A Cold Wind. A Grace deHaviland Novella — Bounty hunter Grace deHaviland’s latest case involves a young Hispanic man named Rico Sanchez who’s jumped bail after a simple DWI and minor weapons possession arrest. It should have been a simple case, but as Grace digs deeper, she discovers there is greater interest in this young man than the charges warrant.
Drawn into a complex, joint federal and state investigation involving organized gun-runners, the U.S. Marshals Service, the ATF, and multiple murders, Grace soon finds she and her best friend, sheriff’s deputy Suzie Jensen, must do what the feds and her friend BCI agent Eugene Booker can’t, if they are to find Sanchez before time runs out…for him and for them.
BROAD STREET BILLIARDS. I pulled open the pool hall’s heavy oak door and stepped inside. I’d been to this particular dive before. In my line of work as a bounty hunter I often visited the seediest a city has to offer, and Broad Street Billiards ranked right up there at the top of the list.
I stood in the doorway for a minute to give my eyes a chance to adjust to the darkness. A blue haze of cigarette and cigar smoke hung in the air like a low lying fog. The place reeked of pot, stale booze, and sweat, laced with the sour stench of yesterday’s vomit. I tried not to breath.
Inside, I counted six pool tables, each under a low-hanging fixture encasing a single, bare light bulb. Booths with cracked, plastic seats and chipped, faux wood tables lined the far wall and ran under the windows that would have given the place a view of the street outside, if they hadn’t been painted matte black and covered with thick, maroon curtains and dark, wooden shutters. A mahogany and black lacquer bar ran the length of the place, alongside plastic padded barstools and with a TV hung up in the corner.
The crowd was a mix of Hispanics and blacks, men mostly, men with hard eyes, large muscles, and a whole lot of elaborate, blue-ink tattoos. For sure, the testosterone ran high in a joint like this. All of the pool tables were being used, several of the booths were filled, and most of the stools at the bar were occupied. It was there that the heavy drinkers sat watching the OSU and Michigan State game on the TV wedged at a precarious angle above the mirrored wall and rows of whiskey bottles.
I ignored the stares, the wolf-whistles, and the rude propositions I received as I made my way over to the bar. The bartender, an ex-con named Herman Boone, was big and black, and kept a sawed-off baseball bat and a handgun under the cash register, both within easy reach.
“Hey, Herman, how ya doing?” I asked, slipping on to one of the few empty stools.
“Fuck,” he said, with a disgusted shake of his big, bald head.
Needless to say, he wasn’t very happy to see me in here—since Boone knew I was a bounty hunter. The last time I’d stopped by, I left with two low-level drug addicts who’d been arrested for boosting a car and thought not showing up for court would make their problems go away. I made sure it didn’t.
“I don’t want no trouble, Grace.”
“Herman, I’m hurt.” I said. “I just stopped in for a drink.”
“Yeah, right.” He eyed me suspiciously. His bald head was beaded with sweat and gleamed in the harsh backlight of the bar. He wanted to throw me out, but I hadn’t given him a reason to…yet. He asked, “What’ll ya have then?”
“Beer. In a bottle.”
He popped the top to a Budweiser and put it on a soggy coaster in front of me.
I pulled the bottle toward me, and said, “And information.”
“We don’t sell that here, Grace. You know that.” He eyed me downing half my beer in one long gulp. It tasted good.
“That’ll be seven-fifty.”
I dropped a twenty on the bar, and he scooped it up fast, like he was afraid I’d change my mind about paying him. “There’s more where that came from.” I gave him my you know what I’m talking about look.
Boone sneered. I could read the anger in his eyes. He leaned in close and lowered his voice. “I ain’t no snitch. Don’t you never dis me like that again. Now, as foxy as your ass is to look at, Grace, you ain’t welcome in here. Now, drink your drink, then get the fuck out.”
Persistence be my middle name. Ignoring him, I pulled a five-by-nine mug shot from my fleece-lined suede coat and put it on the bar, facing him. “His name’s Rico Sanchez. I know he hangs out here. Have you seen him around lately?”
“You hard of hearing, girl?” Boone didn’t even look at the picture. “I don’t seen nobody anywhere ever. You got that?”
“Come on, Herman. This was the last place he was before he got arrested.”
Actually, Sanchez was busted just a few blocks from the bar, for DWI and weapons possessions. He’d told the arresting officers he’d been shooting pool and drinking here at Broad Street Billiards. Apparently drinking to excess.
“Can’t help you, Grace.” Boone put the glass he was drying face down on a rubber-matted shelf, picked up another one, and started drying it. “Even if I wanted to, and I don’t want to.”
Boone wandered down the bar to serve other customers, leaving me alone to ponder just how hard I could push. The sound was turned low on the TV, but I still heard the announcers’ voices over the din of the bar, the occasional break of billiard balls, and the bray of laughter or a shouted curse over a shot that didn’t bank quite right.
From down the bar, Boone eyed me carefully, but left me alone until a skinny, Hispanic kid in his late teens bounded up next to me. The kid was wearing cargo pants two sizes too big for his narrow hips and a flannel shirt, open, over a sleeveless, wife-beater T-shirt. He had gangbanger wannabe written all over him. Hyped up on something of a pharmaceutical nature by the way his eyes looked, and half in the bag from too many José Cuervos, I guessed, he bounced on the balls of his feet beside me, jazzed.
After eyeing me awhile, he picked up Rico Sanchez’s picture off the wet bar. “Whoa, what’s with the pischer, sista?”
“Do you know that man?” I asked without much enthusiasm.
Boone returned, looming from his side of the bar like a massive brick wall. “You don’t know him, Luis.”
Luis looked up from the picture. “Sure I do. It’s Rico Sanchez.”
“Shut you mouth!” the bartender snapped.
“Do you know where I can find him?” I asked Luis, trying to draw his attention away from Boone and getting excited.
Luis continued to hold the mug shot, first closer then further away, as if he was trying to bring it into focus. “What’ve you got Rico’s pischer for? It is Rico, isn’t it?”
“It is,” I said. “Do you know where he is?”
“That’s it, Grace.” Herman slapped his towel down on the bar where it made a wet, plopping sound. “You’re outta here.” He started to head for the end of the bar where the top flipped open.
He seriously was about to throw me out of the place, physically.
By now the rest of the pool hall patrons had their eyes on me, and not because they were admiring my shapely legs and awesome derriere. This time, they were eagerly waiting to see me get my shapely ass kicked.
But I wasn’t in the mood to throw down with Boone. First off, it would do me no good to do so, and secondly, he outweighed me by over a hundred pounds, most of it steroid inflated muscle, meaning a better-than-fair chance I’d have to draw my gun to get out of there.
Since that was not the way I wanted it to go down, I snatched the mug shot back from Luis.
“Gotta go,” I said. Already I planned to wait outside until Luis left. I’d get him alone and find out what he knew then, avoiding any more hassle with the formidable Herman Boone. That was the plan anyway.
“Give me that pischer back!” Luis made a grab for the mug shot but missed the photo by about a mile. He lunged forward, and, unsteady on his feet being an understatement, he stumbled into a guy sitting at the bar behind me. The guy looked like a WWF wrestler in an Army green field jacket. Shouldering into him, Luis knocked over the big guy’s beer.
Army jacket roared to his feet and shoved Luis backward into two other guys hunched over their drinks and a bowl of pretzels watching the football game, upsetting them all. They jumped to their feet and all hell broke loose.
“God-fucking-damn-it!” Boone bellowed, running back behind the bar to grab his sawed-off bat before weighing into the mass of shouting bodies and suddenly flying fists. “This is your fault, Grace,” he screamed over the sound of breaking bottles.
I guessed it was, not that the resulting brawl bothered me a bit. Made me laugh, actually.
But, I figured I’d better get out of there. As I backed away, one of the men Luis fell into took a swing at the skinny Hispanic kid, decking him. Luis then spun and stumbled onto a pool table. He sprawled across the felt, sending billiard balls scattering in all directions. That indiscretion was met with even more shouts and more men rushing around the tables to join in the melee.
Someone yelled, “Fight!” and around the room, the booths cleared. It seemed everyone in the place had jumped into the fracas. No doubt, just another night on the town, I guessed.
I ducked and twisted and turned, making my way to the front surprisingly unscathed and for the most part forgotten. I hit the heavy oak door, pulling it inward, and ducked, just as a beer mug crashed into the doorframe over my head.
“You’ll pay for this, deHaviland!” Boone shouted while I slipped through the exit out into the cold December night. I shivered at the sudden drop in temperature after the sweltering, overheated atmosphere inside the pool hall. Then I sucked in a cleansing breath of biting fresh air, and giddy, I smiled, not too worked up over the debt I’d just racked up with Herman Boone.
I was still smiling by the time I reached my beat-up van parked at the corner and leaned against the front grill, digging into the pocket of my skinny jeans for my keys. I figured to move the van to a closer spot where I could watch the entrance of the pool hall and wait for Luis to stumble out—or if I was really lucky, Boone would throw his skinny Hispanic butt out sooner for starting the fight inside—then I’d find out what he knew about Rico Sanchez.
With keys in hand, I stepped around to the driver side door, thinking about the laugh I’d have telling my best friend, Suzie Jensen, about the night’s wild events. But I stopped short, my smile gone.
A man stood waiting for me, barely visible in the darkness of the spot I’d chosen to park in, equal distance between two broken streetlamps. He wore a black jacket, black tee shirt, and black jeans and had on his head a dark wool cap pulled down low. His skin was black and shiny as polished coal. He kept his hands in the side pockets of his jacket.
I wondered: to keep them warm or was he concealing a weapon inside?
“That was some play back there,” he said with a smile. His teeth were sparkling white, in deep contrast to his dark face.
He’d been in the pool hall. Now I remembered seeing him sitting at one of the booths along the back wall. I dredged the mental image up in my brain: He’d been talking with a young black man and a girl. A mug of beer for him. A mixed drink and a shot for the young man. The girl’d had tall glass with a plastic stir straw. Pop with rum or something else in it was my guess.
I looked around quickly. I saw no sign of the young man or the girl he’d been talking to.
My .45 automatic sat snug in its holster on my hip and I carried a back-up Beretta on my right ankle. They might as well have been in my lock box at home for all the good they’d do me if this man held a weapon in his coat pocket—and I had to assume he did.
“What do you want?”
I was tense. A shiver ran through me. It had less to do with the December cold then the adrenaline surge pumping through my body. I bounced on my feet, ready to spring into action. Or run.
“Easy,” he warned. “I’m not carrying. I’m going to take my hands out of my pockets.”
“Slowly,” I said, as if I were in a position to do something about it if he didn’t.
When his hands cleared his pockets and I saw they were empty, I took a step back and quickly drew my .45. With the gun in a two-handed grip, I sighted in on his forehead. “Okay, asshole. Hands up high. Who the hell are you? What do you want?”
He put his hands up. His breath fogged the cold air. “This isn’t necessary.”
“I’ll decide that.” My entire body trembled from the adrenaline. And yeah, okay, honestly, a little bit from fear. “Turn around. Up against the van.”
Again, he complied.
I pulled his legs out and apart, away from the van. With him leaning heavily against the side panel I could easily kick his feet out from under him if he made a wrong move while I patted him down. Part of me wanted to face-plant him onto the sidewalk, if for no other reason than he’d scared the shit out of me.
Then I found the gun.
That really pissed me off. I yanked the gun from the pancake holster affixed to his belt—a Smith & Wesson M&P .40 pistol with a 15-round clip. So much for him being unarmed. I finished frisking him. Convinced now he wasn’t carrying, I stepped back and told him to turn around. “Keep your back up against the van.”
I pocketed his .40 and kept my .45 trained on him. “You’ve got two seconds to explain yourself.”
“I only need one. I’m ATF.” Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms.
“Prove it,” I said.
“My credentials are in my inside jacket pocket.” He arched his eyebrows, seeking permission to lower his hands and retrieve his badge case.
When I patted him down I’d felt what I took to be a wallet in his pocket. It could have been a badge case. I nodded an okay. “Again, slowly.”
He pulled open his jacket, and his right hand disappeared under the material. I tensed. Then his hand came back out. Pinched between his thumb and middle finger was a leather billfold, or a badge case.
I took it and looked. Inside was a shiny gold ATF special agent badge and in the plastic window opposite it, an official looking ATF ID card.
“Fine. Agent Leon Anderson.” I handed him back his badge. “What do you want with me?”
He returned the case to his jacket pocket. “Can I have my service weapon back too?”
“When we’re done, and only if I don’t then still want to shoot you.”
“Damn, you are some kind of hardass, aren’t you?”
“You have no idea. Talk.”
“You and I, we’re here for the same reason.”
“Oh, really. What might that be?”
“We’re both looking for Rico Sanchez,” he said. “I overheard you talking to the bartender and that lowlife Luis. By the way, don’t waste your time on him. He’s a dead end. I spent an hour plying him with liquor before you came in. He doesn’t know a thing about Sanchez except that he hangs around the pool hall a lot. Not lately though.”
I knew why I was looking for Sanchez, he’d jumped bail. So, I asked, “What’s ATF’s interest in Sanchez?”
“I want to question Sanchez in connection with a gunrunning operation here in Columbus.”
The bail papers I’d received listed the charges against Sanchez as drunk driving and possession of a single illegal firearm: a cheap piece-of-shit Raven Arms .25 automatic. A gun commonly referred to as a Saturday Night Special, easily bought on any street corner in any decent-sized city in the country. I saw nothing there to justify a federal investigation, not unless there was more to this case than met the eye.
How often did that happen, I thought, bitterly. Like all the time.
“Rico Sanchez is involved in trafficking guns. As many as seventy-five weapons, many of them assault weapons, were seized recently from his home, incident to his DWI arrest.”
Leery, I said, “A judge granted bail to a major gunrunner? The bail ticket’s only ten grand.” Of which I stood to make ten percent when I brought the creep in. That would be fine for a couple of little misdemeanor charges, but, if I was chasing some major player…
Anderson shrugged. “Who can say what these judges will do. But, in this case, the search and seizure came up after the bail hearing. Already I hear noise that the weapons’ seizure gonna get thrown out. That’s why I want to put my hands on Sanchez, before he’s back in custody.”
“That’s all well and good. But why are you here, talking to me?”
“Well, I’m here because, like you…” He smiled. “I figured the best way to pick up Sanchez’s trail was to start right where he’d been arrested. Talk to his friends, people who knew him. Then, seeing you inside, I got an idea. Who better to catch this guy than a local bounty hunter? Can I put my hands down now?”
“Yes. But keep them where I can see them. Go on.”
“You might have noticed from my ID I’m not from around here.”
“I saw. New York.”
“The guns we’re after were stolen in a heist from a gun shop in Brooklyn.”
Something smelled fishy. “I thought you said some of the guns were assault weapons. No way a legitimate gun store’s selling assault weapons, especially not in New York City.”
“And, normally, you would be correct,” Anderson told me. “If, said gun store was not a front for a major pipeline of illegal weapons coming up the coast from Florida, the Carolinas, and Virginia, flowing into the Tri-State Area: New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Think about it. What better way to sell illegal weapons than through a gun shop.”
The audacity—and sometimes sheer stupidity—of these people never ceased o amaze me. “You’re saying this genius, Sanchez, ripped off guns from other criminals?”
“We’re not sure exactly,” Anderson admitted. “It’s complicated, but we know for certain he’s involved with the people who ended up with the guns. That he is, was, sitting on the weapons until they were seized last week. Sanchez may be our key to bringing down a whole network of illegal guns moving through the Midwest, and the people responsible.”
Suddenly, my simple bail jumping case had become something much more complicated. I don’t like complicated. I like simple.
“So what is it you want from me?” I asked, having a feeling I knew the answer. And not liking it.
“For us to work together,”
Yeah, that’s what I thought. “Sorry. I can’t do that.”
I stepped around Anderson and opened the van door. He spun around and slapped his palm into the door, slamming it shut.
The burst of temper startled me, which got my Irish temper up and my Latina blood boiling. “Excuse me.”
I ignored his apology, and laid down the law: Grace’s law. “I don’t have to do anything. I don’t work for you. I don’t work for the feds, or any other law-enforcement agency. You understand?” He nodded. “And, even if I wanted to, which I don’t, I can’t.”
What I was saying was true. As a bounty hunter, I had a tremendous amount of latitude when it came to how I conducted my business. I’m not bound by constitutional constraints the way police and federal law-enforcement are. I do not need a warrant to effect a search or seizure. I can chase bail jumpers across jurisdictions and into other states. I do not need to knock and announce when I pursue a runner into a private home or domicile. From me, a bail jumper has no safe havens.
If I teamed up with Anderson, I could be seen as an agent of the ATF—of the police—and as such, acting on their behalf. I would be legally bound by their restrictions. I wouldn’t do that.
I didn’t explain that to Anderson. He should have been bright enough to already know it. “You’re on your own. Now, get out of my way. I have a runner to catch.”
“Look. I’m sorry,” he said, moving to one side. “I overstepped, but listen here. I’m not from around this area. I’m operating completely in the dark. You can still help me.”
I climbed into the van and pulled the door shut. I started the engine and sat, grateful for the warm air spewing out of the dashboard vents. Leon Anderson rapped a knuckle on the glass and waved at me to roll down the window.
“I get it, Grace,” he said, suddenly contrite. “And you’re right. How about this then? When you catch Sanchez, just call me before you bring him in.”
I furrowed my forehead. “Why?”
“Because I want a crack at Sanchez before he gets processed. Once he’s in custody, he’ll lawyer up and I’ll get nothing out of him. When you have him, just call me. That’s all I ask.”
He handed me a business card. A white card with a blue border, it had a raised image of the ATF badge and a Department of Justice seal along with Anderson’s name, Special Agent, and the New York City address and phone number of his office. Handwritten on the back was a phone number.
“My cell,” he said.
“I’ll call. That’s all I promise.” I twisted the key in the ignition. The van roared to life.
“I’ll take it. Oh, and …um, Grace?”
He held out his hand. “Can I have my gun back, please?”
“Oh, yeah. Right.” I took the S&W .40 out of my coat pocket and handed it to him before I drove off. By the time I reached the far corner and looked back, Agent Anderson had disappeared into the dark.
David DeLee is a native New Yorker. He holds a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice, and is a former licensed Private Investigator. He is the author of the Grace deHaviland, bounty hunter series. His previous short stories have appeared in Daw’s Cosmic Cocktails, in three consecutive volumes of Pocket Books, Strange New Worlds, and the Mystery Writers of America anthology, The Rich and the Dead, released in 2011.
David is an active member of the Mystery Writers of America and the International Thriller Writers Association. He currently lives in New Hampshire with his family where he’s hard at work on a novel featuring Columbus, Ohio-based bounty hunter, Grace deHaviland.
A Cold Wind is available at Amazon.com
Click here for an interview with David DeLee, Author of A Cold Wind and “Fatal Destiny”