I was propped up on the lounger in Sandy’s bar. I blinked at the blue-tinged light bulb that swung above my head, and glanced out the patio glass. It was still dark outside; the trunks of the beach palms were like gray sentinels of stone.
‘We’re in big trouble,’ he said, wiping my face again to staunch the flow of crimson dripping onto my torn shirt. ‘Big, big trouble.’
I didn’t like the sound of his voice. And then it got worse.
I felt my eyeballs expand and swivel around looking for her. My jaw ached when I opened it, but no words came out. I must have looked punch-drunk, so he waved the Dodge keys at me.
‘Her body’s in the trunk. … head caved in … no pulse … eyes staring into space.’ He gave me a look.
‘What … how?’ I struggled to understand. ‘Oh, fuck...’
He bent close to my ear as if giving me instructions. ‘You were on the floor near the bar … still breathing. Your car keys were in your hand; I opened up the Dodge … wish I hadn’t.’
How did I get into all this shit?
My mind was in turmoil, what was happening to me. Was I doomed to be trodden into the dust like a bug? And now, I’d brought Smokin’ Joe into my nightmare. Slowly, we pieced it together; he did most of that as he explained.
‘Our cab was late arriving. Must have been twenty minutes after yours, and Ginny was worried … seemed uneasy … she called Clarissa, but no answer. So I had the cab drop her off at my place and jogged here to check it out … make sure…’
At that moment, despite my condition., I felt a warm glow that Smokin’ Joe would be in my corner even if he had a hot babe ready to go ten rounds.
Hot babe – worried, uneasy?
I sat up. Alarm bells replaced the hammering in my head. ‘Ginny was uneasy … why?’
Smokin’ Joe gave me an old-fashioned look. ‘Seems like Clarissa knew more about this Pulaski than she let on. You know … dated one time.’
Shit. What if…?
I heaved myself to my feet, steadied myself. ‘Where’s Ginny, now?’
‘Freaked out, brah … dosed up to the eyeballs on diazepam when I … kinda told her… she’s still at my place. Amos is keeping an eye on her.’
Amos was Smokin’ Joe’s cuts-man. Later, I’d ask him to patch up my face, but while my mind was wandering along several unpleasant paths, Smokin’ Joe hit me with another blow.
‘Your room’s been trashed.’
We went down the back walkway to my room. The door had been kicked in and among the carnage, my wrecked Sweet Spot board.
Motherfucking son of a bitch.
The bank statements and Linda’s cell were missing; all the hard evidence against Van Grossman in Le Chef’s hands. I rummaged in my shorts pocket.
I felt sick.
‘Both my Nokia and my camera’s been taken.’
He shook his head, tried to lighten me up. ‘You are blessed.’ He fished the Canon out of his jacket. ‘On our table.’
Somehow, I didn’t feel blessed – cursed would have been about right - but the “point and shoot” contained more than photos of the bank statements; it also contained a video record and transcript of Linda’s cell phone calls on the day of her murder.
And pictures of Clarissa at the restaurant…
I broke down, my body shook; I was at a low, the lowest of the low. I had no fight left.
Smokin’ Joe must have guessed. He laid a paw on my shoulder, said the words soft and clear.
‘Hang on in there, brah.’
That was all I could do, but it helped.
…Smokin’ Joe drove my Dodge to his place, while I kept a lookout for any prowling cop patrol. While dawn would soon break, we were still in the ‘curfew’ zone and we sure didn’t want a nosy cop to pop open the trunk and say,
“Welcome to hell, kid”.
I hadn’t been to Smokin’ Joe’s “place”, and it wasn’t in the same league as Grossman’s mansion, but it could have reached the playoffs. High walls, electronic metal gates with CCTV cameras recording any visitors. The gates rolled smoothly back when Smokin’ Joe pressed his car fob and he drove my beat-up Dodge up the long gravel driveway to the house with double-garage alongside. He pressed the fob again to open the garage door, and parked up inside next to his metallic-red Cadillac.
The door rolled back down, Smokin’ Joe found the fluorescent light switch, and I hauled my body out of the passenger seat to take a look around. It was spacious: bigger than Sandy’s bar, was my guess; probably doubled up as a workshop. An entrance to one side, which he told me led to the kitchen, and flanking that, a king-size chest freezer. Situated around were several steel cupboards and wall-mounted shelves stacked neatly with various boxes and cans.
I saw him unlock and swing open the freezer, rummage around before blowing into his hands and rubbing them together; then he moved over to a nearby workbench to haul off the drop cover. When he stepped back to the Dodge with the sheet and popped the trunk lid I swallowed back some bile that frothed up from my stomach. He made it easy for me, pointed to the kitchen door.
‘Go and make coffee - hot coffee,’ he said.
We were both on the ropes, and we knew it.
He wasn’t smiling.
Nor was I.
I turned the door handle, swung open the door, and stepped inside.
A woman screamed...