Author’sWarning: The following story takes place one week after the events of A Cold Blooded Rain, Book 1 From the Files of Maxwell Floyd, Private Eye, and contains spoilers. It is highly recommended that you read A Cold Blooded Rain prior to reading this short story.
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ONE WEEK LATER
The elegant, newly-hewn headstone glistened in the morning sun. Her name, etched into the polished granite, would remain for all time. From my vantage point, I couldn’t see what it read, but I could imagine.
CLAIRE DANIELLE HELMSLEY
JUNE 25, 2044 — DECEMBER 7, 2066
“ARISE, FAIR SUN”
A variety of freshly-cut flowers, arranged into spectacular bouquets, surrounded the gravesite. But their beauty paled in comparison to that of the lovely young woman whose final resting place they adorned.
It was a private ceremony, unlike the previous day’s service, which had been broadcast across the net. There were no cameras, no lights, no pomp or dreadful circumstance. That particular ceremony had already taken place—the one for the strangers. The outsiders.
People like me.
No one asked me to come, but I did anyway. It was the right thing to do.
The winter sun hung midway over the eastern horizon. A frigid breeze blew in from the north. The petals of the white rose in my hand shivered in the cold air. Dead leaves swirled around my feet, and my old fedora fluttered atop my head. The hat matched the gray three-piece suit I wore. I remembered I was wearing it the night I heard of her murder.
As an ex-cop, the news hit me hard. I didn’t plan on getting involved, but somehow, I did anyway. I stumbled through my own investigation, and the path it led me down nearly killed me. I could have blamed the whole thing on someone else, but I knew it would always be my own damn fault. Not that it mattered. I got sucked in anyway.
The graveside service began.
I removed my hat and leaned against the trunk of a bare tree, too far off to hear the preacher’s words clearly. Among the gathered mourners in the distance, the buried faces and downcast eyes, I saw her mother, her father, her best friend. Even the family butler. They were all broken. For now. I knew identifying the man who robbed them of their loved one would bring them one tiny step closer to healing, and I was glad to have helped.
She was a beautiful twenty-two-year-old woman with long dark hair and big brown eyes. She had barely become her own person when her life was snuffed out in a violent flash. It was a goddamn shame. And it still hurt, still angered me to think about. At least the monster who devastated so many lives was dead, for whatever consolation that brought.
I could only imagine the preacher’s words as he spoke, standing with an air of reverence beside the grave.
A beautiful girl.
A wonderful gift from God.
Taken too soon.
Her presence, a grace to shine in heaven.
Hell, it’s what I would have said.
I didn’t necessarily believe in all that—in heaven. In God. But the idea of some form of her living on brought me comfort, not that I needed it as much as those standing closest to the grave. Closest to her.
I was never close to her. I never even knew her. But during my investigation, I learned she was a good, kind-hearted and caring soul. She often traveled to distant lands, volunteering her time and energy to help people who otherwise couldn’t help themselves. The more I learned about Claire Hemsley, the more I started to feel like I did know her.
But then again, all of New York City felt the same. People adored her. She was royalty to them, a darling of the town, beloved by millions.
Her celebrity status came by way of her father. A smart and handsome man, he had found himself standing on the precipice of luck and good timing and took the leap. It paid off. Over time and with much effort, he became a very powerful and very wealthy man. A multi-trillionaire. A highly esteemed philanthropist.
Good for him.
If only everyone could be so lucky.
I met him once, shortly after the tragedy that befell him and his wife. After a turn of circumstances allowed me to interview him, I saw Mr. Hemsley for who he was, what he thought about life and his love for his wife and daughter. He was a good man. And for reasons I would never really fathom, he decided to trust me.
It meant a lot.
He believed in me, trusted me to solve his daughter’s case. And I did.
Did he owe me anything?
The bitter breeze whipped around me, and I pulled the flaps of my jacket close. As the preacher’s eulogy continued, I spent my time reasoning with myself, trying to justify why I came despite not being invited. All I could come up with was that I had to be there. I needed to see her one last time, in her final resting place. It meant healing and resolution to so many, including me. It felt right to be there.
Then it was over.
The procession of friends and family passed by the casket, placing their hands on the cold, glossy cherry-wood, and whispering their final words.
The box was lowered into the ground. The grave was filled with earth—the final sleep.
I glanced down at the rose in my hand.
Sleep well, dear Claire.
I had no desire to intrude on their grief. I didn’t need to share their pain, though I did anyway. I didn’t need recognition or thanks for the part I played, so I made sure no one saw me.
Or so I thought.
Two men with comm-devices in their ears approached me from behind. Each wore black suits and sunglasses. They were big, muscular, square-jawed, and scary as hell. Both towered over me. I recognized them at once as her father’s security detail.
Was I unwelcome?
Should I not have come?
Do I not deserve to be here?
One of the men placed a hand on my shoulder, and I shuddered under his grip. “Mr. Floyd?” he asked, his voice deep and menacing.
I looked up at him, half-paralyzed by his sheer bulk and the glare that bore into me from behind his dark glasses.
“Y-Yeah?” was all that came out.
The man nodded. “Come with us, please.”
I didn’t say a word and followed obediently, my thoughts running rampant, my nerves in a knot. I wasn’t supposed to be there. Dammit. Why did I come?
I trailed the bodyguards as they led me toward a long line of parked cars. A hearse sat at the front of the motorcade, followed by a long black limousine.
The lead guard approached the limo’s rear door, opened it, and stood aside. “Have a seat,” he told me and reached out a hand. “I can hold on to these for you.”
After a moment’s hesitation, I handed him the rose and my fedora and nervously slid into the vehicle.
“Please wait. Mr. Hemsley will be with you shortly,” the guard said.
He shut the door.
I felt numb.
Looking around the lavish interior of the limousine, the feeling only got worse. The rich leather felt soft under my fingertips. The carpet lining beneath my ratty old shoes was thick and plush. Computer screens flickered brightly, displaying a flurry of economic news and stock data. A limo bar contained bottles of the finest booze. The air in the confined space smelled of wealth—something I wasn’t used to.
I had never known money. When I was a homicide detective, I made enough for a comfortable living. Hell, my wife made even better dough as a budding lawyer, but it wasn’t enough to move us up from ground level. Only the rich, famous, and powerful, like Claire’s parents, lived on the thirtieth level and above in the tallest towers throughout Manhattan. For anyone living below, it would have taken many years of hard work, a massive inheritance, or the winning picks to make it to the upper-level echelon with the so-called cream of the crop.
If that was one’s aspirations.
It had never been mine.
When I was seventeen, my father’s death unexpectedly thrust me onto a new path. I wanted to help victims left hurt by evil acts and set the goal of becoming a cop, despite my mother’s objections. I began to live for the pursuit of justice—the chase—hunting bad people down and putting them away.
When I graduated from the academy, I longed for a certain level of action. I always felt I belonged on the ground, in the lower levels, where the real shit happened—where I could turn a corner on any given day and come face-to-face with the lowest of criminal scum. That was my aspiration. That was why I became a cop. It turned out I was good at it, too. Was, being the key word.
But things didn’t work out the way I had expected them to, and one thing led to another.
The senseless death of a child.
A botched case.
I started drinking.
I lost my shield.
My wife of fifteen years divorced me after I dragged her too far down into my misery.
I wallowed in remorse and self-pity for two years before Claire Hemsley’s case fell in my lap. I had become nothing more than a lonely, drunk. I was a pathetic private eye without a credit to my name, lying in an alleyway at rock bottom, bloodied and beaten.
Then a man came and challenged me to solve the Hemsley case. He urged me to pick myself up and get back to doing what I once did best—solving crimes.
I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I had more problems and distractions than I knew what to do with. Only after I succeeded did I learn who that man really was. The revelation was a horror beyond my worst nightmares, and I was no stranger to those. I didn’t know if I would ever recover from learning the terrible truth about him. About myself. Rock bottom suddenly became something I found myself desperately reaching for.
But none of that changed the fact that during my investigation, when I hit a wall without a lead and thought all hope was lost, Albert Hemsley put his complete faith in me. He pleaded with me, damn-near ordered me to solve his daughter’s murder.
I couldn’t bear to turn him down. Mr. Hemsley garnered far too much respect from people of all walks of life, including me. I had to do it. For him, for his wife, for all who loved Claire. And if I was honest, it was a chance to redeem myself. I risked life, limb, and my very sanity. It was anything but easy, though managed to solve it, much to the dismay of the NYPD and the detectives assigned to the case.
But what did I have to show for it?
The limousine door swung open.
The man who entered the vehicle was about my size—six-foot-two, average build—but his presence still seemed to dwarf mine.
Albert Hemsley sat in the seat beside me, looking straight ahead.
I wasn’t invited, the thought repeated in my head.
“Mr. Floyd,” Hemsley said, his voice just as gravelly as I remembered.
It suddenly felt like the temperature inside the limo had jumped fifty degrees. “S-Sir?” I asked as a sickening twinge of panic fluttered down my spine.
I shouldn’t have come.
Though I had only talked with Mr. Hemsley once before, there were very few men I had ever met that I respected more. The last thing I wanted was to find myself on his bad side.
“Sir, I know I wasn’t invit—”
He raised a hand, and I went silent. After a moment, he calmly continued. “Do you know what you’ve done?”
I could feel the sweat seep out of my pores.
Goddammit, Max! What the hell have you done?
I suddenly felt nauseous. “M-Mr. Hemsley,” I stammered. “If … If I’ve done anything wrong—”
“Mr. Floyd,” Hemsley said, raising his voice to cut me off. After a long pause, a hiss slipped through Hemsley’s mouth. “You … You accomplished what no one else could,” he told me. “You found him. The animal who killed my baby girl.”
I stared back at the man, stunned, trying to summon a response but unable to find my voice.
“I—” Mr. Hemsley began, then stopped.
I clenched my hands to keep them from shaking and glanced out the windows of the limousine. People walked by in solemn silence. I didn’t know who they were, just that they were there for Claire. Like me.
“Max.” He seemed short of breath when he placed his hand on my arm. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, and our gazes met.
“Thank you,” Hemsley said. “Thank you for coming.”
I nodded dumbly before asking in a feeble voice, “Sir?”
“You know, Claire never really knew her grandparents. She was only a baby when I purchased this burial plot after my father died.” Hemsley told me, his tone mournful. “We buried my mother here a few years later. I always expected I would be next. It never crossed my mind that my child would be buried before me.” He turned and gazed out the window. “I wish she could have known them.” After a long moment, he turned back to me and said, “I can’t possibly tell you how you have impacted our lives.”
“Sir, believe me, all I wanted was justice for—”
Hemsley held up his hand again. “I trust in my security. I trust in the law, the NYPD.”
I began to wonder if Mr. Hemsley already had a few drinks in his system. Not that I was one to judge. But it was becoming more and more apparent that I wasn’t in as much trouble as I feared. My nerves began to settle.
“I trust in … ” He sat back and rubbed his eyes.
Several long seconds passed by without a word.
“You’ll have to forgive me,” he said before letting out half a chuckle. “Claire would’ve been the first to tell you I often struggle with speaking from the heart.”
I wanted to respond with something meaningful, but much like the man beside me, it was difficult to find the words. “The heart, sir?”
Hemsley brushed a speck of dust off his knee. “Yes,” he murmured. After many more quiet moments, he finally turned to me. “Lucinda and I … our lives have been shattered. And you,” he paused to clear his throat. “You have brought us closure.”
A stern look from Hemsley shut me up quickly. He reached forward, toward the bar along one side of the limo’s interior. “I do not forget actions such as yours, nor do I let them go unrewarded.”
Hemsley selected a stylish, crystal decanter and filled a matching glass with two fingers of a golden-brown liquid. He handed it to me, and the smokey, earthy scent of scotch hit my nose. Hemsley poured one for himself and sat back.
“I am forever indebted to you.” He spoke with a hint of a slur. “You have to know that.”
I could only imagine the pain and anguish he and his wife had been through. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he was already drunk. Hell, I wished I was. But I didn’t like seeing the man I’d come to respect so deeply in that condition. Despite whatever help I’d provided to bring closure to him and his wife, I did nothing more than what I had sworn my life to—the pursuit of justice.
“You don’t owe me anything,” I said.
“Oh, but I do,” Hemsley replied before taking a healthy sip of scotch.
I shook my head, but Hemsley didn’t seem to notice. “I want to give you something.”
He held out his hand. “Your jack.”
I hesitated, not sure if I’d heard him correctly.
“Give me your goddamned jack.”
I held my breath as I slipped the device from my coat pocket and handed it over to him.
He gave me a sad smile and as he took it. Without a word, he set his drink down and pulled out his own jack, tapped at the screen, and waved it across mine. After a chiming jingle, he tossed my jack into my lap. “There.”
I picked it up and looked at the screen. My heart leaped in my chest, and the air caught in my throat when I saw what Mr. Hemsley had done, the transaction he made, and the resulting balance of my bank account. I almost dropped my glass in shock. “S-Sir, no. Please, n-no. I-I can’t accept this!”
“You can,” Hemsley sighed. “And you will. I am not one to take no for an answer.”
“My God, Mr. Hemsley,” I croaked. “No, this is far too—”
“Goodbye, Mr. Floyd,” Hemsley interrupted. “And thank you.”
The limo door swung open. The bodyguard, who had been standing outside, placed a firm hand on my shoulder.
I could barely speak. “Oh, no. No, no, no,” I pleaded, but my brain stumbled past any words of dispute as I set my drink down, nearly spilling the contents of the glass.
“I am not one to take no for an answer,” Hemsley repeated in an unwavering tone. But then, as the guard was pulling me halfway out the door, Hemsley’s expression softened. “Please, Mr. Floyd. Consider it an investment in the future of your detective work. Please accept it. On behalf of my family. On behalf of Claire. She would want you to have it.”
What more could I have said?
I stood outside the vehicle peering in, stunned, my jaw hung wide open.
Mr. Hemsley didn’t look back at me again.
The guard returned my belongings and urged me aside as another man escorted Claire’s mother, Lucinda, toward us. She gazed vacantly at the ground in front of her. Sadness radiated from her entire being, and though her steps faltered, she maintained her grace. After helping Mrs. Hemsley into the seat beside her husband, the guard shut the door and slapped his hand twice against the vehicle’s roof.
The bodyguards disappeared into the next car as the limousine pulled away. I watched the entire procession depart the cemetery in a cloud of dust and leaves.
I turned back to the headstone in the distance. It seemed so far away.
Still reeling in shock over the encounter with Mr. Hemsley, I trudged across the lawn, barely able to shoulder the weight of sorrow suddenly pressing down on me. I stepped up to the block of granite with a growing lump in my throat. Seeing her name, actually seeing it set in stone, brought tears to my eyes. With a shuddering breath, I laid the white rose across the top of the headstone. My hands shook, my grip tightened around my fedora, turning my knuckles white.
I never knew her, but she changed my life forever. Alone with Claire, it was finally my chance to talk to her. I had so much to tell her. I took a deep breath, the void in the pit of my stomach feeling as cold and as deep as the young woman’s grave.
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A Cold Blooded Rain: One Week Later
A Maxwell Floyd Short Story
Copyright © 2020 T. R. Leton – All rights reserved.
Cover Illustration & Supplemental Illustrations
Copyright © 2020 T. R. Leton
Cover, Maps & Illustrations designed by T. R. Leton
Edited by Tracy Husmann
Co-Edited by Molly VDM
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.