Morgan and the Liverwort Gangsters, Part Two

Trouble at Hand

James Wright was pacing up and down my small front office, a dead cigar hanging from his under lip when I walked in. When he saw me, he paused and stared at me as if he thought I was half-mad.

“What the devil has been happening to you?” he demanded with the slightest hint of concern.

I looked past him at an attractively-tall girl—who always managed to look executive no matter what—and smiled. Jane was the most trusted human being in the circle of my business; if anyone knew their job, Jane did. She had just returned from her leave and already half the backlog of paperwork was sorted out.

“Jane, meet Mr. Wright,” I begun and nodded to Wright. “Mr. Wright, this is Jane my secretary….”

“We’ve already met,” he returned curtly and looked at me critically. “You look as though a tank has run you over.”

“That might be exactly what happened,” I said and gave Jane a peck. “Please come into my office, Mr. Wright.”

Jane rose and handed me a stuffed bag, a little apologetic smile on playing her lips.

“Here,” she said. “I thought you might need some clothes to change into.”

“The way you always manage to think the right things absolutely beats me,” I said and took the bag from her. “You are a godsend, Jane, thanks a lot.”

She blushed and got back to her desk to attack even more papers.

Wright raised an eyebrow at me and pointed at the bag in my hand. “I’ll be waiting in your office. Go on and change.”

I shrugged and went into the bathroom where I took a quick shower and changed into freshly pressed clothes, and then got back to the office. Wright was seated in an armchair, chewing his pinky finger nail. He gave me an expressionless look when I entered and crossed his legs.

“You are lucky to have her, aren’t you?” he asked, a distant look in his eyes.

“I am; no question about that.” I said and sat at my desk.

“Now, Morgan,” said Wright, “I would like to know about the progress you’ve made, please.”

I sighed and toyed a bit with my pen. Slowly, I gave him a brief overview of the events of the morning and let him digest it before dropping the bombshell on him.

“Mr. Wright,” I said as I sat up in my leather chair. “I am afraid your cousin is part of the gang that is responsible for your daughter’s death.”

If I had slapped him, he couldn’t have possibly reacted like he did. He almost jumped from the armchair but remained stiff, his big hands clutching the seat of the chair, his head thrust forward and his face suddenly granite-hard.

“Kyle?” when he finally talked, his voice came out a croak. However, the look in his eyes had me worrying that he might give Kyle an impromptu visit and fill him with lead.

“Yes, Kyle,” I answered, watching him closely. “Your daughter happened to be in possession of documents that revealed the inner workings of the gang: including emails and official media attachments. Seemingly, she gave them to Kyle at some point before she was killed, but only after she had secretly made a copy of the documents—which she kept in a vault.”

“…which you lost,” Wright cut with a voice that didn’t sound his.

“I recovered them,” I said with a bored tone and doodled some lines on a blank sheet, my mind busy. “What I am yet to find out is how exactly Faith stumbled on those documents; whether or not she really intended to use them for blackmail, and why.”

“What do the documents reveal?” he demanded in his steel army voice.

“Several crimes including possible drug trafficking and illegal trade in explosives.”

Wright stiffened once more. “Explosives?” he asked in disbelief. “Are you sure?” “Of course I am,” I said. “I got a free ride in a boat stuffed with boxes of them.”

Wright got to his feet and walked to the window where he remained standing for a long moment, staring outside as if he was expecting to witness something interesting crawling in the backyard. I could almost hear his brains clicking in thought, obviously still shocked at the realization that his cousin was probably one of his daughter’s killers.

Finally, he turned around and shot me a piercing look. “Who are the members of the gang? Any names?”

“The one shot by the police was identified as Franco Willis. The rest are only known by code names; like “Blade” for instance. There is a certain “Leaf” too, the head of them all. I have reason to believe Leaf and Liverwort are one and the same.”

Wright frowned and stared absentmindedly at the floor. “Now, about those explosives….”

“What about them?” I asked anxiously.

“Makes me remember … when I was still in the forces … there used to be rumors circulating; supposedly of illegal weapons being manufactured somewhere … allegedly to empower a political rebellion.”

That really did rouse my interest. “Really? Did you come across any proof whatsoever?”

“Not really, but the name Leaf is surely a-ringin’-a-bell.”

My mind raced for a moment, going through possibilities and weighing them. Was this gang really working with some underground people planning a political rebellion? Were they using the explosives to make weapons? I was beginning to foresee the possibility of this inquiry turning into a bigger and uglier phenomenon.

“So…” Wright probed me further. “What did you find in that home in Rising?”

“A few blondes having a good swim in a luxurious pool. The owner—a certain Kramer—drove into the compound some ten minutes later and practically raised hell on account of having his property broken into, without a warrant of course.”

Wright grunted and gestured to me to go on, so I did.

“We couldn’t do much else but leave, but you can bet the police will be back there with a vengeance.” I went ahead and told him about the helicopter that flew from the premises as soon as the police flocked the area.

“It turned up the chopper had been hired from Alistair Aviation Company and had brought in some VIPs for a business meeting and relaxation in the mansion grounds. Generally, there was nothing that the police could pin on anyone there.”

“What about the other Blade guy?”

“He disappeared into thin air. No-one is really sure Blade went into that house at all. We combed the house thoroughly.”

“He could have flown in that chopper, couldn’t he?” Wright asked.

“He could have but again Harris’s men were waiting for the chopper in Edentown and when it landed in Alistair Aviation School, only two pilots were aboard.”

Wright sighed and suddenly looked old, looked tired and beat.

“Now how do you plan to proceed on, Morgan?” he asked with a weary voice.

“Simple,” I said. “If I get Blade, I’ll get your daughter’s killer. Either he did it or he is connected to the one who did it. The last time I saw her, Blade was tailing her keenly, and once or twice upset the traffic in the street hurrying to narrow the gap between him and her. I saw the drama myself.”

Wright stared at me disbelievingly. “You saw it?” he retorted. “All this time you had that information?”

I went ahead and told him about my dinner at The Roundhouse, the girl I had seen leaving the hotel, and how the man in the bowler hat had followed her down the street; I informed him how that man had turned to be Blade whom I had met again this morning at Vivry River.

“I had no idea who Faith Wright until after I read about it in the newspaper,” I concluded. “So when you hired me, I remembered the barman referring to her as Ms Wright.”

Wright got to his feet, leaned forward towards me, his fists pressed against my desk top. The vein on his temple throbbed violently.

“I don’t care how you find him, Morgan; just do it!” he said through gritted teeth. “Do what you must—just do it, Morgan!”

“I will do it, sir,” I said, not very sure how I was going to do it; but felt compelled by the vengeful look in his eyes to say it.

He walked to the door, opened it and paused; then turned to face me.

“One more thing,” he said in an ice-cold impersonal voice. “Pray that I don’t get to Kyle before the police do, or so help me! I swear he is going to regret his very existence if I do.”

“Please take it easy, Mr. Wright,” I said cautiously. “Remember, we need to complete investigating into all fragments of the matter and gather solid evidence before taking action. After that, you may have Kyle fro yourself to do with him as you please.”

Wright glared furiously at me, opened the door and stormed out.

I sighed and pulled the notebook towards me. It had been one hell of a day so far.

Tongue Abel was residing in Tinville, a small township lying within a hundred yards from the tannery factory. Tinville was generally located on dry land, and in fact bordered the Thistle Desert, a wasteland of rock, thorn scrub and heat. The majority of Tinville population was comprised of laborers from the tannery factory and their families; the rest were small-time investors working way too hard to haul the tiny town on its feet and obviously, they were not having much success. All the town had to boast about was a rusty post office, two or three food joints, a few booze dens, a minute police-post which hosted a sleepy sheriff and his three absent-minded officers and finally, an old refurbished house that served as a bank.

Tongue’s house was a basic one-room apartment that lacked an air-conditioning fan, and the heat made my skin flush while beads of sweat layered my forehead. I took out my handkerchief wiped my brow impatiently. Tongue fished two bottles from a shabby little freezer and set them on the table.

“Got me some beers,” he said as he fetched some glasses. “A man has gotta cope with the temperature.”

“Anything cold for a change will do.”

A few minutes later, we were sipping chilled beer while Tongue chatted away the afternoon.

“Hey Tongue; you were supposed to work in that tannery for three weeks. Did they extend your contract?”

“They did alright,” he said and winked. “Ol’ Tongue got lucky.”

“Good for you,” I said and sipped some more beer. The heat in the room was getting more bearable now.

“I hope none of those misfits followed you here,” he said and gave me a suspicious look. “I can’t stress enough how badly I value my peace and privacy.”

“Relax, ol’ pal,” I said. “No ghosts from the past for now; you can sleep easy tonight.”

“That’s what I like to imagine.”

“Back to business: Do you know anything about Kyle Wright, the cousin to my client?”

Tongue sat back, sipped some beer and focused his gaze to the ceiling.

“Kyle?” he asked after a while, his mind distant. “Not much; I think he is the type of man who covers his tracks well.”

“For instance, did you know he is affiliated to this Blade guy and the rest of the pack?”

“He is?” he asked, taken aback. “Then that would explain a rumor I heard about a supposed fight between him and Faith a few months before she died…”

I sat upright, suddenly keen, and laid my glass on the small table.

“When was that?”

“The night she hosted friends for her graduation party.”

“Tell me about it, Tongue. Never mind whether it was a rumor or not; you never know.”

“Word was going around among the catering crew that Kyle, after he had had too much to drink, misplaced something, and was blaming Faith for its disappearance.”

“Did you get a chance to learn what that ‘something’ would be?”

“Nope,” he said and gulped down the remaining beer before refilling his glass. “But I gather he reached a point of threatening her. It was said she was mad at him too, and lashed out at him, calling him an ‘underground mole and criminal.’ Now I don’t know what happened after that.”

“Who gave you that info, Tongue?” I probed more.

“Do your own digging, Savvy,” he sneered and grinned mirthlessly.

“Okay, old man, let me rephrase the question: who was the catering Team?”

The Roundhouse, of course.”

My memory rushed back to Jim of The Roundhouse; his words came back to me clearly…

I provided catering services to her open-air graduation party held in her home, three months ago….

Of course, I thought, the clever little fella! He must have witnessed something that frightened him into silence.

“Okay, Tongue,” I said and sighed. “Thanks for the info. One more question: there are two more men affiliated to Blade, like a certain Adam and Franco Willis. Anything you can tell me about them?”

Tongue Abel wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and frowned at me, his eyes shifting nervously.

“Never come across Willis; I wouldn’t know much concerning him. He may be one of Liverwort’s henchmen … the name ‘Franco’ is vaguely familiar. Now, Adam is yet another henchman; he is rumored to be Liverwort’s mole. ‘Blade’ is the code-name for Martin—Liverwort’s right-hand man.”

“Would you know where Adam lives, Tongue?”

He lit a cigarette and scowled at me. “I thought you were not going to ask any more questions, damn it!”

“I know I did,” I said and grinned. “But hell, I am a detective.

Tongue shrugged. “Somewhere in Christoville, if my memory serves me right. Near the hospital or something like that; hey, consult a directory or something!”

“Give me the surname, and I will leave you in peace, Tongue.”

He shook his head in feigned dismay. “I can’t even count how many times in the past you have told me that. Pity how people forget so quickly.”

I got to my feet. “Come on, ol’ Tongue, you must learn to share your talents with the rest of humanity. Now shall I get the surname?”

He gave me a long gaze then said, “Crane is the name. Adam Crane.”

I patted his back and grinned. “Listen, old pal; I am cracking this case and when I do, you and I will have a ball, for old times’ sake.”

“I wish you luck, my dear boy,” he said fondly. “Watch your back ‘cause if you don’t, I will be minus one good friend—no matter how annoying he can get.”

I produced my wallet and handed him a roll of bills, which he accepted and beamed.

“I mean it, Danny-boy,” he said. “Watch it, all the money in the world couldn’t replace you, but thanks nevertheless.”

“I can take care of myself,” I said and headed for the door and then stopped. “Thank you, buddy—really.”

We left it at that. I got into my car and started the long 2-hour drive up Tinville Highway towards the city. When I arrived, the sun was approaching the western horizon, obscured by the tall date palm trees that lined boulevard. I drove down the avenue and made it straight for The Roundhouse. When I entered the restaurant, Jim was dressing tables and giving instructions to two nervous waiters. When he saw me, he smiled a bit nervously himself: I guessed he sensed I was here to bug him more.

“Look who came up,” he said. “Howdy, Mr. Morgan.”

I thrust my chin in the direction of the balcony. “We need to talk, Jim. Won’t take you a minute.”

He sighed and shrugged; then gestured to his waiters to carry on.

I followed him into the small private dining room built from the modified balcony and closed the glass door behind me. Jim stood restlessly and blinked at me.

“Would you like to drink something while we talk, Mr. Morgan?”

“Coffee, if you insist, and thank you.”

He shot off and returned shortly with two cups of steaming creamed coffee which he set on the table and drew a chair.

“Make yourself comfortable, Mr. Morgan,” he said, pretending to sound cheerful.

“What happened to ‘Dan’?” I asked with a slight smile aimed at easing his uneasiness.

He ignored the question and sipped his coffee. I let a minute or so pass before attacking him with the questions.

“Okay, Jim, I am pretty sure you know why I am here,” I began.

Jim toyed around with his cup and shrugged at me.

“Is it Miss Wright’s investigation?”

“Yes, Jim,” I said and leaned forward. “Listen, Jim, someone saw you eavesdropping into a … well, heated conversation in her house during her graduation party. I need that information.”

He dropped his eyes as a cloud of anxiety covered his face.

“Well, I don’t know what you are talking about,” he returned stubbornly.

I paused and then put on a stern expression.

“Hey, Jim, of course you know what I am talking about; and honestly, I think you had better tell me calmly and freely than be forced to spill it by the police—if Blade doesn’t get to you first.”

I got the reaction I wanted from him. At the mention of Blade, Jim jumped and upset his cup of coffee, spilling some of it on his lap.

“I don’t want any trouble, please!” he whispered, his eyes wide.

“I reached over and patted his shoulder. “Take it easy! No-one needs to know we’ve had this conversation. Not the police, not the bad guys either. Okay? All I need to know is what you overheard, and who said what.”

Jim took a long pause and finally looked up at me. Seeing that he could trust me, he began to talk while I listened to every word keenly. He knew I couldn’t let him land into trouble, and the following is his account of what had happened three months back….

Faith and Kyle

The air was cool and crisp that spring evening as guests whiled the evening away by dancing and sipping drinks in Wright’s sizable living room. Flowers were everywhere, and people chatted excitedly while many of them embraced Faith and uttered hasty words of congratulations. From among the crowd appeared a tall man with a dark magnificent suit and a red bow-tie. His hair was fair, and a few locks kept straying and hanging above his eyes. He grabbed Faith and walked with her to the porch.

“What the hell got into you, Kyle?” she demanded sharply.

The tall fair-haired man grabbed Faith and shoved her hard against him.

“You know what you did, you little bitch!” he returned ruthlessly. “I want my god-damned papers!”

“Get away from me, you savage!” she shot back, struggling to free herself from his grip.

Kyle's grip was like a vice. “The hell I will, tramp,” he sneered. “If you know what's god for you, you will give me my papers right this minute.”

Faith raised his chin defiantly. “So you are a gangster, aren't you?” she asked coldly. “The gifts you bought for me all this time i was in college… was it from blood money?” Kyle threw her back roughly and watched her stagger violently, almost crashing against the wall. He then turned and faced the opposite direction and ran his fingers through his hair, his eyes closed.

“You don't know what you are saying, Faith,” he said in a tired voice.

“Oh, I am right, aren't I?” she said confidently, smoothing her frock with her hands.

“I don't kill people, you idiot!” he shot back furiously as he spun to face her. The veins at his neck were bulging out with fury. “Listen, Faith, I want my papers, or someone is going to get hurt.”

Faith paused and studied him for a long moment; then shrugged.

“Okay,” she said. “Follow me.”

Kyle followed her through a short hallway into the study. She took out a book from the shelf and took an envelope from between its pages. This he handed to Kyle.

“There are you are,” she said calmly. “Your precious little envelope. Now get the hell out, will you?”

Kyle put the envelope into his breast pocket and cocked his head, pointing to her. “Now, none of this happened, Faith. Understand? None of this happened.”

“Get the hell out!” she snapped, pointing at the door.

“If you so much as open your mouth, or even think of talking, you will be visited by some mean guys, Faith; I would hate to imagine what they would do to you.”

Fear jumped into her eyes. She screamed: “Out!”

Kyle turned and stormed out of the room.

After that account, I stared at Jim and asked, “Now did you hear all this?”

“Sure I did, Mr. Morgan,”he said, “I've never eavesdropped on anyone before but for a moment I thought he was going to choke her to death.”

I stood up and shook his hand. “Thank you, Jim. You will be fine.”

He frowned. “You think so?”

“I think so, yes. This is about to end.”

It was ten minutes past the hour when I parked my car outside Kremlin's in Christoville. Stepping out of the vehicle, I was surprised to see so few vehicles on the parking lot. I raised my hand to shield my face from the sun and looked around. I had driven all the way round the alley behind Kremlin's and hadn't found Coop House.

Shrugging, I stepped into the hotel lobby and walked slowly to the bald-headed half-awake receptionist who lifted a heavy eyelid to peek at me.

“'Mornin' Pal,” I offered.

The receptionist grunted, squinting up curiously at my face. I flashed him a warm friendly smile which didn't seem to impress him much.

“Care to tell me something? I am looking for Coop House.”

The receptionist's hand went up his forehead, pushing up his cap and scratched the top of his scalp, a smug expression on his face.

I was used to guys who weren't fond of being harried.

“Ya there, buster,” he said at last.

“You mean this building is Coop House?” I asked sharply.

He gestured to a corridor at the far corner. “Private residence. It's at the back of this hotel building but only accessible from inside the hotel interior.”

I sighed and fished out a 20-dollar bill and handed it to him. At the sight of the money, his eyelids lightened and a small tongue appeared from his mouth and went over his lips.

I placed my elbows on the counter and raised my brow at him.

“Does Crane stay there?”

The man blinked. “Crane?” he asked. “I don't know of any Crane around here.”

I reached into my breast pocket and produced a small photo of Crane which I waved at him. He squinted at it. Watching him closely, I could see his face register recognition but when he looked back at me, his eyes attempted to avoid mine.

“Never seen that face before,” he said, a calculating look in his eyes.

I fished another 20-dollar bill, wagged it at him but didn't let him pick it.

“Suppose I refreshed your memory?”

The man lowered his voice before saying hurriedly: “A man who resembles that one goes by the name Lawrence around here. Never heard anyone call him Crane before.”

Lawrence? Either that was a fake name or my friend Tongue was mistaken.

“Never mind. Does he live in there… in Coop House?”

The receptionist eyed my banknote hungrily before saying. “Yes.”

I let him snatch it off my hand.

“Is he in? Can I get in there?”

The man hesitated, a cautious look coming over his face. “Listen, mate. Lawrence doesn't entertain anyone except his own associates into his house. Coop House is built where the hotel back garden ought to be. Forget it, you can't get in.”

“Is he in now?” I asked again, my mind busy.

“Yes he is but I told you….” his words trailed off as a tall sturdy man with a hooked nose came out of the hallway walking stiffly, his mouth forehead high, narrow eyes and his mouth set in a determined ruthless thin line. I didn't need to look at him twice to know it was Adam Crane. He walked past us as though we didn't exist, straight into the parking lot in the street.

For a moment, none of us said a word.

As soon as I recognized Crane, I turned my face to the reception desk to make sure he wouldn’t recognize me. I was sure if he did, he would alert his gang and have the whole lot sharp on their guard. I waited till he was out of the hotel building before opening my mouth.

The receptionist was staring at me. “Your guy was right there,” he said with a quizzed expression. “You didn’t talk to him.”

“I didn’t want to,” I responded staring directly at him.

The man frowned, then raised his eyebrows. “You a cop or something?”

“You could say that,” I said curtly, a cop-like edge in my voice. I then leaned forward and rested my elbow on the shiny mahogany desk and stared at him even harder.

“I want to get into his abode,” I snapped, “Any idea how I can do that?”

He toyed a bit with leaves of a bunch of flowers placed on the big curved desk. I could sense his mind calculating and weighing my statement.

“Hey!” he retorted firmly, “A guy comes from nowhere and demands to trespass into a private residence, and in fact dares ask the receptionist for help?” He then chuckled sarcastically before proceeding: “Are you serious, man? Even if you were a cop, do you think you could do that without a search warrant? Besides, Mr. Lawrence doesn’t leave his keys here; that’s a matter for the management.”

I shrugged and yawned ; then turned toward the door but turned back to him before attempting to walk out. “Sure, mate,” I said in a bored tone and pointed in the direction of the hallway. “That fellow is in the middle of a crime syndicate. Of course I will be back not only with a search warrant, but with the whole police force breathing fire and sulfur. When that happens, be cautious lest you go down on them.”

“Petty threats,” he said defiantly, the corners of his lips twisting downwards. “You’ve got nothing on me, or on Mr. Lawrence for that matter.”

Slowly, I leaned on the desk slowly and gave him my stare once more. The stare managed to melt some of his stiffness, as it always did to guilty fellows.

“Oh, I have, mate,” I said icily, “I checked on you prior to coming here. You were brought to this desk to be a stooge for Crane. You, from time to time, take care of illegal merchandise that finds its way into this hotel, and makes sure it gets into his residence safely. You bet your bald stupid head I’ve got plenty on you.”

The receptionist recoiled and opened his eyes wide, shocked.

“I –I–the…” he stammered, “I only do what I am told!”

“You will tell that to the judge,” I said in a bored voice, “I am sure he will throw your sorry ass into jail. I know him, he hates smugglers.”

I then turned and walked towards the door.

“Wait!” he called in an urgent stifled voice.

I turned to him and raised my eyebrows. The poor man was wiping beads of sweat from his brow with shaking hands, and he wasn’t having much success at it.

“Got something to tell me?” I asked patiently.

He turned right and left before saying in a lowered voice: “If I help you, will you help me get out of this?” His voice now had that honest tone I wanted.

“How will you help me?”

“To get inside the damned house!” he said bitterly. “Ain’t that what you want? Listen, once they find out, they’ll have my head! I never done anythin’ wrong! All I ever done has been to take care of his things when he’s away. You’ve got to believe me, Mister!”

“Of course I believe you but the law is an ass, in case you haven’t heard the metaphor before. You are as bad as them.”

He slumped into his chair and waved his hands in desperation. “You’ve got to help me, Mister! I will help you get into the building but that might have me dead!”

“Don’t worry, mate,” I said smoothly, “I do my work well. Crane won’t know I’ve been there.”

He relaxed and ran his fingered through his moustache. “What’s gonna happen to them? Will the hotel be closed if they get nabbed?”

“We will worry about that when the time comes, mate. Now, how do I get into his house?”

“Promise you will let me walk free after this is done?”

“You won’t get mentioned anywhere.” He fished a key from his pocket and handed it to me. “This opens the door at the end of the hallway. Open it and you will be in Coop House. It's hidden from out there in the street. Make sure you lock the door behind you. And if he finds you in there, both of us are dead meat.”

I took out my cell phone and showed it to him. “Wrong,” I said firmly. “Our conversation has been recorded. If he comes back and brings his thugs with him to kill me, I will send our nice little convo to the chief of police and before you get past that door, you’ll be safely tucked away in a cell full of bad ass savages.”

He shuddered with horror. “No need for that, Mister. I’ll play along.” “Good,” I smiled and headed for the hallway. “That’s a deal.”

At the end of the fairly-lit hallway stood a steel door with a jewelled handle and a vintage look about it. I inserted the key into the keyhole and opened it slowly. It didn’t creak.

I stepped into a magnificent compound with an elite air hanging low like ground fog. I was facing a U-shaped one-story building with marble walls and exquisitely designed balconies. At the center was a tropical garden full of lively aromatic flowers, straining against the cobble on the verandas. A pretty water fountain spewed clear water into a sleek-looking fish pond that sat in the middle of the garden. This guy certainly knew how to live.

“Don't be so dumb, Morgan,” I mumbled to myself as I pushed open the door and stepped into a comfortable-looking entrance hall. “This is the gang's hideout, not Crane's house.”

I walked into a big expensively furnished office with big airy windows that oversaw a tiny backyard with purple-flowered climbing vines gracing a hedge. The office contained two leather covered couches and a big mahogany desk. On the desk was typical office stationery: a pen cap holding some several pens, document trays, a sizeable computer set and printer and carefully stacked notebooks.

Since the desk was facing the main door, I went around it to search its drawers but the monitor caught my attention since the computer had been left on. The monitor displayed an open spreadsheet with rows of data entries typed not long ago based on the dates. My eyes did a fast skim while scrolling the entire length of the document. There was no question here; this was some kind of diary stating criminal transaction and deals.

Then I became alert as I looked at the last entry:

October 21, 2003,11.30hrs. Audience with Prince; deal closing. 6408 Christoville Lane off Christoville Avenue.

Prince? Who was this supposed to be? I opened the search operator and did a thorough search for “prince”. The computer returned two results extracted from folders in the hard drive.

I stared at a round fleshy face of a sun-tanned, Asian-looking man in a grey tuxedo. Something told me I had seen this face before. Now where had I seen this man?

I was about to close the photo when I suddenly remembered. This man had been in the news a few years ago. He was a political rebel of some country in the Middle East.

So Crane was on his way to meet this guy down Christoville Lane. Then I remembered Wright telling me about a possible political uprising and its connection with the Liverwort gang. The gang was on its way to finalize a deal with the political rebel, most likely the merchandise was explosives such as had been in the motorboat in Vivry river!

When coming here, I had been mentally prepared to search the entire house for clues but I now realized I couldn't. I had to go after Crane and stop some mess from happening.

As I reappeared at the hotel reception, the receptionist shot me a wary glance. Before he could ask me anything, I flung the key at him and ran towards the front door.

“Remember our deal,” I shouted at him without turning to look at him and went out and hurriedly got into my car and kicked it to life. Swerving out of the parking lot, I sent the car hurtling forward down the street at top speed.

Ten minutes later, I was driving down Upper Christoville on the lookout Christoville Lane. When I found it, I branched left and drove down into a wooded estate, slowly scanning the residences for 6408. I didn't have to drive for long.

Close Call

A white service van pulled over outside the gate at 6408 and sounded a horn. Shortly, a uniformed guard poked his head outside the gate and peered suspiciously at the driver, who was a bespectacled man in sanitation company uniform. He touched his moustache and pulled his cap low over his forehead.

“ Howdy, sir,” he said cheerfully, “We are having problems with sewer lines draining outside the district, so we are inspecting sanitation manholes along this lane.” He then produced a detailed map and glanced at the details before adding: “Hmm… 6408, isn't it?”

The guard opened the gate and let the van in. “Make it snappy,” he said and nodded.

“Shouldn't take long,” I said as I eased the van to the left onto an empty parking space a few meters from the gate. I grabbed my tool box and got out of the van into the early afternoon sun.

A small bungalow stood some 300 yards away from me, connected to the gate by a wide paved driveway lined with flowering cacti. The bungalow was surrounded by a well-cut lawn dotted with hibiscus bushes scattered at regular intervals. At the left of the house was a roofed parking area sheltering some four vehicles.

As I started to head for the front door, I heard the guard at the gate busy talking excitedly into the phone, most likely conversing with his girlfriend. I went around the bungalow and found the first manhole right behind a bedroom. Pausing, I laid down my toolbox and straightened up again, straining my ears to for any sound of voices. There was none. I walked on round an extension and found myself facing a big open French window whose curtains were obscuring the view of the room inside. The curtain was sawing lazily in the moderate afternoon draught and afraid that my shadow might be spotted against the curtain, I crouched and just kept my eyes at level with the bottom of the window.

A detective's life is made up of thrills and risks, so I pinched one of the curtain folds and slowly drew it aside to peer into the room. It was a small guest bedroom with a bed, a night stand and a small wardrobe built into the wall.

I lifted myself over the window sill and silently entered the room, praying that the floor boards wouldn't creak, but I found out that they actually squawked under my whole weight; so I slowly and painstakingly tiptoed towards the white door that stood ajar. It opened into a dark hallway with doors on either side. For a moment, I was lost for choice; there were about five doors and I couldn't decide which one to risk opening.

Then a faint muffled voice drifted into the hallway from beyond one of the doors: “How many times do I have to repeat myself, idiots?”

It was a heavy voice. I had to get closer and hear better, so I took some time to find out which door opened out into the living room.

It was the door to the extreme end of the hallway and luck was on my side: the door was ajar. When I moved my left eyeball around the door, I found myself looking into a spacious living room with an eerie peach color scheme that gave the place a light-headed surreal feel. A U-shaped couch covered in peach-red velvet, a brick-lined fireplace, a small red-topped table surrounded by four wooden chairs and a bookshelf covering the entire wall to the right seemed to be what made up the room. On each wall was a 2-foot picture housed in a pink-red wooden frame-at least that's how I imagined the walls invisible to me to be too.

All those details took a second to absorb before my attention was turned to the men in the room: Adam, Kyle, and a giant of a man with a cruel mean face whom I figured to be Liverwort. Adam and Kyle were seated on the couch, their faces bearing agitated looks. Kyle's fingers were frantically drumming his laps while Adam crossed his arms, his eyes narrowing over his hawk-like nose tight thin mouth.

A fourth man who had escaped my attention stood motionless, his hands thrust deep into his trouser pockets, a bowler hat sitting at an angle on his head, hiding his eyes. He stood next to the fireplace like a statue, his thin face blank. I recognized him immediately. This was the man who had gone after Faith after her brief entry in the Roundhouse. He should be the one referred to as Blade.

Liverwort stood on the carpeted floor wearing a short-sleeved grey shirt and grey slacks. He fetched a cigar from a packet and lit it impatiently, his forehead creased into a frown. He puffed smoke into the snow-white ceiling and gestured with his gigantic hands.

“Get this into your thick skull,” he bellowed, “the son of a bitch must be killed before the day is over!”

“Kyle can take care of this”, offered Wills.

Liverwort spewed out a hyena-like laugh in a surprisingly high-pitched voice. “Kyle? This bloke is too flimsy! He can't catch a duck if it was pooping on his shoes!” He took two steps forward and squatted before Kyle.

“Listen to me Kyle,” he said in a deadly low voice which made me strain to listen to. “This family is bored stiff with unprofessional conduct. Look at us. We wouldn't be rolling our beef here waiting for some self-righteous bighead to come and give is the money if it weren't for you!”

Kyle tried to meet his stare but failed. “Look, boss, Faith is dead. Franco is dead. Morgan has nothing on us and certainly the police don't. Now….”

I listened to all this with excitement and apprehension, my small recorder on the palm of my hand.

Liverwort sprang to his feet and banged his half-smoked cigar into the dead hearth. “It wasn't you, idiot!” his voice boomed and almost made the bungalow shake. “Blade wiped out the Wright girl for you, Adam retrieved the blackmail documents for you, there! Somebody always has to do something for you!”

Kyle's face went livid with anger. “And I get the raw materials for you! I make sure the authorities don't get wind of it! Now you can't say I'm of no use!”

Liverwort shrugged and produced another cigar. From somewhere out of the building came the sound of an approaching car.

“Oh, you have, haven't you?” Liverwort said in a grave face. “That's probably what has been keeping you alive but now….” his voice trailed off and suddenly as if by magic, a gun appeared in his hand, which he raised and pointed straight at Kyle. “Your last raw materials were nabbed by Chief of Police, Kyle. You are of no use to me right now.”

The room went dead silent: I could hear a clock ticking from somewhere in the living room, and its noise seemed too loud right then.

A loud knock on the front door cut into the silence like an axe. Liverwort withdrew his gun and put it into his hip pocket. I saw Kyle almost collapse with relief.

The front door opened and a short beefy man with a pink face came in followed by a tall lean man who was probably a body guard and possibly a ruthless henchman too. I recognized the short man as Prince. He was in a jungle-green shirt and black tie. Dangling in his hand was a heavy suitcase.

“Hello gentlemen,” He said in a smooth heavily accented voice, his shifty eyes sizing the men up. “Sorry to keep you waiting.”

Liverwort flashed him a smile and gripped his hand and shook it.

“Better late than never, Mr. Prince,” he said cheerfully with an uncanny charm. “We are glad you could come; now we can finally come to a consensus.”

Prince hesitated, wiped his blow and said, “Let's not waste our time, gentlemen. Last time you attempted to supply me, the police denied us all the pleasure of doing business. Perhaps you guys are not understanding me enough.”

He raised the suitcase and threw back its lid, revealing rows and rows of neatly arranged 100 dollar bills. From the look of that case, which seemed to weigh more than 20 pounds, I was convinced there was not less than a million dollars stuffed in there.

Adam's and Kyle's eyes popped out of their sockets while Liverwort licked his lips and made up a wolfish grin.

Prince shut the case and gave it to his bodyguard. “Get the damn case out of here.” he said and handed it to the bodyguard who went out of the room.

Prince turned his attention to Liverwort. “There's more where that came from. Now do you believe I am capable of paying? Hell, I have more money to fund this thing than you can care to imagine. All I need is some proficiency when delivering my stuff.”

“Very well, Mr. Prince,” said Liverwort, a light shining in his eyes. I will give you a….”

The door opened again and Prince's bodyguard came in panting with an excited look dancing in his eyes. Everyone turned to look at him.

“You have a call coming in, Sir!” he said with a sense of urgency. “There is a problem!”

At that moment, something clumsy and dangerous happened. While balancing myself on my other foot, my small loosely-held recorder left my hand and fell on the floor with a loud thud. Before I could bend to pick it, A gun cracked and a hail of bullets smashed the door next to my head. Acting on instinct, I jumped back into the hallway and raced back the way I had come, back into the bedroom, footsteps and bullets following me at top speed. My adrenaline fuelling my muscles, I reached the window, threw aside the curtain and clean jumped out onto the veranda outside the house, a bullet burning my hair. I ran around the house and came to the front where the cars were parked. I knew I had no time to reach the gate where mine was parked so I decided I had to take one of these. Only one was readily and conveniently ready, its engine running in idle mode.

Prince's car alright.

I jumped in thrust the gear lever madly into position, then pushed the gas pedal to the boards. I heard somebody shout, “Stop him!” The gang appeared from behind the house, spraying hails of bullet into the car.

I wrestled with the wheel and sent the car racing crazily towards the gate. The guard had in mind the idea to close the gate but one look at the fast approaching car made him jump aside, allowing me to drive past the gate and into the lane. Behind me, an engine kicked to life. I would be chased alright but before they could get me, I would be miles ahead.

(… to be continued)

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