Salazar down. That’s what we figured anyway. He wasn’t singing though, not that caged bird. We could only surmise that he and the hotel manager had broken into the lab and got a hold of the mushroom stuff and then hit him on the head.
“You got enough to book him?” I asked.
“Not for murder. But we’re still looking. Word of this spread faster than scabies on a ship. La Boca residents are scared and some of them are eager to separate themselves from the radicals.”
I stood up and held out my hand. Franz took it.
There was a quick an urgent knock on his door but the officer didn’t wait for Franz’s response. He burst through and said “You’re needed quick. Double homicide.” He didn’t wait again for Franz to respond but left as quickly as he came.
“What do you say? Want to come along?”
“Not this time,” I said.
“Like you have anything better to do,” he said.
I smiled. “I was summoned by Gab – Mrs. Domingo. Seems she needs comforting.”
Franz grinned. “Well then, I won’t stop you.”
“I’m hoping she won’t either.”
And she didn’t. And I didn’t stop her and the only thing that stopped either of us was sleep.
Words of Mine; An Introduction
I love the sound of words; of letters strung together. Words are like little puzzles and when put together correctly they can invoke pictures of images yet unseen. I see my thoughts like a perfect sequence of still photographs and I find those visions entertaining. The stories I gather from cobwebbed corners, or the vivid thoughts that float lazily through my mind, or the rapid fire ideas all force me to write them down before they evaporate; I can't help but think others might just find them as interesting as I do. Perhaps the little stories you read will make your day a little brighter.
Monday, July 14, 2014
The morning was better then the previous but still shy from great. Polly was already making coffee when I got to the office and she had messages waiting on my desk, none of them having anything to do with the day before. The outer office door opened and I knew by the way Polly said hello it was Franz. I didn’t know or want to know what they did on their off hours but I was sure it’d make a nun blush.
“You come here to see me or her?” I said through the open door. Polly giggled and Franz came through and sat down where Gabriella had sat twenty-four hours ago.
“You got my message last night,” I said. I got up and gave him the letter Gabriella gave me. Franz took his time reading it.
“She already agreed to do it,” I said.
“You think this has anything to do with Gregorio?”
“Does it matter?”
“What about Salazar?” I asked.
“We’ve got his place under watch, so far nothing.”
I looked at my watch. “We have two hours. I’ll go to Gab - Mrs. Domingo’s house and get her ready.”
Franz raised an eyebrow. “Anything I should know?”
I smiled. “I’ll let you know when I do.”
The maid let me in as usual and I waited for Gabriella in the parlor. This time I didn’t sit but walked around, looking out the windows. There was the copper across the street, watching the house but other than that no one out of the ordinary. They still hadn’t seen neither hide nor hair of Salazar and Franz wondered if he’d be stalking Gabriella.
I didn’t hear her come in; I must have been too wrapped up in my thoughts. She cleared her throat and I almost reached for my gun. I didn’t normally wear the thing, but since everything that happened, I thought it best to be prepared.
Gabriella smiled at me and came across the room to where I stood. She looked up at me with her doe eyes and I could smell her hair. She didn’t go for perfumes and I liked that.
“You ready?” I said, breaking the tension.
She kept staring at me, a smile playing on her lips.
“What if I’m not?”
“We don’t have time for that.”
“Then I’m ready.”
It took everything I had to walk away in that moment, to not take her in my arms, to not kiss her with the passion of a lonely man.
I let her out of the car a block from the drop off point, one of the carousels in a park in her neighborhood. We could have walked the whole way but I wanted to keep a close eye on her as best I could and next to me in the car was a close as I could get.
Gabriella was to leave the envelope of money under the bench being held up by two elephant statues. We had one copper as the ticket attendant, Franz and me flanking opposite sides and two more keeping an eye on the paths that led up to the carousel.
I watched her walk up to the attendant, buy her ticket, and get on the ride. It wasn’t moving and I had a perfect view of the drop off. She sat down, slyly put the envelope underneath and then stepped off the ride and left the area. I lifted my arm high to uncover my watch and looked at it, the signal for the drop off being complete. Franz tipped his hat and then we waited to see who would come for the package.
That’s the thing about having a drop off be so damn public, it’s hard to monitor. Group of mothers with their children mobbed the line, mucking up my view and before we could change our positions the carousel started up. It was hard to count how many people were on the ride and animals traveling up and down their respective poles now obscured the bench.
We were lucky though; one of the other coppers was able to spot a man trying to leave the ride surreptitiously. Unlucky that he started running as soon as he realized we were watching him. I’m not the most athletic man but I wanted answers and damn if I was going to let him get away. Dodging between the children and their mothers, the ice cream vendors and dog walkers, I almost lost him. My loafers weren’t made to pound the pavement but his weren’t either. He skidded around a corner and I took it slower, good thing too. He crashed into a stroller but it didn’t stop him, it barely slowed him down. The stroller hadn’t tipped so I kept going, certain the baby inside was probably fine. We were on the sidewalk now and rounding another corner. I was catching up to him and he looked back to see what distance we had between us. Like a wall Franz stepped out in front of the man and by the time he turned around to look where he was going, Franz’s body stopped him in his tracks.
“He’s not talking.” Franz had been in the room for the better part of an hour and the man wouldn’t speak. “Holden and Lodeau just got back from searching the guy’s place. Found these.” He handed me some photographs. A quick look through them showed Gabriella and Salazar in a compromising situation. Not something I really wanted to look at but something I knew I’d have to study.
“Your boys already go through these?” I asked.
“Can I take ‘em with me?”
“They’re evidence, you can’t give them back to Mrs. Domingo.”
“Just a couple of hours. They’ll stay in my possession.”
“Couple of hours, that’s it, and it wasn’t me that said so.” Like they wouldn’t know anyway.
There wasn’t much for me to do and hanging around a police station was never my idea of a good time so I headed back to the office.
Polly sat at her desk, typing away on the old Remington. God knows I wouldn’t survive without her and I smiled at her.
“What are you pretending to work on now?” I asked.
“You’re latest report; the Blair case? You were supposed to submit this a week ago. His attorney’s called everyday for the past three days.”
“Well bless your little cold heart.”
“Better a cold heart than a cold bed.”
Better to walk away when your secretary is smarter than you.
The bottom drawer of my desk always has a bottle of rye. Always. This is due to Polly’s diligence; I don’t think I’ve ever had to ask her to run out and buy a bottle. If I empty it, a new one appears. I took out the bottle, a new one, cracked it open and poured some into my coffee mug. I put my feet up and head back and had a little think. Sometimes when it’s back to back action one doesn’t get the whole perspective of things.
I took out the photographs Franz let me borrow. Salacious to be sure but there was something that bugged me about them; the fact that they were taken through an open window. So unless the photographer could levitate, how did he get such clear pictures from a third story window?
I closed my eyes and thought back to that street. I parked the car, walked back to the hotel and leaned against a building until I heard Gabriella scream. The building, what was it? A Restaurant? No, restaurant noises had been dim, farther way. Another hotel? No, I would have noticed a sign or a name. Apartments, they had to be apartments. Was it a tall building? Yes, with a third floor at least. I opened my eyes, downed the rye and grabbed my coat.
Polly looked up from the typewriter but didn’t have time to say anything.
“Call Franz, tell him to meet me at the hotel in La Boca. I’m going there now.”
I was in a hurry but could still hear Polly’s inappropriate joke down the hall. Delicate women are for suckers and bankers. Fortunately, I’m neither.
Franz was only ten minutes behind me, long enough for me to smoke a cigarette. Without waiting for him to say anything I went into the hotel. The proprietor recognized us immediately and stood to attention like a soldier.
“The woman, from the other night. You told us they met often for a period of time, then stopped coming?” I asked.
“Yes, like I said before, the man, he’s been coming here with regularity for years, sometimes with women, sometimes alone. But the woman from the other night, she would consistently meet him every Tuesday and Thursday for roughly six months.”
“Did the man always ask for the same room?”
The proprietor nodded. “I leave that room open for him always. He pays me monthly for it.”
“Can we see that room now?”
The man nodded again and we followed him up the stairs.
I went straight to the window. Looking down I noticed there wasn’t a fire escape. Looking across the street, I noticed there was a window almost perfectly aligned. Franz stood at my side.
“What are you thinking?” he asked.
I showed him the pictures.
“See, unless the guy had a scaffold in his pocket how would he take these pictures? There’s no fire escape on this side of the building.”
He looked across the street and realized what I was thinking. He turned to the proprietor.
“What’s the building across the street?”
“Apartments, small ones. Not as nice as my building.”
Franz headed out of the room and down the stairs with me on his heels.
He rang the buzzer to the apartment manager’s flat a few times in a row and we could hear the cussing of someone’s day being interrupted. The manager was an old, stocky woman, with an apron she probably never took off and a ring of keys she probably always carried.
Franz flashed her his identification and told her to let us in. Grumbling she opened the door and let us into the foyer.
“We need to see the apartment that has the window that directly faces that one of the hotel,” said Franz and he pointed to the window across the street.
“What is this nonsense? How do I know which one it is?” said the crabby old lady.
“We don’t have time vieja. Which apartment does it belong to?”
“All right all right, let me think a moment.” With a look like shed sucked on a lemon, the old woman thought for a minute.
“If I’m right, it’s a younger man’s apartment. Goes by the name of Eberstark.”
“We need to get in,” said Franz.
“Well, now, I can’t just let anyone in! He pays good money…”
“He’s also in jail. Let us in.”
The woman gave us a scowl but turned and led us to the old elevator where the gate-like-door groaned as she shut it. As it took us a few minutes to get to the third floor, it occurred to me we could have gotten to the room faster going up the steps.
The woman gave us a scowl but turned and led us to the old elevator where the gate-like-door groaned as she shut it. As it took us a few minutes to get to the third floor, it occurred to me we could have gotten to the room faster going up the steps.
The apartment was sparse, in fact all there was in addition to a bed and a dresser was a filing cabinet. Franz went to the cabinets while I checked out the window. Yes, this was the right room and I went to join Franz.
“What can you tell me about this Eberstark?” asked Franz.
The woman shrugged her shoulders, not too keen on police interference.
“Has he lived her long?” asked Franz.
“A few years,” she said.
“Did he have many guests or friends?”
“ Some I suppose. He is always hanging out across the street.”
“In the hotel?” Asked Franz.
“Thank you. We’ll let ourselves out,” he said.
Offended, she walked out of the room in a huff, grumbling about the police and the over reaching into good citizen’s lives.
The filing cabinet was locked but that never stopped Franz or me. It were filled with photographs, each with a name on a label and organized like as if Polly had been here. Meticulous is what I mean.
There was one interesting aspect in all of the photographs; there was only one man featured; Salazar. The pictures were all taken from the same vantage point, they were all of the same room, and of the same man, only the women were different.
“What’d you think of this?” I asked Franz.
“Either he knows or he’ll lose his temper when he finds out.” He said this as he pulled out another file. This file was different because it wasn’t marked with any name. Franz opened it with me looking over his shoulder. They were all pictures of Salazar but not in the room, they were pictures of him driving, entering his home, and even at restaurants. There were even a couple of him, Gregorio Domingo and a third man outside a warehouse.
If Salazar was in on this blackmail scheme, he didn’t know about this file. I took the one of him in front of the warehouse. It could have been any warehouse in any city in any world so I looked closely for any surrounding identifiers. It was by the water, it was dark, and very faintly in the background I saw what might have been a sign for a boating company. I pointed this out to Franz and before I could say pink martini, he was headed down the stairs. We had to go across the street to use the telephone; the old manager lady didn’t have one. Franz asked that a patrol car head over to that district and begin looking for the sign of the boating company.
We took Franz’s car and got to the area shortly. The hard part was to go up and down the streets until we found the sign. We passed the patrol car along the way, stopped and discussed out plan. There was only another handful of streets to go. They headed the opposite way as us and two streets later I spotted the sign.
We got out of the car and looking at the photograph we deduced which building Salazar was coming out of. We waited for the patrol car to circle back and leaned against the car, quietly smoking.
“I’m not one to get mixed up in other people’s affairs…” I started.
“Yes you are. That’s your living,” retorted Franz.
“This thing with Polly, she takes good care of me.”
Franz didn’t respond right away but studied the smoke leaving his mouth.
“Don’t worry boss. She likes me and I don’t come across that very often.”
“I’d just hate to have to pick sides. You might not like who I pick.”
“Point taken. I wouldn’t blame you either.” Franz smiled when he said this and just then the patrol car pulled up.
They parked behind Franz’s car and quietly we advanced to the front of the building while the patrolmen went around back. We counted to twenty quietly and tried the door. Locked of course. This is one of the reasons Franz likes to work with me, I know how to open locked things and if he’s looking away, well then, how’s he to know how it opened? Thirty seconds later we busted through the door. There was a small anti room that opened into a big room. We went through and ended up in what could only be a make shift laboratory. From my left I heard a crash as a cart on wheels got shoved in our direction and a man, the third man in the warehouse photographs, went running towards the back. Franz and I split up heading towards the back, hoping to corner our man. The good thing about corralling anyone who isn’t an athlete is that he is not an athlete, especially the ones wearing lab coats. The patrolmen came in from the back just as Franz was cuffing him.