Monday, April 4, 2011

Excerpt Monday: Blackout

Excerpt Monday: Blackout
by Lawrence Johnson Sr.

Blackout is the prequel to Case of the Death Dealer 

Inconvenient Truths

Alexander Steele brushed away the snow that clung to the bronze plaque on the wall outside his nightclub.  The words Club Inner Sanctum were now visible to those who passed by but hadnt already heard of Phillys most famous night spot.  It was ten in the morning, too early for his employees but not for his good friend and club manager Sugar Bear who lived in one of the apartments above the private club. 
Welcome back boss, Sugar Bear gave Steele a brief hug.  How was Carnival?
Too short, joked Steele.  Here, I got you something.  He tossed Sugar Bear an expensive looking wallet. 
Thanks boss.  Sugar Bear examined the black leather wallet before slipping it into his back pocket. 
Steele pointed to the last booth in the rear of the club.  Would you bring my mail and that thing we talked about on the phone back to my table? 
Without waiting for an answer Steele poured himself a cup of coffee, picked up his laptop from behind the bar and headed to the booth that his friends joking referred to as his office.  The corner window at the back booth was small but it was Steeles window to the world.  Steele was six feet tall his medium brown complexion had gotten a few shades darker during his trip.  He sipped his hot coffee and watched as the snowflakes drifted down from the heavens. 
What a difference a day makes.  He thought to himself.  Twenty four hours ago I was relaxing on a white sandy beach and now…’
Steeles thoughts were interrupted when Sugar Bear brought a copy of The Philadelphia Daily News and a stack of mail addressed to Club Inner Sanctum attention Mr. Alexander Steele. 
Steele looked up at Sugar Bear and asked Why do I do it man?  I mean why do I keep coming back to this town and freeze my ass off every single winter? 
Sugar Bear laughed.  Come on man, you love this city and besides you love Shakia and Shakia loves her mom too much to leave her here alone.  End of discussion.  Sugar Bear reached inside his pocket, Oh heres that thing your cousin Johnny brought over from one of his boys at the teen center in South Philly.  Steele examined the small grey piece of plastic. 
Its a memory stick, you plug it into the computer, Sugar Bear explained.
Steele seemed slightly irritated, I know what it is, what I dont know is how the kid got it, and why Johnny left it for me? 
Sugar Bear pointed to the telephone.  Dude, I swear youre getting senile.  I told you on the phone.  There was a scuffle on the subway two guys jacked this foreign guys I-pod.  When the train doors opened they ran and he dropped this when he chased after him. 
Steele waved him off.  Yeah, yeah now I remember.  Its encrypted. 
Steele spent the better part of an hour trying to open the files on the travel drive.  When Sugar Bear returned with more coffee he could see that Steele was running out of patience. 
Steele threw the object on the desk.  I am a detective not a computer programmer.  Why did he give this to me? 
Sugar Bear slid into the seat on the opposite side of the booth.  Ex-detective boss, youre retired, remember? 
Steele waved his hand, Whatever, Im calling Stan.  I bet hell have this thing open in five minutes. 
Steele spent the rest of the morning opening mail most of which consisted of checks for members dues to the club and reading the paper.  The headlines read, Canadian Officials Baffled by Blackout.  It would not be long before Steele whishes that he had read the entire article.  The jetlag from his trip had begun dragging Steele down making it difficult for him to concentrate.  Sugar Bear!  Yo!  Sugar Bear!  Ill be back around five. 
Okay!  Yelled the husky voice from the front of the club. 
Shakia was Steeles lady love; she was as smart as she was beautiful.  The 34 year old interior decorator looked twenty four at the most.  Steele met up with her at her apartment for an early lunch.  Hi, baby.  She gave him a warm hug and a kiss.  You hungry baby? she asked as she strutted back to the kitchen in blue jeans so tight that Steele found himself wondering how she got into them.  She dashed from the kitchen to the hall closet.  Oh, I brought you something, a gift. 
Shakia smiled as she handed Steele a small box that contained the one thing that he had managed to avoid up until now.  A cell phone or as Steele called it the electronic leash.  Steeles feeble attempt to show his appreciation fell short and Shakias smile quickly turned into a look of disappointment.  You can cut the act Alex.  I can see that you dont want it. 
No, no baby its just that…”  Steele tried to think fast.
Shakia put her hands on her hips.  What?
Steele chose his words carefully.  Well, you know I have big fingers and those buttons are so small.  On top of that I dont have a clue how to send one of those text messages. 
Thats the same thing you said about e-mail a few years ago. said Shakia.  Just try it for a month or two, ok?
After lunch Steele was heading back to the club, when he reached over to unlock his car door he noticed a woman in a parked sports car staring at him from across the street.  Steele was an attractive man who had always kept his vanity in check.  He had grown accustomed to the flirtatious looks given to him by the ladies but this was different.  This face looked very familiar.  When he crossed the street to get a closer look the woman sped off. 
On his drive back to the club Steele got his first cell phone call.  Is this Pauls Pizza Parlor? the voice on the other end of the line asked. 
No.  Steele answered then hung up on the caller.  He parked his midnight blue Jag in the back garage adjacent to the club.  Business had been good every since Steele first opened Club Inner Sanctum a few years ago and on this late afternoon a couple of the regulars had already started trickling in. 
Sugar Bear spotted Steele and called him over to the bar.  Hey, boss.  Stans down stairs in the lounge -says he found something and for you to come see him pronto. 
Stan did not fit the stereotype of the average computer geek.  He towered over Steeles six foot frame and always dressed in the latest styles.  Sporting a charcoal Armani suit with a deep blue opened collared shirt Stan saw Steele coming down the stairs and got up to greet him.  Whats happen brother? he slapped Steele five and spun the laptop around on the table in Steeles direction.  Check it out man.  Stan pointed to the monitor.  You are not gonna believe this, dog. 
What Stan uncovered was a detailed description of the Canadian blackout.  Okay, Steele shrugged his shoulders.  Whats the big deal?  Everybody knows about the blackout its been all over the papers. 
Naw, man.  Stans baritone voice grew louder.  Check out the date.  Steele looked more closely this time and read December 21, 2010.  Stan and Sugar Bear could hear Steele swearing under his breath.
 Son of a bitch, this file was made three months before the blackout.  Steele stroked his mustache.  Sugar Bear, call my…” 
Sugar Bear had anticipated Steeles next move.  He cut Steele off in mid sentence.  Call your cousin, Johnny.  I already did.  He looked at his watch.  He should be here…” 
Hold up.  A few seconds later Johnny came lumbering down the stairs.  He was breathing heavy and had trouble trying to catch his breath. By the time Johnny had reached the last step beads of sweet were starting to form on his forehead. 
Stan grinned at the obese man.  Damn homie, dont they have a gym at your youth center? 
Alright, alright, Steele waved his hands.  Cut the crap. 
The guys filled Johnny in on what they knew so far.  Steele had Tina bring drinks down as the men continued to talk.  Everyone knew that Johnny and Stan disagreed a lot and today was no different.  Stan wanted Johnny to go straight to the police but Jonny wasnt having it.  Well, cuz your boy has got to take this to the cops.  The guy who lost this thing is still hanging around after the blackout.  That means this ain't over. 
Johnny shook his head.  No cops.  I already talked to him.  Young blood got a record.  He dont trust Philadelphias finest. 
Steele tried another approach.  John, this is a new world.  After 9/11 those dudes in Washington have come up with all kinds of new international bull crap.  Think of what will happen if they pick him up first. 
Johnny shook his head.  Alex that just makes it worse you guys dont understand - the boy is nervous.  Hell only talk to you.
Steele took a sip of Pepsi and leaned back in his chair.  Okay, fine, bring him by tomorrow when he gets out of school.  Make sure you take him through the back entrance.  Stan, make a copy of the files and let me know when you get the rest of them open.  Sugar Bear make sure Johnny gets the check for the center.  Thanks for coming guys.  I gotta go; I have a club to run. 
The snow plows worked through the night to clear the three inches of fresh snow and by the next day the roads werent the only thing that was clear, Steeles jet lag was gone as well.  Johnny was a man of his word.  Shortly after three he and the teen-aged boy were sitting in Steeles back booth.  Steele apologized for the mess.  He had been reading old newspapers trying to catch up on what had been going on while he was away. 
Let me get some of this crap out of the way.  Steele stopped to shake the young mans hand.  Its Nice to meet you Calvin.  So this Asian guy, what did he look like?  Hang on a minute.  Steele paused.  I just got back in town and Ive been working and reading old papers all morning.  Sugar Bear!  Come take this stuff!  Sorry Calvin, go ahead. 
Well, Mr. Steele, it happened so fast.  Calvin started to tell the story.
Sugar Bear walked over and reached for the papers on the table when Calvins eyes suddenly grew wider, he slammed the palm of his hand on top of the stack.  Thats him! he yelled pointing to the picture in the morning paper.  Thats the dude from the train.  Im positive. 
Well, Sugar Bear hunched his shoulder.  At least you know where he is now. 

In the city of brotherly love, private club owner Alexander Steele enjoys his years as a retired detective. 
At least he tried to.

When an old friend from the neighborhood brings him a lost computer memory drive Steele is intrigued when he realizes that its contents has been encrypted.  After learning that the owner of the memory drive was murdered under mysterious circumstances Alex Steele is reluctantly drawn out of retirement and into the most important case of his life. 
Form the snow cover streets of Montreal Canada to the tropical beaches in Nassau Steele follows the trail of clues and dead bodies as he inches closer to revealing the plot to bring down the entire United States government and it’s people. 

Steele has finally met his match when he encounters the brilliant madman known by the name Chameleon. 

Will Steele succeed in put together all the clues before Chameleon turns the US into a third world country or will Steel’s name be added to Chameleon’s long list of names in the obituaries?  

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