Her smile was nice, but it did not remain
long on her face, her distress was plain
She took a seat, said ‘yes, please’ to a drink
I watched as she downed the gin in a wink
Not her first taste, is what this private eye thinks
“My name is Linda Worthington Honeycutt-Lee.”
She paused as I pondered her pedigree
and the suspicions about who shot husband #3.
“You think I killed him, it’s in your eyes.
Would it matter if I told you that I really loved the guy?”
“Would it matter to you that I miss his loud laughter?
That to his wedding vow Louie added ‘forever after’?
Oh, I don’t blame you, by most I’ve been shunned.
The case is still open, and I’m suspect number one
Because I thought I heard footsteps, and picked up the gun.”
I said I believed her when the tears started flowing
I told her I’d help her without even knowing
what she wanted, but my curiosity was growing
The widow Lee combined two of my weaknesses,
An inquisitive gene, and a fair damsel’s distresses.
With my borrowed hankie, she wiped her last tear
and, fresh drink in hand, told me why she had come here,
to the wrong side of the tracks, at a bad time of the year.
As if reading my mind, she said “Your neighborhood’s horrible.
Trash pick-up is spotty, the street lighting deplorable.”
I got a wider smile when I said, “I know,
I doubt we’ll be named ‘Street Beautiful’ two years in a row.”
“And that is why I came here, I must be discreet,
I beg your pardon, but I’m unlikely to meet
Anyone who knows me, they’d never drive down this street.”
“The girls next door service guys who ride in limousines
On the corner kids spend their trust funds on vials full of dreams,”
The mayor rolls them bones with the owners of the mill
in an unlicensed casino, slightly further up the hill
In return for winning, he rubber-stamps their bills.”
“But it’s early, you should have no reason to worry
people who come down here are often in a hurry
“Still”, I said, “discretion’s best, so next time, no Audi,
and wear something modest.” She asked, “This dress is too gaudy?”
“Oh no, the dress is fine, I meant a different body.”
“I can’t live with this cloud, and former friends’ stares,
overheard whispers, and the detectives’ hard glares
I have nowhere to turn, I’m a physical wreck!”
She unflipped her phone, and gasped at the text
the number was restricted, the message; ‘you’re next!”
I sent Ms. Lee home when she had settled down
and went to see a friend who worked Homicide downtown
You see, not all cops are made the same
Some really want justice to be more than a game
Detective Hall would know if the cop’s case was lame
“Well looky here”, Ernie was in a mood to bust nuts
“A wannabe comes knocking at the house of the have-gots”
I told him why I had come, and asked after his thoughts
“She heard muffled footsteps, yet slept through gunfire.
Her prints on the weapon seem to call her a liar.”
She told me Louie played loud music, smoked weed for his head
So in order to sleep, she would wear earmuffs to bed
Something woke her, the bedroom door was ajar
she took the gun from the drawer, said it felt warm
On the stairway she found him, beyond further harm
Hall said “Louie was no saint, he also liked his cocaine
It kept him awake during high-dollar poker games
Could he have lost big, and been unable to pay?
“They were mostly buddies, so I’d say no way.
None of them would risk jail, not for even one day.”
More likely, assuming the widow’s story is true
Maybe he was the lender, and the rent was coming due
“Have the players been questioned? Did they have a guard?”
“Yes, all five. Some have worse habits than betting on cards.
And there was an off-duty inside, another two in the yard.”
With a little cajoling, Ernie gave in and gave me a sheet
listing the names of those with whom I should meet.
a ‘good luck’ shoulder punch later, I was back on the street
and headed towards downtown with my friend Ernie’s list
Hoping to find something that the cops may have missed.
My very first stop was a posh downtown Hotel
called the Spotted Orchid, run by one Singh Patel
“they make fun of my accent, imitate it in vain,
I laugh too, I clean them out in two out of three games
“Did you play last week?” “Yes, but it wasn’t the same.”
Louie’s partner Joey Florala played four-zeroed hands, too
Together, they ran a twenty-store chain, ‘Electronics 4 U’
Like Yin and Yang they clicked, and made a mil or two
Louie was the place’s face, Joey did the math
His father was a jailed mobster, Joey took a different path.
Joey’s smile reached his eyes. “You I’ve met before.
When they came for my Dad, you busted down the door.”
“That was a lifetime ago, I’m not a cop anymore.”
He said, “I know, I’ve followed your career.
I’m a fan, you see, because of you, I’m here.”
“The other cops that day were crude, kicked my Dad around,
You made them stop, helped Dad off the ground.”
You said, “Don’t be like Carmine here, hurting people who are down.”
“Those words hit me like a comet, and today here I am.
Because of you, my friend. I’m an honest and rich man.”
“She did not do this, Moonlight. Their love for each other was strong.
No way, Moonlight, she couldn’t have. The cops got it all wrong.
Whoever shot him in the den knew the house, and the grounds outside
It was no crime of passion, Louie’s death was planned, that can’t be denied.
And if a person says they weren’t in love, I’ll say that person lied.”
Jimmy Finke drank his lunch, and washed it down with a cigar
He’s slept at his office since the divorce, which he compared to a war
She took his yacht, their home, and a lot full of used cars
“I should stick to rich girls, they aren’t into marryin’,
But I’m hooked on Latin gals, my own private heroin.”
Trust in Finke, He’ll Steer You Right, into a real cool deal
Jimmy was good, he could make you think a lemon was a steal
Like Florala, Finke believed that Lee’s happiness was real
“She looks good for the crime, but I’d bet my last dime
that the killer is laughing as the police waste their time.”
Syd Barkley was next on the list, but he was in the wind
I was beat myself, and drove towards my favorite dispenser of gin
A long dark shape pulled alongside, and started hemming me in
I pulled to a stop, pulled out my gun, then the window shattered.
The next swing took out my gun hand, the guy was a helluva batter
Then my throat got pressed by the business end of a revolver
A voice behind the lights called me a little problem solver
“Well, we have a quandary here, more salient than most,”
“Let the lady take the rap, so decrees my host,”
“You’ll do as he exhorts, or roam this sphere as a ghost.”
My breath was gone, I rasped, “Understood”
The gun pressed my windpipe shut, the voice said “good!.
But, my employer opines, you’re not so precipitate to convince.”
“I’m easily swayed!”, I gasped to the wordy thug, “But since
It’s getting late, let’s do this.” The first hit made me wince.
They broke some ribs, and one eye closed tight
My nose was broken, then out went the lights
When I came to, I hurt like hell most everywhere
But my little guys were fine, I wasn’t touched there
I made their job easy, so they treated me fair.
I got a bottle of Rebel Yell and found my way home
When I look this bad, I prefer drinking alone.
About a third of the way down the bottle, I suppose,
as with tissues and tweezers, I rebuilt my nose,
an image came, of a ring, on the hand that delivered the blows.
“A hawk atop an open scroll? That’s the symbol of Boone’s End
The elite are elated when a scion is selected to attend.”
Ernie’s gaze passed over me, sleep had not helped my looks.
“You ought to feel honored, friend, for no ordinary crook
is the quite dreaded, yet well-read and bred, Benny the Book.”
“A preppy for hire? You have to admit, it’s a strange career choice
for one whose ride to school was a Porsche or Rolls-Royce!”
“Breeding he’s got, he’s a heat-packing patrician
His ascot is tastefully useful in asphyxiations
What he lacks in restraint, he makes up in erudition.”
“Serve him white wine with lamb, and it’s your ass
Benny uses the tools of the aristocrat class
A polo mallet, not a bat, whacked your hand.
When he served time, he taught etiquette in the can
Several died thinking that made him less of a man.”
Ernie took a call, hung up, and said “We have a lead.
The threat on Lee’s phone? Tech got a three-tower read.
The call came from a house on Fortescue Street”
“I’ve been there, Ernie, that’s where Syd Barkley lives”
“Sounded familiar”, Hall stood up. “Let’s go see what gives.”
But Syd stayed mum, he was beyond giving
For a very good reason, Syd had simply stopped living
‘”He looked good for the crime, I was beat leaving his pad.”
“He may yet have done Louis, before he took two in the head.”
“Or maybe the call to Linda was a warning, not a threat.”
So who did this to Barkley, the one-time celebrity?
A child star gone bad, jailed for various perfidies
Now when he wins a game, it goes to his charities
His book about failure made him a success once again
Good, bad, rich, poor, he was all of it before his life’s end.
“Two guys from the game, killed in one week’s time,
It looks less likely to me that Ms. Lee committed the crime.”
Ernie paused to talk to the cops who canvassed the area.
A car seen leaving Barkley’s, an antique, cherry-red Impala.
We shared a look, said at the same time, “Joey Florala!”
“I thought that Joey was an apple that denied the tree.”
“Apples fall when they’re rotting, too, such is humanity.”
After that remark, Ernie issued a 187, a BOLO, and an APB.
Ernie went to find Joey I called the cops guarding the game.
Except for one detail, their accounts were the same.
Mallory, who watched the players’ cars, saw a guy dressed in rags
“Probably homeless”, he said. “he was carrying two bags,
Thinking back now, he seemed focused on the tags.”
I asked, “Did anything else at all catch your attention?”
“No, but I’ll call if I remember anything worth a mention.”
Joey hadn’t been home for some time, that was not a surprise
And his staff seemed to have only recently gotten their eyes.
Just where he had gone, or how long ago, no one would say
It could have been hours or minutes, it could have been days
I was still unsure of his guilt, I really wanted to know he was okay.
At least I could keep busy while waiting for Joey to show,
I drove out to Highland Heather to see the grieving widow.
“Is she having a party?”, asked the guard, his tag read “Ken”
“Yours is the third car headed that way, and it’s barely past ten!”
An Impala, then a Bentley whose driver acted so very refined.”
The road was divided, and through the bushes I saw Joey’s car,
The top was down, and so was his foot, pedal mashed to the floor
Right behind was Benny, who else would boom-bass a work by Elgar?
I had a choice, join the parade, or check on Ms. Linda yadda-whatever.
If she was dead, she’d stay dead, no one lives forever.
I stopped long enough to tell Ken “Quick! Get on the phone!”
Call the cops, get them to send a squad car to her home.”
Ken told me that both suspects turned to the right,
Screeching tires and horns indicated they blew through the light,
I did the same, and gave some poor trucker his day’s second fright.
When I caught up, things looked to be getting out of hand,
The Book was on Joey’s bumper, doing a heavy-metal dance
Benny held a gun out the window, they weren’t exactly friends.
Neither are thinking and I, and that is the main reason why
I drew abreast of Benny, rammed my hooptie into the Bentley left side.
The vanity car rolled almost three times, and stopped upside-down.
By the time I reached the wreck, Benny was just coming around,
The hate and pain was plain on his face, his manner stayed refined.
“The elision of our carriages has curtailed pursuance of any kind.
My entrails have been rendered feckless, I’m expiring on the vine.”
It was weird to feel bad, Benny’s punches and swings still hurt.
Still, how sad to have no friends, no love, to die in the dirt.
“Benny, someone wanted me hurt bad, and you know why
Tell me who murdered Louie Lee, tell me before you die.”
“Florala, he rasped. Blood poured from his mouth, he looked to the sky.
I slapped him hard, “Don’t die on me yet, you loquacious goon,
“Tell me why he killed Barkley and Lee, and make it real soon.”
“Some..thing about revenge … heinous duplicity”, Benny cried.
So why kill the man who hired you? It sure looks like you tried.”
“No, not…that…kill…Florala said…kill …him…kid.” And he died.
I got cuffed, but Ernie set me free, we went back to the Heather
The techs searching for clues were racing the weather.
Finke had shown up, he and Linda were huddled together.
It was a friendly and comforting hug, she did not need to be alone.
It turned out that Joey had been coming to pick up his phone.
“He left this one for me when my cell phone got fried
By a drunk at our last party, who apparently tried
To use the wrong charger, that was right before my Louis died”
She held up the phone on which the threat was received.
Joey’s was to be the next death, but he wasn’t the killer, to my relief.
Just about then, I heard my own phone’s tinny ring.
Mallory’s voice on the line, “I remembered something!”
He apologized at length for waiting, then, “this might be nothing…”,
I was getting impatient, “I’ll let you know, just tell me, man!”
Mallory sighed, “I think that homeless guy had a prison tan.”
He’d once worked at a prison, and recognized the hue
Caused by long lacks of sunlight. “Is that a good clue?”
I assured him it would help us find the answers we seek.
Then Ernie handed me his phone and said, “Take a peek.”
Carmine Florala Sr. was released from federal prison last week.
“How could Joey not know that? Wasn’t the family told?”
“Joey’s dad disowned his son for rejecting the Omerta code.”
Linda continued, “Joey was blocked from seeing his Dad,
Joey said he thought prison had driven his father mad.
But he still hopes for a reunion, the split hurt him bad.”
Ernie and the uniforms left, Linda was still shook up
So Finke made coffee, and we sat on her patio, sipping our cups
“I can’t believe you suspected Joey, he doesn’t know how to be bad.
Just in case they reconciled, Joey bought a home for his Dad.
That two-storied house across the green? It was going to be Carmine’s pad.”
“Did Papa know this?” I asked. “Yes, he got the news by mail.
In the only letter he ever wrote, he said he’d rather stay in jail.”
Carmine’s place looked empty, gloomy in the fading light,
Storm clouds were gathering, contributing to the early night
A work crew packed up and left the neighboring construction site.
“Is there another highway access? That truck didn’t head for the gate.”
“There’s a service road,” Linda replied, “It stays open usually until eight.”
A car could not get close unobserved, the view of the road was great.
I told Linda and Finke, ”I feel like a walk, who knows what I might find.”
It’s gonna be a wet stroll, but I’ll go too, if you don’t happen to mind.”
I went to my car and got my piece, Finke borrowed Linda’s gun,
As we started across the fairway, Finke said, “Your job is fun!”
“It has its moments”, I yelled over the thunder, “but this isn’t one!”
I put a finger to my lips as Casa Carmine came back into sight,
For through the garage window there came a sudden ray of light.
Joey’s caddy was in the driveway, no other car was there.
Through the garage window I saw Joey, trussed up in a chair.
Behind me, Finke yelled, and ran to help his friend.
I had no choice but to follow, you bet I cursed the man!
I heard thunder, then Finke crumpled, his women worries at an end.
“Drop it, copper!” Carmine was behind his gagged and bound son.
I had no choice, I had no shot, to Joey’s head, the father held a gun.
“I’m not a cop, but, I made a call, they will be stopping by!”
“I don’t believe you”, said Dad of the year. Okay, so it was a lie.
“Kick the gun over here.” I complied. “Florala, haven’t enough people died?”
“Singh was the Book’s next target, but you got way too nosy.
So I changed my plans, but Sonny-boy’s future still ain’t so rosy.”
So why kill the other players? Pardon the pun, but what’s your deal?
I was stalling for time, but the questions I asked were real.
“Stupid man, they were his friends, imagine the pain he feels!”
Daddy hit the boy with his gun. “This rat turned state’s witness,
He told them everything he ever heard, really caused a mess.”
I wanted him to hurt, like I’ve been hurt for years.”
I looked from him to his son, his eyes were moist with tears.
My old pals blamed me, I miss them more than sonny here.”
“You wanted us to think that Linda took her husband’s life.”
“Reason two, detective, Joey’s always loved his partner’s wife.”
“Joey wrote me, thought if I knew his hopes and dreams,
I’d again be Daddy.” He struck his son. “Wrong again, it seems.”
“So now you kill him, and end his pain, is that the goal of this scheme?”
I was thinking fast. “You can’t hurt him anymore, once he’s dead,
He will feel no more pain, know no horror, when he’s full of lead.”
Joey wide eyes stared at me. “You have a point”, his father said.
He swiveled Joey’s chair around, pulled the, gag from his mouth.
He smiled fondly, then he said, “Now both of our lives have gone South.”
He aimed at Joey, then at me. “One more death, who will it be?”
“For God’s sake, Dad! If it has to be anyone, then do it, kill me!”
Carmine lowered the gun, smiled sadly at his son.
“That’s the answer I wanted, it means I have won.”
“My hurt is near ending, yours will go on.” He stopped talking, up came the gun.
There was no time to stop him. The sound hurt my ears,
He was right on both counts, his son’s pain would last years.
Joey’s cries tore at my heart as I freed his arms
He shook and shivered as if he would never again be warm,
Fell across his dad’s body, protecting it from harm.
That’s pretty much it, not much left to tell.
Finke pulled through, no doubt his shooter’s in Hell.
Joey mourned for some time, but now he seems sound.
With Linda’s help, Electronics 4 U is on solid ground.
To sell their stereos on TV, they have hired a clown.
Florala used long-stashed cash to hire Benny the Book,
For any more loose ends, I’ll let the authorities look.
Because it’s no longer my job, as a kind offer I took.
I’m off the streets now, I’ve turned over a new leaf.
Say hello to Joey and Linda’s new Corporate Security Chief!
Copyright 2016, Gregory C. Cobb
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