Authors: E. H. Reinhard
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Police Procedurals, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Murder, #Serial Killers, #Thrillers
I flashed her a smile. “Thanks.”
She disappeared into the kitchen area. I pulled a menu from in between the condiments and gave it a once over. The decision was easy. I’d have wings.
“What are you getting?” I asked.
Hank looked up from his menu. “The Super Volcano Nachos.”
I found it on the menu and read over the description. It included words like ghost peppers and five alarm fire.
This should prove to be entertaining,
I thought. “Yeah, that sounds good, you should get that.”
Hank folded his menu back up and set it back in the holder next to the ketchup. “I’m going to. What are you going to get?”
I flipped closed the menu and stuck it back next to Hank’s. “A dozen medium wings.”
A waitress came over to take our order. She was tall, brunette and had her hair shaved on the sides. The top resembled some form of a Mohawk. It didn’t look half bad. She was still attractive.
“Oh no. It’s the cops.” She laughed. “What can I get you officers?”
“I’ll have a dozen medium wings and a Diet Coke,” I said.
She wrote it down. “Sauces for dipping?”
“Okay, perfect.” She turned to Hank. “And for you?”
Hanks eyes followed her hips wrapped in a red skirt up to her chest and then met her eyes staring down at him. She smiled.
“I’ll have the Super Volcano Nachos and a Coke,” Hank said.
She raised her eyebrows. “You sure?”
“Sure of what?”
“Those nachos are super-hot. I mean seriously hot.”
He smirked. “Yeah, I got that impression from the Super Volcano part. It’s fine, I’ll be OK.”
“Alright. I’ll go get that put in for you guys.”
She headed for the kitchen.
“I think she busted me checking her out,” Hank said.
“Hank, you see that table in the back there?” I pointed across the restaurant.
“Those people could tell you were checking her out.”
“Sorry. I don’t get out without supervision much.”
Our food came up about fifteen minutes later. I finished my wings in about ten minutes. Hank worked at his Super Volcano of Death. From across the table the smell was enough to burn my nose. The kitchen staff had gathered at the corner of the bar to watch him try to finish the plate. Sweat rolled from his forehead. He went through at least four glasses of Coke before switching to milk at the suggestion of our waitress.
“You know you don’t have to finish that right? I’m pretty much positive that they made it ten times hotter because it was for a cop.”
He gulped from his milk and jammed another pepper covered chip in his mouth. “I’m finishing it.”
“Just imagine what that’s doing to your insides.”
He pointed to the kitchen staff laughing at the bar. A group of four teenagers stood and watched. “I don’t care. I’m not giving those little pricks the satisfaction of beating me.” He looked over at them and showed him the peppers in his mouth. He continued chewing.
“You’re an idiot, Hank.”
We finished our lunch and headed toward Sunset Point road where Frank’s was located. I wanted to talk with the staff from the bar where she met this Ray guy. Maybe someone there knew him or could fill in some missing pieces of the puzzle. If we were lucky, they’d have video we could check out.
Ray waited at the hotel bar for Scott the skiptracer to arrive. It was pushing one o’clock, the guy was a half hour late. Ray flagged down the bartender.
He walked over. “Another?” he asked.
Ray pushed his empty glass toward him. “Please.”
He poured three fingers of Chivas Regal twenty five year old Scotch in the glass. The bartender walked to the register, rang it up and placed the receipt alongside the one from earlier in the empty glass in front of Ray. Ray glanced at the time on his Rolex. Each second that swept by annoyed him further. His phone buzzed in his pocket. Ray pulled it out and read the text message.
Be there in ten.
Ray went back to watching the other hotel guests pass him by in the mirror behind the bar. Twenty minutes later a man walked up and sat next to him. “You Ray?”
Ray kept staring forward. “I am, and you’re almost an hour late.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry about that. I had some things to take care of.” Scott flagged the bartender over.
Ray looked over at him. “So do I. You’re keeping me from it.”
The bartender walked up. “What can I get you?”
“Let me get two of whatever he’s having.”
The bartender raised his eyebrows and poured two glasses. He slid them over the stuffed the two receipts from the drinks in another empty glass in front of Scott.
Ray finished his Scotch and picked the other up. “You have something for me or what?”
“Yeah, here.” Scott dug a scrap of paper from his pocket and handed it over to Ray.
He glanced over it. The paper had the word
written on it.
Scott took a sip from his glass. “It’s a bar and the only thing we came up with. All the credit cards that were under the original name haven’t been used in months. No credit checks, change of address forms submitted, no recent bank account activity, nothing. The second name you had returned a single hit and it took a while to find it—a background check for employment from that place. The bar is in downtown in Tampa here.”
Ray put the scrap of paper in his pocket. “Have you confirmed she works there?”
“I went past a few times in the last couple days. Yesterday, I spotted someone by her description getting into a blue BMW out back. Pretty sure it was her.”
Ray nodded and took his drink receipts from the empty glass in front of him. Each drink was eighty bucks. Ray pulled his wallet and tossed two hundred dollar bills up onto the bar. “Thanks for the drink.” He turned and walked out. Ray got back into the Bentley and entered the bar’s name into the GPS. It was a few miles away. He took the GPS’s suggested route.
The tavern was located at the end of a multi-unit complex of downtown. Ray drove past the front. The bar was dark inside. A closed sign hung inside the glass front door. He swung right at the corner and looked into the alley as he drove past. There was no BMW or any other cars behind the bar. He needed to find out when she’d be there and when she’d be alone. It was only a matter of time. Ray spun the car around and made for Bayshore Boulevard.
The rented home where Ray stayed sat just a block off of the Bay. Ray stopped in the street and flicked the button on the visor to open the front gates. The perimeter of the house was surrounded by a five foot tall brick wall. The iron gates creaked open and allowed him entry. He drove down the cobblestone driveway to the courtyard. A brick circular fountain bubbled in the center. The economy car his brother acquired for him to use sat parked to the side. Ray opened one of the five oak garage doors and pulled in. To his left sat a black Mercedes SUV, a black Lexus and a black 1969 Charger. A flats boat took up the final garage stall. Ray shut off the car and hopped out.
Through the garage entrance, he entered the home. Built in the late nineties, the brick, twelve thousand square foot estate was a second home of Jeff Brewer. He was an exporter that split time between homes in Tampa and Miami. Brewer spent the winters overseas. He and Viktor were members of the same golf club in Miami. Viktor gave him twenty thousand cash to rent the Tampa property for a month. Ray took it upon himself to make use of Brewer’s cars and boat.
Ray walked past the double stairways in the entryway, through the kitchen and down the stairs to the climate controlled wine room. The room was a masterpiece. A lockable wrought iron gate sat in front of the room’s Redwood door. He opened the two and entered the fifty five degree room. Spreading out in front of him were a thousand wine bottles tucked into the walls. They selections spanned all the way to the top of the ten foot ceilings.
The best wines wrapped the room at waist level. As with the cars, Ray was informed that the wines were off limits. He’d been drinking them anyway. A bottle of Diamond Creek in hand, he headed back upstairs to the bar overlooking the lanai and pool. From behind the bar he found a wine glass, decanter and corkscrew. He unscrewed the cork and poured the wine into the decanter to breathe. Ray took a seat and put his feet up and the adjacent bar stool.
He poured himself a glass and took out his phone. He searched for Lefty’s hours. The tavern was open from three to three. He dialed Viktor. He answered immediately.
“I have news Viktor.”
“Did you find her?”
“I have where she works. It’s a tavern downtown. Do you want me to call and see when she’s there?”
“No. I don’t want her to think anyone is looking for her. Go there tonight. If she’s there, follow her. If she’s not, get inside and try to find her schedule. Find out when she’ll be there alone.”
Viktor hung up.
Hank and I pulled past the front of Frank’s. The bar was tucked into the end of a strip mall. I grabbed Jenny Cartwright’s file, and we headed inside. A few daytime locals sat at the bar trying to drown their day away. Hank and I took a seat at the bar and called the bartender over. He walked up and tossed down two coasters. “Are you two on the clock?”
Hank smirked. “Not here for the booze.”
“Well, what can I do for you officers? You want sodas or something? I can get a pot of coffee going if you want.”
I waved my hand. “We’re fine, thanks. Your name?”
I opened the file I had sitting on the bar and pulled a copy of her driver’s license out. “Mister Blake, do you recognize this woman?”
He took the sheet of paper from my hand and stared down at it. “Yeah, her name’s Jenny, comes in here once or twice a week.” He handed the paper back.
“Did you work the night of December sixth?” Hank asked.
He scrunched his face. “What night of the week was that?”
“Friday,” I said.
“Alright, yeah, I was here. They’ve had me on every Friday for the last two months.”
Hank tapped on the piece of paper with her driver’s license photo. “Was this woman in here that night? Perhaps talking with a guy at the bar?”
He shook his head. “I couldn’t say. It’s pretty crowded in here on Friday nights.”
“Big guy. Tattoos. Longer hair. Goes by Ray. Does that ring a bell?”
He tapped the bar. “Yeah, yeah, I remember that guy. Big dude, wore a suit. He had sleeves that came down to his hands.”
I raised the side of my mouth in confusion. “Sleeves that came to his hands?”
The bartender ran his finger up and down his arm. “Tattoo sleeves. He had a suit jacket, but the tattoos came down to his wrists. I’m kind of a watch guy and I noticed he was wearing a Rolex Submariner. Nice watch. Then I caught the tattoos, and it didn’t really fit. I didn’t see the guy talking to Jenny though.”
“Tattoos on one arm or both?” I asked.
I wrote what he said in my notepad.
for us,” I said.
“Guy had to be like six five and three hundred pounds. I figured him for a football player or something.”
“The hair, how long?” Hank asked.
“Can you tell us anything else about the guy?”
“He was drinking expensive Scotch.”
Useless, but I wrote it down anyway. “Catch the kind of car he was driving?”
He shook his head. “Nah, like I said, it’s pretty busy in here on Fridays and I had other customers to attend to.”
“We had a few officers in here last week asking about this woman. Is there any reason why this information wasn’t shared with them?”
He shrugged. “If they would have talked with me, I would have told them the exact same thing I just told you guys. What day did they come in?”
I looked through the file. “Looks like Tuesday.”
“I was here. Maybe I was on lunch or something.”
“Mister Blake, we’ll need you to stop in the station and give a full statement. When do you think you’d be able to do that?”
“Well, I’m here until bar close tonight, but I guess I could come in tomorrow morning around ten.”
“Ten tomorrow would be great. We’re on the third floor of the downtown Tampa station on Franklin. You can ask for me, Lieutenant Kane or Sergeant Rawlings and we’ll just go over what we covered here today. You think if we had a sketch artist available you’d be able to come up with something.”
He rocked his head back and forth. “I’ll give it a shot.”
“OK, let me just get your contact information.”
He passed me his driver’s license and rattled off a phone number which I wrote down.
Hank twirled his finger at the ceiling. “You guys have video in here?”
“What about outside? Is the parking lot under surveillance?” Hank asked.
The bartender curled his lip as if he was deep in thought. “I know we don’t have any lot surveillance, but you could check with the other businesses in the strip mall here.”
I closed the file and stuffed my notepad back into my pocket. “Thanks.” I stood to leave.
“Wait a minute. Did something happen to her? I haven’t seen her in here in a while. She used to come in and try to chat me up.”
Hank stood to follow me out. “She was murdered.”
A look of disbelief came over the bartender’s face. “Murdered?”
“Yes,” Hank said. “If you can think of anything else, give us a call.” Hank dropped his card on the bar and we walked out. A quick stop at the neighboring nail salon netted us nothing in the terms of video or otherwise. It was the same with the pizza joint next door. We had all we were going to get from the place. We pulled out heading back for the station around three o’clock. Half way back my cell phone buzzed from a text message—as did Hank’s. He slid his phone from his pocket.
“What’s it say?” I asked.
“Homicide in North Tampa.”
“What’s the address?”
He rattled it off.
“Tell them we’ll be there in twenty five minutes.” I flipped on the red and blues and picked up some speed heading back across the causeway. Traffic free, it would be a fifteen minute drive taking the freeway. I knew better and ditched off to the side streets. We drove up the scene at 3:38 p.m. There were three squad cars and the medical examiner’s van parked in the washed out driveway of the house. A half knocked over three foot chain link fence surrounded one side. A few stray shopping carts sat on the other side of the house. The place was small, unkempt and looked abandoned. Combined with the shifty area of town, this place had murder scene written all over it. I threw the Charger in park and we hopped out. Thirty feet from the front door the unmistakable smell of decomp filled my nose. We stopped as an officer from Patrol walked up. It was Officer Lowen, an eighteen year veteran of the TPD, he had seen his fair share of murder scenes.