short story

The Finer Things (conclusion)

A couple of hours later, Jake pulled into the parking lot of the Travel Lodge motel on 185th Street and switched his engine and lights off. He was a little early, but he’d rather be early than late. Punctuality was critically important in any business. It was all about keeping your word.

He checked his watch in the light from one of the motel’s parking lot floods. It was ten minutes to 8:00. He leaned back in his seat and tried to relax.

He occupied himself by contemplating the eighteenth century maple wardrobe he’d found this afternoon at a little antique store on the Pacific Coast Highway. It would be the crowning touch to his bed room, and, at $2500 dollars, was a relative steal. He had asked the owner to hold it for him, but the owner could only promise twenty-four hours. At that price, it promised to go fairly quickly and he could only be asked to turn away so many cash carrying customers on the promise of a future sale.

Still, he felt that familiar feeling of satisfaction as he imagined it standing on the west wall of his bedroom.

Just before 8:00, two black BMW’s pulled into the parking lot and parked beside each other directly below Diane Cordova’s motel room.

Jake banished the image of the wardrobe from his mind, sat up in his seat, and pulled out his cell phone.

Two large black men in suits and ties climbed out of the first BMW. The driver paused to scan the parking lot. His eyes found Jake’s Jaguar and paused there. He nodded, just a quick gesture no one else would even notice, then joined his partner on the stairs to the second floor.

Jake dialed a number on his cell phone and pushed the button to send it.

Diane Cordova answered on the second ring.

“This is Jake Bremer,” he told her. “I’m on my way up to your room. Let me in.”

“Okay. Did you find out something.”

“We’ll talk in a minute,” he told her, then disconnected.

A few seconds later, the two men arrived at her motel door. One of them knocked. Miss Cordova quickly opened the door. Her surprise was immediate and complete. Within seconds, the two men had overpowered her, led her, barefoot and wearing only a tee shirt and athletic shorts, down the stairs, and placed her in the back seat of the BMW. One climbed in beside her, while the driver started the car and quickly drove away.

The entire operation had taken less than a minute.

As far a Jake could tell, he was the only person who had noticed anything.

The second BMW started, pulled out of its parking space and swung over to pull up beside Jake’s Jaguar, driver’s door to driver’s door.

Jake lowered his window.

The large man who had greeted him at Club Paradise sat behind the wheel. He nodded. “Mr. Bremer.”

Jake returned the nod.

He pulled a thick envelope from his inside jacket pocket and handed it to Jake. “Five grand. As promised.”

Jake slipped it into his own inside pocket without bothering to count the bills. It would all be there.

Without another word, the other man closed his window and drove out of the parking lot and disappeared into the night.

Jake switched on his own engine and drove out of the parking lot.

He felt a moment of regret. The lovely Ms. Cordova would probably be dead within twenty-four hours, as would her larcenous little brother. However, they had gotten themselves into the situation, hadn’t they? And Mr. Marcus Williams wasn’t the type to give up. They were as good as dead the minute Donny had walked away with that package of cocaine.

It had been just a matter of time.

Jake had just sped things up a bit.

Besides, when you like the finer things in life, it cost a lot of money to acquire them.

Someone had to pay for it.

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.”

short story

The Finer Things (part one)

Another short story.

That morning, Jake hung his top coat on the bentwood stand inside the office door, paused for a moment to re-straighten his tie in the mirror right beside it, then strode silently across the oriental rug to his desk. His desk. After two weeks, he still liked the way the words tumbled over his tongue. The desk was magnificent, antique mahogany the color of aged scotch and polished until its surfaces shone like glass. He’d picked it up at an estate auction for a mere two and a half thousand dollars.

It now formed the centerpiece of his office.

Just as he’d settled into his chair, his partner—Lou Retton—stepped through the connecting door from his own office.

“Thought I heard you in here,” he said and tossed a manila envelope onto the polished surface of the desk.

Jake caught his breath and snatched up the envelope. “Please don’t do that.”

“Do what?” Lou looked at him, honestly perplexed.

“Forget it.”

He’d long ago given up trying to explain why one needed to take care around works of art. It was like trying to get a pit bull to respect a rare orchid. It simply couldn’t comprehend it.

Lou was that pit bull, personified. He was one hell of an investigator, almost as good as Jake himself, but he was a Philistine. He wore the same three polyester suits day in and day out and seemed to choose his ties at random, matching or not. His own desk was a battered gray metal affair he’d found in an army surplus store and the only thing decorating his office walls was a single framed snapshot of his wife and kids.

As different as they were, he and Lou made surprisingly effective partners.

“What’s this?” he asked now.

“A manila envelope,” Lou smiled.

Jake was about to make some remark when Lou continued.

“It contains the surveillance photos from the Willis divorce case. I figured you’d want to see them before I turned them over to her husband.”

“They good?”

“Not if you’re the soon to be ex Mrs. Willis,” Lou shook his head as he started back toward his own office. “But I have to admit she puts on one hell of a show.”

Jake slipped the contents from the envelope as Lou returned to his office and closed the connecting door.

The envelope held a dozen full color, high definition photographs. Lou might not give a damn about how he, or anything he owned looked, but he spared no expense on their equipment. The quality of the photographs reflected that, especially the long range shots.

The first six photos were taken with a telephoto lens, apparently from a sizable distance, but the focus was still sharp and clear. They showed the lovely Nicole Willis and her personal trainer/boyfriend in various locations around the area: sitting in a restaurant; together in a car; laying out on a beach; walking together up a flight of open metal stairs. A motel’s stairs.

In none of the photos, did either of the subjects show any suspicion they were being watched.

Lou was good.

The remaining photographs were all in full color and showed Mrs. Willis and her lover in various stages of sexual activity. They were good enough to make a porn director green with envy and Jake had no idea how he got them. He had to have planted a secret camera in the motel room, but how did he know which one?

Lou was very good.

He had also made copies of the sex shots, thoughtful guy.

Jake slipped all the photos, including his copies, back into the envelope and set it in the “out” tray on the edge of his desk. It would all go into the Willis file.

The intercom buzzed. His appointment was probably here.

“Yes, Marcia?”

“A Miss Cordova is here to see you.,” she told him. “Should I send her in?”

“No. I’ll be out in a moment. Thank you.”

He always thought it good business when meeting a new client to come out and meet them in the outer office first. It gave the impression that they and their problem was important to him. The little things were important.

Jake stepped around the desk and checked his appearance again in the mirror. Only when every detail was exactly as he wanted, did he open the door and step into the outer office.

Diane Cordova rose from the loveseat as he approached. She was strikingly beautiful, somewhere in her mid-twenties, with long hair the color of his desk and big black eyes. She wore a black silk miniskirt a couple of inches above her knee and a white blazer over a scarlet tee. Her skin was clear and the color of coffee with lots of cream.

“Ms. Cordova? I’m Jacob Bremer.”

She smiled and shook his offered hand. He noticed her taking in his suit, his shoes. He hoped she was duly impressed.

He stepped aside and ushered her into his office. “Could I have Marcia get you some coffee? Or maybe tea?”

The young woman smiled, but shook her head. “No, thanks. I’m fine.”

Over her shoulder, Jake saw Marcia roll her eyes.

Jake ignored his secretary’s editorial, escorted his client into his office and closed the door. He made her comfortable in the office chair, then rounded the desk to take his own seat.

“Your office is beautiful,” she said.

He smiled. “Thank you. Now tell me what I can do for you.”

Her eyes dropped.

He became aware of the floral scent of her perfume. Not too much, not too little.

“I think I’m in a great deal of trouble. I was hoping you could help me.”

“Possibly. Why don’t you tell me about it?”

She took a deep breath, let it go in a sigh. “It’s my little brother. He took something that didn’t belong to him. Now some very bad men are looking for him and he’s in hiding.”

Jake nodded. “May I ask what it was he took?”

“Drugs. Cocaine.”

Jake nodded. Yes, he certainly was in trouble. Drug dealers did not look kindly on people who ripped them off.

“How much did he take?”

“I’m not sure,” she told him. “A pound?”

He nodded. A lot of cocaine. Nice people didn’t have pound bags of cocaine lying around for thieves to steal.

“Does he still have it?”

“I think so,” she answered. “Most of it anyway.”

“That’s good.” He nodded. It was something anyway. At least there was the possibility of returning the product, begging for mercy and, just possibly, living to see another day. He wondered how much of the product had gone up her brother’s nose.

Ms. Cordova recrossed her legs, hiking her skirt up another inch. Jake made himself look away.

“Are you going to be able to help us?”

“I can talk to some people for you,” he told her. “But I’m going to need to know your brother’s name and the name of the man he ripped off.”

She nodded. “My brother’s name is Donny Cordova and the man who’s after him is Marcus Williams.”

Jake wrote the names down in his notebook.

He heard the young woman audibly sigh.

“Okay, a couple of things I’ll need you to do,” Jake told her. “First, is to sign a contract officially hiring me. I can have Marcia draw that up now. My fee is three hundred dollars a day plus expenses. I don’t expect this to take much more than a day or two.”

“That’s no problem.”

He called Marcia on the intercom and had her start drawing up a two day contract, then returned to his client. “The next thing is I need your cell phone number so I can contact you if I need to.”

“Of course.” She gave it to him. He wrote it in his notebook with the other information.

“The last thing I want you to do is check yourself into a motel until this is over.”

She frowned. “Why?”

“Because if Williams doesn’t already know you’re Donny’s sister, he will find out soon. As soon as he does, you will be in danger. He’ll either think you know where Donny is and try to torture it out of you, or he’ll think by kidnapping you, he’ll force Donny into giving himself up. Either way, it isn’t safe for you at home.”

Her face grew a shade lighter, but she nodded.

“If Donny’s hiding at your place, you should tell him to find another place.”

She shook her head. “He’s not there.”

“Very good,” he rose to his feet. Across the desk, Ms. Cordova did the same. “Let’s get that contract signed and I’ll get started.”

He ushered her out into the outer office, where Marcia had the contract waiting for them. They both signed it and his new client wrote a check for six hundred dollars.

“Should I call you when I know where I’ll be staying?” she asked.

“That would be helpful, but don’t tell anyone else,” he told her. “And it would be a good idea to call in sick at work tomorrow too.”

She nodded.

He steered her toward the door. “I’ll start making some phone calls right away. As soon as something develops, I’ll let you know.”

“Thank you.”

“And don’t let your brother put any more of that stuff up his nose.”

She nodded, thanked him again, and strode out the door.