Episode One – An Intriguing Find

 
********1
 
Rolle Town, Great Exuma Island, Bahamas – Present Time
 
Seasoned yachties prefer the quiet anchorage off Rolle Town where there’s a genuine Bahamian community as opposed to Georgetown, six miles to the north, where the rich white kids drink at the noisy cabana beach-bars and buzz around on jet skis like pesky mosquitoes. The first line of order that a sailor must negotiate as he heads into this small, isolated conching community is the low-slatted fence that surrounds Jeremy Boyd’s lot. One who’s become familiar with the island folks here won’t be surprised to learn that he built it to keep the weeds out — and that’s not just the ones that creep in around the boarders, it goes for any weed that tries to get in.
    Like many of the locals, Jeremy is quick to point out that theirs is a place of God’s order where people are good and things are kept right. And in its own way, it is. A newcomer sailor should straight-away learn to align his dinghy bow-in to the fence, just-so, with two-foot spacing between the little boats. Such proper placement will keep the gangly, bare-footed Jeremy from fussing about how you’re, “messin’ up the order,” and two dollars is the going rate to keep him from crabbing at your heels with a rake, complaining about your “foot-marks.”
    It was a morning that Calvin Smith’s dollars weren’t enough to keep Jeremy’s rake off his feet that he felt his first strong pang of island-fever — a term that greenies tend to get backwards, he mused, as he left the dinghy beach and headed towards Abigayle’s Cookery. Island-fever’s a rage to get the hell off, and not a craving to get to them like some people think. Indeed, one can get to feeling cramped on this spit of land. One-hundred-and-forty-eight miles south of Nassau, Great Exuma Island seems hardly more than a coral rock dwarfed by the vast waters of the Bahamas.
    With low provisions on his yacht, Crypto Lady, which lays anchored out in the sound, Cal has found himself in a bind. As he passes modest homes surrounded by neat, coral-rock grounds, he thinks of how a breakfast at Abigayle’s will have to hold him down at least for the morning with what few groceries are available here in Rolle Town. But he’d have to watch himself so that his current state of gloom doesn’t spill out onto the folks there. Even as he knows them to be good and accommodating people, their stern resistance to northerners telling them how to do things should bade his mouth to keep shut. Thing is, the way Nanna won’t take an order until the meal that they’re fixing gets served. And, by their way of thinking, why should she? Can’t you see that Abigayle’s pan will fit only one order at a time? And, to make it all the more worse, somehow, “Are you stupid or something?” gets included in that question — even as it’s not spoken, it’s there. If there’s a choice, for this morning he’d rather be stupid with a full stomach than smart with an empty one. Or is it the other way around?
    But maybe this morning’s ills were mostly about Lois, his new brunette yacht-mate who’s to fly in this afternoon. A free-spirited acquaintance from New York with an exuberance for the tropics, she had asked if she could get a chance to visit the islands not long before he had sailed off seven months ago. He’d given her the standard crew deal; room and board, but had screwed it up early in the making. How, on a long-distance call, does a man in his mid-forties broach the subject of his preferred sleeping arrangement with such a young beauty? Thinking that he’d versed himself well on how to get to the subject during the call, she’d jumped to her decision to make the trip within the first few seconds, the conversation had quickly moved away from the specifics of the arrangement, and he’d blown his chance. Geesh! – she’s twenty years younger than him, and how can he expect that she’d travel twelve-hundred miles to romance the likes of him?
    It’s been three weeks since he’d left Lori and Jackson stranded on the sandbar, and since then, he’s been hearing Jackson’s chatter on the VHF radio as he balks at the captain of the only boat within one-hundred-and-fifty miles that’s offered to pull him off. Ten-thousand dollars is a bit steep, but prices are high here with their top-heavy British-colonial-style government and thirty percent import taxes. So ….. getting back to what’s important; taxi into Georgetown to do some provisioning today, Lois settles in later, more provisioning tomorrow, and they sail for the sandbar the day after. Told the two he’d left behind that it would be a month, so here they go.

As Cal approaches Abigayle’s, a family enters before him to make for a painful one-breakfast-at-a-time wait, but before he has the time to rethink this new situation, his sat phone rings and the screen shows that it’s his NYPD Homicide Detective ex-lover, ex-fiancé, ex-whatever-suits-her-at-the-moment — shoot! – he loves her, but she can be a real pain in the rear-end. He lets the phone ring a couple of times, picks up, then,
    “Got a new bimbo yet?” Brittany inquires.
    “She’s not a bimbo.”
    “I know you better than that. What’s her sailing skills?”
    “Where’s your women’s rights? If I call her a bimbo, I’m a chauvinist, if you call her …”
    “See? You just admitted she’s one,” Britt interrupts.
    Cal takes a quiet moment to check his temper, then, “Let’s get off this subject. What’s up?” he says flatly.
    “Our dirty detective checked out an evidence box from a two-thousand-eleven unsolved kidnapping.”
    “A white-collar investigating a kidnap,” Cal states. “Anyone with him?”
    “Detective Sanchez.” She pauses, then, “He’s clean. Probably just a go-to.”
    “Know anything about the case?
    “Nothing yet, but I’m going to find out. You in?”
    Cal had to consider this. Charles Bogner, the white collar detective with a big garage full exotic cars who investigates men with big garages full of exotic cars. The detective who rubs shoulders with the New York Division of Financial Services Director, Orlando Coffman who won’t admit his ties to Cary Sasso who was suspiciously at the center of the hacking of twenty million worth of altcoins from his CoinPluss Exchange fourteen months ago. Nailing Detective Bogner has been high on his list for years, but now’s not the time to be flying out. “No,” he replies.
    “Thought you wanted to get Bogner.”
    “Yeah, but I can’t leave now. Gotta’ go, breakfast’s cooking.”
    “Suit yourself. Later.” Britt ends the call and Cal pockets his sat phone and heads into Abigayle’s.
 
 
 
********2
 
Chelsea, Manhattan
 
Detective Brittany Mayes has had plenty-enough experience with high-velocity emergency trips to be okay with them, but this non-emergency ride up Eighth Avenue is going too fast. She slaps her palms over her eyes as the path ahead is a narrow space between two slow-moving cars. But Zar gets through with a jolt and an ear-splitting squeak. She removes her hands, turns, and looks back at the receding space, “I’m going to pretend that didn’t happen.”
    Glen ‘Zar’ Zarella gives her a sly grin, “You’re close, ‘cause it almost didn’t.”
    Britt flips her raven-black bangs, pierces him with her dark eyes, looks forward, and, finding the car’s trajectory safe enough for the next few seconds to venture a question, she says, “There’s five-thousand restaurants in Manhattan, what makes you so sure-set on Washington Street?” Her and Zar would seem to be a mismatched pair with him six-foot-six, and her a trim five-foot-ten. Water-cooler talk in the NYPD Nineteenth Precinct has it that she’d been partnered with him to baby-sit his extra Y chromosome. While the typical characteristics of extra-Y fit Zar, a bull of an aggressive man in his mid-fifties, the reality of the pairing was probably more about availability than chromosomes.
    “Put yourself in the guy’s shoes — knows we’re looking for him, needs to work, gets a job where he can serve his preferred customers – brainy downtowner type tourists; not the tacky-quick kind that hit Times Square,” Zar coaches.
    “Yeah, but that leaves a lot of touristy downtown areas.” Britt cringes as Zar barges across two lanes of traffic almost nipping a freight truck.
    As Zar turns west on Fourteenth Street, “Brooklyn Bridge Walk — the High Line – same type. He’s a good waiter and knows his clientele.”
 
 
 
NYPD CSI Lab, Jamaica, Queens, New York
 
Half of thebroad, high-ceilinged Device Lab inside the CSI Labs building is filled with partitioned work stations bristling with electronic equipment and computer screens. Sitting at his station, tall, lanky, twenty-eight-year-old Aaron Comfrey shoves a clutter of electronics and food wrappers back, carefully inspects a small flash drive, and plugs it into a mainframe sitting to his right. A window filled with files comes on his screen, he clicks on one named: Ice Cubes 5-24-10 10.56 AM, and the screen fills with an endless hash of numbers.
    His supervisor approaches and looks over his shoulder at his screen. “You got in!”
    “Yeah, the guys back in two-thousand-eleven missed something pretty basic … the hash on the flash drive unlocks the operating system and I’m like totally astounded with what I’m finding here. The dude built a new type of OS based on random coding. Pretty bizarre stuff – he made recordings of ice cubes being ground in a kitchen blender, and using the almost infinite variations of the volume, pitch, and duration of the sounds, came up with a random code. Probably wanted a unique OS that can’t be used without the flash drive.”
    The super pats him on the shoulder. “Keep at it. I want a report by tomorrow morning.”
    “No problem.”
 
 
 
Washington Street, Meatpacking District, Manhattan
 
Meatpacking is a  long-gone activity here. Like much of lower Manhattan, most every valuable inch of residential real estate of this district houses the wealthy, or the few holdouts of Rent Stabilization who will soon-enough be ousted. The replacement of the original Manhattanites by an influx of millionaires is the current paramount change in this grandfather of cities where change is the rule.
    Having finished lunch, Zar and Britt lounge at a sidewalk restaurant table across from the stairs leading up to the High Line. Zar had been right-on about the whereabouts of the waiter as he now worked at a restaurant down the street, but they had missed him and had given up on the search for the day. Zar breaks the silence, “You should leave Bogner alone, let Internal Affairs deal with him.”
    “I’ll decide that for myself, thank you,” Britt asserts.
    “An uncrackable laptop in an unsolved kidnapping — interesting case he’s broken out, but you should leave it alone.” Zar tosses leftover tidbits from Britt’s lunch plate to a couple of begging pigeons — known by some locals as flying rats — then, “He know you’re onto him?”
    “Knows Cal was after him a year back, but doesn’t know about me.”
    “Bog’s pretty well-entrenched, you know.”
    Britt nods knowingly.
    “And he’s careful.”
    Britt gives no response and Zar changes the subject, “Cal ever coming back?”
    “I think so. I think he’s starting to miss the city.”
    “Ahh, the city … the buzz, the masses.” He gazes across the street to where, beyond sidewalk vendors selling bad art, tourists cram the stairs to the High Line; now Manhattan’s most popular tourist attraction; an aerial greenway – one-and-a-half miles of eighty-three-year-old freight train track sitting at the third-story level on top of riveted-steel girderwork.
    “Remember when I visited my parents last Christmas? Cocoa Beach, Florida?” Zar asks.
    “Of course, I do,”
    “I was going crazy. It was like, where is everybody?’ he pauses, then, “Too quiet, had to get back. You don’t know you like it ‘till you’re away.”
    “Getting back to the laptop, does it have to stay with the police lab, or can Bog take it somewhere else to crack?”
    “Yeah. Gotta’ stay in police lab, or he could get written up big-time.” Zar pauses in contemplation, then, “Call Aaron there, he owes me. I have his cell number at the office.” He watches two young women pass, stands, then, “Let’s hit it.”
   As Zar turns towards their unmarked Crown Victoria across the street, Britt pops up and double-times it with her high heels clacking on the pavement. She gets to the driver’s door before the sprinting giant, jumps in, and establishes a firm position as Zar charges the open door behaving as if he’s going to yank her out.
    “What’s wrong with you?!” he demands.
    As threatening as the big, angry man is, Britt sits resolute. “Get in the passenger seat. I’m driving.”
    Zar gives her the look of an attack dog ready to spring, but Britt matches his stare and it becomes a staring contest. “For our safety and for the public’s safety, I’m driving,” Britt firmly states.
    After a moment, Zar takes a guilty look at a sideswipe gouge running the length of the car’s paint and slams the door. Britt wins and Zar heads around the front of the car passing a crunched fender. She quickly adjusts her seat and starts the car before Zar smashes his big form down into the passenger seat and slams his door. “Damn woman! Showing no respect! No respect at all.”
    As Britt hits the gas, Zar points southward. “Stay on Washington!”
 
 
 
 
NYPD CSI Lab
 
Aaron’s cell phone rings as he types on his keyboard and he picks up and answers, “Hello.”
    “Aaron, this is Detective Warner. I’m calling from the Nineteenth Precinct. How are you?”
    “I’m fine, Ms Warner. How are you?”
    “I’m good. My partner, Zar Zarella told me that you would help us with something.”
    “I’ve met Zar. What is it that you need?”
    “Are you working on the laptop from the Ellicott kidnapping?”
    “Yes.”
    “We need to get a copy of your report when you finish.”
    “Well, I don’t know. I shouldn’t do that. My super wouldn’t like it if you don’t do the paperwork.”
    Britt hesitates, then, “Here’s the thing. Zar said that you would be kind enough to do this for us.”
    “I only met him once. I sent him a screwed-up report on a smartphone and had to get it back and he let me come and get it. He didn’t tell anyone — really saved my ass.” He pauses, “People say he’s … well, I don’t know, they say he’s …”
    “Mean?”
    “Well, kind of more like …”
    “Crazy?”
    “Yeah, kind of like that … like he has a condition …”
    “An extra Y?”
    “Yes, but I wasn’t going to say that.”
    “I’m sorry to have to tell you that he does, and you should be careful around him.”
    “Wow! I didn’t know it was that bad.”
    “It can be bad, so it’s important that you do what he wants.”
    “Oh, I don’t know. I could get into trouble … you know.”
    “Well, we need that report. I’ll send Zar himself.”
    “Oh no! Don’t do that. I wouldn’t want to tangle with him. I guess I can help you out if you keep it just between us.”
    “Yes, that would be good. Tell me what you’ve found so far.”
    “Okay, I can tell you some of it.“
    “Go ahead.”
    “This guy had built a special operating system that would have been impossible to crack without a flash drive that was in with the evidence. Another thing is that he was building his own personal blockchain. There’s thousands of bitcoin transactions from two cents to three cents that he’s stacked.”
    “My gosh! A personal blockchain. Are you a bitcoiner?”
    “For sure! I have my own Decred mining rig. Decred’s my coin.”
    “I own some too, along with some Dash. Anything else?”
    “One other thing, and it’s the only thing that’s not computer or blockchain-related. There’s a will made out to a three-year-old girl, Morning Phillips, who apparently went missing in Brooklyn in nineteen-ninety-eight.”
    “She hasn’t been found?”
    “I don’t know, that’s not my department.” Aaron looks across the room to see his supervisor approaching. “Gotta’ go, super’s coming.”
    “I need to learn more. Can we meet somewhere?”
    “Yeah, but first time I’m available is tomorrow evening.”
    “Okay, I’ll come to Jamaica. Got a favorite restaurant?”
    “Anthony’s. On Hillside and One-sixty-eighth.”
    “Seven good?”
    “Good with me.”
    “Seven then. I’m buying.”
 
 
 
                                                                                ******************
 
********3
 
Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York – The Year 1998
 
This block of   One-hundred-and-seventy-fourth Street is a hodge-podge of shapes and sizes of houses and apartment buildings. Sitting on the upper stoop steps of a slab-faced house that leans a bit to the left, Melissa Phillips, a chubby woman in her early thirties, fondly watches her two-and-a-half-year-old niece, Morning playing on the sidewalk. Sapphire-eyed and squeaky-cute, she gleefully races a stroller down the sidewalk with her arms extended high to the handle. “Watch that bump! You’re gonna’ trip!” Melissa nags.
    “Nooo!” Morning insists as she stops the stroller and begins negotiating the front wheels up onto a raised slab of broken sidewalk concrete.
    Melissa looks down the sidewalk to see her sister, Patty heading her way with a purpose in her stride that didn’t fit her usual lack-luster ways. Emancipated, her clothes loose and dirty, it’s clear that Patty hasn’t gotten off the drugs. Melissa jumps up, rushes down the steps in a panic, and snatches up Morning. The stroller tips and clatters onto the sidewalk and Morning squeals. “We have to go!” Melissa cries as she bundles Morning in tight and races up the steps, through the front door, and into a Spartan parlor where she slams and locks the door.
    Struggling to fit a pair of thick, greasy glasses to her puffy, sweaty face, Morning’s overweight grandmother, Phyllis rises from her ratty easy chair in her loose muumuu. “What is it?!” she asks in alarm.
    Clutching crying Morning, Melissa rushes to the front window and peeps out. “Patty’s here! She’s coming up the steps!”
    “Patty?!”
    A knocking on the front door and Phyllis advances towards it.
    In disbelief, Melissa cries, “You’re going to let her in?!”
    Knocking on the door, louder this time.
    “I don’t see that I have a choice. You know Patty, she always gets in.” Phyllis opens the door as Melissa hurries with Morning to the far side of the room. Patty enters and there’s a moment of tense silence as the three exchange bitter looks.
    “I thought maybe you were dead!” Phyliss hisses at Patty.
    Patty strides to a dining table, takes a seat, lights a cigarette, takes a puff, and gazes at Melissa and Morning. “Well, I’m not,” she states flatly in a raspy voice. There’s a moment of silence, then, “I want that two-thousand back.”
    “Your tax refund? It went towards your court costs and drug treatment. It’s gone!” Phyllis exclaims.
    “I didn’t need treatment, I want the money back.” Patty douses her cigarette in an empty coffee cup, rises, and goes to Melissa and whimpering Morning. Melissa backs away and Patty presses in until she has them cornered. She then runs her fingers through her daughter’s hair. “Remember me? I’m your mother.” She reaches to take Morning but Melissa counters by bundling her in tighter and squeezing further into the corner where she makes an attempt at a firm order, “You can’t have her!”
    Patty gets the look of a lonely mother needy for her daughter’s hugs, “I just want to hold her. I haven’t seen her in over a year.”
    Shaking her head, Melissa stays resolute.
    Reaching out with determination this time, Patty says, “If you won’t let me hold her, I’ll take her.”
    Melissa considers this for a moment, then reluctantly gives up Morning and Patty takes her to the table and sits with her in her lap, then gives an order to Phyllis, “I want that money back.”
    Phyllis’ face shines with the glaze of fear as Patty pulls a scrap of paper and a pencil from a knickknack tray and writes a phone number.
    “The money’s gone and I don’t have any to give you!” Phyllis pleads.
    Patty rises with Morning on her hip, goes to the front window, and looks out to where a scruffy sedan driven by a thin, blonde man pulls up in front of the house. She’s already heading for the door with Morning when Melissa and Phyllis spring into action rushing at her shrieking in protest. As Patty swings the door open, the two yell, “Don’t take her!!” With the two in close pursuit, Patty runs down the stoop steps with Morning helplessly reaching out for Melissa. “Melee!!” she cries in terror.
    Patty rushes to the open door of the running car, muscles Morning into the front seat, gets in, and slams the door. Boris — scruffier than Patty — puts the shifter into gear as Melissa and Phyllis claw at Patty’s closed window yowling in grief.
    “Call me when you have the money,” Patty orders Phyllis.
    Boris hits the gas and the car roars off leaving the two women crying in the street.
 
 
 
A Bronx Street – Later, that Evening
 
Patty is passed-out on the front bench-seat slumped against her door as Boris drives and Morning lays between the two having cried herself to sleep. He pulls up in front of a deli on a narrow street with a mix of residential and commercial buildings, kills the engine, and exits the car.
    Morning awakes, pulls herself upright showing her puffy, red, tear-lined face, scans her surroundings, and watches Boris enter the deli. Whimpering, she crawls to his door, fumbles with the handle, opens it, and climbs down onto the street where she goes to the sidewalk, baby-runs, turns a corner, and stops before Anna Heinz — a tall, gray-haired woman in a dark overcoat pushing a cart filled with groceries.
    Morning’s tears spill, “Wher’ Melee?!”
    Anna leaves her cart and stoops before the wailing toddler. “You’re lost?”
    “I want Melee!” Morning cries.
    “Maybe I can help you find her.” Anna stands, limps to her cart favoring her left foot, and puts her hand out to Morning who takes it. “We’ll look for Melee later. Let’s go to my place first.”
    The two set off with Morning crying. After a few steps, “I’m going to need your help in times to come as my phlebitis only gets worse.” After a few more steps, “My great niece, Morgan passed a few months back. She was about your age. I’ll get her papers for you.”
 
 
 
                                                                              ******************
 
The Bronx – The Year 2008
 
Fit in close to a similar tall, slab-sided red-brick building, the backside of the Creston Apartments building forms a narrow ally dominated by fire escapes. Laundry hangs on the spindly railing of an eighth-floor landing halfway down the tunnel-like space. Below, at the seventh-floor platform, a handsome brown-haired boy climbs out of the window, darts to the railing, and takes his first look at the dynamic dimensions of the space. He then turns to his father, Stanley Shaw, a brawny man with a lopsided face, who is next to climb out.
    “It’s gnarly back here — the way everything’s all squished together!” the boy, Tyler exclaims.
    After a look around, Shaw kneels at the bottom of the up-going flight of stairs, takes a hold of the bottom step, and shakes. It rattles threatening to break loose and a rusty bolt falls from the connection, clanks against a lower railing, falls, and thumps onto the ground seven floors below.
    Then Roman — a big, brutish construction laborer – climbs from the window and joins the two.
    “It’s a good deal — first month rent here free to fix that!” Tyler is gleeful.
    “You don’t know shit. We haven’t fixed it yet,” Shaw snaps.
    Tyler’s mood swings to darkness, “It’s a done deal anyway. We move in next week.”
    Shaw points out the missing bolt to Roman, “It’s going to need a weld. Do we
have something to secure it for tonight?”
    “There’s wire in the toolbox,” Roman replies and climbs back into the window and Shaw follows him in.
    At the landing above, a ratty, faded-pink T-shirt among the laundry is lifted by the breeze and settles back down in a position which leaves it threatening to fall. Skinny, sapphire-eyed, twelve-year-old Morgan Penny — formerly Morning Phillips — wearing sweats with an ugly pair of worn purple plaid bottoms — climbs out of the adjacent window and rearranges the shirt. She then looks down onto the landing below to see Tyler gazing up at her.
    “Your pants are weird,” he says.
    Morgan gives him a hostile glare, turns, and climbs back through the window into Anna’s parlor which is dimly lit with old, dark furnishings. As Anna sits in an easy chair watching TV, she says, “There’s people out there. Stay away from them. People are nothing but trouble.”
    “I stay away from everybody.” Morgan looks to the window to watch the T-shirt blow off the railing and she rushes towards it.
    On the platform below, the T-shirt lays before Tyler’s feet as Roman and Shaw kneel at the bottom of the stair flight working to bind it. He picks up the shirt and displays it to Morgan who looks down from the landing above. “Your shirt’s weird too.”
    “Give it to me!” Morgan heads for the loose down-flight of stairs and begins descending. Below her, Shaw and Roman jump to their feet and look up.
    “Stop!” Shaw cries as Tyler yells, “No!”
    Morgan freezes on the fifth step down as the bottom connection squeaks and totters threatening to let go.
    Roman gets a devilish grin, takes the shirt from Tyler, waves it to Morgan, and taunts, “Come get your shirt little sweetie.”
    Morgan is all angry defiance with no fear of the loose stairs. “Give it to me!”
    Shaw takes the shirt from Roman. “Don’t play games with her.” As he is balling it up and preparing to toss it to Morgan, she resumes her downward trek. As she approaches the lower step, the bottom connection lets go with a scrape and the stairs swing out leaving her perched swinging back and forth with the rusty connection above making a racket – screech!, wroonk!
    The three look on with amazement as Morgan reaches for the shirt each time she swings in close – screech!, wroonk! After a couple of swings Shaw hands her the shirt and she slings it over her shoulder. But before heading back up she gives Tyler a look-to-kill, “I hope you’re not moving in.” She then scampers up the askew treads as if the trek is nothing more than an everyday climb. As she disappears into Anna’s apartment leaving the two men with mouths agape.
    “She’s a screwball, for sure,” Tyler surmises.
 
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