A summer’s clammy humid blackness underneath a moonless cloudy night.
Two in the morning and nothing—honest—stirring.
As I stood in the mouth of narrow alley, arms folded and leaning against the brick wall of an old brownstone, my eyes kept wandering from the dark brick red painted door of a brownstone across the street and one brownstone up, and back to the black shadows of the corner of Fifth and Elm streets. Word was out he was coming to 522 E. Elm. Would show up sometime tonight. Word was he was going to meet someone about a coming contract. A very lucrative contract.
Underneath the light sport coat I could feel the butt of the 9 mm Kimber hanging in its webbing underneath my left armpit. The weight felt comforting. And disquieting. Who we were waiting for made it necessary. The two of us—my partner, Frank Morales—and I would probably be using our firepower before this case was done.
When The Russian came to town that’s the way it usually went.
An ex-GRU agent from Belarus . Or maybe from the Ukraine . Hell, no one knew for sure. Now a contract killer of extraordinary skill and luck. Twice before Frank and I crossed paths with him and barely got out of the scrap with our lives. Twice before lots of people died. Word came to us he was back in town. Coming here—to 522 E. Elm to work out the details for the next hit.
Glancing to my right I saw the looming hulk of my partner. Frank, in the dark, radiates a presence that’s unmistakable. And he’s big. ‘Bout as big as one of the peaks in the Himalyans. No neck—a head the shape of a cement block with short, stringy carrot colored hair—hands as large as the chrome mags off a Chevy Camaro. He was standing just to my right and slightly out of the opening of the alley and watching the brownstone across the street.
Me? I’m the same height as Frank. But not nearly has massive. People tell me that—with my curly black hair, mustache, and dimples—I look more like the spitting image of a long dead actor. Great. I look like a dead man. That really makes me feel all warm and cuddly inside.
Looking at the black form of Frank beside me I leaned toward him.
“Yeah,” he grunted in a soft, barely audible whisper. “He’s coming. Got that feeling all over me. Itchy, you know? He’s close by. Waiting.”
I had that feeling as well. That edgy tick working the nerves—the slightly dry, acidic taste in my mouth. The sweaty palms. He was somewhere close. Standing in the darkness like we were. Waiting.
For an answer two daggers of automobile low beams slit the darkness open and allowed a Ford Vic cab to slide into the street and roll to a stop in front of the brick red door. Like bad dreams Frank and me slid back into the darkness of the alley and watched. For a few seconds the cab just sat at the curb like some leviathan from the deep rolling in the surf and waiting to disappear beneath the waves again. The rear left hand door opened.
And she rolled out of the car draped in white mink and a bright red dress.
Let’s face it; there are beautiful women everywhere. And then there are the fantasy-makers. Women so beautiful they make a man’s knees go weak and his tongue lap out like a dog’s down to his shoe laces. But this creature was beyond words.
Petite. Long, curly blond hair of dark golden wheat. A figure stuffed in a tight red dress so perfect it’d make a dead saint renounce celibacy—and the grave—for a second chance. Her white, slim neck perfectly shaped and wrapped in a diamond necklace worth maybe half the nation’s debt. And the way she moved . . .
One look at her and I knew she was trouble. Bad juju, baby. A goddess with killer curves and conscious on how she displayed them. A diva with money. Maybe late twenties—early thirties. Flushed with money and willing to flash it around.
We watched her pay the cabby and then turn and ascend the six steps up to the dark red painted door. Digging in a petite little purse she found the keys and opened the door. Bright light from the interior exploded into the night and lit her up like a brilliant sun before the door closed behind.
Grinning, shaking my head, I realized I hadn’t been breathing for the last five or ten seconds. I started to say something to Frank. But the big man’s elbow touched me softly on the forearm in a silent warning. Turning my attention to the corner of Elm and Fifth I saw what caught Frank’s attention. A black form—barely visible in the blackness of the night—stepped out of the dark shadows and paused on the edge of the curb. There was the sound of a cigarette lighter’s lid flipping open. The yellow white flame of the lighter created a momentary bubble of illumination in the inkiness of the night. A light filled with the hard, angular edges of a man lighting a cigarette—and then darkness again with the sound of the Zippo’s lid flicking shut.
With a casual familiarity he stepped off the curb and walked across the street and ascended up the stone steps to the brick red door. He didn’t knock. He didn’t ring the doorbell. He just opened the door and walked in.
“Wanna go over and say hello?”
“No. Why let’em know we’re watching? Better to wait here and watch. See if we can figure out what they’re up to.”
“You mean try to figure out who the Russian is going to kill before leaving town,” Frank whispered.
“Right. So far neither of them has committed a crime we can tag’em with and make it stick. So we watch. Wait. Find out who the woman is.”
“Funny, though. Something’s funny about all of this.”
In the darkness a smirk creased my lips. I nodded as Frank continued whispering softly.
“The Russian allows us to see him. Just waltzes up to the street corner and lights a cigarette. As if, as if . . “
“As if he knew we were watching?” I filled in.
“Uh huh,” grunted my partner in the darkness. “Kinda spooky, if you ask me.”
The Russian and the blond. Like I said. Bad juju, baby. Bad juju.
Two hours later we watched the dazzling enchantress leave. Leave, stepping down steps and adjusting her body-hugging dress like she had hurriedly thrown it on. She stopped beside the cab door, turned and looked for a moment or two at the brick red door, and then slid into the cab and disappeared into the night. Leaving the Russian inside the brownstone.
With all the lights out—giving the appearance of an empty residence waiting for the owners to come back. Dark and empty. Looking every bit like a trap. A perfect trap. Both of us reached for our cell phones at the same time. Moments later we had our answers. The brownstone at 522 E. Elm belonged to Arlo Biggs. Biggs was into selling cars. Had a string of new car dealerships strung out across three states. Fifteen dealerships. Rich—worth, conservatively, around thirty million dollars.
Biggs owned the brownstone. But it wasn’t his place of residence. It was his love nest. His home away from home whenever he wanted to bed one of his many girlfriends. He brought them here. Wined them—dined them—lavished them with very expensive gifts. Then bedded them. Bedded them away from prying eyes and public places. Away from gossip columnists and inquisitive reporters.
We also found out who the goddess was. Surprise. She was not one of Arlo’s weekend toys. She was his daughter. His only child. Georgina Biggs. Age twenty-seven. Graduate of Yale with a Masters in Psychology and Languages. One of her languages being—unsurprisingly—Russian.
Hours later we were back at the squad room at South Side, our precinct house, sitting at our desks and wondering what the hell was going on. We never saw the Russian leave the love nest. As far as we knew he was still there. Still sitting in the dark. Waiting.
“So daughter knows about papa’s hideaway love nest. Okay. Kinky,” Frank almost grinned, nodding. “But how did she bump into our other friend? And when did they become lovers?”
“More importantly, what are the two cooking up?” I responded, shaking my head. “Come on. We better go over and have a talk with the old man.”
“Why the old man?” Frank asked, coming out of his chair and following me to the stairs of the second floor squad room. “We should talk to the daughter.”
“If she’s working with the Russian on something she isn’t going to tell us a thing. But maybe the old man might have something for us.”
When we arrived at the palatial estate of old man Biggs we found two patrol cars setting in the white gravel drive in front of the house with their lights winking at us. Two uniformed officers were keeping herd on four individuals standing in the thick grass to one side of the sidewalk leading up to the front door of the house. One of the officers’ was writing down notes.
Climbing out of our car one of the officers turned to us, nodded, and tilted his head toward the house.
“You two got here fast enough. We just called in asking for a couple of detectives.”
“What’s going on?” Frank grunted, frowning and turning to stare at the house.
“Upstairs in the bedroom. Owner of the house lying in bed with his throat sliced open. Blood all over the place. The man’s daughter is downstairs in the living room shaking like a leaf and about to go into shock.”
“She kill him?” I asked, but already knowing the answer.
“Who? The daughter? You kidding me? She could kill you with her looks, detective. But she’s way too shy. Too small to kill anyone. She said she heard her father scream. When she went upstairs to his bedroom he saw the murderer stepping away from her father’s bed. Tall man. With sharp features. Wearing a mask covering half his face. She started to scream but the man knocked her out with a fist. You should see the bruise on the side of her face. It’ll be there for weeks.”
I glanced at Frank and grunted. Turning, we walked into the house and for the living room. The moment we stepped into the room the Goddess Shiva—The Destroyer—came off the long divan and moved straight into my arms and held on tightly.
“Oh, it was horrible, detective. Horrible! Father is lying up there dead and this . . . this . . . madman killed him!”
Her arms wrapped around me and pulled me even closer. She was wearing a pearl white silk nightgown that covered everything—yet left nothing to the imagination. Firm breasts with large nipples seem to drill into my chest. Her hard, slim waist pressed against mine. The heat of her hard body intoxicating. Golden curls, amazingly soft and alluring, seeming to cascade all over.
She was holding me so tight I found it difficult to breath. Pulling her arms off me I stepped back. And as I did I happen to glance at her right hand. There, in the fleshy webbing between the thumb and fore finger, was a small speck of blood. Pushing her away from me I looked at her. On the side of her face was a big welt. A welt only a man’s hand could create. A blow so hard her left eye was partially closed.
“Can you find this killer, detective? Can you find him and throw him in prison?”
Beautiful. Gorgeous. Breath-taking. So beautiful to look at every nerve ending in my body tingled. And . . . . .wrong. Something so very, very . . . . . wrong.
“Where is your mother?” I asked for some odd reason.”
“Dead. Died two years ago. Choked to death while eating an apple.”
“Any other relative we can call to come over here and be with you?” Frank asked.
“No. I am the only one.”
The sole heir. Thirty million dollars. All hers.
We left her with a couple of EMT medics and a uniformed officer and drove over to the love nest. Of course it was empty. There was no sign of the Russian. Well . . . partially true. In fact he was waiting for us. It was a trap.
Stepping out of the blackness of the love nest Frank and I came down the steps and slid into the 350 Shelby Mustang I drive. The moment we closed the doors and I started to reach for the ignition switch something in the darkness in front of us moved. Instinctively I reached for the light switch. The headlights exploded in the night—and there he stood. The Russian. Standing in front of us, dressed in black; a thin, wiry grin on his coldly handsome face and a 9 mm Beretta in his right hand.
“Gun!” Frank shouted, throwing open his door and rolling out at the same time.
The night exploded in flame, thunder, and flying lead. Five shots. Three through the front windshield of the Shelby and two shots through the front grill. The hiss of the car’s radiator letting off steam after getting drilled told us we weren’t going anywhere soon in that car.
And the Russian? Gone. Disappeared. Like a ghost.
We rolled off the warm asphalt and came to our feet. I had the 9mm Kimber in my hand and Frank had his 9mm Glock in his. But the Russian wasn’t to be found.
“Why didn’t he kill us? He had us right where he would want us if he was here to kills us,” Frank grunted.
“That’s not part of the plan, buddy. We’re supposed to stay alive. Give corroboration to Georgina Biggs’ story.”
“This was for show? The Russian makes sure we see him try to kill us in front of old man Bigg’s love nest? She hires the Russian to kill her old man and then uses him to establish an alibi?”
I grinned, holstering my weapon and glancing at my partner. Frank saw the grin and almost grinned himself.
“You’re thinking the Russian didn’t kill the old man. His baby daughter did it while he was asleep. Came in with a straight razor or knife and sliced him up like a block of cheese. Betcha she had something to do with her mother’s death as well. The bitch.”
“But a smart bitch, Frank. Somehow she heard we had a couple of run-ins with the Russian. So he’s established as a hit man in our books. The District Attorney’s attention will go automatically to him. I’ll lay money on the table old man Biggs and the Russian have done some business in the past. More evidence to throw the suspicion off Georgina . And let’s face it. One look at her in the courtroom and there’s no jury in this country that would ever convict of a murder.”
“Brother. I guess the old cliché is true. Looks can kill.”
Yes. They certainly can.
B.R. Stateham writes noir. Bad men, bad timing, bad luck; all the ingredients which make up a mean, nasty world. At sixty-one he’s just now getting to grips on what a good story should feel like. But what do you think?