SpeakEasy Chapter 11 by Dennis E. Smirl

speak easy dennis smirl chapter 11

About SpeakEasy

  • SpeakEasy is the 2013 Community Novel Project of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library. Read more about the project including the premise, behind the scenes, and the book launch party.
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  • A new chapter by a new Topeka author each week at tscpl.org/community-novel.

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Read Online: SpeakEasy Chapter 11 by Dennis E. Smirl

“Vandalized?” Ronni asked. “Are you sure that’s the right term?”

The woman on the other end of the line stammered for a moment. “I … I … I don’t think I understand. What else could it—“

“Have you called the police?”

“N … No. I really didn’t know what to do without talking with Mrs. Stanford.”

“Who else has been in the room?” Ronni insisted.

“No one,” the woman said. “Other than myself.” She was gathering herself, and the stutter had disappeared.

“Good. Now close and lock the door to Mrs. Stanford’s room. Do NOT let anyone else inside, and call the police. Tell them you suspect a burglary.”

“How dreadful. Do you mean to tell me that you think a common criminal … a burglar … was walking around in our facility where he could have harmed one of our residents?”

“Why did you say ‘he’?” Ronni asked.

“I … I just assumed …” The stammer had returned.

“Did you see anyone in your facility who didn’t belong there? More specifically, did you see a man in your facility who was unfamiliar to the staff, or who looked as if he didn’t belong?”

“I … I may have,” the woman admitted. “But he was well-dressed and seemed to know exactly where he was going, so I didn’t intercept him. I … guess I should have.”

“It’s just as well you didn’t,” Ronni said. “Now, please do as I ask you. Lock the room and call the police. I’ll return with Mrs. Stanford shortly.” She hung up without waiting for a response.

“From this end, that sounded pretty serious,” Pete said. He glanced nervously at Julia and then back at Ronni. “What’s going on?”

“Yes, dear, what’s going on?” Julia asked.

Ronni gazed at both of them as calmly as she could. She’d already made up her mind to downplay the event as much as possible, as spooking them would just make things worse. “Someone went through your room and your things, Julia. There may have been some damage. I’m sorry.” The word vandalism had a specific meaning, and Ronni feared that Julia’s few possessions had been damaged or even destroyed.

“Shouldn’t we get right back and take a look at what was done to my room?” Julia asked.

Ronni shook her head. “No, the police will show up shortly. They’ll look for evidence, and our presence there wouldn’t help them in any way. Let’s just – ”

“But what if they have questions?” Pete interrupted. “If no one’s there to answer them …”

“Yes, Ronni,” Julia said. “I think Pete’s right.”

Ronni thought about the car that had followed them earlier. Or had that been a bit of healthy paranoia? She didn’t like the idea of what might be waiting for them, once they were back on the streets of Topeka. Hopefully, she tried to assure herself, the worst we’ll face is some unfilled potholes.

“Should I be frightened?” Julia asked. “First someone follows us like in a gangster movie, and then I find out that someone has been in my room, damaging my possessions.” Color rose in her cheeks, and she dabbed at her forehead with a hankie.

“I’ll be right back,” Ronni said. She left the table and found the manager. A solid, well-dressed-guy in his late twenties or early thirties, he negated the positives with a badly-fitted hairpiece.

“How can I help you?” His voice was a resonant baritone. Ronni mentally erased some of the deductions for the bad toupee.

“Do you have a back door? Does it lead to an alley? Is the alley open at both ends?” She asked, almost in a single sentence.

The manager smiled. “Yes, yes, and yes. Do you have a problem I can help with?”

She shook her head. “No. Everything’s fine. Thanks for your concern.” On the way back to the table, she stopped at the half-way point and dialed a number she hadn’t used for far too long.

“Ronni,” a bass voice answered. “What’s up?”

“I need a ride. I thought of you.”

“Where are you?”

“Weller’s”

“Last I heard, Topeka had taxis.”

“It’s been a while since I called you,” Ronni said.

“You might say that.”

“Are you angry with me?”

“No. But I do miss seeing you or hearing from you.”

“Well, I don’t need a taxi. I need you,” Ronni said.

“Are you that jammed up?”

“Maybe. I’m involved in something. Someone was following us earlier. We managed to lose them.”

“Us?”

“I’ll explain when you get here. What are you driving?”

“Same green Crown Vic.” He laughed. “They’ll probably bury me in it.”

“Meet us in the alley behind Weller’s?”

“Not a problem. I’ll be there in five.”

Click.

Ronni finished her journey to the table. She sat for a moment and then said, “We’re going out the back. I have a ride that’s going to pick us up.”

“Who?” Pete asked.

“I’ll introduce you when he gets here in…” She glanced at her watch. “Just about four-and-a-half minutes from now.”

“Your friend must be very punctual,” Julia said.

Ronni shook her head. “Not my friend, my uncle. Actually, I think he’s my great-uncle, or maybe great-great-uncle. I can never keep those things straight.”

“Oh great,” Pete muttered. “A ride in a geezermobile.”

Ronni left cash on the table to cover the food they didn’t have time to eat.

Exactly on time, a late-model, dark-green Crown Victoria pulled into the alley behind Weller’s. Ronni had been watching through a door opened only an inch or so. When the car stopped, she said, “He’s here. Let’s move.”

She led the way down a half-flight of stairs while Pete helped Julia, one slow step at a time. The two of them got in the back, and Ronni got in the passenger side of the front seat. “Hi,” she said, trying to put on a brave front.

“Where are we headed?” her uncle asked. A large, white-haired, ruddy-complexioned man looking to be in his late sixties or early seventies, he had the car in motion the moment the doors closed. Then he added, “Buckle up, everyone. State law, don’t you know.”

Ronni clicked her seat belt catch and turned to him. “Thanks for coming to our rescue.”

“Not a problem. Who are your friends?”

“Pete and Julia. I figure you can tell which is which.” She turned to look at the two in the back seat. “Oh, this is my uncle Dallas. But most people call him ‘Dal’.”

Dallas pointed a thumb — and a smile — at Pete. “You can call me ‘Mister Dal.”

“Funny,” Pete said. “Especially coming from a guy who drives antiques.”

“Round one for Pete,” Ronni said. “But Pete, this is certainly not a geezermobile.”

“That’s what he called my car?” Dallas asked with a slight edge to his voice.

“Sometimes he kids with people,” Ronni said. “Don’t pay him any mind. And even less attention.”

“Didn’t plan on it.”

Ronni leaned far enough to her left so she could see the speedometer. He was slightly over the limit, and she could see that his eyes moved to his rear-view mirrors ever few seconds. He was keeping track of everything surrounding his car.

Finally he looked at Ronni. “So what have you gotten yourself into now?”

“Hopefully, nothing that’s going to cause a problem. I’m doing research on the 1920s. Julia lived through them. She’s a primary source.”

“That’s good,” Dallas said. “And is there supposed to be someone following us?”

“No!” Ronni and Pete said simultaneously.

“How interesting. Because someone in a black Lexus is following us. And they’re being rather obvious and clumsy about it.”

“Can we lose them in this clunker?” Pete leaned forward as he asked the question. Dallas floored the accelerator, the Crown Vic shot forward, and Pete was slammed back against the seat cushion.

“Does that answer your question?” Dallas asked, lifting his foot and letting the car slow back to the speed limit.

Pete waited to catch the breath he’d lost before answering, “Yeah. No problem.”

“Good,” Ronni said, unhappy with the testosterone games. “Now what are we going to do about the people following us?”

“Do you want to lose them?” Dallas asked. “Or do you want to know why they’re following us?”

“I know why they’re following us,” Ronni said. “And it has to do with Julia and some precious antiques and jewelry.”

“Do I want to know any more than that?” he asked.

“Do you?”

“Not really.” Dallas looked at Julia in the rear-view mirror. “Then maybe we should just lose them.”

Julia brightened. “Yes. Let’s lose them. Let’s have some fun.”

Dallas grinned. Ronni tried to tighten her belt. Dallas had been driving a random pattern since he noticed the tail, and they were northbound on Kansas. He turned left at 4th, then right on Topeka, and continued northbound.

“What are you doing?” Ronni asked.

“Letting them follow us. For a while,” Dallas said. “They haven’t tried anything really stupid — yet — so I’m just going to drive the speed limit, stop at red lights, and hopefully, set them up for a surprise.”

“What kind of surprise?” Pete asked.

Dallas chuckled, “Hide and learn, little brother. Hide and learn.” He pulled his cell phone out of a pocket in his jacket, speed-dialed a number, and talked quietly for almost a minute. Then, nodding and smiling, he put the phone back in his pocket.

“I’ve got a question,” Dallas said, as they passed The Pad restaurant.

“Um … okay. What?” Ronni said.

“You changed cars. And it didn’t fool them. Why not?”

Ronni’s surprise showed on her face. “I … I have no idea.”

“Isn’t your phone GPS-Enabled?” Dallas asked.

“Yeah, but …”

“No buts about it,” he said. “As long as your phone’s on, they know where you are.”

“But these guys are thugs. You can’t tell me …” She stopped. “But I guess you don’t have to be NASA to track a phone these days.”

“I think you mean NSA,” Dallas said, still driving sanely. “But what’s in a name? The onion would smell just as sweet.”

“What are you people talking about?” Julia asked. “And why aren’t we having fun yet?”

Dallas looked over his shoulder and grinned. “Soon, ma’am, soon.”

Detour signs blocked their way to Highway 24. Dallas turned a smooth right just past a Dairy Queen, then turned left on Kansas. A couple of blocks and he made a right-hand turn east onto Highway 24. Once the traffic began to clear, he said, “Okay, the fun’s about to begin.”

Ronni looked back. Traffic was almost nonexistent, and the black Lexus was now gaining on them. She mentioned it to Dallas. He nodded and pushed the accelerator to the floor. The Crown Vic surged forward, and in a few seconds, they were doing ninety.

“Won’t this thing go any faster?” Pete asked. He was looking back at the Lexus. It wasn’t more than two car lengths behind them, and closing as if to play ‘bump and run.’

“I’ll let them get a little closer,” Dallas said, “and then move out from under them. I just don’t want to spoil their surprise.”

“What surprise?” Pete insisted.

“Look behind the Lexus. What do you see?”

“About four Highway Patrol cars, all with their flashers on.”

“You set this up?” Ronni asked.

“Yeah,” Dallas said. “Just called in a couple of favors.”

A moment later, the Lexus whipped into the left lane, and then accelerated past the Crown Vic like a moon rocket on steroids. The Highway Patrol cars zipped by and continued the chase. Dallas slowed the Crown Vic back to the posted limit and looked for a place to turn around. As he did, he said, quietly, “Happy birthday, bad guys.”

“What did you do in the real world?” Pete asked.

“I wore a uniform and a Smoky hat,” Dallas answered. “Just like the guys who are chasing the idiots in the Lexus.”

“That was so much fun,” Julia said. “Now I think I’m going to take a nap.” She rested her chin on her chest, and before Dallas could get the car turned around and headed westbound, she was snoring softly.

“How old is she?” Dallas asked, once he was sure Julia was asleep.

“Past a hundred,” Ronni said. “She worked in a speakeasy during Prohibition.”

“Worked?” Dallas asked, trying to be as discrete as possible while still satisfying his curiosity.

“All she did was play in a band. No hanky-panky.”

“Good for her. And she’s still alive. So what does she have that people want so badly?”

“Hang on a minute.” As Dallas asked the question, Ronni’s phone had rung. It was the woman who’d called her earlier.

“The police would like to talk with Mrs. Stanford. How soon can you be here?”

Ronni looked outside. They were almost back to Kansas Avenue. “Twenty minutes, maybe less. Why do the police want to talk with her?”

“I don’t know. They went into her room, looked around, and I think they took fingerprints. But something bothered them. I don’t know what it was.”

“They didn’t give you any hints?” Ronni ventured.

“No. They just looked very serious, and they seemed very secretive.”

“We’ll hurry. Good-bye.” She clicked off and turned back to speak to Dallas. “Sorry for all the trouble, Uncle. I didn’t figure things would get this complicated.”

He shrugged and then smiled. “Ronni, things have always had a habit of getting complicated when you’re around.”

Chapter 12 will be published next week at http://tscpl.org/community-novel

About Author Dennis E. Smirl

Dennis E. Smirl has been an Air Force officer, a salesman for a Fortune 500 company, a school psychologist, a computer science instructor at several community colleges, and a business owner. Married to his college sweetheart for almost half a century, he has spent time in Mexico, Japan, and South Vietnam, but prefers to take family vacations in the USA and Canada. A writer for as long as he can remember—he attempted a first novel at age ten—his first taste of national publication was a race report written and published in 1965. Beyond his interest in writing science fiction and mysteries, he has had a lifetime interest in horseback riding, auto racing (as a driver), golf, photography, computers and information processing. He has written nine novels and more than seventy short stories and novellas, and hopes to have all nine novels—and perhaps a couple more—available through Amazon print and Amazon Kindle within the next two years.

Lissa Staley

Lissa Staley helps people use the library. She is a Book Evangelist, Health Information Librarian, Arts & Crafts Librarian, Trivia Emcee, Classics Made Modern book group leader, and frequent library customer, especially with her children. She reads a new book every few days, but recently loved Adorkable by Sarra Manning, Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman and Tin Star by Cecil Castellucchi.