It was late. Charlie Hume found himself in a darkened alley by some five and dime fleabag of a hotel out by LAX. It was the kind of place where you could rent a room by the minute and there were only two rules. Cash only and no blankets.

A soaking rain had just stopped and a dense mist had started to roll in. Across from the ally, Megan Pace was waiting outside Rock Island Recordings.

The studio, according to Megan’s father Liam, was where the solo recordings of Charlie Pace were being kept. She held onto the envelope that carried the documents signed by her father, that effectively turned over all the legal rights to some mystery man who was holding her cousin, Charlene Collins, hostage. She now waited for the arrival of the mystery man’s associates.

Charlie kept her in sight and himself out of sight, by hiding in the shadow cast by a dim light from a single rusted out street light and by the canvas overhang of a burned out place once called, according to the peeling paint on its cracked window, Aldo’s Pawn shop.

He wasn’t alone. Pavlov Florensky was down street in another side alley serving as backup. And in the back of Pavlov’s car, chain smoking like a chimney, was Liam Pace, who saw fit to temporarily check himself out of Santa Rosa in order to go along on this merry adventure.

With everyone in place, Megan nervously stood by, as a wisp of mist floated by, propelled by a cool breeze that gave Charlie a sudden shiver.

Suddenly, a black sedan pulled up. The car rolled to a stop and the back doors slowly opened. Charlie could see three men get out and approach Megan. They talked for a few seconds, as she handed over the envelope to the man in the center. He nodded, then they all entered the recording studio.

Charlie spoke to Pavlov via a two way radio.

"You catch all that?” he whispered.

“Da!” Pavlov replied, “but I don’t like any of this! We shouldn’t let your girl out of our sight! I’m gonna move around back. Check to see if there is a side entrance!”

“Okay,” Charlie replied, “keep me posted.”

But just as Charlie uttered those words, the sedan suddenly peeled out and quickly turned the corner into the side alley next to the studio. Charlie instinctively reached for his Sig 9MM handgun, he carried snugly in his side holster.

“Pav!!!” he called out over the radio.

“On my way!!” Pavlov quickly replied, as Charlie could hear the echo of his rapidly approaching footsteps.

Charlie ran across the street and on through the studio doors.

Inside the lighting was dim. A circular desk was in front of a large glass window of a recording room. Charlie could see three people inside the studio but none were Megan or the “associates” that had showed up.

The three in the room, one woman and two men, looked like aging ancient hippies. One was behind a drum set, the other two behind a keyboard and guitar respectively. A sign on the wall stated that the studio time was being booked by G. Jackson.

“Want something, dude!” a voice behind Charlie suddenly asked.

Charlie spun around to see a hefty guy with long, greased back red hair. Charlie immediately hid his gun in his pocket.

“Yeah, did a girl and three guys come in here just a second ago?” Charlie asked.

“If they did, I ain’t seen them,” Hefty guy answered.

“Hmm,” Charlie said, “you sure? Cause I just saw them come in.”

“You a cop or somethin’?” Hefty guy asked.

“No, I’m a private investigator,” Charlie answered, “I’m pretty sure my client came in here. Maybe you were in another room when they came in. Is there a back door to this place?”

“If there is, then I ain’t seen it!” Hefty replied.

Suddenly, Hefty found himself in a head lock, courtesy of Pavlov Florenesky, who had sneaked in from behind.

“I think we are wasting our time with this gentleman,” Pavlov said, “if he knows nothing, then best I break his neck!”

“Hey!” Hefty guy gasped out, “what… the.. f… are…. you doing?!”

Charlie nodded, “I agree. Break his neck!”

“No!.. No!… Wait!!!” Hefty guy pleaded, “I….I remember now!… They…they.. just came in. A real…. cute girl and ….th..three…s.. sleazy kinda guys. Maf..Mafia types!”

“Where did they go?” Charlie asked, as a loud sound suddenly vibrated the walls. Charlie glanced back over through the studio glass to see the three ancient hippies practicing some song.

“This is good,” Pavlov said to Hefty, “the music will cover your screams, as I snap your thick neck in two!”

“Wait!!” Hefty begged.

“So again,” Charlie impatiently asked, “I ask you, where did they go?”

“They… showed me…. some… documents that gave them…. the authority to access… some property….. we.. were…holding here… in a safe,” Hefty guy choked out, “so… I took them… in the back, op…opened the safe. They..they took… some stuff and… left!”

"Left?” Charlie asked, “where did they go?”

“Out…. a.. ba..back door… back… that way,” Hefty guy gurgled, as Pavlov tightened his grip, “it… leads… to an…. alley!”

Charlie immediately ran down the hall, pushing open a steel door marked exit.

He found himself in a backside alley. No sign of Megan, the three sleazes, or the car. Pavlov immediately joined Charlie in the alley, with Hefty guy still in a headlock.

“They’ve got Megan!” Charlie said.

Pavlov released the Hefty guy, who immediately ran back into the studio coughing and wheezing. Pavlov then took out a tracker transceiver and flipped it on.

“I’m getting a good signal off the documents,” Pavlov replied, “they’re heading east, about two miles away. Moving fast!”

“Let’s go!!” Charlie said, but as he and Pavlov started to head back into the studio, Charlie noticed something laying in the middle of the ally. He quickly went over and saw that about a dozen tapes had been strewn carelessly about. Charlie picked one up and saw it was labeled “Pace: Tape One”.

“What do you make of this?” Charlie asked Pavlov.

Pavlov examined the tape carefully.

“I’d say,” Pavlov observed, “they were in such an awful hurry, they lost what they were here for or…”

“Or,” Charlie finished, “they weren’t interested in the tapes in the first place!”

“Then what were they interested in?” Pavlov asked.

“I don’t know,” Charlie replied, “but lets go ask someone who, I suspect, may know and this time Mr. Liam Pace had better give us a straight answer!”

Next: Chap. Twenty-Five “Steam Punk Princess”

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