Full Circle

Full Circle

by Collin Wilcox

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781480446526
Publisher: MysteriousPress.com/Open Road
Publication date: 10/01/2013
Series: The Alan Bernhardt Novels , #5
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Collin Wilcox (1924–1996) was an American author of mystery fiction. Born in Detroit, he set most of his work in San Francisco, beginning with 1967’s The Black Door—a noir thriller starring a crime reporter with extrasensory perception. Under the pen name Carter Wick, he published several standalone mysteries including The Faceless Man (1975) and Dark House, Dark Road (1982), but he found his greatest success under his own name, with the celebrated Frank Hastings series.
Hastings, a football player turned San Francisco homicide detective, made his debut in The Lonely Hunter (1969), and Wilcox continued to follow him for the rest of his career, publishing nearly two dozen novels in the series, which concludes with Calculated Risk (1995). Wilcox’s other best-known series stars Alan Bernhardt, a theatrical director with a habit of getting involved in behind-the-scenes mysteries. Bernhardt appeared in four more books after his introduction in 1988’s Bernhardt’s Edge.
Collin Wilcox (1924–1996) was an American author of mystery fiction. Born in Detroit, he set most of his work in San Francisco, beginning with 1967’s The Black Door—a noir thriller starring a crime reporter with extrasensory perception. Under the pen name Carter Wick, he published several standalone mysteries including The Faceless Man (1975) and Dark House, Dark Road (1982), but he found his greatest success under his own name, with the celebrated Frank Hastings series.
Hastings, a football player turned San Francisco homicide detective, made his debut in The Lonely Hunter (1969), and Wilcox continued to follow him for the rest of his career, publishing nearly two dozen novels in the series, which concludes with Calculated Risk (1995). Wilcox’s other best-known series stars Alan Bernhardt, a theatrical director with a habit of getting involved in behind-the-scenes mysteries. Bernhardt appeared in four more books after his introduction in 1988’s Bernhardt’s Edge.

Read an Excerpt

Full Circle

An Alan Bernhardt Novel


By Collin Wilcox

MysteriousPress.com

Copyright © 1994 Collin Wilcox
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-4652-6


CHAPTER 1

"There it is—twenty-one forty-six." Haigh braked the Buick to a stop on the steep slope of Vermont Street and pointed to a turn-of-the-century building. The two-flat building was in good repair, newly painted to accent its neo-Victorian gingerbread. "It's the bottom flat. His office is in the front room."

Archer glanced at the building, surveyed his surroundings, shook his head. "Jesus, these hills. San Francisco's got to be paradise for brake shops."

Haigh released the brake and let the Buick climb the hill in low gear. Because of the grade, parking was permitted only on one side of the street, at right angles to the curb. Haigh checked the mirrors, swung the car into a parking slot. He surveyed the angles. Yes, he could see whoever entered Bernhardt's building, which was attached on either side, with no alley behind. He killed the engine, set the brake, checked the time: nine-thirty on a foggy April morning. He was running exactly on schedule, always a source of satisfaction. In his financially secure, conservatively dressed, meticulously groomed early forties, with promotion to agent-in-charge clearly in sight, Haigh had made punctuality one of his trademarks.

Seated on the passenger's side, Archer spoke expectantly: "Are we going to talk to him?"

"I haven't decided." Haigh spoke crisply, decisively. When dealing with subordinates, especially new additions to the staff, his first priority was always to establish who made the decisions. "Primarily, I want to get a feeling for his operation, his lifestyle." Haigh surveyed the cars parked at the curb. Some were upscale imports, others conventional domestics; most were of recent vintage, though a few were aging gracelessly. Located on the north slope of Potrero Hill, Vermont was typical of the district, originally a working-class neighborhood that had lately become gentrified. Thus the trendy color scheme of Alan Bernhardt's building.

"Nice view," Archer offered cheerfully as he looked out across rooftops to the downtown cityscape of San Francisco.

Haigh pointedly made no response. Then, after a moment of disciplinary silence, part of Archer's indoctrination, Haigh continued speaking in the same clipped voice of command.

"When we get back to the office, I'll have Records cut you a file on Bernhardt. Most of it's hearsay, but there's enough to get us started. He's a private investigator, duly registered and licensed. He's only been licensed as an individual operator for a few months—six months, no more. He originally worked as a part-time investigator for Herbert Dancer. Apart from that, Bernhardt is an actor. Also a director, mostly at the Howell Theater, which is a very highly regarded little theater. Nobody makes a living in little theater, though. They all moonlight, unless they're independently wealthy. So Bernhardt decided to work part-time for Herbert Dancer, who runs the biggest, most profitable, most unprincipled private investigative operation in Northern California. Which is why, I'm told, Bernhardt left him. They had a major blowup, after which Bernhardt went off on his own."

"Did you get all this from Dancer?"

Haigh shook his head. "Bernhardt has two good friends in the SFPD. Frank Hastings and Peter Friedman. They're both lieutenants, and they run Homicide jointly. It's a strange setup, but it apparently works. Friedman got lucky in the stock market, and Hastings likes to work outside. Friedman hates office politics, and Hastings hates red tape. So neither of them is interested in a captaincy."

"How big is the squad?"

"About a dozen detectives, plus Hastings and Friedman."

"So I gather you got most of your information on Bernhardt from Hastings and Friedman."

Once more Haigh decided not to reply. Superiors asked the questions. Underlings responded. When so directed.

"Bernhardt came from New York originally." He continued. "And he once wrote a play that was produced off Broadway."

"Huh ..." Intrigued, Archer sat up straighter, looked at Bernhardt's building with renewed interest. "Impressive."

"In fact, it looked like he was on his way in the New York theater," Haigh continued. "And he was still in his twenties. But then his wife got killed, and his mother and grandparents had all died a year or two before that. So Bernhardt had to get out of New York. He went to Hollywood, wrote a few scripts, made pretty fair money, I understand. But then, a few years ago—six or eight, maybe—he came to San Francisco. He got into little theater. In fact, he bought into the Howell Theater, with money he'd inherited. Which, according to Friedman, wasn't a very good investment. Which, still according to Friedman, Bernhardt should've known. But, in any case, after a year or two, Bernhardt started working for Dancer. And then, maybe six months ago, after their blowup, Bernhardt opened his own shop. Meanwhile, he found a girlfriend. Her name is Paula Brett. I don't know a thing about her, except that Hastings says she's beautiful—and Friedman says she has class. Someone also said she was an actress, a bit player down in Hollywood. Both her parents are college professors, whatever that means. Anyhow, regardless of their love life, the past few months Paula Brett has been helping Bernhardt, mostly doing surveillance, things like that."

"Did they work together during the time frame we're looking at?"

This question, respectfully asked and framed in departmental officialese, Haigh decided to answer. Perhaps, after all, Archer was trainable.

"We think Brett knew about Betty Giles, but we don't know whether she actually worked the Giles case. We do know that Bernhardt was still working for Dancer when he was assigned to find Betty Giles."

Archer considered, then decided to say, "I suppose the next question is who hired Dancer to find Betty Giles."

"Dancer's client was a high-powered Los Angeles financier. That's all Dancer'll say. He won't give us the financier's name."

"Can't we squeeze Dancer?"

"The one I want to squeeze is Bernhardt. Dancer might be an SOB, but he's our SOB. He plays ball with us, and he's got connections. Bernhardt, though—" Haigh shrugged well-tailored shoulders. "He's expendable."

Archer nodded, but decided to say nothing. He'd arrived in town from Fresno only a month ago. Until now he'd never dealt directly with Haigh, who was known as a tight-ass manipulator who never laughed during office hours. Which, some said, was the reason he was on the fast track to top management.

"Very briefly," Haigh said, "I'll summarize the Giles case for you."

"Ah." Archer nodded again, focused his full attention on the other man. "Good. Thank you."

Haigh acknowledged the tribute with a nod, then said, "About four months ago, the anonymous Los Angeles financier flew up to San Francisco in his corporate jet, and contacted Dancer. The job seemed pretty straightforward. One of the financier's employees had stolen some company secrets, which were unspecified. Betty Giles was the employee's name. She lived in Los Angeles with a boyfriend, whose name was Nick Ames. Dancer's instructions were to find Betty Giles, whose mother lives in San Francisco. Then Dancer was to notify the client. Betty Giles wasn't to be contacted. She was just to be located, then put under surveillance."

"The client didn't want the secrets identified."

Haigh chose to ignore the opinion, saying instead, "Dancer gave the job to Bernhardt, who tracked Giles to Santa Rosa. Bernhardt staked out Betty Giles and Nick Ames in a cheap motel room, then called Dancer, who called his client in Los Angeles. The client wanted the couple kept under surveillance for a couple of days. Whereupon, surprise, Nick Ames was killed. It happened in Santa Rosa. Bernhardt thought he'd been set up. He thought Dancer had hired him to finger Nick Ames for the killer, who could've been a pro. So Bernhardt, who looks like a mild-mannered Abe Lincoln but has a pretty hot temper, decides to go looking for Betty Giles on his own time."

"Why?" Archer asked.

"Because," Haigh answered, "Bernhardt figured Giles was in danger. Which, in fact, she was. Bernhardt didn't want another murder on his conscience."

"And is that what happened? Was she murdered?"

Choosing to ignore the question, another turn of the disciplinary screw, Haigh continued. "Bernhardt tracked her to a place called Borrego Springs, which is a small resort town in the desert about sixty-five miles southwest of Palm Springs. So then, another surprise, a black hit man, a professional named Willis Dodge, showed up in Borrego Springs. He tried to kill Betty Giles. She was in a motel cabin when the attempt was made, and Bernhardt was with her. When the shooting stopped, Willis Dodge was dead."

"So Bernhardt is a tough guy." Once again, speculatively, Archer looked down the hill at the pair of Victorian flats.

"Tough or lucky, take your pick." Haigh shrugged. "I will say, though, that Dodge was very good at what he did. And smart, too. He was never convicted of anything, never did time, except in county jail."

"Was Bernhardt held?"

"No. It was pretty clear that he acted in self-defense."

"So we don't have any leverage with Bernhardt."

"Not really. The weapon he used was a sawed-off shotgun, and the state police investigator on the scene was all set to have him locked up for possession of an illegal weapon. But then someone found a ruler, and it turned out that the barrel was precisely sixteen inches long. Which, as you may know, is exactly the legal limit for sawed-offs."

"Possessing a sawed-off is a federal offense, though. We could've kept him for twenty-four hours, and sweated him."

Deciding on a don't-give-me-a-lecture-on-the-law expression, Haigh stared the younger man down. Then, with elaborate patience: "We aren't about to get involved in a pissing contest with the state police. Is that clear?"

In a dark, brooding silence, Archer shifted his gaze to the San Francisco skyline, diffused by the morning fog. After five frustrating years in Fresno, he'd campaigned long and hard for the opening in the San Francisco office. He'd been warned about Haigh, but had chosen to ignore the warnings. Had he made a mistake? Would private industry be his next career move—his only way out? In the Bureau, from a Class A posting like San Francisco, there were only two possibilities: up or out, Washington or the private sector.

"In fact," Haigh was saying, "Bernhardt and Betty Giles aren't the primary targets of this investigation. They're little fish, really."

Archer nodded. "I figured."

"They're our responsibility—this office's responsibility. But, as of now, the Los Angeles office is calling the plays." Plainly Haigh was experiencing pangs of bureaucratic discomfort, contemplating the prospect of himself in a secondary role. Therefore, he was compelled to add, "That could change, though, once we talk to Bernhardt and Giles. They're little fish, admittedly. But little fish wriggling on a hook can catch the big fish."

"Where's Betty Giles?"

"That's the problem," Haigh admitted. "We can't find her. She's in Europe, we're almost sure of that. But we don't know where."

"What's her mother say?"

"All she knows is that Betty Giles is in Europe. She doesn't have an address. I've talked to her twice, and I'm pretty sure she's telling the truth. But a couple of times the mother let it slip that Bernhardt knows how to locate Betty Giles."

"What's the reason for that?"

"I don't know. But I definitely plan to find out."

CHAPTER 2

"Yes, Sir?" The receptionist's smile was polite but remote. Except for a telephone console and a crystal bud vase that contained one yellow rose, her desk was clear. Both the desk and the receptionist were discreetly high-style.

"I'd like to see Mr. Haigh, please. My name is Bernhardt. Alan Bernhardt."

"Yes ..." The receptionist nodded. The smile faded; the nod suggested discreet disapproval. "Yes—four o'clock." She gestured to one of two elegantly fashioned couches. "If you'll just have a seat, I'll tell Mr. Haigh you're here." She waited until Bernhardt had seated himself, then spoke briefly into the phone. As she spoke she avoided direct eye contact with Bernhardt.

Bernhardt crossed his legs and checked the time: three fifty-five. It had been noon when Haigh phoned, two o'clock before Bernhardt had retrieved the cryptic message on the answering machine. "This is Preston Haigh," the voice had said. "Call me as soon as possible, please." Followed by a local phone number. To Bernhardt's theater-trained ear, Haigh's voice had projected smooth, smug authority. The guess had been accurate: "Federal Bureau of Investigation" had been the first words he'd heard when he'd returned the call. The four o'clock appointment had come as a command, not a request.

Across the waiting room, on the room's other couch, a woman in her thirties sat beside a girl in her teens. Neither the woman nor the child spoke or acknowledged the presence of the other. Both sat rigidly, hands clenched. Their faces were expressionless, frozen by something more profound than simple fear.

As if he'd been caught eavesdropping, and therefore felt guilty, Bernhardt looked away from the woman and the child, turned his gaze on the oil paintings that were the reception room's only decoration. The paintings were uniformly framed, and were original oils, certainly painted by the same artist. All four were semiabstract landscapes. The windowless room's softly diffused lighting was indirect, a glow that emanated from a continuous ceiling cove. The walls were covered with mauve grasscloth. The matching end tables beside the matching sofas were as bare as the receptionist's desk. The FBI apparently didn't believe in providing reading material. In Russia, Bernhardt had once read, the KGB provided tea for its waiting victims.

At the thought, Bernhardt smiled. Hot tea from a brass samovar and hard wooden benches at the KGB; the glow of indirect lighting, soft modern sofas, and thick carpeting at the FBI.

He'd been here only once before. Running an errand for Dancer, he'd dropped off papers relevant to an insurance fraud case that had netted Dancer almost a half-million dollars. Bernhardt had talked briefly to two agents, both of whom wore three-piece suits and spoke deadpan Harvardese.

Meaning, therefore, that today Bernhardt had chosen to wear corduroy slacks, scuffed running shoes, a rough tweed jacket, a tattersall checked shirt, and no tie. Years ago, in New York, he'd bought the jacket at a salvage shop for twenty dollars. As soon as he slipped it on, he knew it would be his all-time favorite article of clothing.

Bernhardt yawned, slid down on the sofa until he was sitting on his spine. His legs were outstretched, crossed at the ankles. Like the clothing he'd chosen to wear, his posture expressed his opinion of the FBI, past and present. In his private pantheon of American fascists, J. Edgar Hoover was the archvillain.

Bernhardt yawned again, blinked, felt his eyes grow heavy. He was a tall, lean man, slightly stooped when he stood. Like his body, his face was long and lean, deeply etched. It was a Semitic face: nose long and narrow, slightly hooked; complexion dark; forehead high and broad. His gray-flecked hair was dark and thick, carelessly combed and long enough to curl over the open collar. His chin was prominent, his mouth generously shaped. Beneath dark, thick eyebrows, the brown eyes were both calm and acute. It was the face of a tough-minded aesthete, reflective in repose, uncompromising when challenged. Only the designer glasses, aviator-styled, hinted at the vanity of the intellectual.

At three minutes after four o'clock a buzzer sounded. The receptionist lifted the phone, listened, then nodded to Bernhardt and gestured him to an inner door. As he approached the door it automatically swung slowly open, then swung slowly closed behind him. In the inner hallway, smiling slightly, a conservatively dressed man in his late thirties stepped forward, offered his hand.

"Graham Archer," he said, introducing himself.

"Alan Bernhardt."

"Thanks for coming." Archer led the way down the carpeted, paneled hallway to the end, then pushed open a door to an impressively appointed, discreetly decorated conference room. An older man in his well-tailored middle forties sat at the head of a long surfboard-shaped conference table.

"This is Special Agent Haigh, Mr. Bernhardt."

Without rising, Haigh acknowledged the introduction with a remote nod, at the same time gesturing Bernhardt to a seat on his right. Arrayed before Haigh on the rosewood and walnut table were a leather-bound notebook, open; a file folder, closed; two ballpoint pens, and a microphone. The two pens, the notebook, and the file folder, Bernhardt noticed, were all geometrically aligned. Haigh's mannerisms, too, were geometric.

Bernhardt sat in a leather armchair equipped with casters; Archer took a facing chair on Haigh's left. The FBI's offices were on the ninth floor of the Federal Building; a floor-to-ceiling window offered a close-up view of the downtown skyline, with the Bay Bridge beyond.

Haigh cleared his throat, made an imperceptible adjustment in the alignment of the file folder. Then he gestured to the microphone.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Full Circle by Collin Wilcox. Copyright © 1994 Collin Wilcox. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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