***several hours later, Zero Degrees***
Outside the club, the lights from dozens of strobes reflected throughout the parking area; dozens of cops were around, some manning checkpoints along Kensington Blvd. to keep people away. Others were walking slowly, methodically, through the parking lot, counting shell casings and taking measurements while a few more stood around towards the front of the club.
Not all of them were VCPD, either; a dozen or so FBI agents were around also. They were easy to pick out, with the slick-back cars and button-down suits. Meanwhile, I was sitting inside the club, still in a state of shock and anguish over what had happened. Everyone was trying to console me but I felt as though I were on the far side of the moon, I was that out of it. My thoughts were a jumbled mess of emotions, mixed with memories of Stephanie from our time together.........but if one could’ve seen into my heart, there was a huge hole in it full of anguish, heartache and sadness. For the first time in a long while, I really didn’t know what to do............
...............for the longest time I held onto her lifeless body, swaying gently back and forth, not wanting to let go.........not wanting to release her. As the first ambulances arrived, I looked back up at the night sky; for a brief moment I saw a shooting star flicker by. When the first paramedics arrived, it took three of them, along with Mike and Sarah Chevalier, to get me to release her; Mike kept saying to me, “She’s gone, Matt.......she’s gone; let her go, let her go......” For several agonizing moments I didn’t want to; I still couldn’t believe it.
Stephanie was gone....the same woman whom I had proposed to not just an hour before was now an empty vessel; I kept swaying back and forth like a maimed animal, not knowing what to think or do. He kept talking to me, Sarah adding her voice to the mix as well.......eventually, I let go; there was nothing I could do. I got on both knees next to her and brushed some hairs away from her eyes, now vacantly staring out. Holding me in their arms, they helped me to my feet.......as I began to walk back into the club the paramedics had lain a yellow sheet over Stephanie’s body. Ashen-faced, I walked back into the club, not really wanting to believe what had happened had happened.....the walk back to our table was the longest walk I had ever taken in my life. I sat down, almost automaton-like, as everyone else scrambled around.
***back to the current***
After sitting in the club, still anguished and in shock, someone turned on a television kept near the bar, along with a second one near where I was sitting. I looked over; there was a breaking news item on one of the networks............”.....tragedy in the Southland tonight. This is KVLO Late Night with breaking news; we go now to David Pollack with the latest. David?”
By his location, he was standing along the sidewalk of Kensington Blvd. near one of the club’s parking entrances. Behind him one could see the ubiquitous yellow police-tape, a common sight in Velo City. I shut out what he saying and leaned forward, head in my hands, when Ravyn walked over to where I was sitting. “Matt? Matt?,” he said, trying to catch my attention. I looked over blankly for a moment before I caught what he was saying. “Yeah?”
“Matt, these people want to talk to you,” he replied; behind him stood a tall man with a bald head in a black suit. With him was another gentlemen, slightly shorter in height but wearing an almost carbon-copy of the suit the taller man had on. “You Matthew Little?”
“Yeah,” I said, my voice cracking up.
I’m Inspector Rich Christensen, FBI, head of the bureau’s Street Racing Task Force here in Velo City; this is Special Agent Nate Pritchett. We’d like to talk to you if its’ possible about what happened tonight.” I nodded; the two sat down. Looking over at Ravyn, I mimicked drinking; he ran over to the bar and got a glass of water for me. Taking a long drag of it, I looked over at the two federal agents; they looked about as weary as I felt anguished. For over an hour, they asked me question after question about what had happened; Christensen asked most of the questions while Piersall took notes on a small notepad. Now, normally, the last thing I normally want to do is talk to any law enforcement officer.....there were exceptions, though.
“So, Mr. Little, what was your relationship to the deceased?,” S.A. Pritchett asked.
That word stung as he said it. Deceased. Not flinching, I replied,
“She was my fiancée: I had just proposed to her tonight; I still can’t believe this is all happening–“
”Is there anyone you can think would want to have done harm to her? To you, for that matter?”
“No; no one comes to mind off-hand.” It wasn't the whole truth but at that time, what were they going to do?
“Okay.” He placed his pen back inside his suit pocket; he then handed me his card.. Christensen spoke again. “If we have any more questions, is there a contact number we can reach you by?”
“Yeah; my cell number or the club’s number here,” giving them both. He wrote them both down, then joined Pritchett as they left the club. As they were leaving, I stood up, still in a state of anguish, fished around for the keys to the Caddy and began to walk towards the door.
Seeing me, Kent ambled over and reached for my arm. “You all right, Matt?” Shaking off his arm, I kept walking. Kent stayed right near me, continuing to ask. Mike and Sarah saw me and joined in. I still looked the color of a ghost and it scared everyone in sight. Mike looked at me and asked if he could drive rather than let someone who looked as I did drive.
Holding my composure, I said, “I’ll be all right......I just, just need to be alone, okay?” He looked at me for a moment then slowly backed away. “I’ll see if they’ve cleared the area where your Caddy was,” he said, calling one of the club bouncers on a rover. Seconds later, he nodded. “You sure you’re going to be alright?”
“I’ll be alright....” Truth was, I was close to losing it, of breaking down right there in the club. I had every right to, but like I said, I needed to be alone. I walked slowly to the Caddy, my eyes catching the blood-stained pavement to my left for a brief moment. The local PD were still doing there work, but I paid them no attention. Finally, I reached the Caddy and jumped in the driver’s side. I felt drained......like someone had sucked all the life out of me; as I made that long drive up Kensington, I kept glancing over at the empty passenger seat.
After what seemed like forever, I turned onto a side street which led to my house, turning into the driveway and shutting the engine off. I sat there, hands trembling, trying to keep it together. Mustering what strength I had left, I walked to the door and entered what now seemed to be a barren place. It just seemed empty. Setting my keys on the counter, I walked into the living room, sat down........and just lost it.
All the emotions of the past few hours welled outward and wave after wave of tears sprung up. I don’t know how long I cried, but the time didn’t matter; counting the minutes and seconds would’ve cheapened it. Looking over, I saw the picture of Stephanie and me that had taken up at Big Bear Lake a month prior; picking it up, I held it close to my chest, thinking about her last words.......”Avenge me.” As I slowly gathered my emotions, I looked at our smiling faces and pressed it even tighter to my chest............
***two weeks later***
What is it now, I thought?
, as my cell phone rang. I was still feeling emotionally drained and really didn’t want to talk to anyone. The first few nights were the worst. I got maybe three hours of sleep, period; most nights I simply laid in bed, staring at the ceiling or at the empty space next to me, but as the days went by, I started slowly returning to my usual, knife-edge sharp, composed style and manner. Reaching for my cell phone, I opened it and spoke. “Hello.”
“Matt? Is that you?” It was Mike Chevalier, calling as he had the past few days each morning to check up on me. “How you holding up?”
“Better; just taking things day by day, I guess....”
“Matt, can you meet me down at the club?”
“Yeah, thirty minutes sound alright?”
“Sure; I’ll meet you there.” As he hung up, I grabbed my jacket and .45, placing the pistol in the small of my back where it wouldn’t be seen or noticed at first glance.
Grabbing the keys to the Lotus, I headed down to Zero Degrees. It was the first time since her death that I had driven the Lotus, but I needed to drive it as a reminder of what I’d lost. The drive down to the club didn’t take very long; traffic was surprisingly light and I was grateful for it. Pulling into the club, I saw that repair crews were hard at work repairing the outside of the club, which had taken by most counts, over 150 bullet holes from all the shooting. It looked like a patchwork of spackling, but I knew that it wouldn’t be long before the surfaces were covered to hide the....damage the club had taken that night.
Most of the parking spaces were blocked for the repair crews; I found a space near the sidewalk and parked the Lotus. Exiting the car, I walked over to the front door; even though it had been a week or so, you could still see where the bloodstains were on the pavement. Although they’d been washed away, the faint outlines where it’d been. Entering the club, I took a deep breath before heading to the bar. Seeing him approach, Kent grabbed a large shot glass and filled it with some ice, then poured some Jim Beam into the glass. Handing it to me, he asked, “You holding up alright, Matt?”
“I am; I’m just taking it day by day, brother.” We talked for a few minutes before Chevalier arrived. Seeing where I was, he strode over and grabbed a beer from the bar’s fridge. “We gotta’ talk, Matt.”
”Not here,” he said, pointing to one of the upstairs tables. Knowing I wasn’t going to win this argument, I simply pointed to it and followed him up the flight of stairs. When we got to the table, I asked as we were sitting, “Why the rush?”
Mike looked over towards the upper-level windows for a moment, then turned back towards me. “Matt, a couple of days ago I ran into this Vice sergeant I’ve had on the take the past few years. During the course of our conversation I asked him if he knew anything about what happened here........”
“And, he said he’d heard a couple of things of interest.”
“Well, for starters, he’d heard from someone in Robbery-Homicide that the Whisper’s put the word out on the street that he wants you dead.”
“So that son of a ***** wants me dead? Big ******* deal, Mike! I shoulda’ capped him after that armored heist—“
”That’s not all........apparently the RHD detective told my friend that someone paid the Whisper to go after you.......”
“Did he say who?”
“He didn’t know and my friend didn’t press him......I’ll see if I find out who it was.” He paused for a second before adding, “it gets worse, though, Matt.”
“Well, my friend in Vice asked him some more about what the Whisper said. The Vice sergeant told me that whoever paid the Whisper to try and kill you.......specifically told him to go after Stephanie also, preferably before he went after you.”
There was a long, palpable silence before I spoke. “So what you’re saying is that someone paid that ******* to kill both of us?” I said it just loud enough that it silenced everyone down below.
“Yeah, both of you. But whoever paid the Whisper wanted him to kill Stephanie first, then you. Assuming you didn’t try to go after him in return.......”
“Who knows? Maybe Whisper thinks you’ll be so full of rage, anger, grief and bereavement that it’ll cause you to lose your focus, leave you vulnerable and unsure of what to do.” I sat back and thought about what my friend had said.
“See what you can find out, Mike. Especially try to find out where the money the Whisper got came from?” As I said this, I was getting up. “Where you headed to, Matt?”
“To see an old friend.”
“Lee Brinson. Name ring a bell?”
“Not immediately, no.”
“Lee works down in the Harbor District; runs sport-fishing tours above board. On the side, he has an extensive network of eyes, ears and ratlines throughout Velo City–“
“Smuggling networks that don’t use major roads or high-watch air traffic to get things in and out of the city.”
“How good is he?”
“Back when I was at Terminal Island, he was on the same tier that I
was. Supposedly, when Customs popped him for smuggling Cuban contraband into South Florida, they wanted him to teach them how he did it....”
“What’d he say to them?”
“He told them to go **** themselves.......that alone got him a couple of extra months.” I finished my drink and headed for the stairs. I had a lot of things to do; as I bounded down the stairs, I pounded one hand, balled into a fist, into the other. I thought to myself, you don’t know what you’ve started, Whisper. If I have to tear this city apart, I will find you, Whisper.........and I will avenge Stephanie’s death, no matter the cost. As I grabbed my jacket, I walked out the door. My grief and anguish were gone, replaced with a steely resolve. I got into the Lotus and headed back onto Kensington for the trip down to the Harbor. There were still parts of me that wanted to continue grieving but I thought to myself, you can grieve later.
First things first......find the Whisper before he finds you and make him pay for he had done. It was the least I could do for my beloved.