The Lady in Blue Ch. 14byWine_Maker©
Chapter Fourteen: A big break.
Note: Takes place at the same time as chapter twelve.
Hawk's point of view
I caught a lucky break on the fourth call. The secretary at Conrad's Construction and Demolition wasn't as discreet as she should have been to nosy people asking questions about missing explosives and detonators. She let slip that they had already reported the theft to the police. I told her someone would be following up on that right away and to have an eye out. Her directions were clear and concise. I figured it would take an hour to get there.
Being paranoid, I kept an eye out for Ranger Dickhead, but he seemed to be lost for the moment. That was good, but it cost me an extra fifteen minutes to be sure.
The city gave way to empty rural area with surprising suddenness as I crossed the Beltway. When I came to the company, the tall chain link fence with barbed wire along the top looked suitably tough; it would be hard for someone to simply sneak in. A lot of beat up trucks, and other vehicles with less obvious purposes, were scattered around a metal building. A smaller building was separated by almost half the property. Men in hardhats walked around. They looked pretty buff. Some of the lady detectives I knew would be drooling. More than one construction worker stopped to watch me as I pulled the hog into the parking area.
I slid off and shook my hair out of the helmet, leaving it on the bike. A large man in a red flannel shirt and a battered orange safety helmet came over. "Hey, can I help you?" He held out a beefy hand and smiled at me. "I'm Big Mike."
Turning on the charm, I smiled back and took it firmly. "Yes, you sure are. I'm Hawk. You might be able to help me. I'm looking into the disappearance of some explosive detonators. Your company called the police." Not one lie in that, but the line I wanted his thoughts walking was laid out.
Mike pulled his hat off and ran his hand through his hair. "Yeah, we did have some turn up missing last week. Conrad was out on all the sites looking around for it and asking questions. That kind of stuff can get the State, the ATF and the Department of Homeland Security pretty interested in a company."
"I take it that it never turned up. Will I get the straight deal inside? I'm not here to cause trouble for the company, but you know how people will try to put what happens in the best light. I need to know the real deal if I'm going to get to the bottom of this." I added another hundred watts to my smile. "Can you give me an off the record take from the boys in the yard, Mike? It would really help me out."
Big Mike grinned and nodded. "We can trade for it, Hawk. You let me take you out to dinner and I'll give you the word around the yard."
I held my hand back out. "Deal."
After a pleased shake from Mike, I looked back toward the main building. "Conrad is a good guy, both to work for and with. I don't think he would shade it too much to the cops. He'd just tell it like it was and take his lumps, but there is no real proof that he can be sure of. The boys have an idea but it's just suspicion, you know?"
I nodded. "Suspicion is fine for now. Tell me what happened and what you boys think."
He put his hands on his hips. "Well, last week the Friday inventory came up short some explosive compound and one wireless detonator. One of the new ones that has the increased range. The shift boss, Tony, freaked out. You see, we have to sign out explosives and detonators. Only the shift boss is supposed to do that and it's inventoried at the start and end of each day so Tony was responsible for it. He called Conrad and they tore the place up looking for it. No dice."
"Can anyone get into where you keep that stuff?"
Mike pointed off at the small building off by itself. "It's locked up out there in the explosives shed. The door is locked all the time and only the shift boss, Mavis in the office, and Conrad have keys."
"So, someone had to come out here during the day and get into that locked building in broad daylight?"
He nodded. "That's not as off as it might sound. During the day, most of these guys are out on various job sites. The only reason this crew is here is because we are going out to a new site. In an hour there will only be the office staff. That won't get anyone through the doors but it cuts way down on witnesses."
I nodded and pulled a pen out of my jacket. Grabbing his hand, I wrote my number on his hand. "You've been a lot of help, Mike. Call me this weekend and I'll pay up my end."
He went back to the other men and they started hooting. Men. I just smiled and shook my head before walking into the main building. The office was clearly marked. A harassed looking woman in her forties was manning the phone. "No, I can't send a crew out this afternoon, Marty. I can send Carl and some of his boys to take a look at it tomorrow morning, so just go have a beer and stop yelling at me. I work slower when I get yelled at. Tomorrow." She hung up and smiled sourly at me. "Everyone thinks they have priority. What can I do for you?"
I scratched my nose and tried not to smile. "We spoke on the phone. I'm here to follow up on the explosives theft."
"I called Conrad and he said he would help you with it," she said. "Hang on." She dialed a number and spoke briefly into the phone. "He'll be right out."
True to her word, a balding man in well-worn work coveralls came out from the back in less than a minute. He looked to be in his middle fifties. "I'm Conrad. Come on back."
I followed him into a neat office and took the chair he indicated. "Call me Hawk, Conrad. I'm following up on the report of the missing detonator and explosives. What can you tell me about it?"
His rendition matched pretty well with Big Mike's, so I was pretty sure it was the straight shot. When he was done, I asked, "So, who has keys to that shed, or do you think it was broken into another way?"
Conrad shook his head. "The office key is missing. Someone came in and took it. I have my suspicions and they were in the report."
I nodded. "I know," I lied, "but I want to hear it all fresh."
"We had a new hire no show today. Allen Carson. He was only with us for a couple of days last week, and then he vanished. He hasn't answered his pager, and that's the only number I have for him. I went by his place and it's a meat market. Makes me real suspicious. Mavis said he was in about lunch on Friday and asked for a copy of his W4 form. She went and made him a copy. When all the ruckus happened, she couldn't find the key. She's been with me twenty years so it must have been him. "
"Can I see his employment application and papers?" I asked.
He nodded and stood up. "Let me go get them for you."
While he was out, my phone rang.
"Hawk," I said when I answered it.
It was Lisa. "Hawk, Lisa. We have some new information."
"I'm in the middle of something, Lisa. Can you call me back?" I asked.
"I'll make it quick," Lisa said, "and you can call me back when you are free to talk. We found a tape at Calvin's and his appointment book. Murphy showed up, but we got out without him seeing us. The tape showed the Galveston DA passing cash to someone I don't know."
I heard a deep breath. That couldn't be good.
"Then I got stupid and left them in the car when we stopped to check on my mother. Someone jimmied the car and took them."
"Dammit, Lisa! How could you leave it in your car?" I half shouted.
"I know!" she said. "I was stupid! You can join me in tearing me up for making such an amateur mistake. My idiot brother was there but I don't think..."
"Did your brother take it, do you think?" I asked.
"No, he's not that smart," Lisa responded. "He'd just smash the window. Listen, before you go, we have a ticket stub that was in the appointment book. S.W.P. on the keys could be Seawolf Park."
"Wait for me. We'll all go there together," I said.
"No," Lisa said. "I'll be careful and look for tails, but we need to get there before someone has a chance to figure out to look there, if they can, from the other evidence. I won't wait, but you can come down when you can, or we'll call after we look around."
"Argh! Lisa! Don't be stupid! Wait for me and I'll be right down! Going in by yourselves is about the most..."
She interrupted me quickly. "Look, you need to go. We'll call if we find anything. Good luck, and be careful."
The call disconnected before I could tell her no way. I started to call her back and then decided it was a waste of breath. She was stubborn. I would just have to trust she would be careful and that Ted would keep an eye on her.
Conrad came back in with a folder. "Trouble?" he asked, setting it down on his desk in front of me.
I opened it and shook my head. "No, my partner is just off doing things that get on my nerves. Newbies drive me nuts."
The folder had a standardized job application and copies of his ID. I looked at the black and white copy of a drivers license. Thin guy in his thirties. Black hair and eyes that seemed to shout at me his guilt. It all looked in order.
"I'll need copies of these and a look at the shed, Conrad," I said, closing the folder.
In twenty minutes I had them and had been given the grand tour. Conrad was right; there was no sign of forced entry. The explosives were stacked neatly in shelves and bins and the detonators were in a separate room. I was satisfied that the new guy was the thief, and there was a good chance he was also our bomber. Conrad and I parted ways with my promise to get to the bottom of this.
The best lead I had now was Conrad's list of references. Mavis had to have talked with someone who knew this guy. First, though, I should run his ID. I pulled out the phone and started dialing dispatch before I remembered that I had been fired. I cursed and then called anyway.
"Get me Steve Lombardi," I said with authority. "Hawkins calling."
In a minute, I had him on the line. "Hawk, what can I do for you?" Sounded like he hadn't heard the news. No need to ask him to break the rules. Then I thought about it and cursed my own honesty. I couldn't lie to a friend, even by omission.
"I need a run on an ID, but I have a problem, Steve. Jordan canned me this morning. Will you help me out?"
"What?" he asked, shocked. I told him the story and he cussed at Jordan for a minute. Then, he came through for me. "What he doesn't know won't hurt him, so give it to me."
"Thanks, Steve. Allen Carson, license follows." I gave him the information.
"Got it, hang on while I bring it up. Hmmm, the number is valid, but it's not connected to Allen Carson. It's to a James Waldeck, age eighty-seven. You have a social?" I read it to him. "That's for a Janice Silvers, deceased. Hawk, it sounds like your man is using cribbed numbers."
I knew it had been too easy. I'd have to go the references. I thanked Steve and hung up. The first one was a man named Vern Worthy. The phone was answered by a male voice.
"I'm calling to get a reference for Allen Carson," I said.
"Sure," he answered. "I know Allen. Good man. Be happy to give you a good reference for him."
I let him tell me how great the non-existent Allen was and then let him go with my thanks. Then, I called the operator and asked for a reverse lookup on the number. Bob's Bar and Grill. I got the address and headed off that way. Time to let Vern tell me that again in person. It was on the way to Galveston, and I was a bit nervous about leaving Ted and Lisa on their own for too long. Lisa was too cocky.
The parking lot was filled with cars that had seen better decades. Any expectations I had for this place were obviously too high. It was a dive. No self-respecting hooker would be caught here if she had more than two teeth. The neon sign outside either wasn't on, or most likely, didn't work. I think the exterior was gray, under all that crap, but I wasn't checking too closely.
I opened the door and was almost bowled over by the stench. Stale beer, unwashed bodies, cigarette smoke and weed. That, and other less savory smells. I made a mental note to burn my clothes later. When my eyes adjusted to the dim interior, I was able to make out a scattering of people drinking at tables, a couple playing pool and one trying to coax something from the jukebox. There was only one guy behind the bar and my money was on him being Vern.
Eying the stain on the bar stool, I decided to stand. The bartender was about thirty. Dirty brown hair hung past his shoulders in stringy clumps. His face didn't speak razor. When he smiled, I considered paying him to stop.
"What can I get for you?" he asked while undressing me with his eyes.
"Lysol, straight up."
He blinked, and then he smiled a bit more. "Funny."
"You Vern Worthy?" I asked.
"Maybe," he answered with narrowed eyes. "Who want's to know?"
"I do," I said with a smirk. "I'm here to ask you about a reference you gave for Allen Carson."
His eyes widened and he bolted toward the back of the bar. I guess he was shy.
I took off after him. This was more like it. Hunter and hunted. Predator and prey. A waitress that I would have given a tip to wear a sack over her head stepped right out in front of me and went flying as I elbowed her aside. The patrons started scrambling and shouting. I snatched one of the pool cues off the wall and tossed it at his feet as Vern was approaching the back wall.
The stick tangled his legs, dropping him in an untidy heap with a screech. He tried to scramble to his feet but I dropped onto him like a hawk on a cute little bunny rabbit.
Driving his face into the floor, I levered his arm behind him. "Hi, Vern. What's the rush? Hot date?" His response was muffled by the cheap-assed carpet he was eating so I let him back up a bit. I would have talked, myself. No telling what was on that carpet. "Tell me about Allen Carson. Make it good, or we'll see how well you breathe when I tie you up like a pretzel."
"Shit, Bitch, let him loose!" shouted one of the men that had been playing pool.
"Back off," I snarled back. "You don't want to get into my business with Junior. Go back to your game. Talk, Vern."
"I don't know," he groaned. "I don't know no Allen! I swear!"
"Wrong answer." I ground his face into the carpet, burying my knee into his back.
The guy behind me had more balls than common sense. He shoved my shoulder hard. "Let him up, Bitch." The bad thing about big balls was they made a great target.
I snapped my right elbow back into his conveniently placed crotch. He went down hard and I could hear him adding his own share of gross stuff to the carpet.
"You gave a reference for him. Talk, Vern." I whispered loudly into his ear.
His legs started beating against the floor. "I don't know him! I swear! Some dude just paid me to give him a good reference. Two hundred bucks!"
My right side lit up with pain and I fell over. The other pool player was standing there with his cue. Thank god for thick jackets.
"You think you're tough, Bitch? Come get some of this." He spun his pool cue around like some ninja fighter.
I rubbed my side as I climbed back up. "You think that stick makes you tough? Let's see." With a quick step forward, I started grabbing pool balls and bouncing them off him. The cue clattered to the floor as he tried to duck and cover. His sudden screams of pain and flight from the fight cheered me up a lot. Only an idiot used a cue when the balls made much better weapons.
Looking at the rest of the bar patrons, who were all staring at me, I smiled wolfishly. "Nothing to look at. Vern just didn't pay for the transvestite hooker he used last week." I can't imagine why no one tried to stop me from leaving.
Back out in the parking lot, I took a deep breath, trying to clear the stench from my lungs. Still no closer than when I arrived, I took my bike and headed south. The pieces were starting to fall into place, I just had to get them into the right order.
In half an hour, I was pulling into the parking lot at Seawolf Park. Ted's car was there, next to an RV and a beat up old pickup. I paid my ticket and was pulling into the lot when the ship started belching smoke from one of the stacks at the rear of the hull.
Not bothering to curse, I leapt off the bike and ran toward the ship. As I was climbing on the deck, a ratty looking man came out of the bridge and screeched to a halt at the sight of me. People don't stop running from fires unless they are afraid of something else more. I was already reaching for my pistol when he pulled his and ducked back behind some metal thing whose purpose I didn't have time to fathom.
"This certainly isn't to your advantage, Detective. Shall we shoot it out while your friends burn?" He shouted, his voice more cultured than his appearance.
"Drop the weapon," I called back.
"Oh, I don't think so," he chuckled. "Once again, I am one step ahead of you. You're more troublesome than I expected, though. I should have taken care of you at Samson's office. You do your Master's bidding better than most minions." I glimpsed him off to the side and ducked when he fired at me.
"Was that you? I didn't think a dried up stick like you had that kind of strength in him." I slid forward, toward the bridge, watching for him. When I saw him slinking toward the back rail of the ship, I fired at him twice, making him duck.
"I left your friends in a burning room and every second counts. Take your time thinking about what you really want to do," he suggested with a laugh.
Bastard. He was right. "We'll meet again. Soon. Keep looking over that shoulder."
I backed into the door he came out of with his laugh chasing me. The smoke was pouring up from a stair leading down into the bowels of the ship. I spotted a fire extinguisher on the wall and snagged it, pulling my shirt over my face and plunging into the smoke.
Settling closer to the floor where the smoke was less punishing, I crawled toward the rear of the ship. The hall ended in a hatch with a wheel on it. A metal bar was jammed into it. I grabbed it and let go with a yelp. It was hot! Duh, Hawk. There was a fire on the other side of the door. Smoke poured into the hall from a vent above the door.
Whipping off my jacket, I dropped the extinguisher. Then, I wrapped the jacket around the metal bar and yanked hard. It didn't move. I pulled harder. With a screech, it pulled loose. I used the jacket to force the wheel around and kicked the hatch open.
The smoke made me gag and cough. "Lisa! Ted!"
"Hawk!" Lisa screamed from inside. They were on the other side of a sheet of flame.
"Hang on!" I shouted. Grabbing the extinguisher, I yanked the pin and started spraying the floor. The flames didn't die easily, but I forced my way toward my friends one step at a time.
I started worrying about how much the extinguisher had left. The flames were stubborn. With a chug, it started to give out and there were still a few feet of flame between us. "Shit!"
Ted grabbed Lisa and tossed her across the flames and into my arms. I almost went over but staggered back and kept her on her feet. My prized leather jacket fell into the flames, along with the spent extinguisher, as I fought to keep us clear. I backed us out into the hall.
"Come on, Ted! Jump!" Lisa screamed, clutching her purse to her side.
Ted jumped through the flames and rolled into the hall. His pants were on fire and I used my shoe to put him out. Then I helped him up.
"We need to blow this joint. Now."
Together we escaped the fire, coughing and wheezing. The fresh air was like a drug. We sucked it in even as we tumbled down the ramp. Staff was running to the ship and a man helped us down the ramp and off onto the grass.
"Is everyone okay," he asked worriedly.
I looked at Ted and Lisa, alive and well. "We're just fine," I said softly.