short story

The Finer Things (part two)

The first call Jake made was to his partner, Lou, who was better connected to the more blue collar aspects of the criminal underworld.

“You busy?” he asked when the other man answered the intercom.

“Naw. I’m just sitting around doing crossword puzzles.”

“Hilarious. What can you tell me about a person named Marcus Williams?”

Lou hesitated a beat, maybe two. “He’s a bad dude, one of the biggest players in the drug trade in this city.”

“A killer?”

“Not for fun, but I don’t think he’d hesitate if it were a matter of business,” Lou said. “But he wouldn’t do it himself. He’s too smart for that. He’d have one of his people do it.”

Jake nodded. People in Williams’ chosen career didn’t make it to the top by being nice or stupid.

“What are the odds I’d be able to talk to him?”

Lou thought about it for a minute. “As good as anyone’s, I guess. Maybe a little better. You two probably use the same tailor.”

It took a couple of hours and several phone calls to contacts within the local police department, the state police, and federal agencies to nail down the best place, time, and manner to approach the legendary Mr. Williams. Naturally, given Marcus Williams’ reputation, every single contact wanted to know what Jake was up to. He had to do some fancy verbal tap dancing in order to get past their suspicion, but that was one of his better skills. Eventually, he got the information he wanted. Once he had that information, he had Marcia hold his calls and spent the next hour formulating a plan.

Just after 3:00 that afternoon, Jake pulled his Jaguar into the nearly empty parking lot of Club Paradise, an upscale strip club on the 1300 block of Wilshire Boulevard, and parked beside the handful of cars already there. In addition to his XJ, there were two high end BMW’s, both black, a Mercedes 560 SL in red, of course, and an absolutely cherry ’62 Ferrari 250 GTO.

“Very nice,” he said to himself as he climbed out of his car and smoothed out his suit jacket. “Business must be good.”

He walked up to the front door, pulled it open and stepped into an air conditioned cave. As he stood there for a moment, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the sudden gloom, a very large man separated himself from the shadowy bulk of the bar to Jake’s right and approached him. For such a large man, he moved with surprising grace.

“I’m sorry, sir,” the man said in a rich baritone. “We don’t open until five o’clock.”

“I’m not here for the show,” he said and handed the man one of his business cards. “I would like to speak to Mr. Williams.”

The man took his card and tilted it to catch enough light to read the printing. Now that his eyes were used to the low light, Jake could see more detail about his greeter. It was impressive. He had to be nearly six and a half feet tall and three hundred pounds, very little of it fat. In fact, he seemed to have been carved out of dark marble.

“A private eye, huh?”

Jake winced. He hated that term. It made him feel like he was in a bad film noir from the thirties. “I’m a private investigator, yes.”

The man, Jake wondered whether he was a retired professional football player, or maybe a player who hadn’t made it into the pros, tried to return the card. “Mr. Williams is a very busy man. Maybe if you call his office and make an appointment.”

Jake ignored the card. “I think he might be willing to spare me a few minutes. Tell him it has to do with his Donny Cordova problem.”

That seemed to get his attention. Jake was pleased. If the man had decided to throw him out, there would have been nothing physically, short of putting a bullet in his head, Jake would have been able to do to stop him.

He’d left his pistol in the Jag’s glove box. It had seemed prudent.

“Wait right here,” the man said and disappeared into the back of the building.

Jake did as he was told.

A couple of minutes later, the man returned. “Follow me.”

Jake followed him back further into the recesses of the nightclub, up a short flight of carpeted stairs and into a modest room that must serve as a VIP lounge during business hours. It held a long, comfortable looking sofa, two armchairs, and a coffee table. Directly across from the sofa was a window overlooking the club’s main stage.

Jake realized anyone in the room would have been able to watch him from the moment he walked through the door.

A middle-aged black man in shirt sleeves and a tie looked up from a stack of paperwork he had spread across the coffee table. “Mr. Bremer is it?”

“Yes, thank you for seeing me.”

Marcus Williams nodded, set his pen down on the table and leaned back on the sofa. “Have a seat.” He waved at one of the armchairs.

Jake sat in the indicated chair.

“Now how can you help me with Donny Cordova?”

Jake nodded. “I have been retained to negotiate a settlement that you and Mr. Cordova can both be happy with.”

Marcus smiled. “You’re working for Donny Cordova? He hired you?”

“Not directly.”

“Ah,” Williams nodded. “So tell me, what is he offering?”

Jake took a deep breath. “Mr. Cordova made a mistake. He acted on impulse, a bad impulse, but quickly realized his error. He would like to return the property he mistakenly took from you, and the cash value for any missing portion of that property. In exchange, all he asks is that you call off your people and let him walk away.”

A smile slowly grew across Williams mouth. “That’s it?”

Jake nodded. “You’re no worse than you were before Cordova made his mistake and neither is he. It will be like it never happened.”

“But it did happen, didn’t it?”

Jake nodded.

Williams sighed. “You’re putting me in an awkward position, Mr. Bremer.”

“How’s that?”

“I have nothing personally against Mr. Cordova. Hell, I wouldn’t recognize him if I met him on the street. But I have a business to run. A business in an extremely competitive industry.”

“I understand that.”

“I’m not sure you do,” Williams said. “Mr. Cordova is an entry level employee. I have hundreds just like him and the only way I can make sure they do their jobs properly is to punish them when they don’t. Now what would happen to my business if I start forgiving my employees when they screw up?”

Jake honestly couldn’t care less about the man’s dirty business.

“Doesn’t he deserve some consideration for attempting to make this right?”

“Possibly. In a perfect world. But we’re talking shades of gray here and the people like Cordova don’t understand gray. Their world is black and white. Pain or pleasure. That’s all they understand. These are desperate people, Mr. Bremer, or they wouldn’t be doing this job.”

Jake nodded. Williams had a point. The fact that Cordova even considered stealing product from someone like Williams proved he wasn’t thinking clearly, rationally.

It had been worth a try.

He pushed himself to his feet. “Thank you for seeing me. I had to try to convince you. I owed it to my client.”

“Of course,” Williams nodded. “What will you tell your client?”

“To tell Donny Cordova his best bet is to run like hell. Maybe he’ll get lucky.”

Williams smiled. “Indeed. Good advice.”

“Thank you again.” Jake started toward the door.

“Mr. Bremer?”

Jake stopped and turned back to Williams. “Yes?”

“You haven’t heard my counteroffer.”

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