...........eight years ago, Velo City police investigated the death of a free-lance street racer found in the trunk of his brand-new tuner. After pressure from certain individuals within the halls of power in the city, they walked away from the case. Everyone thought the case would stay dead, a silent case of Velo City trunk music.............unfortunately, they forgot to tell street racer and former criminal-turned-private investigator Matthew Little that. Asked to investigate the case on behalf of the brother of the dead racer, Little and his friends step into the fray, uncovering a plot by some of the city's leaders to re-ignite long-simmering tensions between the city's street racing clubs......and possibly re-opening a few grievous wounds of his own...............
***morning, Kensington Hills***
They say there are 4 million stories in Velo City, I thought to myself as I slowly awoke to the sounds of the alarm clock blaring its’ consistent bleet-bleet-bleet at me. Unfortunately, I also thought, there must be 4 million hangovers as well. My head was pounding a fierce staccato beat, thanks to the copious amounts of alcohol my friends and I had drunk the night before.
Normally, I wasn’t the type to get ****-faced drunk. Anniversaries were an exception to the rule; one of my closest friends and a member of Exotic Ice Customs, Michael Chevalier, had celebrated his tenth wedding anniversary the night before at Zero Degrees and I felt obligated to at least try to keep up, drink for drink. It wasn’t the smartest of ideas, though, as I had a race to compete in the next night up at Ascot Park and, like I said, normally I don’t drink to the point of intoxication.
This left me at the end of the night with two choices. I could either try to drive home, and risk getting hooked by either the CHP or the VCPD for drunk driving, or have someone drive me home, for I could always drive back to the club the next morning......sober. In the end, one of EIC’s security people drove me back home, waited for me to enter the house, then drove back to the club. I don’t think I had been home for over a minute when I staggered to the bedroom and flopped onto the bed, falling fast asleep, still fully dressed.
After a few muttered curses, I turned the alarm off and sat on the side of the bed, thinking about the night before. Part of me was happy for Mike and Sarah; they’d been married for 10 years and still loved each other as though they were newlyweds’. Part of me was melancholy, though, as I looked over at a picture next to the alarm clock. It was a picture of my late fiancée, Stephanie Harrington, taken at her Santa Monica rowhouse. We were both smiling at the camera at the time and very much in love with one another. Whoever said time heals all wounds was a liar, I thought; the pain I had suffered those months back still hadn’t quite healed......and I still had nightmares of that night in particular. They had become very infrequent but still haunted the recesses of my mind.
Looking away, I got up, shook my head to focus myself, and looked over at the clock. 8:30am, it said in big red numbers. Time to face the world, Jackass Flats, I said as I stripped down to nothing and walked to the bathroom, turning on the shower and letting it steam up for a bit. Getting in, I let the water cascade down before washing everywhere. After a few minutes, I hopped out of the shower and toweled off; wrapping the towel around my waist I took a couple of minutes to shave. Hanging the towel on a rack, I walked back to the bedroom and got dressed; light-colored sport shirt, Dockers and a pair of black Sketchers’ made for a light wardrobe.
Grabbing the Bren Ten .45 I carried when out on the street, I tucked it behind me in the square of my back. As I walked out of the bedroom, I snuck one last glance at the photo before getting my wallet and cell phone. Getting a sport jacket off the coat rack, I put it on and grabbed the keys to a 2009 Cadillac Escalade I drove every so often; it was a special vehicle for me and it still carried a lot of memories, good and bad. Backing out of the driveway, I turned onto one of the side streets leading towards Kensington Blvd. and Zero Degrees and headed on my merry way.
***Zero Degrees Nightclub, the Taravel District***
It was a quick drive down Kensington to the club, which surprised me. Mid-morning Velo City traffic could best be described as a cross between having dental surgery without anesthesia and being trapped in the 9th circle of Dante’s Inferno. Seeing the club off to the left, I pulled off the highway and headed for my usual parking space towards the front entrance. Shutting the Caddy off, I reached over and pulled out a bunch of business cards; on them, it said, “M Investigations” and had several cell numbers on them; mine, Chevalier’s and Marquis’ among them. Putting them in the inside pocket of my jacket, I headed into the club; as always, Kent and the barstaff had the place looking great; off to one side, sound techs were working on the speaker system as it gave out the occasional high-pitched squeal.
Grabbing a Miller High Life from the bar fridge, I headed upstairs to one of the corner tables; there sat the rest of the collective braintrust of one of Velo City’s newest detective agencies.......Michael Chevalier, Matt Frechette, Melissa Marquis, Michael Smith and Jason Ridenaur. Even though Chevalier and I handled most of the cases, I trusted their judgment and vice-versa. Walking over to the table, Chevalier saw me and asked, “You look like hell, Matt? You alright?”
“Yeah, aside from the Velo City Orchestra doing a number in my head, yeah, Mike, I’m alright,” I replied, snagging a ham sandwich from a nearby platter. Taking a large bite, he looked over at them. “How’s everyone doing?”, I asked, sitting down at the table.
“Fine, fine,” they all said. “So, where we all at today?” I asked.
They all began talking about this and that; most of the time, when someone, usually from the street racing community, needed help, we’d take the case and run with it. The only caveat in place was very simple......the case had to be of an amateur nature; no ties to organized crime or the underground. To enforce that, before we took a case, both Chevalier or I had to agree to take it on, period. After about thirty minutes or so, everything started to taper down. Sensing our meeting was towards’ it end, I finished with, “See y’all later today, guys.”
As the rest of our crew walked away, I stretched back in a corner chair, propped my feet up on the table and took a long drag on the beer. Mike grabbed another chair and sat down next to where I was lounged. “You holding up alright, Matt? Still having nightmares about Stephanie's death and all that?”
After a long silence, I slowly nodded; even after six or so months, there wasn’t a week that went by that the same nightmare came to mind from that night and every time I had it, I’d awake in mortal terror, sweat-drenched and shaking from head to toe. “Yeah, every so often, Mike. Why; I look like hell or something?”
“Not today. Sometimes, yeah, but not.......,” he said as a buzzer interrupted him. Pressing down one of the buttons next to it, he said, “Yes?”
“Sorry to bother you lovebirds up there,” came the voice on the other end, “but there’s someone here to talk to one of y’all about something; an old murder, they said.” It was EIC’s floor manager, Patrick Hamilton, a/k/a Ravyn, who ran the ground floor area(except the bar) with equal parts skill, dexterity and Memphis charm/flair. Other than either Scandalous’s head of security, Bulletproof or Kent, Zero’s lead bartender, nothing happened in the club that didn’t get past Ravyn.
“Send them up,” I said. Straightening up the table, we had just sat back down when a tall, bookish man in his late forties, accompanied by another man in his thirties’, came over to our table. Shaking hands, we sat down around the table. The older man introduced himself and the younger man; Mike and I did likewise. “I’m sorry to bother you gentlemen, but I was wondering if you could take a look at a mystery for us.”
“A mystery?,” Mike asked.
“Yes,” said the younger man, removing his shades and looking at us. “The mystery being, who killed my younger brother eight years ago, left his body stuffed in the trunk of his car and why the authorities thought it wasn’t important to solve it then!”