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Arielle’s Mom: Part II

Last week’s blog was the first half of a short story featuring Detective Ike Barney whose latest endeavor involved a cold case where the only lead was a witness who’d been dead for three-and-a-half years––and was Ike’s girlfriend, Arielle’s mother. Caught between his vow to resolve the case and pressure from his captain, Ike was running out of time but confident things would change. Let’s see whether they did.

Enjoy. Thanks for stopping by.

Arielle’s Mom: Part II

Day three began with Ike staring at the wall and wondering what he was going to tell Captain Paulie. He rolled over to discover Arielle wrapped in her tiger-striped robe at the far end of the mattress and scratching a pen across a yellow legal pad like a stenographer taking shorthand. The vacant rocking chair rhythmically arced back and forth.

Ike sat up. “Did she—”

“Shush, Ike, I’m taking notes.”

Detective Barney seldom lacked comebacks for directives slung his direction, but in this instance, silence prevailed. Ike propped pillows against the headboard and leaned back. He had to admit, having a good-looking private secretary—that shared his bed to boot—wasn’t half-bad. Damned nice, in fact.

Arielle’s scribbling came to an abrupt halt. She dropped her notepad on the comforter. The rocker stopped, too.

Ike sat up again. “What is it?”

“Lorenz is going to kill again. Today.”

“Who’s his target?”

“The District Attorney. Mom said the DA’s gathered evidence against Lorenz’s boss, Hector Yung Lee, and plans to file his case this afternoon.”

“Where’s the hit taking place?”

“At a Rotary Club luncheon, in the Billinghamm Hotel. The meeting starts at eleven-thirty.”

“How’s he plan to do it?”

“Much like before––walk up to his victim, pull the trigger, and walk away.”

“You’re absolutely sure?”

The legal pad rotated clockwise.

“Good enough. I’ll be there to stop it.”

Ike slid from under the covers and scampered to the shower. The rocking chair resumed its steady arcing––back and forth, back and forth.

###

Instead of reporting to the office, Detective Barney donned the guise of a businessman and loving father planning his daughter’s wedding reception. He arrived at the Billinghamm Hotel two hours before the Rotary luncheon. His police ID would have snagged the manager’s cooperation and access to the Appleton Room, but Ike felt sure his trap would spring much easier with fewer people involved.

Ike performed an appropriate, “Uh-huh. Oh yes, I see” tour around the Appleton as the manager highlighted the facility’s numerous amenities. Staff members busied themselves with preparations for the Rotary Club’s gathering. A half-dozen, round tables flanked both sides of the long rectangular meeting space. A podium stood center-stage at the far end. Ike spotted four accesses––the one he’d entered from the main corridor, one from the food service area, and two EXIT ONLY fire doors.

“Can those fire doors be opened from the outside?” he said.

“Only with a key,” the manager replied. “Why do you ask?”

“Don’t want party crashers to spoil my little girl’s special evening.”

“Ah, quite right. I can assure you, Mr. Barnes, no one will intrude into your daughter’s reception. The doors open by push bar from the inside, however, and emit a ghastly siren.”

“Good to know.”

Satisfied with the logistics, Ike shook hands with the manager, accepted his business card, and then excused himself to the restroom. Minutes later, he stepped out minus the attaché and white-collar wardrobe. A tan twill jacket over a pastel green golf shirt had replaced the pinstriped suit and tie.  Aviator sunglasses and a Tiger Woods ball cap completed the makeover. Ike hoped nobody would notice his wardrobe-stuffed briefcase wedged behind the trashcan. Then again, this was the first time he’d used the case, and he never liked the suit anyway—reminded him of funeral parlor attire. The type worn inside a casket.

Detective Barney strolled to the vestibule, grabbed a copy of USA Today, and claimed an empty chair. He was ready. Now it was Enrico Lorenz’s turn.

Between eleven o’clock and eleven twenty-five, Rotary members filed into the hotel and proceeded toward the Appleton Room. DA Weisel––Weasel to senior members in the department––arrived last. When the DA strutted in with his assistant, Ike went on alert, visually isolating every man in the top-lawyer’s vicinity—no Rico Lorenz. Ike maintained his position, eyeballing each body the revolving door spit into the lobby. At eleven-fifty, “Sweet Home Alabama” chimed at Ike’s waist.

“Barney here.”

“Hi sugar,” Arielle said. “Any luck?”

“Not yet. Been pretty quiet, so far. What’s up?”

“Just checking in before I go to work. Eat lunch yet?”

“Kinda busy, never crossed my mind.”

The mention of food encouraged Ike’s stomach to growl loud enough that a bellman pushing a valet issued a wary glance as he passed. Ike shrugged and kept talking. “If Lorenz doesn’t show up pretty soon, maybe I should grab a bite.”

“Maybe so. Be careful, Super Hero. See you this evening. Love ya.”

“You, too. Bye.”

Ike’s digestive rumbling offered a second volley and garnered another patron’s attention. Rather than allow more disapproval to rain over him, Ike got up and ambled toward the Appleton Room. Wait staff scurried around the space like ants at a…well, a Rotary picnic. Some staff cleared spent plates, while others delivered dessert. Ike spied an undisturbed dinner at one of the rear tables and stepped in to snatch it—grilled salmon, rice pilaf, and steamed asparagus.

“Excuse me, sir, unless you’re a Rotary member or guest, you’ll have to leave.”

Ike glanced up to discover a white-jacketed employee, hands on his hips, displaying a squint-eyed glare and holding his ground.

“I’m with the DA—undercover security,” Ike said. He flipped back his twill jacket to reveal his detective’s shield clipped to his belt. “Don’t let on I’m here, okay?” He winked at the food-service employee and grabbed the plate, along with napkin-wrapped utensils, and then retreated to the corridor.

The fish had cooled from ideal serving temperature, but hadn’t lost its flavor. Ike devoured the first bite without complaint. The second bite satisfied his taste buds even more. The third bite never made it off the plate.

Enrico Lorenz swaggered toward the Appleton Room, intent on deadly purpose. The assassin glanced at the slightly-ponched diner in the hallway. Rico ignored Ike until he neared the doorway. “What’s with you?” Rico said. “Forget your suit and tie?”

“Yeah,” Ike said. “Jerk-offs made me eat out here.”

“No matter, the party’s breakin’ up now.”

Lorenz winked, then reached inside his leather waistcoat as he shoved open the door and stepped into the Appleton. One round fired into the ceiling snared everyone’s attention. As if rigid posture would deflect bullets, DA Weisel remained poised behind the podium like a Windsor Palace Sentry. His audience, however, dove to the floor, ducked under tables. Pillars of the community that they were, a few sat stiff as marble statues.

“You talk too much, Weasel,” Rico said. “Time somebody shut you up.”

“Not today,” Ike said.

Enrico Lorenz jerked his head. Detective Barney stood two feet away, his 9mm Glock leveled at Rico’s head. Lorenz eased both hands above his shoulders and slowly turned around. His twisted mugshot grin creased his face. “So…those were table scraps for the watchdog, eh?”

“Call it what you like, Enrico, you’re goin’ down.”

“Down for what, watchdog?”

“Carrying concealed. Discharging a firearm in a public place. Attempted murder, not to mention murder one. Shall I go on?”

“What you mean, murder one? You got nothin’.”

“Wrong Enrico, I have a witness who tipped me off about your plans for the DA, as well as what you did to Mancuso.”

The name Mancuso turned Lorenz’s laughing brown eyes to slits, his nostrils flared, and his jaw muscles bulged, “You got a mean bark, watchdog, but no bite. Check your records. I was cleared of that Mancuso rap. No witnesses. No proof. I’m clean.”

“No statute of limitations on murder, pal. If you’re smart, you’ll take your boss down with you. ’Cause nobody got hurt here today, maybe DA Weisel will be generous––get you life instead of an appointment with the goodnight juice.”

Enrico’s distant expression indicated his mind was awhirl. The only known witnesses to the Mancuso murder had been neutralized. Nobody outside Hector Yung Lee’s crooked circle could possibly have known about Mancuso, or Yung Lee’s plans for the DA.

Nobody except Arielle’s mom.

Ike realized that what happened next hinged on whether Rico believed his story about a witness. If so, the killer might think an insider had given him up. The question up for grabs was whether Lorenz would take the fall alone.

Rico nodded. “Okay, watchdog, time you lay down.”

Before Detective Barney could sidestep the blow, Lorenz smashed his Beretta across Ike’s forehead. Ike fell backward, caromed off a table. and flopped on the carpet. Rico bolted from the Appleton then pinballed off staff and visitors toward the Billinghamm’s front entrance. Two shots in the air quickly cleared a path for his escape.

Ike snatched a napkin from the table, blotted his wound, and scrambled to his feet, thankful his father was correct––he did have a thick skull.

Patrons clung to furniture and each other as Ike wobbled through the lobby screaming, “Police, stay down!” He slammed into the revolving door and stumbled onto the sidewalk as Enrico Lorenz zoomed past in a black BMW, driving the wrong way down a one-way street.

Ike ran to his Crown Victoria parked across from the hotel while horns blasted and tires screeched down Waterton Way. The Ford’s V-8 fired with eager anticipation then lit up the rear tires and spun the car through a one-eighty. The siren wailed. The dash-mounted red light strobed its warning as Ike grabbed the microphone. “Dispatch, 233 Barney. In high-speed pursuit of homicide suspect southbound on Waterton Way. Need backup or a patrol unit intercept. Code three.”

“233, did you say southbound on Waterton?”

“Affirma—Jesus!” Ike swerved to avoid a nosy pedestrian.

“233 Barney, could you repeat your last transmission.”

“Affirmative, dammit! Get me some backup!”

Ike slammed the mic on the front seat, squeezed the steering wheel with both hands, and stood on the throttle.

Two blocks further the BMW’s taillights blinked and then glared as the car skidded sideways and whipped left onto a side street. Ike mimicked the maneuver with his Crown Vic. He glanced at the street marker as he hit the gas––West Concord Avenue. He searched for a building number––1853, and decreasing fast.

“Shit!” Ike screamed and white-knuckled the steering wheel.

At Concord and Lexington, metal crunched and glass sprayed into the air when an unwary UPS truck rolled into the BMW’s lane. The black car spun wildly and then smashed into a Dodge pickup parked at the curb.

Ike stomped the brake pedal. The Crown Vic fishtailed and squealed to a smoky halt in the middle of the intersection. Ike’s chest hammered. Blood trickled from the throbbing gash on his forehead. He glanced at the shaken, but seemingly unharmed truck driver, then at Lorenz.

Enrico’s hands clamped the steering wheel. His head sagged into the deployed airbag. Ike grabbed the napkin once more and keyed his microphone. “Dispatch, 233 Barney. Suspect vehicle MVA with a UPS truck at Concord and Lexington. Roll two ambulances. And I’m still waiting for backup!”

“Copy 233. Standby for ambulance ETA.”

Ike started to key the mic again when he saw Lorenz’s head waver and rise. The two men locked eyes momentarily then Rico scrambled for his weapon. When he came up empty, he one-shouldered the driver’s door and hit the pavement full-bore.

“Shit,” Ike said. He slid from his car and chugged after the assassin.

Ike’s lungs burned, his legs felt stiff as signposts. Some twenty years difference in age became quickly and painfully obvious, but he couldn’t stop. Rico Lorenz distanced himself but never beyond eyesight. With no gun to bolster his confidence, combined with Ike’s dogged persistence, Rico’s head bobbed searching for refuge. The 7-Eleven up ahead afforded that opportunity.

Detective Barney watched Lorenz fling open the front door and dash in. Flashbacks to 1993 stabbed Ike’s consciousness. “Please, God, not again.”

An adrenalin surge propelled Ike the last twenty yards to the franchised convenience shop. He staggered beside the entry and leaned against the glass. Sweat cascaded down Ike’s forehead and stung his eyes as he scanned inside the store.

Several customers huddled by the drink cooler. Using the cashier as a shield, Rico crouched behind the checkout counter, his switchblade held tight against the woman’s neck. Glassy eyes and mascara-streaked cheeks reflected her terror. Arielle was not happy.

Ike Barney sagged against the doorframe and closed his eyes. Visions from the past paraded through his mind and pummeled him once more. Helen’s panic-riddled expression as the robbers walked her out at gunpoint. Her battered, lifeless body lying on a stainless steel slab in the morgue. Her funeral days later—their final goodbye. Bagpipes played “Amazing Grace.” Men in dress blues expressed their sorrow and support—the only family Ike had left. Their influence had been the primary reason he stayed with the department. Words he’d spoken just days ago replaced the slideshow nightmare. We’ll get through this, Mrs. Matson, I promise.

A sigh leaped from Ike’s mouth as if someone had kicked him in the gut. But a promise was a promise.

Ike’s lungs inflated like a balloon in a flower shop. He held the air, then purged it slowly and checked the safety on his Glock. After ensuring a 9mm round was chambered, Ike opened the front door to 7-Eleven—or hell if he screwed up again.

Enrico Lorenz grinned. “Hey, watchdog, thought you had a heart attack or somethin’.”

“Not today.”

“Too bad.”

“You all right, Miss?”

Arielle acknowledged with a dubious nod.

“She’s fine, watchdog. Better give me your gun, though, or I slit her throat.”

“Like I said, Rico, not today.”

Detective Barney set his feet, raised his weapon and gripped it with both hands. The remorse he dealt with outside took a back seat.

“I’m warnin’ you, watchdog. Back off, or the lady goes down.”

Ike’s pistol and his resolve remained steady. “Wise up Rico, reinforcements are on the way. You cut her, you lose your shield, and you’re dead. Be smart. Drop the knife and testify against your boss. The worst you’ll get is life.”

“Easy for you. Hector finds out I gave him up, I don’t last five minutes anywhere. I got nuthin’ to lose.”

“Have it your way,” Ike said as a familiar iciness swept into the store. Arielle exhaled and closed her eyelids. Lorenz flinched when the same haunting cold that had kept him glancing over his shoulders the past two days slapped his face.

Muzzle flash was the last thing Rico saw before Ike’s bullet dropped him like a sack of flour. His knife clanked from the counter to the floor, but not before nicking his hostage’s pretty neck. Enrico Lorenz would threaten no more.

“Thanks, Mom,” Ike whispered and rushed to embrace his lover.

###

When Ike stepped from the shower that evening, he found Arielle at the foot of the bed. Curled around a pillow, she stared at the motionless rocking chair. Ike walked over, kissed the Band-Aid on Arielle’s neck, and sat beside her.

“You okay?”

“I’m fine,” she said and touched the stitches on his forehead. “What about you?”

“I’ve suffered worse. How ’bout your Mom?”

Arielle sighed. “Mom’s fine, too, thanks to you.” A tear traced down her freckled cheek. “I’m going to miss her, Ike.”

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