Backlash - A Frank & Stein Murder Mystery
Ruthless and vicious, someone has a dark secret - and will go to any lengths to prevent its exposure!Hollywood comes to Florida when a film crew arrives in Naples on the Gulf Coast, to shoot Ricky Jordan's latest blockbuster movie. Detectives Randazzo and Armstrong are suddenly in the thick of it, when the movie set isn't the only place where shooting occurs. The pair are suddenly running for their lives….
Backlash - A Frank & Stein Murder Mystery
The Uber dropped him off on Third Street. He walked up the steps of the mall and towards the shop, stopping briefly to close his eyes and take a deep breath of the fresh sea air. He suddenly realized how much he would miss Naples when they moved on. Got to give some serious thought to buying a place here, he thought as he unlocked the shop door. Closing the door behind him, he wandered around aimlessly, then went into the back room. The clothes rail caught his eye.
He walked over and smiled as he examined the costumes. Taking one of his favorite jackets off the rail, he put it on and admired himself in the full-length mirror. The front door opened and a voice he recognized shouted.
“Hello anyone here?” He took the jacket off, put it back on the coat hanger.
“Yeah, in here,” he shouted as he hung the jacket back up on the clothes rail. The visitor walked into the room.
“Hey,” said the visitor.
“Hey yourself,” said the man.
“Do you know what time the others are getting here?” said the visitor. The man looked at his watch.
“They were due in about forty-five minutes, but they called earlier to say they’re running a little late.”
“What’s new?” said the visitor.
“Yeah. They said the new security guys should arrive about the same time.” The visitor smiled.
“Okay, so enough time to talk.”
“Sure. So, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?”
Frankie parked his silver Jeep Cherokee on Third Street Old Naples and stepped out into the pleasant heat of an October Florida morning. He looked around… busy busy as usual. Frankie James Armstrong stood a little under six feet tall, had a wiry physique, salt and pepper hair and a slightly crooked nose, courtesy of a drunken fight he’d had with a fellow soldier back in his army days.
Third Street Naples is just two blocks from the historic 19th Century Naples Pier and a stone’s throw from the Gulf of Mexico’s glorious beaches. The street is surrounded by original colorful beach cottages and the beautiful grand houses of Old Naples. Designer shops line the main thoroughfare, alongside ‘fine dining’ restaurants and chic bistros. Courtyards and fountains nestle amidst the lush colorful flowers cascading from hanging baskets dangling from the antique streetlights of historic Third Street South.
Looking across the street, Frankie saw his partner Sam Randazzo, already waiting on the sidewalk near the corner of Thirteenth and Third. Sam stood out from the tourists with his slim physique, fine Mediterranean features, dark hair, and was as usual, smartly dressed. Today it was a light beige linen suit, white shirt and blue tie. Randazzo didn’t do casual when he was on business. Frankie was dressed in shorts, a light blue T-shirt and a white linen shirt. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d worn a tie.
Sam Randazzo and Frankie Armstrong had recently formed a private security and investigations firm - F&S Investigations and Security. Global Pictures was their first client. They’d been hired on a recommendation from the Naples Police department. Global Pictures needed to hire security while they filmed their movie, and in particular, personal security for their star actor Ricky Jordan.
Clive Susman, the movie director, had explained to Sam that the company planned to film several scenes in and around Naples and the nearby Everglades. The scenes were for Ricky Jordan’s next movie, with the working title ‘Backlash’. The film crew and cast were all staying at The Inn on Fifth, but Susman wanted a base near to Third Street and Naples Pier where a lot of scenes were to be shot.
Global had rented a shop in the abandoned mall in Old Naples for the duration of the filming. The mall owners were waiting for permission from the city to demolish it and build a hotel on the site. In the meantime, they were renting out empty shops on short-term leases. It was strategically ideal as a temporary location for the movie company, who needed a base for meetings, makeup, props, storage of actor’s clothes, film equipment and such.
Clive Susman had arranged to meet Sam Randazzo and his partner at the shop, so he could introduce them to the Executive producer, the crew and movie star Ricky Jordan.
Sam spotted Frankie and waved. He waved back and crossed the road.
“Morning, Sam,” said Frankie, looking at his watch. “Are we on time?”
“We’re actually an hour early now. I got a text earlier from this Susman guy to say he needed to reschedule the meeting for 11:00 a.m. But I’d already agreed to drop Martha off at the school, so here I am. I thought you could buy me a coffee. We could use the time to plan how we get more clients. As it stands, this is our one and only job.”
“Okay, suits me Sam. Where exactly is the meeting?”
“A shop in the abandoned mall. Maybe we should go see where this shop is first? I’ve got the address right here,” he said, taking out his cell phone and scrolling through his messages. “Here it is.”
They walked up Third, past Tommy Bahamas, Sea Salt, then turned left into the mall and found the empty unit.
“This looks like the place,” said Frankie, walking over to the shop window, putting his hand up to shield the glare to look inside.”
“No one there yet, I guess,” said Sam.
“Doesn’t look like it. No lights on.”
“Come on, let’s go for that coffee,”
“Okay,” said Frankie, moving away from the window and going to the shop door. He twisted the handle. The door opened. Sam raised his eyebrows.
“You’d think it’d be locked.”
“You would,” said Frankie, opening the door wide and waving Sam in, like a flunky at a swanky hotel.
“You know what they say about curiosity?”
“Essential to being a detective?” Frankie replied, smiling.
“Yeah, okay, smart ass. Let’s have a look inside.” They went in.
“Hello, anyone here?” said Frankie in a loud voice. There was no answer. They looked at each other, both sensing something intangible. “Let’s look in back,” said Frankie. They walked through an archway in the dividing wall and into a spacious rear storage area. On the right-hand side of the room, a large clothes rail lay on its side, clothes strewn over the floor. They walked around the fallen rail and stopped.
“What the hell…,” said Frankie. The body of a man lay on the floor, head to one side, a small hole visible in the side of his temple. Blood had seeped from the wound and stained the wooden floor. A folded piece of paper lay on top of the body.
Sam Randazzo walked over, kneeled down to check for a pulse, turned, looked up at his partner, and shook his head slightly. He looked more closely at the wound.
“Looks like a .22 caliber,” Sam said and stood up.
“So, maybe someone he knew?” said Frankie
“To get that close, and with little sign of a struggle?” Sam shrugged, “probably.” Frankie bent down and twisted his head to get a good look at the victim’s face.
“Jesus Christ almighty! Sam, unless I’m very much mistaken, this is Ricky Jordan. Well, was Ricky Jordan. Never seen him in real life, but….”
“What?!” said Sam, now taking a good look at the man’s face. “Holy mother of God!” muttered Randazzo, taking out his cell phone. He punched in a number.
“Better check the rest of this place out Frankie.” Frankie nodded, took his gun out of its holster and went to check out the rest of the shop. It didn’t take long. There were two large cupboards in front which were empty and a wooden staircase leading to a top floor, which comprised one large empty open space. Presumably used as a stock room when it was a working shop, thought Frankie as he made his way back downstairs. Sam’s call was answered. “Hello, yeah, put me through to Captain Alex Reagan please, it’s urgent, yes Sam Randazzo, I’ll hold.” While they waited, Frankie looked down at the corpse again.
“Our first assignment and we find our client shot dead. Is this how it’s going to be?”
“Some start for sure,” said Sam. “your baptism by fire Frankie boy.” Sam turned his attention back to his cellphone. “Hello Alex, Sam Randazzo. Yeah, I know, only been gone five minutes and I’m calling you already. No, I’m not missing you,” Sam said, responding to the obvious jibe. “Yes, I do know what they call us down there. That’s old news, Alex. Look, this is serious. We’re on our first assignment, looking after a film star guy, Ricky Jordan. Yeah, that Ricky Jordan.”
“How so? One of your guys recommended us. Jordan’s on location down here in southwest Florida. Look, the thing is, we’ve just found him dead. Shot in the head, with a .22 from the looks of it. Yes, seriously. Would I pull your leg about something like this? Yeah, well, that was different. Anyway, this is serious. I’d have called 911, but I thought you might want a heads’ up first, seeing as how it’s going to attract a lot of publicity. No, no one else knows yet, not even the guy who hired us, the Director Clive Susman. He and his film crew are due here shortly.”
“Where? we’re in one of the empty shops in the abandoned mall behind Third Street in Old Naples. Call me when you’re on Third and I’ll come out to get you. Will you alert the CSI guys, or do you want me to call 911? No, okay, I’ll leave that with you. No, I won’t mess the crime scene up. No, I will not let the film crew in. You think I’ve suddenly turned into an amateur now I’m private? Yeah okay.” Randazzo cut the line and looked at Frankie.
“I got that,” said Frankie. “Do we call Susman, or do we wait?” Randazzo took out a pair of plastic gloves and pulled them on.
“We wait, but don’t let them in. First, we have a little peek at that note,” and he walked carefully over to where the body lay, kneeled down, picked up the note and unfolded it. “Okay Frankie, get your cell, take a close-up of the note, then video the entire scene. Be quick.” Frankie did as Randazzo asked. Randazzo folded the note back up and placed it back on the body. “You finished?” Frankie nodded. “Okay, let’s go wait outside.”
While they waited, Frankie looked at his cell and the picture of the note he’d photographed.
“What do you make of it?” said Frankie, showing Sam the picture of the note on his cell phone. ’You messed with the wrong people’ “Not much of a clue, is it?”
“Well, maybe it is,” said Sam. “See, it seems odd to me. This is the sort of note you’d leave after you’ve beaten someone up. You know, a warning not to carry on doing what you’ve been doing. I don’t see the point of leaving that sort of note on the person you just killed.”
“So why leave a note at all?”
“An amateur might want to throw someone off the scent. Make it look like some sort of revenge killing. I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel right.”