- 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.
- Read online, download to your ereader or listen to the audiobook version.
- A new chapter by a new Topeka author each week at tscpl.org/community-novel.
Downloading SpeakEasy Chapter 16 by B.R. Knight
Download the ebook to read in the format of your choice:
Instructions for downloading and transferring these files to your Kindle, nook, iPad or other ereader.
Listen now, download the mp3, or subscribe to “SpeakEasy: 2013 Community Novel Project” through iTunes.
Read Online: SpeakEasy Chapter 16 by B.R. Knight
“Nothing to say, Veronica dear?” asked Charles with a sneer. “I believe your line should be something like ‘you’ll never get away with this.’ At least that’s what the damsel in distress always says in those cheesy movies you love so much.”
“Why be redundant, Charles dear?” Ronni frowned out the window, watching the scenery pass by all too quickly. Her mind raced through scenario after scenario, but none of them ended the way she wanted.
“Who would expect such big words from my bimbo girlfriend? When you blow your cover, you really do it with flair.”
Ronni considered telling Charles what she really thought of him, but decided it just wasn’t worth the effort. She went back to contemplating escape plans. Unfortunately it wasn’t just her own safety she had to worry about. She had to take Julia’s well-being into consideration as well.
“I couldn’t believe my luck when I bumped into you that day in the library. You were the perfect accessory to my own cover story. You were so blonde and cheap in your tight clothes and short skirts. You provided me just the right amount of believability as a privileged student with a decided air of narcissism. And you were the unsuspecting roommate of my target. I couldn’t have done better if I’d planned it myself. Of course, when I figured out your true game I almost laughed my ass off.”
Ronni’s heart beat raced a little more as what Charles’ words meant hit home. “Wait, your cover story?”
Charles chuckled and hit the turn signal before making a left onto Huntoon. She knew she was running out of time and he was in no hurry to give up toying with her.
“I know you’ve discovered that I’ve already passed the bar. My handler informed me when the records were accessed.”
“Handler?” Ronni asked. Now she was even more confused.
“Under other circumstances we could have worked this case together and blown it out of the water. An undercover lawyer and policewoman investigating the nefarious cheating ring at one of the state’s most prestigious law schools. It could have been legendary. Then you stumbled onto the key to the state’s greatest unsolved jewelry heist and threatened to expose everything about my past I’ve worked so hard to erase.”
Ronni mulled over Charles’ words. He had been investigating the cheating ring, too? And his target had been her roommate? He thought Donna was involved in the cheating ring?
“Donna?” she blurted. “Donna is the head of the cheating ring?”
“Took you long enough to put that together. I can’t believe your superiors thought you could handle this job. You’ve been so focused on me as your target you didn’t even bother to look for other possibilities. Once I figured out your strategy it was easy to string you along. It kept you from interfering with my own investigation.”
Charles eased to a stop at a light and glanced over at his passenger. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his cell, tossing it into Ronni’s lap. “Time to call your contact and get me those jewels.”
Ronni fingered the sleek cell. She wished she could use her own phone, but Charles had taken her purse when he hustled her into the car. It was now in the trunk and out of reach. She slid her finger over the screen to unlock it and punched in her uncle’s number. She hesitated before pressing send, but when Charles patted the 9 mm he wore under his jacket, she jabbed her finger against the button and held the phone to her ear.
“Speaker, if you please,” Charles said with a grin. “I wouldn’t want to miss this.”
Ronni sighed and thumbed the speaker button. The car filled with the sound of her uncle’s phone ringing on the other end of the line. For a moment she wondered if he would even answer. There was no way he would know it was her calling and he wouldn’t recognize the number. After what seemed like an eternity he picked up.
“Yes?” His voice was brusque.
“It’s me. Meet me at the Holliday Café on 12th. Bring the item I gave you for safekeeping.”
She could hear a whispered conversation in the background and thought she recognized Pete’s voice as well as her mother’s. She couldn’t hear what was being said. Then her uncle’s voice flowed from the phone’s speaker.
“Are you all right?”
She took a deep breath and glanced at Charles out of the corner of her eye. This was the tricky part. “Everything but my pride, Uncle Edgar. See you in a few minutes.”
She hit the end button and tossed the phone back into Charles’ lap. “He’ll meet us at the café. You’ve won.”
Charles’ smile grew wider. “You have no idea how much this means to my family. I cannot believe how lucky I was to pick you.”
Ronni leaned back against the leather seat and let her eyes close. She was just beginning to realize how tiring her mission was and how the pressure had slowly been building up. She would be glad when it was over for better or worse. She felt the car roll to a stop and almost groaned when Charles shut the engine off.
“Let’s go see Mother. She deserves to be there in the end as well.”
* * * * *
“What took you so long?” Charles’ mother asked. “You called nearly two hours ago.”
“Relax, Mother. It took time to get things arranged. The jewels are on their way. We’ll be able to close this chapter of the family drama once and for all. After we take care of a few loose ends, that is.”
Ronni used the pairs’ distraction to study her surroundings. She had half expected Charles to take her into the café proper, and was surprised when he simply nodded to the hostess and hustled her up a staircase tucked behind the bathrooms. His mother was waiting for them in one of three converted apartments above the bustling eatery. She wondered how many people knew they were even there. The front room was small but neat with a love seat and overstuffed reading chair arranged around a low, cherry wood coffee table where a silver tea set held court. A short breakfast bar separated the living area from the small but efficient kitchen. Two doors on the right led to what she assumed were a bedroom and a bathroom. Julia was most likely hidden behind one of those doors.
Ms. Banning caught her glance and gave her a thin-lipped smile. “Yes, my dear, your friend is tied up in the other room. Don’t worry; you’ll be seeing her quite soon.”
“I want to see her now if you don’t mind.” Ronni squared her shoulders and met the other woman’s gaze straight on.
“Fine. Charles, why don’t you give our guest the full tour?”
Ronni followed on Charles’ heels as he headed to the second door on the right and shoved it open. Inside the small bedroom was a full-sized four poster bed with a matching dresser. Squeezed in between the two large pieces of furniture was a wooden straight-backed kitchen chair. Julia was tied to the chair with her arms stretched behind her and her in what had to be an uncomfortable position for the elderly woman. She smiled when she saw Ronni.
“I knew you’d come for me. I told them,” she said in a cheery tone. “Are we leaving now?”
“Not just yet,” Ronni said as she hurried to Julia’s side and checked the tightness of the rope binding her to the chair. To Charles’ she snapped, “Is this necessary? She’s 108 years old. You don’t seriously expect her to escape, do you?”
“We’re not taking any chances. Untie her if you like, but know I won’t hesitate to shoot her if you become troublesome. I’m not going to screw this up like my grandfather did. If he’d taken care of things like he should have, none of this would be necessary.”
“You talk too much, Charles.”
“Why does it matter? They’re not going to be telling anyone. Once we have the goods, we’ll tie up these loose ends. Something both of your parents failed to do.”
“Shut up, Charles. You don’t have to spill your guts like some clichéd TV villain.”
Ms. Banning stepped into the bedroom, a small, snub-nosed handgun pointed at Julia. Ronni stepped between the elderly woman and Charles’ mother. “If you shoot her, you won’t get the jewels. I will make sure of that.”
“She right, Mother. Until we have the goods in our hands, you need to be more patient. I’ll handle it.”
“Like you handled the problem in the closet?” the other woman asked with a frown.
Charles’ laugh filled the room. “No longer a problem now, is he?”
He crossed to a door near the foot of the bed and yanked it open. Ronni gasped. It was Tyler from Pete’s jazz band. He was slumped on the floor of the closet, his ridiculous hat against his chest where it barely covered a blood stain that soaked his entire shirt. She couldn’t tell if he was breathing, but from the pallor of his skin she doubted it.
“A friend of yours, perhaps?” asked Charles. “His badge says KBI.”
“What? He’s just a jazz musician,” Ronni mumbled.
“By night perhaps, but by day he’s a G-man,” said Charles and shut the door. “You really aren’t all that observant, are you? How you made it undercover is beyond me.”
“Don’t underestimate her. I learned quite a bit about your dear Veronica while caring for her mother. The woman talked incessantly. The pills were supposed to keep her comatose, but she simply would not shut up. And she was full of interesting information.”
Ms. Banning crossed to sit on the foot of the four-poster, the revolver resting against her knee. “Her real target wasn’t the head of the cheating ring. That was just something her boss tossed in on the side. She was really looking for the group bilking the elderly out of their life savings. It seems poor Granny fell victim to this nefarious scheme and ended up in a sub-par care facility where she died from neglect. Veronica here, it seems, was hell-bent on putting a stop to it, but in order to get the okay from her boss, she had to take on the cheating ring at KU first. Too bad you’ll never get the opportunity to take those awful con artists down.”
Charles and his mother were both smirking, and Ronni felt a sinking sensation in her chest. Anger flared as her heart raced.
“You’re the con artists,” she said in a tight voice.
“Yes, we had to have some way to survive after my grandparents botched a simple jewel heist. It should have been so simple. Then one of the thugs they hired to help them got cold feet. He hid the jewels and wouldn’t tell them where they were. He died rather than give them up, the fool.”
“Your grandparents were Rosie and John Markham Smith. That means Julia is your great-aunt. You would kill your own family?” Ronni was horrified.
Ms. Banning sniffed and waved the gun in the air. “Sometimes things happen. People die so others can live a better life. Those jewels will make up for a great deal of hardship. My poor Charles was forced to change his name just so he could get into law school and pass the bar. No one would give the grandson of John Markham Smith, notorious gangster, a chance. It’s time Charles gets what he deserves. And you, my dear, are about to make it happen.”
Charles glanced at his watch. “We should get downstairs and wait for the delivery. Veronica is well aware of what will happen to her friend here if she doesn’t cooperate. Let’s go.”
He gestured for her to precede him out of the bedroom. Ronni had only reached the edge of the sofa when the apartment door flew open. She stumbled to a stop and Charles grabbed her upper arm in a tight grip she was sure would leave a bruise. She knew he was reaching for his gun. To her horror her uncle, followed by Pete, crowded through the door, followed by Deborah, holding a gun. Both men caught her expression and gave her sheepish shrugs.
“What have we here, sister dear?” asked Charles.
Deborah tossed the green crocodile case onto the coffee table. “It seems your bimbo had backup. They weren’t very subtle when they arrived. It was a simple thing to get the drop on them.”
“Oh, Pete,” Ronni said. “I’m so sorry you got caught up in this.”
“Don’t worry. You’ll have a little bit of time to get caught up. Why don’t the three of you join the old lady in the bedroom?” Charles suggested.
Ms. Banning’s gaze was locked on the case on the coffee table. “The jewels?” she asked.
Deborah shrugged. “I presume so. I didn’t take the time to check.”
Charles’ mother scurried over to the table and opened the case, dumping everything out onto the cherry wood finish. She pried the false bottom open and dumped out the rest of the loot with a squeal of glee. Ronni only caught a quick flash of the cache as she was hustled into the bedroom by Charles. Her uncle and Pete were right behind her. Charles waved jauntily and closed the door. They could hear a lock being engaged.
“How on earth did you let her get the drop on you?” Ronni asked, whirling on her uncle. “I used the code. You should have known to be careful.”
“How do you know we let her get the drop on us?” asked Pete from near the window.
There were wrought iron bars covering it, so it would not make for an easy escape. Besides, they would have little chance of getting Julia down the fire escape quickly enough to make a clean getaway.
“You meant to get caught?” Ronni gasped.
Pete turned back around, studying the room. “Where have they got Tyler stashed?”
Ronni’s mind whirred so fast she wondered if there was smoke coming out of her ears. “Tyler? You know he’s KBI?”
“Of course,” Pete said. “So’s Ernest. They’re partners. He’s downstairs listening in right now.”
Ronni pivoted to stare at her uncle who was busy cutting the ropes binding Julia’s hands. “Did you know about this?”
“I may have my finger in a few pies still.”
Ronni nodded toward the closet door. “Tyler’s in there. I think he’s dead.”
Pete raced to the closet, flung open the door and knelt down to check Tyler’s neck for a pulse. He rocked back on his heels. “He’s still alive. Barely. He’s going to need medical attention as soon as possible.”
It took Ronni a second to realize he wasn’t talking to any of them. She hurried to his side and pulled his shirt up to reveal a wire.
“Are you insane? If they find this they’ll shoot all of us.”
“This is so exciting,” Julia exclaimed. “It reminds me of the night after I found Billy. There was a raid.”
Julia closed her eyes, picturing that night in her mind’s eye.
“It was one of those frantic nights, and Mike’s Mirage was packed. Everyone was trying desperately to forget their reality. There was music and drink. I was on stage singing. Right before I went on I noticed Rosie, Hal, and a young man I think Rosie was seeing arguing near the front door. I overheard Hal tell them they were welcome to the prize if they could find it. He was finished with the whole deal.
“The other man grabbed Hal by the lapels and told him he would regret his decision if he lived long enough. I didn’t have time to eavesdrop any further. I had to take the stage. I was in the middle of my third song when the police burst in and loaded everyone they could catch into their paddy wagons. Hal made it to me in the chaos and hustled me out the back door. We hid in an all night diner drinking watered-down coffee until dawn. I wish I knew whatever happened to old Hal. He was a good man, that one.”
Pete moved closer to Julia and knelt down, patting her knee. “I’ll tell you about him after we get out of here, Ms. Julia. My grandfather turned out to be a pretty decent fellow.”
Julia clapped her hands against Pete’s cheeks, her lips stretched into a wide smile. “I knew I recognized you from somewhere, young man.”
“This is all well and good, ma’am,” said Ronni’s uncle. “I think we should start working on our escape plan now.”
The bedroom door slammed open, banging against the wall with a hollow thud. Charles stood in the doorway, his eyes blazing. He clutched two handfuls of jewelry from Julia’s crocodile case.
“Where are the real jewels?” he bellowed.
Behind him his mother and sister appeared, expression grim and guns clutched tightly in their hands.
Chapter 17 will be published next week at https://tscpl.org/community-novel
About Author B.R. Knight
B.R. Knight grew up in the Big Sky country of south eastern Montana and north central Wyoming. She loved telling stories even from an early age and completed her first short story at age 8 about milk stealing aliens invading local ranches. It’s been a never-ending passion ever since. She attended Montana State University-Billings where she majored in English and Spanish education. She has published a Spanish-language short story entitled El espejo and a story collection called The Mistletoe Operation and Other Tales. She is currently working on an eight book series based on world mythology.