Newest short story by Michael E. Mclean posted on Fictitious
Read the full story HERE>> Cloud
Newest Western Short Story by Darrel Sparkman posted on Fictitious
Read the full story HERE>> The Last Warrant
Beyond the Western
He stepped through the revolving door and into the small, dimly lit lobby of the Harbor Lights Club. The festive notes of “Happy Days Are Here Again” resonated down the staircase in front of him and filled the lobby.
Anderson Spangler’s mayoral campaign was in full swing and his biggest supporter, Attorney Jonathan Graber, would be here in all his glory.
He walked across the lobby, looked up the staircase for a moment, then climbed the stairs to the second floor. He peered in the door of the noisy banquet hall where he saw Jonathan Graber and Anderson Spangler working the crowd as they maneuvered around the crowded tables.
He smiled, turned and walked back down the stairs and around to the back of the staircase. Here he would wait. They always said that good things came to those who waited. He smiled and leaned back against the wall where he had a clear view of the lobby.
He watched two women, who he’d seen on many occasions working in the kitchen of the lounge, walk toward him, their shift obviously over. One of them sat down on the bench in front of him and waved at her friend as she walked through the revolving door. He’d seen her sit on this bench every night to wait for her daughter to pick her up. Not tonight. He leaned over from the shadows of the staircase to whisper in the woman’s ear. “You don’t want to sit here tonight. Walk home.”
The woman’s eyes grew wide with fear. She grabbed her workbag on the bench beside her and, without looking back to see who spoke to her, hurried out the back door.
He heard a number of people come down the stairs and watched half of the group push through the lounge door and the other half leave through the lobby doors.
Seeing the lobby empty, he hurried over and locked the revolving door, then stepped back to the shadows in time to hear, “Thanks for coming, Jon,” come from the top of the staircase. He removed the .45 from the shoulder holster under his jacket.
Jonathan Graber reached into the inside pocket of his suit coat when he stepped into the lobby from the staircase, cursed and then turned and stepped into the lounge. He returned a couple of minutes later opening a pack of cigarettes. Finding the revolving door locked, he stepped to the glass door beside it.
The man in the shadows moved quickly and stepped up behind Graber and triggered the .45 point blank at the back of the attorney’s head and was out the door as Graber crumbled to the floor.
Panic in the lobby was immediate and the killer barely had time to race around the corner of the club and into the open door of the gray Chrysler before the panic stricken crowd flooded out the doors of the Harbor Lights Club.
As the big car squealed off into the night, the blinds closed on the second floor window across the street.
I threw the rubber ball into the air and Max bolted down the pier in hot pursuit. The big Rottweiler’s eyes were riveted skyward on the sphere arcing over his head. Max and the ball reached the end of the pier in a dead heat and he launched himself over the edge, clamping his jaws securely around the ball an instant before he plunged into the lake.
Thomas Jefferson Mathis and I slapped a high five as Max started his swim toward the shallow water of the small beach. The dripping Rott ran up the T-shaped pier past the young woman that was making the turn toward us. We ducked and dodged when Max dropped the ball at our feet and shook off all over us. Laughing, I bent over to pick up the ball and the young woman stopped in front of us.
“Blake Tanner?” she said, looking between TJ and I.
The young woman’s white dress hugged all her assets. Her white heels accented her long legs and her big white hat framed her blond hair, blue eyes and luscious red lips.
“Who’s askin’?” I said.
“Sydney Graber,” she said, extending her hand to us.
I recognized the last name right away and had a sneaky suspicion Malcolm MacDonald had a hand in sending Sydney my way to help me make up my mind about finding out who ordered the demise of his son.
“I’m Tanner,” I said. ”And this is TJ Mathis and our furry friend here is Max.”
TJ and I shook hands with Sydney and then she bent over and held out her hand to Max, who placed his big paw in the palm of her hand.
“Hello, Max,” she said, shaking his paw and got a deep, robust bark in return. She smiled, released his paw and patted his wet head.
“Can I ask how you knew I was out here?” I said.
Sydney straightened up. “I stopped in the restaurant to ask directions to your office and the old guy in the restaurant told me I was in luck, because you were out here on the pier.”
“Good ol’ Hank, always lookin’ out for ya,” said TJ with a smile.
“Well, Sydney, let’s go sit down and you can tell me how I can help you over a cup of coffee,” I said.
She nodded and we walked down the pier toward the restaurant. Max trotted along behind us, relentlessly trying to dislodge the ball from my hand.
We stepped through the restaurant’s side door and sat in the first available booth. Max forgot about the ball and pushed his big head through the silver double doors and got a rousing welcome from the kitchen help like he always did.
I held up three fingers and got a wave from Connie behind the lunch counter. She made her way to the booth carrying three white coffee mugs and a full pot of coffee.
“You know Max don’t belong back there,” said Connie.
I smiled. “Go tell Max that.”
She set a mug in front of each of us, slopped coffee into them and looked over at Sydney.
“Honey, I’m gonna have to talk to you about the company you keep,” she said, wagging her finger between TJ and I.
“You love me, Connie, and you know it,” said TJ and smacked a kiss toward the waitress.
“In your dreams,” said Connie with a smirk as she turned back toward the lunch counter. She looked back at us and TJ blew her a kiss causing her to shake her head and look up at the ceiling laughing.
“She loves me,” said TJ, sipping his coffee.
“Yeah, I can tell,” I said and turned my attention to Sydney. “Now, what can I do for you, Miss Graber?”
“Sydney, please,” she said.
“Okay, Sydney,” I said, “how can I help you?”
“I’d like you to find my father’s killer.”
“Your father being Jonathan Graber,” I said more as a statement than a question.
Sydney nodded. “Yes.”
“Did Malcolm MacDonald send you to me?”
Sydney nodded again. “He told me about you finding Jason and said you were in between jobs and might be able to help me. He even offered to help me with the fee being my father was a partner.”
“Do you have any idea who killed your father?”
“I have my suspicions. You see, Mister Tanner, my father stepped on a lot of toes and got some threats because of it. Anderson Spangler was going to appoint my father Special Prosecutor if he won the election and together they vowed to clean up the corruption in Lake City with Jesse Castillo and Mayor Robert Petros on top of their to do list. Either one of them has reason to see my father dead.”
I looked at TJ and he shrugged his shoulders. “We was sorta getting tired of sitting around anyway.”
I looked back at Sydney. “My retainer is one thousand dollars.”
“Cash or check?”
“Whichever you have will be fine.”
She reached into her bag and pulled out a banded bundle of money and peeled off ten one hundred dollar bills and slid them across the table to me. Malcolm had prepped her well.
I picked the stack of bills up from the table, folded them and stuck them in the pocket of my shorts. “Welcome to the family, Sydney,” I said, extending my hand. “I’ll do my best to find the information you requested.”
“Of that, I have no doubt, Mister Tanner. You come highly recommended.”
* * * *
“Morning, Mandy, how was your weekend?” I said to my secretary when I walked through the office door.
“Not as good as yours, obviously,” said Amanda “Mandy” Parker.
“We invited you to come along.”
“And mess up your weekend of beer, booze and wild women? Not a chance,” she said. “Harvey and I managed just fine.”
The big, gray, long haired cat always accompanied Mandy home on the weekends. He looked up at me from his customary spot on Mandy’s desk, blinked and settled back in to resume his nap.
“You’ll be happy to know I picked up a case while we were gone,” I said and laid the stack of bills on the edge of her desk.
“Yeah, I know,” she said without looking up, “your bonding buddy is here already.” She jabbed the end of her pen toward my office.
“Could you get Pete Neely on the phone for me?” I said.
“It would be my pleasure, Mister Tanner.”
I stepped into my office in time to see TJ reach into the white box on my desk, take a bite of a jelly donut and hold it up to me. “I brought breakfast.”
Jelly donuts were a vice of mine and, a couple of mornings a week, I could count on TJ to come into the office with that evil white bakery box.
“I see.” I filled a mug with coffee from the half-empty pot of coffee and took a sugared donut from the box.
“Pete’s on line one,” said Mandy, strutting through the door, eyeing the donut box.
“Thanks, don’t mind if I do,” she said, whisked the jelly donut from my hand and strutted back into the outer office.
TJ chuckled and I picked up the phone and punched the blinking button.
“Blake, my man, what’s up?”
“Whaddya remember about Jonathan Graber?”
“Jumpin’ from the fryin’ pan into the fire, huh?” said Pete. “Who’s pullin’ it out of cold storage?”
“Graber’s daughter, but Malcolm MacDonald’s payin’ the fee.”
“I’ll get ya what I got. You buyin’ dinner?”
“Italian at my house tonight,” I said, smiling at TJ. “Don’t be late.”
“Alright, a home cooked meal. See ya tonight,” said Pete and hung up.
“Anybody home?” said Pete Neely, sliding through the front door.
“Out here, Pete,” I said from the patio and smiled at TJ and Mandy.
“Where’s dinner?’ said Pete, stepping through the patio door.
“Right here,” I said and pointed to the three pizza boxes stacked on the round patio table.
“And beer,” said TJ, holding up his bottle of Budweiser.
“I thought we were having home cooked Italian,” said Pete.
“You said that, I didn’t,” I said.
“I even wore my best sport coat and brought a bottle of wine.”
“So, sit down in your best sport coat and eat pizza,” said TJ with a smile.
“And drink beer,” said Mandy, opening a bottle of Budweiser. She exchanged the beer for the wine. “We’ll put the wine in the fridge.”
I slid the manila envelope from under Pete’s arm as he passed by me on his way to the pizza boxes. I set my beer down beside my chair, slid the contents from the envelope and began to read.
Jonathan Graber was gunned down at THE HARBOR LIGHTS CLUB, a popular nightspot on the waterfront. He was attending a rally for, then, Mayoral hopeful Anderson Spangler. It was common knowledge that if Spangler won, he would bring Graber along to lead his clean up the city campaign.
“It’s amazing, ain’t it?” said Pete in between bites of pizza and sips of beer. “A man can get gunned down in a lobby full of people and nobody sees a thing.”
“I’ll see if I can change that,” I said without looking up.
“Check out who the lead detective was,” said Pete.
I scanned farther down the article. “Lionel Reese.”
“You know who Reese’s partner was?” A grin broke across Pete’s face. “Artie Brown.”
I slid the contents back into the envelope. “I think I need to pay Artie Brown another visit.”
* * * *
I took TJ with me on my return visit to Artie’s apartment on Riverton Avenue. I’d paid him a visit when I was working on the MacDonald case, but he didn’t have much to offer in the way of help, just a lot of warnings not to.
We scaled the stairs to the second floor and I’d barely knocked on 218 when the door creaked open.
“Artie,” I said into the cracked door.
We both reached into our jackets for our heaters and I creaked the door open a little farther.
I nodded at TJ and pushed the door open. We stepped through it into the kitchen that probably hadn’t been cleaned in who knows when and then into the living room. I looked at TJ, shook my head and returned my heater to the shoulder holster under my jacket.
Artie Brown sat slumped in his chair sound asleep and snoring. On the tv tray next to his chair lay a half empty bottle of Jim Beam and a toppled paper cup.
“Is he drunk or just a sound sleeper?” said TJ, as he slipped his heater back under his coat.
“Artie!” I shouted into the ex-cop’s ear and got a weak grunt in reply.
“Drunk,” we said together.
“Make some cowboy coffee and I’ll try to bring him back to the world of the relevant,” I said.
TJ went to the kitchen and I wrestled Artie out of his chair, dragged him to the bathroom and rolled him into the tub. I directed the showerhead toward his face and turned on the cold water. Artie’s first deep breath caused him to cough and sputter.
“Hope you don’t drown him,” said TJ from the bathroom door.
We both backed up a couple of steps when Artie suddenly sat up in the tub. He sputtered a couple of times and looked up at me with bloodshot eyes, water cascading around his head.
“He lives. I’ll get the coffee ready,” said TJ and turned from the doorway.
I turned off the shower and Artie sat looking up at me, his clothes soaking wet and water dripping from his head.
“What the hell are you doing here, Tanner?” he said, wiping the water from his face.
“Sobering up a drunk,” I said. “We need to talk.”
Artie struggled to stand up in the tub and I threw him a towel. He removed his wet clothes, dropped them in the tub and dried off the best he could. He wrapped the towel around his waist and stepped from the tub.
“After you,” I said, inviting Artie to go ahead of me.
I followed his trail of wet footprints from the bathroom into the kitchen and waited while he walked into his bedroom, returning a few minutes later in a dry t-shirt and sweatpants.
TJ placed a cup of steaming coffee in front of Artie when he sat down at the kitchen table. The old detective frowned at the cup.
“Drink it,” I said.
Artie looked up at me and reached for the sugar bowl.
Artie squinted his eyes at me and blew on his coffee. He scrunched up his face and took a sip. TJ looked at me and smiled. Artie took another sip and looked up at me again.
“All of it,” I said.
TJ refilled the empty cup when Artie set it on the table. We sat down on either side of him and Artie looked at TJ and then at me.
“Whadda you guys want?” he said.
“Jonathan Graber,” I said.
Artie looked at me and sipped his coffee. “That wasn’t my case.”
“But, it was your partner’s case. You knew as much about this case as he did. I’d go talk to him, but he’s dead,” I said.
“I guess you’re S-O-L then,” said Artie.
“They got you that spooked, Artie?” I said.
“Let’s just say I like suckin’ air. Now, if you’ll excuse me, gentlemen, I have nothing else to say.”
I looked over at TJ and he gave me a slight nod toward the door.
“Okay, Artie,” I said, “but, if you change your mind, call me.” I held up my card.
“Don’t hold your breath.”
TJ and I rose from our seats and I dropped my card on the table before we started for the door.
“Lock your door, Artie. The next people that come knocking may not be so understanding,” I said.
“Yeah, sure.” Artie added his cup to the stack of dirty dishes already in the sink.
We heard the deadbolt click as we walked down the hallway.
* * * *
Artie stood for a moment gently tapping his head against the locked door and thought about what Tanner said.
He turned and walked to the cluttered rolltop desk in the living room. He removed the artificial flowers from the vase on top of the desk and dumped a key into his hand.
He took the key into his bedroom and dug a large lockbox out from a series of cardboard boxes stacked inside one another in a corner of the closet.
He unlocked the box and removed two files. He scanned the file on Jonathan Graber, set it on top of Jason MacDonald’s and sat on the bed staring at them.
“Aw, hell,” he said.
Being it was close to lunchtime, TJ and I stopped downtown at Hot Dog Joe’s. The popular lunch joint was already crowded so we ordered carry out.
“Watching Mandy eat a chili dog is a sight to behold,” I said, as we walked back to the heap. I carried the white bag bulging with our lunch and TJ carried the cardboard tray of fountain drinks. “You gotta see it to believe it.”
Mandy’s eyes lit up when we strode into the office.
“Lunchtime,” I said as I locked the door and carried the white bag past her desk.
She followed TJ into my office and took a seat at the small conference table. I put two chili dogs in front of each of us along with an order of french fries. TJ added the fountain drinks and smiled when I nodded toward Mandy.
She wasted no time digging into her lunch. Chili decorated her face from the first bite and she didn’t come up for air until she’d devoured the first hot dog. Chili dotted the end of her nose when she took a long draw on the straw in her drink and then looked up at us.
“What?” she said when TJ started to chuckle.
She waved off TJ’s amusement and proceeded to devour the second hot dog. We had just started to unwrap our second chili dogs when Mandy popped the last bite of her lunch into her mouth.
She cleaned her face with three napkins and then dropped them into the white bag along with the crumpled hot dog wrappers. She picked up the fountain drink and sucked on the straw until the cup was empty, dropped it into the white bag and rose from her seat.
“Thank you, guys, that was heaven,” she said and stepped from the office.
TJ put down his hot dog and started a silent laugh until tears rolled down his face. He struggled to regain his composure and then looked at me and wiped his eyes.
“You were right, you had to see it to believe it,” he said and burst out laughing again.
“If you two can compose yourselves, there’s someone here to see you,” said Mandy, poking her head back into the office.
“Send ‘em in,” I said.
She sidestepped to permit Artie Brown to enter the office and smiled as she swung the door closed behind him.
“Come in, Artie. Have a seat,” I said.
It appeared he’d finished what we started and it was amazing what a shower and a fresh set of clothes could do for one’s appearance. I can’t remember the last time I’d seen Artie Brown in a suit.
“Thanks, but I ain’t gonna be here that long.” He dropped two file folders on my desk. “Since you two are so dead set on killing yourselves, I thought you might be able to make use of these.”
He stood in front of me while I scanned the contents of the folders. “Where did you get these, Artie? I figured these would buried in the bottom of the cold case files on the farthest end of the evidence room.”
“They probably are. I used to keep copies of the cases I was working on. When the Violent Crimes Unit took these two over, I salted the files away. Thought they might come in handy someday. I guess today’s that day.”
Without another word, Artie stepped toward the door. “Put that scum in cuffs and I’ll die a happy man,” he said. “Otherwise, I’ll have a nice cry at your funeral.”
“You said that to me once before, Artie.”
“MacDonald’s killer was small fish compared to what you’re going after now.”
He closed the door behind him and I looked over at TJ.
“I wonder what else he’s got?” said TJ.
“I don’t know, but this is a good start,” I said.
The bartender on duty the night of the shooting at the HARBOR LIGHTS CLUB was first on my list of witnesses to visit. TJ and I pushed through the revolving doors and made a quick scan of the club’s busy lobby.
“Hard to believe nobody saw nothin’,” said TJ and we turned toward the Lounge.
It had definitely stepped up in class since the last time I’d been here and was a little more than a lounge now, bordering on nightclub. We strode to the near end of the bar and turned to look through the lounge’s glass door. If anybody was at this end of the bar that night, they’d had a clear view of the club’s entrance and the murder scene.
“Tommy Saldana here?” I said to the bartender who was wiping glasses and stacking them on a shelf behind him.
He looked at TJ and I for a moment and then sauntered down the length of the bar, leaned over the end of it and shouted into the arched hallway. “Yo, Tommy, there’s somebody here to see ya.”
A couple of minutes later, Tommy Saldana strode through the archway and the bartender jerked his thumb toward us.
“You wanna see me?” he said.
“I’m Blake Tanner and I’d like to know what you can tell me about the night Jonathan Graber was killed.”
Tommy looked at TJ and then back at me.
“Nothing to tell,” he said. “Like I told police, I was at the far end of the bar serving customers when I heard the commotion. By the time I looked out the door, the deed was done. I didn’t see nothin’.”
“A man gets shot down in a crowded lobby and there’s no witnesses,” I said.
Tommy shrugged his shoulders and held his arms out from his sides. “What can I say, Mister Tanner?”
I waved my hand out toward the club. “Pretty big step up from bartender to manager wasn’t it, Tommy?”
“You got somethin’ to say, Tanner?”
“This what they give you for keepin’ your mouth shut, Tommy? Your own club?”
Tommy smirked. “You know, Mister Tanner, I got a lot of work to do. Forgive me if I don’t show you to the door.”
He turned and walked back through the arched doorway. There was no doubt in my mind that in the next couple of minutes somebody in Lake City was going to find out Blake Tanner was asking questions about Jonathan Graber.
We walked back through the club, getting the hard stare from the bartender until we pushed through the door.
“Well, who’s next?” said TJ when we returned to the heap.
I pulled the witness list from the file on the seat between us and looked at the name I had circled.
“Gloria Rodriguez,” I said.
A dog barked inside the old two-story house when we stepped up onto the front porch and I knocked on the front door.
“Yes?” said the young Mexican woman who opened the door.
“Gloria Rodriguez?” I asked.
“No, that’s my mother. What can I do for you?”
I showed her my Id. “I’m Blake Tanner and I’ve been hired by the family of Jonathan Graber to find out who murdered him. I understand your mother worked that night and I’d like to talk to her.”
“My mother told everything there is to tell to the police that day. She has nothing else to say.”
She started to close the door and I stopped it with my hand. “Please, Miss Rodriguez?”
She looked at me for a moment and then, reluctantly, opened the door. “Come in.”
“Thank you,” I said, as TJ and I stepped into the house.
She closed the door behind us and yelled toward the kitchen. “Momma, there’s someone here to see you.”
We had just been seated at the dining room table when Gloria Rodriguez pushed her walker through the kitchen doorway. Her daughter helped her into a chair across from me and sat down next to her.
“Momma, this is Senor Tanner. He wants to ask you some questions about the murder of Senor Graber. Do you remember?”
Gloria nodded and looked from her daughter to me.
“Senora Rodriguez, can you tell me what happened that night?” I said.
She looked from me to her daughter, who nodded at her, and back again.
“I finish my work and go to the lobby and sit on the bench to wait for my daughter like I did every day. But a voice that day tells me to leave the lobby and walk home. My daughter told me about Senor Graber the next day.”
“Did you recognize that voice?”
Gloria looked at her daughter and then back at me, tears welling up in her eyes. She looked down at her daughter’s hand on top of hers.
I reached over and patted her other hand. “Thank you, Senora, for your time.”
We rose from our seats and I motioned for Miss Rodriguez to stay with her mother and that we would show ourselves out.
“Oh for two,” said TJ, when we got back in the car.
I shook my head. “She knows who it is. She’s just too damn scared to tell us.”
It was becoming obvious to me the witnesses weren’t going to be much help. “If we could get just one to come around, I think the rest would follow,” I said.
We made the short drive back to the office and I followed TJ through the outer. “Could you see about getting me an appointment with our illustrious Mayor?” I said to Mandy.
“Sure thing,” she said, picking up the phone. “Jumping right into the lion’s den, huh?”
I tossed the file on my desk, opened it and put a check and a question mark next to Gloria Rodriguez’s name on the witness list. I flipped through the pages and stopped to scan the crime scene photos. I slid one of them in front of TJ.
“That’s the bullet that killed Graber,” I said when TJ picked up the photo of the bullet. “But they never found a murder weapon and didn’t have anything to match it to.”
“You think this connected Castillo to the hit?” said TJ.
“Word has it Graber was seen in a heated discussion with someone who fit Castillo’s description shortly before the shooting. Keep in mind, that Anderson Spangler said if he won the election, he was gonna make Graber a Special Prosecutor saddled with the task of cleaning up a corrupt city and heads were gonna roll. The heads of Castillo and Petros were said to be on top of that list.”
Mandy appeared in the doorway. “The Mayor will see you if you can get there in thirty minutes.”
I slapped TJ on the shoulder. “Let’s go shake a tree and see what falls out.”
* * * *
I looked at my watch as we strode through the double doors of City Hall. “Time to spare.”
We scaled the stairs to the second floor and set our sights on the Mayor’s Office at the end of the hall. I flashed my ID at the secretary. “The Mayor’s expecting us.”
She pushed a button on her phone. “Mister Tanner is here.”
Robert Petros appeared in his office door. “Come in, Gentlemen.”
He held the door open for us and we sat in the two plush chairs in front of his desk as he moved around to the chair behind it. “Now what can I do for you, Mister Tanner?”
“I’m investigating the murder of Jonathan Graber.”
“So I hear.”
It seemed once I talked to Tommy Saldana it didn’t take long for word to get out.
“I understand he used to work for you.”
Petros nodded. “Yes, he did.”
“I also understand you had a falling out.”
Petros smirked. “Let’s just say Jon and I had a difference of opinion.”
“A big enough difference to make him resign?”
“That was his choice, yes.”
“A big enough difference to have him killed when he turned up on the opposition’s side?”
“Jon was a very good friend of mine. I would never wish him any harm.”
“Wasn’t Jonathan Graber the second of your past associates to catch a bullet that year?”
The smirk disappeared. “I don’t know anything about that, Mister Tanner.”
“I didn’t expect that you would.”
Petros looked past me when the office door opened and I turned to see the secretary poke her head in. “Mister Mayor?” she said.
Petros looked at his watch. “As much as I’d like to continue this conversation, gentlemen, I’m late for a budget meeting. My secretary will show you out.”
TJ and I rose from our chairs. “You have a nice rest of your day, Mister Mayor,” I said.
“So, what now?” asked TJ as we walked back down the hall toward the stairs.
“Let’s go talk to the opposition,” I said with a smile.
* * * *
We stepped back down onto the first floor of City Hall and strode toward the frosted glass door with Public Works scrawled across it in bold black letters and where Anderson Spangler was the Commissioner. I guess the Mayor believed in the old adage of keeping his friends close and his enemies closer.
“May I help you?” asked the blue-eyed blond secretary sitting behind the reception desk.
“We’re here to speak to Anderson Spangler,” I said.
Before the secretary could answer, Spangler appeared in the door of the inner office.
“What can I do for you gentlemen?” he said.
“I’m Blake Tanner and I’ve been hired by Sydney Graber to find the killer of her father.”
“Rita, hold my calls,” Spangler said to his secretary.
“Gentlemen,” he waved us toward his office, “after you.” He followed after us, closing the door behind him.
“Now, how can I help you?” he said, sitting in the wheeled captain’s chair behind the desk.
TJ and I sat in the padded armchairs across from him.
“Tell us about the night Jonathan Graber was killed,” I said.
“Not much to tell,” said Spangler. “Jon was working the room with me all night and told me he was going to step outside for a smoke. That’s the last time I saw him until someone came upstairs and told me he’d been shot.”
“You know who he had the disagreement with earlier in the evening?”
Spangler shook his head. “Didn’t know he had one.”
“You see Jesse Castillo at the Harbor Lights Club that night?” I asked.
“Jesse Castillo is at the Harbor Lights Club every night,” said Spangler.
“Mister Spangler, do you think Jesse Castillo shot Jonathan Graber?” I said.
Spangler looked at me for a moment. “Mister Tanner, I have no idea who shot Jonathan Graber.”
* * * *
Mandy handed me a note when we got back to the office. “The caller said he had some information you might be interested in,” she said. “He said he’ll meet you at Big Louie’s at 6pm.”
I looked over at TJ. “Maybe the armor is starting to crack.”
Big Louie’s was a jazz club just around the corner from the office and we could see the green neon sign flickering in the window when we turned from Main Street onto Broadway. That sign had been flickering for years and never seemed to go out.
The rhythm of a three piece jazz band, spotlighted on the small stage at the front of the club, greeted us when we stepped through the door.
Big Louie Walker, his bald, brown pate glistening in the soft lights, sat in his personal booth near the stage wearing his trademark black suit over a black turtleneck. He was as wide as he was tall with nary an ounce of fat on him and seemed to always stretch his custom made suits to the limit.
He tapped the table in front of the young woman sitting with him and nodded toward us as we approached. He leaned back, stretched his arm over the back of the booth and smiled, his gold tooth matching the gold ring in his left ear. “Two of my favorite people,” he bellowed in his baritone voice.
“Long time no see, Louie,” I said.
“That’s your fault,” he said, pointing his finger at me.
“Somebody called the office today and said they had some information for me. They said to meet them here,” I said.
“That was me that called and yeah there is somebody here,” he said and motioned toward the empty side of the booth and waited until TJ and I slid in.
“Jack Black, neat?” asked Louie, pointing at me.
“You remembered,” I said.
Louie tapped his finger on the side of his head. “Got a memory of an elephant,” he said with a big smile and looked over at TJ. “Double Jose Cuervo?” and got a smile in return.
Louie waved his hand above his head and a waitress glided over to us from the bar. She took the order and returned a couple of minutes later with the drinks. “On the house,” Big Louie said as we watched the waitress sashay away.
“Gentlemen, this is Marci Walker,” said Big Louie breaking the trance. “She’s the one I called about. Marci, this is Blake Tanner and TJ Mathis.”
We shook hands with Marci and Big Louie rose from his seat. “I have a club to run. I’ll leave you three to your devices.” He pointed at TJ and I. “Good seeing you again.”
“What can I do for you, Miss Walker?” I said when Big Louie turned the corner.
“It’s more like what I can do for you. You still investigating Jonathan Graber’s murder?”
“I can put Jesse Castillo with Graber on the evening of the shooting.”
I looked over at TJ, then back at Marci. “I’m listening.”
“I was a waitress at The Harbor Lights Club Lounge,” she said. “I had finally gotten a chance to take a break, so I went out the side door to have a smoke. I started down the hall to go outside when I saw Jesse in a heated conversation with Jonathan Graber. I hurried around them and out the back door. They were gone when I returned, so I didn’t think any more about it and went back into the lounge. About an hour later, Graber came in and bought some smokes from the vending machine, waved at a couple of people sitting at the bar and then left. A couple of minutes later, I saw this big commotion in the lobby. Everybody was runnin’ everywhere.”
“Did you hear anything?” I asked.
Marci shook her head. “No, but security came in and told everybody to stay put that there’d been a shooting. Pretty soon the place was crawlin’ with cops askin’ a bunch of questions about who saw what and then they let everybody go. I figgered two guys got in a tussle and one of ‘em got capped. It happens every now and then. I didn’t know it was Graber until I picked up the paper the next day.”
“Did you see Jesse again that night?”
“Yeah, after the shooting things got pretty slow, so they let a couple of us go home early. Jesse was in the lobby when I walked out of the lounge and he offered me a ride home.”
“Did you take it?”
Marci nodded. “Yeah, My ride wouldn’t pick me up for at least another hour and I didn’t feel like walking.”
“He take you straight home?”
Marci nodded again. ”Yeah, except for a short stop at Saint Michael’s.”
Saint Michael’s Hospital is the closest one to The Harbor Lights Club. They would have taken Graber there. ”Jesse say why he was stopping?”
“Only that he had to check on a friend.”
I looked over at TJ who looked back at me with raised eyebrows over the rim of his glass.
“Marci, did he say anything else?” I said.
She looked down at the table, then back up at me. “Well, when he pulled up in front of my apartment, as I was getting out he said it would be in my best interests if I didn’t say anything about what I saw or heard.”
“So why are you telling me now?”
“When I heard you were investigating the case again, I went to Big Louie and told him what I told you and he said that I worked for him now and if I wanted to tell you what I know, he wasn’t going to let anything happen to me. So, I told him to call you.”
“Thank you, Marci. You’ve been a big help,” I said and shook hands with her.
When TJ and I stood up, Big Louie sauntered over from the bar. “Well?”
“Louie, take good care of Marcie,” I said. “I’m sure there’ll be someone who will be very interested in what she has to say.”
“Don’t worry, my friend, she’s in good hands,” said Louie holding his open palms together like a cup.
“Time to stir the pot a little,” I said to TJ as we walked back to the office.
Mandy had already gone home, so I dialed Pete Neely’s number.
“Pete, it’s Blake.”
“Blake, my man! To what do I owe this call from the man hisself?”
“I need you to help me stir the pot a little on the Graber case.”
“You’ve piqued my interest.”
“A witness came forward and gave us a person of interest they saw in a heated argument with Graber on the night of the shooting.”
“Who is it?”
“That’s my little secret for now,” I said and told Pete about the meeting at Big Louie’s. “Could you get a spot on the front page?”
“You’re talking to Pete Neely, brother! Pete Neely can always get a spot on the front page! Look for it in the morning issue.”
* * * *
When I pushed through the office door the next morning, Mandy handed me the morning copy of the LAKE CITY TIMES. “You might want to see this.”
Under the headline in the middle of the front page was Pete Neely’s article linking Jason MacDonald’s case to Jonathan Graber’s shooting and ended with the witness coming forward and naming a person of interest seen in a heated conversation with Graber the night of his shooting.
“That oughta get the ball rollin’,” I said.
Anthony Scarlotti sat in his customary booth near the swinging double doors of the kitchen of his restaurant eating a plate of spaghetti and meat balls. He ignored Robert Petros when the Mayor slid into the booth. Scarlotti only moved his eyes when Petros set a copy of the afternoon edition of the LAKE CITY TIMES on the table in front of him.
“There’s something in here you need to read,” Petros said, tapping the newspaper.
Scarlotti stopped rolling the spaghetti onto his fork and looked up at the Mayor with annoyance. “Can’t you see I’m eating? I’ll look at it when I’m done.”
“You need to look at it now,” said Petros.
Scarlotti set his eating utensils in his plate and wiped his mouth with the end of the napkin hanging from his shirt collar.
“This better be worth it,” said Scarlotti and picked up the newspaper.
“Middle of the front page,” said Petros.
Scarlotti’s annoyed look slowly turned into a frown as he read Pete Neely’s article. He folded the newspaper and set it back on the table. “It’s time to pay Tanner a visit.”
Mandy poked her head in my door. “Pete Neely’s on line one.”
I pushed the blinking button. “Pete, what’s up?”
“I just got off the phone with Sam Macklin from Metro PD. My friend, you got people scramblin’. I expect you’ll be getting a visit.”
“Thanks for the heads up, Pete.”
“My pleasure. Good Luck.”
I didn’t have to wait long. That afternoon, my old partner, Sam Macklin, paid me the expected visit.
“Who is it, Blake?” said Sam when he walked through the door.
“Hello to you too, Sam. Long time no see. Who is who?” I said.
“Who’s the witness?”
“Not sure that I have a witness yet, Sam.”
“Who’s the person of interest?”
“Don’t know I have one of those either, until I’m positive about the witness.”
“You see Neely’s article in today’s paper?” said Sam.
“Yeah, I seen it,” I said.
“You’re not Neely’s reliable source,” Sam said, more as a statement than a question.
I held my hands out in front me and shrugged my shoulders. “Maybe, Maybe Not.”
Sam looked over at TJ who just held out his hands and shrugged his shoulders.
“You’re both full of shit,” said Sam and he stormed out of the office.
“I take it Detective Macklin didn’t get the answers he was looking for,” said Mandy appearing in the doorway.
“I guess not,” said TJ.
“Somebody ain’t gonna be happy,” said Mandy.
She turned from the doorway when the phone rang and reappeared a few minutes later to put an address on my desk. “Caller said he had something you might be interested in hearing.”
“They’re coming out of the walls now,” said TJ.
I looked down at the address scribbled on the piece of notepad paper and then looked over at TJ. “It’s across the street from The Harbor Lights Club.”
I picked up the phone and punched in Artie Brown’s number and he picked up after the second ring. “Yeah.”
“Artie, it’s Tanner. You busy?”
“Yeah, I got two naked babes crawlin’ all over me. Why?”
“Artie, if you had two naked babes crawlin’ all over you, you wouldn’t have answered the phone. Meet us out front in ten minutes.”
* * * *
Artie was sitting on the brownstone’s steps when I pulled the heap into the empty space in front.
“Nice ride,” he said with a smirk and raised eyebrows when he slid into the back seat.
I ignored his comment and handed him the note. “You know anybody at this address?”
He shook his head and handed the note back to me. “Not that I recall.”
“Well, we’re about to meet someone,” I said.
The apartment building across the street from the Harbor Lights Club had a small parking lot in the rear that was accessed through a narrow alley that ran alongside it.
I parked the heap and we walked to the back of the building and navigated the two flights of stairs up to the second landing.
I opened the squeaky screen door and we strode down the musty hallway to the front of the building, knocking on the door with a tarnished number ten on it.
After some movement inside, an attractive thirty something face appeared in the door cracked open the length of the chain. “May I help you?”
“My name is Blake Tanner. Does Arlington Collins live here?”
She closed the door, slid off the chain and reopened it. “Yes, come in, Mister Tanner.” She held out her hand to me. “I’m Penny Collins, my grandfather’s expecting you.”
She led us through the apartment into the living room where an elderly, white haired gentleman sat in a wheel chair near the window looking through a set of open blinds.
“Grandpa, this is Mister Tanner,” said Penny when we reached the living room.
He looked up and gave us a frail smile. “Welcome, please sit.”
We sat down on the sofa near him and he turned his wheelchair toward us. “I understand you’ve reopened the Jonathan Graber murder case.”
“Well, sort of,” I said. “I’ve been hired by Sydney Graber, Jonathan’s daughter, to see if I can turn up anything new.”
“And you’ve found a witness?” asked Arlington.
“I’ve found someone who saw Jonathan Graber in an argument with someone just before he was shot, yes,” I said.
“Could that someone have seen our illustrious Police Chief, Jesse Castillo, in that argument?”
I nodded. “Yes.”
Arlington Collins motioned for me to come to the window. “Mister Tanner, I sat in this window that night and saw Jesse Castillo run, with a gun in his hand, from the Harbor Lights Club, down the street,” he traced the path with a boney index finger, “to a car parked around the corner, get in and speed away.”
“Did he come back? He was seen at the club later,” I said.
The old man nodded his head. “About an hour later he returned on foot and entered the building through the lounge door.” He pointed toward the parking lot where there was an outside entrance to the lounge.
“Why did you wait until now to come forward?”
“Mister Tanner, it’s a well known fact that Anthony Scarlotti controls this city. He owns the Mayor, the police department and rules the water front. Nothing goes on in this city that he doesn’t know about. Anything that might interfere with that control is dealt with. I tried many years ago to buck the system and got a bullet in my spine and a wheelchair for my trouble. But, I’m an old man now and when I heard someone besides the police was looking into Graber’s death, I wanted to do one last good deed before they put me in the ground.”
“Thank you, Mister Collins,” I said. “I’m sure the Graber family will appreciate what you’re doing.”
I rose from the sofa and shook Arlington Collins’ hand. “It’s long overdue, Mister Tanner,” he said.
We said our goodbyes and Penny Collins showed us to the door.
“And the plot thickens,” said TJ as we walked toward the car.
* * * *
We headed back to the office only to walk through the door and find the outer office empty. “This ain’t like Mandy to leave and not lock up,” I said.
I drew my weapon from my shoulder holster as I stepped over to my closed office door. “This door is never closed when I’m not here,” I said.
TJ drew his weapon as I turned the doorknob and pushed
the door open. Mandy sat gray taped to my chair with a strip of gray tape across her mouth. She made muffled cries for help when she saw us. I rushed over to her, gently pulled the tape from her mouth and reached into my pocket for my switchblade.
“Who did this to you?” I asked as I cut the gray tape holding her to the chair.
“A coupla thugs come in here wanting to talk to you and when I told them you weren’t here, they did this to me and gave me a message for you.”
“Leave sleeping dogs lie is all he said.”
“Sounds like a threat,” said TJ.
“What did these guys look like?” I said.
“One of them was a big bruiser and the messenger was a little guy with slicked back hair and a big ego,” said Mandy. “He was also missing a couple of fingers on his left hand.”
“Jimmy Fingers,” I said.
TJ nodded back at me. “One of Anthony Scarlotti’s messenger boys.”
“Ain’t that how he lost his fingers?”
TJ nodded again. “Delivered a message and the boys he delivered the message to sent him back with an answer minus two fingers.”
“Maybe we should pay Mister Scarlotti a visit back. But, first I have something to do. Stay here with Mandy until I get back.”
About an hour later, Harvey stood up on the edge of Mandy’s desk, arched his back and hissed. Mandy looked up at the big cat in surprise and smiled when she saw me walk through the office door with Max on a leash.
“I brought you a body guard,” I said removing the leash from the big Rottweiler’s collar.
“Hiya, Max,” she said and scratched him behind his ears when he lumbered over to her desk. Harvey settled back down in his customary spot.
I turned to TJ. “Now let’s go talk to Mister Scarlotti.”
It was around suppertime so I parked the heap and TJ and I strode across Main Street into Anthony’s Restaurant.
“Good evening, Gentlemen, do you have reservations?” asked the Maitre d’.
“We’re here to see Mister Scarlotti,” I said as I looked around the restaurant.
“I’m sorry, Sir, Mister Scarlotti is having supper.”
“He’s expecting us,” I said when I spotted him and we pushed past Maitre d’.
He hurried behind us to Scarlotti’s table. “I’m sorry, Mister Scarlotti, they insisted on seeing you.”
Scarlotti waved the Maitre d’ away and motioned us to the empty side of the booth. “Sit down, Gentlemen.”
“No, thanks,” I said, “what I got to say ain’t gonna take that long.”
Scarlotti laid his silverware in his plate and looked up at us. “Why do you want to make a scene in my place of business?”
“You sent your thugs to my place of business, didn’t you?” I said not too quietly. The patrons sitting near us started throwing nervous glances our way.
“Can we go somewhere and discuss this?” said Scarlotti.
“No, we can’t. But, if you rough up anybody close to me again, because you have a problem with me, I’ll be back.”
“Is that a threat, Mister Tanner?”
“Promise,” I said.
We turned and strode back across the restaurant and out the door without looking back.
“Do you realize you just threatened Anthony Scarlotti?” asked TJ as we hurried toward the heap.
“Yes and now I need a drink,” I replied, sliding into the front seat. I started the car and pulled out of the parking space.
* * * *
“Seriously? The Harbor Lights Club?” said TJ as we pulled into the parking lot. “First you threaten the King Of Crime and then you want to drink where his cronies hang out?”
“Where better to find the people you’re looking for?” I said.
“And who are we looking for?”
Jimmy Fingers,” I said, pulling the .45 Smith and Wesson from its shoulder holster and checking the load. “As long as I’m digging holes, I might as well make ‘em deep.”
I returned the weapon to its holster while TJ checked the loads on his twin .45s. “We’ve done some crazy things together, but this has got to be, by far,the craziest,” said TJ, returning his weapons to their shoulder holsters.
“Give you something to tell your grandkids about,” I said.
“If I live that long.”
“Time to start diggin’,” I said as I opened the car door.
We strode across the parking lot into the back door of the Harbor Lights Lounge where the evening’s festivities were in full swing. It was in the middle of happy hour and a band was already blasting out a tune.
“There’s your boy,” said TJ when he spotted Jimmy Fingers standing at the bar between two young women.
“I’ll deal with him when the time’s right,” I said. We pushed our way through the crowd and I kept my eyes open for Jesse Castillo. We found him sitting in a booth near the archway to Tommy Saldana’s office.
“Mind if we sit down?” I asked when we walked up to the table.
“Yeah, I mind,” said Jesse as TJ slid onto the seat next to him and I slid in across from. “I got nothing to say to you two clowns.”
“Jesse, don’t be rude,” I said. I looked up when Jimmy Fingers walked by the table and I watched him go into the Men’s bathroom. “Don’t go nowhere, we’ll be right back.”
I nodded for TJ to follow me. “Don’t let nobody in here,” I said.
Jimmy turned from the urinal zipping up his pants when I pushed through the door. “Well, look who’s here,” he said. “How’s the little secretary?”
He held up his hands as I strode toward him. “I got friends.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said and planted my right fist in the middle of his face. I grabbed the front of his shirt as he fell back, pulled him forward and hit him again. He fell back against the wall and slid down between the urinals, blood streaming down the front of his shirt from the flattened nose on his face.
“That was quick,” said TJ when I came out the door shaking my hand.
“Felt good, though,” I said.
Castillo was gone from the booth when he walked back into the lounge, so we continued on out the door into the parking lot.
“The hole deep enough yet?” said TJ.
“For now,” I said.
Anthony Scarlotti sat at his table in his restaurant when Mayor Robert Petros strode through the door. Petros talked with Maitre d’ for a moment and then was shown to Scarlotti’s table.
“Sit down, Robert,” said Anthony taking a bite of his Chicken Alfredo. “Would you like something to eat?”
“No, Sir, thank you,” said Petros as he slid into the booth across from Scarlotti.
“Things have suddenly gotten uncomfortable, Robert. Loose ends are starting to unravel. Loose ends that I depended on you to take care of properly and you assured me they had been. Now people who no longer fear you or respect you are coming forward making accusations. A friend of mine got hurt trying to clean up your mess. There is a valuable lesson to be learned here. Now I have to do what I should have done in the first place and take care of things properly.” He gestured with his fork. “Calm the waters, so to speak. Capiche?”
Scarlotti took another bite of his supper and Petros looked over at the two men that stepped up beside the booth.
“You sure you don’t want something to eat?” said Scarlotti.
* * * *
I drove up Sydney Graber’s circle driveway and pulled the heap into one of the parking spaces on either end of her house. Being her father’s only child, Jonathan had provided for her well.
I walked up the short path to the columned porch of the big white house and rang the doorbell. To my surprise, I didn’t get the butler or maid answering the door, but Sydney dressed in jeans and a man’s casual shirt tied at the waist. A couple of open buttons hinted that she wore nothing under the shirt.
“Come in, Mister Tanner,” she said and I followed her into a nearby sitting room where Malcolm MacDonald sat on a sofa near the fireplace. A drink on a coaster rested on the glass top coffee table in front of him. Ol’ Malcolm was a little cagier than I gave him credit for.
He rose from the sofa and extended his hand to me. “Good to see you again, Blake. Sydney tells me you have some news for her.”
“Please, sit down,” said Sydney, motioning to the matching arm chairs facing the sofa. “Would you like something to drink?”
“Coffee would be fine,” I said.
Sydney left the room, her designer jeans showing off her best assets, and returned a couple of minutes later carrying a tray. She set it on the coffee table in front of me, poured two cups of coffee and sat on the edge of the armchair next to mine. “Now, what do you have to tell me, Mister Tanner?”
“I have witnesses that lead me to believe that Jesse Castillo killed your father.”
Sydney nodded. “I thought so.”
“Who else have you told?” asked Malcolm.
I shook my head. “No one yet, but I know the routine.”
Malcolm smiled as he reached into the jacket of his Armani suit. “I don’t think, in this case, it really matters. Knowing the parties involved like I do, the problems that have arisen may have already been dealt with.” He pulled out two banded bundles of bills and set them on the coffee table. “Your fee,” he said. “Maybe, we’ll be able to work together again sometime.”
I picked up the money, rose from my seat and shook hands with Malcolm. “You’ve got my number.”
“Thank you, Mister Tanner,” said Sydney, holding out her hand.
“My pleasure, Miss Graber.” I shook her hand. ”You both have a nice day now.”
Sydney led me to the door and held it open for me. “Thanks again, Mister Tanner. I hope to see you again,” she said.
“You never know,” I said and winked at her as I stepped out onto the porch.
“No, you never do,” she said and winked at me as she closed the door.
It had been a coupla days since I talked to Sydney and Malcolm when Mandy poked her head in my office door. “You have a call on line one.”
I picked up the phone and punched the blinking button. “Tanner.”
“You might be interested in what’s going down in Riverside Park,” said the caller and he hung up.
I rose from behind my desk, grabbed my jacket from the tree beside my door and stepped into the outer office. “Call TJ and tell him to meet me at Riverside Park,” I said to Mandy.
“What’s up?” asked Mandy.
“Don’t have a clue. I’ll fill you in when I get back.”
TJ was waiting for me when I pulled into the the Riverside Park parking lot filled with red and blue flashing lights. I parked the heap next to TJ’s Harley.
“What the hell happened?” He asked when I got out of the car.
I shook my head. “I got a call that I might be interested in what’s happening here. Let’s go see.”
A tow truck was in the process of winching something out of the river as we walked up to the officer standing at the edge of the parking lot. “What’s happening?” I asked.
The officer turned to us. “Violent Crimes Unit got an anonymous call about a car going into the river here.”
“Macklin here?” I asked.
He pointed where the rear end of a Cadillac Eldorado broke the surface of the water and was being hauled ashore by the tow truck.
“Yes sir, he’s up there where they pulled the car out.”
I flashed my ID at him. “Mind if I go up there? I’m working on a case.”
The officer spoke into the mic on his shirt and then waved us on. “See Detective Macklin.”
As we walked toward the river, Sam Macklin opened the door of the retrieved car, letting the water inside empty out on the ground and met us as we neared the car.
“I think this will solve your case,” he said when he reached us. He motioned for us to follow him and invited us to look in the car. Jesse Castillo was slumped over the steering wheel.
“Took a bullet in back of the head,” said Macklin. “A large brick was on the accelerator. This was no accident.”
I pointed to the .45 lying on the seat next to Castillo. “I bet if you compare that heater with the bullet you have in cold storage, you’ll find a match. It probably matches the one in his head too.”
“Mack, you might want to see this,” said Sam’s partner, Sherry Carson, who was standing next to the firefighter she’d asked to pry open the trunk.
I peeked over Sam’s shoulder as he looked inside. Mayor Robert Petros lay on his side with his hands tied behind his back and a bullet in his head. “Bet the gun matches his too.”
“Everything tied up with a neat little bow,” said TJ.
“Now we know why Petros didn’t show up at City Hall today,” said Macklin and he looked over his shoulder at me. “You made some very bad people, very uncomfortable.”
I smiled at Sam. “All in a day’s work, Detective, all in a day’s work.”