As promised, here’s the conclusion to Dark and Stormy, the short story I began last week that was based upon a four-item prompt consisting of:
An old chenille bathrobe
Keys to the library
An expired passport
Last week, I left off with P.I. Barnibus White’s partner, Peter Wong, flopping face first on the floor of their shared office, and Barnibus asking Susan Chen, the woman who’d broken in searching for Wong, about Peter’s condition. Enjoy. Thanks for stopping by.
“He’s alive,” Chen said, “but it appears he’s been shot––and smells like a distillery. Help me get this coat off of him. Then get a towel or a rag. We’ll need to stop the bleeding.”
I stared. For someone who seemed so desperate moments earlier, Susan Chen was displaying an abundance of control. Hope she doesn’t get blood on Mom’s robe.
Chen glared. “Don’t just stand there like an oaf. Help me get this wet coat off of him.”
Though still skeptical, I obliged.
Despite his bloody trench coat, Wong’s shirt was clean––sort of.
I grabbed a hand towel in the powder room, soaked it with cold water, then brought it to Chen. She folded it, then pressed it over Peter’s forehead.
Wong flinched and moaned, then blinked. Once his blurry gaze focused, he stared at his caretaker and her ample bosoms. “Well, hello, Miss Chen.”
She closed the robe and cinched its belt, then slapped the towel on Wong’s noggin.
“Ow!” Wong shifted his stare to me. “She wearing your mother’s robe? What have you two been up to?”
Chen slapped him again.
I snickered. “Think that last question’s better directed toward you.”
Wong slowly nodded. “Sorry, Barn. Been working on the sly to halt a slave labor scam.”
“You and Chen?”
Wong’s eyes shifted to her. “I’ve seen her around.”
Chen sat back and looked my way. “This is Wong?”
“That’s White––I mean right,” I said. “Now that you’ve met, how ’bout an explanation. Who’s The Pigeon?”
Wong replied, “He’s been selling counterfeit passports to people in China, then smuggling them over here with promise of freedom, housing, and a good-paying job. But when those families arrive, they’re herded from a freighter like cattle, then trucked to a hidden factory. They’re forced to work and live there like slaves until they die. Susan Cheng and her pals with the FBI are investigating.”
She sat straight. Her eyes widened. “How did you––”
Wong forced a grin. “Pays to know the right people.”
I shared the woman’s surprise. “That true Miss Chen, or Cheng, or whoever you are?”
She frowned. “The Bureau has been after The Pigeon for quite a while. I’ve been working the case for three months––the last one undercover. My badge and ID are beneath the lining of my handbag.”
Wong winked. “I’d managed to infiltrate The Pigeon’s organization and spotted Miss Cheng––posing as Susan Chen, a rebellious general’s daughter with a forged passport in need of renewal.”
She huffed. “I was about to connect with one of The Pigeon’s thugs, when someone punched–– Was that you?”
Wong forced another grin. “You should thank me for saving you from a life of prostitution. From what I’ve seen, you’d have been one of The Pigeon’s favorites.”
Cheng’s eyelids narrowed. She grabbed the towel again.
Wong flinched. “I can bring this to an end. Reach into my coat pocket.”
I complied and pulled out a silver ring. “What are these for?”
“Keys to the library. Got ’em from the head librarian.”
Wong hesitated. “Sorry, Barn. They shot her, then torched her place to silence both of us. I managed to grab the keys and escape through a cellar window.”
I crossed myself. “Who’s they? What about the blood on your coat?”
He briefly stared at the ceiling. “The Pigeon’s men. The blood’s Marion’s. I tried to stop her bleeding with my coat. Then her house erupted. She passed before I could get her out.”
I sighed. “What’s with the keys?”
Wong paused again to think. “The thug interested in Susan? Turns out he’s The Pigeon’s rising star, Robert Liang. My roughing him up bruised more than his face.”
“And he decided to make amends.”
“And the keys?”
“The Pigeon’s gonna rendezvous with his stateside thugs at the old library tonight.”
“Where you were gonna be waiting?”
“That was the plan. Still is, but…”
“But then you got schnockered.”
“Felt bad about Marion.” Wong winked at Cheng. “Feeling better now.”
Cheng sat back and tugged at the robe.
Wong tried to stand but fell back against the desk. “Dammit! If I don’t show up tonight, Liang will come after Susan to restore order.”
I shook my head. “Liang believe he shot you, too?”
Wong slowly nodded.
I lip-shrugged. “You’re in no condition for anything. But I’m thinking you’re gonna make that rendezvous…after Cheng and I drop you off.”
Peter’s brow creased. “Got a plan?”
I grinned. “You bet I do.”
Mrs. Wong didn’t care for my insistence that she babysit her inebriated son, or that Cheng needed to use her phone. But Peter’s boyhood home seemed like the safest place to leave him––where he’d receive the personalized attention of his mother’s loving hands…or feet, or…
Cheng and I snickered all the way back to the car.
Rain continued to fall as we approached the old library, a stone structure that resembled a small, country chapel. The windows had been blacked out long ago to discourage curious eyes. At the door, I yanked up the collar of Wong’s bloody trench coat, hefted it around my shoulders, then pulled his fedora tight on my brow. After inserting the key, I looked at Cheng. “By the way, in case this doesn’t work out, is Susan Cheng your real name?”
She pulled her badge and ID from her handbag. “Susanne Cheng. Let’s go.”
The entry creaked open into a dark, empty space. A musty, dank odor assaulted our noses. At the opposite end of the building, a sliver of incandescent light crept from beneath another door.
Looking downward, I hung my right arm and shuffled like a wounded soldier, Cheng by my side. We stopped outside the closed barrier. A rustling noise tickled our ears. “Sounds like critters,” I whispered.
I knocked once, then swung open the door. “Surprise.” I muttered in a raspy voice.
The bruised man I assumed was Robert Liang glared at me. “Wong! You are supposed to be––”
“Dead?” I coughed. “Takes more than your bullets and a little fire to stop me.”
From beneath the fedora’s broad brim, I squinted across the room . A well-clad, spectacled man sat behind a wooden desk. A bodyguard stood to either side of him.
I coughed again. “And you must be The Pigeon. I’d bow, but––”
The Pigeon stared. “If you are armed, Mr. Wong, please, remove you weapon.”
I slowly pushed back the trench coat with my left hand to reveal the .45 holstered on my right hip. “A lot of good it does with my shoulder messed up.” I reached across my body, pulled out the semi-auto, then winked at Cheng, whose right hand had sneaked into her purse.
“Kill them!” The Pigeon demanded.
Cheng and I unleashed hot lead before Liang or The Pigeon’s henchmen knew what had happened. All five of them slumped on the floor. Cheng’s FBI pals closed in from behind. They checked on the wounded men, snapped handcuffs on The Pigeon, then escorted him out the door.
I holstered the .45 and tipped back Wong’s hat. “Sometimes it pays to be a southpaw.”
Susanne Cheng grinned. “And have reinforcements, after The Pigeon suddenly recognized the difference between White and Wong.”