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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

The Brotherhood #34

By Mark W. Meier

Part 34

Act IV

Windowed The Soul

Chapter Seven


An iron ball attached to a long handle, used for driving caulking into seams. Occasionally they’re used in fights.

Bob Schwartz quit on the spot and refused to talk to you, regardless of how you cajoled him with an increased salary. The police, of course, wanted to talk to both of you.

Riding to the precinct was awkward. Silence oozed from everyone in the car, and Schwartz, arms crossed, simply stared out the right side of the patrol car. All I had to do was ride along, enjoying the hostility filling the air around you.

As the cop pulled into the municipal lot, you took out your cell phone and dialed Howe. When he picked up you said, “Find a new chauffeur.” You hung up without waiting for a response. Schwartz didn’t react. I smiled.

Instead of an afternoon of boating you were subjected to interrogations by several people. You had no information to share, but they didn’t believe you. The simple fact was you were as mystified as they were.

Six hours later you were released, but stood in the lobby, aghast. “How am I supposed to get home? I have no car, no driver, and I don’t carry cab fare.”

An officer behind the desk pointed over your shoulder.

“I’m here, Mr. Grambic.” Victor Howe rose from the cheap plastic chair across the lobby. “I’ll take you home.”

You heaved a sigh of relief. Howe had been with you for the last ten years. He knew you in ways nobody else could, and asked for precious little in return. Money couldn’t buy that kind of loyalty, but could be used to reward it.

“Give yourself a ten percent raise, Victor.”

Howe nodded, but otherwise didn’t react beyond his acknowledgment. “As you wish, Mr. Grambic. Thank you.”

Separating Howe from your service would have made my assignment much easier, but there were only so many Brothers. Imps capable of supporting roles were too few to squander when I was perfectly able to complete my mission.

At home, you hoped for a quiet evening, but it wasn’t to be. Your butler never broke your concentration when he entered the study where you read an industry publication.

“Mr. Grambic, there’s a police detective here.”

“Thank you, Charles. I’ll meet him in the day room in a few minutes.”

The butler cleared his throat. “The detective is female, sir. She gave her name as Jessica James.”

Jessie James, the police detective. “Very good, Charles. I’ll be there shortly.”

You finished the article on a potential breakthrough on fabrication methods and momentarily pondered holding off on construction of your factory in Dannacona. Almost instantly you rejected the idea. The breakthrough might be years in the making, if ever, and you needed the facility operating sooner rather than later.

You stepped into your day room and offered the detective your hand. “Detective James. I’m Michael Grambic.” She looked more like Jessica Rabbit than the gunman of historical fame.

James shook your hand. “Thank you for taking time for me, Mr. Grambic.”

“My pleasure.”

She was unexpected, and I wondered how I could use her in my plan. She didn’t seem the type to interfere with my kind. That aura wasn’t there.

James had been studying an original Whitmarre painting at the far end of the room. Not one of his best pieces, but produced before fame had set in. Alcoholism quickly destroyed his talent, if not the artist himself. The last of his paintings had sold for only hundreds of dollars last year, as opposed to the hundreds of thousands only five years ago.

Another Brotherhood project.

James pointed over her shoulder. “Whitmarre?”

You nodded. “From fifteen years ago. ‘Cubicle on Ice.’ He said it represented the chilling effect of corporate America.” Ironic that you, an evil corporate bigwig, would own a painting decrying evil corporate bigwigs.

James turned back to the painting. “It’s interesting.” She pushed a few loose strands of red hair behind her ear. “But that’s not why I’m here.”

You motioned for her to sit near a small table holding a chess set. You’d never played, but couldn’t make yourself change the setup your father had arranged. Staff dusted it twice every week, so it didn’t look unused.

“What can I do for you, Detective?” You sat across from her.

“I have a few more questions about the explosion.”

Your cell phone vibrated. Only Howe sent texts to your phone – everyone else was blocked – so he could wait. “Like what? I told three different officers everything I know, and I did so repeatedly.”

“I’ve read the reports they filed.” She brought out her phone and a stylus and tapped a few times. Her tone of voice became official. “Could you tell me where you were going this morning before your trip was interrupted?”

You sighed in frustration at having to answer that question once again. “I’ve recently purchased a small sailing boat and wanted to check it out on Lake Marion. My driver was taking me to the yachting club to change into sailing gear. I don’t typically wear a suit when I’m on the lake.” James ignored your attempt at humor.

“Which yacht club?”

“Savannah Yacht Club. Is there any reason you’re asking these same questions?”

Even James’ smile was like Rabbit’s sultry expression. “Humor me. It seems odd you’d be on Oglethorpe. It’s not exactly the best route from work to the yacht club.” She tapped her phone a few times and looked back up.

“I don’t tell my people how to do their job.” You crossed your left leg over the right. “There’s no benefit for taking a longer or shorter path, so if Robert took Oglethorpe, he must have had a reason.”

“Did you know the governor was in town?” Again she tapped. When she looked up this time her eyes were calculating.

“How would I know that?” Why would she ask about the governor?

I wondered how you could even ask that question. You were among the wealthiest people in the state, so if you wanted to know where the governor was at any particular moment you had but to ask. But you were naive.

James crossed her legs to mirror yours – an obvious tactic to anyone who knew about body language. You, of course, failed to notice. Ephemerals are so clueless.

“Michael.” She shook her head. “May I call you Michael?”

Another strategy. It worked best on males when used by attractive females.

“Certainly. But let me clarify that my question had nothing to do with how I’d go about finding that out. Why would I care to even know?”

“That’s what I’m here to find out.” James tapped with her stylus again. “If you didn’t know he was in town, then the point becomes moot. However, there’s legislation he’ll be signing soon which could affect your business significantly. The lieutenant governor, however, has hinted at a distaste for increasing regulations on businesses. If the governor should die before the signing ceremony on Monday, the bill could be safely ignored during the transition period.”

“And maybe forgotten entirely.” You nodded. “I can see that.”

The bill, which would increase your taxes to the point you’d have to leave the state, was a Brotherhood project. That it would force you to relocate was of tangential import. The benefit to our other undertakings would be significant.

James looked up over the scarlet frames of her glasses. “I’ll repeat: did you know the governor was in town?”

Some might say that the way she looked at you was granny-ish. “No. And my lawyers are planning to file a suit the moment the governor signs. I’ve been told an injunction is likely, and the law will be struck down by the courts, so I have no reason to resort to killing him.”

The detective probed for another half-hour and found nothing new. Though you felt some chemistry with her, nothing beyond business happened.

Too bad. A romance would be reason enough to get her pulled from the case. The Brotherhood could use another detective to better effect.

Moot point, though, as Detective James had said. This project was up to me alone.

At least as far as I knew.

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