Not My Little Girl
 

 

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     Not My Little Girl:

An HW Grady PI Story

 

“Not my little girl.” The words still echoed in my head as I left the upscale suburban home. My name’s Grady and I’m an Atlanta PI. I did an Army tour of duty and used my benefits to get a criminal justice degree. I did ten plus years with the Atlanta PD and another department. After I married and was divorced from the daughter of a rich man, I opened up my one-man PI agency. I didn’t really miss the marriage or even the job her daddy had given and taken away. However, I did miss my son who was nearing his fourth birthday.

Now I was taking a case of someone’s missing teen daughter. I had to be careful not to invest too much of myself or my emotions – ultimately it was still just a job, only this job could save or destroy lives.

I was armed with a picture of the missing girl and a check for a week’s retainer. This was required to secure my services and would not be refunded. It sounds cold, but I drive an expensive car, dress well, and enjoy a small measure of the good life. I backed my CLK 300 out of the drive past a classic 66 Vette and cruised through the neighborhood where $200,000 cars were common. So I didn’t feel too guilty. Once out of the gated community, I headed toward the mall where Teresa had last been seen.

I pulled into the lot and paid for parking. The words of Teresa’s father – Viktor Flemming - echoed in my mind: “Of course we thought she was safe at the mall. They have valet parking for Christ’s sake.”

I walked inside and located the security office. I explained that I’d like to look at some of the security surveillance tape. I was stonewalled until I said that they could call Teresa’s father and reminded them who he was. That opened all kind of doors. He was some kind of local business mogul – mysterious enough to be successful.

A kid in a security officer’s uniform led me to the surveillance office. Inside was a retired cop that I vaguely knew. His nametag showed Murdock, so at least I wouldn’t have to strain my brain remembering that.

After exchanging pleasantries, I told him what I needed. His thick fingers ran nimbly over the keys on his console and the main screen flickered. The real-time image of the mall was replaced with a picture of the place three days before – the last time Teresa had been seen. He made it into a split screen and we watched six recordings at once.

I stopped him after fifteen minutes and asked to watch the tape in one section of the food court. A girl passed with her back to the camera and then turned and looked back. Murdock froze it and I held Teresa’s picture up to the screen. Despite the graininess of the video, she was recognizable. She walked over to a table occupied by a couple of other teens and a man. The quality made identifying him impossible.

“You know him?” I asked.

Murdock squinted at the screen and said, “Oh yeah. I don’t know his name, but he goes by the handle of ‘The Sheik’. Last week’s bad news though. He pulled a blade on one of our young officers’ I high-tailed it down there and made him see the error of his ways with the help of a baton.”

“Any broken bones?”

“Nah, he just got a sore arm. The management didn’t want to press charges, just ban him.”

“What’s his deal?”

“He’s always got a group of girls with him. At first I thought he was just looking for arm candy, but I believe he’s recruiting them. There are rumors that he runs some call girls out of one of the motels here. He spreads lots of money around the stores which why it took so long to get rid of him.”

“You think the mall has any more info on him?”

“You can ask, but these guys get real anal.”

I nodded and thanked him. The kid guard was still waiting for me and told me that someone wanted to talk to me at the security office. He tried to puff himself up to look in charge. That’s hard to do when you weigh maybe 110 soaking wet. I didn’t kill his pipe dream and let him lead the way. I’m only about 5’10” but I hold several black belts and if that fails I carry two concealed handguns. It’s not often that I worry too much about my personal safety. When we got back to the office a man in a suit was waiting. Something told me high-dollar lawyer.

“Mr. Grady, I’m Clarence Darrow. I’m the attorney representing the management company of this shopping complex. I’d like to have a word with you.”

‘Shopping complex?’ I thought to myself. I nodded. I refrained from commenting on a lawyer named Clarence Darrow.

“Let’s walk,” he suggested.

Maybe walking in a shopping complex was a step up from walking in a mall. Personally I preferred walking in a park or the woods, but what do I know?”

“I think the management exercised poor judgment in allowing you to view security videos, but nothing can be done about that now. I’m here to make sure the management doesn’t expose the company to any further liability.”

“So you think that word of you allowing panderers and pimps in the mall might not go over big with some of your patrons.”

“There you have it,” said Darrow with a sigh. “After viewing a few minutes of video you are inclined to make reckless and unfounded comments such as that.”

“Don’t try to play hardball with me counselor. I was a cop a long time. I know enough inspectors and agencies that a little birdie might contact and give your ‘shopping complex’ some problems. Also,” I said leaning close. “Should anything have happened to Teresa Flemming as a result of events taking place here, I’ll make sure that her father knows the particulars.”

“Of course, Mr. Grady, of course. We want to protect all our patrons,” said Darrow taking a step back and stammering slightly.

I couldn’t do a lot more without assaulting him, so I left. In my car I dialed a county detective I knew.

“Thor,” growled a familiar voice.

“Well detective, what’s new?”

“Since when did you care?”

“Maybe I’m turning over a new leaf.”

“That’d be the day. What do you want?”

“I’m trying to run down a dude with the moniker ‘The Sheik’. Think you could run that as an alias?”

“Don’t have to if it’s some dark-skinned European cat. What you doin, getting pointers on women?”

“Nah, I’d come to you for that.”

Thor would be the last person to go to about women except how to maintain a thirty-year marriage like his. In the years I’d known him, I’d never seen him take a long look at a woman, even though I’d seen plenty of women trying to catch the eye of the massive African-American who had been a college football star and Marine before ending up a cop.

“Give me the low-down involving The Sheik,” he said.

I considered carefully before I said, “The mall security cameras caught him hanging out with a sixteen-year-old girl just before she disappeared. Daddy wants me to find her.”

“Who’s Daddy?”

“Someone who wouldn’t want me to share that info.”

“You know that client privilege doesn’t go too far if there’s crime involved.”

“Probably just a runaway.”

“Daddy reported her missing?”

“No.”

“That could be considered neglect in the eyes of the law.”

“Daddy’s rich and hired me. You really want to stir up a hornet’s nest like that?” I asked.

There was a pause as Thor considered his response.

“Just don’t let it mess up my garden. I like things neat and orderly. I don’t need anything  threatening my pension.”

“I do what I can.”

“It better be enough. I heard since he got the boot from the mall, Sheik’s frequenting a coffee shop where teen-agers hang. He runs some girls out of a motel,” he said giving me the name of the motel and coffee shop.

He hung up. Thor and I were cool – at least as cool as an ex-cop and one still on the job could be. I’d send him a nice little gift – cash of course. He worked for me sometimes on his off days like some other cops I know.

I drove the few blocks to the coffee shop. There was a strip mall across the street, so I parked my car and took up a position to do what a lot of investigation involved – wait and watch. Fortunately my wait was only about forty-five minutes. I passed the time review film noir classics from the 40’s in my mind. To my way of thinking, that was the Eden of filmmaking.

I was jogged from my daydream by the appearance of none other than The Sheik himself. He had a entourage of three teen girls and a big guy. None of the girl’s was Teresa. Sheik, the guy and two girls occupied an outside table while the other girl went inside. She soon reappeared with cappuccino for all. 

There are people who are gifted with finesse and tact – unfortunately I’m not one of them. I got out and crossed the street to the coffee shop. Apparently Sheik thought I was a John – maybe my car and suit gave off that impression.

“So you see anything that tickles you fancy?”

“You got a regular candy store here, huh?” I said.

“You got that right – the sweetest treats.”

“And what does that make you?”

“An enabler of dreams,” he replied with his own dreamy expression possibly heightened with drugs.

“That’s a fancy name for pimp,” I said pleasantly.

His dark complexion got darker – possibly flushed with anger.

“Nobody calls me that,” he hissed.

“Do you prefer panderer?”

“Bo, take out the trash,” he said to the big guy.

Bo stood and came over to loom above me. Like many big guys, he apparently relied on size and intimidation. I took two steps back. He made a clumsy grab at me that I easily avoided. It left him off balance and his ribs exposed. I did a combination of punches with enough time for precision. On the second punch I felt a rib give and was rewarded with a grunt of pain from him. I hit the spot with more punches and he staggered. I stepped back and landed a kick on his knee. He crumpled and landed on hands and knees.

“Enough?” I asked.

He nodded.

I turned back to Sheik who had drawn the same knife I had seen in the tape.

“What I hate is people that don’t learn from their mistakes,” I said, pulling my .45 from its shoulder holster.

The knife clattered to the concrete.

“Teresa Flemming,” I said.

“Why didn’t you say so to start with?” he whined.

“And miss this sparkling intellectual exchange with you and Bo? Teresa?”

“Room 36B at the family inn.”

I nodded and kept the .45 by my leg until I covered a safe distance. Although the events had been witnessed by several people on the street, I didn’t hear the wail of sirens.

I headed toward the family inn. My cell rang. I recognized Thor’s number.

“Yeah?”

“Word is that you’re working for Viktor Flemming,” he said without preamble.

“Could be.”

“You know who is?”

I didn’t answer. Thor correctly took my silence to mean that I didn’t.

“He was a big in organized crime in Britain until it got too hot for him. Word is that he was too vicious even for the taste of the local criminals. He relocated here two years old and a lot of law enforcement agencies have been focused on him.”

“His daughter’s missing – that’s my only interest.”

“Murdock, a retired cop that works security at the mall called and told me that you had shown interest in video there. He also told me that a shyster who represents the management company called Flemming half an hour ago with the same info you have. It probably won’t take him long to find his daughter. You know where the girl is?”

I saw my knuckles were white on the steering wheel. I told him what I knew. He hung up. I was only half a mile from the motel, but the traffic was inching along. I pulled into a store and parked. I decided that I could get there on foot faster than this.

I ran the half-mile in about five minutes, which wasn’t bad given the way I was dressed. Flemming’s Vette was in the lot. I went straight for 36B. Apparently Sheik was being cute with me because the only one in the room was a maid cleaning it after the occupants had checked out. I heard the screech of brakes in the lot. Sheik jumped out of a convertible and ran across the lot. I ran after him, but I was too late.

I heard the boom of a shotgun twice before I rounded the building. When I reached the open door of the room, Sheik was laying outside with his face gone from the shotgun.

I peeked around the door and the frame was splintered with another blast. I dropped to my knees and snapped off two quick shots with the .45. They shouldn’t have hit anything, but sometimes luck is enough. No more shots came from within. I peeked around and Flemming lay on his back gasping for air. A red stain spread across the front of his white silk shirt. The shotgun lay harmlessly out of reach.

I walked in and knelt next to him.

“He soiled my daughter. Satisfaction was required,” he said before he died.

Past him lay the crumpled body of Teresa. She had died from the other shotgun blast.

I heard a sound behind me and found Thor holding his 9mm at ready.

He lowered the gun and shook his head.

“You should have told me more.”

I didn’t answer. I just turned and walked out. Later I was grilled by detectives and threatened with the loss of my PI license – what else is new? They let me go knowing there wasn’t must disputing my claim of self-defense.

I found Darrow’s office and stopped by. Over the protests of his secretary, I entered his office and proceeded to threaten him physically if he didn’t leave town. When he protested, I told him that I could arrange for his body not to be found. I heard later that he left the state. Given the outcome, I considered tearing up Flemming’s check, but changed my mind and was glad when it cleared the bank.