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Heartbreaking Impasse of a Grey Evening, Part 2

Wrong Emotions At The Wrong Time

John’s Joint was deserted when I entered. John turned and stared at me with concern as I approached the bar. He was a man in his mid-forties with a shock of white hair and white beard. My head throbbed as if a live band was performing inside it. He cocked his head and raised an eyebrow, then whistled with fascination.

“Well, well, if it isn’t ol’ Dan,” he said with his usual booming voice. “You look as though a bull trampled on you! What’s been happenin’?”

“Scotch,” I snapped, “make it double.” I was in no mood for friendly chit-chat.

“Sure thing,” he said hastily, turning to fetch the drink.

My mind was somewhat in turmoil. Felix’s friend had nabbed me, and I was sure by now that both of them knew what my role was in the picture. They knew I was investigating them, and probably were already out to get me. Well, not that it worried me, but the initial plan was not to have them know I was on their trail. Too late now, I had given myself away. How could I have known that Felix and his accomplice were already in Kruger’s compound last night? When had they arrived? What were they planning to do? What had they done already? By the time I had regained consciousness, it was close to dawn. I had eventually discovered the exact place where they had cleverly cut the wire fence, just where it joined the hedge south of the garden.

I gulped down the whiskey, paid for it, went back to my car and drove towards Ed’s Car Repair shop. The crates hadn’t been tampered with, although I knew it was just a matter of time before Felix realized that his precious photos were missing. I decided I had enough info to hand over to Kruger but it was not enough to bring to light a conspiracy instigated by his wife and Felix: I had to dig more. I had to know who exactly was behind it all and what they were planning to do. Mid morning found me at S.V. Annex and as I stepped into Kruger’s office, Grace came out of the study and greeted me with a smile. She shook the thick dark hair off her face. Her eyes were dark and pretty and as penetrating as arrows, and as I faced her, I realized how lovely she was.

“Mr. Kruger is in a board meeting, he won’t be coming back until after four,” she said. Her voice was smooth, clear and pleasant.

“Oh, I see. I wanted to brief him on—”

“… The investigation, of course,” she cut me short with a smile. She was smiling just the way I like to see them smiling.

“You know about it?” I asked feeling a bit surprised.

“Of course I do, I am his most trusted secretary.”

Then I remembered the words of Felix: “The old fox has an eye for his secretary, and she sort of controls his decisions sometimes. He trusts her way too much”

“Oh … yes, I see … then I’ll be on my way. Tell him I’ll see him later.”

“She left you a note,” she said picking a piece of paper from the desk.

“I’ll have it, thanks.”

The note was hand-written:

Morgan,

I trust you have something for me. I won’t be free until much later in the afternoon. Leave any report you have with Grace. You can trust her.

Kruger.

I put the note into my pocket and turned to Grace. She was sitting with her chin on her open palm, looking at me. God, she was so lovely. I had been with beautiful women all my adult life, but this one was not just beautiful: she had an outstanding simplicity that fit her so well, a sincerity that seemed so natural and eyes that reflected a kind of purity of the heart … looking at her, I could see clearly why Kruger was so fond of her—if not in love with her.

“Well,” I said. “That will be fine with me. I have some evidence that I would like to show him, but I’d like to do some more investigation first, once I have the missing pieces I’ll submit the full report.” As I talked, her long slender fingers were on the computer keyboard typing a mini-report.

“However, I am afraid part of his suspicions has been confirmed.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Would that be the part about planning murder or the part of infidelity?”

So she knew everything. I hesitated. “Both parts are sort of intertwined, I believe,” I said, wondering how much I should tell her. “Do me one favor, will you? Tell him not to sleep at home tonight—or any other night—until I make sure he is out of danger.”

Her eyes became alert. “Then it really is true? Someone wants to kill Mr. Kruger?”

“That is a possibility, but I can’t prove it right now. What I can prove is that his wife is up to some mischief, together with some other men—two men at least. I have an envelope which bears the evidence but I will submit it once all the pieces fall into place. That’s all.”

“When do you think you will manage to have the complete report ready?” she asked without taking her eyes off the monitor.

“In a day, two days, one week … two weeks … I can’t tell for sure.”

“Okay. Hang on a moment.” She made a print-out and handed it to me. “Just sign it.”

I signed the report and was about to leave when she stopped me. “Can I ask you something?” she asked.

“Yes of course—anything.”

“That envelope; what is inside that implicates Mrs. Kruger? I won’t report it if you don’t want me to.”

“Photos of a man getting somehow intimate with Mrs. Kruger,” I replied watching her face closely.

She frowned thoughtfully. “So Mr. Kruger guessed right?”

“So it appears.”

“This is getting rather tense, isn’t it?”

“It is, but it’s just a matter of time before I solve it. I’ve got numerous pieces; all I need is to fit them together.”

“All the best, Mr. Morgan, have a splendid day,” she said and flashed me a smile so dazzling that it made me feel a bit weak. I felt blood rush to my face.

“Please call me Dan. Thank you, and have a great day too.”

As I drove along First City Road, I was contemplating my next move. I had to know who Felix’s accomplice was; and right then, I had only one alternative, and that was to have him tailed. I had to hire someone else to do the job and stay out of sight. I needed some facts: I had to investigate Felix’s colleagues, find out who was closest to him, the kind of dealings he had with them, his acquaintances, how he spent his pastime and who his friends were. Someone had to give me some details about Kruger’s staff and their addresses, and there was only one person suited to do that: Grace Derrick. Why hadn’t I thought about it?

I picked my cell phone and dialed Kruger’s office. Grace answered with a cheerful, professional voice.

“Kelly J. Kruger’s office; good morning!”

“Grace, it’s me again. I need you to do me another favor, right? Can you email me the total list of Kruger’s workers who are directly under Felix Alexander? I need to know who is closest to him, who is the most trusted. Email me a copy of each person’s photo, okay? Do you think you can do it?”

“Certainly, Mr. Morgan—I mean Dan.”

“Thank you Miss Derrick—I mean Grace,” I said and winked to myself. “Include their addresses too please.”

She laughed heartily, “Yes I will,” she cooed. “I’ve been instructed to help you with anything you need.”

“I will appreciate it. Talk later,” I said and hung up, branching off into The Eastern Cavern.

I stopped at the apartment building and went up into my house. After a light meal and a cup of coffee, I kicked out my shoes and spread out on the bed. My head was starting to ache and the area above my temple was feeling tender. I needed some sleep while I had the chance. I had resumed a detective’s life; a life full of sleepless nights.

The shrill sound of the doorbell woke me with a start. I sat up, rubbed my eyes and turned to the wall clock: it was three in the afternoon. I stood and went to open the door. Standing right outside my front door, a big envelope under her arm, was Grace.

“You must have slept like a log,” she said. “You didn’t answer your phone so I had to come myself.”

“Sorry about that,” I said apologetically, “come on in please.”

She entered the room and handed me the envelope. Inside it were print-outs of documents and photos.

“Mr. Kruger called and asked about you,” she said. “When I told him you had come looking for him, he insisted I bring the papers to you instead of sending them via email. There is all the data you want: the workers, their records and their photos.”

“Thanks a lot for taking the trouble to come up. This house of mine has never known such an elegant presence.”

“I feel flattered,” she said and blushed.

I placed the envelope on the small desk beside my desktop computer. Grace came sat at the small dining table. With her so close, I was aware of an excitement rushing up my spine, a feeling I fought hard to suppress. I crossed over to the coffee blender and switched it to life.

“Have you been an investigator for long?” she asked, shaking hair off her face—a gesture that set my heart on a marathon. Damn it, I swore to myself. What did this woman have in her that made my nerves so jumpy?

“Six years, then I retired.” I came over and poured her some coffee. “I can’t believe I am doing it again; I probably need my brain examined.”

“You are a godsend, Dan. Mr. Kruger is the luckiest man to have met you.”

I sat down and faced her. “But why, Grace? Why me? Why should he consider himself so lucky? Why is he so sure I will solve his problems?”

“Well,” she said, then sat back and faced me. “He did some research. Somehow, he came across a document featuring the events of the Liverwort serial killings, of which I know you are familiar.”

I sighed. So that was how he had found me. Liverwort case … That was one of the toughest criminal cases the country had ever encountered. A notorious gang of drug traffickers and serial killers had become almost impossible to track and nail down. I had helped the police to bring them down and that event had created a buzz around the district; everybody seemed to know me. Four months later, I had found myself in trouble when two of the criminals who had escaped the police dragnet kidnapped me and tied me up in an old shack in the woods. When I eventually escaped, they caught up with me, shot me and left me for dead. Two months later, recovered and breathing vengeance, I had tracked them down and brought an end to their days of terror. That had won me recognition and respect from the police department. After that ordeal, I had developed a desire to have my normal life back. I had packed and got out of town, determined to bury my head in vehicles—that was my second love. I had contacted Felix who connected me with Ed … well, you know the rest.

“Dan …” Grace’s voice jolted me back to the present. “Mr. Kruger has faith in your capability. He is highly optimistic that working with you, the future of his business interests is secure.”

“Really? That sounds a bit too ambitious.”

“No way. He is right, I know he is.” She stood and glanced at the wall clock. “I’ll be on my way. It was nice talking to you.”

“Pleasure was all mine,” I said and gave her my most charming smile, which made her cheeks flush deep pink.

“Thanks for the coffee. I am looking forward to working with you.”

You have no idea, Pretty, I said to myself. Aloud, I said, “Me too. Let me walk you to the street”

She hesitated and looked at me. “Dan … do you have the envelope containing Mrs. Kruger’s photos here with you?”

“No,” I replied. “I hid them where the owner can’t find them.”

She stood with her back to the door, just a foot away from me; I was again aware of my thumping heart.

“It’s Felix, isn’t he?” her voice was barely more than a whisper. I looked into her eyes: there was an alert look in them, and that surprised me.

“What makes you think it’s him?” I asked, watching her expression closely.

“I was the one who took those photographs.”

To say that that statement shocked me would be an understatement. “What!” I asked incredulously.

Grace was looking kind of scared, almost trembling.

“How and when did you shoot the photos, and why did you do it?” I asked anxiously.

She shuddered. “That was three weeks ago. I followed them into a fashion boutique, and waited until they were too engrossed to notice, then I took the snaps. I thought it was a perfect opportunity to prove to Mr. Kruger that his most trusted sales manager was betraying him. I … I didn’t … I wasn’t sure I was able to do it ….” Her voice trailed off to silence.

“Does Kruger know all this?”

“No he doesn’t. I lost the snaps, and I couldn’t confront Mr. Kruger without any tangible evidence.”

“How did you lose them to Felix?”

Suddenly, it seemed her knees grew weak. She walked back to the chair and sat down, facing the floor, a distant look in her dark eyes; then she begun to talk …. The mistake Grace had done was to take her digital camera to Maryanne who happened to be a friend of hers—Maryanne was in charge of Kruger’s company publications, and had a printer that produced exotic glossy prints—and since she was having the day off, she let Grace help herself to the printer. But something went wrong the following day. Grace wasn’t sure who betrayed her to Felix. She felt pretty sure that she hadn’t left a copy of the photos in Maryanne’s computer.

Then she remembered with dismay: one of the photo-papers had been half-damaged during printing, and she had put it wrong upside down on Maryanne’s desk, intending to take it with her when leaving; but as fate would have it, she completely forgot. She left it on the table carelessly! Someone informed Felix, and he barged into her office, rough and smoking from the ears. He looked brutal and violent, so he threatened her and forced her to surrender the photos, her camera and her USB flash drive. All these he took away with him.

I had a feeling that she wasn’t telling me the whole story, but I wasn’t going to nag her for now.

“I am scared he might come after me once he finds the snaps missing,” she said with an exasperated look.

“No he won’t,” I assured her, holding her hand and squeezing it between mine. “I am the one he is coming after.”

“You?” she asked. “What do you mean?”

“Just a matter of time before he knows I have them. He and I had an unpleasant meeting last night, but I won’t give you the details yet.”

“Do you think he will somehow recover the photos, Dan? I am scared!”

“No, they are safe at my work place—” I hesitated.

She raised her eyes to look at me: she was beginning to relax. Suddenly, she hugged me and clang to me for a moment, then let go. I was glad when she released me, I didn’t fancy a heart attack in the middle of an investigation; not from a girl who was swimming her way into my blood already … that had me worried for a moment. Was I falling in love with her?

Ten minutes after she had left, I snapped myself back to the present and sat down to look at the contents of the envelope she had brought. She had written me a neat report, well summarized and ordered. I scanned the staff photos looking for the bald-headed man. He was not in the list. That meant that Felix’s accomplice was not from the company. I took some time to read through the report breaking down the workers, their positions and relationship with Felix but there was nothing that I could hold on to for now.

After putting the photos back into the envelope, I crossed over to my PC and switched it on. I was going to look for a local a private investigator online and hire him to follow Felix. I found a local directory that listed down local businesses, updated 3 months ago. It didn’t take me long; I settled on one L. James Baker situated along Lake Road at Eastend.

Heart of the Chase

Harley House was a 1972 four-story building set along the beautiful narrow tree-lined Lake Road. I walked in and pushed a glass door on room 14. A bespectacled secretary raised her eyes at me.

“Good afternoon, sir. How can I help you?” Her voice could have been reading from automatic script: flat, detached and professional.

I told her I was looking for Mr. L. James Baker.

She pointed to an inner door. “He is right inside,” she said.

I walked into a small office with yellow colored walls, a desk, two chairs and a tall shelf lined with files. Behind the desk sat a tall thin man with black hair and a black moustache. When he saw me, his eye popped out of their sockets as if he had seen a ghost.

“Why, this surely can’t be the famous Dan Morgan? Well, I’ll be darned!” he exclaimed, standing up to shake my hand.

“Certainly not,” I replied dryly. “The famous Morgan died long ago; this one need some help from you right now.”

He chuckled. “Please sit down,” he said cheerfully, “I like your sense of humor. Now, what brings you to my humble office?”

I produced my photographs, selected Felix’s and handed it to him. He took it and scrutinized it with a frown.

“Does that face mean anything to you?” I asked him.

“I’ve seen this guy somewhere … now let’s see … where was it?” He stroked his mustache and wrestled with his thoughts for a while. I let him think.

“Of course! He was on TV, in a business documentary feature,” he said excitedly. “Sales manager for … I don’ remember.”

“Kruger Limited,” I said.

“Exactly!” he exclaimed, snapping his fingers. “Big name, huh?”

“Listen, I want you to keep tabs on this guy. I want to be notified on where he goes when off-duty, who he meets and what he does. More importantly, I want to know when and if he liaises with a tall, heavily-built man who is completely bald and wears glasses.”

“That sounds like Billy,” he said with a smile.

I looked sharply at him. “Billy? Who would that be?”

“Billy used to host business feature programs onTV-6,” he replied. “He was the one interviewing Felix that particular evening, but I understand he retired five months ago. However, it could probably be any other man and not Billy.”

“Do you think you can get me his photo?”

“Certainly,” he said picking his phone. He pressed a button and said: “Hey Mary … can you get me a snap of Billy Joe—formerly working on TV-6? Yes, thank you … now, yes … good.”

A few minutes later, his secretary came in with two prints and handed them to Baker, who took them and thanked her. He studied them briefly and then handed them to me.

“This is Billy alright,” he said.

The man in the photos looked a great deal like the fellow who had socked me in Kruger’s garden the other night. Although I had seen him just briefly – at night, I had a feeling he could be Felix’s accomplice.

“This could be the guy, or it could be someone else. Find out where he lives. Remember I want Felix followed 24/7. Keep out of sight, he could be dangerous.”

He said he would take the job himself, that he was honored to work for a reputed detective; so I gave him my phone number and Felix’s address, paid him the retainer and left.

Well, I told myself as I hit the highway; what shall I do with Felix? It was possible he was part of a gang that was working underground to topple Kruger’s empire. To make matters worse, his wife was on their side. Kruger was not the only one who was in danger, I was too; but I could take care of myself.

Well, at least that was what I told myself then. With every minute that passed, I was getting closer to losing everything I cared for and dreamed about—and I wasn’t even aware of it. With years outside of detective work, I must have grown soft and probably got my wits dimmed. I was seemingly under a false notion that what I had encountered before was worse than what could possibly happen in Kruger’s case, but I couldn’t be farther from the truth. I had often heard the saying that ‘things aren’t always what they seem’ but time under vehicles’ engines has erased such reasoning. Throwing caution to the winds does have consequences—always.

I met Kruger in a deluxe motel directly facing S.V. Annex across the avenue, where he had reserved a table for both of us. He welcomed me with a nod and gestured me to a chair. I sat and for the next half hour, I gave him a detailed account of events. He sat and listened keenly as I talked, a frown creasing his forehead. When I was done, he sat back and fixed his gaze on the table.

“Hmm … Felix?” he said as though talking to himself. “My efficient sales manager?” He raised his head slowly and looked at me. I could see a mixture of emotions in his eyes: this was an employer who had suddenly realized his right-hand man was a traitor.

“I am dismayed as much as you are, Mr. Kruger. Felix happens to be my childhood friend. He has never shown such tendencies before. However, people change.” “What is your next step?” he asked, his face taking on a ruthless look.

“By this time tomorrow, I hope to have unearthed the gang behind the plot, if such exists.”

He sighed. “I am counting on you to do it, Mr. Morgan,” he said. “Listen, I am catching a flight tonight to Paris where I’ll be attending a meeting for three days. By then, I expect you to have concluded this whole business. Is that okay with you?”

I said it was okay; that way he would be far from any potential harm.

“Good,” he said, signaling to a waiter. “Let’s dine, shall we?”

It was twenty to nine when I reached home. I was about to unlock the door when I realized it was unlocked: someone had been here before me. Slowly, I pushed the door, extended my arm inside, reached out and found the light switch. Turning it on, I and stepped into the room and looked at the floor, not surprised in the very least: there were papers scattered everywhere; contents of my desk drawer were sprawled all over the place. The intruder must have been in such a hurry to recover his photos. I stepped into the bed room. Heaps of clothes torn out of the wardrobe were thrown all over the floor. Whoever was here had sat on the bed and left an impression. I reached over and touched it with the back of my hand, and I was surprised to feel it was warm. So the intruder had been here right before I had stepped in! He must be in a rage at not finding his precious prints. They were safely stashed under the floor in Ed’s garage—

Suddenly, I jerked myself to attention. Ed’s garage! Of course that was where he was right now, looking for them!

I got out of the house and ran down the stairs and into the street. Crossing the road and keeping to the shadows, I walked down two blocks, crossed the street again and reached the back of the building that hosted the car repair shop. I had to walk round the building in order to access the garage whose front faced the main highway. When I was near the entrance I saw a small yellow hatchback sedan that had been parked nearby start violently, then speed away down the highway. If that was Felix, he had shot off like a demon out of hell. I broke into a run and approached the shop, then suddenly halted, realizing I hadn’t brought the keys with me. I had left the keys on my table, but when I had entered my room, they hadn’t been there. Darn it, how could I be so careless? I had completely forgotten about them when going to Eastend, all I had carried with me was Grace’s envelope. I felt dismay creeping up my spine: had Felix found the snaps?

The garage door was ajar. I turned on the light and entered the inner room. The crates had been toppled over, their contents poured on the floor. They were lying in an untidy mess while others were broken. The carpet had been ripped apart with a brute force. I was too late; the envelope containing Felix’s photos was gone.

Taste of Betrayal

I woke up with a start, drenched in sweat. The wall clock ticked ten. I got out of bed, entered the bathroom and got under the shower. My mind was racing. How could Felix have known the exact place where to fetch the pictures? Now I was one major step backward; I had lost an integral part of evidence that Kruger badly needed.

I came out of the bathroom, picked my cell phone and dialed a number. Baker responded with a cool professional tone. “Mr. Morgan? I am right on it. When you left last night, I assigned two men to the job: one on Felix and the other on Billy. Felix was located shortly after nine last night. Billy seems to be out of town right now. It’s reported he left yesterday morning.”

“Where was Felix located at nine?”

“In his house: he had a guest, a lady for that matter.”

“Any description?”

“Tall, slim, short blond hair. Mean anything to you?”

“No,” I said, “Are you sure it was around nine?”

“Positive”

I sighed. “Got it. Listen, stick to Felix and don’t lose him. Brief me as soon as you have anything. One more thing: let me know if any of his associates owns a small yellow hatchback sedan. Okay?”

“Can do. Will do.”

I thanked him and hung up.

Then that meant it was not Felix who had paid me that little visit last night. It was possible he may have hired someone else to do his dirty work for him; it had to be that way. He was trying to act smart by staying clear of muddy water while his sales manager profile was still shining. Of course he wouldn’t want to appear anywhere near my premises.

I had just consumed a couple of toasted bread slices with an omelette and some coffee when the phone rang. I was surprised to hear Felix’s voice on the other end of the line.

“Dan?” He sounded perturbed and his voice was very low; it was as though he didn’t want to be overheard. “I am calling from the capital; inside the jewelry exhibition room. Listen, something is wrong, very wrong—I need your help …”

“What is it?” I asked sharply but his voice trailed off and went silent.

More quizzed than alarmed, I half ran to my car, kicked it to life and headed for the highway. I made it to the city in twenty short minutes. After easing the car into a parking lot one block away from the jewelry store, I locked it and then started walking towards the store. When I got to the glass door, I didn’t see anyone inside. I was about to enter when gunfire stopped me short. Six consecutive shots roared, glasses shattered and splintered … a man’s voice screamed from the inside then went quiet. I waited. Then there came sounds of footsteps running down to the back exit: the gunman was escaping. I dashed into the store, ran down the smooth tiled corridor in pursuit till I found myself in a tiny backyard surrounded by high stone walls with both barbed and electric perimeter wires fixed on top. The gunman had vanished, but he couldn’t have come this way. He must still be in the building somewhere.

I walked back into the shop and went around the counter. Glass cases had been shattered and were all over the floor. Jewelry was scattered everywhere. As I turned, a grisly sight met my eyes: lying in a corner, in a pool of blood was a body fat middle-aged man; his sightless eyes focused on the ceiling in a ghastly expression of terror. Next to him lay a handgun. I was so shocked that I didn’t hear an approaching police siren until it was right outside the store. Four cops barged in, guns in hand, pointed in my direction.

“Arms behind your head!” they barked, so I complied and stepped back.

“Care to tell us what the hell is going on here?” asked the mean-looking cop in a hard voice.

“I am Mr. Kruger’s private detective. Morgan is the name. I received a call from Felix the sales manager saying he urgently needed my help but he hung up before I—”

“Any ID card?” the cop asked, glaring at me.

“No but Mr. Kruger can confirm it.”

“Never mind, mister. You are coming with us to the station; we need to know what the hell you were doing here all alone with a dead man.” He sneered and grabbed my arm.

“Hey!” I said roughly, “the gunman is escaping right now; he might still be in the building—”

“Zip it, smart guy. But if you insist, then we will conduct a search while you wait. If there is such a man in the building—whom I believe doesn’t exist—we will get him.”

He nodded to another cop and both of them went out of the room, guns clutched in both hands. One of the cops inspected the corpse, then made a call while the other put the handgun into a plastic bag. A few minutes later, the two cops came back; the mean-looking one gave me a sour look.

“No gunman in the building, mister. Perhaps you never saw any gunman in the first place.”

“Of course I did! He shot that guy over there!” I said, trying to control a rising temper.

“Save it for later, mister; you will have to accompany us to the station. You have the right to remain silent; anything you say can and will be used against you …” I had listened to such speech before so I complied. Of course you couldn't convince a cop who believed too much in himself to conduct a thorough search. Ten minutes later in the police station, I had signed a statement, had my fingerprints taken and was ready to get out of the station. However, the mean-looking deputy obviously didn’t like me very much; he decided to detain me for one more hour, supposedly waiting for the chief. So I sat and waited for forty-five good minutes before I began to feel impatient. Just then, the chief of police Peter Hans entered the small stuffy office. He was a 47-year old man with a creased forehead and sharp little eyes.

“Mr. Morgan, I know you,” he said wiping his brow. “I have heard of your achievements in the past, and I am sorry you have been involved in this. This is just a normal procedure as you know so well. We will be …” the sharp ringing tone of his cell phone interrupted him. He fished it and pressed a button.

“Yes?” he barked, listened some more and frowned. “You are sure of that …? Okay, come up here.”

He turned to me and gave me a hard look. “Mr. Morgan, you and I need to talk,” he sat down and faced me. “Perhaps if you and I get to have a nice heart-to-heart talk, lots of unnecessary inconveniences will be avoided.”

I didn’t say anything to that. I could smell trouble coming, though.

“If you don’t tell me the truth …” he shrugged, “then there is nothing I can do for you.”

“What more truth, Chief? I have said all I had to say.”

“Did you shoot Mr. Kruger’s store attendant?”

For a split moment, I thought I hadn’t heard him right. My mouth went dry. “What!” I exclaimed.

“No point denying it. That gun has your fingerprints on every inch of it.”

“My fingerprints!” I shot back, utterly astonished. “How did that happen? I never even touched damned gun!”

“That, my friend, is what I expect you to tell me,” he said and crossed his legs.

I said I had no idea how that happened. Looking at him, I could see he didn’t buy it.

Sighing, he removed a glass case from a bag and showed it to me. It had jewels inside.

“Whose are those?” I asked suspiciously.

“Identified positively as belonging to Kruger’s store,” he said with a menacing look. “We found them in your house.”

That statement made me jump out of my skin. “My house?” I shot back, overwhelmed.

“You heard me, Morgan,” he said and spat. “Seems like you got yourself into a tight spot, son. You are facing a first-degree murder charge for this.” He rose and called out to his deputy. “Escort him to the cell,” he said and stormed out of the room.

Before I was locked in, I called Baker to find out what transpiring. He told me he had tracked Billy who was having meetings with Felix on the city suburbs. Billy seemed to be staying a mile or two east of the city; he and Felix were supposedly ferrying Kruger’s goods to a secret store outside the city. It seemed there was a gang involved in the set-up. I urged him to carry on, and notified him I was under arrest. He assured me he would hang on.

It was not until five in the evening that Kruger made a long-distant call, whereby he was notified of the developments by the police. He sent his personal lawyer who not only bailed me out, but was to represent me in court. As I got out of the cell, I had only one man’s name on my ‘wanted’ list, and I was going to get him. I took out my phone and dialed his number, and he surprisingly received it.

“Hey there, mate!” he boomed, his voice spitting out sarcasm. “You must be enjoying yourself.”

“Nice try Felix. I must admit it, you really pulled it off,” my voice was quiet and controlled.

“Too bad, Dan, too bad,” he replied with a contemptuous tone. “You crossed my path … no-one crosses my path and escapes. You are going to jail, Dan, you are not so smart.”

“Wrong, Felix. I am coming after you, and you won’t escape.”

He let out a hollow mirthless laugh. “We will see about that, smart guy.”

I hung up. Right now I was pretty sure I was in trouble, and I had only four days to gather incriminating evidence against Felix. However, I had a constant uneasy feeling that I could not: time was too short. That same evening, I met with Baker and gave him more instructions concerning tracking down the killer in the jewelry store, then went to a hotel room and slept.

Kruger called me the following morning. He sounded as tough and as business-like as ever. He said he was sorry that I had gone through all this. However, he wouldn’t be influencing the police to let me go since I could take of myself. “You have my lawyer,” he said. “Cooperate with him for your own good.”

I thanked him and took a minute to brief him of the recent happenings: everything about Felix and his mischief and plots, about Billy to the present.”

“Listen to me, Mr. Morgan,” he said. “I didn't expect you to get yourself hoodwinked by a bunch of dimwit criminals. Nevertheless, I have faith in Grace. Show her the evidence—everything you got. Give her the proof—forget the police. If she calls me and then confirms it to me, you will be having the keys to your new home this time day after tomorrow. Got it? All I need is a call from her. Good luck.” He hung up

Oh great! I said to myself sourly. Grace? Suddenly I was in her mercy, wasn’t I?

Coincidentally, Grace was the one who appeared in the police station later in the day to sign a statement concerning the company’s ownership of the jewels since she had the inventory. I was there when she sat and answered questions, her face looking grave and hard. She avoided my eyes as much as she could. Somehow, that hurt me, but I understood. She said she didn’t know me prior to working for her boss. She identified the jewels as Kruger’s, and asked whether, in her opinion, I could possibly be a smuggler, she said maybe, she didn’t know. Asked whether it was possible that I had stolen them from the store-armed-she said yes, it was possible. Then she was released, and went off without turning to look at me.

“Grace!” I called, running after her. She stopped on the cobblestone front drive, turned and faced me. Her expression was as hard as granite: this wasn’t the Grace I had met a few days ago.

“Call Kruger and tell him what you know. Tell him I showed you the photos, and that Felix had a gang of criminals working underground to bring him down. They are ferrying his goods out of town. He will believe you. I need a few more days to nail them down and expose them. Grace, you have got to do it.”

“No,” she said, avoiding my eyes. Her voice sounded dry and flat. “There were no pictures. I didn’t see anything.” She turned around and began to walk towards a waiting yellow sedan.

“Grace! Damn it, you can’t just leave! You have to do it!”

She got into the car and drove off. I stared at her, too shocked to react. Looking at her vanish, I felt emptiness, a void hollow feeling of dismay, disappointment and disgust. She had acted as though I didn’t exist, probably because she already believed I was guilty, but she sounded determined to push me out of her mind and life. I was too dismayed, too preoccupied to note that she had gone off in a yellow sedan similar to the one I had asked Baker to investigate.

Then I became aware of the two of the cops standing at the entrance and staring at me. I glared back at them and stormed out of the station.

Then the unexpected happened that evening: I was called by Chief of police Hans; Grace had been killed by an unknown hit-and-run vehicle. I drove to the city morgue, and became one of the identifiers. She was lying with her eyes closed, her neck and back broken. I felt tears roll down my face, and just then I realized I had loved her. Now she was gone.

Things went from bad to worse: Felix and Billy disappeared without trace, and Baker and I were completely unable to trace them. For two days we worked together, combed the city and the suburbs, asked questions … drove for miles to and fro … We didn’t find them.

I was still sweating over it when I entered the courtroom for my trial. They my case short: they reduced the sentence to sixty years. Evidence against me was too strong, and the lawyer had done his best. I had lost everything I ever cared for, and Felix had won.

… continued in Final Part.


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