Copyright 2014 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California
“To us!” said Steele. He clinked his glass hard against Stetson’s. They finished their drinks and ordered another round.
“Let’s order Lasagna for dinner and make the next round of drinks doubles,” suggested Stetson.
“A double is fine,” said Steele and he laughed at Stetson. “Here’s to your drunken luck.” Both men became boisterous with rotten jokes and people from other tables turned to look at them.
The plain looking waitress came to their table. Steele put up his arms as if to protect his eyes, and said, Pull eeze! Don’t shine that smile on me. It hurts my eyes!”
Steele quickly interjected, “I’m sorry, Miss. My friend is drunk. We would like to order two Lasagna dinners and another round of drinks. Make them doubles this time?”
Ignoring Steele, the waitress said, “Sure.” She smiled at Stetson and left the table.
“You see! She can smile. She just likes me and not you!” said Stetson. He purposely talked a drunk’s banter.
“Listen. I’m not drunk, and if you’re feeling your oats, go for her, man. She’s not my type.”
No, no, no. That’s not what I want. I just like friendliness.”
Just then, a shadow fell across their table. It didn’t move on as other shadows of the guests going back and forth. Both men looked up. Stetson recognized the semi-bald man in the expensive suit with the wilted red carnation. It was the man who had almost gouged him in the eye.
“Pardon me,” the stranger said, “I do want to apologize for almost causing you a terrible discomfort. It must be the Italian influence in this town. I find myself sharing stories with greater emphasis using my arms to express my feelings. I misjudged how tight the crowd is in this popular establishment.” The man offered Stetson a handshake. “Please accept my apology.”
“That’s not necessary. I’ve already forgotten about it,” said Stetson and he shook the man’s hand. He thought it would be the end of the conversation, but the man remained standing there looking pensive.
“You look familiar. Are you someone famous?” asked the stranger.
“No, I’m not anyone famous, are you?” Stetson turned the focus onto the inquirer.
Steele blurted out, “My friend is a Commander in the San Francisco Police Department. You might have seen him on television the other day.”
“Aha! That’s where I saw you. I’d like to introduce myself. I am Special Agent, Joseph Parker, FBI, out of New York currently. And, I’m sorry I don’t remember your name from the newscast.”
“Jim, Jim Stetson.”
“And you are in charge of the serial murders in the Bush Street area?”
Surprised by the question of his status, Stetson felt the sting of his demotion from earlier in the day. The way the Chief of Police dismissed him from the coveted position was unjust. Stetson diverted the conversation. “We have several teams of officers working on the case around the clock. What brings you to San Francisco, this time of year?”
“My team and I are tracking a cleaver and talented bank robber. Our experts are admiring his innovative uses of explosives. We followed him here six weeks ago.” Parker put his hand up to his chin, looked at Stetson and then at Steele. “May I ask? What is your name, sir?”
Stetson watched Steele take in the information and the challenging questions. Oh, crap. Do I believe in coincidences? Has someone caught up with Steele?
“The name is George Bentley. You know, like the beautiful British sedan?” Steele smiled and reached across the table to offer his handshake. “Nice to meet you Parker.” The serial killer sat back in his bentwood chair, stretched out his legs, and cross them at the ankle, posing himself in a relaxed mood. He fingered the rim of his glass and turned it around twice. “You crime guys always have such interesting things to discuss. It’s moment to moment excitement, right? I envy you guys for the unusual challenges, but I don’t envy the long hours you spend hunting people. Sometimes you never find the culprit, right? My friend here rarely has time to eat dinner.” Steele’s eyes landed on Stetson and then moved to stare at Parker for what seemed to be a long time.
“Here, sit down, Parker,” said Stetson. “Can your friends spare your company? Tell me more about the suspect you’re chasing,” said Stetson.
“Thank you, but I can only stay a few minutes,” said the agent. “We’re heading out soon to enjoy the sights down at Fisherman’s Wharf tonight.” He pulled out a chair, sat down and looked straight at Steele. “I enjoy these tall windows. People watching is one of my favorite past-times.”
“That’s one of my favorites, too,” said Stetson.
“Our investigation is not as exciting as what you are doing these days, Stetson. Although, my team and I put great value to every bit of progress we make. The word clever is not adequate to describe our suspect.”
Stetson watched Parker’s calculating glances at Steele. This man is forming some sort of plan. No doubt, Steele’s mind is doing the same.
“We have been receiving clues from an anonymous source. We now have an idea who masterminded the bank job, but we don’t have the proof yet. We are making progress and that’s what counts.”
“But you have to find him quick or the trail might get cold, right?” asked Steele. “Parker, I like your investigation much more than his,” said Steele pointing to Stetson with the tumbler in his hand. “What kind of clues led you to San Francisco?” asked Steele.
“Those details I cannot share with you. Perhaps when the investigation is over we can join again to discuss them,” said Parker.
At this point Stetson enjoyed listening to these two men who were sparing like boxers.
“What a bummer! It’s like you’re cutting short a great suspenseful story,” Steele complained.
Stetson found it humorous as Steele tried to flatter information from the well-dress FBI agent. He wondered, was Steele the bank robber they tracked to San Francisco?
He took another sip of his double Jack Daniels. He felt the warmth and smoothness of it going down his throat. Stetson tried to get rid of the confusion and frustration he felt. A few hours earlier, he had been planning Steele’s death. Now threatened himself, by this vicious killer, he finds out that Steele might be the bank robber wanted by the FBI. Every detail the agent described fit Steele.
If Special Agent Parker arrested Steele, thought Stetson, Steele wouldn’t hesitate to drag me in as well. That can’t happen. My future plans don’t include prison, or the electric chair. God, I don’t want to go to prison or sit in the electric chair, especially not for those murdered girls. I can’t let Steele get arrested, but I still have to get rid of him. Does Agent Parker have any idea that the man sitting across from him is also the Serial Killer? Stetson’s mind went back to the conversation, just in time to hear Agent Parker brag.
“There are a few details unknown to the general public,” said Parker as he leaned forward on his elbows to speak confidentially. “I can share with you that the missing funds and valuables tallied way over $2.5 million.”
Steele whistled. “Wow, that’s sweet. I can think of plenty to do with just half of that amount,” he said.
“So can I,” agreed Stetson. “Hey, here comes our Lasagna,” and he moved aside his half-finished JD Black.
Agent Parker pushed back in his chair and stood up, “Well, it’s time I leave. It was a pleasure to meet you both, and to make a connection to the San Francisco police force. I’ll call you when we get a break in our investigations,” Parker said to Stetson.
“Good luck!” Steele said with a smile. “Your suspect is probably long gone – out of the country by now.”
“Perhaps, but I am glad he led me to this beautiful city first.”
Stetson stood and shook hands with Parker. “Good luck and stay safe,” he said.
“Thank you, and you, too. From what I read in the local papers, you have quite a passionate slicer. I hope you will catch him soon. Even the trained women on my team are on constant alert,” Parker added.
The Agent turned and waved to his friends at the table near the door. He signaled that he was on his way back.
“Let’s eat, I’m famished,” Steele said with emphasis imitating how Marilyn had said it to Mark.
Copyright 2014 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California