Mystery writer Brian Drake has just released Bullet for One on Kindle.
JOHN COBURN IS A PRIVATE
There wasn’t anybody but me in the hotel hallway and the low hum of the air conditioner the only other sound as I made my way to Suite 1911. The key card in my front shirt pocket fit into the slot above the doorknob and the lock clicked.
I pushed the door open and stepped inside and—
She stood behind the door raising a pistol. She wasn’t going to bash me with her automatic. She wanted to blow my head off and had the trigger back halfway. I grabbed her wrist. The gun fired and the shot smacked into the arm of the couch. I slammed my elbow into her chin. Her head snapped back. I twisted the gun from her hand and shoved her into the wall. She dropped to her knees.
I glanced at the gun. A Colt .45, like mine, with a familiar notch on the slide. Felix’s gun.
A closet door across the room swung open and a big man with a ponytail came out with a revolver. I brought up the .45 and fired twice. He landed on the floor.
What was happening here?
The woman screamed, jumping up, kicking and punching my knees, stomach and face and each hit landed dead on and I fell back on the corner of the coffee table. Felix’s gun flew from my hand; I tried to rise but the woman sent an enraged kick into my face.
The women gave Ponytail a quick glance before she raced out the door.
The room spun for awhile and then I blacked out.
“He’s awake, Captain.”
Two faces looked down at me. I tried to get up, but a flood of dizziness put me right back down again. Then I rolled onto my left side and vomited on the carpet.
“Take it easy, John,” Nick Shepherd said, kneeling beside me.
The other guy, a police doctor I recognized, flashed a penlight in my eyes.
“He’ll be all right,” the doctor said. He shut off the light.
“Thanks, Doctor,” Nick said over his shoulder as the doctor went away.
“What’s going on?” I said, stretching out on my back again.
Nick looked down at me, big as a house with a white crew cut. Captain of the Las Palmas PD Robbery/Homicide Squad. One of those cops who knew you couldn’t always do it by the book and that’s why we were friends. Other things made us friends, too. He’d been in the military same as me, but while I had served as an agent with the Criminal Investigations Division, Nick had spent his days jumping out of perfectly good airplanes.
“Don’t try to talk,” he said. “Bunch of my guys here, some Feds, too. They’re interested in the guy you shot. Have a lot of questions.”
“I have questions for you, too, but they can wait. Just lay there and take it easy. I’ll be right back.”
I stared at the tiled ceiling. My body started to tingle.
Where was Felix?
Nick returned with a tall black man I didn’t know. He wore a dark suit, white shirt, dark tie, a gold badge clipped to the pocket of his Tahoe. His hair had a streak of white in it. On the right side of his neck was a short jagged scar.
“John, this is Special Agent Winters, FBI.”
“Hello, Mr. Coburn.”
“What happened tonight? Where’s Felix Tower?”
“He wasn’t here when I arrived.”
“What did he share with you regarding his current assignment?”
“Are you going to answer my questions or not?”
“I can make this—”
“No you can’t.”
Nick said: “All right, that’s enough.” He turned to the Fed. “Tomorrow morning. My office. You can ask all the questions you want.” Down at me: “I’m sure John will talk to you then.”
“This is a federal case, Captain Shepherd.”
Nick said: “And your only witness won’t talk until he’s ready. My office tomorrow morning, ten o’clock.”
Winters flipped his notebook closed and gave me a look. I closed my eyes a moment, opened them; Nick stood alone.
“Thanks,” I said.
“Are you ever going to grow up?”
I started to push myself up. Nick gave me a hand. I ached all over.
It began the previous afternoon just after lunch. Coburn & Associates sat on the fifth floor of a downtown building. My only “associate”, with the exception of a few free-lancers I bring on now and then, was my secretary, Leanna Foster.
I’d opened up after my army discharge. Mostly I did background checks for a few corporations, divorce cases, routine stuff.
Leanna was a husky gal who kept her auburn hair tied back and stuck to matching blouses and skirts for work; she had one of those folding picture frames on her desk with her husband Steve on one side, the other left blank for their first child. She and Steve wanted children, but were having trouble. She’d told me once in no uncertain terms: “When I finally get pregnant, I’m out of here,” but I hoped Steve kept shooting blanks. I couldn’t run the shop without her.
I hung up my coat and said: “Did you get the check from Hamilton?”
“Deposited it during my lunch break.”
I went over to the lobby couch and examined the left cushion. The hole that had been there was now covered with a patch of matching fabric. “You have this done while I was gone?”
“Hole was getting too big.”
“You’ll see the bill.”
“It’s amazing I can afford you the way you spend money. You spend your husband’s money like this?”
“My husband doesn’t have any money.”
“Why am I not surprised?”
I crossed the outer room to my private office with the big desk in the center and photographs taken by yours truly on the wall behind. They made for great conversation pieces with nervous clients, and learning about my favorite hobby prior to explaining why they wanted a private investigator helped ease the tension.
I didn’t have any pictures or mementos of the army. Those years had been good to me, but they were part of a past I sometimes did not want to think about.
I settled into my padded leather chair. The springs squeaked.
I’d been working on the reports for the last few jobs when Leanna transferred a call to me.
Felix Tower’s voice boomed from the other end of the line. We’d known each other since we were kids, served in the same military police outfit. It was via the MPs that I made my way into CID; Felix had followed. We were like brothers. When we mustered out and returned home, I opened my agency and Felix started his own company.
Felix ran an executive protection company with offices all over the United States. I had wanted him as my partner in the P.I. office, but he wanted to go his own way. We helped each other from time to time, though.
“Just got back from FBI headquarters,” he said.
“I need you.”
“I’m sitting on something really hot. Help me baby-sit. Easy money. Right here in the City. Triple your regular rate if you want.”
“What’s the story?”
“Not on the phone. Meet me at Kottinger Park in twenty minutes.”
“Don’t sound so excited.”
“Only because it’s you, Felix.”
“See you in twenty.”
Felix’s gray Caddy pulled up behind me. Felix smiled and held a rolled up magazine in his hand. A little shorter than me with a rolly-polly frame, I wouldn’t bet against him in a fight. Under the bulk was plenty of muscle and he knew fighting tricks I had not bothered to learn.
“We could have done this at my office,” I said.
“Let’s go sit down.”
“Can’t be so serious you brought the latest MAD magazine, is it?”
“Just in case you were late,” he said as I grabbed it from him, flipped through a few pages.
“Can’t believe you still read this crap.”
“Keeps me young. Don’t fold the back page! I haven’t looked at it yet.”
We sat at a picnic table under a thick tree. The full branches seemed to block out most of the sky. I tossed the magazine back to him. “So?”
“Witness protection. FBI asked my company to do it.”
“Why you? The Feds have guys who do this.”
“They’re afraid of leaks.”
“Something wrong with the plumbing?” I grinned.
Felix didn’t crack a smile. “You know what I mean,” he said.
“Who’s the witness?”
“Jimmy Wexler. We need to make sure nothing happens to him.”
“Until the Feds move against his gang,” Felix said. “Couple days. Hotel suite, expenses, everything covered.”
I shook my head.
“Come on, Johnny.”
A light wind rustled the leaves above us. A car turned the corner; Felix’s eyes darted toward it, his shoulders tensed, and we reached for guns at the same time. The car continued past, a mother and her little girl in the front. She kept driving up the street and disappeared from view.
I took my hand away from my gun and turned back to Felix. He still watched the street, his own .45 already drawn and resting on his lap.
“It’s like that?”
“Anybody following you?” I said.
“He’s sure of it,” Felix said, finally putting his gun away.
“Where is he right now?”
“At the hotel. I check in with him every hour. He says he’s getting a little stir crazy, but nothing’s happened so far. He’s just waiting for us.”
“All right. Five-hundred dollars a day.”
“I’ll swing it.”
“The Hilton on Maddox and Greenwood tonight.” He reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out a plastic hotel key card. “You get the night shift. Eight sharp.”
Nick watched me after I finished the story. He said: “What about Wexler?”
“Right now I’m more concerned with Felix.”
An hour later I finally made it home, the house quiet, the microwave clock showing 2:45 a.m.
Sitting on the edge of my bed, I took off my shoes, took a breath, tried to organize my thoughts. After three rings the other line picked up; a woman answered. Felix’s wife, Denise.
“Felix is missing.”
“I’m talking to some FBI guys in a few hours. I’ll know more then.”
“Want me to come over?”
She said nothing for a moment. “No. I’m okay. Call me as soon as you’re done.”
She hung up.
I undressed and climbed into bed. Thought about Felix, the woman, the man I shot. Wexler’s buddies making a play before he could talk? Sure. But how had they known where to go? The leak must have been worse than the Feds had realized. Somebody close to the case knew everything.
Find the leak, find Felix.
If he was still alive.