The Reckoning: Chapter Nine . . . The Shrine

Reckoning

The National Shrine of the Little Flower Catholic Church. Royal Oak, Michigan.
The National Shrine of the Little Flower Catholic Church. Royal Oak, Michigan.

 

                       CHAPTER NINE

 

 

March 21, 2015

Detroit, Michigan

     Well, it wasn’t exactly the Ritz-Carlton, as I had bragged to Matt that it would be. As it turned out, Detroit didn’t even have a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, and hadn’t in many a long year. A few other things weren’t actually going to according to plan either. Agent Faris did not have my FBI credentials, although she did promise me that she would in the next day or so, along with my own set of wheels. The Detroit Police Department had promised a hand delivered State of Michigan concealed weapons permit too. It hadn’t materialized either. All of my weapons now rather uncomfortably resided in the hotel safe. I was feeling just a little exposed. And all-expensed? . . . Well, let’s just say that at the registration desk, old John-boy was the only one pulling out a credit card.

It was a pretty nice hotel though. The Hilton Garden Inn, on Gratiot Avenue. A darn-sight better than the old Motels two and a half, that I was put up in back in my former police department days. Then, the cockroaches were practically paying guests.

Not here—this was a classy joint. Indoor heated pool and all.

It had a good restaurant and bar as well. Shahida and I enjoyed a robust steak dinner together, and then talked for several hours more, over coffee. It didn’t worry me that the caffeine might keep me up at night. All my life I had literally been able to take a bath in the stuff, and then pound the percales like a newborn babe. Besides, I had been up for far too long, and was suffering enough jet-lag, that insomnia was to be a very unlikely upcoming event.

It generally surprises someone that doesn’t understand, or have experience in the profession, to find out that very few interviews or briefings, take place in solitary and private darkened back-rooms. Generally speaking, public places are much safer locations for secrecy. Never knowing exactly where such a meeting is going to be taking place, it’s extremely difficult for the bad-guys to either bug it, or to eavesdrop on it.

Shahida and I spoke conversationally, only being mindful of keeping our voices down a bit. Whispering, as much as shouting, is to be avoided at all costs. You might as well hang out a sign that says “we’re talking secret stuff here,” in big bold red letters, in either case.

As I had hoped, she did have a name for me, and it was one that I was going to learn in extremely short order to take very seriously indeed. It was the name of the Arab trainer, Saudi in fact, and the coordinator of the tragic events that were about to unfold. I had known a lot of stone-cold killers in my life, but Mr. Saal Moradi was to prove not only that, but perhaps the most intelligent, clever,  fiendishly depraved,  and diabolical opponent of my long career. He was not only a master of firearms, but explosives as well. He was known to carry a short-barreled .357 Magnum revolver, and he knew how to use it—killing at least three known individuals with it. Doubtless, the actual tally was higher than that.

I did not intend to underestimate him—and Agent Faris wasn’t about to let me do so, even if I had been so inclined. She had a thick dossier with her. It contained an impressive amount of information about Mr. Moradi. What it didn’t contain however, was a single, solitary photograph of the mysterious person that had become known to the agency simply as, “the man of disguises.”

He could have been sitting at the table next to us, and in point of fact, Agent Faris would not have had the slightest idea of it—anymore than I would. Fortunately for us, I guess, there was no one sitting at any of the tables near us.

Our meeting finally broke up around eleven, and Shahida said her goodbyes and headed out to her home in nearby Bloomfield Hills. From her description of it, it sounded like a pretty nice place, and certainly not one that she would have been able to afford on a Bureau salary. Fortunately, she didn’t have to depend much on that. Recently divorced from a two-timing Detroit area television weather personality, she had done alright—winning not only the rather grand digs in the legal proceedings, but a substantial monthly alimony to boot. Good for her, I say. I hate cheaters. I might not be an altar-boy, but cheating was one thing I never did on Jan—and it damned sure wasn’t something I was going to be doing on Maggie either, and I didn’t much care if our relationship was serious yet or not. We were going together, and to me, that was as good as gold.

I was showered and in bed at 11:59 that night—and asleep by midnight.

And I would stay that way for the next ten hours.

 

 March 22, 2015

Royal Oak, Michigan

     The hotel desk woke me at ten the next morning with a phone call. Parting the curtain, I could see a cloudy but dry late morning. No snow—either in the air, or on the ground. Detroit is a pretty chilly locale in the month of March, so I dressed hurriedly and grabbed an overcoat to go along with my black homburg and dark suit. At least I was going to be looking the part of a private investigator. I swore quietly to myself when I checked at the front desk to see if the Detroit PD had dropped off my concealed weapon permit, and of course the answer to that was no. As anything even close to a “well-oiled machine,” this operation was off to a pretty rocky start. Not much of a surprise, I suppose. After all, the Feds were involved.

With a sigh, I headed out the front door. Although irritating, I guessed it didn’t matter much. I was pretty sure that not a soul knew I was in town, or what I might be doing here, so the decided lack of armament was small disadvantage, although once again I was feeling barely dressed.

As always, I was to prove to be a lousy clairvoyant.

I had better luck with the valet. Shahida had come through with flying colors in getting me a car, although not exactly the sleek and deadly fast bullet I had been secretly hoping for. It was nice enough though—a very late model limited edition Lincoln Town Car. From the deep-throated rumble under the hood, I knew it to be one of the larger muscle engines. She’d be able to get out of her own way, but would never win a drag race. Black of course. I was pretty sure that was the only color the Bureau was aware even existed.

With a little help from the friendly valet kid, I was able to get it onto the street and pointed in the right direction. As in north on Woodward Avenue and heading toward Twelve Mile Road. Specifically a Catholic Church of some fame and repute in a suburb called Royal Oak. It was the National Shrine of the Little Flower. It was here that I was slated to meet my new companion, the somewhat enigmatic Jedidiah Wahl, at around eleven o’clock.

Traffic was pretty light as I headed up Woodward, and as it was plain that I was going to be early, I pulled into a doughnut shop for a large carry-out coffee and apple-fritter. If it turned out that I couldn’t ever say a good word about the city of Detroit, at least that wouldn’t be true of the brew—it was wonderful.

Fortified by caffeine and warmed by the liquid, I was at last ready for the meeting, as the Town Car pulled into the parking lot of the Church about thirty minutes later.

As a first real impression of the city of Detroit, I had to admit that the Shrine of the Little Flower wasn’t a bad one. Not a bad one at all. The building was magnificent, ornate—and beautiful. A massive stone tower easily commanded the view from anywhere on the grounds. The Church building itself seem to be round, solidly built, and just a tad bit longer than six months ago too. The grounds surrounding it were green, trimmed, and well kept. Massive bare trees, evergreens, and shrubs were everywhere, and it seemed to my eye at least, that not so much as a pine-needle was out of place. I could say one thing for the Catholics anyhow. They sure knew how to do Churches.

I parked the car and hot-footed it toward the building, just in time to keep my appointment.

Entering the nave was an experience. It was octagonal, services being performed from the center, rather than one end, as in most Churches. Surrounding the stand were dark wooden pews. I imagined them to be either oak or rosewood. My eyes had not yet adjusted to the darkness of the interior fully, but even at that, I could easily pick out the shape of the back of a man’s head sitting in one of the pews. He didn’t turn as he spoke, and I vaguely wondered how he knew I was there, having made virtually zero noise as I entered.

“Mr. O’Brien?” the head asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “Please just call me Johnny. All my friends do.”

He arose, turned and started toward me. A well-built man. Probably forty to forty-five years old. Not a bad-looking guy. Around six-feet, maybe one-eighty. Rugged face—kind of used up and worn down look to it. I liked that. Wearing a dark pea-jacket and a black watch-cap. Black hair poked out from under it. Common man look. Earthy—or more exactly perhaps, nautical. It gave him a sort of sea-bearing appearance. I liked that too. It all put me at ease—something I had definitely not been expecting.

He was off to a good start.

“Mr. Wahl, I presume?” I asked as he reached me, doing my best Henry Morton Stanley greeting.

“Yes,” he replied, reaching out for a handshake. “Jedidiah Wahl. Good to meet you. Please just call me Brick, Johnny. All my friends do.”

Our hands clasped, and we each held our shake for an extra moment or two, carefully eyeing each other and sizing up just what we were seeing. It was an old routine, and an ancient kind of mental dance between new team members. Pretty much, according to the theory, fresh partners can tell in just the first few seconds if the new “marriage” was going to have a chance or not. I had engaged in this dance myself a time or two over the years, and I could tell that Mr. Wahl was no stranger to it either.

I wondered if I were passing the test, as a thin smile finally came to his face, and a moment later, one to mine as well.

Basically, we were to the altar, metaphorically speaking, as well as almost literally. It remained to be seen if we were going to be able to get to the “I do” part anytime soon.

It was shaping up to be an interesting day.

 

To be continued . . .

 

Thanks so much for reading. Next time . . . Chapter Nine concluded. Until then, Goodnight.

 

Dumb Joke of the day: (From my ten-year old granddaughter Melanie)

Question: What does a pig doctor say to his patient?

Answer: Oinkment.