"So, what do we do now?"

Gordon and I were both a bit out of breath. It was almost dark and we'd been trotting around the large industrial estate for some time. Gordon had been trying to get his bearings with limited success and with the excuse he'd always been driven into the movie warehouses in Lakeland before and had never paid all that much attention to where he was being taken. He obviously didn't know the way to the warehouse as well as he thought--or had claimed--although he'd gotten us to the right section of the industrial compound. I knew Sylvia Browne and the other cops wouldn't have an easy time to find it either, unless she had the presence of mind to wake up someone with a plat of what companies had which warehouses back here.

Gordon assured me he'd recognize the studio's portion of the lot--that there even would be a "Lion Productions" sign on the closest warehouse to the parking strip. That was one of Theo's nondescript company names. He hadn't wanted a bunch of people showing interest in the movies he was making out of here, Gordon said.

And then we'd found it. Not just the Lion Production logo but, sitting under it, Theo's Bentley. I'd last seen that on the dock at Mallory Square when I'd been boated out to the Final Curtain II.

"Don't know what you want to do, but I'm going in," I said. It had always been my intention to get to Theo before the police did. With that end in mind, we'd gone to the Key West airport and chartered a plane and pilot and I'd only called Sylvia Browne when we were ready for takeoff.

"On the trail of your Meltzer killers, Sylvia," I'd said as soon as she answered.

"Hold it," She responded--as I knew she would. "Stay right there; I'm coming over. I assume you're at the motel."

"No, actually, we've already taken off," I answered. "Headed there--to Lakeland--in a chartered plane." We hadn't taken off yet, but it was convenient that Browne think I was too far gone for her to call back.

"OK. When you get to the Lakeland airport, stay put," she said. She obviously hadn't liked it that I was moving out on my own, but there wasn't much she could do about it at this point. "What do you know about the killers?"

"It was Sam, Clara Rose's brother--tricked out to look female. That's who did Meltzer. And a guy named Jake Holt helped. Part of the film crew. The guy I thought was named Derek Dominick. I think he has a record; you can track that down. They're still out there and on the run, and I figure they've gone to Lakeland; probably taken the drug haul there. Theo Kline's movie productions has a lot in a Lakeland industrial park. The plane Eddie Lund was piloting crashed between here and there."

"How will you know where to go once you get to Lakeland?" Sylvia pressed.

"I've got Gordon Fields with me. He's been there and will give you directions when we get to the airport."

"OK. Great work. Thanks, Clint. But you stay at the airport when you get there," Sylvia had demanded. "This is out of your jurisdiction, and these guys are desperate, if they're there. That plane didn't fall out of the sky on its own. They discovered it was taken down by explosives. Somebody in this is beginning to cut his losses and narrow down those getting a cut. Don't want you to be one of the losses."

I had held my breath until she signed off. I was counting on her not knowing there were two airports in Lakeland. She'd assume we were landing at the Lakeland Linder Regional Airport southwest of there, when we were actually flying into the smaller South Lakeland Airport nearly five more miles further south. I wanted to get a lead on the local cops Sylvia would be calling in for help. I didn't think she'd bother to check our flight plan, so I could make it all seem like a simple misunderstanding of where we were to connect--and I'd be covered by the paper having us cleared for the smaller airport.

If Theo was in Lakeland, I had to get to him before the cops did. I had no idea where he fit into all this, but I had to have time to pin him down on that and to get him any possible edge and help I could within the spirit of the law. If he was dirty, so be it; but if he'd been a dupe, he'd need someone on his side. That would be me and Gordon. We needed to get to him first.

The sight of Theo's Bentley parked in the gloom, so out of place in a scruffy warehouse district, had gripped me so hard that my first impulse was to start running toward the movie lot.

"We can't just barge in, can we?" Gordon asked. "I mean shouldn't we wait for the police? Shouldn't there have been police waiting for us at the airport?"

"Beats me, Gordon," I responded. I, of course, hadn't told him of my passive misdirection. "Here, I'll call them now." And I proceeded to do so, fluffing over the airport miscue by claiming--reasonably--that I had no idea there were two airports near Lakeland and that if they'd checked our flight plan they'd know where we were landing, giving them the directions to the warehouse area, and saying there was reason to think the suspects we were looking for were here--Theo's Bentley didn't drive itself up here from Key West.

Then I turned to Gordon. He was a civilian and I couldn't take care of him and do a safe search entrance into the warehouses at the same time. I'd needed him to get me to the right place. From here, he'd only be a burden. And if I found Theo, having Gordon there would eat precious time in verbal exchanges if I had to extricate Theo from the situation. "The police are on their way," I whispered. "We didn't land at the airport they expected. They'll never find us in this maze, though--so you need to go back to the entrance and bring them in." This had the elegance of being true--a legitimate reason to get Gordon out of the way.

"But--"

"No buts, Gordon. We don't have time for this. Just do it. It gets them back here faster. Go."

I waited until Gordon was well out of sight, and then I turned and took a step toward the warehouse entrance. The big sliding door was a bit ajar and there was the soft glow of a low-level light shining through from the interior.

At the sound of the lone echoing gunshot, I started into a run.

It took a while, but I finally found him, lying in a small pool of blood, at the back of the warehouse space under a hanging light with a dim bulb and near a half-closed wooden packing crate. The packing crate was stuffed with clear plastic bags full of a white powder. Sam, the Chinese female impersonator murderer, was clutching his chest with one hand and moaning and holding a gun in the other hand with a loose grip. I'd been drawn here by the sound of shoe scuffings, so I approached warily, knowing Sam and I weren't alone, wondering just who was out there--and whether they were fleeing from me or stalking me.

I kicked the gun away before I knelt down beside Sam. He was in his male role now, but there were still traces of pancake makeup and eyeliner on his clinched-up face. He clearly was in pain, and the deep growl and rattling coming from inside him told me he was pretty far gone.

"Who--?" I started to ask.

"Jake," he gasped. "He told me the others--Clara and the others--weren't coming. And why. He'd set a bomb on the plane. I pulled a gun on him, and he nailed me."

"Nailed you?" I asked, confused.

"Nail gun. He was closing the crate. I tried to shoot him for what he'd done to Clara. He was quicker." Sam waved weakly and unnecessarily at the crate containing what most likely was the drug haul I'd seen taken off the float plane out to sea beyond Key West. The irony of the artifice of the movies covering the reality. I still had no idea, though, how they'd gotten the drugs off the Final Curtain II.

"Theo?" I asked roughly. "Where's Theo?" I had no sympathy to give to this young man. He'd killed my friend, Gary Meltzer. He was getting off easy if he died here.

Sam gave a dry laugh that turned into a wet gurgle. "Theo. Gone."

"Gone? Gone where?"

"Overboard. The day you arrived. Before we came back into Key West. Out at sea."

I felt bile rising up from inside me. I was shocked and sick. It was so sudden, so final. Theo gone.

"Why?" I cried out. "Who?"

"He found out. We knew he was suspicious but couldn't figure it out--and then he came to the fantail and accosted us--but we were ready to do it anyway. He'd brought you--a cop--on board. We pushed him over--all of us were in on it--and then Jake went and silenced Jerome. Aaron was taking care of you. All a setup."

Sam was growing weaker now, a dribble of blood appeared on his lips, foretelling the bleeding inside where it should not have been. But I wasn't finished with him yet.

Shaking him, I demanded an answer. "You couldn't all be in charge of this. Who? Who was giving the orders? Who decided Theo had to die? Blum? Was it Joe Blum?"

I had to bring my ear close to his lips to get the answer. "The Colombian," he whispered.

And at that I yelped in pain and blacked out from the blow to the back of my head.

Now I knew why a barkeep in Key West had said the ship's crew from Final Curtain II was tearing up his bar the night that were supposedly locked up on the yacht. And I also knew how the drugs had gotten off the Final Curtain II.

 

Habu

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