Saturday, October 11, 2014

Death on the Delaware from the Alexander Steele Murdery Mystery Series

An Alexander Steele Murder Mystery
By Larry J. 

Who killed Congressman Holloway? 
Philly Private investigator Alexander Steele is hired to solve the murder of a controversial Philadelphia politician.

Chapter #1
Dead in the Water

February in Philly is always cold, but the polar vortex had made it colder than usual.  The bone-chilling deep freeze didn't deter Mrs. Ferguson from her morning routine. 

The KYW news radio theme played from her kitchen counter top radio while she put on her red plaid jacket, burgundy scarf with matching ear muffs.

At 6:00 a.m. she donned her knitted gray cap and headed outdoors to take her poodle Gladys for her daily walk along side the Delaware River.  The gray haired retiree had no idea that she would soon feel another chill, one that she would never forget.  As she walked along the frozen dirt path Gladys began to bark.  Mrs. Ferguson looked in the same direction as the little black dog.  Dawn was breaking.  It was difficult to see.  She squinted as she peered towards the water.  Gladys tugged on her lease causing her master to leave the path and tread closer to the river.

Mrs. Ferguson caught a glimpse of something floating in the murky water.  An old rotten log she though.  The elderly woman’s curiosity
had gotten the better of her.  She inched closer to get a better look.   Seconds later Mrs. Ferguson screamed so loud she could have woke up the dead……….well almost.

Twenty minutes later two officers in a police boat fished the lifeless body out of theDelaware.  It was clear from their expressions that this was no ordinary corpse.  Anyone who followed politics or has watched the local news would have instantly recognized that face.  The body fished out of the river was none other than Pennsylvania’s controversial congressman Earnest Holloway.   Everyone has skeletons locked away in the closet, but politicos usually find a way to keep them locked away better than most.  Congressman Holloway had more than his fair share of enemies.  His death was sure to reveal more than a few dark nasty secrets.

News of the Congressman’s death spread like wildfire.  Soon reporters from across the country had converged on the banks of the Delaware where his body was discovered.  Across town Alexander Steele was unaware of the Congressman’s demise.  His dilemma was of the domestic nature.  After loosing a bet to his girlfriend Shakia Steele had just finished whipping up breakfast for two consisting of shrimp and grits with waffles and coffee.  Shakia smiled as she took her seat at the table.  Still in her green night gown Shakia examined the food.  “Very good Alex, I always knew you were good with your hands.  I should bet you more often.  After breakfast you can make good on the second half of your bet.”  Steele was about to speak when the doorbell rang.  It was 8:45 a.m. on a Friday morning.  Normally Alexander Steele would be at his night club.  Steele tightened up the belt on his tan robe as he walked to the door.  Shakia was even more surprised when Steele opened the door and saw her sister standing in the doorway.  Shakia got up from the table at her sister entered the living room “Naomi what are you doing here?  Is Mom alright?  Is everything okay?”  Shakia rushed over and gave her younger sister a warm hug.  “Mom’s fine, everyone is fine.  How have you two been?”  Steele looked at Shakia then turned to Naomi as she gently rubbed Steel’s shoulder, we’re great.  What brings you to our neck of the woods?  Aren’t you supposed to be in DC?  Naomi looked puzzled.  Haven’t you guys been watching the news?  Steele picked up the remote from the sofa and turned to MSNBC.  Naomi was too impatient to wait so she just blurted it out.   Congressman Holloway has been murdered.  She gestured to the TV. They pulled him out the river a couple of hours ago.  The three stood in the living floor as they watched the footage of the Congressman’s lifeless body being pulled onto the boat like fisherman hauling in a large tuna.  Shakia put her hand to her mouth; oh that’s terrible who would do such a thing?  Steele snickered, ha, really, take your pick.  That guy had more enemies that Saddam Hussein.  Naomi turned from the TV to Steele.  Alex can I talk to you for a minute …….alone?  Shakia perked up when she heard the words alone.  “Well that’s not the least bit suspicious at all sis.  What do you have to say to him that you don’t want me to hear?  Realizing that it was a bad move Naomi conceded the point and agreed to include her sister in the conversation.  The three sat on the couch and Naomi began making her pitch.  You guys know that I am the Senator’s assistant.  Well you probably also know that Congressman Holloway is; well was changeling my boss for his senate seat in November.  That’s gonna move him to the top of the suspect list.  This is going to be a distraction to my boss Senator Green so he wants to hire you to find out who murdered the Congressman. 
The Senator had a fundraiser diner at the Four Season Hotel last night that is why I am in town.  After dinner he drove back to Washington.  There is no way he could have murdered the Congressman.

Shakia tapped Steele on the arm and tilted her head toward the kitchen.  “Alex can I see you in the kitchen for a minute” Naomi seemed even more nervous than before.  She strained to hear what was being said in the kitchen but could only hear whispers.  Shakia was beside herself.  Alex, she’s lying.  I could always tell.  When she was 9 she broke a saucer in Mom’s china closet and glued it back together without saying a word.  I almost got blamed but my parents knew that whenever she wiggled or tapped her foot she was hiding something.  It’s a dead giveaway.  Steele was about to confront Shakia’s sister when her cell phone rang.   Naomi reached inside her right coat pocket and pulled out a black cell phone but didn't brother to look at the number, she simple turned the ringer off.  Steele stroked the ends of his mustache and sat next to his girlfriend.  “That was the Senator wasn’t it?” Naomi glanced down at her phone. “Yes, how did you know?” Steele smiled, “that’s a $20.00 phone.  A woman in your position, your salary wouldn’t rely on a cheap phone like that.  I’m sure your other phone is somewhere inside your handbag.  My guess is he’s the only one who has that number that’s why you didn't brother to look to see who the caller was.  If I were a betting man, Steele paused long enough to look over at Shakia; I would say that you and the Senator are having an affair.  That’s why you were so sure he didn't commit the murder.  You two spent the night at the hotel together.  How am I doing so far?”  Shakia shook her head and sighed as she starred at her sister, “Lord Jesus what have you done.  That’s why you didn't want me in the room when you and Alex talked.  Please tell me it’s not true.  

“Shakia it’s not what you think.  I knew you wouldn't approve.”  Naomi struggled to find the right words.  After a moment of fidgeting in her seat she held up both hands and blurted out “it’s complicated.  Can we focus on the murder for now?  I promise I will explain everything to you once this mess is over.”  Shakia crossed her arms, leaned back on the couch and starred at her sister. 

“You bet your ass we will” 

Steele was equally put out by Shakia’s sister act of deception.  “Naomi, you know me so I’m gonna be blunt.  Tell me everything, no hedging.  If you lie to me again you’re on your own and let’s be clear about one thing.  If the Senator murdered Holloway he’s going down.”

After an apology to Steele and Shakia Naomi began explaining how she rented the hotel suite where the fundraiser was held.  She told Steele that she and the Senator had spent the night together and that he was driving back to Washington because he would have been recognized it he had taken Amtrak. 

Shakia took one look at Steele and knew it didn't look good for Naomi or the Senator.  “Alex, its bad isn’t it?  Steele shook his head.  “Yes, but it we move fast enough we can keep it from getting worse.”  He asked Naomi who checked out of the hotel.  She explained that the Senator always left first and that she would wait 15 minutes before leaving.  Since the hotel has automatic checkout she just dropped the key off and left.

Steele rushed to the phone and called his friend Stan.  It didn't take a detective to realize that the voice on the other end of the call was not his best friend/computer hacker.  “Who am I speaking too”  “Oh this is Christine who is this?”  This is Steele, baby I’m in kinda of a rush, can you put Stan on?”   Minutes later a groggy sounding man spoke into the receiver “Steele man do you know what time it is?”  “Yeah it’s time to get your ass up.  It’s after nine.  I need you to get over to the Four Seasons hotel.  I need to know what areas their surveillance cameras monitor.”  Stan yawned into the phone.  “I don’t need to.  I was just there last month.  They only have cameras in the main lobby and all the entrances and exits.”  Steele could hear Christine’s voice in the background “last month, why were you at a hotel last month.  Mr. you got some explaining to do.”  The sleepy voice on the other end spoke again.” Thanks Steele”.  There was a sudden click and the line went dead.

Steele instructed Naomi to contact the Senator.  “Tell him to be honest for a change and tell the truth about him staying at the hotel and when he left.  Just leave out the part about you being there with him.  The surveillance cameras will verify him leaving.  Once they see him leaving the hotel they won’t need to watch the rest of the footage.  They aren't looking for you so they will assume that he was alone.”  Naomi looked worried, “but he won’t have an alibi Steele.  Staying alone in a hotel in the same city won’t prove his innocence.” 

Steele motioned for her to calm down.  “Baby steps, this is the murder of a Congressman we’re talking about her.  That means a lot of rocks are gonna be turned over and a lot of dirt will come out.  If your boyfriend is driving a government car then it is equipped with a GPS not to mention the Easy Pass monitor that keeps a record of every time he goes through a toll.  We’re not just talking about lying to the local cops; we are talking about the FBI, a grand jury and possibly a judge.  Sooner or later they will want a statement from you but since you are near the bottom of the food chain hopefully that won’t be for a while.  In the meantime you need to lay low.  Stay with your sister until I figure who the killer is.  Naomi looked over at an angry Shakia then back at Steele.  “Do I have too?  Can’t I stay here with you?  Steele laughed and went to get dressed. 

Want more Alexander Steele

Case of the Death Dealer

Case of the Deadly Ring
Legacy of Death

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

Chapter #2
Sex Drugs and Politics

Stan’s brownstone was about 20 minutes from Steele’s place.  If he was going to clear the Senator, Steele needed to compile a list of suspects.  The bone chilling cold got Steele’s attention the moment he opened his front door.  There was something about Philly in the winter, especially in the morning when the city streets resembled a ghost town.  It was eerily quiet. With the exception of a few heavily bundled up folks at the bus stop the streets were nearly empty.  Steele drove past Rita’s Water Ice near the bus stop and chuckled. 

Stan was in a sour mood when he opened the door for his friend.  “Steele you got a huge set of balls showing up here after the grief you caused me this morning.” Steele patted Stan on the shoulder as he walked inside.  “Good morning to you too Stan, as I recall you were the one who blurted out that you were at the Hotel, not me.  Listen, we really don’t have time for this.  Where is she?  I’ll talk to her so we can get your domestic problem out of the way.  I got a much bigger problem to deal with.”  Stan quickly closed the door and hunched his shoulders as he entered the living room behind Steele.  “Hell if I know, she got dressed and stormed out.  You probably did me a favor.  It’s time for her to go anyway.” 

Steele walked to the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee before giving Stan the details of his latest case.  Afterward, while Stan got dressed Steele watched the cable news station in the living room hoping to get more details of the murder.  Reflecting on the morning’s events, Steele realized that for the first time since his so-called retirement he has a case that not only has Shakia’s blessing but a case that would be devastating to her if he were not able to solve it. 

Just as the news anchor went to a commercial break Stan came from the kitchen with more coffee.  “Here ya go brother.  I don’t get it Steele.  Why are you here?  Shouldn’t you be down at the river bank investigating?  I mean you need to look for clues right?”

Steele slowly shook his head before sipping his coffee.  “Yep normally you would be right, but this case is going to be very different from all the rest.  Right now there must be a hundred cops and detectives down there and at least twice as many reporters.  By noon, every reporter within five hundred miles will descend on that place like a swarm of locust not to mention the FBI.  Naw man, on this one I need to work in the shadows.  If the press ever connected me to the Senator it would put a huge spotlight on him and it would hamper my investigation.   We have to skip step one.  I need you to help me build profiles on all the major suspects.  My guess is that time and cause of death will be leaked from the press before the day is over.” 

Stan chuckled, “man remind me to never underestimate you.”  Stan sat his blue mug of coffee on the large mahogany table and picked up his black, cordless keyboard.  “Okay brother, let’s kick over some rocks and see what we find.”  Looking up at the big screen monitor hanging on the wall opposite from where they sat Stan began asking questions as he tapped the keys.  It didn’t take long for Steele to realize that he had his work cut out for him.  In less than ten minutes Steele had half dozen suspects, he also learned about a physical altercation between the late congressman and a local talk show host who went by the name Toxic Tim.  If that wasn’t enough to ruin his day the next tidbit of info caused him to sit up and stare at the screen.

Senator Keith Green was trailing Congressman Holloway in the polls by seven percentage points.  Naomi’s boss had just moved up on Steele’s list. 

“Hey Stan can you tell me how much cash the senator and congressman have in their war chest?”  A few keystrokes later the information popped up on the screen.  In the past two months, Congressman Holloway’s campaign was surging, and his donations had gone up significantly.

“What are you thinking Steele?”  Steele pointed to the computer screen.  I’m beginning to think that the good senator had more motive than I first thought.”  Stan shook his head in disagreement, “But you said him and Naomi were knocking boots all night at the hotel.  How could he be in two places at once and how did he get past the cameras in the lobby?”

Steele leaned back on the couch.  “Stranger things have happened my friend.  He could have used a disguise.  He could have found a way to avoid the cameras, and he could have gotten Naomi to lie for him.  I don’t want to think about the possibility of having to tell Shakia that her sister is an accomplice to murder.  But I don’t think he would have done it himself.  Guys like that don’t do their own dirty work.  Remember Vince Forster?  He was the White House lawyer for Bill Clinton.  In the middle of an investigation, he turns up dead in the park one night.  According to conspiracy theorist, the grass was wet, but there were no footprints.” 

Stan punched up a photo of a beautiful dark haired woman.  “My money is on her, Alexis the congressman’s ex-girlfriend.  Trust me on this Steele; I got plenty of experience with her type.  Vindictive as hell and will stop at nothing to get back at you.  Don’t waste your time on those others that broad did it.  I bet he promised to divorce his wife and marry her.  Look at that face; it’s got guilty written all over it.” 

Steele couldn’t control himself.  He laughed so hard he nearly fell off the couch.  “Hey bro you got some serious issues.  You need to get some help.” 

Toxic Tim McFadden was the first stop on Steele’s list of suspects.  Tim was a middle aged heavy set man who lived on a houseboat just outside the city.  His eccentric lifestyle was legendary in the Philadelphia area.   It was midday when Steele pulled his blue Jag up to the dock near the houseboat at the Piers Marina on Columbus Blvd.

As he made his way up the wooden walkway, he could hear bird sounds coming from inside the houseboat.  Tim met him at the door.   He was on his way to the radio station.  Steele introduced himself then showed him his PI license.

“Come in Mr. Steele.  I can only give you a few minutes; my show starts in a bit.  Who did you say you were working for?”  Steele was distracted by all the caged animals.  To his surprise, Steele felt like he has just entered the Philadelphia Zoo, With a quick look around the room he counted a spider monkey, three ferrets, two turtles, a chameleon, one white rabbit, two large tanks with fish, one tank with snakes and cages with a half-dozen exotic birds.

As he looked around the zoo like environment he responded, “I didn’t.  My client wishes to remain anonymous.”  Each room was cluttered with newspapers, magazines and lots of takeout boxes and bags mostly from Chinese restaurants.  Steele noticed two glasses on the coffee table.  Ruby red lipstick stains were clearly visible on one of the glasses.

“I understand you and the congressman had a fight in a restaurant downtown about a week ago.  Tim hunched his shoulders, “it was more like a scuffle than a fight.  I was having lunch when all of a sudden he storms in and sucker punches me.  I fought back, got in a few good licks before somebody pulled us apart.  

It was hard for Steele to focus amongst the menagerie of birds, fish, snakes, and various other reptiles surrounding him but he pressed on asking another question.  “Any idea why he attacked you Mr. McFadden?”  Tim held up his hand, “Please call me Tim and yeah, I do know why.  He attacked me for telling the truth on my show.  The congressman is a cokehead and a womanizer.  I told my listeners that on the radio the day before we got into it.  It’s all true and before you ask me, no I didn’t kill him, why would I?   I know this sounds callous, but he was good for my ratings.” Tim looked at the clock on the wall. 

“Any more questions Mr. PI?”  Steele looked at the white cockatoo and asked: “where were you were last night?”  Tim pointed a finger at Steele, “Ya see I wondered when you were going to get around to that.  I had an argument with my ex-wife; she left here around 10:30.  After that, I had a few drinks and passed out.”  He pointed over to the brown lounge chair.  “I didn’t leave that chair till around eight this morning.  I turned on the TV and went to take a piss; that’s when I heard the news about them finding the congressman face down in the Delaware.  He finally got what he deserved.”  Steele got the impression that Toxic Tim was holding back.  Steele and Tim left the marina at the same time but after driving a few blocks Steele turned around and headed back to Tim’s boat.  Every good detective knows that trash on the sidewalk is far game.  He could see the trash truck two blocks away so he didn’t have much time.  If Toxic Tim had been drinking why were they no bottles?  The place was a mess why throw away the bottle in a trashy looking houseboat?  Steele’s curiosity was satisfied when he pulled an empty bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label and a bottle of E and J brandy from Tim’s trash.  Steele put the bottle of brandy back in the trash but kept the Jonny Walker bottle and returned to his car. 

“Okay” he thought out loud, I can understand the E and J but why the Johnny Walker Blue Label.”  Steele was not a drinker but as a club owner, he knew that Blue Label imported scotch went for about $200.00 a bottle. “Was Tim celebrating the congressman’s demise?  Why was he so bitter?  What did the congressman do that caused the talk show host to hate him so much?  Steele would soon find out that there was something missing in his story.

Chapter #3
Unintended consequences

After leaving Tim’s houseboat, Steele drove through downtown Philly on the way to South West Philly.  After reaching the area he maneuvered his car up the winding path to the very top of Belmont Plateau in Fairmount Park.  Even in the dead of winter this was one of his go to spots, a quiet place where he could clear his head when working on a big case.  As Steele looked down on the city in the distance below, he began thinking about each of the suspects and their motives for wanting the congressman dead.  In the past, the crafty detective had called on a friend or two while gathering critical information to help solve cases, but this was different.  Dealing with politicians is messy business he thought.  Most are cunning and manipulative; that combination makes them dangerous foes.  Powerful people are like elephants, they never forget.  If you cross them you may have made an enemy for life. 

Steele reached for his cell phone inside the glove box.  His first call was to his most trusted friend Stan.   He needed to touch base with Stan later in the evening so he set up a meeting at the club.  The second call was to Benda, a supervisor at the phone company.  Steele tried contacting her at work, but he was told that she had been out with the flu since Tuesday.  The information he needed from her was not a top priority, so he decided to call her at home later.  Steele’s next call was to his one and only friend on the police force Detective Vance.  Any info that Vance could provide would be a bonus.  His final call was to a shady, shadowy character name Slick. 

Slick was a con artist/hustler/thief.  The one thing he didn’t deal in was drugs.  Steele wasn’t proud of his association with Slick.  Although Steele would occasionally bend a rule or two in Slick’s world there were no rules.  Years ago Steele had to come to terms with the fact that Slick was a necessary asset in his line of work.  Slick spoke in almost a whisper.  When he was nervous, he talked very fast. 

“Well, well if it isn’t my favorite detective.  Whatever you need I got it, or I can get it for you but you might have to wait a beat.”  Steele laughed into the phone.  “Where are you man?”  “I’m down in South Philly on the docks near Packer Avenue. I’m in the middle of a lucrative transaction.  What can I do for you Steele?” 

One of Slicks many illegal talents was ticket scalping.  Steele told him what he needed, Slick thought for a minute then gave him the price and the deal was done.  Slick caught Steele just as he was about to hang up.  “Oh Steele, tell Stan I just picked up that case of prime rib he ordered. I can make that two if you’re interested.” Steele declined the offer and ended the conversation.

Steele sat the phone down on the passenger seat, got out of the car and held his head to the sky.  He took a deep breath of the crisp, cold, air and slowly let it out.  After a few cleansing breaths he pulled up his collar, shoved his hands deep into his pockets and took a short walk around the frozen grounds of the plateau.  The cold air gave a jolt to his senses.  He needed to be sure that his next move was on point.  What he didn’t realize was that the autopsy report would be a game changer.  The cause of death would add a new twist to the case.  After returning to his car Steele checked his phone.  One missed call and one text message both from Detective Vance. 

In court today, can’t talk now.

On the way to the club Steele pushed the radio button to KYW news.  There was no news about Naomi or her boss but he learned that Congressman Holloway’s girlfriend Jennifer had gone missing and that his ex-girlfriend had left town. 

Steele had arrived at Club Inner Sanctum forty-five minutes before it was due to open.  Usually, Sugar Bear the club’s manager would be instructing the staff on last minute details before the doors opened but this evening he and Stan sat in the back booth auguring about the murder.  Steele could hear the men in the back booth bickering loudly as soon as he entered the club.

Steele made his way to his private booth with the blue, high back seats.  He was quickly drawn into the verbal confrontation.  As Sugar Bear got up to let Steele sit down he pointed to Stan,

“Hi boss, will you tell this fool who killed the Congressman?  Anybody in their right mind knows it was the girlfriend, uh what’s her name?”  Sugar Bear snapped his fingers as if that would help him to remember “Jennifer, yeah Jennifer that’s why she’s missing.”

Stan was about to speak when Steele decided to call a truce.  “Man you guys need to tone it down.  I can hear you from outside.  Both of you should know better.  If there’s one thing you should have learned by now is that you have to gather the facts, ALL the facts before you start pointing fingers.  I don’t know who did it.”  He turned to Stan.  “If I did I wouldn’t have dragged you down here in this weather.”  Steele looked at his watch then up at Sugar Bear.  “Don’t you have something you should be doing?”  Sugar Bear picked up the white and blue stripped cloth off the table and flung it over his shoulder.  He gave Stan a brief stare, mumbled something under his breath then lumbered off to the front of the club.  Stan changed his tone when he spoke to Steele.  His somber baritone voice was a sure sign that the news wasn’t good.

“Sorry to let you down but I got bad news and worse news.”  He waited to get a reaction from Steele but the detective didn’t flinch so Stan continued.  “This morning you asked me to draw up a profile on the Senator, the Congressman’s ex-girlfriend Alexis, Toxic Tim and his current girl Jennifer.  Man this guy gets laid more than I do.”  Stan handed Steele a travel drive with all the information he had gathered. “I didn’t find much on them but hey you’re the detective so something might jump out at you that I didn’t notice.  I started having second thoughts about the ex-girlfriend being the murder so I did a little checking on Megan, the wife.  It’s common knowledge that the Congressman slept around so from what I gathered she turned a blind eye to his extramarital affairs.  I got to thinking why?  Why was she okay with it so I hacked into her e-mail account and ……?”  Steele cut Stan off in mid-sentence.  “Let me guess; the wife is having an affair.  Stan, I checked her out, there’s no way a 120-pound woman could drag that body and toss a man her husband’s size into the river.  Besides, she has an alibi.  She was admitted to a private hospital last evening. According to her doctor the Congressman’s wife had been complaining about back spasms and dizzy spells.” 

Stan looked at Steele and chuckled.  Steele shook his head, “no way man.  You gotta be kidding me.”  Stan spun his laptop around so that Steele could read the screen.  He smiled as Steele quietly read Stan’s information.  “Apparently the good doctor has been making house calls.   The Doc and Megan were childhood sweethearts but went their separate ways after high school. He went to The School of Medicine at Stanford University.  She stayed close to home and attended the Wharton School of Business.  The doc’s wife recently passed away and I guess he decided to re-kindle his relationship with his old flame.  It’s all in their e-mail brother.”

Steele leaned back in his seat absorbing this new revelation.  “So it was probably the doctor who admitted Megan Holloway on the night of the murder.  You said you had more bad news, you might as well give it to me.”  Stan folded his arm and leaned forward on the table. “I hacked into the police’s computer main data base.  Hell I’ve done it so many times I can practically do it with my eyes closed by now.  I must have spent three hours searching for information on this case.  All I could come up with was a few dozen lousy photos from the crime scene; there’s no report, just photos.  I think the Feds got this thing on lockdown.  The press is calling this an assassination.  Reporters are flying in from all over the world.  Even the damn President of the United States was talking about it on TV an hour ago.  If you can’t get to the crime scene and you can’t get to the corpse how in the hell can you solve a case that you ain’t even officially on?

Stan was right and Steele knew it.  The suspect list was growing not shrinking.  What Stan didn’t know was that the street smart detective had the makings of a plan.  The photos Stan showed him were taken inside the Congressman’s house.  There was an opened pack of cheese crackers on the table next to a cell phone, a package of Tastykakes and a crystal salt and pepper shaker set.  Next were several pictures of door handles and window locks.  Investigators routinely snap these shots to show whether there was forced entry or not. There was also a photo of an unopened wall safe in the living room behind a picture over the mantle.  The photographer took shots of what appeared to be vomit on the yellow and white tilled kitchen floor.  Steele tilted the laptop to get a better angle of the photo. He noticed a tiny silver object just under the dishwasher.  It was the size of a sewing needle.  To the untrained eye it didn’t look like much to go on but the two photo’s ramped up Steele’s curiosity.  

“Hey Stan, can you blow up the shot near the dishwasher floor?”  Steele pointed to the photo and watched as Stan focused in on the tiny object. 

Steele’s thought process was interrupted by the vibration of his cell phone.  It was his girlfriend.  The normally easygoing Shakia was in a surly mood and she made damn sure Steele knew it.  He began with a friendly greeting and asked how the two were getting along.  “Hey baby how are things going with you and Naomi?”  “Oh I’m just great Alex.  Mom stopped by and found my sister here.  I had to lie to her and tell her that we we're having a girl’s weekend together and now she want to go to the hairdressers with us and watch chick movies tomorrow.  She also wants us to go to Holly Trinity’s church service with her on Sunday so thanks for asking Alex. 

Naomi insists on cooking dinner.  Remember when she went to Hawaii last year?  Well now she wants to fix this Polynesian dish made with spam.  Spam! I mean that really in one of the four food groups?  Can you really consider that meat?  I had to go to the market.  It took me twenty minutes to find that stuff.  I hope my stomach doesn’t stage a rebellion tonight.  My sister is sleeping with a married man and I’m probably going to hell for lying to my Mother about it.   Did I ever tell you the story about when I was twelve and Naomi spilled bleach on my favorite blue dress?  If I had killed her back then I wouldn’t have these problems now.”  Steele tried to be sympathetic about Shakia’s dilemma but didn’t know quite what to say. 

“Well baby you know what they say?  You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family. Hopefully this thing will be over soon.”  Shakia held the phone at arms length and starred at it for a few seconds before holding it back to her ear. “Really Alex, is that supposed to make me feel better?  Baby I need you to solve this murder in a hurry before I start pulling my hair out.  Oh don’t forget the second part of our deal.”

 Steele’s conversation was interpreted by Leroy; Steele’s doorman/bouncer.  “Mr. Steele Slick’s here to see you said you sent for him.”  Steele ended his conversation with Shakia and instructed Leroy to send Slick around to the back entrance.  After a brief greeting Slick made the transaction with Steele.  Slick checked the content of the brown envelope Steele handed him and smiled.  After thumbing through the envelope of fifty dollar bills, Slick tucked it inside his jacket pocket and was off to his next stop. 

Steele was ready to make his next move but it was Friday night, the second busiest night of the week at his private club.  He needed to multitask.  Steele spent half the evening meeting and greeting patrons.  When he wasn’t working the crowd he worked on theories in the back booth with Stan.  Using a special program Stan was able to estimate the distance a floating corpse would travel in the icy waters of the Delaware.  Once he had that information finding the location of where the body was dumped into the river would be easier.  Steele also had him do a little digging into a new suspect.  The doctor’s relationship was enough to put him on Steele’s radar.  Before the night was over Stan would surprise Steele with more dirty little secrets about the suspects.

Chapter #4
Dirty Little Secrets

In most circles hackers are frowned upon but whenever anyone decides to pass judgment on Stan he is always quick to point out that the police and several Fortune 500 companies often seek out hackers to catch the bad guys or prevent them from breaching their computer systems.  Stan took pride in his work.  He was thorough and this night was no exception. 

“Yo Steele, you gotta come and see this.”  Stan was able to hack into a company who uses high-tech software to identify specific individuals even if (as it was in this case) the person was wearing a disguise.  “Okay Stan, I see a man wearing a cap, dark glasses, an over coat and scarf walking out of a building.”  Stan was excited, “no Steele not just any man, that’s Senator Green leaving the hotel.  Steele squinted to look at the time stamp in the lower right-hand corner, 11:32 pm.  “Man you sure that’s him?  He looks a little tall.” Stan turned to Steele, “It him dude, this program is top notch.  They use it to catch terrorist in the UK.  I guess that means that Naomi was asleep or” ………….Steele finished Stan thought “or she’s been lying to me to cover for him.”

Steele left the club early.  He needed a quiet place where he could meticulously go over the profiles that Stan gave him.  Most of the suspects had motive and the time to kill the Congressman but which one actually had the balls to do it? 

Steele didn’t seem surprised to see Shakia’s red sports car parked in front of his house when he got home.  The two usually spent weekends together.  What did surprise him was that Naomi was still at her sister’s place.  Shakia greeted her man with a long passionate kiss.  Dressed in tight black pants and an even tighter fitting red blouse Shakia looked hot.  Steele thought to himself “Damn she looks sexier tonight than normal.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been thinking about a murdered corpse all day.”

There was no easy way to break the news to Shakia about her sister failure to mention that the Senator was away from the hotel for two hours and forty-five minutes.   It took a lot of effort, but Shakia remained clam when he gave her the update on the case.

“Well Alex, I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.  My sister has always been the smart one.”  Shakia paused.  “If you ever tell her that I said that I will deny it, anyway I don’t think she would be that stupid.  You know she can’t hold her liquor.  Two glasses of wine and she’s out for the night.  He probably got her tipsy and snuck out after she passed out.  Alex this isn’t looking good right now, but I don’t believe that she willingly participated in a murder plot.

Steele and Shakia’s priority list was not in sync. The couple was at an impasse.  For the moment his needs conflicted with her wants.  From the corner of her eye Shakia caught a glimpse of Steele checking out her breast.  “Oh no Alexander, tonight you need to focus” Steele pulled her closer and kissed her gently on the lips. “Oh baby I’m focused alright.”  Shakia took a step back as she gently slipped out of his arms.  She slowly shook her head and took a moment to collect her thoughts. 

“This isn’t fair.  You know me too well.  I always give in.  My sister may go to prison and all you can think about is sex.”  Steele moved closer and placed his hands on her hips.  “It not my fault baby, look at the top you’re wearing.  How am I supposed to concentrate?”  Not wanting to admit that the feeling was mutual Shakia decided to give in.  “Okay Alex” she quickly whipped off her top and tossed it on the sofa.  “The top is gone, now are you satisfied Mr. Steele?”  Steele nodded his head, “not yet but I will be” Shakia tried not to smile when he took her hand and headed off to the bedroom.  For the moment Naomi problem was put on hold. 

The next morning Alexander Steele woke up expecting to find Shakia lying next to him instead he found a note that read Good morning baby, breakfast at my place but first you have work to do.

Steele yawned, got out of bed and put on his robe.  The smell of fresh coffee immediately got his attention.  Shakia was not only beautiful she was also clever.  The freshly brewed coffee was a lure to get Steele to the kitchen.  To make up for lost time she took the flash drive that Stan had given to Steele and ran off copies of all the information on the murder case including the suspect portfolios.  She even collated and neatly stacked them in alphabetical order.  Steele laughed out loud when he saw the papers on the kitchen table.

Two cups of coffee later Steele was feeling better about the case.  He learned that Toxic Tim had a DUI and that the doctor had a pilot’s license.  What really grabbed his attention was the Congressman’s ex-girlfriend, Alexis.  Alexis new law firm was located on Chestnut Street in downtown Philly.  Struggling to pay the bills she threw her hat into the ring in a run for District Attorney.  With a salary of $172,000 a year her money problems would have been solved but when Congressman Holloway endorsed her opponent she was forced to drop out of the race.  Two weeks ago with the bills pilling up she had no choice but to move her law practice to a dinky office in south-west Philly.

Steele got dress and headed off to Shakia’s place.  According to reports from the news on his car radio Alexis had been contacted by the police.  She had been away for the weekend on a preplanned ski trip in the Poconos but there was still no sign of Jennifer the late Congressman’s girlfriend.

Steele was hungry, not just for breakfast but information.  He wasted no time putting Naomi on the hot seat at the breakfast table.  Do you recognize the man in this picture? Steele passed her the photo of Senator Green in disguise leaving the hotel.  Naomi looked at the picture then passed it back to Steele.  She shook her head, “no, should I?”  Shakia sat quietly as she watched the exchange between Steele and her sister.  Steele calmly slides the photo back to Naomi.  “Yes, you should.  It’s a picture of your boyfriend leaving the hotel the other night.” Naomi held up the picture.  “Steele, I can explain why he left the hotel that night.” Shakia sighed as she folded her arms and leaned back in her chair.  Naomi seemed nervous.  She took a sip of orange juice then turned to her sister.  “Sis I didn’t lie to you when I said we spent the entire night together and I’m not covering for him now.  I just found out about him leaving the hotel last night.”  Shakia reared up in her seat, “last night, you spoke to him last night?” Naomi nodded, “he called me after you went out.  When I told him that you guys had the surveillance film from the hotel he explained why he left and where he went.  About two years ago Keith, I mean Senator Green had a bad skiing accident.  He slid backward into a tree.  The doctor prescribed Oxycontin and well, he got hooked on the stuff.  It got so bad that he started buying it from dealers off the street.  He told me he had stopped, that it was over but……I found out last night that he had been lying to me.  That’s where he was Friday night.  During the time of the murder he was out buying drugs.”

Steele looked at the expression on Shakia’s face.  He didn’t know if she wanted to scream or cry.  Shakia held her hands over her eyes and mumbled “Lord Jesus what has this girl gotten herself into.”  When she moved her hands there were tears in her eyes.  She gave her sister a stern look.  “Naomi do you realize how bad this looks?  If he lied to you about not using the oxycontin what makes you think he’s not lying about the murder?” 

Naomi tried to defend her decision to take the Senator at his word, “Shakia, I’m not some naive little child.  I…..’’ Steele had heard enough.  When he suddenly got up from the table the conversation stopped and all eyes were on him.  He turned to Naomi and didn’t hold back. 

“Listen Naomi, right now you’re in the middle of a shit storm.  Politicians are seasoned liars.  This is hardball and these guys don’t give a rat’s ass about guilt or innocence.  When the eye of the storm moves and believe me it will, you could end up in jail or at the very least have your career ruined by this.  If Green didn’t commit the murder then we need to find out who did before you and the senator’s extra curricular actives becomes public.”

Steele walked over to the sofa to retrieve the files that Shakia ran off for him last night.  He dropped the pile of papers on the breakfast table.  “We have five suspects, Dr. Edwards who’s been sneaking around with the Congressman’s wife.  Megan Holloway the Congressman’s wife who may have gotten tired of her husband’s late night shenanigans.  Toxic Tim the radio hosts who for some reason hated the late Congressman and let’s not forget ex-girlfriend, Alexis.  Oh yes, there’s also Jennifer the missing girlfriend.”  Steele sorted each suspect by profile.  He separated them one by one as he explained to the sister why he chose them as suspects.  Naomi pointed to the folder marked Toxic Tim.  “My money is on Tim.  I know you’re the detective but I think he’s the one.”  Shakia picked up the file and thumbed through it.  “Why do you think a radio talk show host would commit murder?”  Naomi scoffed, “you guys really don’t know do you? “ 

Naomi fished through the files and picked up the one of the missing girlfriend.  The Congressman’s girlfriend, Jennifer use to be Jennifer McFadden, she’s Toxic Tim’s ex-wife.  She cleaned up in the divorce settlement then took up with the Congressmen.  The radio station is in the process of being sold.  The new owners are changing the format and old Tim is about to be out on his ass which means no more alimony for Jennifer.  Word on the street is that the Congressman was going to divorce Megan and marry Jennifer after the election.  I guess she found herself a new sugar daddy.”

Shakia got up and walked over to the window.  “That’s no reason to kill the guy.  Don’t you think he would be happy?  He’d be off the hook for alimony right?”  Naomi disagreed, “you’re missing the point Shakia.  Before the Congressman came along Tim and Jennifer were beginning to work out their differences.  They were slowly finding their way back to each other.  Congressman Holloway came into the picture around the same time that the radio station was being sold. The timing couldn’t have been worse for Tim.  Jennifer chose money and power over a soon to be unemployed ex-husband.  For Tim it was a matter of pride.  You know how men can be sometimes.”  Steele gave Naomi a look but didn’t interrupt.  “Toxic Tim didn’t want to see his ex-wife being paraded around the state on the arm of another man for the rest of his life so he killed him. “

During the discussion Steele cell phone rang.  It was Detective Vance.  After briefly chastising him for taking so long to get back to him Steele set up a meeting with Vance at Laura’s Lounge in North Philadelphia.  During the conversation he couldn’t but help notice the curious look on Shakia’s face.  After wandering over to the window she pulled back the champagne pink lace curtains and was staring down the street at something.  After hanging up the phone he asked, “you alright babe?  Shakia continued looking out the window.

“I’m not sure.  Alex was there a gray car with two men sitting in it when you came in?  By now he had joined Shakia at the window.  “Yes as a matter of fact there was.  The motor was running, I thought they were waiting for someone.  I guess that someone is either your sister or me.  She did tell Senator Green where she was.  Maybe he wants to keep tabs on her or maybe it’s the feds keeping tabs on me.  When Naomi came over to the window to take a peek Shakia anticipated what her sister would say so she put the kibosh on that conversation right away.

“Naomi don’t even think about saying those guys weren’t sent by Green.  Right now he’s in cover your ass mode, so he’s libel to do anything at this point.”  Steele chimed in, “either way he’s moving up on my list, so I’m gonna need to pay him a visit.  By the way, why is he going to Long Island next weekend?”  Naomi was caught off guard.  She spun around to face Steele.  “Wow, I’m impressed.  You are thorough.”  Naomi fiddled with her gold pendant as she stalled for time.  She looked at her sister then back at Steele.  “Well uh, guys no matter how I say this it’s going to look bad.  Keith is kind of a mystery buff…..murder mysteries.”  Naomi studied their faces as she paced around the living room.  “Okay, fine, he’s going to the Murder Mystery Weekend at Montauk Manor.  They do reenactments of” …….. Before she could finish Shakia quietly walked out of the room.  It was obvious that she had reached her limit in terms of her sister’s patience.

Steele placed a call to Stan and asked him to check the schedule for the Iron Horse; “it’s got to be the express, yeah getting on at Olney.” Naomi was curious, “what’s an Iron Horse?”  “It’s not what” answered Steele; “it’s what Roger’s been calling it since we were kids except we don’t ride it anymore.”   After a minute or two Stan gave him the most recent times.  “The train arrives at Olney 9:48 then bypass several local stops.  The next stop is at Erie at 9:53.”  Steele checked the clock on the wall.  “I’ll pick you up in twenty minutes.  Thanks man” Steele called Sugar Bear at the club and instructed him to buy a ticket then wait on the platform at Broad and Olney.

When Steele picked up Stan twenty minutes later he asked Stan to drive. He and Steele had pulled this stunt before so Stan knew exactly what to do.  It was the perfect way to lose a tail.  Steele looked out of the side view mirror.  “I see they are still with us.  I have a lot of ground to cover today Stan and I don’t need the cops or the feds or whoever interfering with my investigation.”  Stan let Steele out a block away from the subway station and pulled off.  As expected the men in the car continued following Steele.  Steele waited at the entrance to the subway with exact change in hand.  A few minutes later he received the call from Sugar Bear that the train was coming.  Steele hauled ass down the staircase, quickly paid his fare, ran down the steps and jumped on the train seconds before the doors began closing.  As the train pulled away from the station Steele could see that one of the men had followed him. The guy was a little overweight and clearly out of shape.  Steele folded his arms while watching the stranger gasp for air.  The screeching metal wheels of the subway train made it difficult for Steele to hear him swearing as he fell to his knees.  Exactly 5 minutes later when Steele surfaced at Broad and Eire Stan was waiting to pick him up. 

Want more Alexander Steele

Case of the Death Dealer
Case of the Deadly Ring
Legacy of Death

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.

Read The Deadly Gamble free on line by clicking the link above.