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The simple truth is sometimes life just isn’t fair.
A lawyer friend once told him ‘Steve, life is not fair, it’s just legal.’
Legal or not, it wasn’t fair that he was sitting there with an empty glass while the barmaid was at the other end of the bar letting some young stud chat her up. If he wasn’t trying to maintain a low profile he would have found a way to get her attention.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option.
Rule number one when you’re tailing somebody…don’t draw attention to yourself, especially when there’s only six people in the bar, counting yourself and the bartender.
The mark was an overweight, balding guy named Fred Cranston. His wife, Rhonda, was looking for enough evidence to prevent him from squirming out of alimony in the divorce.
Cranston sat on the opposite side of the oval shaped bar. The large-breasted woman on the stool next to him appeared to hang on his every word, as if he were dictating a cure for cancer, world hunger and hangovers. From what Steve could see, she was probably half of Cranston’s age. Another great unfairness…how these middle-aged, fat, bald loudmouths managed to convince gorgeous, young women to even look at them, let alone sleep with them.
Cranston, like most marks, had no idea he was being tailed and even less of an idea that his wife was preparing to take him to the cleaners.
That was where Steve Salem, former Boston cop, now a private investigator in Flagler Beach, Florida, came in. He made a comfortable living thanks to people who refused to play by the rules—which didn’t seem fair either, but it was legal.
Not that he had any room to talk; his career with the Boston PD had been terminated prematurely for nearly beating a suspect to death—a flagrant rules infraction, but Steve didn’t see it that way at the time.
When you crash through a door and find a twenty six-year-old asshole torturing and sodomizing a wheelchair bound girl not even eleven years old yet, the rules take a back seat to justice.
What he did wasn’t legal, but in his mind it was fair.
The Mayor of Boston disagreed and because it was an election year, Steve became an example.
So now he was a P.I. tailing unfaithful spouses, insurance scammers and people collecting Worker’s Compensation benefits while they worked another job under the table. It was good, low-risk money, but the constant exposure to life’s down-side was exhausting and sometimes demoralizing.
Finally the barmaid worked her way to him and smiled widely.
“Another, Steve?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said, sliding the empty glass into the trough on her side of the bar, “thanks Dawn.”
As he watched her pour Scotch into his glass he couldn’t help but notice the way her shirt hugged the curves around her generous breasts. Her fiery red hair fell just short of her tanned shoulders and perfect white-as-snow teeth gave her smile the brightness of a lighthouse.
When she finished pouring his drink she set the glass on the bar, withdrew a tenspot from the stack of bills in front of him and walked to the register. Steve studied her form until she began walking back, at which time he forced himself to look her in the eyes.
The job wasn’t completely without its perks.
Dawn returned to the young gun at the other end of the bar and Steve picked up his glass. The scotch, his second, went down smooth and warm. If the mark hung out here much longer he might have to switch to something non-alcoholic. A D.U.I. would mean he’d lose his driver’s license, albeit temporarily, his P.I. license and his permit to carry.
Aside from Cranston, his girlfriend and the guy talking to Dawn, there was one other patron in the bar—a woman in her mid-twenties with the looks of a swim-suit model. Steve casually wondered what such a good-looking woman was doing in a hole like this, alone on a Friday night.
The door opened and three kids walked in laughing as they shook off the rain. They looked like they made the legal drinking age by minutes. The dim lighting in the bar made it tough to get a good look at them, but Steve thought he recognized one of them. They walked around the bar and sat next to the swim-suit model.
Testosterone strikes again, Steve thought.
Steve alternated his looks between his mark and the three kids. The familiar one was seated next to the woman and she screened Steve’s view of his face.
The bartender put a draft beer in front of each kid and they all exchanged discrete conspiratorial looks, confirming Steve’s suspicion they were under-age. One of them strolled to the electronic juke box and fed a bill into it. The relative quiet of the bar was assaulted by an obnoxious rap song, replete with references to whores, dead cops and drugs.
Cranston and his companion were getting cozy, nuzzling each other affectionately, oblivious to the pounding bass of the song. One of the woman’s hands disappeared beneath the bar. The tell-tale motion of her arm, and the growing look of ecstasy on Fred’s face, left little to the imagination.
Back at the other end of the bar, the three kids were getting a little rowdy. Two of them were standing and having an animated discussion about something. The discussion escalated into shoving and one of them bumped into the swim suit model.
As they apologized profusely, the one Steve thought he knew stood and walked quickly to the men’s room.
Steve took a glance at Cranston—who was still enjoying the hand-job from his partner—then walked to the men’s room.
Compared to the bar, the lighting in the restroom was bright enough to perform surgery. There was nobody at either urinal and one of the two stall doors was open. Steve saw the feet of the kid under the other door, standing.
Steve used the urinal then moved to the sink and washed his hands. When the kid emerged from the stall, Steve was drying his hands and checking himself in the mirror.
The kid walked toward the door but Steve backed away from the sink into his path.
“Aren’t you gonna wash your hands?” he asked the kid.
Steve’s looked at their reflections in the mirror, his hunch was confirmed, he knew the kid.
“I said, ‘aren’t you going to wash your hands,’ Brad?”
The kid’s puzzlement increased.
“What? You know me?”
C’mere,” Steve said, guiding the kid back to the stall and opening the door.
On the floor behind the toilet was a woman’s purse.
“Pick it up,” Steve ordered.
Brad paused before he complied, handing it to Steve.
“Now let me have whatever you took from it.”
Brad sighed and dug into his pocket, handing Steve a few credit cards and a wad of cash. Steve read the name on one of the credit cards then looked at Brad.
“Her name is Valerie Casey, if you’re interested.”
Brad swallowed and blinked.
Steve stuffed the contents into the purse and slapped it against Brad’s chest.
“Bring it back,” he said.
“Just drop it on the floor behind her stool. She’ll think it fell when your buddy bumped into her. Then you and your two friends finish your beers and get the hell out of here and I won’t have to tell your Uncle Ralph I saw you.”
“You know my uncle?”
“Yeah, now, do we have an agreement?”
Steve waited a few beats after Brad left before leaving. He took his seat and watched as Brad downed his beer then spoke to his friends. After glancing at Steve the other two finished their beers and they walked out into the rainy Daytona Beach night. A minute later, Valerie Casey left; Steve watched with an admiring eye as she walked to the door. When the door closed behind her he turned to check on Cranston.
“Damn it,” he said.
Cranston and his mistress were gone.
Steve picked up his stack of cash from the bar, leaving half of his drink and a five dollar tip, and walked out.
The rain was coming down harder than it had been when he arrived and it was full-on dark now.
He sprinted to his Jeep, started the engine and did a slow drive around the parking lot looking for Cranston’s blue Lincoln Continental. He was relieved, although not surprised to find it in a back corner of the lot, next to the dumpster—conveniently out of the sight.
Steve drove past and circled the building again. He found a place to park where he could inconspicuously observe the car and, if the rain let up, maybe even get some pictures for Mrs. Cranston.
He reached into the glove box and took out a digital camera, fitted with an f-2.8 zoom lens for low-light situations such as this. Unfortunately the lens did little to penetrate foggy windows.
There was very little activity in the parking lot, so the sight of approaching headlights from his right surprised him. The car looked like a Ford Taurus, probably a rental. It drove by Steve’s Jeep slowly and proceeded around the building, its headlights hitting Fred Cranston’s Lincoln on the way.
Salem watched with mild curiosity when the Taurus stopped just past the Lincoln.
Leaving the motor running, but turning the headlights off, a figure climbed out of the Taurus, cloaked in darkness and took a look around the parking lot. Steve began to get a bad feeling.
Dropping his camera on the passenger’s seat of the Jeep, he reached inside his jacket for his .45.
The figure walked to the Lincoln and drew a gun.
Steve threw open the door of the Jeep and slipped on the wet asphalt. Stumbling toward the front of his car, trying to regain his balance, he heard three shots in quick succession. The gunman was in his car and gone before Steve could get close.
He walked through the rain and looked into the back seat of the Lincoln at the bodies of Fred Cranston and his mistress. Cranston sat with his back to the passenger’s side rear door. His pants were bunched around his knees and his shirt was stained bright red from two bullet holes in his chest. His mistress was on her knees on the driver’s side floor, her head, or what was left of it, still in Cranston’s lap. The odors of sex and blood mingled and wafted out into the rainy night.
Steve re-holstered his .45 and took his cell phone out to call 9-1-1. While he waited for the call to go through he shook his head at Cranston and his mistress.
“Getting caught with your pants down is usually a metaphor, Fred,” he said.