Max Helms: Curse of the Relic (Max Helms - Private Investigator Book 1) (3 page)

Chapter
5: Joey’s Apartment…What a Mess

Max arrived at Joey’s building and found a parking spot right in front
. He put out his cigar and reached into the back seat to grab the sack.

Exiting
the car, Max noticed the bullet holes in it. He shook his head and ascended the stairs to the building’s front door.

Max
arrived at the top of the stairs and pushed the buzzer for Joey’s apartment. He looked over and noticed the door was slightly ajar. He nudged the door open slowly and entered the building.

He stood in the foyer and closed the door behind him. He made his way up the stairs and turned right down the hallway.

Max reached Joey’s apartment and saw the door was open. He pulled out his gun and peered into the room.

Max slowly made his way into the apartment. The place
had been ransacked. He looked towards the kitchen where he saw a man’s body face-down on the floor.

Max approached with caution. When he reached the body, he looked to the right to see a second body further in the kitchen
lying on the floor like a sack of potatoes.

Max knelt down next to the body and slowly rolled it over. It was Rico. Rico’s face had a look of sheer terror on it as if he were frightened to death.
“Rico, you poor bastard. You never could stay out of trouble, could you?” muttered Max.

Max stood back up and made his way to the second body. He knelt down and rolled the body over. The
man’s face looked very familiar to Max. He just couldn’t place a name to the face.

Max stood back up and checked out the rest of the apartment.
He didn’t find anyone else, living or dead. He went back to the kitchen to use the phone to call Polly. “Operator, patch me through to Max Helms Investigations.”

“Yes sir
,” responded the operator.

Polly answered the phone almost immediately
. “Helms Investigations.”

“Polly,
it’s Max. I need you to use your resources and find out everything we can about Johnny ‘Knuckles’ Vandalay.”

“Johnny ‘Knuckles’
Vandalay? Got it! Right away!”

“Thanks
, dollface. I’m on my way back to the office now. Make sure you lock the office door.”

“Lock the door? Is it THAT serious?”

“Just trust me on this. Something strange is afoot and I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I will. So, please lock the door and don’t open it for anyone. I’ll see you in a few minutes. Goodbye!”

“Goodbye
, chief!”

Max hung up the phone and headed for the door.
He paused halfway out and looked back at Rico’s body. He bowed his head in regret as he closed the door and made his way to the car.

*
              *              *

Max
walked towards his car and looked around to make sure the brunos hadn’t caught up to him. He saw no sign of them. He hopped into his car and headed back to his office.

He drove up to the spot where he last saw the
brunos. A crowd had gathered and the police were now on the scene.

Max drove past the
brunos as they talked with the police. He smiled and tipped his hat to them. The brunos glared at Max as he drove off into the distance.

Chapter
6: Back at the Office…

Max walked down the hallway towards his office. Out of habit, he opened the door. He
then remembered that he had asked Polly to lock up. He entered the office and didn’t get his usual greeting from Polly. Like Joey’s apartment, Max’s office had been ransacked.

Max noticed a knife with a note on it stuck into Polly’s chai
r. He walked over to the chair, grabbed ahold of the knife in one hand and grasped the note in the other. He pulled the knife out and raised the note to his face. The note read, “We have Polly! Bring the sack to the Warehouse at Pier 12 if you want to see her alive again!”

Max became enraged. He noticed a newspaper on the ground with the headline
, “Police gun down Johnny ‘Knuckles’ Vandalay during attempted bank robbery.” He noticed the date on the paper was two weeks earlier.

Max smirked
, put the paper on the desk and walked over to the filing cabinet. He bent down and opened the bottom drawer. Reaching into the back of the drawer, he pulled out a derringer in an ankle holster. He lifted up his left pant leg and strapped the holster to his ankle.

Max closed the drawer, stood back up and surveyed the mess in his office. He adjusted his hat and exited the office to rescue Polly.

Chapter 7: Down on the Docks

Al
and Eddie were new additions to Mr. Heinrich’s gang, and that was why they got the worst assignments, though they had no complaints. The pay was good and the benefits were even better.

The sun set as the fog rolled in. They waited and shivered on the top of the warehouse for Max’s arrival.

Al saw car headlights pull up to the warehouse. He tapped Eddie on the shoulder and pointed in Max’s direction. They watched as Max got out of his car and drew his gun.

Al whispered to Eddie
, “Quick, go tell the boss he’s here. I’ll go down and welcome him appropriately.”

Eddie nodded and
went off to warn Mr. Heinrich. Al headed over to the ladder on the side of the building and climbed down to the ground.

*
              *              *

Max surveyed the area in front of the warehouse. He closed the car door and walked cautiously towards the entrance.

Max heard a gun fire off in the distance followed by a bullet ricocheting off the ground in front of him. He quickly ducked behind the car. He waited a few seconds and peeked over the hood. Another shot rang out and the front windshield of the car shattered.

Max ducked down and made his way to the rear of the car. Another shot rang out. The bullet ricocheted off the trunk and knocked his hat off his head.

Max kneeled down, picked up his hat and looked through the bullet hole in it. He mumbled, “This hat cost me a week’s pay. It will cost him his life, which isn’t worth a week’s pay.”

Max
put the hat back on, lay on the ground and peered out from under the car to see if he could spot the shooter.

Max heard a
snapping sound, as if someone had stepped on a stick. He looked in the direction the sound came from and saw a stack of pallets. He took aim in that direction and waited. Slowly, a hat rose above the pallets. He fired and hit the pallets. The hat quickly disappeared.

Max
got into a crouched position to get a better look. He noticed a boom lift with a pallet full of crates hanging from it above the spot where the hat had popped up.

A smug look
landed upon Max’s face. He steadied himself, took aim at the rope and fired. The bullet ripped through the rope. Max watched the pallet drop out of sight behind the stack of pallets. There was a loud crash followed by a man’s scream.

Max stood up and cautiously walked towards the pallets. He crept around the pallets with his gun leading the way. He looked down to see the
Al under the crates and covered in a white powdery substance. He noticed one of the crates was labeled “California Sugar Refinery.” “What a sweet and fitting end,” Max mumbled with a smile on his face.

He saw Al’s hat near his side
, unscathed. He bent down, picked up the hat, and looked inside. “Imported hat,” Max exclaimed quietly. “Much better than my dime-store hat. Thanks for the hat, chum.” He placed the hat on top of his head and it was a perfect fit. Max threw his old hat onto Al’s sugar-covered body. He smiled as he stood up and went back to his car.

Max arrived at his car without incident. He put his pistol back into its shoulder holster and opened the trunk. He reached into the trunk and pulled out a tommy gun. He rubbed the gun like he was petting a cat and said
, "I think I’ll need your assistance tonight, my old friend.”

C
losing the trunk, he walked to the passenger side of the car. He opened the door, reached in and retrieved the sack. He closed the door and made his way cautiously towards the warehouse’s entrance.

Max
grabbed the door knob and turned it slowly. He opened the door as quietly as possible. He wasn’t sure why he was trying to be so quiet. Surely everyone knew he was there due to the gunfight.

Max
closed the door as quietly as he had opened it. He leaned the tommy gun against his leg and started to reach into his jacket for his pistol. A faint garlic smell suddenly filled the air and he felt the cold barrel of a gun press against the left side of his temple. “Move and you’re dead!” a voice commanded from the dark.

M
ax looked to his left to see a Colt .45 in an outstretched arm fading into the shadows. He could see the outline of a man wearing a hat at the end of the arm. “Drop your gun and slowly hand me the sack. Don’t try anything stupid!” the stranger demanded.

The smell of garlic intensified when the stranger spoke.
Max slowly handed the sack to the stranger. His eyes became used to the light and he could make out more details. He noticed that the stranger paid more attention to the sack than he did to his hand that reached into his jacket. “All right, hurry it up, not that slow!” the stranger said angrily.

The pressure from the gun against him began to subside. Max quickly grabbed his pistol and struck the stranger across the neck. The stranger crumpled to the ground. “I guess that wasn’t too stupid for you
,” Max said sarcastically. “I recommend Breethem Mints after a meal full of garlic.”

Max holstered his pistol
, reached down and grabbed the stranger’s gun. He saw light at the end of the corridor and cautiously walked towards it.

*
              *              *

Max was taken aback at what he saw before him. At the back of the warehouse
was a stage with two sets of stairs on each side leading up. A large altar was centered on the stage between the stairs. The altar appeared to be made of blood-red marble. In front of the altar was a bronze fire pit with strange symbols on it. The fire pit emitted an eerie light-green smoke, which hung in the rafters of the warehouse. Behind the altar at the back of the stage he saw a huge black tapestry. It went from the top of the warehouse to the stage and stretched from wall to wall. It was adorned on its sides by red symbols not unlike the ones on the fire pit. In the center of the tapestry was a larger red symbol.

Max clung to the wall as he entered the room. A shot rang out and a bullet ricocheted off the wall above his head. He quickly ducked back into the corridor.

Max decided to lay low and survey the situation. Across from him was a stack of crates. He thought he could make a quick dash to them safely.

Max sprang into action and ran towards the crates. A few shots hit the ground and other crates around him
as he progressed. He neared the crates and dove to safety behind them.

Max peeked out from the left side of the crates to see where the shots came from. He saw one guy in the rafters and looked around for others. A shot hit the front of the crates and he ducked back behind them.

Max checked the ammo in his newly acquired gun as he prepared to face his foe. He started to lean out to the right of the crates and take aim at the guy in the rafters when he felt lukewarm steel and surging pain across the back of his neck. He let out a deep gurgling “umpf” as he dropped to the ground and rolled onto his back. The silhouette of a man wearing an ear-to-ear grin came into his sight as he lost consciousness.

*
              *              *

Max could hear people talking. He slowly opened his eyes. To his left he saw the bod
y of the man he killed on his way into the warehouse. His eyes started to close again. He felt a finger tapping on his forehead and the familiar smell of garlic permeate his nose. He opened his eyes and looked up to see the ugliest mug he had ever seen, inches from his face. “So, how was your nap?” Don asked with a hint of sarcasm in his voice. “It probably was not as good as mine. Let me help you back to sleep!”

Don’s face moved out of Max’s view to reveal his cocked fist.
Max braced for the impact of knuckles to chin. “That’s enough, Don!” A German accented voice yelled. “You shouldn’t be so rude to our guest! After all, he brought us the sack you lost.”

Don’s fist was about an inch from Max’s chin. Don pulled his fist back and gave Max a look of utter contempt. Max looked in the direction that he heard
the voice come from. He saw Mr. Heinrich at the top of the altar, dressed in some very ornate robes, with the sack in his left hand. To the right of Heinrich he saw two men who had Polly restrained.

“Max, are you
OK?” Polly asked with concern.

“Never been better
, dollface,” Max replied as he stood up and dusted himself off. “I see you haven’t found a breath mint yet,” Max said to Don. Don scowled at Max as he moved in between Max and the stage, his gun trained on Max the whole time.

Heinrich said in a satisfied voice
, “I must thank you for delivering the contents of the sack to me in one piece.”


OK, I’ll bite: What’s in the sack?”


It is with the utmost delight that I will reveal the sack’s contents to you,” Heinrich said as he raised the sack up and grasped it in both hands. He continued, “You see my attempts thus far at reviving my fallen friends to help with my criminal empire have been short ‘lived,’ to say the least.”


So you have something to do with all the criminal corpses turning up all over the city?”


Yes I do. I must apologize to the mayor for littering so much. But with this relic you have brought me…” Heinrich paused briefly as he reached into the sack and slowly pulled out its contents. “…I will become the ruler of this city and will not have to apologize for anything.”

“You’re off your rocker, Heinrich
,” Max said. “How is a relic supposed to help you rule the city?”

Heinrich explained
, “According to legend, the relic can revive the dead permanently. My previous attempts resulted in an eight-hour reanimation. Hardly enough time to start an undead criminal empire.”

“Al
l right, Heinrich, you have your relic, now let Polly go,” Max said in a stern voice.

“I suppose you did fulfill your end of the bargain.”

Heinrich looked to his henchmen and nodded. They released Polly and she ran down the steps into Max’s arms. She hugged Max with all her might.

“Sorry to interrupt your reunion
,” Heinrich apologized sarcastically. “Let me give you a demonstration of the relic’s power. It will be my way of saying thank you for returning it to me.”

Heinrich raised the relic above his head and began to chant. Max had never heard this language before
; it was eerily beautiful. To him it sounded like a combination of French, German and Spanish.

Polly leaned into Max and whispered
, “What are we going to do, boss?”

“I’ll figure something out. Heinrich must be stopped.”

Heinrich’s chants became louder and the relic began to glow pale blue. Max noticed that the body at his feet began to twitch. The corpse began to rise slowly as if it were attached to strings, like a puppet.

Max looked back to the altar and noticed that
Heinrich’s henchmen paid more attention to the body being reanimated than to him. He glanced at Don and noticed that he was also focused on the body.

Max got an idea. He slowly bent down and
gently lifted his pant leg. He reached into it and released his derringer from its holster.

Max slowly stood back up and took aim at the Heinrich. A shot rang out and silence fell across the warehouse. The body that
had started to rise up fell to the ground with a loud thud.

Max looked at his derringer and realized
that he hadn’t fired a shot. He looked down to see blood streaming from his chest.

Polly screamed as Max fell to the ground. He looked up and saw Polly leaning over him crying. He noticed Don behind her
smiling with a still-smoking gun clenched in his hand. Then all went black as Polly’s crying first became unbearably louder and then faded away.

*
              *              *

Polly hugged Max’s body as she sobbed uncontrollably.

“Well that was quite a shame. No need to cry, my dear,” Heinrich said in a confident, reassuring voice. “Bringing Max back from the dead wasn’t part of the plan. But he will still get to see and feel the relic’s power. Stand back while the relic works its magic.”

Polly clung to Max’s body as Heinrich chanted. Suddenly she felt Max move. She released her hold a bit and slowly leaned back. His body began to twitch. She stood up and wiped the tears from her eyes. Max’s body began to rise as Heinrich’s chanting became louder. She couldn’t believe what she saw. Max stood in front of her with his eyes closed.

Max could hear Heinrich chanting, but it sounded as though the chanting was inside his head. He thought the whole incident must have been a dream. He tried to open his eyes, but for some reason he couldn’t.

“I command you to open your eyes
, Max!”

Suddenly Max’s eyes flew open like a stuck door that
finally gave way. He looked around the room and it appeared as he remembered. He stopped when he got to Polly. Tears began to stream down her face as she smiled with hesitation. Max asked, “What-- What happened?“

“Unfortunately, your act of stupidity ended up getting you killed.
You were brought back from the dead by the relic. Now you are the first servant in my legion of undead!” Heinrich exclaimed in an overwhelmingly excited tone.

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