... excerpt from the beginning -
* * *
The bawl of the city died away as night became early morning. It was still. The hesitant silence of anticipation. Illumination from the single street lamp near one of the old red brick warehouses disappeared into little chinks and cracks in the aging brick. Held in greedily and not allowed to escape. An incinerator smokestack rose menacingly into the darkness like a great gun barrel. Pigeons roosted in the crevices of its missing bricks. This was the sepulchral stillness street criminals use. When you can hear a car coming half a mile away, the scrape of footsteps echoing in the street, or stealthy sibilant whispers. The blackness concealed fissures to duck into, channels of dark escape. You couldn't get caught - even for murder.
In the center of the pavement remained the embedded evidence of what once had laced the West Coast city - the steel tracks for electric street cars. Before a conspiracy of bus, gasoline and tire companies forced them into premature oblivion. Across those tracks, opposite the can company warehouse, a huge automobile junkyard, surrounded by a high chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. A sign attached to the fence read; CONDY'S AUTO PARTS: RETAIL - WHOLESALE. Inside the dark yard, long rows of car hulks in various states of dismantle and rust receded into the darkness. Weedy grass and shrubs grew tenaciously among the twisted metal shells. Set amid the autos about halfway into the yard, an old cottage with a full width porch, yellow light glowing inside. The original farm house. The word OFFICE painted on the door with a warning; REPORT HERE FIRST, NO BROWSING. Wicker chairs malingered on the porch like weary nursing home occupants. Tucked into the shadow beside the house was an older Cadillac coupe with long tail fins. A brand-new 1988 Chevrolet beside it. A new concrete block building was barely visible in the gloom some distance away and still farther off, rising like an ominous threatening shadow, an old hay barn identified as; SMALL PARTS SHED.
Inside the office; four disarrayed oak desks behind a long dirty counter. Several straight chairs and battered metal file cabinets, a few wrenches on the counter top. Smudged invoice pads and clipboards. Nubs of pencils. Everything holding greasy fingerprints. A sign on the wall - CASH ONLY - NO CREDIT - NO CHECKS. Buxom calendar pinups with pencilled mustaches and ballpoint pubic hair. Two men at separate desks.
One a huge man, with a gnarled ugly face, eyes at an odd angle, one long dipping eyebrow. Willie Carravetta leaned back on his chair smoking a cigarette without holding it, only tilted his head to take a drag and keep the curling smoke out of his drooping lower eye. He thumbed through a skin magazine, feet on the desk.
The second man - neatly dressed, angular face, slickly combed hair. Condy Carlyle sat hunched over some papers. He appeared nervous and kept covertly listening.
A screech of tires from the street followed by a bump, a pause and the clunk of a car door slamming.
Condy said, "Willie, what was that?"
His henchman asked, "What was what?"
Condy stood and peered out the window toward the street, moved around the counter. "What th'?" He went out the door, followed by Willie. Together they walked toward the locked swing gates at the front of the junkyard. Just outside, parked on the wide grassy boulevard between the mesh fence and the curb was an older Ford LTD sedan, steam hissing under the hood, a glint of green liquid beneath the engine. Condy listened to the footfalls of someone running.
Willie said, "Jeese, what’s goin' on?"
Condy unlocked the gate and they went through. Condy to the driver’s side. The doors and part of the front fender were crushed.
Willie opened the passenger door, looked in. "Nobody here, Condy, keys ‘re still in it."
"It's been crashed. Know whose car this is?"
"Whose?" Willie poked his head into the back.
"Don’t touch anything, it belongs to Jacques Escardo."
Willie backed off, gulping. "Yeah, I seen it aroun’ all a time." He pulled his hand back into his sleeve and wiped the door handle.
Condy said, "Looks like somebody had an accident and fucked off. We better tell him about it."
"Now? It's after midnight, Boss."
"I want you to do it now. Listen, there’s a telephone booth at Forty-seventh and Pine. On the corner. Park right beside it. Call him from there, I'll give you the number." Condy started back to his office.
Willie, puzzled but obedient, followed, saying, "Way over there? Why don't I jus’ call from here?"
"It’s a special phone booth, well lit, near the building Escardo operates out of. They’ve got a spotting scope up there, can see who's calling them. Identify yourself, tell them you’re calling for Condy Carlyle, tell them I recognized their courier car. That it’s been smashed."
"Don't like dealin’ wit dem mob guys."
Condy slapped Willie on the back and smiled. "We’re doing them a favour, Willie. They’ll appreciate us for this. Don’t worry." The boss leafed through a notebook, tore out a page and wrote a number on it. "Make sure he knows we didn’t touch it. Just saw it there as we were leaving the yard."
"You goin’ now too?"
"Yes. I’ll lock up."
"Okay, Condy." Willie got into his Chevrolet and drove slowly through the gates.
Condy silently watched until Willie turned at the end of the dim street, waited as the tire sound ebbed then rushed toward the smashed Ford. The driver's door was jammed so Condy got in from the passenger side. The car wouldn't start. More steam appeared from under the hood. Sweat beaded on Condy’s forehead. He tried again. Still wouldn't start.
Condy slid out holding the car keys, glanced around in the shadowy light, grimaced and ran back to his Cadillac. Started it and drove outside the yard to the LTD. Stopped on the grass boulevard close beside the Ford. Opened the Caddy’s trunk, then the Ford’s. It was crammed with small gray canvas bags. Condy glanced nervously up the street then started piling them into the cavernous trunk space of the old Caddy. He pressed bag after bag into his car. One came open and paper money fell out. "Shit!"
Condy scraped the bills from the ground. Twenties, fifties and hundreds. Sweat dripped from his eyebrows and the salt stung his eyes. He squinted at his watch, decided against taking any more bags and slammed both trunks shut. He replaced the Ford keys in the ignition, was about to drive the Caddy back through his gate when a silhouetted figure appeared from the shadows of the warehouse. The small black man startled Condy.
"Jigger! What the hell are you doing here? I told you to just take off until later."
The used looking man said, "I did good, Condy. Ya gotta pay me now. I need a hit, man, can’t wait fer later."
Condy wiped the sweat from his brow, smelled the odor of his own anxiety, thought a moment, handed Jigger a key. "Okay. Lock the friggin’ gate and come to the office. I’ll pay you now."
Condy drove the Cadillac back into the yard, parked it well behind the house so it was not visible from the street. Jigger locked the steel gates and followed.
Condy ordered, "Wait out here."
He entered the house. Jigger watched him expectantly from the porch through a window as he dialed the phone. Three digits, 9-1-1.
Carlyle assumed a changed voice, "Yeah man, there’s a crashed car here, prob’ly stolen. Seventh Street, thirty-five hundred block. Green Ford LTD sedan, man in it’s got a piece. He’s a shootin’ it. Right across from the can company warehouse, front a the junkyard, y’know? ... never mind my name, just get here and stop the shootin’." Condy hung up.
Jigger heard a drawer slam, sniffed and rubbed his nose, shuddered. The office lights flicked out, Condy emerged and handed Jigger the Cadillac key. Grinning, he said, "Got a couple of dime bags in my trunk. Free gratis."
Jigger’s eyes lit as he bent over the trunk and peered in. He got a glimpse of the open bag of money but saw no drugs. He was puzzled for only a split second as Condy moved behind him and fired two quick shots into the back of his head. Condy Carlyle simply guided Jigger’s crumbling body into the huge trunk, tucked the black man's thin legs in and slammed the lid. He moved back into his office. In the darkness there was only the creak of a chair as he sat down. A long sigh and a sudden silence broken only by a wailing siren in the background.
Outside the locked gates at the green Ford, all was still until a black and white police cruiser appeared. The siren turned off as it moved cautiously down the street, lighting the way with its high beams and flashing blue and red light bar. A second police car rounded the opposite corner and stopped. One officer got out, drew his revolver and walked in the cover of the moving car until they were right beside the Ford. It became obvious no one was around as the policemen with drawn weapons warily inspected it. The four officers stood around looking at the smashed car. An unmarked blue car joined them and two plain clothes detectives got out. A murmured conversation. One of the policemen finally opened the trunk, checked the remaining bags. "Holy shit!"
They all moved to the rear of the Ford.
Another blue car arrived. Detective James McGrath joined the group. One of the other detectives said, "What’re you doin’ here, McGrath? Don’t touch anything."
"Fuck you," McGrath answered, "it was a ‘man-with-a-gun’ call."
"We can handle it, Jimmy. Stay away from those bags."
Up the street a black Lincoln Town Car with dark tinted windows hissed slowly forward. It stopped, idling, then suddenly lurched into a U-turn and disappeared.
Green antifreeze still dripped from the Ford radiator and now seeped into the tiny indentations left by the Cadillac's tires. McGrath noticed the tread marks and followed the faint pattern of fresh dirt leading toward the gate. McGrath stared at the money bags, then his eyes raised to furtively peer into the junkyard. The office remained silent and dark.
Detective McGrath pretended to pace around the Ford while scuffing away the evidence of the second car.
* * *
- Chapter 1 -
Rules of Engagement
Condy went and got himself shot and it ruined all my plans," Cassandra Coronado said, "but I’d rather not relive that night."
"No problem." James McGrath shrugged, smiled and stuffed a chunk of steak into his mouth. "It’s not like I didn’t read the police report anyway." He had read every word of her statement. Memorized it.
The crowded outdoor cafe vibrated with conversation and clatter and waterfront sounds. This was their first social outing and McGrath had successfully infused it with good-natured humor and pleasant banter - until he mentioned Condy Carlyle.
He watched her eat the spinach salad. "Then you already know about Condy."
"Whatever anyone knew about him."
. . . . . . . .
by R.C. Westerholm
Tango Murderoso explores the machinations of the human mind. Conspiracy, greed and brutality clash against love, loyalty and compassion. This is a story about the irreversible attraction of dangerous opposites, the tenuous thread between good and evil, how closely they are related, and the resulting chaos from an inability to change.
Tango Murderoso deals with James H. McGrath, a police detective interested in murder and six million dollars in stolen drug money. He is investigating Cassandra Coronado, beautiful but eccentric owner of the 90 year old White Rose Club, frequented by her aged and bizarre South American emigré friends. She is dedicated to looking out for her patrons, even though they live in a fantasy world revolving around her and the treacherous tango. But where did Cassandra get the big money needed to buy the whole building?
Rough edged McGrath courts Cassandra as he searches for clues to the killing of small time gangster Condy Carlyle, who ripped off drug cartel money from a courier and someone shot him. But who? And why was Cassandra naked in his apartment that night? Condy hid the six million cash before he died and Detective McGrath thinks he can find it. Is Cassandra the key to the prize and the murder?
Everyone seems to be hiding a dark secret, including the once elegant, now decrepit old White Rose building itself, which becomes the tertiary character of the story. The passion of Latin dance is the driving motivation for the faded lives of old Prince Mikhail, who is a steadfast mentor to Cassandra, keeps a file on everyone but has no history himself, and is said to carry a small pistol. Dance Queen Mirabel, rescued Cassandra from a desolate childhood, yet lives herself within a sorrowful recollection of memories. Pablo de Larosa, sees everything as abstractions of art, even murder. Estrella Mendoza, uses alcohol to forget a murky past indiscretion.
Condy's henchman, Willie Carravetta begins sniffing around like a wolf catching a scent and McGrath has to call in all his favors to keep his surreptitious investigation going.
Detective McGrath's goal is to find the gun that killed Condy, but does falling in love with Cassandra complicate his course of action? What exactly is his prize? Is Cassandra falling for him too while ignoring warnings from her cadre of trusted friends, and even denying her own inner protector which she has always invoked in times of need. Is the stunning woman known as la Pequeño simply a too clever killer?
It remains to be seen if the tango will rule their heads or their hearts.
Jimmy McGrath is a cop willing to step over the edge to get the big score. Cassandra has already crossed the line between truth and dare.
The rules of convergence apply.
Tango Murderoso is, like the tango, sexy, stimulating, and treacherous.
© 2005 - 2015 RC Westerholm
reg. Writers Guild Canada #S00-3277 Tango Murderoso - about 360 pages
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Tango Murderoso is now published as an electronic edition with Amazon for your Kindle.
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