Cold Steele--and Ice

by woodmanone

Tags: Romantic, Mystery,

Desc: Action/Adventure Story: Detective Matt Steele is on another case

Another adventure with Matt Steele There are no descriptive sex scenes in this story.

Constructive comments, critiques, and emails are welcome and very much appreciated.

"I thought you grew up in the country," Abigail Stewart said laughing at her companion.

She pulled her horse to a stop next to a small spring seeping from under a crumbling granite wall. The small dell was surrounded by large trees, oak and hickory, and the ground was covered with vegetation; moss grew on the rocks, ferns dotted the area, and deep green grass grew all over the floor of the opening in the hills.

"Doesn't mean I want to play Roy Rogers," Matt Steele answered. "Abby, let's get down and stop for a few minutes," I requested in my best pleading voice and then added, "hopefully for the rest of the day." I sawed on the reins of the big over grown dog I was riding, bringing the horse to an abrupt halt; I almost fell off trying to get down.

My antics brought another peal of laughter from Abby. She quickly dismounted and grabbed my horse by the halter before it could bolt.

"Thanks," I said. "Course, if you let it run away maybe it will just run back to the stable or something. Then I wouldn't have to ride the damn thing."

"How would you get back?" Abby asked; again almost doubling over with laughter.

"You could ride back, get a four wheel drive truck, and come pick me up."

"I can't believe you don't like horses," Abby said in disbelief. "You like hunting and fishing and camping well enough."

"Never spent much time with the horsey set," I replied. "I was always too busy running a boat up and down Current River or hunting back in the hills. Besides, horses are dangerous."

Abby laughed again and stroked the neck of her horse and fed it a sugar cube. "Dangerous? How so?"

"Yeah, dangerous. Like this beast here," I motioned toward my mount. "He weighs what, about 1100 pounds?" She nodded. "And he's got a brain the size of a small apple. Something all wrong there about the ratio of size to brain power."

"What if you wanted to get way back in the woods to hunt or to a remote part of the river to fish? Wouldn't a horse be just the thing?"

"If I can't get there by boat, ATV, or hiking, I don't need to go." It seemed I was Abby's entertainment for the day because she started laughing again. I grabbed her, pulled her close, and stopped her laughter by kissing her.

Abby and I met three months previously at a cocktail party given by her godfather, Jason Worth, who was my client at the time. I was working and she thought I was funny. When I finished the job, I called her and we went to dinner at my favorite St. Louis restaurant; Rigazzi's on the Hill.

On that first date, I, er we, were confronted and accosted by the guy I'd sent to jail for trying to blackmail Mr. Worth; Ralph James, the blackmailer, was out on bail waiting for his court date. After the confrontation, I sent him back to jail; again. Abby wasn't put off by the fight and with a big grin said, "You sure know how to show a girl a good time." Our relationship flourished from that point.

After that night, Abby was off the dating market as far as I was concerned; she apparently agreed with me. We saw each other three of four times a week and even had a sleep over at her place or mine a couple of times. This was our first full weekend together.

According to Abby, we were at the, meet the parents' stage. We'd left St. Louis and joined her folks at their vacation home in south central Missouri; it wasn't my idea of the best use of her limited time off, but hey, I wanted Abby to be happy.

I could understand why her folks kept a home in this area. Jack's Fork River ran past the south part of town and on down the valley between the hills where the small town of Eminence stood. It is a clear, spring fed stream much like the Current River that I grew up playing in and on; in fact Jack's Fork is a tributary of Current River. The hills surrounding the town and its valley were too tall to be called hills and not tall enough to be real mountains. They were tree covered mostly in oak, hickory, and white or red pine, and full of wildlife.

This area had been a hotbed of moonshiners since just after colonial times; but the stills really blossomed during prohibition and for years afterwards. The people were a walking, talking example of the old "Don't Tread On Me" mentality of revolutionary times. Most of the farmland in the area was along the river basin or in the small valleys. The farms were mostly family owned and worked; no big impersonal agricultural companies here.

Before our trip south, Abby had asked me when she was going to meet my folks. I answered that I didn't think that was going to happen.

"Why not? Aren't I good enough?" Abby asked. She was kidding but seemed to be a little hurt and upset.

"Don't get your panties in a bunch," I said. "It isn't you. My parents and I haven't talked in better than three years. Ergo, I won't take you to meet them. Just let it go, okay?"

"Why haven't you talked in three years?" Abby wasn't going to accept my answer at face value; or let it go until she knew the whole story.

Abby was and is, in my mind, a beautiful, interesting, desirable woman; we go good together. She's 5 feet 8, with an athletic body that pushes toward voluptuous; strawberry blonde hair, green eyes, and a few freckles scattered across her nose and cheeks complete the package...

Abby is a lot like me. I don't mean we look alike; I'm 6 feet 3 with a fairly hard muscled body and weigh about 200 pounds. I have black hair and gray eyes. What I meant when I said we were a lot alike was that we both enjoy the outdoors; like hunting, fishing, and camping. But the real similarity is that she can be as sarcastic and as big a smart ass as me.

Abby can be so sweet to someone that butter wouldn't melt in her mouth and then turn around and cut them down if they deserve it. I do the same thing although I don't bother with the sweetness part. As I said we go good together.

"Why haven't you talked to your parents in three years?" Abby's repeated question broke into my thoughts.

She's like a dog with a bone, I thought. She'll gnaw and worry at something until she gets the answer or the result she wants. I had to laugh to myself; just like me.

"Well, you know I'm divorced?"

"You told me that the first time we met."

"My parents didn't take the divorce well. Blamed me for everything; so we don't talk anymore."

"You never explained what happened with your divorce." Abby looked directly at me instead of the scenery. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"Not really. I mean I'm not hurting or sad or even angry anymore and I don't still carry a torch for my ex." I grinned at Abby. "I got closure a long time ago." Abby nodded and turned back to the scenery. "But, I guess since we're involved, you've got a right to hear the story."

"It happened before we met so it's really none of my business," Abby replied. But I knew better; most people want to know as much about their partner as possible; except for me.

I'm just conceited, or shallow, or self centered enough to believe that someone's past isn't important. This works for my few friends and even fewer people I really care about. The people I work for or try to find or catch the bad guys doing something wrong are a different matter but that's business not personal. As for friendships or relationships, I feel that their past, before they met me, isn't important; because it didn't include knowing me. Our interaction is what is important. Not really the complete story, but that is close to the way I feel.

"You know I was a detective with the St. Louis Police right?" She nodded and I continued. "It was like a cliché from stories that you read. I came home unexpectedly, found my wife, Johanna, and my boss doing the nasty in my bed. I proceeded to beat the hell out of him."

I smiled a little, remembering, with a great deal of satisfaction, the beating I put on Captain Joe Harper. "Wouldn't have been so rough with him if he hadn't of gone for his pistol. Anyway, Johanna jumped in to protect her boy toy or to stop me before I could kill him; never did know the real reason. Anyway she caught a punch, but believe me I didn't mean to hit her."

"I know you can be a tough guy, but I don't believe you'd intentionally hit a woman," Abby remarked.

"Oh I would if circumstances called for it. Like she was trying to attack me or someone I care about, but not in anger. Anyway, I lost my job with the department and lost my wife and lost what I thought was a good life. Johanna tried to talk to me during the divorce proceedings, then she talked to my folks and they tried to talk to me."

I gave a short laugh. "Everyone thought I should talk to her about our problems, you know try and get past the 'incident' as they called it. I told Johanna and my parents that I was past the 'incident' and I was past my marriage too."

"Didn't your parents understand?"

"Mom's was raised Catholic and according to her divorce is not an option. So I was wrong in her eyes."

"What about your father?"

"Dad had always liked Johanna and I guess he thought if he came down on me hard I'd get back together with her, in spite of what she'd done." I wasn't smiling or laughing when I added, "Dad was wrong; big time wrong. So we haven't talked in three years. Any time they call, I hang up. They couldn't stand with me then and I don't need them now."

Abby had a sad look and started to speak. "Don't," I said. "For once don't push it Abby. I'm good."

She nodded, smiled and said, "So you don't like horses?" Abby giggled at the look on my face. "Come on, as slow as you ride, it will take us all afternoon to get back to the barn."

Getting on my horse, I said, "Not my fault I'm slow. I think my horse is broke. He won't go faster than a bone shaking trot." I put my heels to the beast and said, "C'mon Dog Food, let's get back so we can get away from each other."

I saw the look on Abby's face. "Yeah, I called him Dog Food; cause that's what he'll be in a few years." She laughed again as she rode down the trail with me trying to keep up with her. You'd think I was a stand up comic as much as I made her laugh.

That evening at supper, Abby's dad, Darren, again gave me the look. You know, the one that says I don't like you sleeping with my daughter. He'd given me that look from the minute that Abby put both our suitcases in a guest room. Her mother, Mary, just laughed and told him to join the 21st century. In spite of her own beliefs or upbringing she accepted what she knew she couldn't change or control. Smart woman, I thought.

After supper, while Mary and Abby cleaned up the kitchen, Darren motioned me out to the front porch. He offered me a seat in one of the Adirondack type chairs.

"I know it is sort of old fashioned and old school, but what are your intentions toward my daughter," Darren asked as he lit a cigar. He offered me one but I shook my head.

"Well Mr. Stewart, I 'intend'," stressing that word, "to love her and take care of her and spend as much time with her as she'll let me," I replied. My first thought was to tell him it was none of his business; my second thought was to tell him to go to hell; however neither of those would have gone over very well. The next thought was a surprise; I guess I do love her.

"Do you plan to get married?"

"I don't know; we haven't discussed marriage. But, if and when we do, it will be our decision and no one else's." I looked him in the eye with a sort of challenge. I was trying to get a handle on the little bit of anger that came from someone was questioning me about my private life. Then I thought; it's only natural that he is worried about his daughter. The fact that she'd been married and divorced didn't change the fact that Abby was still his little girl. He was taken aback by my answer and the look in my eyes; but I have to give him credit, he didn't back down.

"I'm sorry if I've insulted you, but my concern is for Abigail; not your feelings," Darren replied with conviction. "I'll not stand by and let her be hurt again." He paused and then asked, "You know she was married before, don't you?"

"Yes sir. I don't know the circumstance of the divorce other than Abby took back her maiden name. I figure it's none of my business. If Abby wants to tell me she will; if she doesn't, I really don't care. I will say the guy that let her get away or forced her away is too stupid to even breathe."

That brought a smile to his face. Right then, Abby and Mary joined us on the porch. Abby looked back and forth at her father and me, but saw him smiling and was reassured that we weren't about to come to blows. The discussion turned to the vacation home, the area and their family.

I learned that Rebecca Stewart Conroy, Abby's younger sister, lived in St. Louis and was caught in a bad marriage. Her husband, Brad, drank a lot and when he drank he often got physical with Rebecca. She'd even had to go to the emergency room once or twice. Each time Brad sobered up, he'd cry and apologize to Rebecca and promise not to do it again. He'd keep his word until the next time he tied one on.

James, Mary, and Abby tried to talk Rebecca into leaving Brad; but each time she believed that he would change and forgave him. When the Stewarts talked about Rebecca, the mood got somber. The whole situation bothered the family very much.

"I've confronted Brad a couple of times," James said. "It works for a few weeks or months and then he's right back in the same place." Turning to me, he said, "I'm sorry for airing our dirty laundry in front of you Matt."

I shook my head, indicating it didn't bother me. The Stewarts were nice people and I didn't like the sadness I heard when they talked about Rebecca.

"Maybe if an outsider had a talk with Brad, he'd change his ways," I offered. "I maybe could get one of my cop friends to have an unofficial word with him, if you think it would help."

"The police have visited their home several times," James replied. "Brad apologizes and Rebecca won't press charges so there's nothing the police can do. The latest occurrence had happened yesterday. He backhanded Rebecca and cut her cheek bad enough that she had to get stitches."

"If you change your mind give me a call," I said and handed James one of my business cards. The card read,

Matthew Steele

Investigations

Security Specialist

"There are a couple of guys on the force I know who have had success in domestic cases."

After seeing the look on Mr. Stewart's face when we arrived, I then moved my luggage into another guest bedroom. Abby and I had respected her father's wishes and slept alone while we stayed with them. That evening, about midnight, my bedroom door opened. Abby quickly crossed to the bed, dropping her robe just before she climbed under the covers with me.

"I thought you deserved a reward for offering to help my sister," she said.

There wasn't much discussion for the rest of the night. Oh, and I enjoyed the reward very much.

The next morning was Sunday so Abby and I headed back to St. Louis after breakfast. She had to get back to work and I had to see if anyone wanted or needed my services as a private investigator. I really didn't need the work, thanks to a settlement from the police department for wrongful termination, but I did like to keep active if possible.

I dropped Abby off at her place. On the way to my apartment, I thought about the situation that Rebecca was in. James and Mary Stewart were nice people and of course I cared very much for Abby; they were very worried and sad about their younger daughter. Maybe I can do something about that problem, I thought. When I got home I did a little investigating and found out where this Brad asshole worked and what bar he hung out. I planned to pay him a visit; the police couldn't do anything officially but I wasn't the cops. The solution didn't have to come from an official act; it just had to work.

It didn't take many days to find out Brad's routine. He worked as a mid level manager at a manufacturing plant in North St. Louis. At least two nights a week he would stop at a local tavern after work; he usually left for home after an hour or two; his Friday night's were a little different. Two weeks in a row he stayed until closing; staggering his way to his car and then weaving his way on home. He was too drunk to be walking, much less driving but he never got stopped.

Brad stopped on a Tuesday night and I followed him into the bar. He met with a small group of guys at the bar and had a couple of shots and a beer. When he left the tavern, I followed him to his car. He stopped to light a cigarette and I walked up behind him.

"Brad," I called out. He turned; I bitch slapped him and then backhanded him. He fell to the ground, looking up in pain and surprise. ""Hurts, don't it," I said in a playful voice. "Now you know how Rebecca feels." That line wasn't playful.

"Who are you?" He asked as he stood.

As he got to his feet, I backhanded him again and again he fell.

"Doesn't make any difference. Let's just say I'm an interested bystander." I knelt next to him and slapped him again.

"God, stop," Brad pleaded, putting up his hands to protect himself.

"I want you to remember our little talk Brad." I grabbed his hair and turned his eyes toward me. "If you ever hit Rebecca again, I'll come back to see you. The next time you'll never get up. Do you understand?"

"What? You'd kill me?" He asked in disbelief.

"If it were up to me, I would have put a bullet in your head tonight," I answered. "I have a lot respect for the Stewart's and I won't hesitate to put you down if there's a next time." Standing up I said, "Calling the police about our little talk won't do any good. You don't know who I am and even if you could find me, I have an airtight alibi for this evening."

Brad slumped back down, shaking his head and spraying blood from his nose all around. He looked up at me and I could see the fear in his eyes. He was going to have a couple of shiners.

"Remember Brad, if you ever hit Rebecca again, your body will end up in the Mississippi, floating down stream. Who knows, maybe you'll make it all the way to New Orleans." I turned and walked around the building. That ought to hold him, I thought. I don't normally like to bully people but in this situation I actually felt pretty good.


"Rebecca called me today," Abby told me. We were at Rigazzi's again; seems like we ended up there about half the time when we went to a movie or something. It had been three weeks since my meeting with Brad.

"How's she doing? I'll have to meet her one of these days," I replied.

"She's doing well. She said Brad has stopped drinking and even gone to a couple of AA meetings."

"Well that's good, isn't it? Maybe he saw what an ass he was being after he hurt Rebecca the last time."

"Rebecca said that Brad came home a few weeks ago with his face all beat up. He told her he got into a fight at the bar and it made him stop and think. He hasn't had a drink since that night."

I nodded and tried to keep a self satisfied grin off my face. Job well done sir, I thought. Abby looked at me with a suspicious smile.

"You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"

"About what?" I asked innocently while trying to hide a smile.

"That Brad had a fight at the bar and decided to quit drinking."

"Who me?" I asked and waved at our waiter for another beer. "Why should I know anything about Brad?"

"You seemed very interested when we talked about Rebecca and Brad while we were with Mom and Dad." I shook my head and Abby continued. "Things are so much better she's invited us for dinner Saturday night. That is, if you don't have plans." She watched my reaction to the invitation.

The last thing I wanted to do was confront Brad again, but I could see Abby really wanted to see her sister.

"Sure, if that's what you want to do. Should we bring wine or something? No, I guess if Brad isn't drinking now, wine would be a bad idea."

Instead of wine, Abby and I carried a fudge chocolate layer cake when we rang the doorbell at Brad and Rebecca's. She invited us in and after the sisters hugged, I was introduced.

"Brad's on the deck, fussing with the grill," Rebecca said. "I'll go get him."

"I'll go out and see if I can lend a hand," I offered. Abby looked at me in a funny way and I added, "It's important to get the fire started right and you can't just leave it." I don't think Abby bought my excuse. Rebecca pointed to the door leading to the deck so I stepped outside.

Brad glanced up as I came out of the house; his face paled and he looked around like a trapped animal. "What are you doing here? I haven't bothered Rebecca since I saw you."

"I've heard, but I'm not here to talk to you again; at least not in that way. I'm Matt Steele and Abby's date." He calmed down and I said, "Our little talk can stay just between us as long as you do your part; Rebecca and Abby don't need to know about it."

He nodded and gave a sigh of relief as Abby and Rebecca joined us. The rest of the evening was about what you'd expect from a dinner with family. The girls talked a lot about their childhood, while Brad and I nodded or made comments at appropriate times. Brad kept nervously looking over at me; not sure if I was going to keep our meeting to myself. After about three hours, Abby and I said good night.

"Okay what's the story?" Abby asked as I drove her home.

"Story?" I asked in what I hoped was a puzzled voice. "What story are you talking about?"

"The story between you and Brad." She held up her hand as I started to deny anything. "And don't tell me there's nothing going on. I saw the looks he kept giving you all night long." Abby waited for several seconds and ordered, "Time to fess up Mr. Steele. He looked like he was going to jump out of his skin every time you talked."

I pulled my Corvette to a stop in front of Abby's place and turned in the seat to face her and sighed. "After hearing your family talk about Rebecca's problem, I decided to have a talk with Brad." I explained how I'd found and followed Brad. "I did have to persuade him a little, but I guess it worked."

Abby looked at me for a long time. "Would you really have killed him if he beat up Rebecca again?"

I couldn't tell from her voice if the idea repulsed or comforted her. Returning her look I hesitated for a few seconds. I decided that the truth was the best way to go; no matter what the consequences.

"I would have and still would put him down like a rabid dog," I answered in a very serious tone. I waited nervously for Abby's reaction.

"Normally I wouldn't think of hurting someone like that," Abby said. When she said that, I thought I'd blown it with her. "But it's true I suppose," she continued. "Your perceptions change when it's someone you love that's involved." Abby grinned at me. "You are going to get so lucky tonight," she said as she pulled me into her apartment.


Abby and I are doing real good, I thought, sitting in my office working. Well, I was looking out the window, with my feet up on my desk, as across the street the secretaries and female clerks, dressed to the nines, left their respective offices; running errands or going for a late lunch. There's just something about attractive women in short skirts and wearing high heels that gladden my heart. It was a floor show to almost rival one in Vegas. Certainly glad I'm part of a species that has two sexes, I said to myself. Sort of makes things all worthwhile.

Four to five nights a week, Abby and I were at her apartment or at my place, my thoughts continued. Might as well move in together, maybe get married. Whoa, where did that come from? I'd sworn after Johanna screwed me over, I'd never get seriously involved again. I had to chuckle; Guess I never counted on meeting Abby. We'd been in this intense and growing relationship for almost a year now. Time to step up big guy, I said to myself.

"Mr. Steele?' A voice asked from my open doorway.

I dropped my feet to the floor and turned my swivel chair to face the doorway into my office. "Yeah, I'm Matt Steele. Can I help you?"

"I'm not sure, but a friend of a friend referred me to you."

"Who?"

"Antonio Rigazzi, he owns Rigazzi's on the hill." I nodded that I knew about Rigazzi's. "We went to St. Mary's High School together. When I told him my problem he suggested I talk to a friend of his; Rollie Chambers."

"Rollie's a good detective and a better man."

"Yeah, but he said he was involved in something and didn't have the time to take my case. He suggested I talk to you."

I hesitated for a few seconds. "Okay, first things first. Who are you?"

"Oh sorry, I'm Hunter Blaine."

"Okay Mr. Blaine. What's the problem?"

"Someone broke into my home and robbed my safe. I want you to find who did it and get my property back."

"Sounds like a job for the police."

"I can't go to the police department. I need someone who will be discreet and keep this to themselves. I need someone that I can trust and someone that can do the job. Antonio also suggested you after Mr. Chambers couldn't take my case. Another friend of Antonio's, a man named Tully, said you were the best; next to Mr. Chambers that is."

"Why the secrecy? What was taken? If it was drugs or something illegal, count me out. I won't get involved in that kind of garbage."

"No nothing like that." "Blaine sighed and looked around my office. "The thief took almost a million dollars worth of my wife's jewelry."

I nodded and motioned for Blaine to continue.

"The problem is that the jewels he took are fakes." I raise my eyebrows. "I used the jewelry as collateral for a business loan. If the fact that the jewels aren't real gets out, I'll be ruined. My business will go bankrupt and I'll lose everything."

"What happened to the real pieces?"

"I sold them in small bits and pieces over the last year. Not even my wife knows I replaced the real jewels with copies."

"So you swindled the loan people and you lied to your wife?" I looked hard at Blaine. "Why should I help an admitted thief and a liar?"

"My business is growing; it's over the hump and showing a very good profit. I'll be able to pay back the loan in less than six months; that's a year ahead of time. After it's over, I'll explain to my wife and hope she doesn't leave me. That's if the fake jewelry doesn't become public knowledge." Blaine looked down and shook his head. "If the business goes belly up, not only will I lose everything but about 200 people will be put out of work."

I stared at him for almost a minute; which I'm sure seemed much longer to Blaine. "Okay Mr. Blain, I'll try and find your fakes for you; before they become public knowledge."

"Oh thank you Mr. Steele. I'm..."

"Before you go too far with your thanks you better hear my fee."

I had come to the conclusion, after working at a cut rate for the rich Mr. Worth, that if anyone with real money wanted my skills they would pay and pay heavily. Blaine was worth a lot of money; at least for now.

"It'll cost you $500 a day, plus expenses," I said. "Or I'll cut you a deal and take $5000 for the whole thing, fees and expenses."

"What if you solve it before using up the $5000? Or what happens if you can't find the jewelry?"

"I should find them within 10 days, if they can be found. If I can't find your fakes, I still get paid. If I find it before using up the five grand, I keep what's left over. You're paying for my time and experience. Usually the results are good, but not always."

What if it takes you longer than 10 days? Will I have additional fees to pay?"

"Not if you pay the 5 large up front. The lump sum payment takes care of all my fees and expenses for as long as the case runs. Oh, and by the way, I won't stop looking until you tell me to." I stared at Blaine, chuckled and shook my head.

"What's so funny?" He asked in a puzzled angry voice.

"You're talking about losing a business that's worth what, several million? And you're worried about five grand. You're a piece of work Mr. Blaine."

Now it was Blaine's turn to shake his head with a rueful little grin. "Sorta dumb huh? I work out deals for manufacturing supplies and such; guess it just carries over." He reached into his jacket, pulled out a checkbook, wrote a check and handed it to me. It was for $5000. "Please save my ass Mr. Steele."

I put the check in my desk drawer. "I'll need a list of the ice, and pictures if you have them."

Blaine took a large manila envelope out of his briefcase and slid it across the desk to me. "This is a description and picture of each piece." He laid a business card in front of me. "That has my office and my personal cell number. Give me a call if you need anything more?"

Watching Blaine leave my office I thought, he's done something illegal, but at least some good might come out of it; if I can find the ice. I grabbed the phone and started making calls; time to check in with my Confidential Informants.

Even though it was only 3 PM, after a few calls to put the word out on the street, I headed to one of my watering holes. I hoped to run into a couple of my CIs or at least leave a message that I wanted to talk to them. These two, Smiling Eddie, and Bagman Charley, I had to contact in person; neither carried a cell phone. Or if they did they'd neglected to give me their numbers.

The bar, called the Neighborhood Tavern, was in a part of St. Louis that the city fathers wouldn't put on a tour for visiting dignitaries. It was in an area that although historic, having been part of the riverfront business district since the early 1800's, was so bad that the few decent people in the area should move out or just shoot themselves.

The current residents were a mixture of winos, petty thieves, and people waiting for the government to magically make their lives better; they were the "dregs of society" and did nothing to better their own lives. There wouldn't be any revitalization of the buildings with new businesses or semi wealthy people moving in as had happened in other historic areas of the city. It would have been cheaper and more logical to just bulldoze the three block area and start over.

The lone exception was Bill Marshall, the owner of the Neighborhood Tavern. Bill was in his early 70s, and a retired Navy Master Chief. He'd grown up near the St. Louis waterfront, returned after 30 years in the Navy, and bought the tavern. Bill watched as the neighborhood declined but refuse to desert the sinking ship of the area.

The Neighborhood Tavern was the one safe place in a ten block radius. Bill Marshall allowed nothing unseemly, as he called it, to happen in his bar. He ruled it with an iron hand, a Lou Brock baseball bat, and a Dan Wesson .357 revolver. When I asked Bill why he hadn't or didn't sell out and move, he said this was his home and he wouldn't let anyone run him off. I pointed out that he could open another tavern or bar in a better part of the city but he answered, "It wouldn't be the same. Got too many years invested to sail away."

Bill and I had been friends for several years; from before the neighborhood had gone completely to hell. I'd worked a case in the neighborhood and had spent a lot of hours in his bar. One evening I came in and two very large young punks were giving Bill a hard time. They were demanding money; Bill's bat was lying on the floor where they'd thrown it after tearing it from his hands.

I picked up the Lou Brock Special and gave one of the punks a medium hard tap on the back of his head. When he turned, I hit him in the stomach with the barrel of the bat; he went down and stayed down. The other man rushed at me and met the business end of the Lou Brock; he fell to the floor too.

"It's a good thing for them you came in when you did Matt," Bill said and raised the .357. He'd been holding it down beside his leg. "Course if it was up to me, you could have been five minutes later." He spit on the two men and called the police.

I hadn't been in the Neighborhood Tavern for a while and Bill looked up from behind the bar when I walked in. He sat down the glass he'd been polishing, reached into a special cabinet under the bar, and took out a bottle of Gentleman Jack. Before I got to the bar, he had the whiskey on ice poured for me.

"Little early, don't you think?" I said as I picked up the drink.

"Like the song says, its five o'clock somewhere," Bill answered with a grin and then poured a drink for himself. He held up his glass in a toast and said, "The secret of an enjoyable life is beautiful women, fast cars, and good whiskey." He drank the double whiskey and put his glass on the bar. "Maybe it's fast women, beautiful cars, and good whiskey. Never could get the order right." He joined me as I laughed and downed my drink.

"What brings you in, aside from seeing my smiling face?" Bill asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Got a case and need information" I answered. "Thought I might run into or at least leave a message for Smiling Eddie and Bagman Charley."

Bill lifted the bottle over my glass with a questioning look. I shook my head and he filled his glass again. "Tell me what you've got," he said. "I'll make sure your boys get the word."

I explained about the robbery of Blaine's place and that I wanted the word from the street about who took the jewels and where they might be. "Give me a call when the boys check in; or have them call me. I know you won't take anything, but tell them it's worth a few bucks. Thanks Bill." I nodded and went back to my truck.

People had several times asked or made comments about by dilapidated old beater of a truck. Why don't you drive a nicer vehicle they asked? I always answered that it got the job done and was paid for. My truck had a damn near full race 350 CI engine and race car type suspension. The body had a lot of bondo holding it together and three different colors of paint. If need be it could catch or outrun almost anything I might come in contact with. I always answered that the truck wouldn't be bothered in some of the less gentle and nice neighborhoods I sometimes worked in; like the area around the Neighborhood Tavern.

That evening, as Abby and I were coming back from dinner, I got a call from Bill. "The boys are working on your problem. Should have word in a day or two." I thanked him and went back to enjoying Abby. We were sitting in my restored 63 Corvette Split Window Coupe in front of Abby's place. She had a big presentation the next morning so it was going to be an early night for us.

"I'll make it up to you," Abby said with a grin. I nodded and she leaned over the center console to kiss me. "I've got a favor to ask," she said. "Although I probably should wait until I can get you to do my bidding with my womanly wiles."

"Whatever you need Abby."

"I have a friend at work that's having a problem with her son. She's a single mother and the boy is being bullied at school. The school administrators and such say they can't do anything unless they catch the bigger boy actually doing something. Stella is beside herself; she doesn't know what to do. Her son doesn't want her to come to school and confront the boy; he said it would only make it worse. I thought you might talk to him; maybe teach him some self defense moves."

I looked at Abby for several seconds, shook my head and smiled. "You know, you're the only one I know that could get me to do something like this." I shook my head again. "Set up a meeting with the boy and his mother and I'll do what I can."

Friday evening I picked Abby up, again driving my Corvette. I drove the car that evening for three reasons: One, I like to drive it; Two, Abby deserved to ride in a fine chariot instead of my beater of a truck; and Three, the car would probably impress the boy. I wanted him to know that I was a serious guy and not just some grown up his mother had brought over to give him a lot of bullshit adult advice.

Stella, and her son James, lived on the near south side in the Soulard Market neighborhood. It was one of the areas that people were bringing back to life. A lot of young couples just starting out, several retired or near retired people, and a lot of growing families had made the neighborhood one of the best in the city.

When I met Stella and James, she immediately began to tell me about the bully. How the school wouldn't do anything and how worried she was. James came home two or three times a week with bruises and scrapes; once in a while a black eye or a split lip. The whole time she was talking, she stood behind where the boy was sitting and stroked his hair. James wasn't the happiest of campers and kept trying to shrug her hand off his head. About the only thing James had said during all this was, "Aw Mom."

I listened to Stella for several minutes, it seemed like an hour, and held up my hand. "Do you prefer to be called James or Jimmy?" I asked the boy.

"Jimmy sounds like a little kids name. I like to go by James."

"Okay. C'mon James, let's take a ride in the Corvette." I motioned him to follow me and we climbed into the sports car. The tires spun as I pulled away from the curb. We drove over to Lafayette Park and took a walk in the park. As we walked I looked at the boy.

He was a typical 14 year old. Tall for his age, he was going to be a big man when he reached his full growth. Right now he was all gangly arms and legs; a little clumsy trying to get a hold on his recent growth spurt to 5' 9. Slender build but the big hands and feet showed he would top 6 feet and two hundred pounds as he aged. All and all a nice looking young man, I thought.

We found a bench overlooking the pond and watched the people in paddle boats for a short time. "Tell me about it James," I said.

"The kid's name is Sam. He's 17 and a lot bigger than me. Two or three times a week, he takes my lunch money away from me. He slaps me around until I give him the money. Sometimes he doesn't ever take the money, he just slaps me around. The teachers say they can't do anything unless they see him doing it but he's always careful and makes sure no teachers are around." The boy sighed and looked at the people on the pond.

"I wish I didn't have to go to that school anymore. Wish I knew some karate or something. I wish I wasn't such a coward." James hung his head and I could see tears in his eyes.

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Story tagged with:
Romantic / Mystery /