Chapter One | A Mysterious Femme Fatale
A Steele and Savage Mystery
Something felt wrong.
It wasn’t the rain-soaked wind that blew across Puget Sound, or the breathing water. The ferry Kittitas lumbered under the high cold fading stars. Mechanical moans lay over the otherwise overcast and gloomy morning. Seattle appeared to rise up over the horizon. Nobody moved to stand outside. They were inside. Warm and cozy.
Something felt wrong. Roman knew the emptiness and desolate feeling. Bitter and cold. Despite being soaked by rain. He wanted to believe the feeling of drowsiness was a mere illusion. Not even lacking sleep felt wrong. The ferry growled, and he flicked a cigarette with a twitchy little motion. It disappeared over the railing. Carried by the wind.
Eight years had passed since Roman Steele called Seattle, Washington home. Sirens echoed throughout the city. Cabbies roamed the mazes. Sometimes stopping for coffee. Horns honked. People moved about. Police off to respond to disturbances. Such nostalgia brought no sense of loss or regret. And yet he is making his way back to a place that had been a distant memory.
A week ago Derrick Stolsky called on Roman. The sixty-something retired homicide detective of the Seattle Police department sounded raspy. Stolsky had sucked on too many cigars. He explained to Roman how a partner of his had a visit from a relative of a mister nobody. An unknown person found in one of Seattle’s unforgiving alleys. He appeared to have overdosed on heroin laced with Fentanyl. A nobody society said deserved such an unwelcome death.
Roman slid one shivering hand under the lapels of his overcoat. He fumbled for a crushed deck of Paladinos and shook out a wilted stick. Small amount of heat offered a brief moment of reprieve. Stream of rain water cascaded from the brim of his leather hat. Splashing onto the deck. He lit the coffin nail and returned the crushed deck back into the inside pocket. He sucked on the cigarette. After a couple drags he retrieved a flask. He stood a moment before he enjoyed a brief pull. The whiskey warmed as it cascaded down his parched throat.
His thoughts turned to the information Stolsky provided over the phone. Nobody was ever going to notice the passing of a down-and-out junkie. Another vagabond struggling in silence. One of many victims to a poisonous demon. The aging retired detective reported that he and his partner had found no leads in the past six months.
Roman turned his thoughts to distant memories. He handed over the private detective agency to Stolsky. Cassidy Gilmore’s unexpected murder broke Steele. One he never solved.
“Hey…hey…” A timid voice interrupted Steele’s thoughts. “You gotta extra smoke?” The twenty-something kid looked frail. Weak. His body twitched and convulsed. He scratched at his arms.
“Yeah…sure kid,” Steele pulled out the crushed deck. Shook out a cigarette and handed it over. The kid took it and motioned for a light. He obliged and lit the cigarette. The young man scurried off like a frightened feral cat.
He returned to those thoughts that twisted around in his mind. He took another pull from the Whiskey flask. Soaked and shivering from the continued downpour. Roman pushed down the exhaustion and took a final drag from his cigarette and flicked it out into the wind.
The ferry groaned and growled in protest. Slowed to penetrate the slip and come to a stop. He made his way toward the gangway. Something definitely was wrong as he sensed someone watching him. His nerves came alive like a Fourth of July sparkler.
Roman pushed the brim of his hat up and noticed black suede boots. His eyes slowly crept up and drank in her athletic and voluptuous body. A grin tugged at the corner of his mouth as his gaze rested upon her deep sapphire like eyes. Her pouty lips offered a smile. The black trench coat hugged her well. The fedora sat snugged and slightly cocked to one side.
“You Roman Steele?” she queried. Her gaze locked onto his.
“I am,” he replied softly with a slight tip of his leather hat. Her gaze seemed to pierce through him. Her curly locks of long raven hair fell over her shoulders like flowing silk. His eyes showed curiosity as he attempted to search for any recognition of this woman.
“You don’t happened to recognize me huh,” she chuckled and snaked her arm around his. Her body pressed against his as they made their way down the gangway. People spilled out onto the street. Cars honked and navigated off the ferry and disappeared down the streets to destinations unknown.
“Doesn’t seem like ya changed a bit.” She paused and drew in a shallow breath. Her breasts appeared to protest as they suffocated beneath layers of clothing. “Maybe aged some. Still, ruggedly handsome I think.” She smiled and clung to him. They walked up the street toward the Aquarium and the big wheel. Soft and sweet floral scent of her perfume intoxicated him.
“I’d never forget a beautiful face of a woman,” the tip of his tongue slowly drew along his mildly chapped lips. “I…I…just don’t recollect a beautiful dame as yourself.” He smiled and felt comfortable with her next to him.
Both stopped and she turned to face him. Her arm draped over his broad shoulders. Her fingertips caressing the nape of his neck. Her lips invited his as he pressed against her soft warm flesh. Moist as they kissed. Her body melting against his. He held her close. Her warmth. Her fragrance. All felt comfortable and washed away the exhaustion and emptiness he had long felt.
She stepped back and smiled. “Aah don’t think I’ve ever forgotten how you’ve kissed me like that before.” She turned and clung to his arm again. Both her hands moved down to find his. Interlocked fingers and a gentle squeeze. Roman still had difficulty recalling any memory of her.
As comfortable as that kiss was. As comfortable as she felt next to him. Something was wrong about this. The call from Detective Stolsky. Steele’s reluctance to cross the Puget Sound. A beautiful and mysterious dame having greeted him before they had disembarked.
“Something stinks about this.” They had stopped walking and awaited for the signal to change. He muttered aloud his thoughts. She looked at him with a slight frown.
Very quietly she asked, “What stinks about what?” The traffic light goes red and the two crossed the street. Meandered their way toward the lower part of Pike Place Market. The streets were bustling with people about their business. She tugged at his arm. “What do you mean something stinks?” She asked, her eyebrow arched and frowned in mild confusion.
“I’m not quite sure,” he gave her an inquisitive gaze. She turned from him and pulled out her smartphone. Her delicate slender fingers danced with the grace of a ballerina. She quickly deposited the phone back into her pocket and stepped ahead.
Roman stood in silence watching her looking up and down the street. She turned back and a semblance of a smile started to twitch at her lips. She took a deep breath. The way she was formed, deep breathing should have had a law against it.
Roman reached in, pulled out the crushed deck of Paladinos and shook out the last cigarette. He lit up and took a slow drag. Crushed the empty pack and tossed it into the garbage can.
“Just tell me something doll.” He sucked in some air. “You claim to know me. Brave enough to even kiss me like ya did. I don’t know you and haven’t the first idea of what you’re all about.” He took another drag. She came closer to him and took the cigarette from him. She slowly inhaled and smiled mischievously. She allowed the smoke to slowly escape from the corner of her lips.
The rain dissipated and sun broke through the gloomy clouds. She turned from him and finished the cigarette. A vehicle had pulled up to the curb. She opened the door and looked at him with a longing he’d seen in many gazes of women he had bedded. She climbed in and the driver pulled from the curb.
Damn, Roman quietly pulled the collar to his trench coat up and hat brim down. He remembered a small coffee shop on the corner of Second and Pike. Seattle definitely had changed. New buildings being erected with luxury apartments and shopping centers. He wondered if that greasy spoon diner was still open. He needed some coffee and a good breakfast.
Roman found the place and climbed the short cement steps. He entered in and found the small café crowded with a diverse crowd. He found an open spot at the counter. The haggard waitress offered him a cup of coffee. Soon, he ordered up a plate of chicken fried steak, eggs and browns. The two gentleman who had occupied the stools next to him tossed some money down on the counter and left. After breakfast, he needed to find a tobacco store and contact Stolsky.
Something felt wrong and it continued to nag at him.