By B.R. Stateham
Not good.
Not good at all.
Actually it was a hell of a mess.  A mess he’d have to do some fast explaining to the cops the moment they showed up.   Some fast
talking if he got caught standing around.  Which, frankly, wasn’t going to happen. Grunting to himself, shaking his head in disgust, he
could hear the sirens already wailing their harsh cacophonic demands off in the distance and coming this way.
If he was lucky he had—at most—maybe three or four minutes to look around before he disappeared.  Not much time.  Not much
time at all.
Frowning, he shoved hands into the pockets of his slacks and stared down at the body lying on the old tile floor.  Blood was all over
the front of the man’s white shirt and puddle thickly on the floor in front of him.  A big hole directly into the chest cavity where the
heart should be had been the ticket out of this rat race.
He was a big man when he still breathed.  Big—with the beefy heavy face of a prize fighter.  With hams for fist.  A jaw that looked
like it had been poured out of cement.  There were prize fighter’s scars etched in the man’s eyebrows and his nose looked like it had
been hit a couple of times with a lead pipe.  Yeah.  When he was alive Leo Burns, private eye and the main muscle of a local crime
boss by the name of Luigi Francone, was considered a tough guy.  A bad hombre.  But not big or bad enough to stop a .45 caliber
The gun was lying on the man’s desk looking every bit as if someone had casually tossed it away after pulling the trigger.  The smell
of cordite was still strong in the office.  It was the gun his eyes came back to.  And the frown on his face deepened as he looked at it.
It was his gun.  His—Benny ‘Beano’ Benvinucchi’s.  He recognized it the moment he walked into the dead man’s toilet bowl sized
little office building.  The Government Model Colt 1911 .45 semi-auto was his from his days in the army.  It was supposed to be
back in apartment, locked away in a gun cabinet advertised to be impossible to be broken into.  Obviously he would have to write a
very irate letter to the cabinet manufacturer and chastise them severely for false advertising.
A grin broke across Beano’s lean features, cracking deep dimples in his cheeks in the process.   The gun’s presence posed an
interesting conundrum.   A most curious intellectual challenge which needed immediate attention.
How the hell did it get here in Leo Burn’s office?  Worse still—who had been the bastard who decided to use it to kill the low life
lying behind the paper cluttered desk in a puddle of his own blood.  Sighing, shaking his head again, the curly blond haired, brown
eyed and suntanned man half glanced toward the big plate glass window to the right of the dead man’s desk and eyed the front
parking lot.  The sirens were much closer but no cops had arrived yet.
Reaching inside is light blue cotton sport coat he removed a white kerchief and picked his gun up off the desk and quickly wiped any
and all prints off it before slipping it into the right side pocket of his coat.  And then, moving fast, he wiped the surface of everything
he had touched when he had entered the little building.  Door knobs—chairs—the edge of the dead man’s desk—everything.
Just as the first cop car turned onto the street where the Burns Detective Agency resided Beano exited out of the building’s rear door,
making sure nothing for prints were left behind.   Turning, he began walking rapidly away, stepped over the pipe railing which edged
the rear parking lot and disappeared down an alley.  Out of site from the cops he slowed his pace somewhat and walked to his car, a
black ’66 Pontiac GTO, and slid into the driver’s seat.  
He glanced at his Rolex and frowned.  Maybe a half hour.  Not much more than that to get over to his apartment, strip the .45 out
and clean it, remove the old barrel of the gun, along with  the firing pin, and replace them with a new barrel and pin.  If he knew the
police here in this fine city he called home it’d take them about a half hour to figure out he’d come down to visit Leo in his office.
Maybe sooner if somebody called’em and reported hearing gunshots.  Grinning as he reached down and turned the ignition key of his
car, he knew immediately that would exactly what had happened.  Somebody had called the cops almost at the moment he walked
into Leo’s office.  Someone who knew he was going to be there.
How many ways could you spell ‘Set Up?’  He’d been deliberately set up to take the fall for killing Leo Burns.  And he had an idea
who that person was.
Backing out of the parking space he put the gearshift down into second and pulled away and blended into traffic as he pulled out his
cell phone from his pocket and flipped it open and hit the proper number.
“Gershwin, Shaw and Young, Attorneys at Law,” the sweet voice of Monica Davis, private secretary to Gerald Gershwin said with
her usual erotic soft southern twang echoing in his ear. “How may we help you?”
“Monica, this is Beano.  Is Gersh in?”
“Oh, no, not again, Beano!  Are you in chains again down at the local constable’s office?”
He grinned as he eyed the rear view mirror and wove himself through the early afternoon traffic.  Monica had such a dry sense of
“The answer is—No, I am not in chains.  Not yet at least, but—Yes I may be in some trouble shortly.  I’ll need to have Gersh come
down and bail me out in about two or three hours.”
“I’ll have him call the lock up the moment he gets out of court later this afternoon, dar’lin.  Don’t you worry your pretty little head
over it.”
“Thank you, luv.  Talk to you later.”
Flipping his phone closed he dropped into the inside pocket of his sport coat and concentrated on getting back to his apartment as
fast as he could without arousing anyone’s interest.
Forty-five minutes later, just as he locked his gun back into the gun cabinet—which showed no trace of anyone tampering with it—his
front door exploded with the sound of a heavy fist pounding on it demandingly.  Wiping his hand clean of the light oil he used to
clean his gun as he walked across his apartment’s living room, he opened the door and stepped aside all in one motion.  Two big
forms walked through the door, both dressed in hot looking dark business suits and both chewing on toothpicks with a slow,
methodical fashion.  
“Well, well!  If it’s not Dick and Jane out playing cops again.  And what are you two fine representatives of the city’s best doing over
Sergeant Stuart Nivens frowned and glared at Beano and then moved deeper into the apartment.  His partner, Sergeant Chuck Stiles,
followed.  Both of them looked as if they had a bad case of gas troubling them.  Each was taller than Beano and about twenty pounds
heavier.  And each looked like they were just waiting for an excuse to throw the blond haired, brown eyed PI up against the wall and
work him over.
Nivens was the first to see the gun-cleaning kit lying on the dining room table.  He elbowed his partner and nodded his head toward
the dining room.  Stiles glanced over to the table and nodded, a smile beginning to crease his thick lips.
“Spring cleaning the hardware, Beano?”
Beano grinned and continued to make a show of wiping his hands with the rag and nodded.
“Sure.  Been out plinking cans in the desert, Stew.  Thought I’d clean it before I locked it away.  You know I don’t carry a gun when
I work.  Never have.”
“Yeah, I bet,” grunted Stiles, the grin on his lips widening. “Betcha’ya said that to Burns just before you plugged him.”
“You know who, Beano,” Nivens grunted, his hands curling into fists as he turned and faced Beano. “Let’s go.  Give the key to your
gun locker to Chuck.  We need to take your gun downtown and run some tests on it.”
“Sure,” Beano nodded, reaching inside his slacks and coming out with a small key ring and tossing it to the smiling homicide detective.
“But could you give me a clue here?  What’s this all about?”
“Leo Burns is dead.  Got a call about an hour ago from a citizen walking by Burn’s office saying he heard gunshots inside.  Two
shots.  Said he saw a guy with curly blond hair walking out of the back door and disappearing down an alley.”
“Gee, how convenient this guy just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” the brown eyed private eye said, grinning.  “I
suppose you didn’t get this guy’s name did you?”
“Grab you coat, Beano.  We’ll be the ones asking the questions for a while,” Nivens grunted.
Four hours and twenty minutes later—and after a rather long and not so friendly grilling session from both Nivens and Stuart—
Beano walked out of the jail complex with  a small, portly man dressed in a white Southern Plantation cotton suit and lugging a very
heavy looking brief case at his side.
“This does not look good, my friend.”
“In what way?”
“My boy, as so often have told me, don’t bullshit a bull shitter.  You know what I mean.  Burns and you have a long history of
confrontation and hostility going all the way back to when you two worked on the police department.  Everyone knows you couldn’t
stand Leo Burns.  And he reciprocated those sentiments fourfold toward you.  Secondly, your dislike for Burn’s employer, Luigi
Francone, is well known.  In fact, I seem to recall I had to bail you out of jail just a few weeks ago because you took offense to
something Francone said to you.  Fortunately it was a simple Battery charge.”
Beano grinned as the two men stopped beside the white caddy convertible owned by his lawyer.  He continued grinning as he watched
the white clad, treble chinned legal mind toss his briefcase in the back seat of his car and then turn to glare at the taller, curly blond
haired man.
The desert air in the late afternoon was hot and dry.  It has a sandy desert aroma in it.  An aroma what made Beano feel at ease.  
The sun was just touching the tops of the Sangre de Cristobol Mountains off to the west.  As he stood beside his old friend—and
sometimes employer—he half listened to the evening traffic going home on Lanyard  Street two blocks away and enjoyed the cool
shade of the building’s shadow which engulfed the caddy beside them.
“And then there is this unfortunate choice of murder weapon, Beano.  Your gun?  If you had to kill Leo why in the world would you
use your own gun?”
“I didn’t use it, Gersh.  But I don’t think it’s a big issue.  Ballistics won’t match once they do the test. I . . . ..”
“No, no!  Don’t tell me what you did, my boy!  I don’t want to know anything which would legally compel me to march back into the
police department and make a report.  Remember, even though I am your legal defense, I am also an officer of the court.  But what
I do want to know is how you got involved in this tawdry little affair.”
“Leo’s ex came to my office yesterday.  Said she had a problem and wanted me to fix it.”
“Leo’s ex,” the little man behind wire rim glasses repeated, his forehead wrinkling in thought. “What’s her name?  Helen, isn’t it?  She’
s a stripper over in one of Francone’s clubs isn’t she?”
“Yep.  The Golden Kitten.”
“She hired you do to what?”
“She told me Leo had some photos of him and her doing something kinky in bed.  She needed the photos and the negatives
destroyed.   She’s supposed to be talking to Hollywood producer about staring in a movie.  She said she was afraid if she made good
in the movies Leo would come knocking on her door a few years from now to blackmail her.”
“And you believed her?”
“She threw down five brand new C-notes, Gersh.  It wasn’t a question about believing or not believing.”
“Is she smart enough to come up with a plan like this?  Or tough enough to murder Leo?”
“Maybe smart enough.  But I don’t think she pulled the trigger.  Nivens said they got an anonymous tip of a shooting.  The caller said
he saw me leaving Burn’s office.  The caller was a male.”
“So she had an accomplice. Hmmm, it sounds like an excellent frame-up, Beano.  What’s your next move?”
“Right now I’m going home and taking a shower.  After that I’m going to find Helen and ask her a few questions.”
“Yes, that would seemingly be your only move available,” the rotund little lawyer said, nodding and frowning. “But I would be
expeditious, my boy.  Nivens and his partner are salivating over the thought they finally have you cornered.  They would like nothing
better than be one of the witnesses at your execution.”
“Yeah, I got that impression,” the brown eyed detective nodded, grinning.
The two shook hands before Beano turned and walked to his ’66 GTO.  It didn’t take more than ten minutes to drive over to his
apartment.  It took less time for two men dressed in flashy clothes and lots of gold chains to step out from behind the manicured
evergreen trees flanking the front door of his apartment building and brace the blond haired Beano.  Each had a hand in a pocket of
their sport coats and it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what they were gripping.
“Let’s go,” the one with the dark complexion of a Hispanic said as he tilted his head toward Beano’s GTO.
“Why Miguel, nice to see you showing up like this.  I was just thinking about you.  Why does Francone want to see me so soon after
getting bailed out of jail?”
“You’ll find out.  Now turn and walk to your car.”
“And if I refuse this invitation to drinks and a friendly chat?”
Miguel and the other dark skinned thug both shrugged.  One even grinned.
“He said take you to him or to shoot you.  Personally, I like the second choice. Which is it gonna be, tough guy?”
He drove the GTO over to the Golden Kitten and parked the car in the alley behind the club.  The three of them walked through
the kitchen of the club and then down a small but dark hall before the silent one stepped around Beano and quickly knocked on a
closed office door.  Miguel stayed two steps behind Beano and kept his hand in his pocket and his hands on the back of Beano’s head
at all times.
Entering an office of shadows and dark oak, silent thug slid a chair in front of Francone’s desk and then pointed to it as Beano
stepped in.  Smiling, the brown eyed detective sat down in the chair and crossed one leg over the other and laid his hands in lap
casually while Miguel and his partner took up positions on either side of him and slightly behind him.
Luigi Francone was not a happy club owner.  From the looks of his scared, darkly suntanned face and the little dark pen-points for
eyes glaring at him  Beano got the impression the man wearing a thousand dollar silk suit was not happy at all.  Not happy and quite
willing to show his displeasure.
“Let’s cut the bullshit and get straight to it, asshole.  Where’s my quarter of a million?”
“And nice to see you too, Francone,” Beano answered, nodding pleasantly. “How’s the wife and kids?  Well, I hope.”
Miguel stepped up behind him and slapped him hard across the back of his head.  It wasn’t a pleasant love-tap. Francone blinked his
eyes a couple of times and said nothing as he glared at the man setting in the chair.  And then, with a measured, even almost
restrained effort, the big man opened a desk drawer and pulled out a set of brass knuckles and laid them on the desk in front of
him.  Laid them down carefully, making sure Beano saw them.
“I don’t know why you wanted to kill Leo, other than the fact you didn’t like him.  But taking the quarter million from him was
stupid, Beano.  Stupid. “
“Hell, Francone.  I don’t like you.  But I haven’t killed you yet.  And as far as the money goes, why did Burns have a quarter million
of your dough lying around?”
“Leo was a stupid bastard, I’ll grant you.  But he had his talents. One of them was his ability to make money disappear.  That money
was about to go into a bank account off shore.  Now, no more talking.  I want my money.  I don’t get it back in the next five minutes
the boys and I are going to work you over for about an hour or so before we take you out in the desert and shoot you in the gut and
leave you there to die.”
Francone wasn’t kidding.  He was known as a mean sonofabitch when it came to money.  Beano didn’t doubt the man in front of
him would do exactly what he said he would do.
“Now who’s stupid, partner?” Beano grunted, laughing softly. “Think I’d take a quarter million from you and still be in town?  Think I’
d take the money and leave you behind alive to hunt me down?  I’m not the brightest light bulb in the room, buddy.  But I’m not that
Francone’s little pig’s eyes narrowed somewhat as he continued to stare at Beano.  Behind him Beano heard one of Francone’s men
stirring nervously.
“Boss, this asshole is playing with you!  He’s gotta have the money?  Who else would try something this dumb and think he could get
away with it?”
Beano half turned to look over his shoulder at the silent gunsel standing beside Miguel.  But Miguel’s hand slapped him hard again
across the back of his head and told him to stay still.  Beano smiled, nodded, and returned his eyes to Francone.
“Yeah, I’m stupid enough to take a quarter million from the mob, frame myself of a murder I didn’t commit, and then think I could
whistle my way through all this shit and walk out of it smelling like a bottle of cheap perfume.  Does that make sense to you?”
Francone grunted as a finger came up and rubbed the right side of his bulbous nose.  For a second or two the Mafioso captain
looked at Beano as he rubbed his nose.  And then the hand returned to the desk and he nodded.
“No.  Can’t say it does.  You’re not a stupid man, I’ll give you that.  But if you didn’t kill Leo and take the money, who did?”
“Don’t know.  But I plan to find out.”
“Uh huh, you’d better.  I’ll give you twenty-four hours, Beano.  No more.  After that you and the desert are going to be become
friends for eternity.   Now get out of here!”
Beano grinned and stood up.  Turning, he glanced at Miguel and then at his partner.  Miguel’s face was like a rock.  Only the eyes
watching Beano said anything.  And it wasn’t friendly.
Miguel’s partner looked both upset and astonished at the same time.  He kept darting his eyes to Francone and then back to Beano.  
But he kept his mouth shut.  Stepping between the two, Beano’s grin widened as his feet padded across the thick carpet of the office
and opened the door.
Climbing into the GTO he started the engine and paused.  Setting back in the seat, hands on the car’s steering wheel, he glanced at
the back door of the Golden Kitten and stared at it thoughtfully.
Who would be dumb enough to steal money from Luigi Francone?  Dumb enough to think he could get away with it?  Or maybe, just
maybe, smart enough to come up with a plan a lot of people would immediately accept as gospel.  A plan that made Beano the fall
guy for a perfect crime.  It would have to be someone who knew the history between him and Leo Burns.  Someone who knew
Burns worked for Francone. Laundered money for Francone.  Someone whom Francone would never suspect. Like maybe someone
perhaps who worked for him.
Pulling out of the alley behind the club Beano drove across the street and pulled the car into a parking stall of a local pharmacy.  
Getting out he reached for his cell phone and flipped it open.  Ten minutes later a yellow cab rolled up and he climbed in quickly.  
Rolling out three twenties from a fat money clip, Beano handed the dough to the cabbie and told him to sit back and take a nap.  He’
d wake him up and tell him to drive when the right time came.
It didn’t take long.  He saw his prime suspect walk out of the club and move across the half empty club parking lot and slid into a
black BMW sedan.  Shaking the cabbie awake Beano told him to follow the beemer.  Fifteen minutes later the black BMW tuned into
the drive a small cottage out in the city’s western suburbs.  As the cabbie drove by Beano watched the man get out of his car and
walk to the front door of the house.  On the second step of the porch the door opened.
And Leo’s wife, Helen, held the door as the man stepped in, taking his sport coat off in the process.
Setting back in the seat Beano told the cabbie to stop and let him out.  Waving the cabby away he turned and walked back up the
shaded, quiet neighborhood street and then  cut through the yard of a house next to the one occupied by Leo’s wife.  Nobody was
home and the backyard pool was empty of life as he hopped over a small picket fence and into the back yard of Leo’s house.  Lush
dark green grass filled the back yard.  Lining the picket fence was a bed of brightly colored azalea’s and yellow marigolds.  But Beano
wasn’t interested with flowers as he stepped up the cottage’s back door and tried the door knob.  It turned and he quickly let himself
He found himself standing in a small but brightly clean kitchen.  In front of him, through a door, he heard the muffled sound of
voices.  Quietly he moved across the kitchen room floor and put his ear to the door to listen.
“Dammit!  Francone didn’t take the bait. He actually believed the bastard.  Let him just get up and walk out of the office. Hell, so
much for your brilliant fucking plans!  The bastard’s free and we’re stuck with the dough and can’t do a damn thing with it!”
“Shut up, you idiot,” Helen snapped irritably. “Keep quiet while I think this through.  We’re in the clear.  We have the money and no
one suspects us.  We just figure out another way to put the finger back on the stupid flat foot and we’ll be okay.”
“Yeah, but what if he does suspect something?  What if he suspects you, bitch?  What then?”
Beano grinned and pushed the two-way door open and stepped into the small dining room where Helen and the silent partner of
Miguel stood facing each other.  Both heard the door open and turned to stare at Beano at the same time.  Astonishment and turning
to panic lit their faces.
“Goddamn!” the dark man yelled, a hand coming up to reach inside his sport coat for his gun.
“Shoot him, Paco!  Shoot the bastard!” Helen screamed, running into the living room behind him and toward a large purse setting on
a red velvet recliner.
The gun was half way out of Paco’s coat when Beano’s curled fingers slammed into the gunsel’s throat viciously. Color drained from
the man’s face as he coughed and bent over in pain.  But Beano wasn’t finished.  A leg came up and the blond haired, dark eyed
private eye kicked hard into the back of the gunsel’s left knee.  The man went down with a thud onto the hardwood floor of the
dining room, bending into a fetal position with both hands grabbing his neck as he fought to breath.
Paco wasn’t going anywhere.  Bending down to remove the gun from Paco’s coat Beano turned  just as the long legged,  bosom-heavy
Helen in her dark blue bikini started to pull a small .380 caliber Walther automatic from her purse.  
She found herself too slow.  Blind panic filled her beautiful face as she saw the brown eyed detective move across the room toward
her and slap the automatic from her hand with a swift blow of his left hand.  His right hand came up and slapped her hard across the
face with a blow strong enough to whirl her around and drop her.  As she fell her head hit a coffee table and knocked her out.
Stepping back Beano looked down at the semi-nude form of Helen.  She had all the tools to seduce any man she wanted.  It wouldn’t
have taken much to entice a dumb shit like Paco.  His eyes moved to the large bag lying on the floor in front of the couch.  Using the
toe of his right shoe he opened the bag.  A couple stacks of one hundred dollar bills slid out onto the hardwood floor.
A slow smiled crept onto Beano’s thin lips.  Pulling out his cell phone he thumbed a phone number and held the phone up to his ear.
“Yes?” Miguel’s voice clipped harshly.
“Found your boss’s money and the ones who clipped Leo.”
“Wait a minute,” the gunsel grunted.  Two seconds later Francone grunted.
“Here’s the deal,” Beano said. “It’ll cost you a cool twenty-five G’s to clean this mess up.  Call it a finder’s fee.”
“Yeah?  What have you got?”
It was simple.  Beano would call the cops.  They’d come over to Helen’s house and find Paco and Helen lying on the floor
unconscious.  They’d be a hell of a confrontation.  She’d claim innocence.  Paco wouldn’t be able to say a thing.  Beano would tell
them about a stupid love triangle and Helen’s desire to get rid of Leo.  The story would almost be true. Nothing would be said about
the two hundred twenty five thousand G’s.  Helen and Paco would confess.  It was that, or face Francone’s personal definition of
justice.  They’d choose the lesser of two evils.
To his surprise Francone agreed immediately and hung up.  Too quickly, Beano thought as he dialed the police.  He wouldn’t be
surprised later on to hear Helen and Paco having nasty and fatal accidents while in the pen.
Oh, well.  Who said life was fair?  Worse.  Who cared?