Still Life with Music [Book 3: Steve Music Mystery Series]
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by C. M. Albrecht
Description: State Senator "Red" Maddox has a problem, but doesn't want to involve the police. His attorney suggests Homicide Detective Steve Music. A cop can always use a little extra money, but as Music warns his clients: he'll do whatever he can to solve their problem without making waves, but they must remember, he's a cop first, and he can go only so far on an unofficial basis. As murders begin piling up and deceptions and lies turn a simple job into a cop's nightmare, keeping his private job private while remembering his oath as a sworn officer isn't going to be easy. And that's when things turn ugly.
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net/ebooksonthe.net, 2009 ebook
eBookwise Release Date: March 2009
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [241 KB]
Reading time: 145-203 min.
Three Years Ago
Needles of driving rain ricocheted off the fogged windshield of the seventy-five Plymouth. In the wet gray November morning, clouds of white vapor roiled up about the vehicle effectively concealing the three men huddled inside. Jimmy "Biff" Collins sat in back with Buster Eisler, a parolee who boasted a long sheet for violent crimes.
Thin and morose, Eisler stared glumly at the window fogged over by the heat of the men's breath and the cold outside. Eisler shivered and his fingers tightened their grip on the twelve gauge shotgun that had been sawed off at both ends so that it was little more than a huge pistol.
At the wheel, Buster's brother, Whitey Eisler, another parolee, sat quietly with his foot poised motionless a quarter inch above the accelerator. The reassuring throb of the hot 340 engine at his command was a good feeling and helped soothe his nerves. Heavier than Buster, Whitey shared his brother's sour and gloomy temperament, but while Buster's hair was dark, Whitey's was so blond it was nearly white.
At any given moment the Eislers might be less angry or more angry, but they were always angry. Both wore their hair long and dirty, tied back in ponytails beneath navy blue watch caps. Whitey Eisler twitched and resisted the urge to wipe at the windshield from the inside.
The Plymouth reeked of stale tobacco and beer but no one noticed or cared. What they did notice was the ripe stink of wet wool that reminded them of dogs brought in from the rain outside. The defogger blew strongly against the inside of the windshield making it just possible to watch the bank that opened onto the corner.
Barely visible through the rain and mist, the clock above the bank entrance read 9:58.
In the back seat of the Plymouth Biff Collins sat very still and breathed lightly. Collins had muscles of spring steel, muscles that stood sharply out against his tattooed skin. A man who bragged that he made lemonade when he was given lemons, Biff had made good use of his time in the Oregon State pen. He worked out daily, honing his muscles to the edge of perfection while learning any and everything any other con might know, anything he might have missed during his earlier visits to Salem. And Biff was no longer on parole; he was a free man at the moment--for Biff Collins that accomplishment hadn't been easy, but Biff prided himself on his self discipline.
Biff had a brother, too.
The men watched now as the Berman armored truck edged to a stop at the corner in front of the bank. Biff's younger brother Larry Collins stepped down from the passenger side of the truck and moved around toward the rear. His plastic cap cover and raincoat glistened icily in the frigid air.
The doors at the rear of the truck opened and two men peered out and then stepped down. A guard stationed just inside the entrance of the bank looked out. He looked carefully to the left and to the right. There were few pedestrians in this dated neighborhood at this time of morning on this frigid winter day, and those who dared venture out hurried quickly along, heads down, wrestling to keep their umbrellas from being torn away by the fierce gusts of icy wind that whipped in from the Willamette River across the street.
The bank guard was a little guy with gray hair poking out from the sides of his cap. He looked as if he should have retired ten years ago. He pulled his raincoat back hooking it over the grip of the big revolver at his hip. Squinting against the thin fog and the stinging sheets of rain that knifed in from across the river, he locked the double doors to the bank in the open position and two bank employees rolled a heavily laden dolly forward while the guard hunched his shoulders and rubbed his freezing hands together.
As the dolly reached the sidewalk, Whitey Eisler hit the accelerator and the Plymouth's engine howled against the wind as the vehicle lurched forward and slid to a heart stopping halt beside the armored truck. The three ex-cons hit asphalt before the guards could even react.
The old guard took one step back and assumed the stance of a gunfighter in a Western but his hand never made it to his revolver as his head burst into an explosion of blood and double aught buckshot. At the boom of Buster's shotgun all hell broke loose. The armored car took off squealing and sliding around the corner, its open rear doors flapping wildly. The few pedestrians scattered and bank employees screamed and ran around inside the bank, and as Biff's slitted gaze caught and held his younger brother's pale frightened face, their eyes locked for a fraction of a second before Biff calmly squeezed the trigger of his Glock forty-five and tapped his stunned brother twice. He didn't watch as Larry's body caved and crumpled to the wet sidewalk. He was directing the operation.
While Buster held the remaining men at bay with his shotgun, Biff Collins and Whitey Eisler hurled heavy bags of money into the Plymouth. Despite the cold and the rain the men burst into sweat from tension and exertion. Nearly finished at the first faint wail of sirens, all three leaped into the car and it vanished into the fog fishtailing down Front Street in the direction of the Morrison Street Bridge.
In the wake of the holdup, the bandits left screaming terrified bank employees behind them, excited and frightened pedestrians and now, enraged lawmen all pumped full of adrenaline with nobody to vent it on.
"Jesus, you whacked your own brother," Whitey ventured over the throb of the car's engine. "That's far out, man."
"Hey, I know Larry," Biff said in his cold voice without expression. "He was a loser. He'd fold in five minutes. It had to be, man. It had to be. I knew that going in."
"Jesus," whispered Buster. He shivered inside his heavy coat.
The Plymouth slipped and shuddered across the bridge above black and icy water and Whitey rolled the car into an area of warehouses on the southeast side.
"Let's hurry up and split this shit up and get on with our lives, that's all I ask."
"That's the difference between you boys and me," Biff said. "I don't ask: I take."
Buster gave him a sidelong glance, holding his breath. After a moment his jaw stopped twitching. "Wish we could have got more, but this has got to be good."
"Hell yes it's good," Biff said. "The bank already moved all the other paper. This is strictly cash."
Whitey braked the Plymouth behind a parked faded brown GMC pickup with a camper on the back. As Biff got out, Whitey twisted to look over his shoulder.
"Watch him," he whispered. "Shit, if he'd whack his own brother..." His whisper faded as he opened his door. Buster nodded and opened his own door.
Fog and rain shielded their movements from the occasional passerby as the men quickly transferred their loot from the car to the back of the camper. Then all three crowded into the cab and headed for the freeway.
* * * *
The media was eating everybody alive. It was the bank's fault. It was the fault of the Portland Police Bureau. It was the Berman Armored Transport Company. Faulty security. Poor planning. It was the bank; they did it themselves for the insurance. It was an inside job. It was a band of bank robbers that had been plaguing the Seattle area recently. It was outside talent brought in by some vague syndicate based in the Midwest....
In reality the bank had planned its move ever so carefully. For years First Oregon State Bank had been slipping into old age because of its location in a part of town that had long ago declined into mostly abandoned and decaying buildings. Fewer and fewer businesses used the bank's services and as the old hotels and restaurants along the waterfront fell into disuse, there were fewer and fewer customers to admire the marble columns, the deep leather chairs in the lobby area and the marble counters with a gilt grille at each teller's station. The bank that had once been a proud showplace was old and tired and outdated and nobody wanted it anymore. Earlier there had been rumors of building a shopping complex by the river that would incorporate the old bank into its scheme, but somehow those dreams had never achieved fruition. Now, the conglomerate that had taken it over decided to move the bank to a location that would be more desirable as well as more profitable.
In more recent times, banks had learned that rather than cover the area with police and make a big deal out of their plans to move, the way to go was to make their move quietly on a random schedule that no one would know until the last moment. The one thing this bank hadn't counted on was Biff Collins having a fairly honest brother who worked for the Berman Company. The take had been over four million in cash. If the police hadn't responded as quickly as they had, it could've been a lot more.
* * * *
Twenty some miles south of Portland Whitey pulled the camper down a narrow exit from I-5 and into a side road. The camper's heavy tires made loud flopping noises as they splashed through standing water on the side road. For a quarter hour Whitey tooled the truck through the lessening rain past stands of dripping fir trees and finally came to a muddy lane that meandered through a hop field out toward a sheet metal barn that stood back against the edge of the forest. Buster jumped out and opened the big double doors of the barn.
Inside the barn, the other two men descended warily from the pickup. They weren't concerned about visitors in this lonely place; they had a much more imminent concern right now: each other.
The rain again increased its vigor and pounded mercilessly on the corrugated roof turning the barn into a sheet metal factory. Pursing his lips at the racket, Biff opened the door at the rear of the camper and climbed up over sacks of money. While the Eisler brothers watched closely, Biff opened the door of the icebox and pulled out a six-pack of Bud. He pulled loose three cans and kicked a couple of bags of money out onto the hard-packed ground and climbed back down. He handed each brother a beer and the men sat back on some boards and drank. Buster opened a canvas bag and stacks of greenbacks spilled out onto the ground.
"God damn!" he cried.
The men played with the money and drank their beer.
Biff stood, stretched and moved back toward the camper. He pulled himself up into it and held up a can of beer. Turning slightly he looked back at the Eisler brothers.
"Anybody for seconds?"
Whitey fingered the .45 on his knee as he narrowly watched Biff. Buster too had his shotgun across his lap. Both men nodded warily, waiting for the right moment.
"Here, catch," Biff laughed suddenly. He tossed the can into the air. The eyes of both the men were ineluctably drawn to the shining spinning can that flashed above their heads and in that instant rockets went off in the barn as Biff's Glock spat flame and the heavy forty-five slugs slammed the Eisler brothers backward. Their useless weapons rattled to the concrete beside their bodies as Whitey gurgled one last faint gasp and expired. Buster was dead before he hit the floor.
Biff stepped down from the camper and moved to the inert bodies. He prodded them with his foot to make certain they were dead. His lips twisted sardonically.
"I told you," he said, "I don't ask: I take."
During the night he carefully packed all the money into built-in gasoline tanks that held only a few gallons of fuel on top. At dawn he picked up a cup of hot coffee at a 76 Station and headed the camper south on I-5 toward sunny California.