There are only so many ways to describe a small warehouse in Mt. Clemens, particularly in the dark. It was a square cinderblock structure, with about five thousand square feet worth of storage, give or take. It wasn’t particularly tall, nor was it particularly wide. It had one large rolling door and a normal metal door next to it. All in all, it was a squat and ugly building that I probably would only spend a few hours in if things went well.
I knocked on the human sized metal door and after a few seconds it opened a bit and I saw a face. The door then opened wide and a face that would have been familiar to me had I indulged in adult entertainment greeted me. He was handsome enough, bigger than his brother and more muscular. He smiled when he saw me and looked like he had to resist the urge to stick a hand out in greeting.
“You’re Jack right? I’m Peter.” He said in a Midwesterner’s voice that clearly came from the suburbs of Detroit. “Flopsy said you’d be around to help out today.”
“Yeah.” I said walking in through the small door with him. “I understand things have been going missing.”
“Yeah.” Peter said nodding his head. “Someone’s been coming in at night when no one’s here and taking stuff.”
“How much has gone missing?” I asked.
“Just a couple of boxes.” He pointed his thumb to a dozen or so pallets of boxes that looked like they were destined for a grocery store. “That’s why he thinks it’s someone on the inside see?”
“Candy?” I asked walking up to the boxes on their pallets. “He’s still shipping candy from here?”
“Yeah.” Peter said with a laugh. “Dumb isn’t it? He had all that stuff going on and now that Easter’s dead he’s still shifting the chocolate.”
“I suppose it might be dumb.” I said with a nod. “Just a couple of boxes huh?”
“Yeah.” He nodded as well. “We’re supposed to turn off the lights like no one’s here and hang out in the office I guess.”
“Well, we might as well go look at the office then.”
I noticed a chill as we walked towards the blocked off room with waist high windows that was passing as an office. It felt like there was a door open. We were half way to the small office, were I could see a coffee pot standing on its hot plate, when the door opened again. We both turned and saw Peter entering through the door, with a young blond woman behind him. He pulled the pocket watch out of his waistcoat pocket and checked the time.
“You’re early.” He announced. “Good.”
“He just got here Flopsy.” Peter said, and I could see Mister Rabbit cringe slightly at the use of the childish nickname. “We were going to get some coffee. You know, in the office.”
Mister Rabbit looked at his brother for a long, slow moment, and then turned to the young woman in the fetching business suit. She wore her hair down, with a head band pushed back on her head to keep the locks of hair out of her face.
“I don’t suppose you’ve met Mary Ann have you?”
“Good evening.” She said in a real English accent. It was refined and certainly upper class, which made me instantly wonder what she was doing with him.
“Hi there.” I said taking her hand gently in mine. Her hand wasn’t as soft as it should have been, or at least as soft as I thought it should have been.
“Mary Ann is my secretary.” Rabbit said, “She’s here to check the records.”
There was more to what he was going to say than that, but a door banged and people came out of the back of the warehouse. The thought that the back door must have been where the draft was coming from was taken from my mind by the sight of the guns the two men were holding as they came in. They were amateur thieves though, I could tell that right away. They just wore whatever clothes they’d had on that day, instead of going for a uniform that would be hard to pick out a crowd. They hadn’t even bothered to cover their faces, which was going to make identifying them later very easy.
“On the ground! On the ground!” One of them shouted, holding his gun in both hands and hopping sideways like he must have seen someone do on TV.
Peter fell to the ground immediately, Mister Rabbit just stood still, probably in shock. I could see the thoughts crossing his face as he had them. This idiot couldn’t possibly have been so stupid as to try to rob him. No, indeed this was some sort of prank. When the one who had shouted walked up to Rabbit, both their faces were starting to contort in preparation for a shouting match.
“On the fucking ground.” The one with the gun shouted and smacked Rabbit in the face with the butt of the pistol.
A spray of blood spewed from Rabbit’s face and he clasped a hand over the spot that had been hit. The thief smacked Rabbit again and this time he fell to the ground. Two more had come in through the open door, also dressed in their everyday civvies waving guns like they’d seen people on TV do.
“Get on the fucking ground.” The one who had hit Rabbit shouted pointing his gun at Mary Ann. For a secretary, she held up quite well. She looked like he might be pointing a highlighter pen at her, but she sat down on the ground and helped Rabbit who was pressing a handkerchief to his face.
“What about you?” The one who’d smacked Rabbit said.
He was wearing a brown leather jacket, cut like a sports coat. He wore stone washed jeans, which were dirty, and a t-shirt from a local pizza place. His hand was shuddering, and if he fired the gun he was going to hit one of his compatriots, or the wall, or anything but me.
“I thought you were instructing us each in turn.” I said.
“You think this is a joke?” He asked walking up to me with the quavering gun.
He wore a waist coat, just like Rabbit did. His had a long thin mustache like the one Boris Karloff wore as part of his Fu Manchu make up. His fingers were long and thin, and he had some prodigious buck teeth that stuck out like a rodent. He might have looked scary if he was ten feet tall, covered in scales and had wings, but then only just.
“No.” I said. “A horse walks into a bar, bartender asks why the long face? That’s a joke.”
If it hadn’t been for the two behind me, and the fact that I could only just manage to squeeze a foam rubber ball in my right hand, that would have been a great opportunity to hit him. Had my arm been right, I probably would have risked it. I wouldn’t even have to be particularly fast, because the bemused look that crept across his face moved like a glacier rolling across an ice age plane.
“Sit the fuck down.” He finally said, putting the gun in my face.
It was then that I noticed why Mary Ann hadn’t looked particularly worried. The safety was locked in place and if I was seeing the indicator on the side of the gun’s slide properly, there gun wasn’t even primed with a round in the chamber. Still, there were three others, and I couldn’t see their guns. I sat down on the floor and looked at the three of them.
“Jubjub, cuff ‘em.” He said after I got myself comfortable.
One of the robbers put his gun down on the floor and ran up and pushed us each face down. He put cuffs around our wrists inexpertly, totally failing to notice my gun. When he was gun he grabbed his gun and gave the leader a thumbs-up.
“Borogrove, go get the truck, Tove, open the door.” The leader said and licked his lips as he watched us watching him. He probably thought he was being scary, but I think that three out of four of us were memorizing his face so that we could come get him later. Peter’s face was pressed into the floor, and he was trying to find a way to make his eyes tuck into his chest.
The rolling door was opened and a large van backed into the slot. Somewhere along the line two more showed up, because there were six of them loading the boxes into the moving van. It only took longer than it should have because instead of using the forklift in the corner they each grabbed a few boxes and load them by hand onto the truck. They cleared the five pallets of their boxes and then just got into the truck and drove away.
“Mister Collier?” Rabbit said as the sound of the truck died away.
“Yes Mister Rabbit?”
“Do you carry handcuff keys?” He sounded as if someone had told him that his lunch would have to be postponed an hour, rather than having been robbed at gun point.
“Yes I do.” I said, but their in my front pocket I’m not as flexible as I used to be.
“I can get them.” Mary Ann said standing up.
She’s already managed to get her hands in front of her and looked like that hadn’t caused her much effort. She walked over to me and stuck her hand into my right front pant pocket, pulling out the key ring. She selected the handcuff key and looked down at me.
“Roll over.” She said.
I did and a moment later the cuffs were released from my wrists. She walked towards Mister Rabbit and her own cuffs clattered to the ground half way to him. She uncuffed him and helped him up. He was rubbing his wrists and looking at the mark they’d left before standing up. It seemed slightly unfair how long it took her to finally get to Peter, but he didn’t seem to mind. Or at least he didn’t complain any when she released his wrists from the cuffs.
“Well.” Mister Flopston Rabbit announced as he pulled a small flask from his pocket and took a drink. “I suppose we know who has been stealing from us then.”
“You know who they are?” I asked.
“I soon will.” He put the flask away and drew out a check book and pen. “I’ve got a new job for you Mister Collier. Find out who did this so we can get my merchandise back without contacting the police.”
He walked to the office and started to write, which gave me a chance to look over the two other witnesses to the crime. Peter looked more shaken than any of us, but the look on his face was of a man whose problems were just beginning. Mary Ann looked like she had been given the wrong kind of coffee at Starbucks, but wasn’t prepared to hold it against anyone and would just drink it down.
Rabbit came out a moment later with a check that had a substantial number on it. The number caused me a problem, those alarms bells going off again. This time I listened, because the number on the check said that there was more than chocolate in those boxes.
“What was really in the boxes?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” Rabbit asked.
“This check is more than the recovery of chocolate.”
“Annoyance.” He said.
“No.” I said shaking me head. “Tell me now, or I’ll just call Kramer and you can explain it to him. If it’s drugs, I don’t want a hand in it. You can get someone else to figure it out if it’s about that.”
He sighed and bit his lip. He knew that I had him though, he clearly wanted to keep this as quiet as he could. He wasn’t going to inform anyone else that he was robbed at gun point if he didn’t have to. Besides, we only had a few days to get this story done so we couldn’t mess around with that part of the investigation.
“It’s chocolate, but some of the eggs have gold sovereigns and Krugerrands instead of a creamy center.” Rabbit said, and I turned around expelling a sound of annoyance.
The real reason I turned around was to see Peter’s face, which registered confusion for a moment before trying to go blank again. I turned back to Mister Rabbit and folded the check in half. I looked at it and slid it into my pants pocket. If it turned out to be something else, I could always turn him in later.
“I just want to know where they are.” He said, and he seemed to have a growl in his voice. “Just tell me where they and my merchandise are and I’ll take care of the rest.”
That sounded ominous, but it was just a lot of gold coins after all. I decided that it wasn’t likely he’d have the little group killed over a couple of gold coins. Its things like this that, in retrospect, makes me wonder how the hell I ever got it in my head I was cut out to be a detective. Of course my next move made me think I was perfect detective material.
“You got a car?” I asked Peter.
“Huh?” He asked.
“I’ll drive Peter home and then start to work on this.” I told Rabbit.
“Okay.” Rabbit said looking at the two of us and then snapped at his secretary. “Mary Ann! Have Pat and Bill come down here and close up the place. We’ll need to find out how they got in.”
“Yes sir.” She said, and then noticing I was looking at her looked back and raised her eyebrows.
“Come on Pete.” I said.
We walked out and as we passed them I noticed that Mary Ann was watching me as well I winked at her because it was easier than raising my eye brows.