Friday, August 15, 2014

Alexander Steele Murder Mystery Excerpts

Excerpt from Death Dealer

Later that morning Steele drove down to North Philly to an area known by the locals as the Badlands to meet Trench in his office hidden behind a restaurant aptly named the Greasy Spoon. It was a bright sunny day outside but it was clear from the grime on the front window that the sun’s attempt to brighten the inside was a lost cause.

From the moment Steele walked in the door it was evident that whoever was
responsible for cleaning the place had taken the last five years off. The dingy red and white sign in the corner read special, 2 eggs, hash browns, and coffee $1.50. Knowing that it was a front for Trench’s illegal activities in the back Steele shook his head as he entered.  He murmured, “They should change the sign to leave your taste buds at the door.”

The half dozen zombie-like patrons didn’t bother to look up when he walked in. The
decor was early seventies with duck taped stools but the balding; cigarette smoking man in front of the grill was defiantly a product of the fifties.  Never taking the cigarette from his mouth the sweaty cook turned around holding a spatula in one hand and plate of eggs and hash browns in the other. “What can I get you young blood?”

Steele chuckled as he thought, "Coffee, hash browns and eggs $1.50. Cigarette
ashes? No charge. Does that come with a side of Pepto Bismol? This place would be
a health inspector’s dream if one was ever bold enough to come through those doors."
Steele took notice of the bulge near the cook’s waistline under his dirty apron.
"That ain’t no fanny pack," he thought, this guy was definitely packing heat. The cook was doing double duty as Trench’s first line of defense; too bad he didn't do windows. Steele glanced at the plate of food and waved him off, “No thanks.” He pointed to the dark brown door all the way in the back. The man set the plate on the counter in front of the customer.  Hanging directly over head was a swirly strip of fly paper that had done its job all too well.
“You Steele?” he asked. When Steele nodded the cook reached under the counter and buzzed him in. Steele passed by an assortment of boxes containing counterfeit merchandise from Trench’s suppliers. They lined the walls of his office in the back of the rundown greasy spoon diner.  He counted three body guards plus the hired help.

The Deadly Gamble an Alexander Steele Murder Mystery

The Deadly Gamble Part One

The Deadly Gamble Part #2 will be posted tomorrow at noon. 

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Monday, August 11, 2014

The Deadly Gamble Chapter Two

Gamblers Anonymous

Steele fully anticipated being stonewalled by the staff.  Tara believed that their “Ding dong the witch is dead” attitude would not bode well for Steele’s investigation. 

Tara had to get back to work but refused to leave until Steele revealed how the victims were killed.   Steele walked her back over to the crime scene.  Once they entered the small room he picked up the old, galvanized steel, bucket from the corner and held it to her nose.  Tara winched and immediately recoiled as she stepped away from the repulsive odor.  

“That smells awful Steele.  What the hell is it?"  Steele placed the bucket back in the corner.  “It’s the murder weapon, well what’s left of it. The killer must have waited until they were asleep or passed out from the booze before mixing bleach and ammonia together.  He or she could have also added the pool chlorine to the mix, probably poured it over some old rags in that bucket.  The two mixed together produce extremely toxic vapors.  A while back some guy tried unclogging his toilet with bleach and ammonia mixed with drain cleaner, well let’s just say it didn't end well for him.  Whoever did this closed the window after they left the shed the first time. In a small area like this it didn't take much time for the toxic fumes to build up.  The killer waited until the deed was done then came back to remove the evidence.

Bleach and ammonia separately, no problem but when you mix them together especially in a tiny room like this."  Steele shook his head slowly.  "The vapors are lethal so if I'm right the coroners’ report should come back with toxic shock as the cause of death.  The shed is old and has lots of cracks so by the time the police got inside most of the order had dissipated.  I guess the murderer was in a hurry to get out so whoever it was either forgot or didn't think it was necessary to take the bucket with them."

Tara was blown away at how clever and resourceful the killer was.  Steele walked her to her car and watched her drive off before going back to the house to confront the staff.

The code of silence he encountered turned out to be more of a strategy of evasion.  Because of the murders Mr. Matthews had given the staff the day off but since the suspects lived on the property they really didn't have anywhere else to go.  Steele felt as if he had entered a house full of deaf-mutes, suddenly everyone was far too busy to talk, everyone except the cook. 

Antonio was a heavyset man in his late fifties.  His gray hair and mustache made him look older.  Antonio’s official title was cook but unofficially he was the mansions version of KYW news. It turned out that Antonio was more like the cook/town gossip.
He was about to prepare supper when Steele entered the kitchen.  The cook smiled when Steele walked in.  Antonio was Italian but it wasn't necessary for him to tell anyone because his accent was a dead giveaway.

“Ah Mr. Steele, I wondered when you would get around to visiting me.  How can I help you?"  The men shook hands then talked for over an hour.  Antonio was a wealth of information.  Steele wasn't sure if gabbing was just in his nature or if it was the bottle of vino he sipped on every five minutes or so.

“You know Mr. Steele if you scratch just beneath the surface you will be surprised at what secrets you will uncover around here.  Did you know that Pablo the grounds keeper owed Mrs. Matthews a lot of money and that she threatened to fire him if he didn’t pay up?  It’s true.  He likes to bet on the horses but he’s not the only gambler in the house.

Audrey, the maid, she plays the Powerball, never misses a week."  A lot of what Antonio talked about was idle gossip but what Steele found interesting was the cook’s mention of the horse racing and lottery tickets.  Steele pulled out his cell phone and scrolled to the contents of the trash can inside the shed.  Two of the items in the trash were lottery tickets and a racing form.  When Steele asked about any recent change in staff members’ behavior Antonio perked up.  “You know Mr. Steele now that you mentioned it there was a change.  Yesterday Audrey the maid was on cloud nine, she was singing and smiling all day long but today she seemed really depressed like the dog just died you know.  Maybe it was because of the murders.  Now today Pablo is the one who’s happy as a clam.  I bet it’s because he doesn't have to pay all that money back to Mrs. Matthews.”

Steele asked the tipsy chef about the mud on his shoes.  Antonio paused as he glanced down.  “Oh, ah, I have an herb garden behind the house.  I did some planting earlier, must have forgotten to wipe my feet.”

On his way to the car Steele took a side trip to Antonio’s herb garden behind the kitchen.  There were no fresh footprints so at that point the talkative cook moved up a notch on Steele’s suspect list. Why did the chef lie?  Steele also wondered why Antonio was so eager to throw his co-workers under bus.  Since Pablo was the groundskeeper Steele understood why his racing form would be found inside the shed but whose lottery tickets were in the trash?  Could they have been the maids?

Steele was always thorough. Before heading to the club Steele drove downtown to 16th and Spruce.  He wanted to check out the apartment of Sam the deceased pool boy.  He didn't expect to find much of anything but sometimes the smallest of clues could break a case wide open.  The buildings landlady was a middle aged woman who had heard about the murders on the evening news.  She was obviously shaken.  Her voice trembled slightly when she talked about her tenant who was found murdered.

 “Sam was a good kid, well he wasn't really a kid but he looked young for his age.  He was quite the ladies man if you know what I mean.  He seemed excited this morning before he left for work.  I never did find out what he was so jazzed about.  You are the first person to come by today.  I expected the cops but they never came.” 

Steele explained that since the murder took place outside the city limits that the township police would probably have to go through the Philadelphia Police department before they would come.  He asked if she would show him Sam’s apartment.
The woman paused as she fumbled around inside the large pockets on her flowered, blue smock.  Seconds later she pulled out a bronze ring of keys and searched for the one labeled 2C. 

“Well I guess it doesn't really matter now does it?  I suppose you're here to search the room for clues.  Since he wasn't killed here and since nobody told me not to let you in the apartment I guess its okay as long as you don’t tell nobody.”  Steele was about to answer when the phone rang.  The landlady took the call then handed Steele the key.  “This is going to take a while.  Sam didn't have a lot so there ain't much up there to steal and besides you have an honest face.”

The two things that caught Steele’s attention when he entered the small apartment’s bedroom were the open window and the jewelry, lots of expensive jewelry including a Rolex watch.  Clothes were strewn over the bed and chair.  There was a beige suitcase on the floor between the bed and the nightstand.  When Steele reached down to pick up the suitcase he felt a wave of searing pain in the back of his head then suddenly everything went dark.  The next thing he remembered was the superintendent standing over him with a glass of water. 

“Hey mister you alright?”  Steele reached for the back of his head as he sat up on the floor next to the bed.  He winched as he gingerly rubbed the back of his head. 

“That’s a nasty bump you got there Mr. Steele.  What the hell’s going on here?  Who was that woman and where did all this jewelry come from?"  Still recovering from the whack on head Steele tried to focus.  He managed to sit on the bed and take a few sips of water.

“What woman” The super seemed surprised by his question “The women who busted you upside your head a couple of minutes ago, that woman.  It had to have been her. She flew past me in the lobby faster than Usain Bolt."

Steele got a description of the women from the landlady.  “She was blonde maybe in her mid thirties.  I couldn't see her eyes because she wore dark glasses and she kept her head turned away from me but she had on a red Phillies baseball cap.”

Steele thanked her for helping him.  He never answered her about the jewelry because he didn't have one. Steele was just as curious as she was.

One of the advantages of owning your own club is that you get to make or in this case break the rules whenever it suits you.  Getting blindsided in what was supposed to be an empty apartment did not put the detective/club owner in the mood for socializing with guest.  So instead of going to the club Steele headed home with a huge headache and a ton of unanswered questions. 
Who was the woman who clocked him?  What was the burglar looking for in Sam’s apartment and why did she leave everything including the jewelry?

Steele’s best friend Stan wouldn't be back from New York until tomorrow night so any cyber data mining info Stan could dig up on the suspects would have to wait.  

All the news was not bad, Steele’s job was not to solve the murders it was to clear Tara’s uncle.  As long as the killer had no more targets Steele had the luxury of time on his side.
If the murderer got cold feet and decided to take off overnight Steele’s job would become a lot easier.  At least this way he would know who the killer was.  All he would have to do is track him down instead of whittling down the hefty list of suspect at the mansion.  On his way home he received a call from Tara

“Steele, I wanted you to hear this from me before you found out yourself.  This isn't easy for me to admit but I caught my Uncle in a lie.  Earlier he told me and the police that he was at a board meeting this morning.   Well there was supposed to be a meeting but it was postponed because the CFO had appendicitis and needed to be rushed to the University of Pennsylvania for emergency surgery.  When I confronted him he admitted he lied.  He spent most of the morning at the roulette wheel in Atlantic City.  He didn't want his wife to know he was gambling so he used the meeting as a cover.  The problem is he’s a high roller and uses the VIP entrance where there are no cameras.” 

Listening to Tara was changeling.   For Steele focusing on Tara’s revelation was not easy.  The drum beat of pain in Steele’s head was stiff competition for what Tara had to say. 

“Steele, are you listening to me?  This doesn't mean Uncle Kevin is a murder it just means he’s a bad liar.”  Steele gently rubbed his head, “okay Tara, point taken.  I’m gonna need to talk to him anyway.  The staff has decided to take a code of silence.  The only one willing to talk is the chef, in fact it kinda hard to shut him up.  If your uncle doesn't loosen a few tongues this is going to be an uphill battle.”
Tara sighed into the receiver, “don’t worry about it Steele.  He wants me to have dinner with him this evening.  I'll talk to him about it then.”

Besides Steele’s mom Shakia was the only living soul on the planet who could tell when he was lying.  When he didn't go to the club she showed up at his house armed with the evening’s Daily News.  Rather than confront her boyfriend about the photo Shakia set the paper down on the coffee table making sure Steele could see the headlines.  There it was right on the front page beneath the fold a photo of him embracing his attractive friend and now client Tara.  The caption read Private investigator consoles niece of murder victim.   
In spite of his pain he was still observant enough to see what Shakia had done.  Steele felt the need to explain.  “Hey look baby, I can ….”  Shakia kissed Steele softly on the lips.  She began speaking in a tone that was all too familiar to the observant detective.  It was that kind of voice she used when she was about to leave him to hang out to dry.  
“Oh baby, you know I trust you…….it’s not me you have to worry about but I'm sure you'll be getting a call from my Mom soon.”  Shakia began to laugh but when she saw drops of blood on Steele’s shoulder her mood turned serious. 

“Alex is that your blood?"  She moved in for a closer look.  Steele didn't want to make a big deal of the attack.  He knew how much Shakia worried about him. After explaining what happened at the apartment Shakia played nurse tending to his wound, bringing him Tylenol and an ice pack to ease the throbbing inside his head.  Later that evening Shakia provided her patient with a little special TLC.

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Alexander Steele Murder Mystery Trilogy
Author Larry J
Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.

The Alexander Steele Murder Mystery series consist of the first three short stories set in Philadelphia. Philly native Lawrence Johnson aka Larry J. takes you into Philly's neighborhoods by way of his fictional,suave,detective Alexander Steele. The semi retired PI is the proud owner of the Mount Airy hot spot known as the Inner Sanctum. Steele has a problem. He just can't seem to put his past life of crime solving behind him. A seemly endless stream of new clients come to his club each with tempting new cases for the ever inquisitive private investigator.
Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.

On Sale $0.99

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Deadly Gamble Chapter One

Alexander Steele - The Deadly Gamble
(A short story)

Chapter #1
Deadly Love Shack

After a long, harsh winter Alexander Steele was anxious to re-open the rooftop lounge above his popular Philly nightclub.   Just as the workmen finished installing the large blue canopy Steele received a phone call from his friend Tara.  Her sobbing made it difficult for Steele to fully understand what was going on.  Tara was a tough reporter who didn't usually get frazzled.  Today Steele saw a different side of his feisty friend.  Her plea for help was one that Steele could not ignore.  Once he was able to calm her down Steele jotted down the address and headed to the stately mansion in Springfield Township just outside of Philadelphia

Steele had no idea what mystery awaited him beyond the tall black wrought iron gates leading up to the mansion.  At the time he didn't realize Tara’s call for help would lead him into a murder investigation with more twist and turns than a Philadelphia soft pretzel.   Steele inched his jag through the half dozen reporters and cameramen at the front gates.  Eager to get the scoop one of the men shouted “hey Steele what’s going on in there?” The over zealous reporters were kept at bay by two hefty, security guards wearing dark suits.  Steele smiled and shook his head.  “Hey fellas sorry I can't help you out on this one. You probably know as much as I do.”

Waiting patiently on the other side of the gate was Tara.  Once she motioned for the guards to let him through Steele drove the forty feet through the gates and on to the grounds.  He quickly got out of his jag but as he began walking towards her Tara rushed over, gave Steele a kiss on the cheek and held him tight.
Needing something to print in the evening papers the paparazzi seized the opportunity by snapping photos of their embrace.  Even with the cameras clicking away his presence seemed to have a calming effect on her. Steele could see police activity further up the long oval, brick driveway. 

“You mind telling me what’s going on Tara?”  The reporters were within earshot.  Tara gave them a look but didn't speak.  She got into Steele’s car and motioned for him to drive to the house.  As they rode towards the entrance to the main house Steele was able to get a better look the scene.  A black van with big white letter that read coroner was parked in between an old shed and the pool house.  Several uniformed police milled around outside the shed.   Three Police cars were parked next to a silver Rolls Royce, a red Ferrari and two other expensive cars in front of the mansion.  Steele parked next to a brown Lamborghini, got out and opened the door for Tara who was now more talkative.  She pointed in the direction of the old, weather beaten, shed.

“Earlier this afternoon my Aunt Melissa and Sam the pool boy were found murdered.  The police think Uncle Kevin killed them but I know he’s innocent.  I need you to prove it.  I don't have a lot of money Steele but I will borrow it if I have to.  As a reporter I've covered a lot of murder cases but this one is different, it’s tailor made for you.”

Steele was intrigued by her comment.  “What do you mean tailor made for me?”  Tara wrapped her arm around his and began leading him down the driveway to the shed as she began to explain.  “The door was locked from the inside and there were no footprints outside.  It’s a deadbolt lock Steele. There’s only one window and one door to the shed."  Tara could tell from Steele’s expression that she had gotten his attention.

Everyone who knew Steele knows he loves a good mystery and the best way to draw him out of retirement was to hand him a big, juicy, murder mystery to solve.  Like a fish on a hook Tara slowly reeled him in.  This was not just a murder but a double murder involving infidelity, wealth and mystery.

As they reached the old, gray shed the coroner and his assistant rolled the silver gurney over to the back of the van. Tara introduced Steele to police Chief Patterson.  "This is Alexander Steele a private detective I hired to work on the case."
The three walked over to the black body bag.  Steele motioned to the corpse as he looked over at the chief “do you mind?” Patterson gave him the nod to view the corpse.   

Steele gently zipped back the bag to take a look at the first victim.  The scantily clad Mrs. Matthews wore only a black bra and panties. Steele was careful not to touch the body.  He was surprised at how young she was.  She looked peaceful, there didn't appear to be any strangulation marks.  From his initial once over he could see no signs of blood or skin under the fingertips.   He gave the body a quick top to bottom look.  No stab or gunshot wounds or blunt force markings were visible from the front.

He turned to the Chef.  “Who discovered the bodies?” The chef turned on his Ipad and scanned his notes.  "Err that would be Mr. Matthews sister Kitty.  According to her Mrs. Matthews was supposed to sign for the delivery of an expensive gift for her brother.  Apparently he has a birthday coming up and likes collecting rare guns.  She got in late so she asked her sister in law to sign.  When the maid couldn't locate her she woke Kitty to sign for the package.  Afterwards Kitty went looking for Mrs. Matthews and found her here.  She said she could see the two of them through the large crack in the old door frame.  She knocked and called out to them and when there was no response she knew there was something amiss.”
Steele listened intently, nodded occasionally and waited until the chief was through before asking his next question.
“What was the cause of death?”  The Chief hunched his shoulders and waved his arms.  “Ya got me Mr. Steele.  They weren't shot, stabbed, strangled or bludgeoned to death.   We'll just have to wait and see what the coroner comes up with. “

Steele put on a pair of gloves, ducked under the yellow crime scene tape and entered the shed.  Using his camera phone he took photos of everything including the pool boy whose nude body was still lying on the blue, inflatable bed in the corner.  One of Steele’s least favorite jobs while working a case was picking through trash.  He carefully laid out the contents of the trash can on top of the workbench. 

One can of Franks black cherry wishniak soda
Eight Pennsylvania Lottery tickets
One empty bottle of Jim beam bourbon
One racing form
Four condom wrappers

Like everyone else Steele was intrigued by how someone entered the shed, committed the murders and left with the door being locked from the inside.  It rained the night before. If they had entered through the window there would have been footprints on the wet ground below the window. 

Steele was told that police broke the lock to gain entry to the building. Under normal circumstances the old work shed would not be locked but when the wife hooks up with the pool boy locks are a necessity.  When Steele examined the area outside the shed window. On the side of the building he noticed fresh, faint scraping on the bottom of the windowsill.  The window was closed but not locked.  Last nights rain had left much of the grounds soft and muddy.  The seasoned detective was baffled by the absence of footprints.

Once he was satisfied he had the information he needed Steele rejoined Tara on the other side of the tape.  
Tara looked hopeful, “What did you find Steele?  Anything that could help clear my Uncle?”  Steele ignored the question.  He had a few of his own questions.

“Your Uncle made millions from his internet software company.  His face has been splashed all over the papers for years.   His wife has to be as least twenty years younger.  It must take a large staff to run a place this size.  Why do the police believe your Uncle offed his wife and why haven't you shown any sympathy for your deceased aunt?"

Tara’s hopeful look turned to one of bitterness.  She scoffed and briefly looked at the sky before answering the questions.

“My aunt was a slutty, gold digging, whore.  She never gave a damn about my Uncle and she certainly didn't love him.”  Steele waited for an answer to his first question.  When it became obvious that Tara wasn't about to give one without some prodding Steele looked at Tara and waited patiently until she reluctantly continued.  

“Come on Steele, you owe me.  I saved your life in the Bahamas” Steele waved his hand.  “Whoa, I've already decided to take the case but I need you to be straight with me baby girl.  I need to know what the hell I'm getting myself into.”

Tara explained how two years ago her Uncle Kevin caught his wife in bed with another man. He shot the man but he survived. The incident was covered up.  "It’s a small township; my uncle donates heavily to a lot of local organizations including the homeless shelter and the Police and Firefighters fund.  It took a little persuading and a lot of cash for my aunt’s lover not to press charges.  The revised story was that he was a house guest that wandered into the dimly lit bedroom and that Uncle Kevin though he was a bugler.   After the shooting he vowed to kill her if he ever caught her with another man."

Steele shook his head and looked at his cell phone.   “It doesn't look good Tara.  Your uncle sure as hell had motive and if his story about being at a meeting this morning doesn't hold up then he also had opportunity.”

Steele and Tara started walking back to the house. “Okay, if your Uncle didn’t murder those two then who else could have done it?”
Tara laughed mocking at Steele.  “Anyone, everyone, everybody who lives or works here had motive, the maid, the cook, the groundskeeper, the driver, even my aunt. For a year and a half Melissa had been pressuring my uncle to move to Miami.  Well he finally caved last week.  They spent the entire weekend house hunting in Coconut Grove and Coral Gables.
The staff is freaking out and they aren't the only ones.  Aunt Kitty was born and raised in Philly, all her friends are here.  There’s no way she’s gonna move, nobody wants to move.  With Melissa dead I’m sure the move will be called off and everybody’s job is safe.  I wouldn't be surprised if the staff got together and threw a party.  They hated her more than I did so it’s a win, win for everybody here……well except the pool boy.  It wasn't always that way, she use to get along with most of them especially the cook, she even use to give some of her old clothes to the maid.”

Steele and Tara passed the two golden pillars with white globes on the steps leading to the front doors.  They ran into Kevin Matthews and his attorney.  Once Tara made the introductions Steele offered his condolences.

Tara gave her uncle a hug. “How are you holding up Uncle Kevin?"  He thought for a moment then looked out towards the shed.  “Well Tara, to be honest I’m conflicted.  There’s only one reason why someone would put a bed in a shed and lock the door.”  Clearly he had not visited the crime scene and seen the bodies. He turned to Steele.  “You don’t need to be a detective to figure that part out.”

Matthews gave Steele carte blanche.  “Mr. Steele you have my full cooperation.  Feel free to question all of my staff.  You have full access to the entire property, nothing is off limits.  If I can help in any way just say the word.”  Mr. Matthews turned his attention to his niece.  “I wouldn't dream of burdening my niece with paying for your services.  Once you have completed your investigation send me the bill. 

I have been asked to go down to the station and make a statement.  I have no idea how long this is going to take.  I’ll check in with you later.”

Steele was taken aback by Matthews take charge attitude.  It was as if he didn't know that he was the number one suspect.  After Matthews left Steele reminded Tara that her uncle was under suspicion and that she, not her uncle was his client.   Tara led Steele into the study on the right side of the main hall.

“Well Tara I have to admit I'm really curious how the killer got in the shed without leaving any footprints.”  Tara watched as Steele took a seat behind a polished cherry wood desk.  “Aren't you forgetting something Steele?  Aren't you the least bit curious about how they were murdered?”  Steele calmly shook his head as he leaned back in the brown leather chair.  “That’s not a mystery to me anymore.  I know how they were murdered.”

Alexander Steele Murder Mystery Trilogy
Author Larry J
Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.

The Alexander Steele Murder Mystery series consist of the first three short stories set in Philadelphia. Philly native Lawrence Johnson aka Larry J. takes you into Philly's neighborhoods by way of his fictional,suave,detective Alexander Steele. The semi retired PI is the proud owner of the Mount Airy hot spot known as the Inner Sanctum. Steele has a problem. He just can't seem to put his past life of crime solving behind him. A seemly endless stream of new clients come to his club each with tempting new cases for the ever inquisitive private investigator.
Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.