Excerpt for Polo's Long Shot by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



POLO’S LONG SHOT

A Nick Polo Mystery


Jerry Kennealy





PRAISE FOR POLO’S LONG SHOT


“Nick Polo is the Saul Goodman of private investigators. He’s charming, persuasive, immune to adversity, and just dirty enough to get the job done. He never ceases to amaze and, just when you think he’s been bested, always produces an ace in the hole. Not since James Crumley’s C.W. Sughrue have I so avidly rooted for a fictional character.”—Jonathan Ashley, author of South of Cincinnati


“There is a definite sense of place in Kennealy’s work, and the narrative has the easy voice that comes with a detailed understanding of the field. Coupled with sharp dialogue and solid plotting, Kennealy’s style makes for a gritty read that is also somehow breezy. It flows. It rocks. And it most definitely makes me want more, so it’s a good thing that there is a long string of Polo books to go back and discover. From one former cop to another...outstanding job!” —Frank Zafiro, co-author of The Last Collar and the Bricks & Cam crime job series


“If Ross Macdonald had written about San Francisco instead of Southern California, his name would be Jerry Kennealy. No one knows his way around the City by the Bay like Kennealy, with the obvious exception of alter ego Nick Polo, and their joint mastery of those environs are on display again in Polo’s Long Shot. This is the twenty-third novel in Kennealy’s storied career (pun intended) and another delightful magic-carpet ride through his home turf—and what a home-court advantage this duo enjoys! This time out the story revolves around high-jinx of the lowest kind by people who know better but can’t help themselves and a protagonist who won’t stop until he gets to the bottom of it all—always a winning combination in the world of private-eye fiction.” —Lono Waiwaiole, author of Dark Paradise and the Wiley crime novel series



PRAISE FOR THE NICK POLO MYSTERIES


“A California PI himself, Kennealy captures some of the classic Hammett/Ross spirit in the Nick Polo series.” —Publishers Weekly


“Briskly written, and because Kennealy himself was a working private eye, most persuasive.” —Philadelphia Inquirer


“The Polo series all have a strong tradition of tight plotting, crisp dialogue, and self-deprecating humor.” —Booklist


“Kennealy writes crisply, brings alive the streets of San Francisco, and plots clearly and interestingly.” —Washington Post


“The writing is simple and direct, the action nonstop.” —The New York Times





Copyright © 2017 by Jerry Kennealy


All rights reserved. No part of the book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.


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The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.


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TABLE OF CONTENTS


Polo’s Long Shot: A Nick Polo Mystery


About the Author

Also by the Author


Other Titles from Down & Out Books


Preview from Back to Brooklyn, the sequel to My Cousin Vinny by Lawrence Kelter

Preview from Blacky Jaguar Against the Cool Clux Cult by Angel Luis Colón

Preview from American Static by Tom Pitts





For Bob Randisi, with thanks for his direction and advice over the years.





Chapter 1


George Rigsdale hated me. Well, maybe hated is too strong a word, but despised might not be strong enough. Rigsdale was the in-house investigator for Feveral & Lenahan, one of the largest full-service law firms in San Francisco. They represented many of the major insurance carriers in the United States, Europe, and Asia, and handled everything from dog bite cases to litigation involving major airplane crashes, mergers, and acquisitions, as well as insurance and banking transactions for their clients. They also handled criminal matters, mostly of the type where the feds go after a bank or stock brokerage firm.

I was called in when Rigsdale and his staff of seven computer geeks couldn’t get the job done.

I did feel a little sympathy for the guy. He had to go strictly by the book in his investigations—F&L did not want him doing anything illegal that might get them sued—while I, an independent contractor, could commit the types of misdemeanors and occasional felonies needed to get results.

Rigsdale was on the short side. He had a triangular-shaped face, wheat-colored hair, with a silver-dollar size bald spot at the back. He had a precisely trimmed mustache pasted under a ski-slope shaped nose. His eyes were pale gray, and whenever I spoke to him I focused on his eyes for a second or two and then moved up to his eyebrows. Rigsdale would adjust, tilting his head back to maintain eye-to-eye contact, and then I’d raise my focus again, and he’d follow suit. My objective was to have him tilt so far back that he’d fall backwards and land on his butt.

We were in his office, which was located on the seventeenth floor of the Steuart Tower Building. The floor-to-ceiling window had a view of the skyscraper across the street. The offices that overlooked the bay, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge were occupied by the company attorneys.

It was a good-sized room with a walnut-topped black metal desk, a black leather chair, a matching couch, and a table holding three computers, two printers, and several wireless routers, their monitors of red lights silently winking and blinking.

One wall featured a watercolor landscape with angry, foam-tipped waves crashing into a peppermill shaped lighthouse. A brass-printed tag the size of a bar of motel soap at the bottom of the frame identified the artist as Laura Feveral.

Rigsdale was usually a neat and trim dresser, but today his suit jacket was off, his shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows, his tie at half-mast, and his collar undone. He reminded me of one of those TV weathermen, the ones who sit behind a desk in an air-conditioned office with makeup people at the ready. When there was a really big storm they liked to do the roll-up-the-sleeves bit and have their hair in slight disarray, while interviewing a reporter who was actually out in the storm, holding onto a streetlight for dear life.

“I may have an assignment for you, Polo.”

He liked to pronounce my name as PowwLoww.

“That’s Italian isn’t it?” he’d asked at our first meeting.

“Sicilian,” I’d told him, causing his frown to deepen. George claimed to be a direct descendent of one of the families that came to America on the Mayflower. He hadn’t liked it at all when I’d pointed out that an Italian by the name of Christopher Columbus had beat the Mayflower by a couple of hundred years.

“Who’s the attorney that asked for me?” I said. The only assignment Rigsdale would hand me would be sweeping the parking lot.

He sank down into his chair and leaned forward with his elbows on the desk. “Mr. James Feveral.”

Jim Feveral was the senior member of the firm, and a fan of mine. I had helped him out in several cases. He seemed to get a vicarious pleasure in having me run down difficult witnesses or serve subpoenas on people who reacted violently to those kinds of things.

Rigsdale leaned back in his chair, sighed, then leaned forward and opened a drawer slowly, as if afraid of what was inside.

He withdrew a thick manila envelope and placed it carefully in the middle of the desk.

“We want you to locate someone.” He slid a grainy black and white photograph from the file, rested his index finger on the corner and slowly pushed it toward me. “This someone.”

The man in the photo was tall, with a full head of dark curly hair. He had a trench coat draped over his shoulders like a cape and was glaring in the direction of the camera, as if he didn’t appreciate having his picture taken.

He was leaning against the wall of an outdoor café, holding a cup of coffee in one hand, a cigarette in the other. It was impossible to know from the photo where it was taken, but the cobblestone street and table umbrellas had a European flair.

“Who is he, George?” I asked casually, knowing that it irritated him to be called by his first name by those he considered underlings.

“Al Lamas is the name he’s using. It wouldn’t surprise me if there are others.”

“What’s Jim Feveral’s interest in him?”

Rigsdale coughed into his fist and gave me what he must have considered a hard look. “Mister Feveral merely wants you to find the man. I’ll handle the rest.”

I picked up the photograph. The café Lamas was standing in front of had a canvas awning, but the name wasn’t visible.

“When and where was this taken?”

Rigsdale stirred in his chair, as if to relieve an aching muscle. “Rome, Italy. Approximately six months ago.”

“Who took the photo?”

“What difference does it make?” Rigsdale said, his voice hoarse with anger. “We think Lamas is here—in the Bay Area.”

“The more I know about him, the easier it will be for me to find him, George.”

He responded by shoving the envelope across his desk. “Take it. There are more photos in there, along with some of my reports.” His voice softened. “There is some urgency. If you cannot devote full time to the case—”

“I know. You’ll get someone else. What’s your interest in this Mr. Lamas?”

“We believe he’s…taken something that doesn’t belong to him. The owner wants it back.”

“What did he take?”

Rigsdale chewed that over—literally, his teeth riding over his lips. “An object of art. A chauri, a flywhisk, with a carved ivory handle and yak’s tail brush.”

“You’re kidding me, George.”

He made a waving motion with his right hand. “It was allegedly used to keep the flies off some prince in India in the fifteenth century. There are a few photos of it in the envelope.”

“I know that you and your staff have worked hard on this, covered all the data bases, ran him through social media, civil filings and motor vehicle records, and haven’t come up with anything, which means Lamas is going to be difficult to find. Why is he so important to Feveral? I have to know the details.”

Rigsdale raised an eyebrow as he considered the request. “All right, but this is a very confidential situation, understood?”

“Understood.”

“Lloyd’s of London is the insurance carrier. Mr. Paul Bernier, a highly valued client of ours, is the owner of the chauri. We do a great deal of legal work for him. He’s a former international banker and has a home in Nicasio, over in Marin County, a penthouse apartment here in San Francisco, and a villa in France. He has many business interests, including wine. He owns more than a thousand acres of vineyards in prime Napa Valley and Sonoma County locations, as well as throughout France. And he is a volunteer curator at the city’s Asian Art Museum.”

Rigsdale glanced over to see if I was properly impressed.

“Until right now, I’ve never heard of the gentleman. Do we know what Al Lamas does for a living?”

“He described himself to Gloria, Mr. Bernier’s adopted daughter, as being a stress-relief consultant.”

Ah, consultant—one of those delusive words. You don’t have to be licensed to be a consultant. You could describe yourself as a brain surgeon consultant, but have no real knowledge of medicine or surgery—you’re just a consultant. Stress relief could mean anything from yoga, to massage, to drugs.

“Is Gloria Bernier dealing with some kind of stress?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Does she have an idea as to where he lives, or where his office is located?”

“She told me that they had a social relationship, however, she never visited his residence or office.”

“Where’d she meet him?”

“At a nightclub called Noche on Townsend Street. I’ve been there. No one at the club knew of Lamas.”

“You’ve told me about Gloria. Are there other children?”

“A son, Andre, who was killed in Iraq in 2003.”

“Army? Marine?”

“No,” Rigsdale said wearily. “His death has nothing to do with the case, but if you must know, Andre Bernier was civilian, an art advisor for UNESCO, the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization, at their Paris office. He went to Iraq to help in finding their lost art treasures.”

“What about a wife?”

“Mr. Bernier is a widower. Twice. His first wife was born in India, where they lived for several years. She died many years ago. His second wife, Gloria’s mother, also passed away. If any word of this leaks out, Polo, you’ll never get another assignment from Feveral and Lenahan, I can promise you that.”

“How does Lamas tie in with the missing flywhisk?”

“He was…friendly with Gloria. She invited Lamas to the Nicasio residence while Mr. Bernier was away on a business trip. The chauri was kept in a buffet cabinet in the dining room. When Mr. Bernier returned, the chauri was gone. Now Lamas has disappeared.”

“But there’s no proof that he actually took it, is there?”

“No, but he’s the obvious suspect.”

“How much was it insured for, George?”

Rigsdale picked up a ballpoint pen and began popping the point in and out. “One million dollars.” He stabbed the pen into the manila envelope. “Don’t get any ideas of a finder’s fee, Polo. Your job is to locate Lamas. Nothing more.”

Rigsdale was still smarting over a thirty-thousand-dollar finder’s fee I’d received for retrieving a stolen painting by renowned artist Cy Twombly. At a recent auction at Christie’s, one of his works went for sixty-nine-point-six million dollars. To the uneducated eye, mine included, some of his graffiti-like scribblings look like they could have been done by a child freewheeling with crayons.

I had found the missing painting in a home belonging to a museum janitress, a hardworking Filipino lady who juggled three part-time jobs. She had taken it from a rack of artwork stored in the basement of the San Francisco Modern Museum of Modern Art.

“I thought it was junk,” she’d told me. “That they were going to throw it away. I wanted to show it to my granddaughter. She could draw better that that.”

I believed her, about why she took the Twombly, not her granddaughter’s drawing talents, so I’d simply returned the painting to the museum—with no questions asked.

“There’s one more important item to discuss, Polo. The police have not been brought into this. Mr. Bernier wishes to have it handled discretely. Understood?”

“So if Lamas has this flywhisk, you want to make a deal with him, right?”

“That is not your concern. I’ve interviewed everyone who resides in the Bernier residence, and every worker and visitor that was there when the chauri went missing. The cook, Yves Dupree, took advantage of Mr. Bernier’s absence by taking a vacation, so he was gone when the theft took place. The property has a state of the art security system, so I do not believe a burglar could have gained entrance. Mr. Feveral insisted that I involve you, against my judgment.”

He shoved the file across his desk so hard it nearly dropped in my lap.

“I’ll going to need an advance, George. Five thousand dollars should work for now.”

“Five thousand dollars!”

It had taken me a while to understand the business world. Work cheap and you get a lot of work—lousy work. But if you charge a lot of money, and here’s the kicker, you’re really good at what you do—then you end up making a lot more money doing a lot less work.

He dry-washed his hands, then picked up one of the phones on his desk and barked at his secretary. “Cut Mr. Polo a check for five thousand dollars.”

“Satisfied?” he asked after he’d set the phone back on its cradle.

Without waiting for an answer, he added, “And don’t bother Mr. Feveral. Report directly to me.”

Poor George. Subtlety was not his strong suit. I picked up the file and then decided that it would be a good idea to head right to my bank.





Chapter 2


I had parked my car, a four-year-old beige Ford sedan, dubbed the Polomobile by a lady friend, in a red zone on Spear Street, and was happy to see that there wasn’t a parking ticket under the wipers.

The city fathers have a plan to make San Francisco free of automobiles. They want us all using city buses, walking, biking, or riding skateboards as we go about our daily chores. To implement the plan they decided to make it difficult, and very expensive, for anyone driving a car.

The United States Navy used to have a catchphrase: “If it’s not moving, paint it!”

Our uncivil servants have updated that to if there’s an empty space, put in a parking meter with fees up to ten bucks an hour and then move on to the lucrative seventy-six-dollar fine for an expired meter.

Even at those prices, you can seldom find an open space, which leaves red zones, bus stops, and in front of fire hydrants.

The Ford is eternally dusty, has a whip antenna, twin spotlights, numerous dings, scratches, and a cracked windshield. It looks like an unmarked police car, even to a meter maid. The SFPD HOMICIDE sticker on the visor adds to the pretext, so I seldom get a ticket.

I actually felt a little guilty about this until I noticed that when I couldn’t find an illegal parking spot it was because they were filled with cars belonging to the Mayor’s Office, the City’s Planning Department, the Environment Commission, the Ethics Commission, the Entertainment Commission, Public Works, and my favorite, the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force.

There’s a .38 snub nose revolver concealed in the passenger side headrest. I know that a lot of people now want to have concealed weapons permits, but believe me, packing a gun around is highly overrated. They’re bulky, heavy, and, if you wear a hip holster, extremely uncomfortable. Then there’s the problem if you’re of the male persuasion and you have to answer a call to Mother Nature. Dropping your pants in a public toilet can be quite an adventure. I had a friend who did just that and blew off three of his toes.

I’d decided to carry a Kimber pepper spray blaster that weighted four ounces and resembles a kid’s water pistol, but is powerful enough to drop an NFL linebacker in his tracks.

There’s a spare pepper spray in the glove compartment, along with binoculars and some burglar tools. All the necessities for modern urban living.

I deposited the check at the bank, kept a thousand dollars in cash, and then drove home. I was anxious to go over the reports Rigsdale had stuffed into that envelope. Home and office was the upper unit of a pair of spacious flats in the North Beach area of the city. I’d inherited the flats when my mother and father were killed in an airplane crash. I’d also inherited their hard-earned lifetime savings and a considerable cash settlement from the airline’s insurance carrier—the pilot had been intoxicated when he flew into a mountain during a flight from Reno to San Francisco.

It seemed like a fortune to me at the time—enough money for me to retire from the police department and enjoy the good life. I quickly found out that I had a talent. A talent for changing a fortune into misfortune. My financial advisor wasn’t Bernie Madoff, but he was close.

So, I had to go back to work—as a private investigator.

Luckily, I’d held on to the flats. I’d also held on to the lower unit’s tenant, Mrs. Damonte. She’d been living there from the day my parents had purchased the property.

As best I can figure, Mrs. D is somewhere between eighty and a hundred-and-twenty. She’s under five feet tall, with iron gray hair pulled back in a bun and secured with knitting needles. I couldn’t even guess at her weight, because rain or shine she’s always bundled up in thick black clothing from her wattle neck to her toes, which were usually encased in black Converse high-topped tennis shoes.

The black isn’t a fashion statement for Mrs. D. She just likes to be ready to go to a wake or funeral. A day without a wake is like a day without sunshine to Mrs. Damonte. She was born in Genoa, Italy, and speaks Italian most of the time. Her favorite words in English are “Nopa” for no, “Shita” and “Bingo.” That one she shouts out in perfect diction when the need arises.

Her one piece of jewelry is a large brass whistle that hangs from a gold chain around her neck. She uses it to scare away birds from her vegetable and herb garden and to frighten the hell out of the butcher when she thinks he’s laid his thumb on the scale while weighing her veal shanks. She is, without a doubt, the best cook I’ve ever come across. A Nob Hill banker sends his chauffer to her door three or four days a week to pick up one of her special dinners. Mrs. D doesn’t charge a set price for these goodies, she always says, Ascio a vostra discrezione,” I leave it to your discretion, with all of the humility and piety of the pope’s confessor.

The banker ends up coughing up more dough that way. I’m not complaining because she always cooks up more than is needed, and I end up with some fantastic meals.

Mrs. D was in full battle gear when I pulled into the driveway: a broom in one hand, an insect-repellent spray can in the other.

When I was out of the car, she nodded her head a half an inch. For Mrs. D, that was quite a greeting. She was walking toward me when someone she considered more important came into her view. The mailman. I took the stairs to my flat two at a time.

I made some coffee, warmed a few of Mrs. D’s Baba al Limoncello cookies, delicious little puffballs filled with lemon and cream, and started going through Rigsdale’s file, beginning with the list of Paul Bernier employees who resided at the Nicasio estate: Clive Marwick, majordomo, age fifty-six, employed for fourteen years, no known criminal record.

Majordomo. A word I hadn’t heard in a long time. A rank or two above a butler. Alfred, Batman’s butler, had been called a majordomo upon occasion.

Rebecca Jensen, age thirty-three, Bernier’s coadjutor, in his employ for six years—no known criminal record.

Coadjutor, a very fancy description of a personal assistant, and another word I hadn’t come across in a long time.

Then there was a man by the name of Dieter Klug, whose profession was listed as automotive consultant. There was that word again. Klug was forty-eight and had worked for Bernier for eight years. No known criminal record.

“No known” records meant that Rigsdale wasn’t able to find anything because he didn’t have access to confidential police records.

Employees who didn’t reside at the house included the cook, a commercial cleaning crew that came to the house two days a week and were supervised by Marwick, the majordomo, a gardening firm, and a pool maintenance outfit that showed up once a week.

There were no reports on direct interviews with Bernier or his adopted daughter, Gloria.

The information on Lamas was sketchy: no California driver’s license, no date of birth, or social security number—the three items that made tracking someone relatively easy. Estimated age: thirty-five to forty.

Al Lamas. If for some reason you want to vanish into thin air, Al is the name to pick, because many data base searches are keyed in on the first name. Al could be Alan, Allan, Allen, Alvin, Albert, Alex, Alcot, Alfred, Alec, Alex, etc., etc.

There were several photos of Lamas, one catching him in profile, walking along a tiled path toward a swimming pool. He was a handsome devil, with a strong nose and full lips. He was wearing a brief black speedo that clung to his butt and made no secret of the bulge in front. Broad shoulders, flat stomach. A man with a tan—and a plan?

Another photo had him standing between two women, his arms wrapped around their shoulders. George Rigsdale or one of his staff had printed their names at the bottom of the page.

Gloria Bernier was wearing a Day-Glo orange bikini. Her collarbone and ribs stood out from her flesh. Her arms and legs were pipestems, her face narrow, her jaw pointed. She looked like one of those malnourished fashion runway models, except for her breasts, which were prominent and bullet-shaped. She had dark, almond-shaped eyes. Her hair was the color of freshly stripped copper wire.

Rebecca Jensen was a blonde, decked out in a cream-colored shirt-dress unbuttoned down to her waist, and ankle-strap high heels. She was wearing sunglasses, so I couldn’t see her eyes.

There were also a few photos of the missing chauri. It wasn’t very impressive, an elaborately carved ivory handle topped by a straw-like plume. Outside of the fancy handle, it didn’t seem much different than the gadget Mrs. Damonte used to clean her venetian blinds.

If Al Lamas had indeed swiped the ancient flywhisk, his best bet to make some big money and stay out of prison was to negotiate with either Bernier directly or Feveral & Lenahan for its return.

I decided to invade Mr. Bernier’s privacy by using Google Earth to take a peek at his estate in Nicasio, which is some thirty five miles north of San Francisco. I watched as Earth magically zoomed down to its destination. Bernier’s place had to be at least twenty acres, with thick patches of oak, Madrone, and pine trees sheltering a large house with a blue tile roof. There was a smaller building with a blue tiled roof, a swimming pool, a tennis court, a large red corrugated metal roofed building, and a long, straight strip of asphalt. A private airfield?

I zoomed in as close as Google allowed, but couldn’t find anything that resembled an airplane. There were six or seven cars parked in front of the corrugated metal roofed building.

I then ran the address through Zillow, an online real estate database. I’d been way off on my acreage estimate for the property. Forty-nine acres. Brother Bogaley, my Catholic high school math teacher, had pounded the fact into us (literally, he was fond of rapping kids over the head with a book, supposedly to encourage them to learn algebra; I thought he did it as some kind of sexual release, the expression on his face was of pure rapture) that an acre was the size of a football field without the end zones. I tried to imagine living in a house situated in the middle of forty-nine football fields.

I went back and checked Rigsdale’s file. Dieter Klug, auto consultant, was no doubt in charge of all of those cars by the tin-roofed building.

I then spent another half hour in front of the computer screen. There were dozens of hits on Paul Bernier, most of them related to his wine business, and a brief article on the death of his second wife, Erica, who had died from injuries incurred from a skiing accident in Switzerland.

There were three photos of Gloria: attending opening night at the opera, cutting the ribbon to start a car race in Monterey, and at a reception honoring a new jewelry store on Post Street. She looked the same in all of the photos: well-dressed, well-coiffured, and outside of the huge boobs, amazingly thin. She gave you the urge to shout “Get thee to a bakery, lady.”

There was nothing on Clive Marwick, Dieter Klug, Rebecca Jenson, or of course, Al Lamas, but the nightclub, Noche, had one very interesting bit of information. The manager was listed as Joe Sarco. Joe was an ex-SF cop who’d been caught with his hand in the crime lab’s cookie jar, the one with all of the cocaine evidence, and had lost his job and served time in San Quentin.

We had never been close. Sarco worked undercover narcotics most of the time, but I’d see him once in a while at the Hall of Justice or in a local bar, and he’d give a friendly wave and say, “Hi, Ginzo.”

Ginzo is a racial slur for a Sicilian, but since we were both Sicilian, it was taken as a friendly greeting.

Now we had something else in common. Jail time. My jail time took place after I’d left the department.

I’d been hired by an attorney to find one of his clients, a seasoned criminal who had missed his trial date on a narcotics charge. I found him, dead from an overdose of heroin, his bloated body lying on the mattress of a flea-bag hotel on Turk Street. Lying alongside the body was a suitcase full of cash. Three hundred and ninety-six thousand bucks.

Rather than call the cops right away, I contacted the attorney. He took one glance at his client and headed for the bathroom. We discussed the situation for some fifteen minutes, both of us staring at the cash all the while. The attorney came to the conclusion that if the money was turned over to the police, it would be held as evidence for a time, then, barring the possibility that someone in the police property clerk’s office didn’t make off with it, it would be turned over to the government. There would be a long fight between officials from the city, the state, and the federal government as to who had rights to the money. All of this legal maneuvering could cost the tax payers double the four hundred grand amount—so he suggested that we split it in half.

I, being as greedy as the next guy who stumbles over a suitcase full of money, went along with the plan. Two weeks later the police came a knocking on my door—with a warrant. The attorney had decided that what we did was not right. He also decided to come clean to the feds as long as he was left off the hook. Of course the feds jammed that hook down my throat. I ended up doing eight months in the minimum security wing of Lompoc State Prison.

I checked with my answering service. An answering service may sound a little antiquated today, but it has its perks—the caller talks to an actual human voice rather than a recording, making it sound as if I had a real office, and because of the multiple lines and volume of numbers they control, it’s difficult for someone to hack into one account.

“Mr. Polo’s office,” a soft seductive voice said.

“Hi, Angie, it’s Nick. Any calls?”

There was just one from Laura Feveral, the daughter of lawyer Jim Feveral. She was a lovely lady who lived in a loft in the Potrero District with high ceilings and good lighting. She was trying to make a name for herself as an artist. So far most of her efforts hung on the walls of her father’s law firm.

I called and she was in a good mood.

“I hear you’ve come into some money, Nicky. Let’s party. Dinner and then some fun.”

“You’ve been talking to your father.”

“He mentioned something about you picking up a case.”

“Have you heard of a club called Noche on Townsend Street?”

“Oh, yes. It’s hot, but…they cater to a young crowd, Nick. You might feel a little out of place.”

“I’ll tell everyone I’m your father. I’ll pick you up at eight.”





Chapter 3


It’s not really necessary to be an ex-policeman to be a proficient private investigator, but it helps. Cops are more likely to talk to someone who has been in the game than someone who hasn’t, and a lot of the information that a PI needs to do his job comes from police records, files, and the personal notes of the investigating officer.

I headed to the Hall of Justice, my beat-up Ford blending in nicely with all of the other unmarked cars parked in red zones. I flashed my Inspectors badge, which I hadn’t turned in when I left the department, at the bored uniformed officer guarding the entrance to the Hall’s underground garage.

He glanced at the badge and nodded, his eyes never bothering to take notice of my face.

I hopped in an empty elevator, which filled up as soon as it hiccupped to a stop on the first floor. My fellow passengers were what judges and district attorneys called “The Great Unwashed.”

Badly dressed, smelly, battered, and bandaged citizens who had been busted for everything from vandalism to homicide were en route to the court room.

I nodded hellos to a few cops I knew who were strolling the fourth floor corridors. The door to room 414, which housed the Burglary Detail, was propped open. The secretary manning the front desk was Dolores Campos, a plump, always smiling, lovely mother of four—the hard way: two sets of twins—all boys. She was, for lack of a better description, a nice person. She also knew how to play the game.

The fictional private eyes in books and the movies always had a friendly cop who slipped them driver’s licenses, vehicle plates and criminal records. In real life, you don’t want to use cops. First, they like to take their time before passing over the confidential material, and second, no matter how you express your thanks, in coin of the realm or drinks and dinner, they think you’re screwing them.

Dolores kept our relationship on a professional level—charging reasonable fees and delivering the information on time.

“Nick,” she said, with a frown. We did most of our transactions on the phone. “What’s up?”

I dropped one of the photos of Al Lamas, along with a list containing the names of Clive Marwick, Dieter Klug, Rebecca Jensen and a pair of fifty-dollar bills on her desk. “On Lamas, all I know about him is written on the back of the photo. Do whatever you have to do, the works, on all of them. And I need it all in a hurry.”

“Don’t you always?”

“Is Bob Tehaney around?” I asked.

Dolores jerked a thumb over her shoulder. “Inspector Tehaney is at his desk, fighting crime.” She lowered her voice several notches. “Lieutenant Loesser is also on duty. And she’s not in a good mood.”

“Thanks for the warning.”

Judy Loesser was seldom in a good mood, and she was definitely not one of my fans. She hated “bent cops,” and had gone so far as to try and have my PI license revoked. Fortunately, I’d only served eight months in prison, which made the charge against me a misdemeanor, not a felony, so I’d managed to hold onto the license—barely. Loesser wasn’t the type to hold a grudge; she squeezed, shook, and tried to choke the life out of it.

I slipped by Loesser’s glass-doored office. She was on the phone and didn’t notice me. Her rise through the ranks had been meteoric compared to most. She’d joined the department less than eight years ago, and after marrying the newly widowed Captain John Loesser, quickly jumped from patrolwoman to sergeant to lieutenant; and no one doubted she’d be a captain in a very short time.

I knew her husband, John, an affable guy who had the reputation of being an empty holster cop due to having spent much of his career in desk duty assignments.

A department wag had dubbed Judith as the “Evil of two Loessers.”

The Inspector bureaus used to be wide open, with desks butted up against each other, giving the cops visual, audio, and empty coffee cup throwing contact with their fellow cops. Now everyone had their own little cubicle. I found Bob Tehaney hunched over a computer, like a mad scientist two-fingering the keyboard, a steaming coffee mug at his elbow.

“Find a new porn site?” I asked.

He swiveled his chair and gave me a sour look. “Nick Polo. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Tehaney was in his mid-sixties. He had a high-forehead and deep lines that ran from his nose to the corner of his mouth. His once red hair had faded to a grayish-blond color. He was well past retirement age, but had no plans to leave the job. “I can’t pass up those free donuts,” he’d tell anyone who was rude enough to ask why he kept coming to work.

I leaned over his shoulder to peek at the computer screen and saw the website for Vegas Insider, with a list of the odds on college basketball games, before Bob clicked the screen dark.

“Have you ever heard of a thief by the name of Al Lamas?”

Tehaney took a sip of the coffee and winced. “Never. What’s he done that interests you?”

I took a photo of Lamas and one of the chauri from my pocket and handed them to him. “That’s Lamas. The ivory-handled deal is called a chauri and dates back to the fifteenth century. It’s gone missing from a rich man’s house in Nicasio.”

“That’s a nice phrase,” Tehaney scoffed. “Not stolen, heisted, burglarized, robbed, or ripped off. Gone missing.” He squinted at the photo. “What the hell did you say this is?”

“A chauri, which is just a fancy flywhisk. Kings and princes used to have guys hanging around with them all the time waving away the bugs. It was their version of air conditioning. It’s insured for a million dollars.”

“I haven’t heard a thing about it.” He loosened his tie and wiped his forefinger inside his collar. “What is it, one of your insurance cases where you find the goods and make a big score?”

“It would be nice if it worked out that way, Bob. You know me, I like to share the wealth.”

“What is this man doing here?” a shrill voice demanded.

I turned to see the scowling face of Lieutenant Judith Loesser. She always reminded me of a terrier: cute, cocky, full of energy, and determined. Once a bone was in her mouth she wouldn’t let it go. Her brown hair was worn jaw-length with bangs feathered to a fringe. She was wearing her blue uniform, complete with silver bars on the shoulders.

“Polo and I were shooting the breeze about old times,” Tehaney said calmly.

“I don’t want him in this office,” she shot back.

Tehaney rapped a knuckle lightly on the tweed fabric wall partition.

“This is my office, Lieutenant.”

Loesser gave me a stare that would have withered roses, then swiveled on a heel and stomped off.

“That lady doesn’t like you,” Tehaney said, stating the obvious.

“She’s not too fond of you right now, either, Bob.”

He sampled the coffee again. “I’m bulletproof. I’ve got my time in. They can’t fire me, can’t demote me. All she could do is transfer me down the hall to another detail: Homicide, Lost and Found, Sexual Assault. Same hours, same money.” He set the cup back on his desk. “Hell, the coffee couldn’t be any worse than this.”

“Have you heard anything about Joe Sarco lately?”

“Jesus, Nick. You think Sarco is involved in this thing? I know he’s running some club down on Townsend Street.”

“Noche.”

“Yeah. He’s listed as the ‘entertainment director’ because he can’t get his name on the license due to his being a felon. Sarco did hard time in Pelican Bay, being an ex-cop and all. It wasn’t like that country club place you were at.”

Pelican Bay State Prison is considered to be one of the toughest prisons in the U.S. But country club prisons are like military intelligence. They don’t exist. All prisons are tough, some just tougher than others. It all depends on the guards. If they don’t like you, they make life miserable: little things like no blankets in the cell on a cold night, no toilet paper, no towels, or if they really don’t like you they move you over to the Ding Wing, where all of the mentally ill prisoners are housed, or leave you alone in the yard with the gangs.

What saved my butt more than once were the food packages Mrs. Damonte shipped every few days. The guards were as sick of prison food as the inmates, and they devoured her cakes, pies, and frittatas, which led to the best thing a prisoner can expect from a guard —to be left alone.

A nice thing for Mrs. D to do, you say. True, but she was living rent free, and, judging from the utility bills I’d been getting, probably renting out my flat to some of her poveri parenti in visita, poor relatives from Italy, and of course she had an itemized bill for all of the shipping and grocery charges when I was finally released.

“I thought Sarco was sent to San Quentin, Bob.”

“He was, but he mouthed off to one of the guards, so they transferred him. Joe always was a kind of a wise ass. Why the sudden interest in Sarco?”

“Al Lamas is supposed to hang out at Noche.”

Tehaney ran his tongue around his jaw. “I was talking to Captain Marty Bagnoli of the Gang Task Force the other day. You know Marty, don’t you?”

“Sure I do.” Bagnoli was the department’s resident expert on gangs and organized crime.

“Marty says the New York mob is trying to get its nose under the camel’s tent here in the city. The tent with all of the money made from importing and peddling cocaine and heroin. They’ve been muscled out by the Asians and the Mexican gangs, but now they want back in. The Italian mob had been pronounced dead and buried by a lot of people, including some federal law enforcement agencies. They’re not as strong as they used to be, but were getting stronger every day by recruiting new blood from Italy and Sicily.

“Bagnoli mentioned Sarco’s name. He thinks Joe is connected to the Sicilians in New York. Noche is owned by Primo Properties, whose office is in the Bronx and is a Mafia front, according to Marty. Noche would be a perfect fit for the mob: loud music, expensive food, a rich young high-tech crowd with lots of money to spend on recreational drugs.”

Tehaney flicked the photo of the chauri over to me. “Every couple of days I think of pulling the plug, Nick. Retiring. But then someone like you comes in chasing after a goddamn thing like this that’s worth a million dollars. Do me a favor if you talk to Sarco. Don’t mention my name. I used to like the guy, but spending time in the slammer can really turn someone into an asshole.” He gave a twitch of a smile. “Present company excluded, of course.”





Chapter 4


I turned on the car’s dome light and smiled at Laura Feveral. Laura’s tawny, shoulder-length light-brown hair was parted in the middle and frames her slightly freckled face. She has wide-set hazel-colored eyes and a generous mouth. She has long legs and is high-waisted, what would be called a lithe figure.

I showed her the photo of Al Lamas, Gloria Bernier, and Rebecca Jensen.

“The guy’s a hunk,” she said, “but what happened to the dark-haired girl? She looks like she just got out of a concentration camp, except for that boob job.”

“The hunk is Al Lamas. He’s the one your father wants me to find. The woman is Gloria Bernier, the daughter of your father’s client. She and Lamas are chummy. I’m hoping one or the other will be in Noche tonight.”

“Did you know that women like this Gloria suffer from dizzy spells and slurred speech after breast implant surgery?”

I confessed that I had not known that.

“It’s from all the free drinks that dopey guys like you buy them,” she said with a gotcha smile. She tapped a finger on the photograph. “What about the blonde?”

“Rebecca Jensen. She works for Gloria’s father.”

“I’ll bet she does; she’s just about falling out of her dress.”

Laura twisted her head and glanced out the windshield. “We’re never going to get into Noche, Nicky. Check out that line.”

We were parked in a loading zone a half-block from the nightclub, which was housed in a three-story, smoke-blackened red brick building on the corner of Townsend and Second Streets. There was an awning rimmed with pulsating red lights over the entrance to the club. A line of impatient customers stretched out for a full block.

“I think we’ll be all right,” I said, as I slid out of the car and walked around to open the door for her.

She ran her fingers across the lapels of my dark blue sport coat and sighed.

“For your birthday I’m going to get you a jacket, something sharp in suede or leather. Oh, well, at least you didn’t wear a tie.”

Laura was wearing a silver metallic jacket, tight white knit pants that had zippers that went from ankle to knee length, and silver metallic open-toed shoes with chunky heels.

The crowd waiting in line were playing with their smart phones, or drinking out of paper cups and beer bottles. The mix was about fifty-fifty boy-girl, the ages from late teens to early thirties.

It was a cool, windy night, but that didn’t bother the Samoan bouncer manning the entrance. He was almost as wide as he was tall, and sported a Mohawk haircut. He was wearing jeans and a skin-tight black T-shirt with his name stitched across his chest: Fadi.

He would signal a couple in the line by waving a hotdog-size finger at them.

The chosen ones smiled and slipped cash into Fadi’s hand as they walked down the four steps to Noche’s front door.

I passed him a fifty dollar bill.

He sniffed his nose as if I’d offended him.

“Tell Joe Sarco that his old buddy Ginzo would like to see him.”

He scratched the top of his Mohawk. “Ginzo?”

“That’s it.”

Fadi got on a cell phone. He nodded his head several times, and then handed me back the fifty bucks.

“Mr. Sarco says come in.”

The bricks on the outside of the building must have been very thick, because I hadn’t heard a sound on the street, but once we were inside the music hit me like a warm wave.

“Oh, great,” Laura said, clapping her hands in joy. “It’s Salsa night!”

The music had a nice pulsing Latin beat that the sound system kept on high beam. The dance floor was filled with attractive young people having a good time. The dress code ran from Levi’s and sweats to bright-colored tube tops and blouses that showed a lot of cleavage.

There was a sleek poured concrete bar and recessed lounge areas with padded red leather booths.

Laura put her mouth close enough to my ear so I could hear her over the music.

“I need a drink. Get me a Sex in a Glass, please.”

“That’s the name of a drink?”

“You bet.”

I slithered my way to the bar and ordered Laura her drink, and a vodka on the rocks for me. While the bare-chested bartender went through an elaborate charade of tossing a chrome cocktail shaker around, I read the bar menu. Sex in a Glass consisted of Maker’s Mark bourbon, scotch infused with orange zest, a pimento-flavored liqueur, basil, gum syrup, served in a “Nick and Nora glass.”

Either Nick or Nora would have had to use both hands to handle the oversized stemmed martini glass the bartender slid over to me.

Laura took a deep sip of her drink, then put it down on a table and said, “Let’s dance.”

I liked the music, but the floor was so crowded it was like trying to dance with your feet in a bucket.

When the number mercifully ended, we headed for a booth. Fadi, the bouncer, put his catcher’s mitt-sized hand on my shoulder and said, “Mr. Sarco would like to see you in his office. Second floor.”

“Will you be all right if I leave you alone for a bit?” I asked Laura.

“You bet,” she said. Before she had time to get back to her drink, a guy wearing a Stetson and acid-washed jeans came over and made wiggling gestures with his hands.

Laura was back on the dance floor and I was on my way to the second floor via an escalator. The second floor featured a large redwood bar over which a young woman in a pink spandex leotard was doing circus stunts in an aerial hoop that hung from the ceiling. The décor was a mix of Victorian, Art Nouveau, and Gothic. The customers were necking, snuggling, grinding into each other, as if they couldn’t wait to leave to club and jump into bed.

Joe Sarco was standing at the end of the bar. He gave me a come-over wave.

We shook hands, and he said, “Let’s go to my office.”

I hadn’t seen Joe in at least ten years. He’d been a slim guy, but now he was stocky, muscular, the kind of muscle you develop by pumping iron in prison.

His once black hair was now river-rock gray. His steel-blue suit was obviously cut just for him, nothing off the rack could handle those thick shoulders. He wore a white shirt, buttoned at the throat, but not buttoned high enough to cover the chain tattoo circling his neck.

His eyes were bow-tie black, and slightly hooded. Think Sylvester Stallone before he had all of that plastic surgery. The lower part of his right ear was missing.

Three of the office walls were covered with posters of rock stars, the other had eight widescreen TV monitors that focused on various parts of the club and the front entrance.

“Have a seat.” He nodded toward the video screens. “Who is the lady that came in with you? I don’t recognize her.”

“Just a friend.” I sat down in a high-back chair in front of his glass-topped desk, which was long, wide, and completely bare, not even a phone.

“What have you been up to, Nick? I heard you did a little time.”

“You heard right.” I passed a business card across the desk.

“Private investigator. I remember dealing with a lot of scumbag PIs when I was on the force.”

My cards are plastic coated and he used the edge to clean his fingernails. There were burn scars and bleached out areas on his hands and fingers from attempts at removing tattoos.

“How was Pelican Bay, Joe?”

“Tough. Real tough at first. But there were a few Ginzos inside. From New York City. They got a lot of respect from the guards and the grunts, and they took care of me.”

He slipped my card inside a desk drawer and gave me a wolfish smile. “Maybe it was because I made the best pruno in the joint.”

Pruno. Prison alcohol. It’s made by putting fruit juice, fruit peelings along with bread and sugar in a plastic bag. The yeast in the bread and the sugar helps ferment the juice. The plastic bag is usually placed down the cell toilet, as far as an arm could reach, so that it’s not detected. I was on the wagon during my time behind bars.

Sarco’s voice turned a bit frosty. “So what do you want from me?”

I slipped the photo of Lamas and the girls from my pocket and slid it across the desk.

“I’m trying to find this guy, Joe. He goes by the name of Al Lamas.”

Sarco took a pencil from a desk drawer and pushed the photo around until he had a good view.

“What makes you think I know him?”

“His girlfriend, the brunette in the picture, said she met him here in the club.”

He bounced the pencil’s eraser on Gloria’s image and smiled.

“Her I know. Go-Go Gloria. She’s a regular. Goofy broad, but she spends a lot of money.”

“How about the blonde?”

“Nah.”

“What about the guy?”

Lamas’s image got the eraser treatment. “I’ve seen him around. What’s your interest?”

“He may be in the possession of a valuable artifact. It might be that he picked it up by mistake. The police haven’t been notified yet. I’d like to keep it that way. I find him, he gives me the artifact and earns a nice reward. Everyone’s happy.”

“Sounds like a fairy tale. Just what was it that Lamas walked off with?”

I went to my pocket again and passed him the photograph of the chauri.

Again with the pencil eraser. Not one of Sarco’s fingerprints were going to end up on the photos.

He studied the photo for quite a while. “This is all that Al took?”

“Yes. Why do you ask?”

His eyes flickered in annoyance. “It just seems dumb. This, I don’t even know what it is.”

“An ancient flywhisk”

Sarco wagged his head from side to side. “I could have used one of those in my cell.”

“I think that Lamas was dealing, selling coke and heroin. You know anything about that?”

“If he was, it wasn’t in here. I run a clean place.”

I didn’t want to bring up any of the information I’d gotten from Bob Tehaney about Sarco’s possible Mafia connections, yet, so I just said, “Is there any way you could check your records for me, Joe? See if Lamas used a credit card, or if any of your bartenders or waitresses have any info on him.”

“Sure. For you, I’ll do it.” He got to his feet. “You’ve got some competition on this, Nick. Some little dickhead in a crumby brown suit like the FBI boys wear came in a couple of days ago looking for Lamas. Said he was an insurance investigator. He showed me a photo. Different than yours, without the ladies.”

“George Rigsdale.”

Sarco shrugged his big shoulders. “Could be. He was a jerk. I didn’t tell him anything.”

He smiled without putting much effort into it. “You and your lady friend have a good time. You’re comped for the rest of the night.”

Sarco ushered me out of the office and over to the escalator. Because of the crowd, it took me a while to find Laura. She was slightly tipsy and slurring her words, like a woman after breast implant surgery.

We had another drink and headed for the car. Once outside I showed the photo of Lamas to Fadi, then handed him a couple of my cards wrapped with a fifty-dollar bill.

“He uses the name Al Lamas. You find him for me, and it’s worth five hundred.”

Fadi seemed reluctant to keep the cards.

“My friend Joe Sarco says it’s okay.”

The cards and money disappeared into his jean’s pocket.





Chapter 5


I had trouble sleeping that night. I couldn’t blame it on a strange bed because it was a very nice strange bed—belonging to Laura Feveral.

It was the meeting with Joe Sarco that kept me awake. Sarco knew Al Lamas, I was sure of it. His body language spoke volumes, and he spoke about Lamas as Al: “This is all that Al took?”

The sound of what I thought were gunshots jolted me into wide awake mode. It was dark. The digital nightstand clock showed six-fourteen a.m. I stumbled out of bed, and grabbed the pepper spray from my pants pocket.

More shots, pop-crack, rapid fire. Music was playing on the stereo—bongo-drumming Latin jazz.

I crept into Laura’s studio. She was standing there in her lacy black bra and panties, holding out what appeared to be an assault weapon of the type used in Mad Max films.

Laura turned to see me, grinned, and then took careful aim at a square of canvas that nearly reached the loft’s fifteen-foot ceiling. Pop, crack, and a thump as a bright red paintball splattered onto the canvas, which was covered with similar splashes of blue, yellow, black, and green.

I laid the pepper spray onto the floor and scratched my head. Laura had gone through phases of being “influenced” by the masters: Cezanne, Picasso, Monet, van Gogh, and Dali. She had even had a fling with attempts at emulating those awful Andy Warhol Campbell soup can things—her renditions involved loafs of Wonder Bread and sardine tins. Now she was going through the abstract expressionists of the sixties: the black on white slashes of Franz Kline, the drifting masses of Mark Rothko, and the intertwined drips of Jackson Pollock.

“How do you like it?” Laura asked.

“It’s different,” I said. “And big.”

Laura cocked her head to one side and fired again. “It’s going to hang in the lobby of the Steuart Tower, by the bank of elevators to the seventeenth floor.”

The seventeenth floor—the offices of Feveral & Lenahan. “Does it have a title?”

“I was thinking of Dead Certain. Like it?”

I liked the title better than the painting. “That sounds good.”

Laura strolled over, gave me a peck on the ear and patted my butt with her free hand. “Want to take a shot? You could be part of an important work of art.”

She handed me the paint gun.

“Aim for the top,” Laura suggested. “I want the paint to dribble down.”

I did just that, three quick shots: two reds and a blue that leaked into amoeba-shaped blobs.


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