About the Author
Austin S. Camacho is the author of seven novels about Washington DC-based private eye Hannibal Jones, five in the Stark and O’Brien international adventure-thriller series, and the detective novel, Beyond Blue. His short stories have been featured in several anthologies including Dying in a Winter Wonderland – an Independent Mystery Booksellers Association Top Ten Bestseller for 2008. He is featured in the Edgar nominated African American Mystery Writers: A Historical and Thematic Study by Frankie Y. Bailey. Camacho is also editorial director for Intrigue Publishing, a Maryland small press.
Read an Excerpt
Blood and Bone
By Austin S. Camacho
Intrigue Publishing, LLCCopyright © 1999 Austin S. Camacho
All rights reserved.
"Wake up, Joey," Floyd said to his bodyguard. "You might have to kill this one."
The stranger drew Floyd's attention the second he walked into the club. Something marked him as a dangerous man, but it took Floyd a minute to figure out what. Like everyone else at The Tip Top that night, he was black — actually, light skinned for a black man, kind of a golden color, with wavy brown hair cut short. He was not particularly big, barely six feet and a little on the thin side. His clothes did not stand out. He wore a basic black suit and tie.
A man's eyes would sometimes draw Floyd's attention, but that could not be it this time. The stranger wore very dark wraparound shades. As the man moved around the crowded tables toward him, Floyd realized it was the stranger's attitude that had drawn his eye. This man carried a calm confidence seldom seen in a place like this in Northeast Washington D.C.
"You need something?" Floyd asked as the stranger stopped in front of him. He certainly would not rise from his chair for a nobody, and Joey and Lawrence would take care of any trouble, if anybody was stupid enough to start some. The stranger crossed his hands in front of himself, hands covered by black leather gloves. The man looked bored.
"Just to deliver a message," the stranger said. "It's from Jewel. She says she quits."
The music in the Tip Top was throbbing so loud Floyd could not make out the words, although he could feel the beat. It made conversation almost impossible. But he heard this man clearly.
"And you are?"
"Jones," the stranger said. "Hannibal Jones."
Floyd leaned forward to make sure Hannibal heard him. "You know, around here pimps don't go around trying to rip each other off. But I'll tell you what, Slick. You tell that bitch to drag her narrow ass in here in the next ten minutes, and maybe I won't mess her up too bad."
"You've misunderstood," Hannibal said. He dropped a card on the table. It bore his name, phone number and the word "Troubleshooter" in block letters. "The woman is under my protection," he said. "Let it go. She's gone. Get over it."
The music lowered, and Floyd noticed every eye in the place was on him. All of them, drunks, whores, drug addicts, and a few real people who wanted to relax for a while. They all smelled of liquor, or drugs, or cigarettes, or desperation. This Hannibal Jones did not smell of any of that. He was an island in this place, isolated and alone. Floyd glanced to his left with a wry smirk.
"Look here, stud. This here's Joey. He takes care of my light work. And that guy behind you, Lawrence, he cleans up the messes Joey leaves behind. If I was you I'd get to stepping before I pissed somebody off. You getting my message?"
"Look, can't we talk about this?" Hannibal said. Floyd's only response was a blank stare. Hannibal glared down at the floor for a moment and curled his lips in. "The hard way he said. "It's always got to be the hard way. "Then he looked up and Floyd saw his own smile disappear in Hannibal's lenses. "Okay, who's first?" Hannibal asked.
Joey was good. There was no telegraph, no warning body language. But somehow, when his big right fist reached its target, Hannibal's face was no longer there. Floyd saw his bodyguard take a hard snap kick in the gut and a back fist across his face before Lawrence got his arms around Hannibal, locking his arms down. Somebody stopped the music but nobody spoke. It was a private hassle, but everybody wanted to watch.
"Not bad, stud," Floyd said, "but you can't expect to come in here with that Jackie Chan shit against the big boys."
"Uh-huh," Hannibal said. He smashed his head back, bloodying Lawrence's nose. Then he snapped forward, grabbed Lawrence's ankle and jerked up. Floyd heard Lawrence's head thump the floor behind Hannibal. Joey moved in again, but black gloves blocked both his best punches. Then two crisp jabs and an uppercut put Joey over Floyd's table, spilling his scotch. More confused than scared, Floyd reached for the nine millimeter at the back of his waistband.
"Don't even go there, stupid." Hannibal pulled an automatic from under his right shoulder and shoved its muzzle into Floyd's cheek. "You get your piece out, it's pure self-defense and I turn your face into abstract art."
Silence gripped the room and the Tip Top became a still life while Floyd watched himself sweat in Hannibal's Oakleys. He thought about business and his rep and his honor. Mostly he thought about dying.
"It's your world," Floyd said. "What now?"
"Now we negotiate and come to an agreement," Hannibal said, sitting on the table and pulling his gun back an inch. "My terms are simple. Let it go. One girl less. No comeback."
Floyd sat taller and straightened his face. No fear, he told himself. Back to business. "Who you work for, stud? New player coming in?"
"I work for me," Hannibal said. "Solve other people's problems. Jewel had a problem. She wanted to get off the streets. I solved it. Now, is this over?"
Floyd considered himself a good judge of character. He could negotiate a position with this one. The man was leaving him an out, so it would not look like he was getting ripped off.
"All right, if the bitch wants out, she's out. But this better be for real. I find out she's working the streets I'll kill her. I mean anywhere, dig? I got friends all up and down the coast, and they know every whore out there. She starts hooking, her ass is mine."
"Fair enough," Hannibal said. "I'll pass that on. As long as she's out of the life, I'll keep her safe. Otherwise, I'm out of it." Then he holstered his weapon and stood up. "Pleasure doing business with you. When your two friends wake up, tell them I said practice."CHAPTER 2
Hannibal pulled into his parking space and killed the engine of his white Volvo 850 GLT. There were no markings, no sign or label, but the space was universally recognized as his.
He was on the move since early Saturday morning and his long day ended with a bar fight and a half-hour drive down to Anacostia and home. Weary as he was, Hannibal scanned the area before he opened his door. The cone of a street light covered his car's hood and peeked in through its windshield. His street looked quiet as he eased out of his white leather seat and set his anti-theft device. He smiled at his neighborhood's split personality. He had come home at a rare quiet moment, too early for the hip folks to be coming home from the party, or for the church crowd to be heading out.
His rubber soles fell silently on the red sandstone steps leading up to the front door of his red brick, three-story building. He used two keys to open the outer door. Once in the hall, he faced the central staircase but instead of turning left to his own flat he veered right. The front room of this apartment was his office. His heavy oak desk faced the door, flanked by a pair of file cabinets. A smaller desk stood beside the door on his left. He stepped across the oval broadloom rug, but before he could even riffle through the papers in his IN box he heard footsteps from the far end of the railroad flat.
Her perfume preceded her, the sharp sting of Patchouli. "Did you talk to him?" Jewel asked in a nasal New Jersey accent. Her high-pitched voice always sounded to Hannibal as if she were about to cry.
"I took care of it, on condition you stay off the street," Hannibal said, but his casual response did not remove the fear from Jewel's cat-like eyes. She was Hannibal's height, model thin and very black, a Nubian princess whose beauty was marred by the wear showing at the corners of her eyes. A thoroughbred, Hannibal thought, passed through too many owners and broken down by being ridden by too many jockeys.
"You won't go back on our deal?" she asked, smoothing a hand down her straight black hair. "You said if I was nervous I could stay here a few days."
"Jewel, I'm a businessman and you know my rates. If you're willing to go the fee you can stay right there in my guest room until you feel safe. I just don't think ..."
"Well I do." Her fingers pressed into his right arm with disturbing familiarity. "You don't know Floyd. Anyway, I got plenty of money stashed away and I don't mind spending it staying alive until I figure out where I'm going. You want cash?"
"Any way you want to pay," Hannibal said, dropping his messages back into his IN box. Nothing pressing. He would file these and check for email messages in the morning. His eyes were starting to droop.
"Any way?" Jewel asked, pressing her thumping heart against his. Hannibal stared into her frightened eyes, and they dropped closed, even as her lips parted, inviting his tongue in. His tired mind reeled. She was beautiful, exotic, and certainly talented. She was also a client.
"Let's stick to negotiable currency." He gently pushed her shoulders away with his index fingers. "Something I can put on my books. Besides, it's so late it's early and I'm beat. Why don't we call it a night?"
Across the hall, Hannibal walked back to the fourth door from the front and unlocked it. Loud beeps reminded him to cross his living room, reach around the bathroom door and punch in his four digit code, disabling his alarm system. Too tired to think further, he walked through his flat to the front room, dropped his clothes in a pile and crawled into bed. He silently thanked God it was Sunday morning before his eyes slid shut.CHAPTER 3
"Morning, lover," Cindy said. "You still in bed, sleepyhead?"
Hannibal checked the absurdly expensive Porsche titanium watch Cindy gave him for Christmas. Eight fifteen. He had slept for more than four hours, but it felt like five minutes.
"Worked late," he said, trying to pull his mind together. "Isn't it Sunday? Why're you up so early? God, I need coffee. Something going on?"
"Well, this might sound weird but I've got a job for you."
Work? Hannibal spun onto his back to get his brain into focus, then sat up quickly. His hand hit something beside him.
"You're not mad, are you?" Cindy asked. "I feel kind of guilty talking business on Sunday morning, but it's kind of important to me."
He was listening with only half his mind. What his hand had hit was a body. Jewel's body. She must have crept in while he slept. He watched her eyes open dreamily. He knew what was next. In Hannibal's experience, a woman's eyes opened only seconds before her mouth. As Jewel prepared to speak, he clamped his free hand down over her mouth.
"Nothing to feel guilty about," Hannibal replied, sensing the irony of his remark. "If it matters to you, it matters to me. Somebody in trouble?"
"That's your business, isn't it?" He could hear Cindy's soft chuckle. "It's one of Mister Nieswand's personal clients. Kind of a delicate situation. I told him you could handle it and he asked if you could make it to his place for brunch."
"Brunch?" Hannibal asked to fill time. Jewel started to sit up and the sheet fell away. She was naked. Actually, THEY were naked. "Sounds good. How should I dress?"
"Well, it is business. Better make it suit and tie. It's out in Oakton. They dress for snacks in that neighborhood."
"Oakton? I better get going then. Give me the address." Hannibal glared a threat at Jewel before he removed his hand. She froze in place while he found a pen and pad by the phone.
"No, pick me up," Cindy said. "He wants me there too. I'll be ready when you get here, so we can make his place by eleven, okay? See you later. Love you," she added, throwing a kiss into the receiver.
"Me too," Hannibal said, forcing a smile into his voice. "See you soon." He settled the phone gently into its cradle, but in the time it took him to turn around, his expression turned to rage. "What the hell are you doing in here?"
Jewel shrank back against the headboard as if struck. "I was lonely. You were alone and I thought, I mean, I figured ..."
"If I didn't think that pimp would kill you, I'd put your ass in the street right now," Hannibal snapped. "Now get across the hall, lock the door and get some clothes on." Despite his anger, he watched her dancer's behind squirm into a too tight miniskirt and admired her legs in motion until they reached the other end of his apartment and slinked through the door. As the door latch clicked he leaped to his feet and headed for the kitchen. He did not have much time to get his act together and he had a stop to make before he left.
At eight-thirty, Hannibal knocked on the door directly upstairs from his own living room.
"Yeah, who?" came a grumbly voice from inside. Already up and in the living room, Hannibal thought.
"It's me, Sarge."
The door popped open and a stocky black man wearing only boxer shorts thrust his head out. He looked Hannibal up and down, taking in the black suit and tightly knotted tie. "You going to church?"
"Cindy called with a job," Hannibal said, "but I've already got one. Want to make some money?"
Sarge rubbed a hand across his scalp, past his hairline, which had receded halfway back on his head. His flexing biceps made the fouled anchor tattoo jump. "Well, you'll be coming for October's rent pretty soon and the place I been playing bouncer in looks like it might go belly up soon. Sure, I can use a few extra bucks."
"Good. Got a client down in the office side. She's paying my full daily fee to have a safe place to crash while she sorts out her life. It's worth my usual subcontractor pay if you'll keep an eye out for trouble next couple of days."
"Two fifty a day?" Sarge grinned. "I hope she never leaves. Is she cute?"
"Then for three hundred she can stay up here with me," Sarge said, smiling even broader.
"Actually, she's used to getting money for that," Hannibal said. Sarge's face fell. "But she's trying to break that habit, if you get my meaning."
Sarge nodded and a new alertness showed on his face. "And somebody don't want one of his meal tickets taking a walk, right? Okay. She's safe long as she stays in the building. You and me, we chased whores, junkies and who knows what all out of this building before we moved in. I guess I can hold off a pimp."
"Sarge, I trust you more than the FBI, but I got my pager and phone just in case something comes up."
"You going far?" Sarge asked as Hannibal headed for the stairs.
"Another world," Hannibal called back. "Oakton."
* * *
"Look, I'm sorry if I ruined your Sunday morning," Cindy said as they eased into the wooded cul-de-sac, then rolled slowly up a long blacktop driveway toward a three-car garage. "You've hardly said a word."
"Sorry, honey. I'm not mad, just tired I guess, and the weather isn't helping." Not really a lie, he thought. It was the kind of overcast day that made you think you could reach up and touch the gray cloud ceiling. Drops sprinkled down slowly enough to cause his windshield wipers to make that awful noise, even at the lowest intermittent setting.
Hannibal had driven from Southeast Washington, D.C. across the Fourteenth Street bridge and down to Old Town Alexandria to pick up Cindy Santiago in front of her home. Then he drove ten miles west on Route 7 in sluggish Sunday morning traffic to turn down the equally congested Route 66, to reach a Washington suburb where people bought homes for what the realtors called "gracious country living." But half his mind was occupied by the houseguest who had sneaked into his bed, a guest he had somehow failed to mention to Cindy.
He pulled his Volvo to a stop and stared up at the stately colonial in which Gabriel Nieswand stored his life, barely outside the beltway. It was exactly the type of brick monstrosity he knew Cindy aspired to. And he would love to give her one, the next time he found himself with three quarters of a million spare dollars laying around.
Hannibal was out of his car and planning his long stroll up the flagstone path when he heard an engine roar to life and a long Mercedes came screaming backward down the center of the wide driveway.
"Whoa!" he shouted, waving his arms. The limousine's brakes locked, filling the air with the smell of burned tread. He caught a glimpse of a woman in the back seat. Fortyish, with blond hair that did not fit with her complexion and a pleasant face which was losing the battle with gravity.
Then the driver got out, a beefy black man in chauffeur's livery, curling and opening his huge hands. His nose showed he had not won every fight in his life, but his eyes said he did not particularly care. He seemed to take a second to appraise Hannibal, deciding they were in the same class.
"Move it before I push it out of my way."
Hannibal straightened his jacket and stepped forward. "Look, I'm not somebody's driver here. That car's my baby. You put a scratch on her I'll break your legs."
Excerpted from Blood and Bone by Austin S. Camacho. Copyright © 1999 Austin S. Camacho. Excerpted by permission of Intrigue Publishing, LLC.
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