Four gunmen storm a jewelry store in downtown Denver, wounding a guard and killing a child. They leave with $2.1 million in gems and one hostage: the store manager, who turns out to be in on the job. Most of the gang winds up dead, but the manager lands in jail. Two decades later, he’s up for release, the gems are still missing, and a whole lot of dangerous men will be watching to see if he knows where they’re hidden.
Private investigator Jacob Lomax is one of them. Lloyd Fontaine, an acquaintance who worked the case back in the 1960s, tells him the manager knows where the gems are stashed—a theory Lomax doesn’t buy until Fontaine gets killed for his suspicions. Lomax didn’t like the man, but he will do what it takes to avenge his colleague—and he doesn’t mind if he finds a few gems along the way.
About the Author
Lomax would star in four more novels, including Blood Stone (1988), The Dead of Winter (1989), and Grave Doubt (1995). In the early 1990s, Allegretto began writing standalone novels, including the Christmas suspense story Night of Reunion (1990) and the fast-paced family thriller The Watchmen (1991).
Read an Excerpt
A Jacob Lomax Mystery
By Michael Allegretto
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1988 Michael Allegretto
All rights reserved.
Lloyd fontaine coughed smoke across my desk and said he could make me rich.
"I'm on a case," he said, "and I want you for my partner."
"I'm pretty busy now, Lloyd." I wasn't.
"Look, Jake, there's millions involved here. Believe me."
I didn't believe him. When you're talking about money, it's tough to trust a guy who's wearing a brown-checked coat, green polyester pants, black shoes, and white socks. He tugged at his flowery tie and looked at me with rheumy eyes.
"At least let me tell you about it," he said.
Fontaine's voice was as whiny as it had been the last time I'd seen him, four years ago. He'd looked the same then, too—tired face, thinning hair, and a mustache like a plucked eyebrow. He'd been down on his luck. A mutual acquaintance, an attorney, had sent him to me for work because Fontaine was in the business and at that time I had one or two more cases than I could handle. It was no big deal, and I didn't expect to be paid back. Hell, I didn't want to be paid back.
Lloyd Fontaine wanted to pay me back.
"Sure, Lloyd, tell me about it," I said, and a few of the wrinkles went out of his face.
"It was twenty years ago," he said, coughing. He lit a cigarette from the one he had going and dropped the old butt in his coffee cup. "Lochemont Jewelers in downtown Denver was knocked over by four gunmen for two-point-one million in jewelry and loose stones plus a necklace on loan from the state historical society that was worth another six hundred grand. You probably read about it."
"Lloyd, twenty years ago the only things I read were dirty magazines and the instructions on tubes of acne cream."
"Oh. Anyway, the guys shot up the place, wounding a guard and accidentally killing a little girl. Then they took off with the store manager, a guy named Charles Soames, who, it turned out, had been in on the robbery. He'd disabled the alarm system and opened the safe for his pals. To make a long—"
Fontaine coughed a few times and wiped his hand across his mouth. Then he brushed ashes from his lapel to his lap.
"To make a long story short," he said, "most of the robbers wound up dead. One got away and one got caught—the store manager, Soames. The jewels were never recovered. Soames stood trial for the felony murder of the little girl and went to prison without revealing the location of the jewels."
"Wait a minute. You said one of the robbers got away."
"Didn't he take the jewels with him?" I asked.
"Nope, even though that's what everyone thinks."
"Everyone," he said. "The cops, the insurance company, the newspapers."
Everyone but the deluded private eye, Lloyd Fontaine.
"Everyone but you," I said.
"You don't believe me, do you?"
"Sure, Lloyd, I guess, it's just that—"
"Jake, let me explain something to you. The jewels were insured by National, and back then I was their chief investigator. This was my case, you understand? I've been living with this thing for twenty years."
He made it sound like a disease.
"You're not working for National Insurance now, are you?"
Fontaine started to answer, then coughed to remind himself his cigarette was almost gone. He lit another with the butt. The smoke was starting to get to me. I got up and opened a window and breathed in mid-September smog. One floor below me, the afternoon traffic on Broadway was thickening as the downtown office workers tried to beat the rush back to the suburbs. At least they had real jobs.
"Hell no, I don't work for them," Fontaine said, calling me back. "The motherfuckers. But that's neither here nor there."
Seen from behind, Fontaine was so skinny and slumped over that he looked ninety years old. There was a sprinkling of ashes on the floor and on his clothes and on the thick manila envelope he held in his lap. The ashtray I'd put in front of him was still clean. I went back to my swivel chair.
"The point is," he said, "the jewels are about to surface and I intend to be there when they do."
"Surface? And why, after twenty years?"
"You still don't believe me, do you, Jake?"
What I believed was that Fontaine didn't have both feet in the batter's box. What I also believed, from the little I'd heard, was the majority view: The robber who got away, got away with the jewels, and was now living comfortably in Brazil or Australia—that is, if he hadn't yet died from overindulgence. On the other hand ...
"Keep talking, Lloyd."
"Well, the ex-manager of Lochemont Jewelers just got out of prison and I've been keeping a close eye on him. He's going to lead me to those jewels. Hell, I've already got a general idea of where they are."
Fontaine scratched under his tie, dropping more ashes on himself.
"And if you get the jewels, what, you head for South America?"
Fontaine tried to laugh, but it threw him into a coughing fit. I got a glass of water from the tiny bathroom and set it in front of him. Then I poured myself some bourbon from the bottle in the bottom drawer. I'd gone two whole weeks without having my first drink before six, but if I had to put up with this obsessed SOB I deserved one now, four-thirty or not.
Fontaine drank his water. "I'm not going to steal the jewels, Jake, I'm going to turn them over to National Insurance and collect their ten percent reward." He reached for my bottle and poured three fingers into his water glass. His eyes gleamed behind crusty lids. "With inflation boosting the price of gems," he said, "that ten percent should be in the neighborhood of half a million bucks." He chugged my booze and sucked his cancer stick.
"You know, Lloyd, you really ought to cut down."
"On what?" he said and coughed smoke in my face.
He waved his hand, scattering ashes on my desk. "That'll get their fucking goat, you know, those jerks at National, when I walk in there with the Lochemont jewels. After all these years, too. Old Lloyd Fontaine will have the last laugh." He reached for my bottle.
I was beginning to wonder if Fontaine might really know something. Or maybe it was just my greed disguising itself as professional curiosity.
"Why do you think Soames knows where the jewels are?" I asked. "Since no one else thinks he does."
"Not everyone has my nose for the truth," he said, slamming back his whiskey. "When I interviewed Soames after his trial, I could tell from the tone of his voice and the look in his eye that he knew exactly where that fortune was hidden. That's why I'm a professional. I have a feel for these things."
"Did Soames tell you he hid the jewels?"
"Do you have any evidence that he did?"
"I don't need evidence, Jake." He touched the side of his nose. It was as runny as a puppy's. "I've got this."
What pissed me off was that I'd been ready to believe that this clown could lead me to a fortune. He reminded me of a lottery ticket, promising riches until you scratched the surface and found nothing but a worthless piece of cardboard. At least he hadn't cost me a buck.
"Uh, Lloyd, I appreciate your asking me to—"
"Hey, I'm not asking you to work free, Jake, believe me. I'll cut you in on thirty percent of what I realize—say, a hundred and fifty grand. And I promise you won't have to shoot anybody." He coughed a laugh.
"Gee, Lloyd, I don't know—"
"Okay, make it thirty-five."
Thirty-five percent of a Fontaine fantasy would be exactly nothing.
"Really, Jake, I want you in with me on this. I need someone I can trust. We're talking about a lot of money here, the kind some people would kill for."
"What makes you think I wouldn't?" I asked, trying to discourage him.
"What a kidder," he said. Then he checked his gold-toned throwaway plastic digital watch, lit a fresh cigarette, and dropped the smoking butt in his coffee cup. My cup, dammit.
"All I need is for you to help me follow a few people. Plus, I could use a guy your size—I might have to show them some muscle."
I didn't know who Fontaine was talking about now and I didn't care. It wasn't that I hated confrontations, for chrissake, and I certainly had nothing against money, if there really was any—in fact, I was getting pretty low on funds. But what I did hate was chasing after make-believe fortunes. And what I really hated was tagging along with a guy who had his head stuck up his you-know-what.
"I'd like to help you, Lloyd, but—"
"I know, I know, you want all the details. That's why I brought this along." Fontaine dropped his fat manila envelope on my desk. It was smudged with fingerprints and flecked with ash. "Background information. You can look through it later." He checked his watch again. "But right now I want you to come with me and meet some of the players. It'll give you a better idea of what's going on."
"I can't, Lloyd," I lied, "I'm seeing a client at five."
"Oh. Okay, well, how about I come back later after I've talked to these people and you've looked through this stuff and you can give me your answer."
I already knew my answer.
He opened the envelope, which appeared to be stuffed mostly with old newspaper clippings, removed two black-and-white photographs, and shoved them in his jacket. I caught a glimpse of the pictures—two men standing by a car.
"A little leverage for my meeting," he said, patting his jacket. Then he winked and stood up. "You sure you can't come with me? I could use your presence."
"Hey, no problem. I'll be back in a couple of hours—say, around seven."
"Don't lose that, okay?" he said, tapping the envelope with nicotine-yellow fingers. Then he inhaled a lungful of smoke to make it across the room, coughed good-bye, and closed the door.
I opened the other window, washed out the cups in the small bathroom sink, and swept Fontaine's ashes under the desk. Then I locked up the office and went to a bar down the street to socialize with four or five of my old pals, all named Bud. They helped me wash down a cheap steak. When I got back, it was nearly seven. Fontaine's envelope full of clippings was still on my desk, waiting to be read. I reread the morning paper instead. At eight-thirty he still hadn't shown up. I looked up his number in the book. No answer. I stayed in the office until ten. Lloyd Fontaine never came back.CHAPTER 2
The next morning I drove to Lloyd Fontaine's office. I figured he hadn't shown up last night because he'd become preoccupied with something important, like a bottle of gin.
I'd shuffled through the contents of his manila envelope during my morning coffee to see if the light of day made any difference. It hadn't. Old news clippings of a forgotten robbery plus photos of two men by a car plus a scribbled-in spiral notebook plus Fontaine's half-ass story did not add up to a fortune. When I'd phoned, he hadn't answered, so I planned on shoving the envelope under his door with a note: Thanks, but no thanks.
His office was near Twenty-second and Arapahoe, beyond the shadows of the tall buildings, in the nether region of downtown Denver. The area featured warehouses, gin mills, and pawnshops, all built with grimy bricks and wire-mesh windows. It was inhabited by people with hidden pasts and no future, who lived on the street, slept in doorways or abandoned buildings, and dined at the Salvation Army. Some businesses operated in this area precisely because of the depressed environment, which brought with it rock-bottom rent.
I parked the old Olds in the street and went into Fontaine's building.
The hallway was a narrow stretch of grimy linoleum between two rows of locked doors. Light bulbs hung overhead like dusty, dead plants. Fontaine's office was at the end. I knocked, and the sound echoed in the hall. Through the frosted glass door panel I could see someone's silhouette—either a very short, fat person or somebody sitting in a chair. I knocked again.
The figure didn't move, so I tried the knob. It wasn't locked. I really didn't want to go in there, but I pushed open the door anyway.
The air was filled with the sickly sweet odor of death.
The office had been ransacked—file cabinets tipped over, desk drawers on the floor, and papers and folders strewn about. Pieces of musty carpet had been ripped away from the floorboards, and sections of wallpaper were torn and hung down like peeled skin. The one padded chair in the room had been slashed open and its stuffing pulled out. Fontaine sat in a hardbacked chair, tied there with the phone cord.
I went over to him without touching anything and tried to breathe through my mouth. No good. He stunk of voided bowels and scorched flesh. His shirt was off and his scrawny yellow-white chest looked like a plucked chicken's. Ugly cigarette burns peppered the skin on his chest and neck. His head was bowed, as if in apology, and his tie had been wrapped around his mouth for a gag. There was a pair of neat, round, reddish-black holes in the center of his forehead, one above the other.
I backed out of the room, drove three blocks to a bar with a pay phone, and tossed whiskey on my unsettled stomach. Then I went back to Fontaine's building and stood in the hall, waiting for the cops.
A few minutes later, tires screeched to a stop out front. Two uniforms entered the building—a tall white guy and a short Chicano. They were both young and quick and alert and had their hands on their holstered weapons.
"Are you the man who phoned?"
I nodded. "The body's inside."
The short cop went into Fontaine's office. The tall cop kept me company.
"What's your name, sir?"
"May I see some identification, Mr. Lomax?" He was very polite. So was I. I gave him my driver's license. Then my PI card. He wasn't impressed.
The short cop came out of the office. "One dead," he said. "I'll call Homicide." He went out to the squad car.
The tall cop asked me who was the dead guy and when did I find him and how did I know him and what was I doing here and who if anyone did I see leaving the building and who did I suppose could do such a thing and he wrote down all my answers with precise penmanship in his notebook. When the short cop came back, we all three stood around and waited for the homicide investigators. We passed the time by them asking me more questions and me answering.
Eventually, an unmarked city car pulled up in front.
I had two, maybe three friends on the police department, and one of them was in Homicide. If I was lucky, he'd be the one leading this group.
I wasn't lucky. It was Lieutenant Dalrymple. A couple of detectives trailed in his wake, then followed the short cop into Fontaine's office.
Dalrymple stopped and looked at me the way a forest ranger looks at a cigar butt. He was a big man, a bit taller than I was but a lot heavier, and it wasn't all fat. He had short, pale hair and a wide, freckled face. Running across his right ear and through his sideburn and halfway across his chunky, muscled cheek was a thin scar. I'd been with him the day he'd acquired it. We'd both been in uniform then. Which was about the only thing we had in common. Which was partly why I was off the force and he was a big-deal homicide lieutenant, pushing forty and working hard to keep his weight down—weights, handball, punching bag. From what I'd heard he mainly wanted to stay in shape because he hadn't lost his fondness for beating the hell out of suspects. Aside from that, his only character flaw was he hated my guts.
"Well if it ain't Lomax, ace private eye." He squinched his eyes nearly closed and gave me what passed for a grin. "I was wondering when I'd get the chance to bust your ass. Is this man under arrest, officer?"
"No, sir. He phoned it in."
"Too bad. Wait here." He went into Fontaine's office.
The tall cop and I stood in the hallway and waited for Dalrymple to tell us what to do.
A while later a guy with a camera showed up and went in the office and began clicking away. Then the coroner arrived and declared Lloyd Fontaine officially dead. The man with the camera left and was replaced by a couple of police technicians. They went to work with tweezers and vacuum cleaners and put their tiny treasures in plastic bags. One of them began dusting everything in sight with fine black powder.
Dalrymple came out to the hallway.
Excerpted from Blood Stone by Michael Allegretto. Copyright © 1988 Michael Allegretto. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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