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Damaged Goods
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BOOK DETAILS

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  • 9780976218135

Austin gives an overview of the book:

Anita Cooper was three times a victim. Her father's death crushed her dreams of college and a better life. Then her purity was drowned in powerless anxiety and her gentle fantasies displaced by unspeakable humiliation, all because of a hard man who knew the way of the world. Rod Mantooth stole both her innocence and her father's legacy, a secret that could have rebuilt her life. Anita was lost until she encountered another hard man who knew the way of the world - the urban paladin and professional troubleshooter named Hannibal Jones. Like a rolling mass of icy fury, Hannibal followed the trail of corrupted human debris that would lead to Rod Mantooth and a final showdown in the icy waters of the Atlantic.
Read full overview »

Anita Cooper was three times a victim. Her father's death crushed her dreams of college and a better life. Then her purity was drowned in powerless anxiety and her gentle fantasies displaced by unspeakable humiliation, all because of a hard man who knew the way of the world. Rod Mantooth stole both her innocence and her father's legacy, a secret that could have rebuilt her life.

Anita was lost until she encountered another hard man who knew the way of the world - the urban paladin and professional troubleshooter named Hannibal Jones. Like a rolling mass of icy fury, Hannibal followed the trail of corrupted human debris that would lead to Rod Mantooth and a final showdown in the icy waters of the Atlantic.

Read an excerpt »

-1-

FRIDAY

"Do you believe in fate?" Tonya shouted over the thumping dance music. Anita nodded, staring through closely packed dancers at the man in the black suit and Oakley sunglasses. He seemed isolated in the crowd, not talking to anyone, but somehow aware of everyone. Sometimes, Anita did believe in fate. And something about this man told her he could be a big part of her future.

"Not that one." Tonya shook her friend's shoulder and pointed. "Over here, my sister. That's for me." Anita recognized the focus of Tonya's attention. After all, who wouldn't recognize Hugo "Huge" Wilson? He was one of the most successful hip-hop producers around. He kept studios down in Virginia Beach, but Anita knew why he came up to Washington to party. There was still a lot of musical talent left untapped here, and Huge was a star maker, the person who could turn a man with good rhymes or a woman with a decent voice into the next Jay-Z or Toni Braxton.

The Zei was three-levels of flash and pumping energy powered by two disc jockeys, quick cut videos and a light show in constant frantic movement. It was also the somehow sweet scent of frantic dancers sweating out expensive colognes. And overwhelming everything was the music, so thick it actually filled the space and made Anita's throat vibrate when she sipped her cognac. What Tonya called electric was for Anita sensory overload. From the edge of the fifteen hundred square foot dance floor Anita could look up at the two higher levels. The third level of Zei, which Tonya called The Prive, was a private area of the club reserved for members and their guests. Huge was making his way toward The Prive, not hurrying, distributing high fives and soul handshakes along the way.

Despite the whirlpool of activity surrounding Huge as he moved through the crowd, Anita's eyes were drawn back to the man who first arrested her attention. Although the music shifted from house to hip hop to R & B dance and the bass was so insistent that it forced her heart to fall into its rhythm, this man remained a point of calm in the midst of the sensual storm. His was the only head not bobbing, as if he was immune to the siren call of the music. He looked very alert, and he seemed to keep track of Huge's movements without ever looking at him. He was looking for something else.

Unlike Huge, this man made no fashion statement at all. He wore a plain black suit and shoes. He was black, but even lighter than Huge. Here were two men of average height and weight, but one commanded the attention of the entire room, while the other was almost invisible. Despite that, or maybe because of it, the seated man held her attention. She felt that she and the stranger were alike in being out of phase with the world around them.

Anita was there mostly because she had become tired of fighting it. Tonya was a good friend who was determined to save Anita from herself. She had to admit that since Rod left her social life had withered and died for lack of interest. She had come out solely to appease her friend, but now she wondered if this was where she was meant to be tonight.

The stranger stood from his low chair with cat-like grace. Until then, Anita hadn't noticed that black gloves covered his hands. He tightened them as he slid through the crowd toward Huge Wilson. Only then did she become aware of two others moving toward Huge. Wilson's smile never wavered, but his path began to bend.

"Oh my God," Tonya said, leaping to her feet and smoothing her little black dress. "He's heading our way. I told you he was here for me, girl."

Anita kept her seat, uncomfortable as the room's spotlight shifted toward them. It did look as if Huge would walk right into Tonya who was literally panting in anticipation of the moment. The two brothers following him were both very big, like the men you see power lifting in the Olympics, and they glittered. One had a mouthful of gold that flashed when his lips parted, echoing the blonde frosting across the top of his black hair, and his suit jacket shoulders were dusted with glitter. The other man, in a wife beater and jeans, was completely bald. His head glistened in the house's flashing lights. They looked to her like trouble headed her way.

As Huge approached, the music seemed to swell in Anita's head. A follow spot was tracing his movement, light glinting off his gold Rolex and the oversized platinum cross hanging from his neck. As his smile turned toward Tonya, the light moved to envelop her as well. Anita shifted to her side, sliding into Huge's shadow. Inches from her face, his arm rose slowly through that darkness toward the light. He was from another world, a world she didn't know. As his hand moved Tonya's face, it seemed that world would touch hers.

Tonya's eyes sparkled and her tongue touched her upper lip. She looked as if she might pass out at the coming touch. But Huge's hand stopped a whisper away from Tonya's cheek. Another hand had fallen on Huge's shoulder. The big man with the mouthful of gold pulled hard, spinning Huge around.

"Yo, nigga," the big man shouted. "You won't answer my calls, but you'll come up in here and dis me in my own town?"

Huge held empty palms forward and maintained his smile. "No disrespect meant, Frost. We're both busy producers, yo."

"Yeah," Frost said, pushing his face almost into Huge's. "I'm busy busting new talent on the scene, and you're busy stealing it from me."

Anita was nearly within reach of the men, close enough to smell their dueling colognes. She noticed Frost's name was cut into his hair on the side facing her. And she saw Huge's eyes flash upward for a second. More than Frost, Huge was aware that he was still in the spotlight.

"Come on, brother, you know it ain't like that. If you'd have signed Big Walter to a decent contract he'd still be with you."

Frost bared his gold teeth the way Anita had seen caged dogs snarl. "I'll show you how we make a contract stick around here." His right hand, on the side away from the spotlight, darted into his pocket. The knife was still opening as his hand came out again. Frost's arm swung out to his right. The four-inch blade swept within inches of Anita's face on its way toward Huge. She didn't even have time scream.

Then the knife froze in space, right in front of her nose. The blade vibrated a little but a black-gloved hand holding Frost's wrist prevented any forward movement.

"That's not the way you want to get into the headlines." The man in black spoke with a relaxed calm that seemed inappropriate to the situation. Then he twisted his arm and somehow Frost ended up on his back. The man in black said, "Excuse me," as he stepped in front of Anita. Then he twisted Frost's wrist and caught the knife in his other hand.

"Who the hell?" Frost asked.

"Hannibal Jones," the man in black said, closing the knife and dropping it into his pocket. "Mr. Wilson had the impression you might be bitter about some recent business. He asked me to help him avoid any trouble." His voice was soft and low, yet somehow Anita could hear him clearly above the noise of the crowded club.

A small circle had opened up around Frost, who stood slowly and brushed himself off. "You're his backup? Please. Hey Hard Dog. Come take care of this."

Frost's bald partner swaggered into the lighted circle. The music continued to thump and the lights continued to flash, but the circle of unoccupied floor expanded a bit more. Hannibal stepped around the edge, maintaining eye contact with the bigger man but holding his fists low. Anita was struck by how round Hard Dog's shoulders were, like two brass knobs mounted on either side of his neck.

"Not the time or place," Hannibal said. "Can't we talk about this?"

In response, Hard Dog swung a right cross toward Hannibal's face. It missed, as did two more fast punches.

"Okay then," Hannibal said. "Let's dance."

Hannibal was bouncing on his toes now, like a prizefighter. His head never held still. Hard Dog punched the air near Hannibal's head three more times while Hannibal circled him, always somehow just out of reach. Then the light was in Anita's eyes and she realized it would be in Hard Dog's face as well.

Because she had to squint, Anita almost missed what happened next. Hannibal's arms were pumping. Hard Dog's head snapped back several times. Hannibal looked almost bored during this display. Anita glanced around and noticed that he was the center of attention now, and that the crowd noise had hushed to a murmur, leaving only the music pushing the action.

Hannibal paused, as if to see what effect his punches were having.

"Enough?"

Anita wasn't sure Hard Dog even knew where he was by then, but he still tried one more time, with a loping right that Hannibal easily sidestepped.

"Guess not," Hannibal said. Then, in what seemed a very businesslike manner, he snapped three side kicks up into Hard Dog's midsection. A final thumping right from Hannibal ended it. Hard Dog was unconscious long before his body collapsed onto the tiles.

After one more brief beat of silence the white noise of human conversation resumed, and Anita felt as if she was waking from a trance. Husky men were gathered around Huge engaged in heated conversation. Club bouncers, she presumed. Tonya had dropped into a chair, still staring wistfully at Huge. And Frost, no longer the center of attention, had also found a nearby chair. His attention was focused on Hannibal.

"This don't end here," Frost said through clenched teeth.

"You want me," Hannibal responded, "You bring your chrome grill on over any time. I'm easy to find." He drew a business card from an inside jacket pocket and flipped it in Frost's general direction. The card fluttered through the air to land on Hard Dog's chest.

Huge wrapped an arm around Hannibal's shoulders. "Hey, you all right, dog," Huge said in a high but clear voice. "Putting you on the payroll was a smart move for sure."

"You said you had some trouble coming from that dude," Hannibal said. "As I told you, trouble is my business. But I think yours is over for now." Hannibal smiled, but it seemed clear to Anita that he was uncomfortable with Huge's casual contact. His smile was convincing, but forced. This was not his reaction to a friend, she thought, but to a client. He was helping Huge with a problem for pay.

"Brother, anything you ever need, you just call on Huge. You know what I'm saying? And I'll have to send you a stack of our latest CD's," Huge said, disengaging and moving back into the party.

"Don't sweat it," Hannibal said. He lowered his voice to add, "I don't listen to that crap."

Then the two men, the star and the man who defended him, wandered off in opposite directions. The music continued, and the open space on the dance floor completely closed except that people carefully avoided tripping over the muscular form spread-eagled on the gleaming tiles.

Anita still felt disconnected, out of phase with her surroundings. As she drifted slowly through the crowd toward Hard Dog she was remembering Tonya's words.

"Do you believe in fate?"

She was jostled hard just as she reached her destination and almost fell over him. There Hard Dog lay, like a man who had simply fallen asleep in the midst of the chaos. His deep chest rose and fell and her eyes followed the small card floating up and down with it. Simple block lettering on it said, "Hannibal Jones" and under that, "Troubleshooter." There was an address and a phone number, and nothing else. If Frost had taken the business card she would have known she was wrong. The fact that he chose to leave it behind told her that perhaps fate had put her in this place at this time for a reason.

Ignored by those around her, she knelt to pick up the card.

 

-2-

WEDNESDAY

Back to top

Hannibal hated the numbers. Investigative work was merely drudgery. The physical stuff, the fighting that came with bodyguard duty, that was kind of exciting. Helping people find answers to difficult problems, that part of his job was almost fun. But bookkeeping, record keeping, bill paying and the dreaded taxes made him cringe. Still, it had to be done and this was the morning for him to do it.

The computer in his office told Hannibal that he had finally reached the place he wanted to be. He pushed a button, and electronically transferred a chunk of his most recent fee into his short-term savings account. He was liking the number in that account. It was just a handful of dollars from his target.

Across the room, at the visitor's small table, Sarge sipped his coffee and asked, "So this Huge Wilson fellow, he treat you right?"

"Yeah. As a matter of fact he kicked in a nice bonus. He knew that other producer, Frost, was looking for a confrontation. He's also smart enough to know that that sort of thing is bad for business."

"Yeah, I was wondering about that," Sarge said. "These boys all think they're gangsters. I know that guy travels with his own posse most of the time. They couldn't handle this Frost?"

Hannibal took a big swallow of his own coffee, setting his cup in a shaft of morning sunlight beaming in his front windows. "Sure, if he wanted a mini-gang war on his hands. By ditching them, he tempted Frost into making a move. He knew I could handle the physical stuff, and sort of distance it from him and his crew. But man, I was following that guy for weeks, and he does party hearty."

Sarge was a stocky black man whose hair had receded halfway back on his head, but whose easygoing manner belied his age. He was also a cornerstone of Hannibal's life. Aside from being Hannibal's upstairs neighbor in the building that housed his apartment and his office, Sarge was also the man Hannibal regarded as his best friend. That put him in the position to ask questions no one else could get away with.

"So, at six hundred dollars a day that was a pretty nice payoff. You got enough yet to pop the question?"

Hannibal pushed back from the desk, glaring at Sarge, but grinning as well. "Like it's any of your business, but, yeah, I'm pretty close to where I want to be."

"Like it matters to her," Sarge shook his head, dismissing the idea.

"Maybe not," Hannibal said, "but it matters to me. A brother better have good and plenty of his own before he proposes to a successful lawyer, man. I don't want anybody to think she's going to be supporting me. But yeah, I think I'm about ready to slip this on her hand."

From his desk drawer Hannibal pulled a small gray jewelry box. He flipped it open to reveal a full carat of his future dreams. In shopping for this one piece, Hannibal had learned more about jewelry than he had ever wanted to know. He smiled softly at the clear, colorless ideal-cut diamond, sparkling brightly in its six-prong platinum setting. His mind only touched momentarily on the cost, focused more on what this tiny token represented to him, all the good and potential risk of a lifelong commitment.

"Well, it's about time, I say."

"Yeah? I notice there's no ring on your finger, chump," Hannibal said.

"True that," Sarge said, nodding and staring out the window. "Brother, you just don't know how lucky you are to have a lady like that."

The silence that followed was a bit awkward, but it didn't last long before another of Hannibal's upstairs neighbors pushed through the door. Reynaldo Santiago was short and bulky, and his hair was gathered on the sides and back of his head. After his wife passed away he didn't bring much from his native Cuba except his daughter, his slight accent, and his love for cigars, one of which was already clenched between his teeth.

"Just thought I'd check in before work, fellows. So, what's going on?"

"Just trying to plan out a rosy romantic future for young blood here," Sarge said. "He's still dragging his feet, though."

Ray planted his palms on Hannibal's desk, leaning in close. "What is your problem, Paco? When you going to make an honest woman out of my little girl? She's not going to be there forever, you know. She sees those three-piece-suiters every day at the office, and I sure as hell don't want to end up with one of them for a son-in-law."

Hannibal chuckled and leaned back to avoid the smoke. "Hey, no fair ganging up on me, you two. And Ray, you know you've got to do things just the right way when you're dealing with your daughter. A fellow steps to that woman, you know he got to come correct. As a matter of fact, I was just then trying to think up the right romantic setting to propose to Cindy when you walked in. What do you think about..."?

A tap at the door stopped Hannibal mid-sentence. Then the door swung open and a young black man walked confidently into the room to stop in front of Hannibal's desk. He stood right beside Ray, but seemed not to notice him or Sarge at all.

"You, I presume are Mr. Hannibal Jones?"

The newcomer's precise pronunciation was not the only reason he arrested Hannibal's attention. His hair was cut military-short. He was medium height and build, but his ramrod posture made him look taller. His bearing seemed at odds with his black pants and vest, and the white shirt with French cuffs.

"I am," Hannibal said after a moment. "How can I help you, Mister...?"

"Call me Henry, sir," the newcomer said. "I'm here for Mr. Benjamin Blair. He would like for you to come out to his home this morning to discuss an assignment. He believes you can be of help to him regarding a situation with which he is dealing."

"This morning?" Hannibal asked. "Must be important. Are you Blair's personal assistant?"

"I am his butler, sir."

Sarge barely stifled a chuckle. "Butler. Now there's an occupation you don't hear much about these days."

"Really?" Ray said with a small smile. "I'm a chauffeur, but I don't know any butlers myself. You lay out his clothes and stuff?"

"That would be a valet," Henry replied without humor. His eyes never wavered from Hannibal. "I am in charge of Mr. Blair's household. Mr. Blair is prepared to pay your normal daily fee for a consultation with you this morning. Will ten o'clock be convenient for you?"

Hannibal couldn't tell if Ray was more amused by this arrogant dude or insulted by his attitude. He turned to Hannibal and said, "I got a limousine service to run, Paco. I'll leave you with Jeeves here."

As Ray headed for the door, Hannibal shuffled things on his desk. He knew his schedule was blank for the next week, but he opened his daybook and flipped the page before responding. "Actually, I'd just as soon get out there and meet him right now. Give me the address."

"No need, sir. If we are to leave now, you can simply follow me."

Sarge leaned back in his chair, still fighting an inner laugh. "Another job for the world famous troubleshooter? I thought you were taking a few days off."

"That was the plan," Hannibal said, standing and pulling on his suit coat. "But when a guy like Benjamin Blair has trouble, it's usually serious."

"Ben Blair? Should I know that name?"

"Probably not," Hannibal said. "He's one of the guys who started an Internet company during the boom, but made it stick. Tactical Datamation I think is the name of the outfit."

"If I may sir," Henry said, acknowledging Sarge for the first time. "Unless the stock market has shifted radically in the last twenty-four hours, Mr. Blair is one of the three wealthiest men in the Washington D.C. area."

 

* * * * *

 

When Hannibal stepped out the front door of the row house he called home in Southeast Washington D.C. he was dressed for business. For him that meant a black suit and tie, thin black gloves and Oakley wraparound sunglasses. His woman called him a throwback, an anachronism, and on less charitable days, desperately out of style. But his style was his own and he saw no reason to change.

He glanced back over his shoulder at the brick building that held his apartment and his office. When he first saw this place it was a crack house occupied by winos, drug addicts and prostitutes. He enlisted the aid of a small band of homeless men to clean it out and, in the process, found a place in a neighborhood that turned out to be a home worth fighting for. Four of those previously homeless men moved into the other apartments, including Ray Santiago and his good friend Sarge.

Henry climbed into a small Honda and Hannibal prepared to follow. His white Volvo 850 GLT glinted in the sunlight. He had her detailed the day before and was quite pleased with the result. Once belted into her white leather seat he fired the engine up and sat for just a second to listen to her growl and then purr as the engine settled into a smooth idle. Lately he'd been thinking about trading her in, but The White Tornado was perhaps his second best friend. He never called her that in front of anybody, of course. The name just came to him one day when he was pushing down I-95 at close to one hundred miles an hour, blowing every other vehicle on the road out of his way. He loved the car, and it was hard for him to consider letting her adopt another driver.

Hannibal eased through the narrow streets of his neighborhood, keeping Henry's car in sight but still stopping for kids dribbling basketballs or riding skateboards and rollerblades in the Summer streets. People here made do with whatever entertainment did not require money. He'd work his way over to I-66 toward Dulles Airport and within twenty minutes he knew he'd be in a very different neighborhood, where it was all about spending money. With the air conditioner blowing and the smooth jazz of 105.9 FM on the radio, he punched a speed dial button on his car phone. It was time to set the stage.

"Santiago," she said. To Hannibal, her voice was a melody that fit right in with Pat Metheny's tune on the radio.

"Good morning, Cindy. You're in the office way too soon. But then, I'm already on my way to a meeting for a new case. How's it starting out?"

"Hey, baby!" He could hear Cindy drop a stack of books on her desk. "How sweet of you to call so early. Yes I'm in the groove here already today. Got an important meeting myself in a few minutes. I've been given my first Internet business work. One of our clients is opening a new business offering, and I've been handling it. My first one from beginning to end, and all the leading indicators say it's going to be big."

"Not sure what that means, but I guess congratulations," Hannibal said, smiling as if she could see him. "You can explain it all to me tonight at dinner. You're not working late tonight on this important new deal, are you? We are meeting for dinner, right?"

"Oh, thank God you reminded me," Cindy said. "Of course we are. And it's wonderful to have you on a Tuesday night. I don't often get you away from your weekly volunteer work at the homeless shelter. But it's probably best for me to meet you, rather than you coming to pick me up. I might be at the office just a little bit late. Where are we going?"

"I was thinking something really nice tonight. What do you say to dinner on Nina's Dandy?"

He could tell by the sound that she was holding the phone to her ear with her shoulder, but despite the shuffling papers in the background, he knew that question got her full attention. "Hannibal, that sounds fantastic. I'd love it, but on one condition."

"And that is?"

"That you don't wear black for once. Okay?"

 

* * * * *

 

Henry pulled up to the curb and Hannibal parked his Volvo next to the Lexus in Ben Blair's driveway. The intensity of the late May sunshine gave the world a sharpness and brightness that seemed beyond reality, even through Hannibal's Oakley's. He paused on the blacktop for a moment to acclimate himself to his present environment. After all, there are town houses and there are town houses. This one was wider than most, and had a two car garage, but was still only three stories tall. Not the grandest he'd seen, but certainly comfortable. It was an end unit on an immaculate, well-manicured cul-de-sac that was designed to imitate a friendly suburban neighborhood, and largely succeeding. Flowers surrounded several of the mailboxes, and basketball hoops stood guard over many of the driveways, including this one. Then Henry called down the stairs from the front door.

"Mr. Jones. Please come in. I'll ask you to have a seat, and Mr. Blair will be with you in a moment."

A three-story townhouse with a formal butler. This spoke volumes to Hannibal.

Inside, everything he saw fit his initial judgment. Too many paintings covered the walls. Globes, sculptures and expensive toys were everywhere. The decor was chrome and wood with functional furniture. This was new money still learning how to behave at this level.

The butler deposited Hannibal in the large eat-in kitchen, handed him a cup of coffee, and disappeared. Hannibal had perhaps two minutes to enjoy the soft jazz piping through the room from some invisible source before a New England spiced voice called his name.

"Hannibal Jones. The troubleshooter. You got to love the way that sounds."

Hannibal stood to shake hands. "Well, not quite as nice as Ben Blair, boy billionaire."

Blair responded with an easy grin. That and the hair apparently plopped onto his head like a pile of straw did give him a boyish look. In fact, he was still on the good side of forty, which made him fairly young for a business success. In Dockers and a golf shirt, he seemed unusually comfortable in his own skin. At the same time he was a bundle of nervous energy, one of those people who have trouble sitting still for long. His trim physique implied that he burned off a good deal of that energy playing sports. He headed for the refrigerator while he spoke to Hannibal.

"I'm really glad you were able to get over here to see me, Mr. Jones. I'm faced with a puzzle that I don't have time to solve, you know? Although I do like puzzles. Consider this: some months have 30 days and some have 31. How many months have 28 days?"

Hannibal smiled. "Well, if you want to be technical about it, all of them."

Blair nodded toward Hannibal as if some suspicion had been confirmed. "Anyway, a friend of mine has been taken advantage of and I want to get the situation fixed. Juice?"

"Um, sure," Hannibal said. Blair placed two tall glasses of orange juice on the table and settled into a chair facing Hannibal. He dropped a cell phone on the table also, next to one that was already there. Hannibal wondered if they were designated business and pleasure, or maybe friend and foe.

"Here's the deal," Blair said, leaning in toward Hannibal. "A friend of mine was robbed of something very valuable to them by someone they trusted. This item could make a world of difference to my friend's life, you know? I need to find the thief and get the item returned. Do you like puzzles, Mr. Jones?"

"You called me about someone else's problem?"

"Well, I can afford your fee, Mr. Jones," Blair said. "My friend can't, you know?

But they saw you in the Zei Club last weekend and told me you were the man who could help them."

"I see. Is she particularly close to you?"

Blair had to be a canny businessman, but Hannibal figured he must be an awful poker player. "Did I say she?"

"No," Hannibal said. "You said they. If it was a man you'd have said 'he' easily enough. I just want to know how personal this is for you."

The lady involved is my cleaning lady, if you must know. No romantic connection or anything like that. But I like and respect her very much, and I want her to have what's hers, you know? And it is a puzzle."

"Is the missing item of great value financially?"

"I'm not really sure," Blair said, standing. "I know it was a gift from her father, and I know he wasn't wealthy. Besides, I don't want you to think this is a money thing to me. Piece of fruit?" Blair was poking in the refrigerator again. It was as orderly as a supermarket cooler. Hannibal noticed that the kitchen held no smell at all, not even of breakfast, and thought the cleaning woman must be quite special indeed.

"I know you're not all about the money," he said to Blair's back. "That Lexus in your driveway has to be six years old."

"You're pretty observant," Blair said, tossing an orange to Hannibal. "You must like puzzles too. I think you're the right guy for this treasure hunt."

"And just what is the treasure?" Hannibal asked, accepting the paper towel Blair offered him.

Blair regained his seat and set to peeling his orange over his own paper towel. "Don't really know. Ms. Cooper told me her father left her a treasure map to what he promised would be a pot of gold. I'm pretty sure he wasn't being literal, but what ever it is, the thief probably has it now. Find the thief, you find the treasure."

Blair was popping orange sections into his mouth while his eyes wandered out the window. Hannibal, slowly peeling his own orange, felt he was also slowly peeling away the layers of his host's mystery. He wondered if this guy suffered from attention deficit disorder or hyperactivity.

"Yes, well to do that I'll have to talk to the lady who's been robbed. I have to know if there's enough to go on for me to even take the case."

"Naturally," Blair said, standing. "Wait here. I'll have Franklin bring her in."

"She's here?" Hannibal asked, also getting to his feet. But Blair was already bouncing out of the room. Hannibal stood confused for just a moment. Then the butler entered from the living room. The woman following him stopped behind a chair.

"Miss Anita Cooper," the butler announced just before he withdrew.

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Note from the author coming soon...

About Austin

Austin S. Camacho is the author of the Hannibal Jones detective series - Blood and Bone, Collateral Damage, The Troubleshooter, Damaged Goods and Russian Roulette, plus two action adventure novels, The Payback Assignment and The Orion...

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