Novels

Augustus’ Smarter Brother (part 5)

May 22, 2017

Precognition Mission

          Cleopatra Rose Bocca had a good life with her husband in the suburbs of Chicago. She moved back east when she married, going back to visit family and friends a couple times a year. There was another motivating factor in returning to the San Francisco Bay Area. From the time when she was just a girl she knew when her brother, Augustus was in trouble. A few times she ignored the temptation to help, finding out later, Augustus ended up with a bloody nose or absconded lunch money. Julius tried to help but lacked the brawn to deal with the school bullies. Cleo possessed the skill and fortitude to deal with such cases.

In forth grade Chip Nastari took Augustus’s lunch money away. Chip was already thirty pounds heavier than any of the kids in his class and tough as nails. When confronted by Cleo he laughed at the threat she presented. Chip lost two teeth and all the stolen money and his own that afternoon. Cleo was a force to be reckoned with. Others tried to challenge Augustus Rose only to be set straight by Cleo.

“Angelo!” yelled Cleo from the kitchen. “I’m going to California. Book me a flight as soon as possible.”

Angelo didn’t argue. When Cleo had that feeling he knew she was always right. Someone in San Francisco was going to be very sorry, he thought.

 

Not Over Until It’s Over

Julius wasn’t sure what to say or do when confronted by Miss Liu. She was equally unsure as she stepped closer to him. The background noise of traffic and honking made it difficult to hear the Chinese woman, who spoke softly and in very broken English.

“It’s too noisy out here,” he said looking into her troubled eyes. “The coffee shop on the corner is closed. I can unlock my office and discuss things. And I think you might prefer a more private place to talk.”

Miss Liu looked left and right as if there might be an option she had not seen. Hesitantly she nodded her head in agreement. Miss Liu balked at the base of the stairs, a look of indecision crossing her face. Then she placed her foot on the first step to follow Julius upstairs. Retracing his earlier steps, Julius heard the creaking noises of the building once more. Each step groaned by the pressure exerted on the tread. Miss Liu consciously took each steep step carefully gripping the railing due to the steep incline.

The familiar hum of the florescent lights filled the office. Miss Liu sat straight up in the offered chair. Julius chose a seat across from her.

“I think long time about father,” she began pointing at Julius. “It make me sad. So I want to talk with you about remedy.”

“Thank you,” he replied. “That’s very kind of you to come here. I would have gone to you.”

“Remedy no medicine,” she announced. “You understand?”

“Yes, I know what it is, Miss Liu.”

“Make father pass into other world very fast,” she added. “Make him sleep. No wake up again.”

“Was the person who bought the remedy pleased with the results?” asked Julius. “That is why I wish to know. It’s a lot of money.”

“Chinese woman buy from me,” she replied. “She give to someone else, man I think, Chinese.”

“I use remedy before. Very good for money. No pain. Work fast,” she added holding up several fingers. “Three minutes. I want do same for father. Do not want trouble. That’s why only Chinese.”

“I appreciate your sensitivity,” answered Julius. “I would not ask you if there was trouble involved.”

She squinted at him trying to ferret out what he had said. Again she nodded, staring down at her folded hands. Julius was sure she was illegal in this country. It was probably one of the reasons for all the secrecy.

“I never sell remedy for bad thing,” she said smiling weakly. “Only for pain of dying. Woman say her nephew need remedy for relative. Medicine I give to make well. I like make people well.”

“Yes, I can see that you do,” responded Julius. “I thank you for coming to me. I guess it’s not possible to know who the nephew is. I must take your word for it regarding the remedy. I suppose it doesn’t matter. My father will find his peace in time.”

He didn’t like lying to Miss Liu. The woman did not appear to be a bad person, quite the contrary. Being undercover was not a position Julius wanted to prolong.

“Sorry,” she said. “Must go.”

Julius escorted Miss Liu to the street below, locking and resetting the alarm as before. The interview didn’t produce anything useful as far as he was concerned. No names were mentioned or volunteered. Julius will have to tell Mr. Knox in the morning about the visit. The police can decide what to do with the information.

As for the immediate present, lamb stew was awaiting him at home. Once more, this had to be the end of his clandestine career, which suited him fine. His brother might see this as another opportunity. Julius was happy to leave it to the experts.

What troubled his mind was the visit by Miss Liu. She didn’t have to see him at all. She wasn’t able to provide him with any first hand information, yet she felt compelled to see him. What difference would it make if an unknown man or woman bought that poison? Why would she bother to connect the woman with her nephew? That was far more information than necessary. Knox will have to figure out that one.

 

Planting Bernie

Nathan had the same thoughts that Julius conjured up. When a substance was passed from one person to another, the trail cooled rapidly. A Chinese woman and a Chinese nephew were two more links in that rusty chain. Was there anyone else connected to this chain? There was also the possibility this Chinese connection had nothing to do with Bernie’s demise. Nathan could be following a real dead end. Chinatown wasn’t the only place where poisons could be had. It just happens to be the best lead so far.

“Hey, Nate, you going to the funeral?” asked Art. “They’re going to plant Schwartz at Cypress Lawn at noon.”

“Yeah, I might,” answered Nathan. “Like to check out who comes. Might get lucky and find my killer. Sometimes they show up at the funerals to see their handiwork. But I think it’s a little bit too “textbook” for my liking. This case is anything but textbook. Anything on your end to report?”

“Yeah, I had this hot date last night,” boasted Art. “The girl was all over me. She couldn’t wait to finish dinner and jump in the sack.”

“No, I mean anything else about the case, stupid,” growled Nathan. “I’m not interested in your adventures in bimbo land.”

“Oh, yeah, the case,” he replied scratching his chin. “Same old stuff as before. Lots of happy people out there, glad to see the guy dead. Everyone of them has an alibi, though. The ones that don’t; aren’t in this state. Trust me, my date was more interesting than the list of people I’m checking out.”

“Keep checking, Art. I got a bad feeling about my lead. It could be everything or nothing. I hate these kinds of murders.”

 

Nathan used his personal vehicle to drive to Cypress Lawn Cemetery. Pros spotted unmarked cars if they knew anything about cops. Official cars were the same models and makes, often the cheapest models available. To be sure Nathan parked his car a good distance from the gravesite. Fog was beginning to roll in giving the air a chilly bite. The breeze didn’t help matters.

Nathan was surprised to see the plethora of flowers at the gravesite. One florist alone could not have provided the abundance of flora displayed. A canopy with chairs was erected next to the grave. A handful of people wandered inside to sit down each displaying varied emotions. The canopy did not offer any protection from the wind. Nathan doubted the service would last long.

Bernie had not been a practicing Jew. No clergy of any sort was in attendance. Most of the attendees wore fine clothing, furs and matching outfits for the women. One man in black held a book, not a bible in his hand. He seemed to be in charge of the service. Sylvia Schwartz examined her nails while she waited for things to start. Alan Cooke sat quietly his head slightly tilted gazing at the flowers, adoringly. No one appeared to be the least upset.

Finally the man with the book began to speak.

“Bernie didn’t believe in being weak,” he preached clearly. “Sure he angered some people and took advantage of others. But he did this because they were weak, a hard lesson to learn. …….”

The man droned on for fifteen minutes praising Bernie’s shortcomings. The speech was completely uninspired. It had as much depth as Bernie did. The audience was equally unimpressed. People fidgeted everyone eager to leave. The cold wind and billowing fog did not make the service easier. Sylvia pulled her fur collar closer around her neck. Others shifted in their seats, becoming impatient with the delay.

The speaker held up the book in his hand, revealing its contents Success In Business, Bernie’s Bible. His style of running the business was outlined in the text. The close management style allowed no one except Bernie to make decisions. You didn’t allow feelings enter into any of your deals. It was cold, calculating business. It was about control and power.

At the end of the speech Alan Cooke was the first to toss in a handful of dirt on the black walnut, bronze handle casket. Nathan watched as each person passed by, burying Bernie a handful at a time. A few unfamiliar faces passed by, Nathan waiting for that tug in his gut. It was difficult to explain how that phenomenon worked. A feeling, a hunch, an uneasiness came over him when confronted with a criminal.

An elderly black man did not bother to pick up a handful of dirt but rather kicked a chunk of it in the grave with his shoe. Nathan recognized him as a former driver for Bernie. He had been let go years before after he had asked for a dollar raise. There was no love lost between them. The man was there to merely witness the end of an unhappy chapter in his life. Nathan’s report gave the man a pass as a suspect. Small potatoes when you consider how many others lost money because of Bernie.

Nathan finally got that twinge he was hoping for. Or was it a coincidence? A young Asian man with an older woman walked to the grave. He waiting a long time before contributing his dirt to the hole, the woman not looking at the grave but clearly upset with something. He, on the other hand neither frowned nor smiled, his expression a sense of satisfaction. Of course several of the other attendees wore similar expressions. The man’s race was consistent with the only real lead Nathan had. Again, Nathan had to be cautious, not jumping to any conclusions.

The man holding the book stood his ground, waiting for everyone to leave. Nathan sauntered over to him. The man appeared to be in charge tossing the last handful of dirt after everyone else.

“Excuse me,” interrupted Nathan “I wonder if I could ask you a question.”

“Certainly,” returned the man. “And you are?”

“Nathan Knox,” returned Nathan peering down at the list the man had before him. “San Francisco Police Department. I’ve been looking into Bernard Schwartz’s death.”

“Ah, yes, I heard your name mentioned,” answered the man extending his hand. “I’m down from Seattle. My name is Gilbert Gunn, nephew of the deceased. My uncle wasn’t well liked, which you probably witnessed.”

“Yes, this is true, Mr. Gunn. The investigation has not gone the way I hoped. Too many people were glad to see him die. Some of them were here today, I imagine.”

“Yes, a lot of people openly called him a bastard,” said Gilbert smugly. “He treated me well enough for some reason I’ve never been able to understand. Maybe he felt a kinship since I really am a bastard. My mother, his sister was never sure who my father was. She had several affairs during her marriage. Of course I was given my stepfather’s last name despite the uncertainty of my heritage. I think Uncle Bernie got a kick out of that. Didn’t like my mother’s husband. Found great joy in tormenting the man.”

“Did you know everyone who attended the burial?” Nathan urged.

“I know who most of them are,” he returned. “Had them all sign a guest book. Won’t do uncle very much good, though. He isn’t going to be able to read it. But it was all in his requests for when he died. I was part of that deal. It was a deal to be sure. My uncle set aside a handsome sum of money for my services. He enjoyed dangling the carrot. It’s all in his will.”

Oh, God! thought Nathan. Another potential suspect I didn’t know about.

“So is the money something you will inherit?” asked Nathan.

“Hardly,” scoffed Gilbert. “Purely a business arrangement beforehand. He gave me some money several years ago with an equal amount to be set aside in a trust. A few thousand dollars just to keep me honest. You see, he never trusted anyone, completely.”

“What sort of business are you in, Mr. Gunn?”

“Interior decorating,” replied Gilbert. “Uncle Bernie didn’t think much of the idea but gave me the money anyhow. He believed in selling product not service. We had similar ideas about business. Perhaps that’s why he liked me. He didn’t allow sentiment to get in the way. Neither do I.”

Nathan didn’t particularly like Gilbert but was glad to get the details of his connection with Schwartz. Seattle was just a bit too far to travel to bump off an uncle for a few thousand dollars. It was one more stone he won’t have to turn over. What he did need to do is find out the name of the Asian man who was at the burial.

“I noticed a young Asian man and older Asian woman at the burial,” began Nathan. “Do you have any idea who they might be?”

“Actually, no,” answered Gilbert. “He signed the guest book but I had never heard of him before. The woman chose not to sign. Like I said, it doesn’t matter. They were probably servants of clients. I don’t know them all.”

“May I see the name?” requested Nathan. “It might help.”

Gilbert handed over the large guest book sitting on a nearby chair. A black ribbon was fastened across the book and tied in a neat bow. Nathan undid the ribbon opening the book. Only one page was needed for all the guests, though the book had twenty or more pages left.

“Mind if I copy some of these names?” he asked.

“Be my guest,” returned Gilbert. “In fact take the book with you if you like. I doubt Uncle Bernie will care.”

Nathan skipped the names he knew, concentrating on the few he didn’t. The Asian man’s signature was difficult to read but Nathan could make it out, Steven Hsu. None of the other names were remotely Chinese, so this had to be the one. Behind the name were a few Chinese symbols written vertically. It would be impossible for Nathan to know what they meant. Scribbling as best he could, he tried to copy the Chinese figures. They might be important or mean nothing at all. Nathan couldn’t allow the smallest detail to be overlooked.

Nathan took a wild chance by looking in the phone book for the suspect. There was no one by the name of Steven Hsu listed. He’d have to get back to the office and expand his investigation, using Art for the trivial tasks. First he’d visit the forensics lab to chat with Henry. It was a long shot; but Nathan hoped Henry could read Chinese. Maybe then he would have something to work with besides a name.

“This is Mandarin,” explained Henry studying the Chinese characters. “You’re out of luck as far as the name, Nate. Hsu is like the name Smith, common in China. Also the Chinese don’t put their names in the phonebook. My uncle doesn’t have his number listed. It’s a common thing.”

“Sure, I figured this wasn’t going to be easy,” answered Nathan. “Can you tell me what it says?”

“It’s hard to say,” continued Henry. “My Chinese isn’t as good as it should be. And your handwriting doesn’t help these characters. You should have brought the original.”

“I’ll do that if this helps,” said Nathan anxiously.

“Ah, I think the first character means honor,” reported Henry straining through his reading glasses. “Hard to say, but second character means family. That last one is not one I know. It could just be a saying. Might not be anything to help.”

“I was hoping for something more, Henry. You sure?”

“You leave it with me,” suggested Henry. “I’ll show it to my uncle. He’ll know what it means.”

 

Help Is On the Way

Clara pushed a letter across the breakfast table. Julius rarely opened the mail at home. He looked down at the envelope checking the return address. The handwriting looked familiar.

“Cleo?” he asked. “What on earth does she want? It’s not my birthday.”

“Open it, silly,” prodded Clara. “Unless you’re a mind reader.”

“My father always used to say, telegrams and unseasonable letters were bad news,” added Julius. “Cleo never writes. I hope nothing is wrong.”

Julius opened the letter carefully handling it like it was a scorpion about to strike. It was one page and short and to the point. Cleo did not like wordy letters.

“She’s coming for a visit,” announced Julius. “Going to be here sometime tomorrow.”

“How nice,” replied Clara. “I do love your sister. We never see enough of her. I’ll make up the spare room.”

“Yes, I suppose that would be a good idea,” returned Julius. “Cleo mentions Augustus. She thinks he’s in some sort of trouble. Cleo has always known when something was up with him. He has been saved more than once by the both of us.”

Cleo Rose, now married to Angelo Bocca, had a sixth sense about her little brother, Augustus. Experts claim some families have this ability almost to a science. More than once, Cleo knew when Augustus was in a bind before Julius got wind of it. Both siblings bailed Augustus out when he found himself in a compromising situation. As children, Cleo presented an imposing figure, tall, broad shouldered and muscular. Boys her age and older would not go toe to toe with her. Though it was unladylike for a girl to hit a boy, Cleo did not subscribe to that social norm. Several boys had suffered broken noses, black eyes and swollen lips.

“Maybe I should call her and tell her things are okay, Clara. I think Augustus is done with being a detective.”

“Oh, don’t do that,” begged Clara. “It will be fun to visit awhile with Cleo. We haven’t seen her in over a year. We’ll do a little shopping.”

 

Augustus found writing to be a chore rather than fun. He made a few more stabs at writing the great mystery, only to red line everything he had it done. He quit for three reasons. One: he wasn’t making any progress. Two: his typewriter ribbon needed to be replaced. Three: the activity bored him to death.

He would, however, hand write a letter to the management of Zimm’s and complain about the rude expulsion. Cops ate free and could stay as long as they wanted; yet paying patrons were required to order more expensive meals if they chose to stay longer. That wasn’t fair at all. Augustus regretted not getting the rude waitress’ name. He would like to add that to the complaint.

He began the letter and struggled with its content as much as he had with his failed novel. Some of his nasty comments were too bold. Others were too mild. There didn’t seem to be a good way of expressing his anger. Fifteen minutes later he crumpled the letter up, deciding it wasn’t worth the effort. Boredom crept back into his short attention span. He needed to do something interesting. Even his cat decided to sleep elsewhere in the house instead of curling ion Augustus’ lap.

What came to mind, as his head searched for something to do, was the unfinished business of the murder investigation. Though Julius and he were no longer required, the police still hadn’t resolved the case. Augustus knew he could crack the case, given the opportunity. It was time to go back to Chinatown and the apothecary and finish what he had started. He will follow the Chinese woman and find out who she mingles with. It will be a matter of time before her actions will produce the real killer. Then he will announce his discovery and be back in the detective business. Besides, his detective cards were on order and should be there within the week.

 

Julius met Cleo at the airport the next morning. The late flight from Chicago was on time. It would take another thirty to forty minutes to get the luggage. Cleo traveled light, bringing only what she would wear for the days required. Their father had said she was the orderly one in the family. She had no interest in the stationary business, however. In school, Cleo majored in history, a subject she hoped to teach in time.

“Where is our brother?” demanded Cleo. “I get this tight feeling in my chest that something is wrong. Reminds me of the day when he picked a fight with Earl Johnson. That kid would have killed Augie. You always did your best, Jules but you’re not the muscle-man type.”

“Well, I’m afraid this time you made the trip for nothing, sis. I already got Augustus out of a pickle. I’ll tell you on the way home. Oh, and by the way, he should be at work.”

“I don’t know, Jules. I’m never wrong about this. Are you sure?”

“Yeah, yeah, he was fooling around with being a detective in a murder case. We worked with the police for awhile but all that is done with. Last I heard from him, he was trying to become a writer.”

“Ha!” scoffed Cleo. “The boy has no talent in that area. Didn’t you tell him that?”

“I thought it best to let him try his hand at writing instead of something worse, sis. He can’t do too much damage in that area.”

“Good,” proclaimed Cleo. “Let’s invite him for dinner tonight. I’ll believe it when I hear it from his own lips.”

The invitation was not a request. It was an order. Cleo was the sort of woman you argued with. Her word was law; and you abided by that precept. Though it might seem that she was a bully, nothing could be farther from the truth. She had a keen sense of justice and would not arbitrarily meddle in the affairs of others. To her there were no gray areas, only black and white.

Julius dropped Cleo at the house returning to the office afterwards. All the deliveries were out and Augustus was working at his desk. A sense of normalcy prevailed. Marsha was rattling away with her bookkeeping while Diane took orders on the phone. How long that will last remained to be seen.

At lunch, Augustus ducked out of the office without a word. Julius had not yet given him the invitation to dinner and a command audience with sister, Cleo. Julius will leave a note on his desk about the dinner engagement. The mention of Cleo will surely cinch the invitation. Augustus wasn’t afraid of his sister but did have a healthy respect for her wishes.

“Diane, my sister is in town,” reported Julius. “Could you close up tonight? Augie will be leaving early too. I left him a note on his desk. It’s been awhile. Cleo is anxious about Augie. She’ll see he is fine. Thanks Diane.”

 

As before, lunch was a busy time in Chinatown. The weather turned out to be nice, stimulating the tourist in this part of town. It was interesting how the downtown area had the better weather than the more residential areas, south of Twin Peaks. Equally, interesting was the differences across the bay in Oakland and Berkeley. As a rule they had warmer weather than San Francisco.

Augustus walked back to the apothecary’s shop and waited for Miss Liu to appear. He didn’t know whether she would be there but took the chance. Taking off his suit jacket he leaned against a fire hydrant and watched the comings and goings of everyone. For all the color of the shops and displays, the Chinese, themselves were understated. Dark clothing and bland colors is what most of them wore, almost as if they wanted to blend into the background of the city.

From this corner Augustus could make out the apothecary. He wasn’t hidden by any means. Anyone wishing to avoid him could spy him from all four directions. It didn’t strike him that this would be the case. His cover was perfect. He was an average Joe enjoying the city. It was a nice day and he simply enjoyed the sixty-seven degree weather like most San Franciscans.

By 12:47PM the wind came up a little suggesting the end of the lunch hour. Eddies caused by a mild wind made bits of paper debris spin lazily in the allies. No one entered the apothecary’s building the entire time he was there. Augustus was about to leave when he was rewarded with his subject of his search. Miss Liu twisted the doorknob entering without noticing Augustus on the corner. At least it didn’t appear that she noticed him. This time he was not going to lose her.

Slipping his coat back on he briskly walked to the apothecary shop trying to look inconspicuous. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do when he got there, no plan had been staged, only an idea. Augustus chose to stay outside of the building on one end near the staircase. Two young pretty Chinese women descended the stairs locking onto Augustus’ presence. One of them kept walking toward the corner while the other slipped behind Augustus, putting a hand on his arm.

“You come here before,” she said in broken English. “Maybe you like me, yes? I like you. Have a good time.”

“No, I’m waiting for someone,” he said almost distracted by the woman’s physical charm.

“I not busy,” she added. “Don’t have to wait. Promise, you like me.”

“Uh, yeah, I’m sure you’re right,” he answered. “I can’t because I’m working on a case.”

“You police?” she responded stepping back.

“No, I’m a private detective, miss,” he boasted. “Working on an important case. Don’t have time for, you know.”

“Too much work,” she cooed. “Not good, too much work. Have fun, better.”

Just at that moment the door opened and Miss Liu exited carrying a small bundle under her arm. She moved up the street and away from where Augustus was, unaware she was being watched.

“That’s the woman,” he declared softly. “I have to follow her, sorry.”

The pretty girl sneered. “She old woman, maybe forty. Ugly too. Why you want her? Sick man!”

Augustus ignored the soliciting woman and began to stalk Miss Liu. She kept a comfortable pace looking back only twice. Augustus was sure she didn’t suspect he was following her. Each time she turned around, he quickly stared at whatever building he was next to. She will suspect he is checking an address or something like that. That was also a helpful hint in the detective guide regarding ‘tailing’ a suspect.

Miss Liu turned a corner, quickening her pace. By the time Augustus got to the corner she was almost a block away. He would have to shorten the distance or lose her all together. Several more turns here and there left Augustus standing in a dead end alley. He had no idea where he was or which one of the three doors she might have gone in. Knocking on each door was not a good idea. That was against ever rule regarding surveillance. His only hope was to wait her out. She would have to leave sooner or later, exposing the doorway she came from. He decided to wait next to some garbage cans.

The alley was surprisingly quiet. No one moved in or out of any of the buildings. The only evidence of life was a rodent of undisclosed identity and a scroungy looking cat bent of relieving the rodent of its earthly existence. To pass the time Augustus attempted to lure the cat over to him with typical words kitty endearment. The suspicious cat remained far away from the stranger, leaving for a less crowded, more lucrative hunting ground.

Hmm, thought Augustus. Must not understand English very well. But of course, it doesn’t. It’s a Chinese cat.

He looked at his watch. It was 2:23PM. Julius will have his hide for taking a long lunch. But this was more important than a few orders and paperwork. Julius will understand once Augustus gets the information the police have failed to find.

In his rush to find Miss Liu, Augustus had forgotten to eat lunch. A growling stomach reminded him of this one small detail. The smells of food cooking in the neighborhood didn’t make things easier. The alley was becoming darker and considerably chillier than before. His light, weight suit jacket did little to fend off the cold. That was the problem with big city buildings. Their height cut off the sun early in the afternoon.

It was 3:37PM and no movement in the alley. There was no point in going back to the office. In the distance Augustus could hear the sound of children released from school, yelling and laughing. At least someone was having a good time. Next time Augustus has a stake out, he’ll be better prepared with something to munch on and maybe a book to read. He had no idea it would be this hard.

The hour grew late, Augustus pacing back and forth to stay warm. His stomach sounded like the first movement Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, fate knocking on the door. He was now missing dinner as well has his lunch. Detective work demanded a lot of sacrifices, he had never considered. Why was it the detective magazines never mentioned food?

He heard something stir behind him. At the open end of the alley an old Chinese man hobble with the use of a simple lacquered cane toward Augustus. Sizing up the old man, Augustus made him out to be at least one hundred years old, maybe older. Old Chinese people were hard to figure. The old man got to within a couple yards of him before speaking.

“What you do here?” he demanded without malice. “Nothing here for you.”

“I’m just a tourist,” lied Augustus. “Enjoying Chinatown. You know, the atmosphere and stuff.

The old man shook his head. It was obvious he didn’t buy the tourist routine. Augustus needed to come up with something better.

“I’m waiting for someone,” amended Augustus. “It’s official business.”

“Who you wait for?” question the ancient Oriental. “Nobody here, only Chinese.”

“Maybe, I’m waiting for someone who is Chinese,” suggested Augustus.

The old man chuckled to himself, followed by an aftermath of coughing. His smile wrinkled his skin giving him comical expression. His face betrayed his disbelief. It was as if Augustus said he was waiting for an elephant to bring him his evening meal.

“I watch you from window,” said the man. “All day you wait. You wait, nobody come. You go home now. You not police.”

“Why do you say that?” queried Augustus. “I could be the police.”

“Police not so dumb,” answered the man with another chuckle. “They sit in car, stay warm. You stand long time in cold.”

“It’s a free country, friend,” responded Augustus irritated by the old man’s badgering. “I can stand here if I want.”

The old man shrugged and turned back. In parting he added, “Bad men rob you. You wait too long.”

It crossed his mind that the old man might be right. Augustus still had the unhappy memory of such an encounter with youth gangs in Chinatown. He had to think of the various alternatives. In Joshua Schmidt’s Bible of Crime Detection a chapter dealt with alternatives. Augustus hadn’t read that chapter very well but knew he had to go to Plan B, whatever that was.

“One more hour,” he said to himself. “Then I’ll go home.

 

5:00PM with dinner on the table, Cleo and Julius looked at each other, dread gnawing away at them. Her unspoken thoughts were as loud as any audible ones could be.

“Well?” she finally said.

“I’m sure he’s just hung up in traffic,” said Julius. “Could be an accident of the freeway. I left a note on his desk at lunchtime. Told him you were here and to have dinner with us.”

“Sorry brother,” responded Cleo. “I got that feeling again. You know what that means? Our little brother is in trouble, again. I don’t know what it is. And I know you have an idea what it might be. Spit it out.”

There was no sidestepping Cleo. Julius spread the whole scenario out in detail. From beginning to end the story took a little longer than Cleo would have liked. She squinted, taking in every facet of the story. Julius could see she was formulating a plan, though she said nothing to him during his dissertation. With arms folded over her chest she nodded every so often, having heard this similar story before.

“He’s in Chinatown,” she announced. “I can feel it in my bones. Our dear brother has a talent for making the wrong decisions and has done it again.”

“Yes, that would be my best guess,” answered Julius. “I know where to start, too.”

Clara sat through the whole story, shocked at what had transpired during her absence. Drinking a beer or two was nothing when set against his night in jail and Augustus being kidnapped.

Cleo and Julius piled into the car, moving towards downtown. Commute traffic was still thick and the going was slow. Julius felt like a little kid who had been caught painting a mustache on a political poster. Cleo had that effect on him. Her no-nonsense attitude made everyone feel the same way.

“Cleo, maybe we should call the police,” suggested Julius. “Chinatown can be a rough place.”

“Yeah, and they will handle this the same way they handled the investigation,” she returned. “The police should have been on top of this case to begin with. Our stupid brother wouldn’t be in trouble now if they had been.”

“And you didn’t help matters by being so smart, Jules. You didn’t have to show Augie the right way to do things. If you had left Augie alone, he would have spent the night in jail and that would have been that.”

“Don’t go blaming me, Cleo,” argued Julius, in his defense. “If I hadn’t done what I did, Augie would be in real trouble. Besides, there was the suspicion factor about Augie and myself. We were potential suspects, you know.”

“I don’t want to hear excuses, Jules. Can’t we go any faster?”

Julius bit his lip not to say something unkind to his sister. He loved his sister but she could become extremely overbearing at times. Her tongue was sharp and quick. Her affection was equally intense, though less demonstrative.

“Traffic, dear sister,” he replied. “I can’t drive through them. Just relax. Augie has a gift for surviving that puzzles me. The luck of the Irish.”

 

Augustus examined his options. He could sit in the alley all night or return early in the morning before light. The latter sounded more appealing as time wore on. In the morning he could wait to see if Miss Liu would emerge from one of the several doors. There was only one flaw in his plan. She could leave before he got back. Then he’d have to start all over again. That was a chance he will have to take.

When he reached the end of the alley Augustus tried to remember which way he had turned. This part of town was hilly and unfamiliar to him. He knew he had walked uphill for several blocks before coming to the alley. It was only logical to walk back down until he found something familiar. Two blocks later he did discover something familiar. It was the gang of young men he had encountered a few nights before.

He thought about running, but where? These young thugs probably knew the place inside and out. Augustus did not even know where he was.

“Hi fellas,” muttered Augustus weakly.

The young man with the black coat and cap laughed at their luck. The gang began to circle Augustus, their intentions frightening.

“You got money?” said the young man.

“Uh, I’m afraid I don’t have much,” answered Augustus. “I never carry more than a few dollars.”

“Maybe brother come and give me more money,” reported the young man. “You not very smart to come back without money. This time, maybe I cut you for sure.”

The young man produced a switchblade knife, waving it in the air. Whether it was an idle threat or the real thing, Augustus was not very happy with his predicament.

“Gee, fellas. I don’t think my brother will come down here,” Augustus stated with regret. “He’s pretty pissed-off with me for the last time.”

In desperation Augustus added, “I could send you a check.”

The young men looked at one another in disbelief. Two of them stumbled backwards in laughter while the other chortled.

“You think I’m stupid?” asked the young man with the knife.

“No, not at all,” answered Augustus.

“Send me a check?” repeated the young man. “You want address to send check?”

“Sure,” replied Augustus innocently. “Otherwise I won’t know where to send it.”

“You crazy!” returned the man. “I look like I’m stupid?”

“I wouldn’t suggest anything of the sort,” answered Augustus.

“You come with us,” demanded the young man pushing the knife blade close to Augustus’ throat. “We call brother. Again!”

Augustus and the gang of men dodged through several allies and streets until they were back where Augustus had been tied up the last time. The young man was about to make the call to Julius when a couple people came walking their way. Cautiously, Augustus was instructed to be silent or serious consequences would result. The gang will wait until these people passed before continuing their extortion plans.

 

“I don’t believe it,” said Julius. “We have found Augustus.”

“Are you sure?” questioned Cleo. “It’s dark; I can’t make out a thing.”

“”It’s him,” repeated Julius. “I just know.”

The closer they walked the clearer the picture became. The young men attempted to hide their intentions until one of them recognized Julius.

“Ah, brother come without call,” said the young man with the knife.

“Hi, Cleo, hi Julius,” greeted Augustus, sheepishly. “Look who I ran into.”

“You, brother, give money or we cut ear off,” demanded the young man. He stood with his knife poised near Augustus’ neck.

“Who is he?” grumbled Cleo miffed by the demands.

“He’s the kidnapper I told you about,” Julius answered.

Cleo’s face was calm as she began to speak to the gang.

“Release my brother and nothing will happen to you,” she stated with a scary confidence the gang could not fathom.

“What you, lady?” chided the young man. “Hit me with little purse?”

“Well, now that you ask,” she replied pulling out a small revolver from her purse.

Cleo held the gun firmly with both hands aiming at the man’s head. Before Julius could object a gunshot echoed through the buildings. The young man dropped the knife and held his right hand to the side of his bleeding head. The others in the gang froze for a few seconds running in every direction once their wits returned to them. A mixture of English and Chinese could be heard as they flew through the dark recesses of Chinatown.

“Crazy lady!” complained the young man, wobbling in shock.

“Crazy or not, buddy,” she began. “I’ll shoot your other ear off if you don’t leave my brother alone, a little lower and I’ll change you sex.”

The young man did not even stop to retrieve his knife, scampering off without a word, only a wail of pain now and then confirmed his the insult to his body. Augustus stood wide-eyed, afraid to move. Julius lurched forward to discourage his sister from firing again.

“My god, Cleo,” shouted Julius. “You can’t just shoot people like that in San Francisco. You’ll be arrested. When did you start carrying a gun?”

“Oh dear brother you are so naïve,” she said. “I’ve been carrying this gun for years. There are parts of Chicago where a gal needs a gun. And, as you can see, it can come in handy when you need it.”

“But Cleo,” protested Julius. “There are laws.”

“I suppose our little Chinese man abides by the law,” she reported. “It was a choice of Augie’s ear or his. I decided to simplify the equation. At the very least it got his attention. I doubt we will see him anymore tonight.”

Augustus stared at Julius and then Cleo before fainting dead on the street. It was Probable that Slade would not have fainted under these same conditions. But Slade wasn‘t a real man, neither was Augustus.

“For a hardcore detective, Augie doesn’t have the stomach for a little excitement,” claimed Cleo stuff her pistol back into her purse. Let’s get him up and leave before I have to shoot somebody else.”

Julius patted his brother’s face, trying to bring him around. A few moans and coughs preceded Augustus’ recovery.

“Is it over?” Augustus mumbled softly.

“I’m starved,” declared Cleo. “I hope Clara’s dinner isn’t ruined.

 

The Butler Did It?

“Hey, I got that translation for you Nate,” announced Henry over the phone. “I was pretty close. My uncle says it’s hard to translate exactly. Protect family honor, is what it means roughly. He said the phase is used when there is a loss of face, or a dishonor of some kind. But I got some good news that might help.”

“What, pray tell would that be?” returned Nathan looking at the wall clock. 5:30PM and he wasn’t any closer to solving the crime until now.

“My uncle checked around and found your Mr. Steven Hsu,” replied Henry. “He asked a few friends and tracked him down. It wasn’t easy since his last name differed from his aunt. I’ll be surprised if this is your boy. The word is, Steven is a straight-shooter, no criminal record or any trouble at all. He lives with his aunt and works in an office on California Street.”

“You’re a lifesaver, Henry,” said Nathan, glad for some crumb of evidence. “I wouldn’t have found the guy without your help. I owe you one.”

“Glad to help, Nate. Call me if you need any more help. I’ll do what I can.”

Nathan had known Henry for a long time. Their working relationship was always comfortable and cooperative. Forensics was a demanding, accurate area, requiring painstaking concentration and procedures. A mistake handling evidence could dash the chances of a conviction. Henry was an expert in his field and also a likeable fellow.

Armed with the address and phone number of Steven Hsu, Nathan closed in on his prime suspect. It was a dangerous assumption to make. All he had was an exotic poison, possibly from Chinatown and a Chinese woman, Miss Liu, who had recently purchased that same poison. This is all circumstantial until they can connect all of it. Until then, Nathan will have to treat Steven Hsu and his aunt, very carefully.

It bothered Nathan when Henry questioned the possibility of Steven being his man. Nathan’s gut still felt something was going on with the man. Linking Steven with Miss Liu will be the clincher. How he will do that was another major headache. For the moment there was nothing left to do but go home.

Home?” he thought. More like a demolition site laced with feline talons.

He rubbed his legs where the tiny kittens had clawed their way to his lap. It amazed him how such small creatures could have such lethal weapons. Nathan had no objections to cats. His girls had them as pets years before. When his daughters went off to school Gladys and Nathan became the new caretakers. But the cats were cats, not kittens. They slept most of the time. The cats restricted their attentions to the food bowl and a warm lap.

Shifting his attention back to the case, he realized he could never pick up Miss Liu for questioning. Julius Rose claimed the woman was very shy and secretive. With many of the Chinese this was normal. Too many questions might expose them as illegal aliens, sending them back to China where life was harder. Many feared being deported back to a life they had escaped. Silence was their best defense.

Nathan began scooping up his papers to leave when Art rushed in.

“What, not out cruising the bars for a date?” chided Nathan. “I hope this doesn’t mean you’re actually taking police work seriously.”

“Yeah, yeah, Mr. Smartass,” answered Art stuffing a sheet of paper in front of Nathan. “Our boy, Charles Vincent took a flight this morning to Buenos Aires. I checked with the airlines and there was no return ticket purchased. I haven’t been able to check but I’ll bet his bank account has been closed too. I think Charles Vincent makes the top of our list as suspects now.”

“The butler did it?” mumbled Nathan under his breath.

“Hmmm! I can’t see it, Art,” declared Nathan rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. “Charles Vincent didn’t like Schwartz but he had no strong motive. One way or another, he was getting enough money to live well. Doesn’t make sense.”

“It makes sense to me,” replied Art. “Who else would have a key to get into the house and plant that poison? Schwartz wouldn’t even give his girlfriends a key. And I know he didn’t give any of the hookers an opportunity to move in. There’s quite a list of them, by the way. This guy gave dirty old men a bad name.”

“I don’t know, Art. I’m not sure I want to go chasing some high and mighty manservant to South America. Is there anything else on the prostitutes? He tangled with so many people it’s hard to narrow it down.”

“All I can say, Nate, the man had eclectic taste in women, all races and creeds. The list goes back years.”

“Eclectic? That’s a pretty big word for you Art. You look that one up?”

“I’ll have you know I won the spelling-bee in the seventh grade,” reported Art. “The final word, which won me the match was ‘pedagogue’. My opponent blew that one and I got it right. So there.”

“Do you know what it means?” asked Nathan curious with this new facet of his young co-worker he had not expected.

“Hell no,” exclaimed Art. “I only had to spell it, not know what it meant. Nobody knows.”

Nathan rocked back in his chair, the squeak reminding him of the need for oil.

“It means, a slave who escorts children to school,” replied Nathan. “I remembered that from sixth grade.”

“Big deal!”

The intellectual battle did not resolve the fact that a minor suspect had flown the coup. Shifting the focus of an investigation didn’t always pay off.

“Tell you what, Art. You follow the Mr. Charles Vincent lead. I’m going to stick with my Chinatown lead. Eventually we will see which of us has any luck.”

“Deal!” confirmed Art. “I’m on it.”

“By the way, do have that list of prostitutes he dealt with?” asked Nathan.

“Sure. I’m not going to waste any more time on these anyhow,” returned Art. “Not all of them are pros, either. Some thought he was for real, like they could be the permanent, Mrs. Schwartz, number four.”

Art had been correct about the eclectic nature of the women he preferred. The list of women was several pages long. Art had drawn a line through several of the names. Some had died and others no longer lived near by. Nathan looked at the unusual names, Russian, Greek, Many European, Japanese and Chinese. He scanned the list looking for the name Liu or Hsu. Nothing jumped out at him. None of those names were in the list. He tossed the list on his desk, slipping on his coat to leave.

On the way out he passed Art’s desk, cluttered from one end to the next.

“How can the man work like this?” commented Nathan flipping through the layer of papers. “Who could find anything in this pile?”

He stopped to look over the papers, which Art had been working on. Art had scribbled something on a scrap about illegitimate children and a few first names. Nathan shook his head in disgust. Schwartz lacked the scruples any decent man should have. How could anyone have children and not want to care for them? That was a question that will never be answered.

 

“Nate, someone called just now for you,” announced Gladys as he trudged up the stairs. “I told him to call you at work tomorrow. But he said it was important. I wrote it down somewhere on a piece of paper in your den. Is Chinese okay for dinner? I ordered it about fifteen minutes ago. Sweet and sour pork and that fried rice you like.”

“Chinese? Yeah, sure. Did the man give a name?” asked Nathan eagerly.

“I don’t remember. It’s all scribbled down on the note,” she answered.

Bypassing the living room, Nathan immediately went down to his den in search of the note. Gladys was not always on top of things when important calls came but she did at least take down the messages. He opened the door to the den, two excited kittens immediately attacking him, latching onto the cuff of his pants. Gently he removed them trying not to damage his suit in the process. With long strides he walked to his desk. The kittens scampered after him, a new moving target.

Much to his dismay several papers were on the floor, some chewed up by playful kittens. Others were scattered behind, under and to either side of the desk. Most of the papers were nothing important but the note might be. On hands and knees, he searched the bits and pieces on the floor for something resembling a note. He found a partially, intact cleaners receipt reminding him to pick up his other suit tomorrow. He picked through a few torn pieces trying to match them up.

The kittens took this as a chance to climb on his back, swatting at the bits of paper as he looked at each of them.

“Gladys!” he hollered. “Come down and show where you put the note. While you’re at it, get these animals off of me.”

The note was retrieved and the kittens tucked into a pet carrier for the few minutes while Nathan attended to business. Julius Rose left a number and an urgent message to call.

Clara Rose answered the phone unable to explain the message because she was completely unaware of Julius’ covert operation. She promised to have Julius call as soon as he got back from Chinatown.

“Chinatown?” said Nathan shocked. “What is he doing in Chinatown?”

“Oh it’s nothing, really,” replied Clara. “Augustus seems to be in some sort of trouble. Julius will get him out of it. He always does.”

Nathan thanked Clara then called the police desk to hear if there was any news regarding a disturbance in Chinatown. The black and white squad cars cruised through the area but seldom wandered on foot there. The Chinese had a way of handling their problems, eliminating the need for police intervention. The police rather preferred it that way too.

“Sergeant, do you have anything going down in the Chinatown area?” asked Nathan over the phone. “I may have an operative in that area in need of help.”

“Nothing special, Nate,” answered the sergeant. “There was one report of a gunshot earlier this evening. But that’s kind of a normal thing. We get that a lot. Probably just a firecracker. Every store has them, you know.”

“Did you send anyone to check it out?” pressed Nathan.

“My guys were in the area and never heard a thing,” reported the sergeant. “Like I said, it was probably a firecracker. We don’t have time to waste on chasing down a garbage-run like that. Bad enough they got to scoop up the drunks. Sorry, Nate. Can’t give you any more than that.”

The last thing Nathan wanted was to work overtime chasing down one or all of the Rose brothers. At this point it didn’t matter. They were either alive or dead. In both cases, Nathan won’t help matters by skulking around Chinatown.

Investigating violent crimes had a down side, when you cared about people. Nathan was taught to be objective and uninvolved, emotionally. Sometimes that was possible and sometimes it kept him awake at night. Murder was a serious business with a chance of further violence to others. Nathan made every attempt to remove the innocent from further harm. The Rose boys had a talent for making that hard to do. Until he got a call from Julius, he was going to feel uneasy.

Nathan waited by the phone for a few more moments and pulled out the 38 caliber revolver from its holster. He remembered when he bought the gun years before. As a young cop he had practiced with it until he was a dead shot. Criminals would not get the jump on him. Over the years he went less and less to the police range. The significance of this deadly weapon was beginning to sink in.

He had never shot anyone and hoped he would never have to. A few times as a beat cop he fired in the air to scare the criminal. That was usually enough to bring them to a halt. In that entire time he had never been shot at. Perhaps that was what allowed him to remain in the police department. Being shot at adds an element of danger, which can unnerve the bravest of men. Once that happens, it’s hard to do the work you’re supposed to.

Before becoming a policeman, Nathan had been in Germany during the war. As luck would have it, he missed D-day by a week. He had been assigned to Military Police training. The course was pushed hard in order to get fresh troops to France and Germany as soon as possible. Nathan was shipped over soon after completing his training. The majority of his duties involved guarding important places and keeping the wild soldiers from hurting each other. The job didn’t have the glory of the frontline troops. It also didn’t have the dangers closely related.

But the dangers of war weren’t reserved for the frontline exclusively. Small pockets of resistance were all over the place. A small town or country lane could possess a German sniper ready to take out as many Americans as he could. Even if the areas were cleared, danger rode high above. Nathan had his first experience with a German fighter plane that chose to dive out of the clouds spraying machinegun fire inches away. He hadn’t been hit but the memory of the incident was never forgotten.

The armory he guarded provided no shelter from the plane. A shallow ditch was the only thing close to cover. The attack was so sudden and frightening Nathan soiled his trousers. He might not have been the first or the last to do so. The worst part of this humiliating condition had yet to be done. Four more hours on guard duty remained. Leaving his post was not an option.

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