Friday, September 26, 2014

The Deadly Gamble - An Alexander Steele Murder Mystery - Read the entire short story here

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.  Taragave 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?”  Tarawrapped 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.”

Chapter #2
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.

Chapter #3

Steele’s run-in with the mystery women was the first twist in the case.  From the very beginning everyone including Steele thought Mrs. Matthews was the intended target but now Steele wasn't so sure.  If Mr. Matthews didn’t murder his wife then maybe Sam the pool boy was the target, maybe Mrs. Matthews was just collateral damage.

The following morning Steele’s headache was gone but the dank, dreary weather had put the detective in a foul mood.  He stopped by the club to make sure everything on the rooftop lounge was in order.  Steele became more agitated when he noticed a discoloration on the floor of the rooftop lounge.

“Sugar Bear why are there black stains on the floor?”  Sugar Bear explained that the coating on the floor didn't dry in time for him to hang the new banner.   He put down newspaper so he could walk to the other side of the floor and hang the sign. 

Sugar Bear glanced down at the floor before reassuring his boss that the stains would not be a problem.  “Don’t worry boss after a couple of rain showers that will come right up.”

Sugar Bear handed Steele a small, white, plastic bag with a Wal-Mart logo. “Oh here’s the other spool of fishing line.  I used the first one for the sign.  Did you know you can’t see it in the dark?  It’s pretty cool.  It gives the illusion that the banner is hanging in mid air by itself.”  

Steele was not nearly as excited about the banner as Sugar Bear was.  There was work to be done at the club so Steele decided to keep the fishing line.  He tossed the bag on to the back seat of his car.  Steele’s cousin Johnny loved to fish.  He lived in South Philly so the next time he was in the neighborhood Steele would drop it off to him.

By the time Steele reached the entrance to the manor raindrops had begun to fall.  Mr. Matthews was upset.  He gathered the entire staff in the family room and waited for Steele before reading them the riot act.  With one foot on the floor Steele perched himself on the corner of a large oak desk a few feet behind Matthews.

“Thank you all for your support during this difficult time.  You will be pleased to know that I have canceled the move to Miami.”  The employees were put in an awkward position.  Clearly they were happy to hear the good news however any signs of jubilation would be construed as in bad taste, callousness or worse.  There was a murder on the loose and no one wanted the finger pointed in their direction.  There were a few brief smiles but definitely no high fives or cheering.  Mr. Matthews continued, “It has been brought to my attention that several of you are not cooperating with Mr. Steele’s investigation.  Let me make myself perfectly clear, I will do everything in my power to catch the bastard who murdered my wife.  Anyone who refuses to answer Mr. Steele’s questions will be terminated immediately.”

After Kevin Matthew’s speech Steele wasted no time interrogating staff members. Grounds keeper Pablo was first on Steele’s list.  He seemed defensive and a bit arrogant the other day. Steele wanted to see if he was hiding something. 

“So Pablo lets cut to the chase, where were you yesterday morning?  Pablo stroked his long dark mustache as he gave Steele the once over.  Pablo gave Steele a nasty looking
sneer as he slowly shook his head.  “I don’t like you. ¡váyase al demonio!”  Having spent time on a few cases down in Mexico Steele had no problem translating Pablo’s invitation for him to kiss a particular lower body part.  Steele’s response caught Pablo off guard.  At first he didn't realize Steele had understood what he had said.

“If I find out you killed those two it would be very unwise for you to go around making references to your ass when you get to the joint.  Now I’m gonna ask you again where the hell were you yesterday morning?”  Pablo kept his eyes on Steele.  Using his thumb he pointed to the woods beyond the pool house.  “I was clearing brush and taking down some old trees that fell during the storm.  You want proof, sorry I ain’t got none and I don’t need any you know why, because I didn’t have no reason to kill either of those two.  Me and the Misses barely spoke and most of us including Mr. Matthews thought the pool guy was gay which is fine with me but I just don’t go that way if you get my meaning.”

Steele gave Pablo a look of skepticism.  “Oh really, that’s not the way I heard it.  Word is that you owe her money, correction owed her money, a lot of money but now that she’s dead I guess you’re off the hook.  Funny how things work out sometimes isn't it?”

Pablo was angry he took a step closer and pointed a finger at Steele’s chest.  “You must have been talking to that old bastard in the kitchen.  One day he’ll get his.  Where I come from snitches get more than stitches, they get a dirt nap.” 

Realizing that he had let his anger get the better of him Pablo decided to back peddle.  “Well I’m not saying that I would be the one to do it but guys like that usually get what’s coming to them, you know what I mean?

Look detective dude I think he’s playing you.  I was going to keep my mouth shut but now that he’s pointing the finger at me well…..  While I was working in the woods I saw his ass sneaking around in the bushes and trees that morning.  Yeah I bet he didn't tell you that did he?  Him and that Kitty were whispering about something in the garden a few days ago.  It wouldn't surprise me if the two were in cahoots.”

With the information Steele got from Pablo he made a beeline to the kitchen.  If Pablo was telling the truth it would explain the mud on Antonio’s shoes.   Steele wondered why Antonio lied to him about the shoes, was it because it would place him near the murder scene or even worse, was Antonio the murder?

When Steele entered the kitchen Audrey the maid was making sandwiches but the cook was no where to be found.  According to Audrey, Antonio was on his daily run to the Italian market on 9th Street in South Philly.  Steele quizzed the maid about her whereabouts yesterday during the time of the murders.

Audrey was very polite; she spoke with a slight Spanish accent.  “Oh Mr. Steele after changing the linen, emptying the waste baskets and vacuuming I always take my lunch break.  I was in the east wing watching my soap opera’s.  Jessica is about to have Ryan’s baby but Phil is the real father and ………..”  Steele raised his hand and forced a smile.

“I’m sure the three of them will work it out but right now I have a double murder to solve.  Have you gone to the shed lately?  I noticed several lottery tickets in the trash can.”  Audrey nodded, “no Mr. Steele why would I go down there.  I do play the lottery and Sam and I were friends but I only take care of the house.”

There was no reason to talk to the chauffeur and since the cook was not on the premises Steele decided have a chat with Mr. Matthews' sister Kitty but she had already left for a poker tournament in Atlantic City

As Steele made his way to the car he remembered Audrey’s last words “Sam and I were friends” Where was the sadness, the sense of loss among her and the staff.  Everyone seemed so detached from the loss of the bosses’ wife and Sam the pool boy.  If Steele sensed anything from the suspects it was fear.  One of them was the killer.  Everyone in the house knew it; they also knew they could be next.

When Steele was about to leave the mansion he saw that the rain had stopped.  As he slid into the driver’s seat he noticed a blue pick up truck rounding the driveway.  Antonio had returned from the city with fresh vegetables and meats for tonight’s supper.  He also purchased a case of wine but Steele wondered how many if any of the bottles would make it to the dinner table.  Antonio got out of the truck, lowered the back door of the pick up and reached for the bag closest to him.  Both men grabbed bags and boxes.  They talked as they walked up the steps to the side entrance leading to the kitchen. As they put the groceries down on the kitchen table Steele noticed a note on the far end of the counter. 

Meet me at the South Street Spring Festival 11:00 am.

Steele pretended not to see the note but as Antonio began distributing the groceries into various bins inside the frig Steele questioned him about yesterday’s murders.  He didn't seem at all surprised when Steele confronted him about being spotted in the woods. 

“Well Mr. Steele I had to lie to you in order to protect a confidence.  You see I was given an opportunity to make some extra cash.  I was hired to keep tabs on Mrs. Matthews and Sam.”  Steele interrupted, “so you were paid to spy on Mrs. Matthews, your employer.  Who hired you?”  Antonio stopped and faced Steele.  He waived a celery bunch in Steele’s direction. 

“No, no Mr. Steele spying is such and unsavory term, I like to think of it as keeping tabs on her.”  Steele was not in the mood to play semantics.  He waived his hand in a circular motion urging the chef to continue.  “Yesterday before the murders I crept up the slope to snap a few more pictures.  I was there earlier but decided to go back figuring the more pictures I had the more I would be paid.  I could clearly see the two thought my camera lens but they were both asleep or at least at the time I thought they were.  When I heard the sirens and saw the ambulance and police headed for the front gate I panicked.  If they were dead the photos would be useless and if I were caught with them you can imagine the position I would have been in. 

Mr. Steele I can count on your discretion can’t I?”  Steele nodded, “of course you can but I’m gonna need those pictures.  Where are they?”  Antonio hunched his shoulders, “why, what good could they possibly do you now?  Everything I shot was before the murder?” 
It took some convincing but Antonio finally told Steele where to find the pictures.  “I buried the photo card that has the pictures on it.  It’s inside an Altoids mints tin.  I buried it at the base of the white ash tree but don’t expect me to go back up there.  I've already been spotted once so you’re on your own.”

Steele went straight to the old white ash tree, got down on his knees and began to dig but he wasn't alone.  The shadow of a man loomed on the ground just to his right.  The man was holding a shovel and before Steele could get on his feet the shovel wielding assailant swung directly at his head.  Steele quickly ducked to avoid the blow.  He extended his leg tripping the man as he rolled to the right causing his attacker to drop the shovel as he fell to the ground.  Steele jumped to his feet and pulled his Glock before the man could recover.  Steele looked slightly puzzled at the man who was now facing his gun barrel. 

“Pablo! What the hell is your problem?  I’m convinced you have a death wish.  You better talk fast and it better be good.”   Pablo got up slowly from the ground.  “Okay PI, you got me.  I thought you were digging up something valuable that Mrs. Matthews buried and I wanted to get to it before you did.”

Steele wasn't even close to believing his story.  Pablo’s behavior had been erratic from the beginning.  He was hiding something and Steele was determined to find out what it was.  Steele would soon learn that Pablo was right about one thing, there was something of value in the little tin box. 

 Legacy of Death

Chapter #4

By Friday night the rain had given way to clear skies.  It was half pass nine when Stan joined Steele at the Sky Lounge, the rooftop bar atop his trendy club.  Stan looked rested and ready to help his friend catch the murder. 

“Hey what’s happening brother?” Stan did a 360 as he gave the new addition to Steele’s empire the once over.  He nodded slowly as he soaked it all in.  “Shakia really has outdone herself this time.  Everything looks great.”
After the usual greeting Stan placed his black laptop on the table, opened it and began typing as he talked. 

“I got your e-mail and did a little digging on your suspects before I hit the road.  Oh by the way your cousin Duce said hi.  We had lunch at the Red Roaster the other day.”
After a few minutes of tapping on the keys Stan started reading down the list of suspects.

“Okay Steele there’s nothing here that screams murderer to me but hey since you’re the PI you decide.”  
The cool weather kept most of the patrons in the club downstairs.  Stan and Steele had the corner area to themselves.  After making sure that no one was in earshot Stan began reading aloud. 

“Antonio age 59, divorced, profession chef, studied at the Culinary Institute of America inNew York.  Hobbies photography and botany, he’s also won a few cooking competitions.

Kevin Matthews – age 45, married, self made millionaire previous occupation computer technician. Interest gambling, golf, antique cars and gun collecting.

Pablo – age 33, divorced no known skills.  At the age of 16 he served time in juvenile prison for car theft he also served time at Holmesberg prison and the Philadelphia IndustrialCorrectional Center for armed robbery and assault.  Known associates Nick D’Angelo.  He was cellmates with some guy called Hammer.” 

Steele nodded “I’m not surprised, Hammer is Half Dead’s younger brother.  The two ran a network of drug labs until the DEA caught up with them two years ago.”

Stan continued reading, “says here Pablo is out on parole.  That probably explains why he’s working as a gardener.  Next on the list Tara Matthews….”

Steele put his hand up after hearing the name.  Stan took one look at Steele and knew his friend was annoyed.   “Tara’s not a suspect; she’s the client and a friend. Why is her name on the list?”
Stan knew he would be stepping on Steele’s toes when he added her name to the list.  “Listen buddy, when it comes to Tara you’re not objective, hell I wouldn’t be either if she saved my life and she’s hot. I know you don’t want to admit it but she had motive.  Did you even bother asking her where she was at the time of the murder?”  Steele took a minute to gather his thoughts, deep inside he knew Stan was right.  One of the first things he learned at a detective was to never let your emotions get in the way of being objective about a case.  “Okay Stan, fine, keep her on the list but at the bottom of the list, I’ll get to her later.” 

The two rarely butted heads so Stan was relieved that things didn’t get out of control.  Now that they had reached an agreement Stan continued on to the next suspect.

“Daniela Matthews aka Kitty age 41, single, Kevin Matthews sister.  Profession poker player attended Georgia Tech’s school of chemistry before deciding that playing cards professionally were more fun not to mention more profitable.”  Steele raised his hand and practically jumped out of his seat.  “Whoa, did you just say Kitty was a chemist?”  Stan took another look at his notes.  “Well not exactly, according to what I have here she played cards to earn tuition money for college.  At some point she became less interested in school and more interested in poker.”  Steele walked around the table and peered over Stan’s shoulder at the computer screen.  “Do you know how long she attended Georgia Tech?  Stan thought for a moment but decided not to relay on his memory.  A few keystrokes later he had the answer to Steele’s question.  “About a year and a half, she quit during the second semester.”  Steele paced as he though, “yeah that’s more than enough time to learn how to poison somebody.  Come to think of it she’s always been busy every time I wanted to talk to her.”

Steele sat back down to recap the information he had gotten from Stan.  “So we have a jealous husband who doubles his wife’s life insurance policy to ten million dollars a few months before her death.  A botanist/chef, a chemist turned poker player and a wannabe gangster/gardener.”

Stan pointed to the laptop, dude you’re forgetting somebody.  What about Audrey the maid?  Wait till you hear this, she didn’t exists until four and a half years ago.  Any records of her just vanished.”  Steele leaned forward in his seat, “What do you mean vanished?  What about her work history, husband, kids, driver license, W2’s?”  Stan spun the computer around to Steele as he answer “nothing Steele, nada all we have is a birth certificate.  Audrey Rodriguez born July 10th 1981 at Mercy hospital in Miami Florida, there’s some info on what public school she went to and then she just seemed to vanish.”
Steele nodded, “that’s an old trick sometimes used by illegals.  Anyone can go to the public library and check the newspapers archives.  They comb through the obituaries to find a child who was born around the same year they were.  Once the child is dead and buried no one considers that years later someone would assume their identity.  The Matthews have probably been keeping her off the books.  Without a social security number they would have to pay her under the table. 

Steele handed Stan the SD card from Antonio’s camera.  Earlier that day he e-mailed Stan the photo he had taken of the crime scene the day before.  Steele was hoping to find something, anything that would give him a clue or motive about the murders.  It was a shot in the dark but sometimes shots even in the dark still hit their mark.  Steele meticulously examined all thirty seven photos.  One by one he eliminated the shots he felt were irrelevant.  Steele’s hopes of finding anything useful in the pictures were dwindling fast.  He was down to the last two pictures and there it was.  Steele was excited, “Stan can you do a side by side of these two pictures?”  Steele pointed to two photos of the worn-out work bench inside the shed.  He had taken the first photo at the crime scene.  The second pictures were taken by Antonio before the bodies were discovered.  It took Stan a few minutes to put both pictures on the screen at once.  Steele starred at the computer screen.  He smiled as he gently stroked the tips of his mustache.  After what seemed to be several minutes he finally spoke.  “I know why Mrs. Matthews and Sam were killed.

Chapter #5
Strange Bedfellows

Shakia had been looking forward to spending some quality time with her man.  It was Saturday morning, the day of the South Street Spring Festival.  The early morning sun peaked out from the distant rooftops.  While Shakia’s mind was on shopping Steele couldn't stop thinking about the case.  The two workbench images from inside the shed told the story. Before the murder a single lottery ticket could be seen in the corner or the bench but somehow after the murder the ticket had disappeared.  

Because Antonio used a high powered lens Stan was able to enlarge the photo so that Steele could clearly see the numbers. It was a perfect match to the winning Powerball numbers but very different from the discarded tickets in the trash can.  The apartment manager said Sam was happier than normal on the day he was murdered.  Anyone who was about have a $30,000,000.00 payday wouldn’t just be happy they would be thrilled.  Steele now had the motive. 

Steele had begun putting the pieces together.  Sam most likely shared the news with Mrs. Matthews and the two celebrated by polishing off an entire bottle of Jim Beam bourbon.  Once they were passed out it was easy for the killer to slip in, unleash the toxic chemicals and steal the winning lottery ticket. 

Two very important questions remained, who committed the murders and how did they enter and leave a locked building without leaving any footprints.

The crowd of festival goers on South Street was a lively bunch.  Throngs of bargain hunters made their way up and down Philly’s most famous street.  The smell of good food and live music filled the air.  Steele checked his watch.  Twenty minutes to go before Antonio’s clandestine meeting.  Steele carefully nudged Shakia in the direction of the restaurant where the meeting was to take place.  Shakia was a sweetheart but Steele knew there would be hell to pay if she found out he was working on a case during her me time. Fifteen minutes later Steele caught a glimpse of Antonio sipping a glass of white wine at the sidewalk café.  Just as he was about to move closer Shakia tugged on his arm. 

“Look baby, a gift shop.  We still haven't found the right wedding gift for Sugar Bear and Tina yet.  As Shakia led Steele into the gift shop he saw the back of a woman approaching Antonio’s table but his view was immediately obstructed by the mass of people milling about in the street.  

“Look at this chest Alex, isn't it beautiful?” Steele gave the chest a quick once over then turned his attention back to the sidewalk café across the street.  His view was even more obscured than before.  The only thing he managed to see was a woman’s hand passing an envelope to Antonio.

Shakia stood in front of Steele deliberately blocking his view.  “Okay Alex what’s out there that’s got you so preoccupied?”

Steele pointed to the restaurant across the street.  “You hungry baby?  There’s a sidewalk café right across the street.”  Shakia laughed, “baby you can't be serious we just had breakfast less than two hours ago.  I swear there are only three things men ever think about, sports, sex and food.”

By the time Shakia finished browsing both Antonio and the mystery women were no where to be found.  At least for now Antonio would be able to hold on to his secret.

After the South Street debacle Steele decided to shift his focus to Pablo.  At five o'clock he would be off the clock and since this was Saturday, Steele was counting on Pablo leaving the grounds for some weekend mischief.  He parked his blue Jag on the side of the road a block from the mansion’s entrance and crouched down in the driver’s seat.  Unlike Steele’s failed encounter with Antonio, Pablo did not disappoint.  5:20 Pablo was picked up at the front gate by a middle aged man in a silver Camaro.  Steele caught a glimpse of the driver as they passed by.  “Well this could be interesting” he whispered.  The man in the driver’s seat was Pablo’s old cellmate Nick D'Angelo.   Steele followed the Camaro to Huntington Park in North Philly.  

It was another cool spring evening in Philadelphia. Only a few nature lovers had ventured out into the park.  Although Steele was investigating a murder at the moment he was more curious as to why a drug dealer with ties to the South Philly mob would hook up with a low level hood from North Philly.  What happened next was even more peculiar.  Steele peered from behind a large tree as he watched another man approach the old, weather beaten picnic table where Nick and Pablo were talking.  His tall lanky frame was unmistakable. Hammer had joined the meeting.  It was as if someone had called a reunion of the ex cons.  Hammer’s brother Half Dead ran several meth houses in Germantown, North Philly and West Philly.  When he was sent to prison Hammer took over the business.  Steele thought to himself, “What the hell did I stumble into?”  Steele’s memory did not serve him well that evening.  By the time he remembered that Hammer never traveled without at least two body guards it was too late.  He looked over his shoulder as three huge, angry looking dudes approached him.  Realizing that most men who had pissed off Nick or Hammer never lived to tell the tail Steele had to think fast.  He reached for his cell and made a quick call before stepping out from the tree on to the dirt pathway.

“No where to run” he though.  “I have to make a stand.”  Out smarted and out gunned Steele needed to stall for time.  He reached down and pulled out a small gun from his ankle holster then reached inside his jacket for his Glock.  His actions were met with an immediate reaction from the surprised Pablo, Nick, Hammer and the bodyguards who had already drawn their guns.  “This is suicide” he mumbled as he walked closer to the trio standing near the table.  The innocent bystanders in the park knew the drill all too well.  This wasn't the first time they had seen a gunfight.  The bystanders scattered or hid behind trees.  With both arms extended Steele pointed one gun left at the men near the table and the other at the bodyguards approaching from his right.  Steele’s heart was racing.  At that moment he was painfully aware of his own mortality. 

Pablo may have been a lightweight thug but Hammer and Nick were not to be trifled with. Dozens of bodies in cemeteries’ throughout the city were a testament to their ruthlessness.  Steele was sure the only reason he was still alive was curiosity.   He had no current dealings with Hammer or Nick so why was he spending his Saturday night tailing them?

Nick D'Angelo laughed out loud.  “Hey if it isn’t Alexander Steele, I hope that call you made was to your priest.  He better hurry if he’s going to read you your last rites.”  Steele stayed calm, he snickered, “that call was for my backup.  They should be here any minute now.”  Nick wasn't buying Steele’s story. “I got one question for you Steele.  Why the hell are you sniffing around here?" 

Steele slowly pointed one of his guns in Pablo’s direction. “My business is not with you today it’s with him.  I’m working a case and I need to find out if he’s a murderer or just a dumb ass too stupid to stay out of jail.”

The sounds of sirens could be heard off in the distance.  A pissed off Pablo took a step closer to Steele and pointed his gun directly at his face.  He began yelling at Steele.

“I told you the other day to stay out of my business.  This is the second time you have interfered in my affairs amigo.  Now I'm going to make sure that it’s your last."

”Steele was on an adrenaline rush.  At this point he accepted the fact that he wasn't going to walk away from this one.  His focus shifted to who he could take out before they got to him but there was one more card to play.  

The sirens grew louder as Steele made his pitch. “You should know I have a death insurance policy” Hammer was confused at Steele’s odd choice of words and felt the need to correct the condemned detective.  “You mean you have a life insurance policy” Steele shook his head slowly.  “No, I left instructions with……… well lets just call them my people.  At the time of my death they are to post a $50,000 reward to anybody who can help the cops identify my killer.  I counted about eight people who saw you guys; in fact a couple of them are still around here somewhere, listening. Maybe one or two are filming this with their cell phones right now.” Hammer’s body guards were getting nervous.  They began looking around to see if anyone was watching. 
The sounds of police sirens were too close to ignore.  Steele had managed to anger all three men.  Nick looked at Pablo then waved his gun in Steele’s face.  The tide was slowly turning in Steele’s favor.  If he could stall for just a minute more he may come out of this in one piece.  Steele was starting to feel more confident.  Nick stepped closer and sneered at Steele once he figured out what was happening.  

“You dirty bastard, you called the cops didn't you?”  Steele stepped back and slowly pointed the second gun away from the bodyguards and directed it to Hammer and Nick.  He grinned at Nick.  “I told you I had back up.  I’m a taxpayer so technology they work for me.  By the way I hope those guns are registered, oh that’s right you guys are convicted felons, you're not allowed to carry guns.”  

Steele noticed the flashing police lights reflecting off the trees.  The police were only seconds away.  Nick turned to Pablo, “this is not our fight, deal with him on your own."  The men holstered their weapons and made a hasty exit in the opposite direction of the police who were about to enter the park.  Pablo gave Steele a nasty sneer before running off with the others. Steele put his guns away and walked through the half dozen police rushing into the park.  Breathing a huge sigh of relief Steele said a little prayer as he left the park. 

He never did find out why the three men were meeting in the park.  More secrets, he thought.  Steele was just happy to be alive and still in one piece. The guardian’s angels were definitely watching over him.

After a long shower and a quick shave Steele headed to his club.  On the way to the Inner Sanctum he thought about Pablo’s behavior and decided that if he was involved in the double murder he must have had an accomplice.  Steele reasoned that a man with a thirty million dollar lottery ticket would have blown town right after the murders.   The fact that all of the suspects are still accounted for has baffled Steele every since he discovered that the ticket was missing.

It was Saturday night; all three floors of the club were packed with happy customers.  Steele smiled, waived, and shook hands with businessman, sports figures, politicians and a couple of models as he waded through the crowd on his way to the back booth.  Stan, Brenda and Sugar Bear were having a discussion about the murders.  After his encounter in the park seeing his friends gathered together in his private booth was a welcoming sight.  As usual Sugar Bear thought he had the entire case figured out. 

“Look guys, you got it all wrong.  It was the chauffer; he’s the one who murdered them both.” Brenda wasn’t buying Sugar Bear’s story.  “Look baby doll, the chauffer was seen at the car show an hour away from the mansion, I’m telling you it was the husband.  Don’t you think that doubling his wife insurance a little more than a coincidence?”

Sugar Bear ignored Brenda’s question and proceeded with his premise. “Listen Brenda all of these old mansions have secret tunnels, they had them built back in the days of prohibition to sneak the booze in and out.”

Steele slid into the bench seat next to Brenda and watched as Stan sat silently shaking his head side to side.  “So Stan how long has this been going on?”  Stan looked at his diamond encrusted watch.  “Way too long if you ask me, at least forty five minutes, besides everybody knows the chef did it.”

Sunday morning, while most of the cities 1.5 million residents were still asleep Steele was up and about.  He needed to clear his head so he went for a jog on Kelly Drive Steele had this nagging feeling that he had overlooked some important detail of the case.  After jogging from under the Strawberry Mansion Bridge to the bleachers near Boat House row Steele took a seat and starred at the lone sculler as he rowed past.  

Mrs. Matthews’s funeral was tomorrow, the mansion would be completely empty.  Steele called Tara and made arrangements to search the suspects’ rooms while they were out.  He needed more information and hoped this would be the perfect opportunity to get it.  His thoughts were interrupted by footsteps coming from behind the bleachers.  Steele reached for the small gun in his ankle holster but realized it wasn’t necessary once he recognized the familiar face. 

“Morning Vance, what brings you out here so early this morning?  Hey how did you know where to find me?  Vance smiled at his old friend. “How long have I known you man?  I'm on my way to church, I drove by your place and didn't see your car and since I know you’re working a case you usually go to one of two places to think.  It was either Belmont Plateau or Kelly Drive I heard about your run-in at the park yesterday.”  Steele shook his head. “Damn bad news does travel fast.  Well as you can see I’m still in one piece.”

“Steele these guys are cold blooded killers.  If things would've turned ugly yesterday this morning your life would have been reduced to a few paragraphs in the Philadelphia Daily News and your name in the obituary section.  Why don’t you get out of this business?  You have a beautiful woman and you certainly don’t need the money” 

Steele watched as a few ducks swam by.  Steele turned to Vance.  He thought for a moment before answering. “The world is better off without people who kill for power or profit.  Cops like you have to make nice and color between the lines.  I’m no crusader; I guess I’m in it to catch the bastards who think they are clever enough to snuff out a life and beat the system by not getting caught.  I’m drawn to mystery cases, it’s in my nature and by the way I never did like crayons.”

That afternoon Steele was back at the mansion.  During his jog something Pablo said clicked in Steele’s mind.  He replayed Pablo’s words “.  "This is the second time you have interfered in my affairs amigo.  Now I’m going to make sure that it is your last.”

What business, thought Steele.  He’s a freakin groundskeeper.  Then Steele realized he had never seen any of the cleared brush or dead trees Pablo claimed to have removed nor did he see a wood chipper on the property.   Pablo was off today so Steele was able to look around without being attacked from behind.  He made his way through the wooded area behind the pool house and the main house.  It didn't take long for Steele to find something out of the ordinary.   There it was right in front of him but it was still hard for Steele to believe.  Pablo had cleared out about an acre of land and planted a coca field complete with an irrigation system, grow lights and solar panels.  Rows and rows of coca plants swayed in the breeze hidden from sight. It was an impressive operation.  Suddenly everything made sense.  Pablo needed money to set up his operation so he borrowed it from Mrs. Matthews.  His meeting with Nick and Hammer was probably to set up a deal to have the plants converted into cocaine once they reached maturity.  It explained why Pablo was so protective when Steele came looking for the tin Antonio planted and why there were no dead trees.  Pablo was not clearing brush or trees he was tending to his precious plants. 

This created a new dilemma for Steele.  Was Mrs. Matthews a willing partner in Pablo’s drug operation or maybe she stumbled onto his operation and paid for it with her life.  There was still the missing lottery ticket.  It wasn't found on either of the bodies.  Why risk going to jail over dealing drugs if you had a thirty million dollar lottery ticket in your possession. Steele finally got some answers but with those answers came new questions.

For the moment Steele decided not to tell Mr. Matthews about Pablo’s illegal activity, instead he went in search of his one elusive target, Mr. Matthews’ sister Kitty.  Once again Kitty was no where to be found.  Steele ran into Antonio who was on his way to the kitchen for brunch. 

“Hey Mr. Steele have you made any progress on catching the murder yet?”  Steele wasn't about to tip his hand.  I sure have, three days ago I had four suspects and today I still have four suspects.  With a little luck I should have this case wrapped up by Christmas.”  Antonio laughed and invited Steele to have brunch with him in the kitchen.  On the way Steele asked, “did you happen to see Kitty around this morning? “  Antonio lifted his hands slightly, “Sorry Mr. Steele, she left for church about an hour ago.  Once the men reached the kitchen Steele sat on the stool and watch Antonio.  This is a good time to rattle his cage, he thought.  "So Antonio did you enjoy yourself at the fair yesterday?"  Antonio had his back turned to Steele; he paused but did not turn to face the inquisitive detective. “Fair, what fair Mr. Steele?”  Steele laughed out loud. “South Street, the sidewalk café around…………”  Antonio slowly turned around.  “I underestimated you Mr. Steele.  You followed me didn't you?  Well since you obviously know, I may as well confess it was Kitty who paid me to spy on her sister in law.  Even though the photos are as useless as Milli Vanilli concert tickets I still did the job so what you witnessed yesterday was her paying me.  Since it’s confession time I saw you going into the woods earlier this morning.  If you thought I was guilty of murder you wouldn't be spending this beautiful Sunday morning traipsing around in the forest.   Judging from the color of the dirt on your shoes I take it you found Pablo’s secret little project.”  Antonio was good; once again he had managed to deflect attention away from himself and throw Pablo under the bus in the process. 

Steele received a text from the coroners’ office.  Blood alcohol content levels 0.249%.  Also found in the body were significant quantities of NaOCl + 2NH3 --> 2NaONH3 + Cl2 which came from bleach combined with ammonia to make chlorine gas.  Cause of death chlorine gas poisoning.  The text confirmed what Steele had already figured out.  He quickly read the message and put his phone away. 

Antonio was backing up the bus to run over another staff member and Steele didn't want to miss a word. Steele prodded Antonio to go on.  “So how did you find out about Pablo’s new business?”  Antonio turned back to the stove and talked while he prepared two omelets. “Well Mr. Steele one day I overheard Pablo and Melissa, I mean Mrs. Matthews arguing over money she had lent him.  He pointed in the direction of the woods behind the pool house so I decided to take a look.  You see after the first affair Mr. Matthews cut his wife’s allowance down to almost nothing.  I guess he felt that if she could no longer afford to buy her boy toys expensive gifts it would cool her off if you get my drift.  Pablo and Mrs. Matthews were working together, he provided the labor and she provided the funds.  It actually wasn't a bad idea.  Who would ever think to look for coca plants on the grounds of a private mansion?"

Steele was closer to catching the murdered than he was willing to admit.  Tomorrow he would go fishing for more clues inside the deserted mansion.  

The Deadly Gamble Chapter Six Steele Cage

The Deadly Gamble Chapter Six 

Chapter #6
Steele cage

Steele was restless; he tossed and turned for most of the night.  At 3:15 he got a call from Stan.  The groggy detective slowly reached for his phone on the nightstand. 
“Dude why do you have a watch when you never use it?”  Stan laughed into the phone.  “Hey Steele do you hear me bitching when you wake me at eight a.m.?  I never thought I would hear myself say these words but Sugar Bear was right.  I found a copy of the updated floor plans for Amber Hill Manor.  A tunnel was not on the original plans but apparently one was added somewhere between 1922 and 1924.  Do you know what that means?” Steele sat up on the edge of the bed and wiped his blurry eyes.  “Yeah, if someone knew about the tunnel they could have by-passed the front gate to get on the grounds and commit the murders. Only two people were unaccounted for during that time, Mr. Matthews and the chauffer who claimed to be at a car show.  Bring the blueprints with you in the morning.  Did you find anything else on Audrey?” 

“No nothing more on her but I found out that before Sam came to Philly three years ago he went to the University of Miami in Florida.  Do you think Audrey and Sam may have crossed paths before they came here?”

“I don’t know Stan, Miami is a big city.  Thanks for the update.  Tara gave me a key card to the front gate, keys to the house and the access code for the security system.   I’ll pick you up at nine.”

It was the morning of the funeral. Mr. Matthews and Tara were the only two who knew the mansion would be searched.  Getting up early usually put Stan in a grouchy mood, but today he was excited about visiting the mansion and helping Steele solve the case. 

Once Steele parked the car, Stan got out, stepped back and put his hands on his hips.  He wanted to take in the grander of the massive building, the pool and the expensive cars.
“Aw yeah Steele, now that’s what I’m talking about dude.  I could sure get use to living like this.”  Steele patted Stan on the shoulder, okay Robin Leach don’t forget two people were murder over there, time to get your head in the game.  I need you to find the security system and check all the key card stamps on the day of the murders.  I need to go through all the rooms while you check out their personal computers, but first I want to get another look at the shed.

Stan followed Steele as he headed towards the shed.  “Stan, I asked you to check the time stamps.”  Stan pointed to the shed.  “I’ve never seen a real crime scene before.  Do you mind?”  The first thing Steele noticed as he and Stan approached the shed where charcoal colored mats at the front doors of the pool house and shed.  Steele pointed them out to Stan.  “Whoa, those weren’t there the morning of the murder.  The men looked around inside the small shed.  It was still fairly early; the morning sun had not risen above the tree line so it was difficult to see. Steele reached for the chain above his head to turn on the light but the blub was out.  After pulling out a penlight from his jacket pocket he methodically searched the shed inch by inch.  Steele seemed intrigued by four grayish white stones on the floor near the airbed.  After examining the stones, he carried them outside to see if they were a match to the stones in the walkway.  Stan watched intently as Steele worked.  The stones on the walkway were newer and larger than the pebble like stones in his hand.  Steele walked completely around the shed then around the pool house.  “Scary smart” he whispered as he looked at the silver ladder leaning against the far side of the pool house.  Stan had no clue as to what was going on. 

“You mind letting me in on your private conversation?”  Steele sprouted a wide grin.  The kind he gets when he’s close to solving a case.  “I’ll do better than clue you in my brother; I’ll show you how the murderer got in and out without leaving any footprints on the soggy ground.   Steele adjusted the metal ladder and climbed to the roof of the pool house.   He walked across the roof until he had a clear view of the shed window.  “Stan catch” Steele threw a handful of stones from the pool house roof as he laid on his stomach facing the shed window.  To further demonstrate his point, Steele tossed one of the small stones inside the opened window.  Steele stood up and looked down to Stan who was beginning to get the picture of what happened that morning.  Steele explained, “The killer could see Mrs. Matthews, the pool boy, also the empty liquor bottle.  He wanted to make sure they were passed out and not just asleep so he tossed in a few stones to see if they would respond.”  Stan wanted to hear more.

“So okay Steele how did he get inside………fly?” 

Steele pointed to the scratch marks on the window ledge.  He pulled the ladder up from the other side of the pool house, drugged it over the roof to the side nearest the shed and lowered it to the ground directly beneath the window ledge.  He demonstrated how someone could drape the bucket of toxic bottles over their shoulder (as if they were carrying a pocket book) walk down the ladder backwards and climb through the window.  The scratches on the window ledge were probably from the bucket or shoes or maybe even both.” 

Stan folded his arms and nodded.  “Dude, I’m impressed, so the killer had to be a man right.  I woman couldn’t pull a twelve foot ladder up on the roof, drag it across the roof and lower it down on the other side.”

As he climbed down from the roof Steele explained to Stan that the ladder was made of light weight aluminum.  “If I were to guess I would say it’s probably around twenty to twenty five pounds at the most.  If a woman could pick up a small child she could pick up this ladder so yes it could most definitely have been a woman.” 

Stan had one more question.  “Okay Steele what about the mats, how did they get from the side of the building to there?” Steele took another look at the mats.  “Well I haven’t figured that one out yet.  Come on, I want to find this tunnel and see where it leads to before we search the rooms.”

Using the floor plans Stan brought with him, Steele had no trouble locating the secret tunnel.  An old oak china closet concealed the entrance.  After easily pushing at aside Steele expected to see a dank, dark tunnel with dirt walls.  The tunnel was narrow, but to his surprise it was well lit with six foot high cement floors and walls.   The tunnel was about three hundred feet long.  It dead ended at a red brick wall with a rusty black, iron ladder attached. At the top of the ladder was an oversized manhole cover.  Once Steele climbed outside he found himself standing in the woods outside the mansion roughly fifty feet from a back road.
Once he made it back to the mansion the hunt for evidence was on.  It was obvious that Kitty had been avoiding Steele.  He wanted to know why so he made a beeline to her room. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at first but when he searched in the back bottom of her closet there it was, the Phillies baseball cap and blonde wig.  Steele had flashbacks to his run in at the Pool boy’s apartment.  He remembered the manager saying that the woman was blonde with a red Phillies baseball cap.  Kitty was a brunette, finding the cap and wig looked incriminating but what Steele found inside her jewelry box was even worse.  A gold bracelet with the inscription forever yours from Kitty to Sam.
Steele’s mind went into overdrive.  Were Sam and Kitty a couple?  Was he cheating on Kitty with her sister in law?  Was it Kitty who wacked him in the head when she went to retrieve the incriminating evidence from her boyfriends apartment? 

The wig, hat and bracelet took the case in a whole different direction.  Steele’s search turned into a treasure trove of information.  Just as he finished searching Kitty’s room Stan showed up with more news. 

“Man these people are a trip.  I’ve never seen more paranoid people in my life.  Audrey, you know the maid chick, well she got a hold of Mrs. Matthews password which wasn’t hard to do.  She wrote it on the other side of her mouse pad.  Well anyway her and the chef dude have been keeping tabs on Mr. and Mrs. Matthews by reading their emails then coping and pasting them and forwarding them to other staff members.  In the beginning they just wanted inside information on when the couple was moving to Florida, but I guess their curiosity got the better of them.  Some of those e-mails were pretty personal.  How often do you get to know what’s going on with the boss and his private life?

Steele snickered, “no kidding, you find anything incriminating?”
“Not in the e-mails, but I did find out that Mr. Matthews swiped out at the front gate that morning but he never swiped back in which means he probably rode back in with someone else.” 
Steele pointed to the floor.  “Or he came in through the tunnel so that he could catch his wife cheating again and when he did he killed them.  Anything else Stan?”

“Yeah one more thing according to the e-mails Sam had just given his notice to quit.  Looks like the love birds were going to run off together.”

Tara called Steele to give him the heads up on when her Uncle and the staff would be headed back from the funeral and wake.  With only an hour before the staff’s return Steele decided it would be best if he and Stan split up to search the remaining rooms in the living quarters.  Steele found it curious that Kitty had every episode of the TV show CSI on the DVD; however, one episode was missing from the box.  Time was running out.

While staff members had moved down on Steele’s suspect list, Mr. Matthews and Kitty now occupied the number one and two spots.  He needed to wrap this up soon.  Somewhere out there was a lottery ticket worth a fortune and whoever had it in their possession had to be getting a little antsy.  Any day now the culprit could be in the wind.

Torrential rains pounded the city and suburbs around Philly that night.  Steele returned to the mansion unannounced to interview the elusive Kitty.   He was greeted by Audrey who informed him that Kitty would be home around eleven and that Mr. Matthews had been given a sedative and had retired for the evening.  Steele checked his Rolex, he had forty five minutes and decided to use the time to follow up on a few things.  Steele questioned Audrey about her past.  He wanted to know why there were hardly any public records on her.  Audrey was prepared with a perfectly good explanation. 

“As a child I grew up on a small farm owned by my parents.  They were Cuban exiles and because they were her illegally they stayed off the gird.   I was home schooled.  The only job I had was working on the farm.  One night the farm and our house burned to the ground.  Both of my parents were killed in the fire.  I had nothing, no family, no money; no skills so I worked cleaning houses, then eventually I got a job working at a small motel called the Sea Breeze and eventually ended up here.”

It was a heart wrenching story but there was a problem.  According to Stan’s research Audrey’s parents died in a car accident not in a fire. Steele wondered, why would she lie about something like that?  He asked her about her relationship with Sam the pool boy.

“Did you know Sam before you moved here?  How did you feel about him?” 
“No Mr. Steele, he started cleaning the Matthews’ pool about one year ago.  That was the first time I ever saw him.  He was a nice guy; we were friendly but not friends do you know what I mean.”  During their brief conversation the storm had intensified.  Steele couldn’t decide whether he wanted to wait for Kitty to show up or to leave before a fallen tree that would block the road leading out would keep him stranded there for the night.  The last thing he wanted was to be trapped in a mansion with a killer on the loose. 

He caught a glimpse of Chris the chauffer as he entered the great room.  It was unlikely that the chauffer committed the murders but with the revelation of the secret entrance Steele couldn’t rule him out.

During Steele’s conversation with the maid Antonio entered the foyer carrying a dinner tray with a silver dome on top.  Antonio carefully handed the tray off to Audrey. 
“The master’s supper” Antonio’s attempt at humor was lost on Audrey.  Her blank facial expression said it all. 

Steele thanked Audrey for her time.  He wanted to pick the chef’s brain for more information but just as he turned away from Audrey there was a flash of lighting followed by the deafening crackle of a thunder boom so intense it rattled windows in the den off the main entrance.  The storm had continued to intensify.  As Audrey ascended up the winding staircase the front door flew open.  Strong winds along with rain and a few leaves swirled around inside as Pablo entered the room.  Steele was more than a little unhappy to see the long silver machete in his hand.  Pablo and Steele exchanged icy stares before Steele turned his attention to the glistening, wet, steel blade dripping water onto the carpet. 

Pablo was soaked to the skin.  He motioned to the door behind him.  “A tree toppled over into the driveway.  I needed to chop it up so that Miss Kitty could get through whenever she gets here.  Steele folded his arms and smiled at Pablo.  “Didn’t your momma ever tell you not to stand around trees while it’s lightning?

Pablo smirked at Steele then proceeded to examine his machete.  He had a little factoid of his own to drop on the wise cracking detective.  “Didn’t you know that 77 percent of all accidents occur inside the house?”  Pablo continued looking down at the machete as if he was trying to send Steele a message.  He left without waiting for Steele’s response.

For Steele it was decision time.  There was only one road leading in and out of the house.  If a large tree fell across the road he would be stranded.  Steele pondered his choices, leave now and take his chances with the storm or continue to wait for Kitty and risk having to spend the night in the mansion with a murderer lurking about.  Unfortunately for Steele seconds later the decision was made for him.  The foyer Chandelier flickered like disco lights over a dance floor in a night club.  Seconds later they flickered again and the entire mansion went dark.  With storm clouds obscuring the moon the night skies were pitch black.  Steele turned in Antonio’s direction.  “Please tell me you guys have a generator” A voice from the darkness replied, “Yes Mr. Steele, we do.  After the last storm Mr. Matthews told Pablo to have it serviced and refilled.  Well apparently he never got around to it.  The front gate is operated by an electric motor and since we have no power it looks like you will be Mr. Matthews’ house guest for the night.”  Antonio pulled out a cigarette lighter.  The bright orange and yellow flame provided just enough light for him to see a few feet in front of him. 

“Wait here Mr. Steele; I have a flashlight and some candles in the kitchen.”  Steele backed up slowly.  Using his left hand to find the wall Steele used his other hand to firmly grim his Glock.  Now would be a good time for Pablo to make good on his threat, he thought. 

Before Antonio returned with the candles Steele noticed a dim light descending down the spiral staircase.  Was it friend or foe?  Steele drew his weapon and pointed it in the direction of the light as it grew closer.  The hand attached to the flashlight was Mr. Matthews.  Matthews was clearly startled when he came close enough to see the gun pointed at him.  “Sorry about that Mr. Matthews.  You can’t be too careful, you know.”

When Antonio came from the kitchen with more light the two men showed Steele to the den.  “Make yourself comfortable Mr. Steele.  I need to find Audrey so that she can put some fresh linen on the bed in one of the guest rooms.”  Steele watched as his host disappears into the darkness.  Antonio wasted no time raiding the boss’ liquor cabinet.  Steele’s misfortune was Antonio’s opportunity to indulge in a bottle of the good stuff.  The two men sat and talked for nearly an hour before Mr. Matthews returned.

Steele took little solace in the fact that the staff’s quarters were on the opposite side of the mansion.  After making their way to the guest room Antonio lit three of the orange candles that were already in the room.  Before the men left, Mr. Matthews apologized for the inconvenience and assured Steele that the power would be back on by morning. 

Steele noticed a strange, sweet order coming from the candles but shrugged it off.  Must be either old or scented he thought.  Steele carried one of the candles around the room to make sure it was secure.  Once he was satisfied he settled down in an old comfortable chair facing the only door to the room.  Steele laid his weapon on the small table next to the lamp and took out his cellphone.  No signal, just what he had expected.  “Well it was worth a try” he said out loud.  Steele began thumbing through photos from the crime scene.  Twenty minutes later he noticed something unusual about the time stamps at the bottom of each photo. 

Steele began feeling woozy.  At first he chalked it up to fatigue.  He decided to stretch and crack open a window but found it hard to balance himself once he got up from the chair.  “What the hell’s going on here?”  Steele stumbled to the window and tried opening it but it was shut tight.  In fact none of the windows would budge.  By now the room was engulfed with the strange, intoxicating, sweet, fruity smell.  At the window there was a more familiar odor, glue.  Someone had supper glued all the windows shut.  The murder had finally made his move to take Steele out.  As he stumbled toward the bedroom door he tripped on the brown, oriental carpet and fell to his knees.  Steele began coughing and wheezing.   The air closer to the floor was a bit more breathable.  Steele crawled back to where he had left his gun.  The time it took to cross the room seamed like hours but had only taken a few minutes.  Expecting the culprit to come in and finish the job any minute now Steele reached up and grabbed his Glock.  He crawled to the door and jiggled the handle.  The door had been locked from the outside with a skeleton key.   Steele cursed under his breath as he struggled to stand.  It wouldn’t be long before the gas would completely overtake him.  Steele was close to passing out.  He took aim at the lock on the door but the door looked blurry and the room had begun to spin.  In the dim light there was little chance of hitting the lock.  In an act of desperation Steele turned and fired three rounds at the center window across the room.  Second’s after the pap, pap, pap, was heard broken glass came crashing down to the floor as the cold, wet, swirling winds rushed in from the storm.

Steele held his head up for as long as he could inhaling several deep, breaths of the fresh,  clean, air before collapsing to the floor.  He could hear footsteps approaching.  Crouched down on his knees Steele turned his weapon in the direction of the bedroom door.   Mr. Matthews was the first to enter followed by Audrey, and Antonio.  

“I heard gunshots what happened Mr. Steele?” Mr. Matthew seemed genuinely concerned.  Steele was helped to a chair.  As he explained what happened he noticed a couple of dark blue towels laid across the doorway.  Someone had obviously stuffed them under the door during the time it was locked.

As the curtains fluttered in the wind the flickering candle flames danced creating shadows that loomed large along the walls.  The wind, rain and candlelight made for an eerie setting.

Antonio took a whiff of the candle on the night stand and recoiled.  He looked at his boss then at Steele before sharing his assessment.  Antonio spoke one word, “Oleander.” The room fell silent.  All eyes were on the cook.  Realized he was the only botanist in the room Antonio knew that an explanation was in order. 

“Oleander is a very poisonous flower especially when it comes in contact with heat.  Someone tampered or most likely replaced the regular candles with these toxic ones. 
My guess is that all of these candles are laced with the deadly poison.   We should not be breathing this stuff.  We need to leave now.   Come to the kitchen with me Mr. Steele, 
let me fix you a cup of ginger tea.  It will help relax your lungs.”

Steele’s head as well as his vision was starting to clear.  He knew that the chauffeur and grounds keeper Pablo were both on the premises at the time he fired the shots but neither of the two showed up.   Making sure he wouldn’t be poisoned twice in the same night Steele watched carefully as Antonio prepared the brew of fresh ginger, green tea and honey.  Antonio carefully handed Steele the cup of steaming, hot, herbal tea.

“I know what you are thinking my friend.  With my knowledge about plants it makes perfect sense that I was the one who tried to kill you.   Rest assured Mr.  Steele if I wanted you dead you would not be sitting here in my kitchen.  It’s clear that the killer wanted you to believe it was me but this was a strictly amateur move.  Don’t forget I was with you the entire time your room was being prepared.”

Steele took a whiff of the tea then asked, “How would you have done it?”
The cook laughed.  “Cicuta douglasii better know as Western Water Hemlock.  You can mix it with food or I could have added it to your tea.” 

Antonio laughed as he watched Steele sip the beverage.  He went on to explain the gruesome details.  “First you have a seizure, not an ordinary one; a gran-mal seizure followed by a loss of consciousness but before you died you would have violent muscle contractions. 

Steele agreed with Antonio’s assertion that he probably was not the killer since he could not have possibly been the one who attempted to poison him with the candles.  He decided to tell Antonio about the lottery ticket because after all if he was the killer he would have already known about the winning ticket.

Antonio didn’t seem all that surprised by Steele’s revelation. “I figure the murderer is someone with means, someone who could afford to wait until the heat is off before cashing the lottery ticket.”

Steele was intrigued by Antonio’s theory. “So since we’re on the subject, who do you think killed Mrs. Matthews and the pool boy?”  Antonio reached inside the upper cabinet and pulled out a bottle of wine.  He pointed the bottle at Steele. “Mr. Matthews or his sister Kitty, anyone else would have cashed in the ticked and have been long gone by now.  How do you think the rich get richer Mr. Steele?  Between the life insurance policy and the winning lottery ticket I would say his net worth just jumped another fifty million dollars.

I tell you what Mr. Steele; if I had that kind of money I would travel the world and visit the great monuments and landmarks.  Yes, I would retire and take lots of photos of all the great sights of the planet.”

Steele sipped his tea and looked up at Antonio.  “I say live your dreams.  You aren’t getting any younger.”

Steele was still a bit light headed but Antonio’s mention of photos jogged his memory.  “Antonio speaking of photos how was it possible for you to know exactly when Mrs. Matthews and her boyfriend would be in the storage shed?”

Antonio poured himself a drink as he pondered Steele’s question.   “A few years ago someone had been stealing jewelry and money from guest near the pool so Mr. Matthews had a couple of cameras installed in the trees behind the house.  Turns out it was one of the workers, anyway once the culprit was apprehended, isn’t that the term you PI’s use?   Anyway the cameras were turned off, forgotten about until Mrs. Matthews went into business with Pablo.  He turned the cameras to his coca fields to keep an eye on his product.  It works just like a mom watching her kid at daycare.  One day I turned one of the cameras in the direction of the shed. I couldn’t quite turn it all the way but I was able to direct it to the path leading to the shed.  Mrs. Matthews would never risk entering their little love nest when Kitty or Mr. Matthews was on the grounds so that narrowed down the time I had to monitor them.  Everyday Mr. Matthews had breakfast with his wife then he would go to work.  Since Mrs. Matthews was a vegan it only took about twenty minutes to make her lunch so I had plenty of time in between to monitor the camera through my cellphone.  The pool boy’s van was the tipoff.  Whenever I saw that van I knew what was coming next.”

Steele was impressed at how clever the cook was.  Maybe he was a little too clever.   Just as he took another sip of tea Steele saw the shadow of someone approaching the kitchen door.  He drew his gun and pointed it at the entrance.  Both he and Antonio were surprised to see Kitty standing in the doorway.  In her left hand she held a flashlight but it was the gun she held in her right hand that got Steele’s full attention. 

Kitty stepped closer, “Mr. Steele I have a confession to make.”

The Deadly Gamble Chapter Seven - Confession

Chapter #7

When it came to guns Alexander Steele never took chances.  He pointed his Glock directly at Kitty’s heart.  “You mind putting that thing down first?” Steele used his gun to point to the weapon Kitty held by her side.  Kitty glanced down at the small bronze gun and gently placed it on the kitchen counter. 
“Sorry Mr. Steele, nobody’s safe around here.  A girl has got to protect herself.”  Steele lowered his weapon and gave her an inquisitive look.  “The power is off and the front gate can’t be opened.  How did you get here?” Never missing an opportunity to provide information Antonio chimed in.   “She used the tunnel, that’s the only other way in or out without climbing the eight foot high fence.”
Steele turned to look at Antonio who was standing a few steps behind him.  “Damn, that tunnel has gotta be the worst kept secret in this house.”

Steele walked over slowly and carefully picked up Kitty’s gun.  “You said you have a confession, okay let’s hear it.”

Kitty looked at Antonio, “sorry, I love you like a brother but we both know anything I say here will be posted on your Facebook page by tomorrow.”  Steele chuckled and gave Antonio the nod to leave the room.  “Sorry dude, but this is the way the lady wants it so you gotta go and no listening at the door either.”

Once Antonio was gone Kitty took a seat and a deep breath before she began.
“Mr. Steele, I know you have been wondering why I have been avoiding you.  I’m gonna to take a leap of faith here and tell you some things that will make me look guilty as sin.  The truth of the matter is that I probably had more motive than anyone in the house but I didn’t kill my sister in law and Sam. 

Kitty paused, looked to the ceiling and continued.  “Sam and I use to date.  We met at the Reading Terminal market downtown.  We were a couple for nearly a year but we kept it a secret.  My brother would have gone ape shit if he found out I was sleeping with a pool boy.   After the last pool guy was fired for sleeping with my sister in law I was the one who recommended Sam.  If he got the job we could see each other more often.  It gave him a reason to be on the property and when my brother was out of town on business or vacation he could visit me.  So I lied to my brother and told him that Sam was in the closet.  I knew that if he thought Sam was gay he would hire him in a heartbeat because there would be no hanky-panky like it was with the last guy.  Whenever my brother was away I would sneak Sam in through the tunnel so that we could spend the night together.

Every year my brother Kevin would throw a massive Christmas party.  It was the only time he would invite the staff.  Everything is always catered so the staff would be free to attend.  Well, I got snowed in on my way back from a tournament in Chicago and missed the party.  Not long afterwards Sam became distant.  It took longer and longer for him to return my calls and texts and he started making excuses every time I wanted to see him.  About a month later I found out from Antonio.” She shrugged her shoulders and smiled.  “Who else right, he told me that Sam the pool boy was screwing Daniela.  Apparently they got close at the Christmas party.  Somehow she found out that he was straight and……. Well you know how that ended. 

Steele nodded slowly.  Jealousy and revenge are powerful motives Kitty.  If you’re not guilty what were you looking for at Sam’s apartment the day of the murder?

Kitty looked puzzled; she had no idea what he was talking about.
“Sam’s apartment, why would I go there?  That’s insane; Sam’s would be the last place I would go.  I just told you we didn’t want anybody to know about our relationship.  If my brother finds out he will probably toss me out on my ass. 

One night I couldn’t sleep.  I was on my way to the kitchen for a glass of warm milk and who do I run into?  Sam was sneaking back to the tunnel after banging my sister in law.  I hid behind the grandfather clock down the hall.  The lights were dim so he never saw me.  My first instinct was to tell Kevin when he got back.  Fortunately for me my sanity returned before my brother did. 

I lied to my brother about Sam being gay.  I was the one who found the dead bodies in the shed.  I was me who showed Sam how to use the tunnel.  My sister in law had co-opted my playbook.  Indirectly it was my fault that Daniela was once again cheating on my brother because I brought Sam into the house.  Hell they could have done it right in front of my face and there wouldn’t have been a damn thing I could have done about it.

Listen Steele, I like living in this mansion.  I was born and raised in Philly.  My friends are here.  Why would I jeopardize that?”

Steele put Kitty’s gun down on the counter behind him and moved closer to her.  “You already have.  You jeopardized it the minute you decided to jump in the sack with the pool boy.”

Kitty looked away then looked at the floor.  In a somber tone she responded to Steele’s comment.  “Yeah, well I wasn’t exactly thinking with my head during the time.  The man was gorgeous.  If you were a women you would understand.  

Steele folded his arms and thought for a minute.  “You do realize that you’ve just given me another motive for you wanting Daniela dead.  She had finally convinced your brother to move to Miami.  You would have had to move away from Philly, away from this place and all your friends.  So are you saying you’re not the women who bust me upside the head in Sam’s apartment the day he was killed?”
Kitty smiled, “well that explains a lot.  Maybe that’s why you don’t believe me.”  Kitty held up the palm of her hand out towards Steele.  “I’m sorry; forgive me.  When I get really nervous I use sarcasm or humor to defuse the situation. Let me be clear, I was not anywhere near Sam’s place in the past two months”

Things were not looking good for Kitty.  Instead of clearing her name she had dug a deeper hole for herself. 
“Come on Mr. Steele, I checked you out before I decided to spill my guts to you.  You’re smart and thorough.  In your heart you know I didn’t do it. 

Sam finally broke it off with me about a month ago.  By that time I was in damage control mode.  Practically everybody in the house knew he was sleeping with the boss’s wife.  There was one piece of evidence that could have connected me to him, a ring I gave him with our names engraved inside.  A couple of years ago he graduated from some collage in Miami.  Times were hard and he couldn’t find a decent job.  Call me stupid but to help him make ends meet I gave him jewelry, not the costume stuff.  I guess giving him things instead of cash made me feel like I wasn’t paying him to be with me.  A few days ago he offered to give back all the jewelry and the ring.  I thought he had pawned that stuff long before now.  He said his ship had finally come in and he was leaving town.  I was relieved when he gave me the ring.  I can show it to you if you don’t believe me?”

Steele stroked the ends of his mustache.  He didn’t let on that he already knew about the ring. “So that explains the jewelry in his apartment.  I thought Mrs. Matthews gave it to him.”  Kitty found Steele’s remarks amusing, she burst into laughter.  “Steele, I’m surprised Antonio didn’t tell you but after my brother caught her in his bed with another man he cut her off, credit cards only.  Every dime she spent had to go on his credit cards which meant every credit card and bank statement went directly to him.  To put it bluntly she was flat broke.”

Steele was not fully convinced of Kitty’s innocence. “Do you own a Phillies cap and a dark wig?”  Without hesitation Kitty answered, “Yes as a matter of fact I do.  Why did someone get a look at the killer?

Steele shook his head, “no, the woman in Sam’s apartment wore a gray hoodie with a Phillies cap and she had dark hair.  Inside your closet was a gray hoodie, a Phillies cap and a dark wig.”

During the conversation Kitty’s emotions had run the gambit from somber to lighthearted and now outrage.  “You searched my room!  You have no right going through my personal belongs.  Just so you know I brought that wig for last years Halloween party.  I went as Cleopatra so it was common knowledge that I owned the wig and besides I’m a brunette so why would I need to wear a wig as disuse?”

Steele walked back and leaned against the counter close to the lantern.  “I got three more questions for you.  What would you do if your brother went to prison? What time did you come through the tunnel tonight and where are your car keys?”
Once again Kitty seemed surprised but proceeded to answer the questions.  I got here about an hour and a half ago.  I went to my room to gather up enough courage to come talk to you.  If Kevin went to prison I guess I would have to find a place to live.  I sure as hell wouldn’t be able to afford to keep this place running.  Why do you need to know where my keys are?”

Steele held out his hand.  “I need to borrow you car.  Don’t worry I’ll make sure it’s returned tomorrow.”  Steele smiled, “you really don’t expect me to spend the rest of the night here do you?  There’s a killer on the loose.  Oh, don’t worry I won’t tell your brother about the bag of pot I found in your bottom left drawer.”

The Deadly Gamble Chapter Eight - Tunnel Vision

Chapter #8
Tunnel Vision

The morning after the storm Steele made a trip to Chinatown to see Mr. Yip who is a friend of Steele’s, he is also an herbalist.  Still feeling a little groggy after his ordeal in the mansion he knew that Yip would have the remedy he needed be get back on his game.  Last nights encounter with the suspects gave Steele more info than he had anticipated.  Through process of elimination he was close to solving the case.   

Mr. Yip pulled half a dozen jars of various colors, shapes and sizes from the shelves.  He began the task of meticulously weighing and mixing various plant leaves and odd looking barks on an old fashioned, silver scale.   As he worked Steele took out his phone and called Stan and then Antonio.  If his hunch was right the case would be solved before the end of the day. 

By the time Steele had picked up his herbal remedy and returned to the club Stan was already hard at work in the back booth. 

“What’s up my brother?  I checked into this guy Sam like you asked me too.”
Steele slide into the booth on the opposite side of Stan and waited for the news. 
“There ain’t much here Steele.  Dude went to collage in Miami but you already knew that.  He played volleyball until he had an Achilles tendon rupture.  I went to his Facebook and Twitter pages.  Let’s see he was a fraternity brother who liked to play practical jokes.  Lots of spring break pictures from some dump called the Sea Breeze, keg parties, beach parties, and pool parties.  Are you beginning to sense a theme here man?”

Steele shook his head.  “Apparently Sam liked to drink and party.  Does he have a rap sheet?  Did he ever do prison time?”

Stan tapped the computer keys and shook his head.  “No man, he’s as clean as the board of health, not even a parking ticket.  Lots of his pictures are with older women.  I don’t know if that means anything or not.  According to his last bank statement he only had $312.00 in Mellon bank.  No, wife, no kids, and no skeletons, at least none that I can find.  You want me to keep looking?”

“Naw thanks Stan but I have another project for you.”  Steele gave him the information on how to pull up the camera feed from behind the pool house.  He instructed Stan to focus on the morning of the murders.  After working on his new project for about a half hour Stan leaned back and starred at the computer monitor.  “Hum that’s interesting.  Looks like the video feed stopped that afternoon, right around the time after the murders, too much of a coincidence for it to be a glitch. Somebody must have turned it off.”

Steele slide on the bench alongside Stan and started the footage on the screen from earlier that morning.   Three quarters of the way through Steele’s suspicions were confirmed.  A figure passed by the camera then walked back again three and a half minutes later.  Forty five minutes the same person walked back again and returned two minutes later.  Both Stan and Steele knew that the pathway in the film was the only way from the mansion to the shed.
Stan reared back on the bench seat.  “Whoa Steele, I guess you got your killer.”  Steele slapped his hand on the table.  “I knew it.  It knew it last night but I wasn’t able to prove it till now.”
“Hey Stan if I could see this that means anyone who knew about the cameras and had the password could also see it right?”

Stan thought for a moment. “Well maybe, you see this system here keeps the footage available for a 24 hour period, after that it’s automatically archived.  A lot of people don’t know that so the cook may have gotten spooked when the police came and just shut the cameras down.  Buy the time he went back he may not have know how to search the archives for this particular time frame. 

Mr. Matthews originally had the system installed so most likely he has access to it and Pablo probably got the password from Mrs. Matthews so if you count the cook at least three people could have turned off that camera.  So you know who the killer is but you still don’t know where the thirty million dollar lottery ticket is.”

Steele and Stan walked over to the bar.  Steele poured himself a Pepsi as they continued the conversation.  Without actual footage of the murders being committed Steele needed a confession.  By early afternoon Steele had come up with a way to trap the murderer into confessing.   With a little help from Stan the case would be wrapped up before midnight.  Stan headed off to Radio Shack to pick up some equipment while Steele stayed at the club to make a few phone calls and send out e-mails.  By night fall everything was in place. 

At exactly nine p.m. two township patrol cars blocked the entrance to the front gate of the mansion.  Earlier Steele sent an e-mail to Mr. Matthews.  Knowing that practically everyone in the mansion still had access his account Steele was counting on the killer reading his message.

I know who killed your wife.  I will be at the mansion tonight at ten with the police to confront the murderer.

Steele waited quietly in the dark hoping his plan would work.   He checked his watch, 9:22 and still no action.  Maybe the killer didn’t take the bait he thought or maybe they didn’t read his e-mail. 
Was it possible that the killer left before the police got there?  As these thoughts raced through his mind finally there was movement.  A yellow cab pulled up to the side of the road.  Steele crouched behind a large spruce tree and watched as the hatch to the secret tunnel slowly opened.  With cops guarding the gate the tunnel was the only way out unless you climbed the fence.  Once the killer was out of the tunnel Steele yelled out. 

“Okay stop right there” He knew the killer wouldn’t stop but what he didn’t know was
 that the killer was armed.  His demand was answered with the crackle of gunfire.  Two shots were fired in his direction followed by two thuds in the tree next to him. Steele pulled out his Glock fell to the ground but didn’t return fire.  Knowing the gun toting murderer wouldn’t. get far he watched the killer sprint across the field towards a waiting taxi.  Once the driver heard the shots he took off.  Seconds later the killer tumbled forward and was violently slammed to the ground as if an invisible hand had reached out and grabbed an ankle. Another shot rang out but this time it wasn't aimed at Steele.  As Steele rushed over he trained his gun over the body. 

“Give it up Audrey, its over” Writhing in pain Audrey looked up at Steele.  She had lost her weapon and could no longer run.  Audrey had accidentally shot herself in the foot.  Earlier that day Steele had strung the leftover fishing line he had gotten from Sugar Bear.  By stringing around the perimeter of the exit hatch he knew it would slow her down. 

“Why did you do it?  Why did you killer Mrs. Matthews and Sam?”
Grabbing her bleeding foot with one hand she used her elbow to prop herself up.  The maid groaned in agony as she held on to her food.  After regaining her composure she looked up at Steele.

“I didn't kill anybody.  I don’t know what you’re talking about.”  Steele noticed the gun laying a few feet away.  He picked it up and walked back over to Audrey. 
“You lied when you said you didn't know Sam but you two met at the Sea Breeze motel
before you moved here from Miami

Audrey fired back. “So what, I knew him that doesn't make me a murderer.  Can’t you see I’m shot?  You sadistic bastard get me a doctor before I bleed to death.” 

Steele shook his head. “Wow you poisoned two people to death and now you’re worried about saving your own ass.  You said your parents died in a fire but they didn't they died in a car accident.  Whoever sold you your new identity got it wrong.  You’re here illegally and Sam knew it.  You tried to pin the murders on Kitty because you knew she was a chemist and when that didn't work you switched gears and tried to frame old Antonio.
You knew he was into botany so you put those poison candles in my room last night.  Oh but don’t bother lying we have the DNA from the strands of hair you left in Kitty’s wig.  You know, the one you borrowed when you broke into Sam’s apartment looking for the thirty million lottery ticket.  The wig you wore when you hit me upside the head.”

Audrey smiled through the pain.  “I should have hit you harder.  Okay, yeah, I killed them but I will never confess to the police.  You have no proof and I will never admit it.  A couple of strands of hair in a wig don’t make me a murderer.  They deserved to die both of them.  Sam sucked at playing the lottery.  I had the winning ticket but as you said my identity was as fake as my resume so I needed somebody to cash in the ticket for me.  Sam was an easy choice, the only choice since he already knew about my past.  I offered him half, that’s fifteen million dollars more than he would ever see in his lifetime but the bastard got greedy and wanted it all.  He said he lost the ticket but I knew it was a lie.  He and that whore Melissa were going to run off together with MY MONEY and I just couldn't allow that to happen.  I knew no one would expect the poor, stupid maid so when Kitty was away I read one of her books, that’s how I learned to get rid of them. 

Everything I told you is meaningless.  If you go to the cops you have no proof.  Now take me to the hospital before I bleed to death.” 

The wailing sound of a siren could be heard in the distance.  Steele folded his arms and shook his head.  Looks like you got your wish, sounds like the ambulance is on the way.   Audrey was in pain and she was also angry and bitter about being cheated out of the lottery money so she continued lashing out at Steele. 
“You stupid fool.  How can you call yourself a detective?  Unless you got psychic powers there’s no way you could have called an ambulance.  You been here the whole time.”  Steele nodded, reached inside his pants pocket and pulled out a small white device with a button.  When he pressed the button the entire area became flooded with light.  Earlier Stan had wired the trees with lights but that wasn't all.  Audrey nearly fainted when she saw the black microphones.

“Yeah it’s true that I've been here the entire time but I haven’t been alone.  I needed to keep you close enough to the hidden mikes so I strung the fishing line that you tripped over. I guess somebody down there felt sorry for you.”  Steele cupped his hands and shouted.
“Okay guys you can come up now.”  A slow but steady stream of people emerged from the hatch starting with Mr. Matthews.  Following him was his niece Tara and sister Kitty.  The last three people to come up for the tunnel were Antonio, Stan and the chief of police.   Audrey was horrified.  Mr. Matthews along with the others had been listening to her confession through the speakers Stan had installed along with a recording system down in the tunnel.

Steele pointed to the man in the black suit.  “Okay Audrey most of these people you already know but the guy in the black suit, he’s the guy going to take you to the hospital then he’s going to take you to jail.   How does it feel to shoot yourself in the foot twice in the same night?”

Once the ambulance and the police chief had gone Mr. Matthews thanked Steele and invited everyone up to the mansion for drinks.  As they gathered in the living room Mr. Matthew quizzed Steele on the events leading up to Audrey’s arrest. 
“Mr. Steele, help me out here.  How did you know it wasn't one of us?”  Steele smiled, “no offense but the person entered the shed without leaving any footprints.  They pulled the metal ladder up on the roof from the opposite side of the pool house, dragged it across the roof and lowered it against the shed wall outside the window.  You and Antonio were……lets just say you two weren't agile or flexible enough to maneuver yourselves and climb through that window.  It was possible that you were working with her so I couldn't rule you guys out.”  Mr. Matthews pointed to his sister.  “What about Kitty and how did you know about that lottery ticket?” 

Steele laughed at Mr. Matthews’s suggestion that his sister was the murder.  “Everyone in the house knew about her background in chemistry which made her the obvious suspect especially since she didn't want to move to Florida.  That gave her motive but why would she use a dark wig as disuse when she already had dark hair?  It’s like me disusing myself as a black man.  Even if she was that stupid she didn't have time to enter the mansion last night, supper glue the windows shut and plant the toxic candles.  The glue was dry when I tried opening the window.  No, Audrey made up the room and Audrey had access to all the rooms in the house which met she had access to Kitty’s wig, hoodie and hat.  As for the lottery ticket, Well.”  Steele looked over at Antonio.  “He suspected that something shady was going on so he took photos using his high powered lens.  You don’t accuse the boss’s wife without proof.  My buddy Stan over here was able to magnify the photos which showed the ticket on the work bench and with a little more tweaking he was able to get the lottery numbers.  Audrey was right about one thing.  Sam did suck at picking lottery numbers.  When I examined the old lottery tickets in the trash can they were all the same.  He kept playing the same numbers each and every week so why all of a sudden would he have a winning ticket with totally different numbers. 

Audrey lied about knowing Sam and she is here illegally so it made sense that she passed the ticket on to Sam.  He had her over a barrel, if she reported him he would have her deported.”

Kitty began squirming in her chair.  She wondered how far Steele would go in explaining the process of his investigation.  Steele was careful to leave out anything that would incriminate her or Antonio but Antonio was not so protective.  As Steele was about to leave Antonio rose from his chair.  “Err, Mr. Steele aren’t you forgetting something?  Tell him about the coca plants.”

Antonio wanted to clean house, he didn’t like Pablo and wanted to get rid of him so he forced Steele to do his dirty work.  Steele gave him a stern look.  He disliked Pablo as much as Antonio but his job was to catch the killer and he had done so. 

Once again Mr. Matthews’s curiosity was peaked.  “What about Pablo Mr. Steele?  Was he an accessory?  Did he help Audrey kill my wife?” 

Steele was extremely hesitant to open this new can of worms.  He eased back into his chair.  “Well Mr. Matthews it appears that Pablo and your wife were in business together.  On the ridge behind the pool house is a large coca field.  Pablo intends to have the plants converted into drugs.”

Mr. Matthews was ragging mad; it took Tara and Kitty a few minutes to quiet him down.  Afterwards he thanked Steele and promised to send him a check in the morning.  After saying goodbye to Tara, Steele and Stan wasted no time in leaving, he was happy to solve another murder but pissed about having to dime Pablo out.  The Di Angelo brothers were not to be trifled with.  Even though the plants were not mature enough to process Steele was sure the buyers for the coke were already lined up.  Pablo would not just be fired he was about to become a marked man. 

Just as Steele and Stan reached the Jaguar Mr. Matthews shouted from the front door.  “Mr. Steele, I almost forgot to ask you, what happened to that lottery ticket?”
Steele shrugged his shoulders.  “I wish I knew Mr. Matthews, that’s the thirty million question.”

The Deadly Gamble Chapter Nine The Thirty Million Dollar Answer

Chapter #9
The Thirty Million Dollar Answer

Two weeks had passed since Audrey was arrested for the murders of Mrs. Matthews and Sam.  Pablo was on the run from the authorities and the Di Angelo brothers.  Everything else appeared to be back to normal at least for the moment.  Steele had just finished reading the sports section in the morning paper.  The Phillies were on a winning streak.  Just as he was about to turn the page he heard Sugar Bear yell from the front of the bar.  “Hey Alexander, could you come up here for a minute.”  Sugar Bear was in trouble.  He had just given Steele the distress call signal.  Sugar Bear never called Steele by his first name.  It was a code the two had worked out on the day the club first opened.  Steele didn’t hesitate; he quickly reached down under the seat into the secret compartment inside his bench.  After pulling out his gun he hustled out the back door.  Seconds later he managed to creep up behind a man in the front lobby holding a gun directly at Sugar Bear’s chest.  It took Steele no time at all to recognize the gun toting hood, it was Pablo.  Steele startled him when he spoke from behind him. 

“What can I do for you Pablo?  Thought you’d be in Mexico by now.”  Pablo whirled around to face the barrel of Steele’s Glock.  Sugar Bear wasted no time scurrying behind the bar.  Pablo looked tired and scared, it was clear that he had lost some weight. 
“Oh trust me amigo if I had my way I would have been there a week ago.  Thanks to you I got no job.  Matthews didn’t even pay me what I earned for the last week I worked, ungrateful bastard.”  Pablo scoffed, “So what, I planted a few plants in back of his house.  It’s not like I killed his wife you know.”

Steele raised his gun slightly higher.  He was in no mood to indulge Pablo by participating in his pity party.  “Don’t blame me for your troubles, I wasn’t the one who planted the coca plants and I wasn’t the one who threw you under the bus it was Antonio.”

Pablo sneered at Steele. “Sure Steele blame the old man who’s not here to defend himself.  You think I don’t know that Antonio quit the day after you caught Audrey?  Yeah that’s right he just turned in his resignation and took off without giving any notice.  Why would he turn me in if he was leaving anyway?  Now I need you to help me do the same.  Nick put a contract out on my ass.  He wants to set an example for the rest of his minions.”

Steele nodded slowly.  “Let me guess, you owe him money.  I bet you talked him into giving you an advance on the money you were going to make from the drugs.”  Steele hit a sore spot that angered Pablo. 

“Listen I don’t owe you an explanation.  If I stay in Philly I’m a dead man, it’s as simple as that.  Now open the damn safe, give me the money and I’ll be on my way.  You owe me that much Steele.”

Now it was Steele who was angry.  He pointed the gun directly at Pablo’s forehead and took a step closer to him.  “I don’t owe you shit.  You dug this hole and now the Di Angelo brothers are gonna put you in it.  We live, or in this case die, with the choices we make in life. You made very bad choices and now it’s time to pay the piper.”

Steele thought for a moment.  After realizing that most of his customers pay using credit cards he had a sudden change of heart.  The last thing he wanted was a shootout. 
Steele had just received a hefty paycheck from Mr. Matthews and he also didn’t want Sugar Bear to catch a stray bullet.  He reasoned to himself,
 “I can always replace the money but good friends are hard to come by.”
 “Okay Pablo you got a deal, but put down the gun first you are making my manager nervous.  Pablo lowered his weapon but kept it by his side.  “No tricks Steele, I just need some running money.”

Steele had Sugar Bear open the safe while he held his gun on Pablo.  Sugar Bear was not happy with Steele’s decision to give Pablo the money and he wasn’t shy about expressing how he felt.

“I don’t know about this boss.  When did you get into the business of supporting drug dealers?”  Pablo took exception to Sugar Bear’s comment. 

“I don’t deal drugs amigo; I just grow the plants, what happens after that is not my concern.”

Sugar Bear handed Pablo a small stack of bills.  He could see the disappointment on Pablo’s face as he accepted the paltry bundle of cash. “Is that it?  What the hell are you trying to pull Steele?  Where’s the rest of my money?”

Steele lowered his weapon and shrugged his shoulders.  “I think you’re behind the times amigo.  Most working people pay with plastic these days.  I kept my end of the deal now get the hell out of my club.”

Steele followed Pablo as he stormed out the door.  He watched Pablo walk towards an old, blue, beat up Chrysler.  Out of the corner of his eye Steele could see a slow moving car through the large side view mirror of a parked delivery truck.  Nick D’Angelo’s gray Camaro was back.  As it turned the corner Steele noticed two silver guns pointing out of the car on the passenger side and from the back seat.  Steele calls to warn Pablo was drowned out by a hail of bullets all headed in Pablo’s direction.  Not wanting to take chances Steele hit the ground just outside the club’s front door.  Pablo groaned and lurched forward as the sounds of gunfire and broken car windows filled the air. Seconds later Pablo laid stretched out on the side walk covered in blood and shards of glass.  Steele held his weapon close to his chest.  He watched as the car speed off before he crouched close to the ground and cautiously made his way over to Pablo’s lifeless body.  With his head down Sugar Bear carefully made his way a few steps behind.

“Steele you want me to call an ambulance?  Steele shook his head slowly as he looked down at the bullet riddle copse.  “No, go back inside; in case they decide to come back.  The only person who can help him now is an undertaker.”

In mere minutes what had been a quiet uneventful morning had turned into a media circus.  Police cars, camera crews, ambulances and newspaper photographers lined Stenton Avenue.  Throngs of curiosity seekers stood behind yellow crime scene tape with their cell phone cameras at the ready hoping to catch a glimpse of the gruesome corpse now covered by a black tarp. 

Steele was ambivalent about Pablo’s death.  He may not have sold the drugs directly but without the Pablo’s of the world there would be far less cocaine on the streets ofPhiladelphia.  After giving a statement to the police Steele wanted to just get away from the activity outside his club.

“Hey Sugar Bear, if you need me I’ll be on the rooftop.”  Steele sat quietly on the roof reflecting on recent events.  Not long after he went up stairs Sugar Bear came up with a brown box from UPS. 

“Here you go boss.  This looks important so I brought it right up.”  He looked down on the floor where the black stains use to be.  Sugar bear smiled, “see boss, remember I used newspaper when the paint was wet so I wouldn’t leave footprints.  Well I told you that the rain would wash the ink from the paper away.”  At that instant Steele had a moment of clarity.  For weeks he was baffled by why the mats from the pool house and shed were tossed to the side of the building then returned to their original places days later.  The person who stole the lottery ticket must have used the mats placing one in front of the other to avoid leaving prints as they made their way to the shed window.  Steele smiled, stood up and patted Sugar Bear on the back.  “Thanks Sugar Bear.”  Of course Sugar Bear had no idea why Steele was so happy about receiving a package.  Maybe one day Steele would tell him the whole story. 

After Sugar Bear headed back down stairs, Steele examined the box.  It was from Japan.  He cautiously removed the wrapping and was amused at what he saw inside.  Packed in dry ice was 5 pounds of Kobe beef. On top of the rare beef was a tan envelope wrapped in plastic.  Inside the envelope were a few photos and a letter. 

Steele recognized the backdrop in each photo. Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, the Devils Tower in Wyoming, the Golden Gate Bridge in California and the Great Wall of China.  The photos were nice but what made Steele laugh out loud was the man in the photos.  Weeks after Steele had solved the double murders the final pieces of the mystery puzzle had finally fell into place.  In the forefront of each photo was Antonio.  He smiled, mugged and posed in each of the stops on his world tour.   The letter read,

“Greetings Mr. Steele,
A wise man once told me to live my dreams.  Thank you for encouraging me to do so.  Sorry about the deception.  I had to put you on the spot on the night Audrey was caught because I wanted to get rid of the last bad element before I left.  Good people still work there, they deserve better than slime like Pablo.

Enclosed is a peace offering. I hope you enjoy it.  In case you haven’t figured it out already it was me who turned off the camera and moved the door mats.  There was no way my fat ass would have been able to climb to the roof and down the ladder like Audrey did. 

I wish you continued success.  Tell Tara I said hello.  Well for me it’s off to the Forbidden City today.  I’ll be in touch. 

All the best

Steele was happy with the way things had turned out but one thing still bothered him.  His friend Sugar Bear would soon be married and probably start a family.  He needed to learn how to protect himself.  Steele decided that tomorrow he would take his friend to the gun shop then to the range to learn how to use a firearm.  If Steele’s instincts were correct Sugar Bear would need to be prepared to protect himself even if it meant taking a life. 

Hours later when all the excitement was over Steele walked downstairs and looked at the blood stained sideway.  Nick D’Angelo had sent a message.  This was the second case where Steele had a run in with one of the D’Angelo brothers and he had a feeling it wouldn’t be the last.  Steele wondered when the time comes whose blood would be on the side walk the Angelo brothers or his. 

The End

Beginning October 10th a brand new Alexander Steele Mystery begins. 

Until then please checkout Alexander Steele and the Legacy of Death.

Alexander Steele attempts to solve a 20 year old cold case.  Things heat up when Steele begins asking questions.  People familiar with the case are turning up dead.  Could Steele be the next target?

Video Recap


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.

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