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                                Happy Hour:

                         An H.W. Grady, PI Story

                               By Jim Sells

 

            The name’s Grady. If you’re up a little bit on Atlanta history or culture, you’ll know that there are some things like a hospital with that name. The buildings are named after an 18th century newspaper journalist named Henry W. Grady who opposed segregation before it was fashionable. My daddy - a newspaperman - hung the H.W on me to go along with our family name. So the world has another H. W. Grady – me.

            Unlike Daddy, I chose some different paths in life. To avoid a year in jail at a tender age, I accepted the chance to serve my country in the US Army. When I got out, I went to college and got interested in criminal justice. Did some years with the APD and a county department. I left to marry a rich man’s daughter and take a job for him. When that ended, I opened a PI shop. I do okay.

            This time I was referred a client by a guitar player that I met on another case. The client was a cocktail waitress at a joint just outside the city limits. Her name was Josie. I sat at an outside table before the nine-to-fivers crowded the place with traffic as an excuse to knock back a few. I was drinking a beer to blend in. My black Great Dane – Emma – was at my feet. Actually, when she sat up, she was at eye level. There was bowl of salty snacks on the table. When I refused to toss any to her, Emma lay down with her chin on my foot. I wouldn’t give her any snacks because she had to have her teeth cleaned from the ginger snaps that my landlady / dog sitter fed to her, but that’s a story in itself. Now back to Josie.

            Atlanta was in the dead of winter. It was the week after Thanksgiving and was a freezing 60 degrees Fahrenheit. You gotta love a city that you can golf and jog this time of year without four layers of clothes. 

            Josie came out and sat with me. Josie had the legs and chest to do pretty well on tips. The tight jeans shorts showed plenty of leg. The top showed enough cleavage. Yep, I’d say good tips. Her skin had sufficient freckles that I guessed the red hair cascading down her shoulders was probably natural. To top it off, she had a cute nose that turned up just enough on the end, but she looked twenty-five, – too young for me and with too many personal issues. Besides, I had a girl friend that came into Atlanta frequently on business. She’s French, rich, and beautiful. Do I need to say more?

            “I didn’t know Labs got that big.”          

            “Steroids,” I said.

            I never had Emma’s ears fixed, so she does look like a gigantic Lab.

            “Isn’t that bad for her?”          

            “Nah, they’re dog steroids.”

            Josie looked at me with the same strange expression I got from a lot of people – few people get my humor - go figure.

“So Manny the guitar player told me you had a domestic problem.”

            “That’s the size of it. My ex-boyfriend is refusing to get the message that we’re through.”

            “You two live together?”          

            “We did. I put his stuff out while he was gone and had the locks changed. ”

            “How’d that work out?”

            “He was gonna knock the door down, til a couple of maintenance guys told him to take a hike.”

            “Did he?”

            “Yeah.”

            “You know you can go to the magistrate’s office and they’ll help you fill out a temporary protective order.”

            “What do I do until then?”

            “You need to stay with a somebody,” I admitted.           

            “Great. Even if I do that, we got a kid together.”

            “Sounds like a case for family court.”

            “Great.”

            “How old is your kid?”          

            “She’s two. My friend that sits her is gonna bring her by in a few minutes.”

            “Does he physically abuse you?”

            “No. He just sort of beats me down with words.”

            “I hate to be a first class heel, but I don’t work cheap and I require a week’s retainer up front,” I said.

            I drive a Mercedes, dress in nice suits, and live life pretty much on my own terms.  That’s why I’m not flexible on the retainer.

            “How much?”

            I told her. I figured that would be end of the conversation. Instead, she wiggled a hand into one of the tight short pockets and pulled out a folded check. She filled it out and signed it.

            When she handed it to me, I noticed two names on the account. One was hers and the other was male with the same last name.

            “Who’s that on the check?” I asked.

            “That’s Daddy. He’s kinda rich. He thought that my waitressing and livin with a guy was just a phase that I’d grow out of. Then my daughter came along. He wants to give her all the advantages I had.”

            “Doesn’t sound so bad to me,” I said from my perspective of growing up without a lot of money.

            “Yeah, right, look what it did for me,” she replied.

            I didn’t answer that one. The family thing is a little vague to me even though I have a three-year-old son, but the ex and her daddy’s lawyers keep me away from him.

            “So what is that you want me to do?” I asked.

            “I want you make him stay away from us.”

            “Why don’t you stay with daddy and get the papers done so the law says he has to?”

            “He’ll get a lawyer too and try to take my daughter away.”

            “Can he afford one?”

            “Yeah.”

            “What’s he do for a living?”

            “Stuff.”

            I never liked an answer like that. Most people can’t make a living out of doing ‘stuff’ – at least not legal ‘stuff’.

            “How’s he going to take your kid?” I asked.          

            “When I first got mad and split from Daddy’s house, I was on the street you know?”

            I knew. I was pretty sure I knew what was coming next.

            “And, like, I didn’t have any money, so I figured a way to make some.”

            “Hooking?”

            “Yeah.”

            “Any busts?”

            “Yeah.”

            “How many?”

            “Two, then I left the life. I let Daddy help some and I got a job here. That was five years ago. I meant Mike when I was working here. We hit it off. We lived together almost three years. I was happy most the time. Mike’s gotten moody and mean to me the last year.”

            “How’s he treat your kid?”

            “He treats Sara like a princess.”

            “Tell me about this ‘stuff’ he does to make a living.”

            “Well, he won’t talk to me about it, but sometimes I overhear things that he and entourage talk about.”

            “Entourage?” I asked.

            “Yeah, that’s what he calls them – like he was some kind of movie star or something.”

            “Okay, what did you hear?”

            “They’re laughing about finding things that ‘fell off a truck’, you know?”          

            Yeah, I knew.

            I asked her Mike’s last name. She told me Fighton. He made sure the stuff fell off trucks all right. A while back, a driver had resisted and gotten his skull cracked with a baseball bat. The man died in the hospital – leaving a wife and two children behind. Mike and his crew had been questioned, but couldn’t be linked to the killing and had skated.

            I was interrupted in my thoughts by the approach of a dark-haired girl holding the hand of a two-year-old angel. The little girl had her mom’s freckles and red hair.

            “Sara, say hello to Mr. Grady.”

            The two-year-old hid her face in against the leg of her sitter. I couldn’t help but smile. I don’t like everything adults do to each other, but I get fed up with them making the kids suffer.           

            I saw the look on Josie’s face change from adoration for her daughter to fear as she looked toward the parking lot. I turned to see a 70’s muscle car painted a putrid shade of green. Four men piled out of the car. The four wore outfits that ranged from camo cargo pants to jeans and motorcycle tee shirts. Between them they displayed a wide assortment of tats – most having the amateur look of a jailhouse artist.

            I stand 5’10” and I would guess that smallest had me by probably two inches and maybe thirty pounds. It wasn’t going to be fair fight if it came to that, but nobody ever said I fight fair.

            “Josie, keep your butt there. We’re gonna get this settled,” bellowed the biggest of the bunch at maybe 6’4” and about 225 pounds. He was the exception to the group about the tattoos settling instead for a gigantic belt buckle.

            The four walked up the wooden steps seeming to make as much noise as possible. Maybe they tried to impress everyone with how tough they were. Emma raised her head and a rumble began deep in her chest. I slipped my left hand through her collar. She’s well trained, but she doesn’t like aggressive behavior. I kept my right hand free.

            “What’s this crap – changing the locks?’ demanded the leader.

            “Josie, you and your friend take Sara inside,” I commanded.

            “Daddy?” said Sara in the unclear and uncertain voice of two-year-old.

            “It’s Daddy,” said the man with the only sign of humanity that I seen so far.

            “Go on, Josie,” I said. “I don’t want her see her daddy get hurt.”

            That got the women moving and the attention of the men turned toward me.

            “Well, Mikey, how’s it going?” I said.

            “Don’t call me that!”

            “You look like a Mikey to me,” I said.

            For just an instant the four looked confused. They were used to people being intimidated. Then the instant passed.

            “Hey smart mouth, meet Shank,” said Mike indicating one of the men. “You know why we call him Shank? Show him, Shank.”

            Shank pulled out a butterfly knife. I don’t have anything against knives. The world needs knives – just not in the hands of idiots.

            Shank proceeded to show how many different ways he could open, close, and twirl the weapon. I admit that he was fast enough that it was a blur. However, he and his comrades were busy admiring his skills. It gave me plenty of opportunity to reach my shoulder holster.

            “Now Shank, show him how you gonna cut his face. We’ll hold him for you,” said Mike.

            Before anyone moved, I shot Shank in the hand holding the knife with my .45 officer’s model. Shank probably wouldn’t be twirling that knife anymore.

            The other three stood looking at the mangled hand with fascination.

            “You better get him somewhere before he bleeds out,” I said.

            “You shot him,” said Mike in disbelief. “You’re dead and Josie too for getting you involved.

            With the threat hanging in the air, the group hustled him off.

            I wasn’t worried about being threatened – what else was new? I was worried about Josie. I couldn’t watch her 24/7. So I needed to shut him down long term. An idea was forming in my mind. It would take some work and some hustle, but maybe I could use his racket against him.

            I called a con man that I knew. The idea that I outlined to him wasn’t anything new. He’d pulled the con a dozen times on greedy citizens. This time he was going to do his magic on another crook. It didn’t bother him a lot.

            Josie and friend came out. They poured hot water on the deck where the guy had bled. Half an hour later the local police arrived to follow up a report that someone had heard a gunshot. I told them that I had heard it, but didn’t know where it was. They left looking skeptical.

            I told Josie that I was going to make Mike leave town and not come back. She didn’t ask how. I guess being with Mike had taught her not to ask too many questions.

            The idea was a variation of a simple scam. It would take a few more props, but should do the trick

            One week later I sat outside a warehouse in the back of van equipped for surveillance. The van had been borrowed from another PI who owed me a favor.

            I watched as the con man led Mike and his crewmembers to the door of a warehouse. Shank was missing. The con man played the part of a nervous warehouse worker to the hilt as he unlocked the walk-through door. They disappeared inside.

            I switched to a video camera I had mounted inside and was transmitting to a monitor in the van. I watched as the men stood before rows and rows of boxes marked plasma televisions with a popular brand name. Mike selected a box and opened it with a pocketknife – not a butterfly knife. He removed the television inside. It was one of a number of plasma TV’s in the boxes. Unfortunately for Mike, none of them worked well. They had been rejects from the manufacturer slated for disposal that had disappeared from the factory. Mike randomly selected another box and checked its contents. He seemed satisfied and handed an envelope to the con man.

            The big warehouse door was opened. One of Mike’s crew fetched a truck. The contents of the warehouse were transferred to the truck. Thirty minutes after the deal began, the men were gone.  

            The scam was simple. The con man had used local contacts to give himself street cred with Mike. The televisions had supposedly disappeared from a warehouse in another city and been spirited here. Their retail value was over $5000 each. The con man had offered them to Mike for $1000. They had haggled and settled for $750 each. That meant that Mike had handed the man $75,000 cash for a truckload of televisions that worked at some level, but were basically worthless. I didn’t figure that Mike fronted the 75k himself and that meant he had bought himself trouble.

            Another week passed without word of Mike. I was sitting watching the evening news when an interesting item appeared.

            “The body of man tentatively identified as Mike Fighton has been found. A police spokesperson tells that Fighton has been investigated regarding highjacking of truck cargo. The spokesperson indicated that the man was bound hand and foot before receiving a gunshot to the head.”

            So I was right. Mike’s money people didn’t appreciate being stiffed for 75k on the scam and took it out on him. Now I knew Josie was safe from Mike.

I picked up the phone and called Josie. I half expected her to be upset about Mike but she seemed all right with it. I don’t knew if she suspected that I had a hand in what happened to Mike – she didn’t ask. I just hoped her choices in men improved.