Fortuneteller’s Fall

The Fortuneteller’s Fall

As I entered the office of the Purple Heart Detective Agency, I heard Roddy talking on the phone.  “It just goes to show you,” he said, “never steal from someone who owes you money.” His voice rumbled with a ragged joy as he laughed and hung up.

“What was that all about,” I asked, setting down two cups of coffee on his desk.

“I ran into Rat last night at an afterhour’s poker joint in North Hollywood.”

“Rat? From Iraq? I didn’t know he was in L.A.”  Rat Templeton had been a brother-in-arms with Roddy and me in the big sandbox. Unlike the two of us, he made it back in one piece and the last I had heard was back home in Indiana.

“Yeah, guess the employment opportunities weren’t so good in the heartland so he headed out to tinsel town.”

I laughed. “So he was in an illegal poker joint in North Hollywood for the employment opportunities?  And by the way,” I added, “if you get caught in there you could lose your P.I. license.”

Roddy waved me off. “Wrong,” he said. “If I get convicted after I get caught, then I could lose my license. The latter is not going to happen as long as we have a benefactor in David Welmar. He’s too well connected.”

I took a drink of coffee and said, “Let’s not test his largess on small favors. Agreed?”

Roddy nodded. He sat in his wheelchair.

“So what’s up with Rat? And why the comment of not stealing from someone you know?”

Roddy laughed again. “When I rolled in,” he said referring to his wheelchair, “Rat was in a high stakes game. I said hello, but he was on tear—just slaying everyone. But there was some dude there, a high stakes drifter wannabe, and he was flush with new twenties, tall stacks, mind you.  Anyway, when it got to brass tacks and sweaty balls, Rat didn’t have the cash to call Toy Rogers with the leather jacket, ten-gallon hat, and five gallon brain.  So I staked Rat for a grand. Rat won, aces and threes against two pair, kings and jacks. Leather pants was pissed, let me tell you.  But I flexed my guns,” and Roddy gave me his two gun salute with his massive biceps built from years pushing his chair, “and Cowpoke walked away without another word. Rat turned about seven grand on that hand. Anyway, by the time Rat was cashed out, I was in the middle of a faro game, and our favorite corporal got shit-faced at the bar waiting for me. Our boy actually passed out at the bar. And he was totally out too, wads of twenties sticking out of his pockets, head resting on empty shot glass. Moron.”

Roddy rolled away from his desk and went to his jacket and opened it up. “Two grand,” he smiled. “I got Rat to my car by putting his skinny ass on my lap as I rolled out. Then I took his cash which was just all over the place and stuck it all down his pants, but remember this is North Hollywood, so someone might just ignore the wallet and grab for gold down past his fly and find Andrew Jackson’s portrait instead of Little Rat.”

I laughed. “That would be Mouse.”

Roddy smirked. “Yikes, does this suddenly sound homophobic?”

“No, not a bit. I think the North Hollywood Chamber of Commerce will want the transcript of our conversation so far for their website.”

“Right. Anyway, I got him home and tossed his ass in bed. He called just a little bit ago from a taxi on the way to pick up his car. He wanted to make sure that I got my thousand back times two and that it wasn’t stolen.”

Roddy put his wallet back into his jacket with a grin and snapped the pocket. He rolled in his chair back to the desk. I wasn’t really used to seeing him in the wheelchair again. Late last year, David Welmar, a politically savvy arms manufacturer paid for Roddy to get prosthetic legs after we had done the man a friendly turn.  Recently though, Roddy had worn the artificial legs too much and had also been running too often in his prosthetic blades. The combination caused rubbing. The rubbing caused blisters and the blisters had become infected. Now under doctor’s orders, Roddy was wheelchair bound again while on both antibiotic pills and topical. Roddy hated that chair, but the infection was bad enough he was following orders. We both knew how to follow orders when called upon, but we hated it.

“How’s the ole stumps, Rod?”

“Still a mess, Gracer. Still a damn mess. Doc says they’re better and for me to just stay out of the legs for another week, but hell, man…” he trailed off.

I tried to take his mind off of it. “Want to repo again today? There are some luxury models on the list. Easy pickin’s.”  The year was 2008. The country was in free fall recession heading toward depression. The Hollywood hills were full of luxury vehicles that no one was making payments on and full of laid-off movie execs in cold sweats. The valleys were full of car dealerships not getting paid. It made for opportunities for guys willing to pull a legal heist. We were those guys.

See, private detectives live on divorce. And as it turns out, rich folk tend to not get divorced when the stock market has dropped in half. As Marilyn Monroe sang in Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,  “It’s then that those louses go back to their spouses.” So no divorces, no clients. At least for now. But repo work was filling the gap. We got $300 for a new car; $500 for a luxury car; and $1000 for a super.  Supers did not show up much. The guy who bought a Maserati did not tend to go bankrupt.

When repoing, we could almost always bring back two cars in the mornings before the lazy bastards woke up. Afternoons were tougher, but after midnight was good for three or four if we wanted to bust it. On a good day we could grab six cars and cash in for two grand, but it was dangerous work. People did not like you taking their Mercedes from their driveway — or garage (no admission here to B & Es. Okay, coppers?).

Roddy raised an eyebrow. “I’ll have to drive again, and you suck at starting the ignitions if you have to do it fast. And it has to be fast if I run the scanner to open the garage door.”

“We got keys that work most times.”

“Bullshit,” Roddy said, and that’s when the lawyer walked in.

Repo work could wait.

*****

His name was Wilkins—Charles Wilkins, Jr. actually. He was stiff as peanut brittle and had a touch of an English accent, although he seemed to an American. I surmised he probably spent some time in English prep schools. He wore a dark suit, a lemon yellow shirt and a bow tie with a tiny bit of powdered sugar on it.  We spoke briefly and moved from the reception area to my interior office.

We got settled, me behind my desk, the lawyer in the client chair, and Roddy rolled in after starting a pot of coffee.  Wilkins settled in with his eyes moving around the office walls without moving his head. What a stiff, literally. His hair, what little there was of it, was slicked straight back. His face was emotionless, his limbs like petrified wood. He took wire-rimmed half-lensed glasses from his suit pocket and put them on. He then opened a banded file he carried under his arm.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “I represent Colonel Wilson Boyd Doyle, retired USMC.  He is a resident of Maryland and a veteran of the Viet Nam War. He now works in private industry but in a role still related to the military. He is quite wealthy, and if you take the assignment, you will be well compensated. Because of his military background, and with need of private investigators in the Los Angeles area, he asked me to engage your employ. He picked your agency for its name and your reputation for handling cases, shall we say, of the occult.  You will understand once you hear his daughter’s choice of profession.”

I saw Roddy’s mouth move to a minimalist smile while I could not help but purse my lips in displeasure. Our case with the disappearance and death of the magician Trevor Baker continued to impact our careers. Roddy saw it as a positive. I was not so sure.

Roddy provided a cup of coffee for Wilkins, topped off both of our cups and then returned the pot to the outer room. I took a sip. “I see,” I said pensively, “and what does Colonel Doyle need done?”

“His daughter has been missing. Her name is Caroline. She is unmarried, at least to his knowledge. She left over a year ago and has stayed off the grid, it appears, until just this last week. Here is her picture.”

He handed the photograph to Roddy as he returned. He examined it and then passed it to me.  The daughter was good looking, of the granola hippie type, maybe 30, freckles on her narrow nose and high cheek bones. Her hair was light brown and curly. She wore a summer dress in the shot and her neckline had white pique lace around the collar. Caroline did not look like the kind to get in trouble.

Roddy said, “What’s the background?”

Wilkins shrugged. “I have had a few dealings with Colonel Doyle, but I am not his regular attorney. We have worked together before and I am familiar with his daughter’s departure. There was no kidnapping, if that’s what you are wondering. No, the young lady simply left a note saying she was leaving, that she wanted to be left to her own devices, and that she wanted her father out of her life.”

Roddy frowned. “Sounds simple enough.  I pretty much want the same out of my ole man. Why is Doyle hiring us to track her down now?  She seems to have made her wishes pretty clear.”

Wilkins drew a single page out of his file. “Colonel Doyle received this letter by U.S. mail yesterday. This is not the original.” He handed the letter to Roddy who read it out loud:

Father,

While I have made it clear that I want nothing more to do with your meddling in my life, I have a chance for an investment that will set me up financially. I know it may seem hypocritical of me to ask you for money, but much of your fortune would have been mother’s had she not passed. I believe she would want me secure and would want me to have the funds. If you would find it in your heart, and I know I’ve accused you of not having one many times, I would like $100,000 delivered in cash to me in California. I do not want to talk to you. We are too different and we are better off in separate worlds. Please understand that this letter will be my last communication with you either way. If you choose to help me, please have a representative contact me at the following phone number.

It was signed “Caroline” and a California exchange telephone number was written below the name.  I shrugged. “It seems straightforward. You want us to deliver the funds?”

“There’s a complication,” Wilkins replied, “Colonel Doyle mobilized quite quickly on the letter and was able to determine the handwriting is not his daughter’s, but is a fairly good attempt at forgery.”

“So we have a swindle in Cali,” Roddy said with a low whistle.

“Yes,” the lawyer answered, “and we do not know if the daughter is even in the state or if she is aware of the extortion attempt.”

We got Wilkins to sign our standard retainer, which was for five grand up front, but Doyle offered double our rates and we took it. The “ransom” money was available to us at the closest Wells Fargo branch, but we had to provide proof-of-life via video uploaded to the web directed to Wilkins and thus Caroline’s father. And the Colonel had to be satisfied Caroline was safe and in sound mind to authorize the money. I did not think it would play out that way if she had not written the letter.

*****

Roddy and I ran down the number as soon the lawyer left. It was from a burner purchased in Venice along the boardwalk along with 2000 minutes of air time. No help there.

“We could trace it if we went to the cops,” I said.

“Wilkins didn’t say not to,” said Roddy, “but I don’t think Old Man Doyle hired a private firm for us to get the heat involved first thing.”

“Agreed. So?”

“We call the number.”  He picked up the letter and with one of our own burner phones– yes, two can play at that game– Roddy dialed the number. A man answered on the second ring. “Hello?”

Roddy’s voice was suddenly sing-songy. He spoke like he had just scored some free Dodger tickets. “Hey, whom I talkin’ to?”

“Who you lookin’ for?” I could hear the flatness of the monotone through the tinny speaker.

“Caroline Doyle.”  There was a silence. Then a response. “You got the money?”

“You got the girl?”

The response sounded fuzzy. “Wha? This ain’t no kidnapping. Caroline Doyle is fine. She just wants the money from her father and doesn’t want to deal with him herself. I’m her, what-you-call-it, her representative.”

Roddy grunted. “And what do I call you?”

“Like I said, I’m her representative. Here’ the address; bring the money.”  He gave us a Reseda street address and hung up.

I shrugged. “Guess we’re going to Reseda.”

****

Roddy was not very happy that I had to pull his wheelchair up the steps to the shotgun shack in Reseda, but he was able to lay a jacket across his lap with his monster-sized Desert Eagle .50 caliber underneath. I pounded on the door. A brassy blonde answered the door. She was well past her prime, but still wore a younger working girl’s attire. She still had the curves, but too many years on the circuit clung to her like mildew. Her eyes showed surprise at Roddy in the wheelchair, but she was still able to smack her gum as she spoke, “We’ve been expecting ya. Come on in.”

A heavy-set man in a white dress shirt, black slacks and two-tone shoes stood in the entry way to the kitchen. His face was hard and eyes narrow. I could see him from the transom of the front door. He had one hand behind his back. “This will be a short meeting if you don’t bring that gun out where we can all say hi,” I said.

He smirked and brought the hand around slowly. Roddy’s hand was under his jacket and I was sure his barrel was aimed right at the man’s chest. The shyster smiled artificially and moved to the couch. “Okay, we all play nice. Deal?”

“Deal,” I said. Roddy didn’t speak and I rolled him into the room. The man set the gun on the coffee table in front of him as he sat.

“You wanna drink?”  Brassy asked.

Roddy nodded for the both of us and she poured four short ones. We all tossed them back before anyone spoke. It was rot gut and I felt it burn to my toes. Roddy only used his left hand for his shot, leaving his right on his lap inches away from his weapon’s grip under the garment.

“You bring the cash?” The man’s voice was, amazingly, smoother after the drink. He raised an eyebrow, saying it, noting to us with his eyes that he didn’t see a duffel or a briefcase filled with Benjamins. His voice was without inflection or accent. I was left thinking, “Generic hood, standard issue,” but I answered him softly. “We can get it once we ensure Caroline Doyle is safe and free. But see, we got a problem.”

“What problem?” The man leaned a bit forward. He looked at the Glock which now, I’m sure, seemed a long ways away.

“Well, I’m guessing your partner here,” I bobbed my head towards Brassy who was refilling our shot glasses, “forged the letter you sent Old Man Doyle. I’m also guessing Caroline doesn’t even know about the letter, and I’m guessing you don’t intend for her to get any of the money.  That makes the both of you party to ‘Attempt to Defraud.’ That’s a deuce in the joint, easy.”

Roddy bent over to pick up his shot glass but instead snatched the Glock off the coffee table. The man was slow, slow enough that I realized he had been drinking since our phone call to get some backbone. Roddy held both weapons, one on each of our hosts. “So where’s the girl?”

Brassy screamed in panic and rage. She turned on the couch and slapped the man across the face. “I told you this was a stupid idea. We could have just taken the ten grand reward, but you say the father will go for a hundred. Stupid bastard.”

“What are you talking about?” I spoke to her as I stepped around the short table and put zipties around both of their wrists, pulling them snug. Brassy now was full of venom and was anxious to give her side. “We found the girl after we saw the reward on line”  She looked at both Roddy and me with an keen look — with as much earnestness as she was able to press into duty. “See, Duffus here and me are bounty hunters. We saw the missing person reward posting on this blog. So we started looking, thinking hippies always show up here or in San Fran eventually. It took about six months off and on to find her. We knew she was a hippie fortune teller who tended to stay off the grid, but then the two of us got a break.

“See, we were doing some work for this Albanian mob guy who owns the dog track in Echo Park. Anyway, the owner’s wife is all about palm reading, tarot cards, all that shit. She had this photo on her desk at the dog track of her with her medium or whatever she calls her. I recognized the gypsy in the picture right off. It was Caroline Doyle, but I got this old bitch to take me out to get my fortune told and it was Caoline for sure. So Numb-Nuts here and me stole a letter from her mailbox to see what her handwriting looked like, and I wrote the letter asking for money to her old man.” She blinked in stupidity. “We just thought if he could afford ten grand to just track his girl down that he would go for a hundred grand if he thought she was getting the cash. I never thought we was doing anything illegal.” I knew the last line was a lie, but was not sure about the rest.

Roddy looked at me. I said, “Well, Wilkins never told us there was a bounty on the daughter. That’s a wrinkle we didn’t know about. Rod, you keep an eye on these two, and I’ll go call and verify the lady’s version.”  Roddy snorted at my use of the term “lady,” but he kept the guns steady. I stepped out on the porch.

It didn’t take long to verify that Wilkins had been a bit choosy about what parts of the story to tell us. Turns out there had been a reward. Turns out that Caroline’s departure a year ago had been after a very large row with dear old dad slapping Caroline around more than a little. And it turns out Old Man Doyle had been chasing his daughter around the country since day one of her departure. Turns out he had stalked her day and night until she went underground. Turns out Daddy was a complete nightmare.

I came back in. “Okay, you two. Your story checks out, but you’re not out of the woods yet. If you give us the address and we can verify Ms. Doyle’s health and happiness, then you walk away without us getting the cops involved, but you forfeit the reward money for your stupidity and for serving us bad whisky.”

I took the Glock from Roddy and trained it on the man on the couch who was starting to breath a bit easier.  “Roddy, call Rat. Have him come out here and babysit these two entrepreneurs. We need to go see Caroline Doyle.”

It took Rat an hour to show up. He brought his own hardware and had it trained on the two bounty hunters on the couch. We left him with the instructions to gut shoot the man if either of them made a move.  Then we hightailed out of there. The address was in Rancho Cucamonga, so it took us more than an hour to get there. The address was for the last bungalow of perhaps 12 along a lonely ridge not far from the Angeles National Forest and directly south of Mount Baldy. A dead-end road led to the house, and a large set of post office boxes stood at the junction of the dirt tracks to the homes on the ridge. Roddy was driving his truck with its hand controls. He stopped at the box.

“Hey Gracer, remember the Brass Ass back there said they broke into Caroline’s mailbox. Maybe we should check it out before we go up. See if we can gather any more intel.”

“You’re saying those two had a good idea?”

Roddy laughed. “Well, what the hell. It will give you a chance to work on your lock-picking skills.”

“Yeah, and to break federal law.”

“That’s nothing compared to holding two people hostage — which we are technically a party to at this present time.”

I nodded. “True.”  It took me about five minutes to open the mailbox even though the lock was crude and very basic. Roddy would have had it in a minute tops. I gathered the day’s mail in my hands and handed it to my partner as I got back into the truck. He flipped through it, then stopped at one billing notice, tore it open and read.

“Hey, Caroline’s laptop was out for repair. Here’s a notice that it’s ready to be picked up. It’s at that computer store in the village.  I remember seeing it.”

“Really? You remember seeing it as we came through?”

Roddy smiled. “One, I’m a detective and thus am more observant than most; two, it was next to a donut shop.” We both laughed.

He convinced me that we should take the billing notice back to the store, pay for the computer’s repair, and look at her email before heading up to her residence. No one, believe you me, ever suspects the guy in the wheelchair is up to nefarious stuff. Roddy can get away the most amazing things. Missing two legs is a definite advantage to missing one as far as seeming harmless. So he went after the computer.

I stayed behind, but moved up the ridge on foot (yes, just one real one) with a set of binoculars with a recording camera built-in with wi-fi function. There wasn’t much cover, but I found a place out of sight of the road, hidden with three-foot high chokeberries clustered along the ridge before the first bungalow. I watched the house, but didn’t see any movement although there was an old jeep out front, so I guessed she was home. I could not see the license plate from this angle. I could see there was a flag hanging by  a lanyard off the side of the house. It had a crystal ball on it and read “Fortunes” across the bottom of the image.

Roddy had the computer from the shop within fifteen minutes, but he was forced to use his descrambler as the laptop was password protected. In the meantime, I was forced to move my position as red ants had infiltrated the bushes. I moved up the slope within two houses of Caroline’s, staying on the backside of the ridge so none of the neighbors would call the sheriff on me as a peeping tom.  After about another ten minutes, Roddy texted me that he had hacked the laptop and examining the contents, especially Caroline’s email. I found a second secure position, this time behind a vacant doghouse just at the top of the ridge. Just as I got out of sight, a Mercedes pulled down the rutted road, passing the first 11 residences and stopping at Caroline’s bungalow. I viewed the occupants getting out of the sedan — the first was a stringy old broad smoking a cigarette yacking away as she got out of the car. The driver exited the vehicle slowly. He was about six feet tall and wore a fringe leather jacket and cowboy hat. He was thin-faced and obviously bored and irritated with old hag. I watched him with the binoculars and turned on the recorder. I zoomed in as best I could from this distance, turned on the wi-fi, and sent a photo to Roddy.  I texted him, “We’ve got company.”

He called me back just a moment later. I spoke first. “Did you see the photo I sent you? Caroline has visitors.”

“No, didn’t look. Bad tidings, Gracer. Caroline’s in trouble. She has this new client session software, like what psychiatrists use. For the last five weeks or so, she’s kept notes on each of her customers on the laptop. But she just started using it– she’s only had the computer less than two months, and like the Brass Ass said, it appears Ms. Doyle has kept off the grid. She doesn’t know squat about computers. She didn’t have any virus protection on the laptop at all. So of course, she ended up with more viruses than a whore in Tijuana.”

“So?”

“So her computer started broadcasting to her email list. And a Mrs. Emil Dzaferi appears to have been Caroline’s best customer.”

“The wife of the dog track owner.”

“Right, and the missus seems to have kind of spilled her guts to Caroline about her husband hiring these two bounty hunters to lace some of the dogs’ water with a variety of stimulants — speed, coke, meth — they weren’t too particular and were experimenting on how best to fix races. Mrs. Dzaferi was concerned with her karma and told Caroline all the particulars.”

“Who put it all in her client session software and then via a variety of STDs, broadcast it to her entire email list.”

“Pretty much,”  Roddy replied. “I’m on my way. Be there in 15.”

I watched the house but saw nothing.  The jeep and the Mercedes both sat in the driveway. A minute later, Roddy called back. His voice was urgent. “I just looked at the photo you sent. It’s the high stakes drifter, the one Rat beat at poker.  The stack of twenties he had last night. It was the half down.  The half down for a job. He’s a hitter. The woman must be Mrs. Dzaferi.  I’ll be there as soon as I can. Better get in the house, Grace. He’s gonna kill her.”

He hung up and just then Caroline Doyle exited the back of the bungalow followed by the hitter and Mrs. Dzaferi.  The cowboy held a gun on Caroline’s back as they marched along the ridge away from the bungalows.  I hurried after them.

*****

There was no cover on the summit of the ridge if I ran down the path after them once I passed Caroline’s house. And they were already two hundred years ahead of me. With my prosthesis, I was no runner, but even an Olympic sprinter would never be able to get to the three of them fast enough that Cowboy would not have time to ice Caroline and spray some lead my direction too. I crept to the edge of the house and examined my options. They were few and far between. I reached for my phone to call Roddy but then felt the lock pick keys and the master car keys I had for repo work in my pocket. I looked at the Mercedes. I knew the electronic ignition was too complex for me. Maybe Roddy on a good day, but not me. At least not quickly. But with Caroline’s Jeep, I had a shot.

I jumped into the driver’s seat and started running through the keys. The first two for the Jeep did not work, but with the third, the jeep fired up like a joint in Jamaica. I slammed it into gear and spun gravel across the drive as I circled the house. I roared  onto the trail, and realizing the element of surprise was already gone, I made my presence even more menacing by firing two rounds high and wide of the three people a quarter of a mile down the trail. Mrs. Dzaferi ducked for cover and moved off the summit, trying to look invisible. The hitter turned to face me, swinging his gun toward me away from Caroline. And I must admit, the girl had moxie. She only had a second and she took it. She looked once back  at me coming down the trail and then to the man who planned to kill her. Then she leapt off into space. The heels to her feet hit on the slope about 10 yards down and she pitched forward like a ragdoll into space, hitting another 10 yards down on her back, bouncing one and then rolling a few times before coming to a halt in a swirl of dust. I winced as I watched her, but then I had my own worries as bullets began winging my way like angry wasps.

*****

The old hag had suddenly decided she had brass ones and stepped back on the ridge directly in my path. I was forced to hit the brakes and slide to a stop.  The old witch pawed at me as I crawled out of the vehicle at the rear. Bullets pelted the front of the vehicle and the windshield shattered. I punched the old lady in the face and Mrs. Dzaferi toppled backwards off the ridge onto her ass. Blood poured from her nostrils and she cursed like a drill sergeant.

Cowboy was firing again, but not at me. I stared down the sharp incline and saw the girl was crabbing her way down, but she was limping badly. I tried to put one in his chest and it must have been close because he whirled to fire just one back at me. Then he turned tail and began to run, digging his boot hills in the slope as he descended toward Caroline.

Then suddenly I heard an engine’s thunder behind me. I looked over to see Roddy’s truck bounce into space as he steered it around the stalled jeep. The vehicle went airborne right over the top of the old Albanian woman who screamed and raised her arms as if they would save. her. The truck hit bumper first far down the slope and I saw Roddy  planned on putting his vehicle between Caroline and the hitter. Roddy’s tires caught traction after a thump and a thud, and the truck swung wide of the girl, taking the upslope, putting it directly in the line of fire. Never slowing, Roddy put down the passenger window and held his massive pistol across the space of the truck’s cab. He fired once. The bullet ripped a huge chunk of sod from the hillside just beyond Cowboy’s head. His eyes went as wide as fried eggs over corned hash. Roddy rocked his truck to a complete halt. His barrel balanced on the hitter’s head. I thought I could hear the Desert Eagle cock even from my distance of fifty years away.  Cowboy definitely heard it. And realizing the Eagle meant business, the assassin threw down his gun and threw up his arms.

*****

We hid Caroline in a women’s shelter where she received medical care for her bruised heels, severely sprained knee, and her post-traumatic stress. The people at the shelter to whom we made a generous contribution had seen much worse. We contacted Wilkins, told him we had the girl but refused to tell him where she was stashed. We explained that the father’s bounty on Caroline’s whereabouts had put her in jeopardy– that in fact, she now had a contract on her life. The D.A. and the feds agreed to put Caroline into the witness relocation program if she testified against Mrs. Dzaferi and the hitter whose name was Josef Meinach, not exactly Hopalong Cassidy. Both of them, in turn, agreed to testify against the track owner, Mr. Emil Dzaferi, for fixing races, tax evasion, and attempted murder. Rat let the two bounty hunters go with a stern warning, to which they paid no mind. Roddy experienced some hearing loss from firing his Desert Eagle inside the cab of his truck, and his doctor at the V.A. warned him to not use earbuds when listening to rock-n-roll, which Roddy, of course, ignored. Colonel Doyle paid us off with our ten thousand retainer and the other ten which had been promised in the bounty.  We kept four, gave one to Rat, gave five to the women’s shelter and ten to Caroline. Once the feds relocated her, we never heard from her again, except once on the first day back to the office.

Roddy was in before me and was reading the mail as I walked in with two cups of coffee.  “You know how we joked about how Caroline the fortuneteller never saw it coming?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, listen to this letter we got in the mail today, postmarked the day before Wilkins hired us.

Dear Mr. Grace and Mr. O’Malley,

                My name is Caroline Doyle. I am living a quiet life under an assumed name. I am doing so to avoid my father. He did not sexually abuse me but his anger issues and his demands to exert his desires over all others eventually led my mother to kill herself and I determined that I had to disappear as he would never leave me alone. It has been more than a year and I know he is searching for me. Knowing my father as I do, knowing the importance of the military in his life, I have little doubt that he will contact your firm when he begins hunting the Los Angeles area. I would ask you as men of honor and integrity (as the papers have said) to decline his offer and do not aid in his search for me.

                I just realized as I write these words that even if you decline that there will be others — not everyone in the city of angels can be expected to be one. So even if you do not assist my father, others will stalk me, track me down. I don’t know why I should even mail you these words. It is like asking mercy from a bird of prey.

                In wishes for solitude,

                Caroline Doyle

Roddy looked at me and I said to him, “The Desert Eagle.”

He smiled big. “Yeah, man. The Desert Eagle. And you know what?  She got her wish — the Marshall Service, WITSEC– that will keep her old man in the dark. Witness relocation is just the ticket. She’ll have a new identity. Just won’t be able to be a fortuneteller.”

“True,” I said, “and that’s a pity ’cause she seems to have the gift.”

 

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