Some of the stories I’ve written already appear at online outlets. Click on each link to access them.
“Walls” on The Art of Autism.
“A Walk in the Park with Mozart” on Authonomy.
“Stranded In Paradise” on Authonomy.
“My Farsi Boyfriend” on Red Fez.
“The Candlestick Kid” on Enchanted Conversation.
“The Haunting In Belltown” on Flash Fiction World.
“The Haunted Piano” on Dark Media.
“Little Hammer” on Darkest Before The Dawn.
“Trees” on Free Flash Fiction.
“Rosencrantz Hardware” on Eskimo Pie.
“The Dark Lens” on Short ‘n Scary Stories.
“Trying to Sell Magazines in the Ghetto” on Short Stories 101.
Act 1 – The Curator
It was dusk when a hostage situation came underway at a large six-bedroom suburban home in the North Seattle neighborhood of Bitter Lake. A paranoid priest, Father Benedetto Rio, had his 11-year-old daughter, Amelia, captive. Her mother, Catherine, had died last year of cancer, a disease that was devastating to the whole family. Two Seattle Police Department detectives working on a tip, Frank Tucker, svelte, golden haired, late 20’s, and Michael LaTour, handsome, black, late 30’s, had knocked on the door but no one answered. Upon hearing a bang coming from inside the house, they drew their guns, circled the building carefully, then broke in – Frank through the front and Michael in the rear.
The smoky house was bathed in black & red lights and decorated in “extreme gothic.” There were lit candles, incense burners, shrouds and crucifixes everywhere. There was even an altar in the living room. On every wall was there were cryptic messages in Latin handwritten with pig’s blood. The interior looked more like a twisted Sistine Chapel than those of a house nestled comfortably in the ‘burbs.
Frank entered the living room where Rio, dressed in a purple robe and alb, was sitting lotus-style on a wooden pew in the living room. He was holding a gun in both hands with the barrel pointed upward at his chin. Packets of heroin sat on a center table. Rio recognized Frank and relaxed his pistol.
“Welcome to paradise,” Rio greeted him.
“Where’s Amelia, Benny?” Frank queried, his service revolver trained firmly on him. “Where is she?!”
“Such impertinence from a civil servant,” Benny observed, sweat pouring down his brow. “Your lack of subtlety is most disturbing.”
“Put down the gun!” Frank ordered him.
Father Rio, however, didn’t comply.
“You know what’s more depressing that a suicidal priest?” Rio asked. “A dead cop.”
He lowered his gun and pointed it at Frank. Instinctively, Frank fired, hitting Rio once in the chest. He slumped over backwards on the pew while his gun fell to the floor. Frank walked over, picked up his gun, and checked his pulse. He had none.
Michael, entering the rear hallway with was bathed in a thick smoky haze, darted to one side upon hearing the shot.
“Frank?” he shouted. “Was that you?”
Then, from out of a bedroom between the two officers, Frank noticed a short girlish figure emerge brandishing a firearm.
“Michael! She’s got a gun!” he shouted.
Impulsively, Michael glanced at her and fired. The girl flew backwards, slammed against a hallway bookcase, and fell supine to the floor. Approaching her, Michael kicked the gun away from her body. Frank picked it up.
“What have I done?” Michael asked. “It’s Amelia.”
He reached down and palpated her carotid artery. There was no pulse.
“Dammit it!” Frank yelled, examining the pistol. “It’s a BB gun.”
“What?!” Michael blurted. “A toy?”
“You didn’t know,” Frank replied. “It’s too hazy in here. Too dark.”
“Fuck!” Michael yelled. “Why’d you shout like that? Now look what happened!”
“I thought it was real!” Frank explained. “Dammit. I was looking out for you!”
“You should’ve been looking out for her!”
“Internal Affairs is gonna have a field day with this.”
“Yeah,” Michael agreed, “like I don’t have enough trouble as it is.”
Soon, other officers, the fire department and paramedics arrived. They set up crime scene tape, took lots of pictures, and confiscated the drugs which had the words “Little Hammer” stamped on the packages.
Later that evening, Michael, interrogated for reckless endangerment and dereliction of duty, had his gun and badge taken away by the police chief pending further investigation. They concluded that he acted too rashly with his hair trigger finger. Both he and Frank explained that the air was thick with smoke, but by the time assistance arrived, a lot of it had dissipated. Nevertheless, per protocol, the police chief insisted he had to let Michael go.
The next day, when Frank visited the coroner, he found out that the cause of the girl’s death wasn’t the bullet wound to her left shoulder but a fractured cervical spine. Her neck was broken by the backward thrust and crash against the bookcase. The acute angle of the fracture indicated an accidental blow to the back of her neck.
Michael hanged out at a cop bar that night with Frank. Frank told him about what he’d discovered and discussed with the chief. The chief told him they won’t pursue a criminal investigation, but they still needed to have a forensic hearing.
Michael didn’t care. As far as he was concerned, the damage had been done and he’d had enough of the SPD. His only plan that night was to get fubar. It might take a fifth of Jack Daniels and a pair of boilermakers, but that was his idea.
Around midnight, Frank drove him home and helped him walk to his apartment. Placing his drunken ex-partner on the living room couch, he glanced around the room. It’d been a while since he was there. There were several medals & trophies in a bookcase. On the mantel, and attached to the walls, were pictures of Michael surrounded by the mayor, police commissioner, and a few local celebrities. Frank picked up a framed photo from a desk. It was a picture of him and Michael in fishing gear at a lake.
Two months later, Michael got hired by Central Protection, a private security guard agency. It was his first job since leaving the SPD. He’d thought about exiting Seattle altogether since he had no family there, but he figured the Emerald City was just as cozy as any other, and since he already knew it like the back of his hands, why bother moving?
Central Protection sent him to the work at the Seattle Art Museum. They were having a Monet exhibit and needed extra security. That day, everything started smoothly. Patrons milled about peacefully studying the works of art while Michael and his partner, Mona Angelique, a shapely, athletic woman in her early 30’s, looked for anything or anyone out of the ordinary.
Suddenly, three men with masks and guns stormed into the main gallery on Level 2 and ordered everyone not to move. After sealing the exits, they made one of the curators, Julia Somerset, an attractive, well dressed, French Creole siren in her 40’s, walk towards a room in the back. There, they forced her to open a safe containing deposits and donations in cash and bonds. Some of the patrons tried using their cell phone secretly, but the gunmen made the docents line them up against one wall, effectively killing their chances of notifying anyone.
Scant minutes later, the robbers almost got away were it not for the quick actions of Mona and Michael. Mona, trained in Judo, wasn’t so inclined to let them escape. Skillfully, she dispatched one robber with catlike & acrobatic skill. Michael immediately sided with her and knocked out the second robber, using self-defense kicks and punches he hadn’t used in years. The third one with the money bag almost made it to the main entrance, but after a brief struggle, he was knocked down and captured by both Mona and Michael. A few minutes later, the patrons applauded when the police arrived to take the robbers away and collect statements. Mona & Mike’s heroic efforts made TV, newspaper, and internet news and they were both given hefty bonuses by the museum.
One evening, Somerset asked her heroic guards out for a celebratory cocktail. Mona respectfully declined, but Michael accepted. He secretly hoped Mona would refuse anyway because he’d come to notice how attractive his boss actually was, and the fact she didn’t wear a marriage ring made her more appealing.
The first place she took him to was a martini lounge in Belltown. Sitting midway between two busy streets, it was a popular spot to see and be seen. After a few drinks, he realized she wasn’t as stodgy as rumors painted her out to be, but a loose and somewhat life-enjoying individual. Over the next few days, they went out to different highbrow bars around Seattle, usually on her dime. He did attempt to pay at times, but she always insisted in taking care of the tab considering she either received discounts or they were complementary.
Inevitably, they ended up back at her house in Beaux Arts, an affluent village on the eastern shore of Lake Washington. Like the other homes, it was a pretty big place, boasting four bedrooms, a 20-seat theatre, a study, an exercise room, and a personal art gallery. Things were going well. The two were getting along like Raggedy Ann and Andy. His buddies back in the SPD would’ve been jealous.
One evening, Julia and Michael rendezvoused at an underground bar in Pioneer Square that made, so they claimed, the best martinis in America. Sitting at a corner table, Julia bought the first round: she had a Four Horsemen and Michael, a one-legged Flamingo.
“You know what’s funny?” she asked him, rhetorically.
“No,” he answered.
“There are many important works of art, mainly Van Gogh,” she noted, “in various embassies in Seattle. All had been acquired illegally from the Art Underground.”
“What’s that?” he asked.
“It’s a secretive network of art thieves who thrive on stealing art originally confiscated by the Nazis during WWII.”
“And they’re right here in Seattle?”
“Oh, they’re everywhere. Imagine how big they must be, stretching from Germany, the Netherlands, northern Europe, through France, London and the U.S.”
“A lot of it probably also ended up in South America since that’s where a lot of Nazis went after the war.”
“I wouldn’t doubt it.”
“Why would a reputable institution like an embassy buy stolen art?”
“Diplomatic immunity. Plus, there are international laws at work, makes their assets perfectly legal here in the U.S.”
“I don’t know. If I had a famous work of art on display that was stolen from the Nazis, wouldn’t I run the risk of an heir claiming ownership through inheritance? I mean, the discovery of a painting by an artist like Van Gogh would be world news, no?”
“Possibly, but not if you make it known it’s just a reproduction.”
“Seems kind of odd – displaying possibly stolen art like that for the world to see.”
“Exactly. Their arrogance knows no boundaries. That’s where you come in.”
Michael took a long sip of his martini.
“So, what do you want me to do?” he asked.
“It’s been my dream to make those art works available to the public again, not for just the few that enter those consulates, but for the world to enjoy. I want you to steal them and replace them with forgeries.”
“Whoa! That sounds way out of my league, sister.”
“I think you can do it.”
“How am I supposed to break into those places? They’re smack in the middle of downtown in huge buildings. You know, eyes everywhere.”
“Not all. A few are in suburban locations.”
Michael scratched his chin.
“I don’t know…” he groaned.
“It’s simpler than you imagine,” she claimed. “There are treaties at work that protect all parties involved.”
“What do you mean? You’ll just get ‘em and put them in the museum with impunity?”
“Suppose somebody from the embassy happens to stumble across it?”
“And say what? This art was stolen from them which they’d obtained illegally to begin with? Remember, what they have on display is “supposed” to be just replicas.”
“Why don’t you do it?”
“I’ve seen how you move, Mike. You’re very agile, almost catlike. You know the ins and outs of security. I think you’ll do just fine.”
“This sounds crazy. Do you have inside information about all this?” he asked.
“How do you know about these thieves?” he wondered.
She took a long swig of her martini, savored the taste, laid her glass down, and looked straight into Michael’s eyes.
“I used to be one of ‘em,” she admitted.
After spending another night with Julia, Michael returned to his own home. He found his apartment had been broken into and ransacked. Several items, including his medals and trophies, had been stolen. On his bathroom mirror, written with soap, were the words “Bang, you’re dead.”
Once the police left after getting his statement, he commenced putting his apartment together. Minutes later, there was a knock on his door. He answered it. It was his landlord, Thurston Hatch.
“LaTour,” the landlord began, “I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings…”
He handed Michael a note. He glanced at it briefly.
“I’m being evicted?!”
“When you don’t pay your rent,” Hatch beamed, “that’s what happens.”
“I told you I needed time, man. You said it was okay!”
“Don’t shoot the manager, LaTour. If this was my place, I’d let you stay. You’ve been a good tenant.”
“Good tenant?! My being here…just my presence alone keeps drugs out of this building.”
“Yeah, well maybe the Nubian Tigers got pissed off about it.”
“You know – those guys selling pure dope on the streets?”
“Never heard of ‘em.”
“And you’re a cop. I thought you guys knew everything.”
“That’s why we rely on our good fellow citizens every once in a while.”
“Well, what happened tonight?” Hatch asked, looking around the room. “This place is a train wreck.”
“I’ve been out of town. Looks like a crime of opportunity.”
“Too bad, but you know how it is with managers, man. Money talks.”
“How long do I have?”
“Three days?! What the fuck!”
“I don’t know, LaTour. It must be for their relatives. They’ve been looking for a place.”
“I don’t believe this.”
“Yeah. Um, I’ll see ya later, okay?”
After the manager left, Michael didn’t resume cleaning up. There was no point. The walls looked like they were suddenly mocking him, laughing at his misfortune. Angry, he picked up a porcelain cup and threw it at the mantle. It broke into dozens of pieces.
The next day, Michael learned from Central Protection that his services were no longer needed at the museum because the exhibit was over and they’d downsized their security. They also informed him they had no other security positions at the moment.
He spent a few more days seeking employment. Unsuccessful, he finally told Julia about his failed efforts. She offered him to help him, but there was one little catch – she would give him shelter and a living allowance if he’d replace the embassy’s art with forgeries. Reluctantly, he agreed.
He spent the next few days in pawn shops, an Army-Navy supply store, and a security warehouse buying and building new surveillance and anti-surveillance gadgets. He also purchased a ninja warrior uniform, entirely in black, which he later modified to have secret compartments.
One night, after finally studying some floor plans procured by Julia, he thought it was time to put her dream into action. Driving over to North Seattle, he parked his car a few houses down the street from the two-story Icelandic Embassy and donned his black body suit. It was a relatively dark and quiet night, illuminated by a half moon and the occasional street lamps. The nondescript consulate, sitting quietly near the Ballard Public Library, small businesses and various homes, was as plain as can be. It should be an easy mission, he thought, if only his heart wouldn’t beat so damn fast.
End of Act I
Act II – The Consulate
Using grappling equipment, Michael quickly climbed to the roof of the embassy. Quietly, he removed the grill covering an air vent, crawled down a narrow passageway, and entered the janitor’s closet through an access port in the ceiling. He used his devices to listen for sounds in the video room next to the closet. Satisfied it was vacant, he broke into the locked room and shut the security cameras down. He then quickly looked around the room for the security alarm controls but soon realized they weren’t there.
Sneaking into the main hall on the ground floor, he used a fist-sized machine to blow a huge puff of powder into the darkened room. Then, turning on his infrared eyewear, he saw white lasers crisscrossing the room. Stealthily, he stooped, sidled, hopped, ducked, flipped and slid past the beams of their state-of-the-art security system till he finally arrived at his destination – the Van Gogh painting ‘Boy with Spade’ up on a wall. Carefully, he took it down, opened the frame, and replaced the original art with a replica from his long pants pocket. Seconds later he put it all back up on the wall, stashed the original in his pocket, evaded the beams again, went back upstairs and turned the security cameras back on, and escaped out the same route he’d entered.
An hour later, he celebrated with Julia. Sitting together in her living room, they both drank champagne and studied the reframed painting lying on the center table.
“You did it!” she gushed, toasting his glass.
“We did it,” he corrected her.
“You’re sure you weren’t seen?”
“Not a soul out there tonight. I’ve never been so nervous in my life.”
“If I was a betting woman,” Julia avowed, “I’d say you’ve done this before.”
“Breaking and entering’s not my thing, Julia. SPD, remember?”
“Oh, yeah. Hey, wanna see something gorgeous tonight?”
She took him to Fay Bainbridge Park, a scenic shoreline park on the northeast corner of Bainbridge Island, an affluent city in Puget Sound near Seattle. Even though accessible by car, a lot of citizens travel either by boat or ferry. From the park, they had a clear and unobstructed view of the Cascade Mountains, Indianola and North Seattle. The Pacific Northwest night was typically cool and free of the murmurs of civilization. Aided by fine Napa Valley bubbly, they grew closer to each other. It was the perfect spot for love.
Next morning, Michael ran into his old partner, Frank Tucker, inside a Starbucks in downtown Seattle usually frequented by the police and staffers from the mayor’s office. Frank was sitting at a small table reading the Seattle Times. Michael startled him when he playfully, unexpectedly, slapped the paper.
“Hey, partner,” Michael greeted him. “Long time no see.” They shook hands. Michael sat down.
“You’ve been hard to find,” Frank admitted. “You lost your phone?”
“Nah,” Michael apologized. “Just been kinda busy.”
“Yeah, I know. You hooked up with that lady from the museum, right? Julia?”
“How’d you know?”
“Through your ex-partner, Mona.”
“Mona, huh? You two are an item now?”
“How’d you meet her?”
“I took her disposition over that attempted robbery.”
“You work fast. Lucky you. Does she talk about me?”
“Not really. That business with the robbers was popular with her for a while, but after she got me in bed, you just became a sad memory.”
“Hey, Michael. We got a strange call this morning. You know that Consulate General of Iceland where they had that hold up two years ago?”
“Yeah. In Ballard. I remember.”
“They found some powder-like residue all over the main lobby. They think they’ve been burglarized but they checked and nothing’s been stolen.”
“Powder residue? You mean like a toxin or something?”
“Uh, uh. Harmless. Probably makes the invisible security beams visible.”
“So why did they call the SPD?”
“There was a glitch in their security, like it was shut down for a few minutes.”
“Enough time to steal something.”
“That’s why they called us,” Frank surmised. “They want me to look in on it ‘cause I know the joint. Would’ve been better if you were along, too.”
“Yeah,” Michael shook his head, “my days of reading Miranda and gun slinging are over.”
“That’s what I’d told ‘em. You’d be the best man for this job.”
“Maybe some other time. Hey, you want to come over to the house for dinner?”
“Sounds like a date.”
The next day, Frank and Mona went over to Julia’s house as promised for dinner. Mona brought a bottle of Australian Shiraz and Frank carried a box of bon-bons. The meal went well. Julia, trying out her new Italian cookbook, had prepared Tuscan prawns, Caprese salad, Penne Siciliana and chocolate mousse. All in attendance were pleasantly surprised. Mona suggested that Julia should think about cooking professionally but she indicated she was busy enough with the museum.
Towards the end of the evening, Frank had to use the bathroom. While there, he happened to notice a piece of black cloth jutting out near the base of a narrow wall closet. The cloth was caught in the door. Thinking it was a black skirt or dress being ruined, he opened the door to replace the item and discovered it wasn’t a dress but a black ninja warrior suit.
“Must be for a costume party,” he thought.
Then, looking up towards a shelf high in the closet, he saw a long ornate pewter box with unusually distinctive clasps. Curious, he brought it down, opened it, and saw a few pieces of surveillance equipment and other high tech gadgets. When there was a knock on the bathroom door, he quickly replaced the items, put the box back, and exited. Mona was standing outside the door.
“You’re okay?” she asked him. “Been in there a while.”
“Maybe the Italian was too rich for me. You know, I’m low brow.”
“I’ll be right out.”
Mona entered the bathroom while Frank returned to his hosts.
Later that night, Michael tackled his second assignment for Julia – the Royal Norwegian Consulate in suburban Greenlake. As before, he donned his black suit and entered through the roof. He sneaked past a few rooms where the diplomatic attaché, his family and other Nordic citizens were asleep in their rooms on the second floor.
On the first floor in the main room, he successfully eluded their security cameras to replace the Van Gogh painting, ‘Old Man with his Head in his Hands (At Eternity’s Gate). While substituting the work of art, the brass hook slid out of the plasterboard wall and fell to the ground behind an arm chair. Moving the chair aside, he found the hook. Next to it, on the floor, was also a small plastic package he’d seen before. He picked it up. On its side were stamped the words “Little Hammer.” Shoving it in his pocket, he put the Van Gogh replica in place and straightened out the furniture.
Suddenly, the attaché walked in the room and put on the light. Michael hid off to one side while the Norwegian went to his desk. Just then, the security alarms went off. The attaché looked up just in time to see Michael run upstairs. Instinctively, he reopened his desk, brought out a gun, and went after the black clad intruder.
Another man from a bedroom on the second floor appeared and, when he saw Michael, fired a shot. It missed. The ex-cop ran towards a window facing the street. The man fired again but his gun jammed. The attaché came up the stairs and also fired a shot. It missed and made a small hole in a window. Michael then thrust his entire body through that same window and landed on the lawn below. Quickly getting up, he ran down the street, jumped into his vehicle, and took off.
The next morning, he sat in the kitchen nursing his bruised and sprained left ankle. The kitchen TV was on a news channel. Julia walked in the room all dressed for work.
“I didn’t hear you come in last night,” she attested.
“Didn’t want to wake you,” he alleged.
“What happened to you?”
He slid the Van Gogh on the table towards her.
“You’re welcome,” he shook his head.
She picked it up and looked it over. Her jaw dropped.
“Oh, my God!” she smiled. “You can see the traces of crayon! You know, there are seven known impressions of this work in museums and collections around the world – Amsterdam, Paris, Tehran – this is just amazing.”
“Glad I can help.”
She kissed him. He groaned from his ankle pain.
“Oh, sorry,” she apologized. “You did this last night?”
“Why didn’t you wait up for me?”
“I guess I had too much Shiraz.”
“Well, it was the last time. I’m done.”
“Why? We’re not finished.”
“Too dangerous. I almost got shot!”
Just then, news came on the TV about a recent explosion in South Seattle. The home of a city council member was firebombed. No one was seriously hurt, but responsibility was being claimed via a flyer left at the scene by the new and unknown black militia group the Nubian Tigers.
“Nubian Tigers,” Julia shook her head. “Every time you turn around there’s a new group springing up somewhere. I’ve never heard of these guys. Sounds like a Black Panther offshoot.”
“Could be,” Michael admitted. “My apartment manager’s heard of ‘em, though. Looks like they’re getting around.”
“Okay, Michael,” she kissed him again. “I gotta run. Oh, check the answering machine.”
“Who is it?”
“Your buddy, Frank. He and Mona had a fight.”
“Too bad. He does have a temper, especially if he’s liquored up.”
“He was looking for you to go out and throw back a few. Called all night.”
“I hope you didn’t answer it.”
“No. I let him wonder. I’ll see ya later.”
Michael met up with Frank for lunch that afternoon at a pizza parlor in the University District. It was a bright sunny day, so they decided to eat outside in a park. They watched as students ambled by, as well as young marijuana peddlers, skateboarders, Asian tourists, and Bohemian types.
“This is why I love this city,” Frank began. “All this color.”
“Is that what it is?” Mike asked, sarcastically.
“You know, you’re hard to reach these days.”
“Sorry, man. I half-heard your messages. I had too much wine. Listen, I ain’t no young spring chicken like you.”
“Yeah, right. I’ve seen you move. Hey, there was another break in last night.”
“At the Norwegian Embassy. I heard. It was on the news.”
“Nothing was taken ‘cause their security guards chased the perp out.”
“Seems like he wasted his time. Forensics will track him down.”
“This guy was good. Left no prints. Gonna be hard. Hey, you ever heard of “The Ring”?
“Uh, uh. What ring?”
“It’s a drug cartel, supposedly from Europe.”
“Europe! That’s different.”
“Yeah. Everybody’s getting in the act.”
“What are they pushing?”
“Heroin. Keep your ears open, huh? The more eyes on the street, the better.”
Driving back to Julia’s pad in Beaux Arts, Michael saw three dark sedans parked in front of her house. Parking half a block away, he got out of his car and walked towards her home. Suddenly six men, all similarly dressed in black suits, emerged. Michael hid behind a tree as they got into their vehicles, two to each car, and drove off.
Julia’s front door, he noticed, was ajar. Slowing pushing it open, he realized the living room had been ransacked. Chairs and tables were overturned. Clothes were spilled out on the floor as closets were emptied. Desks and cupboards were pulled apart one by one. He checked each bedroom. The visitors’ frantic search was also evident as clothes and boxes were overturned and scattered all over.
Michael called Julia using his cell phone.
“Hey, honey,” she answered.
“You’ve been hit, Julia.”
“What do you mean?”
“Six guys were in your house looking for something.”
“They make a mess?”
“Is Bill Gates rich?”
“What’d they take?”
“I don’t know. I can’t tell. This place looks like it was interior decorated by an army of chimps. Who do you think they’d be?”
“I…I really don’t know.”
“There are things you’re not telling me, Julia. A bunch of well-dressed suits just don’t go breaking into a house out of the blue in broad daylight like that, especially in an upscale neighborhood like Beaux Arts.”
“I think it’s the Art Underground.”
“What are they looking for?”
“I…I can’t talk right now. I’ll see you in a little while. Don’t call the police.”
After he hanged up, Michael started putting the house back together. He placed all the clothes in their respective place, straightened the furniture, and restocked the desks and shelves. He checked on his ninja suit in the master bathroom. It was intact as was his surveillance tools on the shelf above. Two hours later, Julia arrived. They met in the living room as Michael was putting up a painting, a replica of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”
“That’s one of the world’s rare impressions of The Scream,” she informed him, “copied from the original that was stolen during the ‘96 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.”
“I remember that,” Michael observed. “Pretty big news.”
She quickly looked around the house. Some items were still out of place, mainly books and other small knickknacks.
“Mr. Holm was probably behind this,” she guessed. “Looks like his work.”
“The gentleman you met at the Norwegian Embassy.”
“He’s involved with the Art Underground?”
“In as deep as can be.”
“The art world is as crooked as the drug world,” Michael attested.
“Where ever there’s money, there’s corruption,” Julia posited. “Same as anywhere, just like in the whiskey world – they would kill for a true 100-year-old scotch.”
“What were they looking for?”
“Missing reproductions, prints, impressions, plates, originals…the embassies would never tell the authorities they’ve been robbed, but they’d notify the Underground. They’re probably checking all their old associates. I was expecting this.”
“That’s why you need a bodyguard.”
“Sorry to drag you into this, Mike. I thought they’d died down.”
“I don’t have the real Van Goghs here anymore. They’re in the museum in a safe.”
“Are they gonna come back?”
“I don’t know. These guys are unpredictable. After they got involved with some cartel called “The Ring” I wasn’t interested.
“You know about “The Ring?”
“Just that it’s Nordic and they have a ship, a cutter. But I stay away from hard drugs. I see the news.”
“Where’s the ship docked?”
End of Act II
Act III – The Ring
When Michael was a child, he never played hide and seek. If the subject was ever broached, he’d somehow encourage his childhood friends to play his variation which was “hide and discover.” He’d usually plant a toy or candy for them to find. The first one who’d discover his “plants” won.
That night, sneaking into the quiet shipyard near Fisherman’s Terminal in No. Seattle reminded him of this: the joy of discovery and the tenacity of the hunt. Dressed in his now familiar ninja suit, he sneaked unto the pier. The seagulls were off somewhere sleeping, perhaps dreaming of an overturned tuna truck. The marina was lit mainly by the moon and lights emanating from poles on the docks and nearby buildings. A handful of guards were milling about on the slightly swaying docks, some smoking cigarettes, others hoping for the day when their loyalty and devotion to the Art Underground would pay off.
Tiptoeing up to the first lookout, Michael quietly subdued him with a stranglehold, putting him to sleep and laying him gently on the ground. Then, dragging him silently out of sight, he laid him peacefully beneath a large blue tarp.
Walking further out onto the dock, he saw a large white single-masted cargo ship. Attached to the top of her sail-less foremast was a Norwegian flag. Along her hull were the words in blue letters: ‘NORDIC HOPE.’
Climbing onto the vessel, he peered through the blinds in the forecastle and saw the attaché, Mr. Holm, and an assistant from the Norwegian embassy, sitting in the living quarters speaking with two of the men who were in Julia’s house earlier. While the attaché was deep in conversation, his assistant was counting packets of “Little Hammers” in a fancy metal case.
Then, the ex-officer heard a speedboat approaching from the sound. Instinctively, he dived for cover behind a large plastic tarp draped over a rain barrel. Peeking out, he saw Julia being led out of the speedboat by two of the earlier house intruders. At times, she’d try to pull away from their clutches, but with her firmly in their grasp, she couldn’t escape.
They walked her onto the Nordic Hope and into the forecastle. Minutes later, the two guards from the speedboat emerged and went over to their similarly suited friends still smoking cigarettes and talking on their cellphones down the dock. Slowly, Michael sneaked towards the boat and climbed in again.
Looking in the covered quarters, he saw Julia tied to a chair with a bandana tied around her mouth. Her bare feet were in a large tub of water. Electrical wires, sticking out of it, were attached to a crude machine on a chest of drawers next to Mr. Holm. It seemed that when the attaché asked her a question, and the answer wasn’t to his satisfaction, he’d flip a switch on the machine. Sparks would fly out of the tub and Julia would wriggle and silently scream as her body shook and trembled with each unbearable jolt of electricity.
Michael tapped gently on the window. One of the guards came out to investigate. The ex-cop quickly and silently put him in a choke hold. After knocking him out and taking his gun, he dragged him into a large fish barrel on the dock and set it upright.
A few minutes later, the second guard and Mr. Holm’s assistant emerged from the forecastle. Michael took out two of his ninja stars and threw it at the two men. Catching them both in the neck, they fell over unconscious. Leaping onto the boat, he took their guns then ran inside the living area. Mr. Holm, caught by surprised, opened his mouth to scream but was silenced when Michael pointed a gun at his nose.
“Don’t move!” he ordered him.
With his eyes trained on the attaché, he untied Julia and took her feet out of the tub. Still groggy, she was able to stand.
“Are you okay?” he asked her.
He then turned to Mr. Holm.
“Have a seat,” he beseeched him. Reluctantly, the diplomat complied.
Michael gave one of the guns to Julia.
“If he moves,” he cautioned her, “shoot him.”
She nodded and took the gun. Using the same ropes, Michael bound Mr. Holm to the chair, tied the bandana around his mouth then turned to Julia.
“What do they want with you?” he asked her.
“They were looking for you.”
She pointed to his black uniform.
“They saw that suit in the house,” she admitted.
He grabbed the case of heroin.
“We’d better get out of here,” he warned.
As they were exiting the forecastle, a shot whizzed by just passed their heads. Looking up, they saw the four remaining guards running towards them. Quickly, they jumped into the speedboat and started it up. A few more bullets flew in their direction, but eventually they were able to sail off without getting shot.
Pulling up to a dock in Beaux Arts, they moored the boat and started walking towards their house. Frank Tucker entered the marina unseen. Drawing his gun, he leaped out from behind a sign, his pistol was pointed at the two.
“Not so fast,” he told them. They stopped walking.
“What’s going on here, Frank?” Michael asked.
“First,” he said, reaching for the silver case, “I’ll take that.”
Michael had no choice but to let it go. Frank placed it on the ground then used his left hand to search and confiscate all the guns he found on Michael and Julia.
“You guys were packing tonight!” he remarked, stashing the guns in his pocket.
“What are you doing here, Frank?” Michael inquired.
“I got a little confession to make,” his ex-partner smiled. “I work with Mr. Holm.”
“It’s simple economics. They keep me on the payroll and I keep the heat off ‘em.”
He picked up the silver case.
“With this I’m gonna make me a fortune,” he bragged. “Mikey boy, remember when we rolled up on Fr. Rio based on a tip? Didn’t you ever wonder where that tip came from? There wasn’t any. Rio was one of our biggest dealers, but he became an erratic user, forgot his own agenda. Kept his finger in the till. He had to go.”
“What about his daughter, asshole? She was innocent.”
“Unfortunate collateral, Mike. Life sucks.”
From out the corner of his eye, Michael saw the last four remaining guards sailing towards them. Momentarily distracted, Frank turned and waved to mark his position. Michael, ninja star already in hand, flipped it at his ex-partner. Catching him in the neck, Frank collapsed to the dock. Immediately, Mike picked up the silver case and Frank’s gun then he and Julia ran out of the dock towards a nearby marine warehouse.
The four guards quickly docked their boat, drew their guns, and ran towards the warehouse. Opening its large steel door, they tried putting on the lights. The building, however, stayed dark. Beams of moonlight shined in through clearer spots in the frosted windows.
The guards split into two groups: Guards Nos. 1 & 2 walked down the left side of the building, Guards 3 & 4 to the right. With only slivers of light peering in to guide them, they carefully groped along the walls. Inevitably, the first group on the left accidentally kicked over a metal pail.
“Shit!” Guard No. 1 whispered.
Out of the darkness, a ninja star sliced the air and found its mark to the neck of Guard No. 1. He fell unconscious. Anxious, his partner shot wildly in the near darkness at an assailant he couldn’t see.
“Watch your aim!” Guard No. 3 yelled on the right side of the warehouse.
Unfortunately marking his position, he’s also felled by a star that struck his shoulder.
“Come on out and fight like a man!” Guard No. 4 screamed.
“Suit yourself,” Michael murmured unseen in the dark.
Guard No. 4 shot wildly. Suddenly, his gun was kicked out of his hand. Frantically, he punched wildly in the air but missed his mark. Michael dropkicked him to his chest. He flew backwards into a pile of wooden skids. Getting up, he caught a glimpse of Michael’s silhouette and lunged at him. Michael sidestepped quickly then grabbed him and flipped him to the ground.
Guard No. 2 ran towards the commotion and threw a few punches and kicks which Michael parried off. Throwing a few kicks and punches of his own, Mike round housed Guard No. 2, making him stumble backwards. Undeterred, the second guard charged towards Michael. Michael ran up a nearby wall, flipped backwards in air, and on his way down kicked Guard No. 2 in his face with such force it knocked him unconscious. Guard No. 4, still a bit wobbly from his beating, got up and attacked Michael. Deftly, Michael turned him around, put him in a choke hold, and laid him unconsciously on the ground.
As Julia and Michael walked out of the warehouse, a shot rang out. Michael, hit on his left arm, reeled sideways and backwards. The gunman, Mr. Holm, standing about 50 feet away near a shed, raised his gun to shoot again, but he’s suddenly shot dead by Julia.
Within minutes, both of the docks at Fisherman’s Terminal and Beaux Arts became flooded with police officers, FBI, paramedics, the press, neighbors and casual onlookers. Nearly an hour later, Michael, his left arm in a sling, stood near the Nordic Hope as officers brought out several boxes as evidence. Julia stood next to him. Officer Hank Gray, carrying a large cardboard box, stopped in front of Michael.
“Hey, Hank,” Michael asked, “is that the last of it?”
“You should go home and nurse that arm,” Hank replied.
“Ah,” he brushed it off. “It’s just a nick.”
“He thinks he’s Superman,” Julia smiled.
“Oh, before I forget,” Hank stated, “congratulations.”
“For what?” Mike wondered.
Hank looked at him with puzzlement.
“I thought you heard?” he informed him. “IA finished their investigation. They concluded you did nothing wrong at Fr. Rio’s house.”
“Alright!” Michael smiled.
“You can come back…if you want.”
“Eh. I’ll think about it.”
“You should, Mike,” Julia added. “You’ve been vindicated.”
“Look at this, detective,” Hank remarked, laying the box down and taking its top off.
They both looked at its content: reams of flyers advertising the black militant group Nubian Tigers as well as a printer with the flyer’s master template still in it.
“The Tigers aren’t real,” Hank surmised. “Why would their flyers be on a ship like this? Their so-called campaign was created here.”
“These émigrés look like they were trying to start a race war,” Michael added. “Why?”
“I’ll show you why,” a second officer said, walking out of the forecastle with a wooden crate in his arms. Opening it, they saw a varied collection of Nazi emblems, stickers, crests, iron crosses, brass swastikas, flags, and other paraphernalia.
“I don’t get this,” Michael admitted, his brow furrowed deeply.
“This boat was more than a modified fishing trawler,” the second officer spoke. “It’s more like neo-Nazi headquarters – discrete and hidden in plain sight.”
“And if they stirred up enough anti-white sentiment,” Hank added, “they’d have new recruits, more kids rallying against the ‘black scourge.’ In the meantime, they’d continue poisoning the inner city with cheap dope and firebombing officials. That’s more folks to pass the blame on to.”
“Well,” Michael surmised, “I guess it backfired. They tried to create a threat but failed.”
The officers continued removing evidence from the ship.
He turned to Julia.
“I don’t think you don’t have to worry about the Underground anymore. Seems like they’re out of business.”
“Good,” she sighed. “I was starting to miss my beauty sleep.”
A few weeks later, the investigation into the Art Underground and their relation to the fabricated Nubian Tigers and Mr. Holm concluded. The U.S. provided solid evidence of Holm’s illegal activities which staved off an international and Norwegian crisis. His six-armed henchman, all with ties to the Art Underground, were federally tried and convicted for illegal trafficking of heroin and stolen art, and obstruction of justice, earning them several years in prison. Michael was finally officially vindicated in the death of Fr. Rio’s daughter. The SPD asked him to come back, but he still hadn’t decided. Life with Julia was going well and he thought it best not to rock the boat.
One day, Julia was walking around one of the museum’s galleries studying the displays. A patron, a well-dressed woman in her 50’s, walked over to her and briefly read her ID badge.
“I need some help,” the patron requested.
“Sure thing,” Julia agreed. “How can I help you?”
“Do they have any museums in this city with a secret Van Gogh collection?”
Julia turned and faced the patron.
“Not to my knowledge,” she answered. “Is that your favorite artist?”
“One of them,” the patron stated. “I was told you’re an expert on Van Gogh.”
“Really? Who told you?”
“Oh, I don’t know. A gentleman. He said you’d know.”
“Sorry,” Julia apologized. “I don’t. What’s his name?”
“He never did say. He did mention he’s in the Art Underground, though.”
Julia shook her head slightly and peered curiously at the unfamiliar patron.
“I’ll keep an eye out.”
“Okay. Take care,” the stranger said.
Julia then watched as the middle-aged woman turned, walked down the hall and out of sight.