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Morgan and the Liverwort Gangsters, Part One

PROLOGUE

“Choose the way you want to die, freak!” the monstrous-looking man said to me and wiped his twisted mouth with the back of his hairy hand.

I stared at him in the gloom of the room. Standing over six feet tall, he had a mighty frame, built as strong as an army tank but his tiny eyes looked oddly unmatched with his big ruthless square face. They were the eyes of a cold-blooded killer; tiny gleaming beady eyes that penetrated your very being. He had multiple scars on his face, a coarse mustache and a vivid 4-inch long tattoo of a gecko on his left cheek. The cream-colored vest he wore exposed a heavy, muscular chest and powerful stump-like biceps and hands that could knock a bull unconscious without much effort. Simply put, he looked like a character pulled straight out of a horror movie.

I didn’t answer.

The giant advanced with three slow deliberate strides and came to a halt before me. Cocking his head to the left, he glared at me with those bead-like eyes; I could see the muscle at the corner of his mouth twitching with distaste. When he spoke, I could smell stale beer in his breath.

“I said choose the way you want to die, freak!” he snarled.

I wonder why this misfit is calling me a freak, I thought to myself. He could pass for a perfect freak himself; besides, I am not that bad-looking either.

“How many choices do I have?” I asked just for sake of talking. I wasn’t expecting any positive development tonight.

The gigantic man stepped back and raised his eyebrows.

“Now we are making progress, aren’t we?” he said and twisted his lips. “Hmmm … let’s see how many choices you have…” he paused and scratched his scalp before going on: “For starters, we could lock you in here and then pump in toxic gas. We could pour gasoline on you and then set the house ablaze; or we could fill your body with bullet holes—not less than a hundred. Now choose the goddamn way you want to die!”

There was now a wild, insane light in his eyes. I was sure he would kill me, and would have fun doing it.

I tried moving; the cords tying my body to the post held me tight like a vice, and the more I strained the more they cut into my skin. My eyes darted around the dark room frantically. There was a single narrow square window on the wall that allowed a sloping beam of sunlight to seep through, illuminating some turbulent particles of dust that seemed to sparkle randomly. That narrow beam of light fell on the shiny bald head of the gigantic brute standing in front of me. The dirty room had some sinister-looking items lying in disorder on the floor: a crowbar at the corner, a pair of pincers, old wooden crates stacked at another corner, a soiled, crumpled apron thrown across a broken wooden chair and an old pair of tattered gloves.

“Time up!” hissed the brute. “Now you will get what is coming to you.”

He turned to the door and howled, “Martin!”

A slim, thin-faced man wearing a sports suit and sports shoes came into the room and stood behind the huge man, his shoulders hunched. His face was in the shadows but I could sense a coldly ruthless and drugged expression hanging onto him like a veil. His hair sat on his head in an unkempt brown mess. Somehow, the sight of this weird savage gave me the creeps.

“Martin is splendid in innovations,” said the huge man, the corner of his mouth still twitching. I could sense dry amusement in his voice. “Every now and then, he comes up with a new exciting way of terminating human life.”

He turned to point at Martin, and then looked at me again. “Morgan, I have decided to have Martin exercise his creative genius on you.” He then leaned forward and whispered in my ear, “Unfortunately, it will be the most horrifying experience you have ever known.”

With that, he stepped back and snapped his fingers.

Martin remained frozen; then slowly walked towards me and stopped at an arm’s distance from me. His shoulders remained hunched, and his hands deep in his trouser pockets.

Slowly, he raised his face to look at me. His nose was broken and flat, hanging above a mouth that had basically no lips. His eyes were hollow and void; and looking at them sent a chill up my spine. If the huge man was bad enough, this thin man would be intolerable. There was something about him that made me yearn to escape this very moment.

However, that wasn’t a likely option considering my current situation: I was miles away from the city, in a god-forsaken house somewhere in the wilderness, tied up to a concrete beam with tough synthetic cords. Escaping from this place called for nothing short of a sheer miracle, but I was one that believed in miracles, no matter how tiny. As a professional crime detective, I had often found myself in need of such.

Martin’s hand crawled into the front pocket and came out holding a weird-looking weapon: a slim six-inch piece of iron shaped like the end of a spear, but its head had deadly sharp barbs. On those barbs was dry blood—human blood I was sure—and the sight of it made my head spin. This creepy man was going to tear my fresh apart, as he had probably done before to God-knows how many people.

“We could find out what his guts are made of, Liverwort,” Martin spoke in a high-pitched voice, his eyes barely leaving my face.

The giant known as Liverwort shrugged, fetched a cigarette from his pocket and lit it before saying, “suit yourself, Martin. When you are done, join me in the car outside. Snap it up, kid, I ain’t got all day!”

Liverwort began to walk towards the door.

“Wait!” I heard myself shriek.

Liverwort halted and turned around; his face registered disgust.

“Harris is on his way here,” I began, aiming to sound as convincing as possible. “He is dragging with him the whole force, with dogs and all; you have no chance of escape, boys.”

Liverwort frowned. “Really? Now why are you telling me all this? If that is the truth, killing you will be even more fun.”

“Not if I can help you escape,” I said in a calm voice, “and help you recover your loot at the same time. By this evening, you can cross the border and disappear.”

The giant grinned wolfishly.

“And why should we trust you, Morgan? You think we are fools?”

I sighed. “I am becoming sick of this life, Liverwort. Most of the time I find myself thinking it’s not worth the trouble. We could help one another: I could take you to where your loot is, and you give me thirty thousand. I could run away myself and start afresh.”

Liverwort shook his head. “Now fancy that!” he bellowed. “A dick co-operates with gangsters, shares the loot with them, and the trio run into the sunset! Perfect news headlines, huh?”

“They will think you killed me, Liverwort.”

Liverwort hesitated. I could see he was beginning to get attracted to my plan. Finally, he shrugged again.

“I could do with the loot, Morgan. It wouldn’t hurt to kill you afterwards, would it?”

I feigned a hurt look.

“Damn it, it sure would!” I exclaimed angrily. “I want a new life too!”

Liverwort thought for a while and then turned to Martin. “Untie him from the beam, but let his hands remain bound behind his back,” he ordered. Martin’s face showed disappointment. He pocketed his crude weapon and untied me from the beam. My legs felt numb; I crashed to the floor. Liverwort grabbed my collar and literally dragged me out of the cabin towards a weather-beaten waiting car outside.

“Get your ass in,” he snarled.

“No, Liverwort,” I said. “The police will trail us more easily when we use the vehicle. We’ve got to walk down the hill, cross the river and head for the aspens. There’s a small hidden cave there; that’s where I hid your money.”

From a distance came the sound of dogs barking. Liverwort and Martin exchanged glances.

“The police! We’ve got to move—now!”

“Shut up, freak!” he said shrilly. “They will pick up our scent!”

“Listen, Liverwort!” I retorted impatiently. “Take the small packet from my inner coat pocket. It contains some powder. Sprinkle that onto our footsteps, and the dogs will lose our scent. Go on, take it!”

He fetched the packet and stared at it, and then grinned.

“Clever devil, aren’t you? You were really planning to take off with our loot and throw the police off your trail, weren’t you?”

I forced a sly smile.

“Sure, but you beat me to it. Now, shall we go? Make sure you do a nice job with the powder.”

Liverwort fetched a gun and handed it to Martin.

“Use this if Morgan shows sign of stubbornness,” he said. “Come on, let’s scram!”

The howling of the police dogs edged closer.

CHAPTER ONE

Just Another Harmless Call?

I still remember that hot July mid-morning like yesterday; thinking about it now, I can still smell the fresh varnish on my floorboards and the lingering coffee aroma. After cracking the stubborn Warren case, my life was at the point of relaxing, taking things easy and forgetting about the future. I had just made my first withdrawal since I deposited Warren’s check. I had used the money to give my shabby office a facelift and sitting on my executive chair, I liked what I saw. This was one of those moments when a private investigator forgets the harrowing experiences of crime detection and sits back to enjoy the sweet taste of success. I had allowed Jane my secretary to take a week off and honestly, I wasn’t expecting any serious client to come knocking on my door apart from the petty annoying community jokers who can’t distinguish between a crime detective and the regular dick who looks for missing pets. However, this was a job, and clients had to be listened to. That was why I was in my office that morning.

I poured myself a steaming cup of coffee and carried it to my desk; then reached for The Citinformer newspaper. The headline glared back at me:

HEAVY JOHN’S ASSISTANT MURDERED MYSTERIOUSLY AFTER A CLUB FACE-OFF

Interesting, I thought to myself. John West alias Heavy John was the leader of the so-called Heavy Gang, a group of lawless guys who ruled a small fraction of the city, and had so far stayed out of reach of the police. It was believed that the gang didn’t execute major criminal activities apart from mild burglaries and petty stick-ups. Scanning through the story, I found out that Heavy John had come into contact with Liverwort, the most notorious gangster known in town, and had some disagreement that almost turned physical—in a local club in town. Eventually, the two had gone their separate ways. The following evening, Morris—Heavy John’s assistant and bodyguard—had been murdered in a dark alley using a sharp crude weapon.

I shrugged. It seemed the city was becoming too small for the two gangs and one of them had to step down for the other, and I was convinced that that wouldn’t be Liverwort. Damn it, I said aloud and shrugged again. What the heck do I care? Let the police sweat it out; ain’t any of my business.

I couldn’t be more wrong, as I later came to realize.

The shrill sound of the telephone jerked me out of my day-dreams. I glanced sharply at the receiver and reluctantly picked it up.

“Hey there, Morgan,” boomed Harris, the chief of police. “How’s life?”

“Would be better if I wasn’t talking to a cop in my spare time,” I answered sourly.

“No need to be mean, Morgan,” he said in his oily voice. “I am wondering if you may have heard about Morris …”

“Talk about the devil, Chief,” I said dryly. “I was actually reading about it right now on The Citinformer.”

“You owe me one, Morgan, so if you happen to come around some info, fill me in, won’t you?”

“You really have got nothing to give for free, do you, Chief? Okay, if I do, I’ll share alright.”

“I would expect you to. Talk to you later.” With that, he hung up.

I smiled to myself.

You owe me one, Morgan… It was just like Harris to claim a favor. Two weeks ago, he had saved me out a nasty situation that would have sent me to prison …. But I will save that for another story.

I picked my phone and dialed a number. When the call went through, the hoarse voice of Tongue Abel exclaimed: “Well, if it ain’t ol’ Dan! Talk to me, boy!”

Tongue Abel was one of my most reliable informers. He was a squat, fat man of around forty-five, and understood the underground world more than any other person I knew.

“It’s me alright,” I answered, laughing. “Where have you been, Tongue?”

“Around and about, my boy. What’s a-cookin’?”

“I was wondering if you would care to do some digging for me … Heavy John’s assistant murder.”

“Oh that?” I heard him sigh. “I’ll ask around, Dan, but remember: if Liverwort gets wind that I am investigating him, you might have to come to the morgue to identify me, and it’ll be on your conscience.”

I chuckled. “Then don’t let him know, Tongue. I hate morgues.”

“More than you would hate to find me in one, I am sure,” he said sourly. “I’ll try, Dan. Do me a favor, will ya? Keep off Liverwort’s business.”

“I don’t intend to poke into his affairs. I am only doing someone a nice turn.”

“The police?” he asked sharply. “You know I don’t like the police, Dan.”

“Relax, old pal. As usual, you don’t get mentioned anywhere.”

“That’s better. Look, I am not promising anything, but I will keep my ears open.”

“Thanks, mate. Really appreciate it.”

I hung up and sighed. This wasn’t my business, but I needed to return the favor to Harris. The day dragged on; I half-dozed, half-fantasized my mid-morning off. I went for lunch at Charles’s and then returned to my office, and the day ended without any client appearing.

The following day was a Saturday and I decided to remain closed. That, I felt, was the perfect excuse so as to stay longer in my bed and wake up to a late breakfast. I was still anticipating to drive to the beach hotel where I was to have dinner with a real estate consultant and discuss long-term business. I had left a note on my office door saying I would be away, and left a phone number in case of an emergency. That way of working, I felt, would do until Jane returned. After lazing around for the better part of the day, I received an unexpected call from Tongue Abel.

“Hiya there, my boy,” his normally-hoarse voice indicated suppressed excitement. “I say, let’s have dinner somewhere private and talk business.”

I sighed. “Look, Tongue … I will be busy this evening; I am having dinner with some businessman … can this wait?”

“It sure can, Dan; I just thought you needed some info for your police buddy, and since I will be travelling out of the city for five days, well … I thought you should listen to what I have to say.”

“No chance you can say it over the phone?”

“Are you nuts?” he demanded sharply. “No way! I watch my own back!”

“Okay pal,” I said after a long pause. “Seven at The Roundhouse. See you there.”

So I cancelled the pre-arranged dinner with the businesman. The sooner I got this thing over with the better.

However, little did I know that this had only begun, and that it would prove to be one of the most harrowing experiences in my detective life.

Slowly Into the Muck

The Roundhouse was a decent restaurant one kilometer away from my office. It was situated along Date-Palm Boulevard close to the Central Business District. The restaurant was charming and had good food, plus I was a well-known person here and the manager always reserved for me a small private dining room overlooking the street whenever I needed it.

Tongue Abel sat opposite me and after wolfing down his food, sat back and belched loudly without a care in the world. I didn’t in the least mind his crude table manners; I was quite used to him and he knew it.

I wiped my mouth, poured some water into the glass and observed him closely. I had known this man for the last four years and partly attributed my small success to him. He had an uncanny gift of digging into the underground world of all sorts of misfits, particularly those on the wrong side of the law. How he did his spy work was no concern of mine; what counted was the weight of the information he gave me and its accuracy; and nine times out of ten, his hunches bore fruit. He was quite a talkative man and thus earned the name ‘Tongue.’

“So … where are you planning to go, Tongue?” I asked lightly to break the ice.

Tongue lit a cigarette and drew on it deeply, watching its glowing end keenly.

“I got me a job to do in the tannery factory, Dan. Will last me three weeks. I could use the extra buck, you know.”

“That’s swell, old pal. Now, got anything for me?”

He sighed and squinted at me. “I don’t like this thing, my boy. Me don’t like it one bit.”

I shifted patiently in my seat. Vehicles growled on the boulevard below us as they strained against the rush hour. I raised my eyebrows at Tongue and watched him smoke for some time. No-one harried Tongue Abel, and that was a fact. He liked narrating stories his own way, and I wasn’t one to deny him that pleasure.

“When a man is murdered and all the mouths in town are silent, me don’t like it one damn bit.”

“Are you telling me you didn’t find out anything?”

“Don’t jump to conclusions, boy. I did find out plenty; well, not really spread out for you the way you would want it to be but … don’t fret. I got me some hunches.” I sighed. A hunch from Tongue was better than nothing—in fact better than speculation of many investigators.

“Go on talking, Tongue.”

It seemed, as I learned from this man, the rivalry between Heavy John and Liverwort started some time ago when the two started contesting the prized shares of the Meridian Casino—the most popular casino in the city. Clay—the CEO of Meridian Investments—had announced the anticipated sale and the two had co-incidentally placed biddings. When the two had met three weeks later in a local club, Liverwort had provoked Heavy John and the two had exchanged unpleasantries. When Liverwort was on the verge of turning physical, Morris had stepped between the two in his boss’s defence. Morris, a big muscular man and a well-reputed fighter, was slightly drunk and comforted himself with the fact that this club was more or less Heavy John’s domain. Liverwort wouldn’t win a confrontation in a club where Heavy John was more recognized and supported.

Liverwort, red with fury, managed to get his temper in check and stormed out of the club. The following evening, Morris had been found dead in an alley, his chest split open. There was not a single witness found, no fingerprints collected; the underworld was mute about it and no-one wanted to be quoted anywhere.

“This smells one thing,” Tongue concluded, frowning. “Liverwort. He does thorough jobs and leaves no trace. It will be hard to incriminate him, however. My guess is that Martin did it. “

“Who is Martin?”

Tongue narrowed his eyes and lowered his hoarse voice before answering: “Martin is to Liverwort what Morris was to Heavy John. He is the creepiest creature you have ever known; utterly despicable. He is known to prey on those that Liverwort considers a threat to his operations.”

I digested that for a while. Liverwort was wealthy and influential, and was recognized by gangs as well as the authorities. He was rumored to be a drug trafficker and a powerful crime lord, but the police reluctantly stayed clear of him, nevertheless accepting his occasional donations. For that they let him be, so long as he covered his tracks well.

But the Chief of police secretly hated Liverwort, and had vowed to bring him down some day. This was a venture he was determined to partake, and I knew he was making his guess the way Tongue was making his. However, I hadn’t heard about this Martin before.

“Do you think he could have done the job on Morris?” I asked.

“I am definitely sure,” he returned, his face sullen. “Listen, Dan, you don’t want to be mixed in this business. Liverwort is highly lethal. Word has it that both he and

Martin are soft in the head. These two are too big for the authorities; who are you to mess with them?”

I sat back and brooded for a moment.

“Never mind, ol’ Tongue,” I said and got to my feet. “Thanks for your time, and have a ball in your new job.”

I gave him three hundred-dollar bills and patted his shoulder. He beamed happily at me and winked knowingly, raising his wine glass.

“Thanks Dan my boy; always a pleasure ta do business with ya.”

I winked back and got out of the small dining room towards the counter.

I had barely walked a few strides when a peculiar figure caught my eye. Sitting a few tables away from the counter was a tall thin man wearing a bowler hat that obscured his eyes. I caught sight of a broken nose, a lipless mouth and a ruthless jaw, and all that sat on a broad-shouldered frame clad in a shabby dark brown suit. Something in me sprang to attention. I rarely experienced these feelings and whenever I did, bad things always happened.

“Get your stupid jumpy nerves home, Morgan,” I told myself and made for the counter, where Jim the cashier was talking excitedly to a tall blond girl who had his back to me. she was wearing a bottle-green blouse with a frilled collar, dark slacks and high-heeled shoes. As I reached the counter, the girl took her change from Jim, stuffed it into her handbag, turned and walked towards the door, her head held high, her hips swinging confidently.

“Hope you enjoyed yourself, Dan,” said Jim with a grin, his eyes trailing the exit of the girl. “Quite a dish, ain’t she?”

“Oh, is she?” I said dryly, handing him the money. “Didn’t see much of her face; I wouldn’t know.”

“Miss Wright?” he said and chuckled. “Long since she was here. Very charming kid.”

I felt the hairs at the nape of my neck stand on end and half-turned in time to see the tall thin man with the bowler hat get up and make for the door hastily. I frowned. What was it with that man that made me uneasy?

Jim noticed my interest and stared at me.

“Would you know who that fella is, Jim?”

He suddenly looked away and hastily went back to his glass-wiping chore.

“Never seen him before,” he said curtly.

It was my turn to stare at him. I could see he was lying. I simply shrugged my shoulders and walked out through the door into the street. Two blocks down the boulevard, I saw the girl walking on, her back lit by the street lamps.

A few meters behind her, the mysterious man wearing the bowler hat was walking after her, head bowed and shoulders hunched. Ahead, I saw the girl hail a cab and get in. The cab shot down the busy boulevard.

As if acting on reflex, the man ran to a parked white car, got in and kicked it to life. He swung it out of the curb violently and in a matter of seconds, shot after the taxi. I could hear motorists honking at him angrily but he drove on in a zigzag until the lane cleared enough to let him accelerate.

I shook my head, got into my car and headed home. I had had enough for one evening.

The first thing I did after getting home was to call Chief of police Harris, and filled him in on what I guessed was happening, and as usual he demanded for proof. I told him I didn’t have any; furthermore, I was not a police detective, and he was not my client. He just grunted and hung up.

After that day, things cooled down and life seemed to go back to normal. Then when I was starting to put the incidence behind me, things started to happen in quick succession.

It was a day after that dinner with Tongue when the mail man dropped the morning newspaper on my pouch floor. I picked it casually and took with me to the living room and sunk into the couch. Once again, the headline glared at me:

A KILLING SPREE ENSUES AFTER FAITH WRIGHT IS KILLED IN A PHONE BOOTH

That startled me. I scanned the story: this young woman had been stabbed with a long, thin weapon—deadly and sharp—in Upper West. A few hours later, three more people had been similarly killed, all from the same area. These three seemed to have been eye-witnesses to Faith Wright’s killing, and by this time, Upper West was teeming with cops.

I was about to shrug it off but something unclear nagged the back of my brain; yet I couldn’t lay my finger on it. No matter how much I tried to brush off the grisly event, something kept gnawing at me. It remained that way for three days until finally, destiny took me by the neck and dipped me into the murky case.

A Blank Hunt

It happened one day when I drove to my office and found someone waiting for me outside my door. It was a big man of around sixty, with a hard lined face and cropped grey hair. This man was oddly familiar but I couldn’t immediately tell who he was exactly.

“Good morning sir,” I said politely. “I am Dan Morgan, Morgan Investigations; what can I do for you today?”

The man nodded at me.

“I know who you are, Morgan,” he said curtly. I could tell this was a man who disliked having his time wasted. “Can we talk inside?”

“Why, sure!” I said, unlocking the front door. “Do come in please.”

I ushered him into my inner office and motioned him into a chair. He eased his bulk into it and slowly ran his fingers through his cropped hair.

“My name is James Wright. My daughter was murdered three days ago. You may have read about it in the newspaper.”

I drew in my breath sharply. James Wright … of course! This was retired General Wright, the former army boss. He produced a photo from his front coat pocket and shoved it at me. The girl in the snap was young, pretty and blond. Wright leaned forward and spoke through his teeth, his voice tight with emotion:

“Find the killer, Morgan—at any cost! I need you to do that for me! At any god-damned cost!”

I sat back and mopped my brow. This man was very bitter, and naturally so.

“Mr. Wright, I am very sorry about what happened to your daughter, but … have you been working with the police?”

“The police have done nothing,” he said. “It’s been weeks now! It seems they are stuck; no witnesses, no clues, no nothing! Weeks! I can’t wait any more.”

I shrugged. “That’s alright, Mr. Wright. I’ll take the job.”

The man seemed to relax for a while.

“That’s what I wanted to hear. Look, young man, when the mother of my daughter was about to pass away, I promised her I would never let anything happen to my daughter. See, I have failed now. The only sane thing I can do is to make sure the perpetrators of this act have been brought to book.”

He fished out his check book and waved it at me.

“If you do this satisfactorily, I will pay you two hundred grand,” he said matter-of-factly.

I sucked in my breath. Two hundred?

“Ten now and the rest after the job is done.”

I was still stunned but I tried to hide it by writing down the receipt for the e retainer. Two hundred thousand dollars for hunting down a killer indicated a father who would go at any length for his family’s well-being.

“I will ask you just a few questions to help me kick-start this thing, Mr. Wright.”

“Ask me anything you want.”

“Let’s see … When she left home, did she tell anyone where she was going? Was she in a kind of romantic relationship with anyone? Would you know if she had had any dealings with anyone who would want to harm her?”

Wright sighed and rubbed his eyes. He then looked at me; there was an exhausted look on his face mingled with hours of sleeplessness.

“I will tell you the same thing I told the police, Morgan. My girl had just been around for three week only; she had arrived from England where she was studying. Her boyfriend is still in England. Now about the Saturday she disappeared … she told Mary—our house keeper—that she was going to shop for personal things, and left around two. She stayed out till after six, and then called at twenty past six and said she might be late for supper, but would arrive in an hour. That was the last we heard from her.”

I considered that for a moment and then asked, “Who answered that call?”

“I did.”

“Did you notice anything unusual in her voice? Anything … anxiety, strain, excitement … anything?”

Wright frowned and thought for a moment.

“Come to think about it,” he said thoughtfully. “I did think she sounded … a little bit anxious … but I didn’t pay her much attention then.”

An idea occurred to me. “Would you know what she wanted to shop for?”

“Hair equipment and cosmetics; I know since she had asked me for money that morning.”

“If your daughter had to go shopping for such things, which store would she be likely to visit?”

Wright gave me a cynical look. “Are some of these questions you fellas ask really important?” he asked.

“Every angle counts, Mr. Wright. One has to be ready to dig up every little scrap; that one could make the whole thing complete. Besides, we have to go that extra step that the police didn’t. That’s what you came to me for.”

He shrugged, produced a handkerchief and mopped his brow.

“I am not sure; I didn’t particularly know her feminine tastes. But if I was the one suggesting one to her, it would be The Damsel. That, however would my taste, not necessarily hers.”

I made a few notes on my pad, and then decided that that was enough for now.

“I won’t promise anything, Mr. Wright,” I sad getting to my feet, “since the police have been at it thoroughly and found nothing. Still, I will give it my all.”

We left it at that. This, I observed, seemed to be my lucky month as far as clients were concerned. I looked at the calendar on the wall: Jane would be returning tomorrow, and should handle some of the workload.

I rose, fetched a file from the wall shelf and scanned through a few leaves. Then I felt a pang of dismay when I remembered that Tongue would be going out of town; I was used to working with him especially when clients were as important as Wright…

I stood frozen, holding the file as my mind sprang to attention. Wright! My memory darted back to The Roundhouse when the cashier had been staring engagingly at a girl….

Miss Wright? Long since she was here. Very charming kid…

Was this the same girl? Could that girl have been Faith Wright? There was only one way to find out.

I reached for the phone to call Jim the cashier, and then suddenly changed my mind. I called Wright instead.

“Mr. Wright? I need you to tell me something please. The day your daughter disappeared: could she have been wearing a bottle-green blouse with a frilled collar?”

“Yes,” I heard him catch his breath. “Are you starting to get clues already?”

“Just a remote idea. I will keep you posted, Mr. Wright,” I said hurriedly. Wright said he expected positive results soon, and I told him I was stepping on it.

After that, I grabbed my hat, closed the office and rushed to my car. Fifteen minutes later, I parked in front of The Round House and walked up the stairs into the restaurant. Jim saw me approaching the counter and grinned at me.

“Mr. Morgan!” he exclaimed. “Pleasure to have you again here!”

“I need some information, Jim,” I said curtly. I wasn’t in the mood for pleasantries.

“Really?” Jim said inquiringly. How can I help you?”

“Last time I was here,” I began, “Faith Wright was here too. I want to know more about what she did here; did she have dinner?”

Jim’s face fell. “Poor girl,” he said. “Are you working on her case?”

“Yes, Jim, and I want every little bit of info you can provide.”

Jimmy grimaced and toyed a bit with a napkin. “Now, beats me why anyone would want to harm such a sweet doll… no, she didn’t have dinner here. She just had a drink or two.”

“Was she alone?”

“Yes,” he said thoughtfully. “It was a bit odd; she came in kind of anxious—but she was trying hard to suppress it, you now… she just sat here at the bar and took her drinks, paid and got out.”

“Just like that? Okay, Jim. Now tell me; when did you first meet her? Has she been here before?”

“I provided catering services to her open-air graduation party held in her home, three months ago. Yes, she has also been here before for the birthday dinner of her cousin.”

I digested that for a moment. Then looking straight into his eyes, I asked:

“There was a man in a bowler hat at the table back there. I asked you who he was and you told me you didn’t know.”

Jim licked his lips and suddenly looked sullen.

“Yeah, that’s what I said.”

“Do you want to change your mind?”

“And why should I?” he demanded stubbornly.

“Because I think you know him and because I think he was involved in the death of Miss Wright.”

Jim gasped and stared at me, and then a frightened look took over his face. He put the napkin on the counter, looked around the restaurant and spoke in a low tone:

“Rumor has it that he is one of the most dangerous gangsters in town,” he said. “They call him ‘blade’; I don’t know who he is exactly.”

As Jim said that, an idea struck me. I produced my cell phone and dialed Tongue’s number.

“Hi, old pal,” I said warmly. “How’s your new job shaping up?”

“Too new to judge,” he growled. “What’s up, Dan?”

“The bad man we talked about; would you mind giving me his description?”

As Tongue spoke, I stood frozen, listening to every word. The description he gave me fit Martin of the Liverwort gang like a glove.

I hung up and stared at the liquor cabinet, my mind racing. The memory of that hideous man following Faith in a car came back to me vividly.

What was the daughter of an ex-army general doing with a gangster like Martin?

CHAPTER 2

A Note From Beyond the Grave

After my short meeting with the barman, I drove back to my office.

I had barely settled into my chair when the doorbell rang and Harris invited himself in.

“Has someone told you that you are miserable running this thing without a secretary?” he asked and made a face.

“Am I?” I returned and waved him to a chair. “The secretary will be back tomorrow. I won’t deny that I am missing her services.”

“What a mess she’ll have to wade through,” he said with light sarcasm and paused to scrutinize the room critically. “I can see you renovated the place, Morgan. A shade more comfortable than it was before, huh?”

I let that one ride.

“So … what brings you here, Chief?”

“I am told that Retired General Wright has hired you to investigate her daughter’s death.”

“So you did, Chief,” I said in a bored tone. “Wright seems to think I could do better than you guys.”

Harris chuckled humorlessly. “Pretty nice of him. How do you feel about it, Morgan?”

“Just another client, Chief. My job is to give the best, collect my pay and wait for the next client.”

Harris shrugged. “Whoever the killer was, they covered their tracks so well that I will be surprised if you dig up any credible evidence. The force couldn’t find anything; nothing connecting the series of killings except the fact that eye-witnesses were being silenced. That is how hard you will have to dig up for something that doesn’t exist.”

“If you came all the way to tell me that little fact, then I owe you some thanks, don’t I? I’ve never known you to be a saint.”

“I don’t mean to discourage you, son; I only wanted to remind you the obvious: do not withhold evidence that the police would need. I don’t think I can lay it to you straighter; and remember you still owe me one.”

“I will do everything as you say, Chief. I would also appreciate if you filled me in on what your department already skimmed through. Perhaps there is something I can use.”

For the next several minutes, Harris gave me a summary of what his men had tried to investigate. It seemed that what was sharply lacking was the one thing I needed to solve this mystery: motive. No matter how the police hunted for it, they never found it.

When Harris later left, I picked my notebook and started jotting down the information I had gathered so far, though not much. The question kept repeating itself in my mind: why would a notorious gangster want to kill a harmless, cheerful girl who also happened to be daughter of an ex-general? There had to be a motive somehow. No-one could engage someone in a car chase and later kill them without a motive.

Then I realized that the mention of the car chase was noticeably missing from the news. No newspaper had reported it. That seemed a bit strange; normally, such a thing would attract all kinds of trouble from highway patrol.

I picked the telephone receiver and dialed Wright’s residence. The phone was answered by the housemaid who informed me that Wright was asleep. I told her to inform Wright that I would be coming up later in the evening for a professional visit. I spent the rest of the afternoon perusing the old files and trying to pick crumbs from them. When someone is as blank as I was right then, every crumb counts.

James Wright’s home was set on an attractive suburban estate plateau overlooking the exotic scenery of Southern Hills. I parked my car on a cobble driveway in front of a sizeable two-story house with big bay windows. A well-tended lawn lay to the left of the driveway, bordered with lively pink petunias. The home portrayed a picture of a man who had lived his life the way he wanted, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

“Good evening,” said a smooth voice behind me. I turned to see a middle aged woman wearing a housemaid’s uniform. She smiled and pointed towards the back of the house.

“You must be Mr. Morgan,” she went on. “Mr. Wright will be on the deck. Please go on.”

I thanked her and proceeded towards the backyard. I found Wright seated on an attractive deck under a blue-and-yellow sunshade, a cigarette between his lips. A bottle of wine and two glasses lay on the small table. Wright was staring listlessly at the yard trees and didn’t turn when I approached.

“Good afternoon. Sit down please,” he said and bent to tap cigarette ash onto a small silver tray.

“Thank you,” I said and sat on one of the deck chairs. “Have a drink, Morgan; it’s very fine wine.” He pushed a glass towards me, poured himself some and handed the rest to me.

“Any progress so far?”

I sipped the drink, grimaced and looked at him.

“Pretty much, Mr. Wright.”

He raised an eyebrow and studied my face anxiously.

“Really?” he asked. “Tell me about it.”

“I have a wild idea of who is behind the murder, Mr. Wright. What I am searching for is every single piece of the jigsaw; that way, things will fall into place.”

Wright looked at me with disapproval.

“I am not interested in the process, Morgan,” he said impatiently. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

I shifted in my chair. “I would like to have a look at her room please.”

Wright called the housemaid ordered her to show me his daughter’s room.

“If you find a clue,” he said and added himself a tot, “Let me know please.”

Faith’s bedroom was neat and organized. From the look of it, it was obvious the police hadn’t thought of performing a search. I scrutinized everything carefully—drawers, through bottles of cosmetics, through handbags, through the clothes in her wardrobe and everything else I could think of but I didn’t find a clue.

I paused before the dressing mirror and looked at my reflection thoughtfully. I had really hoped to find something of relevance here but it now seemed I would have to think of something else.

I was about to leave the room when one of the boots caught my attention. It was a tall pair of leather boots zipped above the ankles, but the left one had a slight bulge in the zipped pocket. I picked it and slid back the zip. Inside was a folded piece of paper with inscriptions done with a ball-point pen:

2385 Prestigious Sec.

I stared at the paper for a long time trying to make sense of it. I thought of everything—a street name, a building, anything—but no matter how much I racked my brain, the writing didn’t mean anything to me. Still, the fact that it had been so cleverly concealed showed that it meant something.

I took the paper with me and walked back to the deck where Wright was still sitting, staring listlessly at the trees. He didn’t turn when I came up.

“Let me guess,” he started pessimistically. “You didn’t find anything.”

“Maybe I did, Mr. Wright,” I said and handed him the note. “Does this mean anything to you?”

He studied it thoughtfully and then looked up at me.

“Where did you find this?”

I told him. He frowned and mumbled something to himself, stared at the note some more and crossed his arms.

“Hmm … Prestigious Sec … that wouldn’t be Prestigious Security, would it?” he asked and shot me a quizzed look.

I became suddenly alert. Prestigious Security was a private company that trained security guards and lent them to local businesses. They also offered courier services around the city. But what did the numbers mean?

“It sounds likely,” I said. “Except for the numbers.”

Wright shrugged and took a long slug of wine. “Could be anything: parcel number, office number–anything.”

“Not enough reasons to conceal the note,” I said and after a bit of thinking, asked: “Can I get a computer with an internet connection here?”

Wright nodded, got to his feet and motioned to me to to follow him. He led me into his small office with a magnificent desk and book-lined walls. He waved to a desktop computer on the desk, so I sat and conducted a brief search. What I got on the homepage jolted my nerves.

Prestigious Securities; Guards, Courier and Safe Keeping.

This company had safe deposit boxes in its office building. The number on Faith’s note had to be a number for such a box. Did this mean that her killer was after something she had kept in that box?

“Mr. Wright,” I said, “I need to do another search in that room.”

“What’s on your mind?” Wright asked sharply.

“A hunch,” I said and shot back towards Faith’s room.

I found the key in her powder box under the powder pad. The girl could certainly conceal things.

“This,” I told Wright when I returned to the office, “is a key to a safe deposit box. I have to find out what is inside.”

“Which bank?” he demanded.

“Prestigious Securities,” I said hastily and began to walk out of the office.

Wright walked behind me and stopped at the front drive when I got into my car.

“Keep me posted, Morgan!” he bowled.

I waved to him, kicked the car to life and sped towards the city.

I was so much in anticipation that I did an uncommon mistake: I didn’t spot a car that steadily kept following me, and when I later came to realize it, I was already half in trouble.

Prestigious Securities—a big modern building—was located on Lake Road and set in a spacious compound that offered ample parking space. I entered the reception, signed my entry on the book that the sleepy reception boy shoved to me and proceeded towards the vault. I located 2385, inserted the key and opened the box.

Inside was a plastic envelope containing a document of several pages that were stapled together. The document was folded into two. I considered scanning through the pages but changed my mind. Why not do it away from here?

I slid the envelope into my pocket, locked the box, signed out and got back to my car. The clock on the dashboard read ten minutes to seven. I slid under the wheel and started the engine, and was about to engage gear when something cold and hard touched the back of my neck. I froze and waited, my hand on the gear lever, my mind racing with a frantic struggle for ideas.

“Drive on, punk,” said an ice-cold impersonal voice. “I hate shooting people; it has never been my thing. There are way more exciting methods to kill a man.”

“Who are you?” I asked just to make sure I hadn’t turned dumb. “What do you want from me?”

“Chill, punk,” snarled the man. “I want you to take me for a ride. Step on the gas, mister!”

I accelerated and entered the highway. The masked man shoved the gun barrel harder against my neck.

“Drive straight down,” he snapped maliciously. “Past the suburbs towards the east!”

I shifted gear and turned left. My mind still racing, I drove down the highway and eventually left the city behind. Three kilometers or so downwards, the traffic thinned out until only a few cars passed by.

“Stop right before the river ahead!” the thug behind me said sharply.

I cut speed and brought the car to a crawl. Before I could reach the bridge ahead, I pulled over at the roadside and sat stiffly, waiting for further instructions. I then felt the gun withdraw from my neck and sighed.

But before I could utter a word, I felt the butt of the gun ram onto my head with an almighty force, a blow that made my body slump forward heavily on the steering wheel. I saw an explosion of bright lights and then a blanket of darkness came over me.

Shady Traders

When I regained consciousness, I slowly lifted my weight off the steering wheel and sat up. My head fighting to contain a splitting headache, I opened my eyes and looked at the LCD clock on the dashboard. The time was 8.17 pm. I sat for a few more minutes massaging my temples, and felt a strong urge for a drink; then I remembered that I always kept a small bottle of whisky in my glove compartment.

I leaned forward, unlocked the compartment and reached inside. My hand felt the cold shape of the gun and that jolted my dull brain back to the present. Frantically, I dipped my hand into my coat pocket where I had put the document: it was gone. Someone had ambushed me in my own vehicle, socked me and bolted with the documents I had stolen from a safe deposit box!

I reached into the glove compartment and grabbed the bottle that lay beside the gun, opened it and gulped down a few mouthfuls. The drink sharpened my senses a bit and considerably dulled the headache. I put back the bottle and sat back, pondering my next move. On my left, the highway was deserted except for an occasional vehicle every now and then. The landscape was totally dark save for some scattered lights in the distance. Where exactly was this place? Where had the man gone? Why this spot?

I sighed and took another swig. Most likely, it meant that somewhere around this place, the mysterious man had a means of escaping. Probably a vehicle parked somewhere nearby. I reached once more into the glove compartment and took out a small flashlight and the gun which I tucked into my hip pocket. I opened the car door and stepped on the grass verge. Throwing the beam of the light on the tall grass, I could see the faint indication that the grass had been disturbed not long ago. The years I had been in this business were enough to enable me discern such things, be it daytime or in the dead of the night. Whoever it was had been careful enough, but then I knew how to track. I followed the not-so-obvious trail down the rough country terrain till it ended right at the bank of the wide river.

Then I heard some faint voices coming from the right of where I stood. I turned to look but a wall of papyrus blocked the speakers. I snapped off my flashlight and started to tip-toe along the bank of the river in the general direction of the voices. As I edged closer, the voices became clearer. I tried to take utmost care not to trample on dry papyrus and betray my presence with the rattling. When I finally peered around the papyrus bush, I caught sight of silhouettes of about three men outlined against the dark starry sky. Two of the men were tall and one seemed to be thickset and squat. They were holding flashlights and occasionally threw their beams on an old jetty, gesturing wildly as they talked.

I looked around the surroundings. This looked like a perfect spot to conduct sinister dealings: away from the city and prying eyes of the police.

“The little blackmailing slut!” said one of the tall men savagely.

“Don’t fret, she’s dead now,” replied the squat man. I recognized his voice immediately: this was the man who had ambushed me in my car.

“That detective was inches away from getting our asses!” the tall man shot back. He then paused and spat furiously and cursed: “The sonofabitch is taking forever! We don’t have all night!”

Just then, the sound of an approaching motorboat came floating above the river. The squat man raised his flashlight high above his head and started blinking a signal. I raised my head and caught sight of the lights of a fast-approaching motorboat.

“If all goes well,” said the second tall man, “I expect Blade to make sure the consignment is delivered tomorrow—by seven.”

“Sure, sure,” said the short man reassuringly. “I will oversee the exchange myself.”

The boat advanced and came to a halt by the jetty. It was too dark for me to decipher the driver’s shape. He called out with a bullying voice:

“Hey, hop on, fellas! It’s getting rather late!”

One of the tall men followed the squat to the boat. The other tall man remained standing on the river bank.

“Hey, Kyle!” shouted the driver of the boat. “Seems you weren’t smart after all, were you? The bitch photocopied the documents right under your nose!”

The tall man remained rooted, silent and motionless like a tree stump.

“Look what trouble you almost got all of us into, Kyle!”

“Lay off, man!” Kyle shot back. “She is no longer a threat now.”

I could visualize the other man shrugging. “Okay, then. What about tomorrow?”

“I expect you here by eight,” snapped Kyle. “Bring the money; I will deliver the consignment.”

“Okay, then. So long!” he then kicked the engine and began to accelerate downstream.

After the boat had left, the man named Kyle walked forward and bent. When I saw a vehicle’s tail lights, I realized a car had been parked there all along but I hadn’t seen it. Kyle started the engine and accelerated up a pre-existing rough road towards the highway.

When the car had disappeared, I paused to consider the developments. It was obvious an exchange was going to take place here tomorrow morning. The man named with the boat was buying some shady stuff from Kyle—so shady it had to be done behind a papyrus screen on some bank of the river in the middle of nowhere. What was it? Firearms? Drugs? Whatever it was, it was illegal, and Faith Wright had been involved in it.

I intended to find out. I would be here when the exchange took place; only then did I have a chance to see the faces of the ones behind the murder of Faith Wright.


I carried my coffee to the table where I sat sipping and forced myself to rest. I had just taken a shower after having a nice dinner down at Glamorous, and now felt in shape to relax and think more clearly. Before I could revisit the earlier events of the evening, my phone rang and Wright’s tough voice came bawling over the line.

“What the hell happened, Morgan?” he demanded with a hint of annoyance.

“Plenty, Mr. Wright, but I was gonna call you anyway. I got into trouble but now I am fine….”

“What was in the deposit box?” his voice was curt; it was the voice of a person who believed that he had paid a retainer sufficient enough to cater for my problems. What he cared for was finding his daughter’s murderer, and could care less about my adventures.

“Documents incriminating some hard-core criminals. It seems she was … using them as … security, so to speak.”

“Cut the rant, Morgan!” he barked. “Are you trying to tell me my daughter was blackmailing somebody?”

“Dangerous criminals, I believe, but I am yet to find out the whole truth—though it might take a shorter than I thought.”

“Am I right in assuming you lost the documents?” Wright’s voice had an edge.

“That’s right, but I will soon….”

“Keep me posted, Morgan,” he said sternly. “I am counting on you.”

“I will, sir,” I answered, trying to sound professional. Tomorrow morning I will stalk the criminals; I know where they’ll meet. We will move from there.”

I heard him draw in his breath sharply.

“Oh, you will?” he asked almost anxiously, the tone of his voice changing from steel to approval mingled with surprise. “That is interesting. Do what you must, Morgan, and let me know if you need anything.”

“I will, and thank you.”

Then an idea crossed my mind. I pressed the phone against my ear and addressed Wright once more:

“Excuse me, sir” I began. “Would the name Kyle mean anything to you?”

“Kyle—Kyle who? There are many ‘Kyles’ I know, including my cousin.”

“I understand that my question is not to the point. What I should have asked is: would you know if your daughter had regular interactions with a certain tall man known as Kyle? Sorry, I can’t narrow down my question more than that for now.”

He hesitated. “She might have, or then she might not. There’s no telling what these youngsters can do, or whom they would bond with. That said, I wouldn’t be too sure that my daughter had any interactions with men in this locality save for my cousin with whom she went out time to time. You see, she was very new here as I told you earlier.”

“Can you describe your cousin to me, please?”

“Tall alright,” he said after a pause. “broad-shouldered and brown hair.”

“What type of car does he drive?”

“A chevy, I believe. What’s with the queries?”

“Call it another hunch,” I said. “I will keep you posted.

After that, I opened one of my drawers and took out a map of the district and laid it on the table. I concentrated on the area where I had stumbled on the thugs and scrutinized the locality, trying to memorize every landmark. First off, the highway was Factory Road; it pointed out of the city, across Vivry River and stretched far north-eastward towards the frontier. After a bit of research, I found out that the spot I had seen the three men was an old fishing area that was no longer used, especially since the authorities had banned fishing two years ago in Vivry River. The property was part of industrial land that was yet to be developed. A short distance downstream from the jetty, the river forked and one branch headed far north, separating the posh estates of Northline and Rising. That must have been where the motorboat had come from.

I switched on my laptop, fired my virtual globe application and took screenshots of the area’s satellite images which I printed and put on my desk. These would help me locate some sort of cover when doing my stalking.

I then finished my coffee and went to bed. It had been a hectic day.


When the clock ticked six, I stepped out of the house, got into my car and drove down the drive, past the junction and into the Free Road bypass, an express highway that ran parallel to Factory Road, with a distance of about a kilometer between the two highways. Free Road was raised with columns in the city area and up to a kilometer in the suburbs. I took the right-most lane that eventually veered off the main highway and ended on ground level a couple hundred meters before reaching Vivry River. This lane ended at the gate of South Patrol Base before curving to the left under the main Free Road to join Mountain Way, a highway that headed left towards the North-West frontier.

When I passed South Patrol Base, I drove past into a filling station and alighted. I left the attendant taking care of the car and walked towards the patrol base. Behind the base premises was the wasteland of rock and coarse grass that rose up to Factory Road and beyond. Somewhere between the filling station and the patrol base, I found an opening that I walked through and in a matter of minutes, I was walking up the bank of Vivry River and heading for the fishing spot where I had eavesdropped on the thugs the previous night.

Using the prints I had made in my house, I walked and surveyed carefully, looking out for swampy areas and ensuring I wouldn’t be spotted by anyone coming from Factory Road. Luckily, there was a lot of papyrus on both banks; I wouldn’t be needing any extra cover.

When I reached the fishing area, I slid into my waterproof boots, got into the papyrus bush and made myself a temporary hideout. I was sure that from here, I would be able to see their faces clearly and listen to their conversation as well. All I had to do was wait, but then waiting was part of my profession.

So I waited … and my wristwatch ticked on, till the hour hand passed seven….

The sound of an approaching vehicle kicked my mind to attention. I stood and parted the papyrus stems. The vehicle was a white branded van; it was coming down the rough track from Factory Road. I took my pair of field glasses from my jacket pocket and focused on the van: a colorful brand reading Ministry of Natural Resources was plastered on the sides of the van. Clever disguise, I thought. As it approached the jetty, I crouched and then saw it come to a stop, and two men came out of the cabin. They were standing barely fifteen meters from my hiding place; they were in full service uniform and anyone prowling the area could innocently think they were Civil Service workers surveying the river. One of the men was around six feet tall or so, with a lined face, a long hooked nose over a mean, lipless mouth; his dark eyes were small and restless. His fair hair was graying at the temples. This man somehow reminded me of a hawk. The second man as probably an inch or two shorter, and was somewhere around thirty-seven to forty; broad-shouldered with a boyish, oval face. With broad shoulders and oiled brown hair, this had an air of arrogance around him. His brown eyes, proportional nose, a firm chin and a mouth that was obviously used to sneering was probably enough to make him handsome. When he spoke, I recognized the voice at once and clearly remembered the words spoken last night: “I expect you here by eight! Bring the consignment; I will deliver the money.”

So this was Kyle. This was Kyle Wright, the cousin to my client, and he was involved in the murder of Faith. If Wright discovered the truth, I was sure he would take law into his own hands and cut his cousin into pieces.

Currently, he consulted his watch impatiently and then started pacing up and down the grassy bank.

“Willis must be pulling my leg,” he said stiffly. “Judging on the market, I wouldn’t count on less than five hundred grand. What do you think, Adam?”

The other man remained still, with arms crossed, his eyes focused on where the river branched off towards Northline.

“Forget Willis,” returned Adam. “We will do this our way.”

“You can say that again, Adam. Blade can’t intimidate us with—”

The sound of a fast-approaching motorboat interrupted Kyle, who stiffened and placed his hand above his brow to shield his vision from the glare of the rising sun. Owing to the thick papyrus vegetation, I had to wait until the motorboat reached the jetty in order to see it.

I didn’t have to wait long. The boat approached fast, frothing up the water and throwing excited waves against the jetty wood.

“There you are, gentlemen,” said the oily voice of the driver, a squat, thickset man with a round face. This was the man who had socked me on the head last night.

My interest was suddenly drawn to the face of the second man riding along the driver. It was the same face I had seen in The Roundhouse a few weeks ago. This must be the infamous Blade! He remained seated, motionless and silent, his hands on his lap; his face as unreadable as a mask. A bowler hat was sitting at an angle on his head.

“What a beautiful morning to do business!” the squat man went on as he alighted from the boat and stepped on the jetty.

“Quit the theatrics, Willis,” snapped Kyle, stepping forward. “Do you have my money?”

As if to answer Kyle’s question, Blade got to his feet with incredible agility. In his hand was a silver briefcase. He got out of the boat and followed Willis down the jetty to the bank of the river and stood in front of Kyle.

I had my phone ready; I raised it, zoomed in on the men and took several high-resolution snaps.

“You did a mistake, Kyle,” said Willis, his voice adopting a grave tone.

“What the—” Kyle started but Willis hushed him up.

“You lost the documents; I recovered them,” said Willis smoothly. It seemed hard to imagine that this was the same man who had sounded so cold and ruthless last night inside my car.

“That was the kind of carelessness that will have you lose a hundred and fifty,” Willis went on. “I will be paid for saving your sorry ass from a jail term.”

Kyle shifted his stare from Willis to Blade and then to Adam. He frowned stubbornly and crossed his hands.

“It’s our frigging stuff,” he snarled. “Five hundred or no deal! We can always look for another person to supply to!”

“That’s right,” Adam added. “It’s ours to do whatever we want with it.”

Blade thrust his chin towards the van. “Let’s see the stuff,” he said curtly. Adam opened the side door of the van and pulled out a brown box which he opened and handed over to Willis.

I fished out my field glasses and focused the view on the box. There were small plastic packets inside the box. Blade picked one and made a tearing on its surface. I had to photograph this. Unfortunately, when I lowered my field glasses to take out the cell phone from my pocket, I lost balance since I was standing on a heap of flattened papyrus; I staggered for a moment and while struggling to steady myself, my field glasses slipped from my hand and fell into the river with a loud splash.

The sound of the device falling into the water upset a flock of birds which took to the sky chirping excitedly. I was in time to see Blade raise his finger to his lips in a gesture of silence, and then the rest of the men produced guns and held them, staring suspiciously in my direction.

The men began tiptoeing around the papyrus bush, their pistols ready to fire. I was sure they would nab me—or even kill me if I remained here. Working fast, I put my phone into the inner water-proof pocket of my jacket and zipped it up. I then took a deep breath and got into the murky water before the hoods closed in on me.

Stolen Trip

As I let myself sink, I heard the partly-muffled voices coming from above me, and could visualize their faces looking down at the water, most likely looking out for bubbles. I remained still, and the men waited, until I started to feel my lungs demanding for a break.

“Probably some duck or something,” I heard one of the men say.

“Duck?” retorted another. “This is no place for ducks.”

I was beginning to fear they would discover the patch of flattened papyrus.

“Nothing here, you fraidy cats,” that voice sounded like Blade’s. “Let’s get the hell on with business. Ain’t got the whole day.”

I heard the group retreat and when I was sure they had gone, I kicked the water and swam to the surface. With my lungs now threatening to explode, I gasped for air and was about to step back onto my hideout when another idea struck me. (That wasn’t at all strange: as a detective, I was used to crude ideas occurring to me all the time.)

I took another lungful of air and got back into the water. Moving with stealth and speed, I swam under the surface of the water and aimed for the motorboat, relying on pure luck and chance. Away from the bank, the water was clear. As I approached the jetty, I noted that the boat had its starboard side against the dock, its bow facing the bank. I swam around the stern and brought my head above the surface, confident that I was hidden from view of the gangsters.

The boat was fairly big—actually a small cabin cruiser, but had two small cabins. If I could climb on board and conceal myself inside there somewhere before the crew was back, I would get a free ride to the heart of this whole business. I was sure by now they were inspecting their illegal stuff in the van. I acted on instinct and reached up for the gunwale, flung myself on to the deck and crawled into the cabin; then began to look around hurriedly for a hiding place. I could hear voices and steps coming up the jetty towards the boat. If they found me here … this would be suicidal!

The back cabin had a bunk on which sheets lay in an untidy mess; I threw myself under it and pulled some of the sheets down to conceal me. Right then, I heard footsteps come into the cabin and peering under the bunk, all I could see was black leather shoes and then hands which held a carton and placed it on the floor. A few more cartons were later placed and stacked one onto another between multiple trips between the van and the boat. When they were done, the two pairs of feet disappeared into the front cabin and after a moment, the engine came to life and then the boat lurched forward. It accelerated and eventually picked top speed. I wasn’t sure which direction we were going but what mattered was that I would soon find out the gang’s hiding place and possibly discover Faith’s real murderer.


Still huddled under the bunk and pressed against the wall by the cartons, I dragged one of the cartons close: it was branded ‘BLUE LEAF WATER PROOFER; DOWNTOWN LIGHT-INDUSTRIES’. I turned it around and lifted the flap cover. There was another box inside the carton, wrapped with synthetic cloth. I fumbled and found the seam of the cloth, and then tore it up and opened the box. What I saw didn’t surprise me: it wasn’t water-proofer at all; it was a box full of explosive materials. I closed the box and reinstated the carton; then paused to think for a while.

I then shifted my weight to one side momentarily and reached into the inside of my coat. Although I was wet—and obviously making a puddle under the bunk, my phone was still dry when I pulled it out of the water-proof pocket. The first thing I did was to put it into silent mode; then wrote a short message to Harris:

Hope you are okay,

I am secretly taking a daring ride in a small cruiser that’s ferrying illegal explosives.

The boat is speeding up the Vivry River towards Northline.

Hey, do not ambush us with guns and all—I need to do some more investigation. I will call you in when the moment is right, okay? Sit tight,

-Dan.

After a moment, the officer replied:

Are you even sure you know what the hell you are doing? Who is steering that boat? All right, I am sending a welcoming party, but we will stay out of sight till you are ready for us. (Hope you won’t be dead by then).

Stay the hell out of trouble!

-Harris.

It was just like Harris to attempt being nasty but I also knew he would do as I asked of him. We had known one another for a few years now and I knew he trusted me. Well, somehow trusted me, but not quite; I wouldn’t expect a copper to fully trust his own mother.

Then I began to sweat. What if they saw water coming from under the bunk and think of investigating? As soon as the boat docked, they would be coming to unload the cartons, and they would find me. I was sure they would shoot me and dump my body in the river.

Working as silently as I could, I firmly pushed the boxes away from the bunk and flinched every time they made a scrapping sound against the floor boards. Finally, I created room enough to crawl through and ultimately came out from under the bunk and straightened up. On the wall facing me was a small liquor cabinet; I opened it and found a long straw inside which I picked and slipped into my pocket. The door that led to the front cabin was open and when I peeped through, I saw Blade standing stiffly with his back to me, gazing ahead at the fast-approaching sky-line of Northline and Rising estates.

Fast and carefully, I dashed for the exit and came out to the stern where I paused, my back flattened against the cabin. The landscape looked fantastic; at any other time, I would have been thrilled to sit here on the deck and admire the scenery beyond the river where modern houses stretched from the banks of the river towards the interior of the hilly district. Unfortunately, I was in a stolen trip and the boat would be docking soon. Behind the boat, the water churned and frothed in an excited wake that eventually slowed and smoothed out as the motorboat cut speed and glided towards the left bank.

I squatted, held the gunwale firmly and hauled myself into the water. There was a piece of rope hanging from the cleat which I grasped tightly with one hand and let the boat drag me, but keeping my head within the freeboard.

I peeped from around the stern to see where we were headed; the boat was approaching the estate known as Rising, which stood at the bank of the river opposite Northline. I could see a few more boats moored on the quay.

“I could almost have sworn that the boat is leaking,” said Blade’s clipped voice above me. “It’s a mercy we have got here without missing our gills.”

The boat dragged its way to a jetty standing on the far end of the dock. I took out the long straw I had found in the cabin, put it in my mouth and sank my head into the water while using the straw as a snorkel. I would stay submerged until Blade and his friend were out of the boat, and then think of how to go after them.

That didn’t take long. I waited until the shuffling of feet faded off before raising my head above the water. I saw Blade and his friend walking towards a grilled gate which opened to let them in. The gate stood before a big luxurious-looking mansion partly hidden from view by thick red-flowered trees. I turned my head and quickly looked around the dock: there was no-one in sight right now.

I swam to the back of the boat and climbed in. Moving quickly, I went into the front cabin and searched the compartments, looking for clues. I found a bunch of meaningless papers: fueling and service receipts, owner’s manuals and other usual papers—but nothing roused my suspicion. I shrugged my shoulders and was about to turn and exit the boat when I caught sight of a pair of sports slacks folded and placed on the deck in a corner. I picked it and went through the pockets.

The envelope I had retrieved from the safe in the city was hidden in a cleverly concealed pocket in the inside of the slack. I put it into my water-proof pocket against my phone and then zipped up the pocket. After that, I returned the slacks where I had found them and then began a cautious exit. As I was about to come out through the door, a gun shoved into my face. I stared at Willis whose face was a contorted mask of fury. He stepped onto the jetty and beckoned to me with the gun.

“Come up, punk!” he said coldly. “I can see you are a resilient dick; perhaps I should have shot you last night.”

I hesitated.

“Look,” I started, “Don’t do anything rash…”

“Come up!” he barked; then shrugged and changed his expression into that of resignation. He aimed the gun at my stomach. That really shook me.

“I’ve changed my mind, punk,” he said with a smirk. “I’m sending you to hell right this minute….”

“Drop the gun!” bawled a voice from the dock.

For a moment, I thought Willis was relenting when he lowered the gun slightly, but his mean eyes still pricked into mine.

“Drop it, I said!” repeated the voice which was unmistakably a cop’s.

Willis raised the gun again and pointed it at my chest. I saw his finger coil around the trigger … then heard a loud banging sound. Willis’s gun dropped out of his limp hand and fell into the water. I saw him fall forward; his thickset body hit the jetty with a thud and rolled over into the water with an almighty splash.

I lifted my eyes and saw the cop standing on the dock, holding a smoking gun.

“Hey!” he howled. “Are you Morgan?”

“Yes,” I answered, not yet recovered from the jitters.

Another cop appeared, and soon another one; two of them came up into the boat and stared at me.

“You called Harris and reported illegal explosives in this boat, didn’t you?”

“I did, yes; but I told him to wait for my signal before letting any cop come in.”

The officers gave me a disdainful look.

“Well,” said one of them, “You didn’t look like you could handle the mess you were in, did you?”

I let that one ride. The cop raised his eyebrows at me.

“So, where is the stuff?” he demanded.

I jerked my thumb over my shoulder. “In there,” I said.

The cops disappeared into cabin while I climbed onto the jetty and peered at the mansion ahead, expecting to feel a bullet whiz into me. The cop standing at the bank read my expression.

“Don’t fret, Morgan” he said. “I am Captain Jerry. Our men are getting in there.”

Right then, I heard the sound of a helicopter engine start from somewhere in the compound containing the mansion. As if in response, several cops appeared from around the fence and flocked at the gate—and tried to break in. They struggled for some time and when the grilled gate finally gave way, the helicopter rose above the mansion and took to the sky, made a turn and headed north before disappearing behind the tall trees.

I saw the cops rush into the compound while Captain Jerry was calling for backup.

I sighed. I was suddenly in need for a drink.

(…continued in Part 2) Next Part

Arts | Fiction | Short Stories


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