Crime Drama

The deflated barista’s mouth hung open. This was the desired reaction. The customer sipped his iced coffee, winked, and turned towards the door. He congratulated himself on his snide response to the chipper barista’s well-wishes. Those who’d overheard it scowled and shot daggers from their eyes as he weaved his way to the Starbucks exit.

Their contempt for him was almost enough to quell the flutter he’d felt when the barista’s soft finger had lightly brushed his own. Had she intended it to entice, while handing him his sweet, milky beverage?

Their contempt was almost enough to derail the daydream that had gripped his thoughts when he’d looked into the barista’s large, violet eyes. The dream that threatened to lure him into thoughts of maybes and what ifs that he could not afford to entertain.

Yes, their contempt was almost enough … but not quite. Those violet eyes would no doubt feature in his dreams for weeks to come. He sighed as he fished his keys from the pocket of his threadbare, black hoodie.

“You’re a real jerk,” said a soccer mom in yoga pants. She climbed into her SUV and regarded him from behind bug-like sunglasses. He’d seen her over his shoulder after he’d skewered the barista.

He made a dramatic flourish, and took a deep bow. The flustered woman scoffed as her SUV lurched from its parking space. He watched it until it turned from the lot, and the stick figure family on its rear window faded into a blur.


His name was Cole, but his business card simply read Cold. An unlisted phone number was on the reverse. His advertising was strictly word-of-mouth. He had no storefront. His nondescript cards circulated through the bluest veins of the city, always from one satisfied hand, into another one more desperate.

His notoriety had germinated when, at sixteen, he’d stolen Senator Gibson’s entire collection of Civil War medals. In their place he’d left a collection of chintzy novelty prizes — a ribbon that read “Someone has to come in last,” a plastic trophy with “Booby Prize” inscribed beneath breasts of spray-painted gold. And underneath, a printed ledger of the Senator’s dubious voting record. At the bottom of this he’d scrawled what would become his catchphrase:

It’s just business.

That caper marked the first of a dozen high-profile thefts from prominent figures over the decade that followed. Each one punctuated with the same cold-blooded inscription. It brought him untold glee that the unfortunate recipients missed the the double-entendre in those three words. Only Cole knew that the word just in this context was an adjective, not an adverb. It was a condition of his that his victims deserve his brand of justice.

No one knew the identity of the thief known only as Cold. Those who could afford to retain his services would leave him a voicemail. Correspondence for planning and logistics always took place through anonymized computer chat. Payment was always made via offshore accounts. From the outside world, Cold could be anyone.

So it was quite a surprise when that morning, as he slurped the sweet, watery dregs of his iced latte, a thick letter slid beneath the door of his modern penthouse.

Before opening it, he listened at the door, holding his breath. On the adjacent security monitor, he saw the back of a dark, hooded figure as it rounded the corner of the building and disappeared.

He turned the unmarked, eucalyptus teal letter around in his hands. The thick, fibrous paper was sealed with a dollop of burgundy wax, embossed with a distinctive, triangular rune. A cold stone began to slosh in his belly as he pried open the seal with the edge of his pocketknife, and extracted the typewritten correspondence inside.

Cold, I hope you will accept this job. Morton Grimes has, with his foul influence, managed to acquire a rare coin from the estate of my grandfather, Rudolph Trappe, God rest his soul. Beyond its monetary value, this family heirloom holds immeasurable value to me personally. Grimes, as I’m sure the enclosed dossier will illustrate, is wholly undeserving of possessing this item, and I want it back. I hope that the modest cashier’s check within is sufficient to retain your services.

It was signed, Ms. Blue. Cole perused the information Ms. Blue provided — he’d have to vet it, of course, but it seemed that Grimes did indeed tick all the boxes. The check was on the low end of his usual rate, though. Moreover, it disconcerted him that someone out there now had the address of his notorious and meticulous alter-ego.

Or not so meticulous. He had been careless.

He spent the rest of the day retracing his activities over the past year, scouring his thoughts for his slip-up. All the while, the letter sat on his mantel, poking his mind like a splinter. Could it be a trap? Had his misdeeds — however just they had been — managed to catch up with him at last? Should he pack up and flee?

In syncopation with those thoughts, though, came lavish performances of the violet-eyed barista. She played the role of Ms. Blue, throwing her grateful arms around him as he returned her grandfather’s coin to its rightful owner. The dreaded maybes and what ifs intruded on his deliberations, and he questioned whether this job should be his last. Did he dare entertain one day having a stick figured SUV of his own? His heart pranced through these possibilities, in defiance of his trepidation.

Late into the night, his fifth tumbler of Macallan at last delivered him over to slumber.


A week later, he sipped his breakfast tea, rolling the rare coin between his fingers. The job had gone by the numbers. He had been in and out without incident, skulking through the overnight moonshadows, even making it home in time to get a solid sleep. On the TV, his ears perked up as the morning news ran a brief segment about the robbery. The housekeeper, Beryl Barton, had been jailed without bond for the crime. He wouldn’t have given this a second thought — there had been others who’d taken the blame for his villainy — but even through the unforgiving mugshot camera, Beryl Barton was radiant.

She was the loveliest thing he’d ever seen, putting even the violet-eyed barista to shame. It wasn’t just her substantial objective beauty. The calm resignation and despair on her face spoke of a life of tribulation and triumph. From beneath her mascara-streaked eyes shone a stoicism that inspired him to heartache. In that fleeting glimpse, he’d seen a woman built of empathic strength. A woman of pragmatic freedom. A woman of focused passion.

Ms. Blue’s petty possessiveness paled next to Cole’s desire — his need — to clear the name of Beryl Barton. But how? Confessing to the crime was one option — but that would be counter-productive to his secondary goal of meeting the enchanting detainee. He regarded the polished artifact, puzzling over its strange foreign etchings. “Any ideas?” he asked the bas relief profile on the coin face.

Then it dawned on him. He could again sneak into Grimes’ office, and put it back. If the coin reappeared in its display case while Beryl Barton stewed in the slammer, it would prove someone else’s guilt, and ensure her release. He swallowed down the frustration of having to pull off what was essentially the same job a second time. What’s more, he would have nothing, in the end, to show for it. Not even the paltry cashier’s check, which his conscience would compel him to return to Ms. Blue.

But it would be for Beryl Barton. That was reason enough.


In fact it was not essentially the same job a second time. In the wake of Cole’s first violation, Grimes had — appropriately enough — stepped up his home security, which had been nothing to sneeze at before. This was not going to be easy.

“It’s for Beryl,” he told himself again and again, as he surveilled each of Grimes’ new defenses.

He breathed a sigh of relief when he learned that Grimes did not get a watchdog. That was a complication he liked to avoid. Dogs were both chaotic and single-minded, and nothing got past their ridiculous sense of hearing. Animal tranquilizers were problematic. Too much, and you risk an overdose; too little, and the beast might wake too soon. That left only human and technological defenses — both of which were little match for Cole.

After a week of careful planning, he was ready. It was to be a rare daytime escapade. His considerable intelligence gathering had revealed that Grimes would be at a meeting all day. And security detail was lighter during the daylight hours. Most people assumed no one would be dumb enough to break in during the day — Grimes and his security team included, apparently.

He tiptoed past the security cameras — which he’d reprogrammed to show looping images of the uninhabited rooms, and pushed open the office door. There in the display case was the empty velvet indentation where the coin in his pocket once shone. Just a couple meters away. He could complete the task and be out of there in just minutes.

“Ahem,” came a voice behind him, turning his blood to liquid nitrogen. He turned slowly, hands raised.

Standing in the office doorway was none other than Beryl Barton. She was leaned against the frame, wearing a scant one-piece bathing suit, under a sheer mesh cover up drawn at the waist by a string. Large sunglasses were raised on top of her wavy highlighted blonde hair. And those eyes — those storybook eyes that he’d only glimpsed on the news mugshot — were right in front of him, looking amused.

“Who might you be?” she said.

Thinking quickly, Cole attempted a lie. “Grimes sent me from the office to pick up some papers he left here.” He attempted to appear casual as he approached the desk.

Beryl laughed, and he heard a canticle of angels. “Please. Is that the best you can do?”

For the first time in his life Cole could not muster his cynical facade. She’d left him speechless, and drowning in the ocean of all she was, yet gasping for more of her. He uttered something resembling a cross between a grunt and a squeak, and he was again rewarded with the rapture of her song-like laughter.

“I was just on my way to the pool,” she said. “Care to join me?” She turned back into the hall, and Cole followed as if on a tether. “So what are you up to, some kind of corporate espionage?”

Cole dredged up enough coherence to speak at last. “Aren’t you supposed to be in jail?”

“I was,” said Beryl, sliding open the French doors to the deck. “But I made Grimes a deal he couldn’t refuse. Stop changing the subject. What were you doing in Grimes’ office?”

“I guess you could call it espionage, of a sort.”

Beryl tossed aside her cover up and lay face-down on a Santa Barbara chaise. She wiggled a bottle of tanning cream at Cole. “Be a dear and get my back?”

Cole struggled for breath as he squirted the cocoa butter lotion into his palm and placed it on the small of her back. Beryl sighed as his hand slid across the ridges of her spine, smoothing the fragrant cream into her warm, tanned flesh.

“So, what was the deal?” Cole managed.

Beryl laughed again, but it was mirthless. “The only thing I had to offer. Me.”

Cole was gripped with jealously. There was no version of the world in which Grimes would ever deserve the woman before him. And yet, if he understood her correctly, that is exactly what had transpired. He squirted more of the lotion on her back and began to massage her with both hands. “So he dropped the charges, and in exchange you — what — agreed to marry him?”

“That’s about it, yep.”

“Forgive me for saying so,” said Cole, “but that’s just wrong.”

“It is what it is.”

“But you’re worth so much more than that!”

“Aw, you’re sweet,” she said, turning to smile at him, “but I’m not all that great.”

“I know I’ve never met you, but I know you’re better than just being Grimes’ arm candy. I can see it in your eyes.” His hands roamed down her lower back to the backs of her thighs. They were smooth and strong, and twitched when he spoke. “When I saw you on the news, it … it moved me. You’ve got a greatness in you.”

“Well,” she said, “I do have some talents. I paint some.”

“I’d love to see your work.”

She sat up, excited. “Really?”

“Of course!”

Beryl clapped her hands, jumped off the chaise, grabbed Cole by the wrist, and pulled him back into the residence. She led him down a hall, past the security cameras that he hoped were still on a loop, and into a room that was strewn with canvases and easels. “Well?” she said. “What do you think?”

The works were … dark. Morbid imagery, with strong blacks and deep reds. They told tales of struggle and torture, of pain and treachery. Hopeless. Bleak. “They’re incredible,” said Cole, turning to face her. “Just like you.”

Beryl beamed.

“Beryl,” Cole said, “let me take you away from this. We can leave town. I’ve got plenty of money. You don’t have to sell yourself to Grimes. I can set up somewhere else, and you can work on your art. I know you don’t know me, but I think I’m seeing more clearly now. Clearer than I have in a long time. You make me want to be better. I know I’ll be better, with you.”

“Cole, do you really mean it?”

“Absolutely, I ….” Then Cole felt something snake-like begin to constrict inside his chest.

She’d said his name.

He’d never told her his name.

Cole’s eyes darted around the room for an escape. A splash of color caught his eye. On a workshelf was an envelope. A eucalyptus green envelope, just like the one he’d gotten from Ms. Blue. Next to it was a burgundy candle. And off to one side, he saw a wax seal stamp, with the unique, triangular rune. So that meant ….

“So you’re finally piecing it together, huh?” she said.

Cole tensed, his nerves were electric with fear. “What is this? Who are you?”

“You didn’t do your homework, Cole. Or should I call you Cold?”

Cole’s head started spinning.

“Morton!” Beryl called, and he could hear heavy footsteps approaching from the hall — the room’s only exit. “You’re done, Cold. You don’t know me, but I’ve spent nine years getting to know you. You’re not as sneaky as you think you are.”

“What do you want from me?”

“You’re going to pay for what you did to my father. James Barton was a valet for Thomas Winchester. Ring any bells?”

Winchester. One of his earliest victims. A dirty man who did dirty business. Cole had stolen Mr. Winchester’s prized Fabergé egg, and replaced it with a year-old ostrich egg — which he’d purposely cracked on his way out to stink up the mogul’s parlor.

“My father took the fall for that crime. He was a good man, Cole, and you ruined him. You ruined me. My mother never recovered from that, and we ended up moving from town to town trying to make ends meet, while my father rotted away in prison for what you did.” Angry tears were streaming down her face, as Morton Grimes stormed through the door with an armed guard.

“What’s going on here? Who is this man?” Grimes asked Beryl.

“Check his pockets. It’s the thief who took your coin. Probably came back for more, but I surprised him.”

“Is that so?” said Morton. He nodded at the guard, who threw Cole over a stool and begin rifling through his pockets. He pulled out the coin and handed it to Morton, then leveled his revolver at Cole’s head.

Cole looked at Beryl, whose recent delight was now an energetic fire of vindication. He turned back to Grimes. “Look, sir, this is all just a big misunderstanding. I was here to put the coin back.”

Grimes belted out a laugh. “Is this some kind of joke?”

“Not at all,” Cole said. “But it is some kind of game, apparently. And you and I are the pieces.”


Beryl was staring at Cole with pure hatred in her eyes. His folly became clear. In his amorous musings, he’d become blinded. Careless. He could see now that Beryl was a woman who had been defiled. Defiled by her own vengeance. Corrupted beyond redemption. The magic he’d felt had all been illusion. Her illusion, with one design: to entrap him.

“I’m waiting!” Grimes stomped.

“It was Beryl,” said Cole.

“Don’t listen to him, baby,” said Beryl, clinging to Grimes’ arm. “He’s just trying to talk his way out of this!”

“Shut up,” said Grimes, shaking her off. “Go on.”

Cole continued. “It all makes sense now. She set this all up, so you would punish me, and she would get a life of luxury.”

“That’s a lie!” Beryl shouted. “You can’t prove anything.”

Cole turned to the guard, “May I?” he moved his hand towards his back pocket.

The guard moved his finger from the trigger guard onto the trigger. “Slowly.”

Cole reached in his pocket and pulled out the letter. Beryl gasped. Grimes took the letter and his face reddened as he read. Veins began to protrude from his forehead.

“You. Out,” he said to Cole. Cole didn’t waste any time and wedged his way past the guard. As he left the room he looked back to see Grimes grab Beryl by the throat, as the guard closed the door with a soft click.

“Sorry, Beryl,” he said to himself. “I guess I’ll cash that check after all.”

“After all,” he chuckled, “it’s just business.”

August 13, 2021 02:11

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Jude S. Walko
14:26 Aug 14, 2021

Wow incredible! These characters had me intrigued from the get go. Then the twists kept leading down a noir rabbit hole. Like an old gumshoe movie or novel but way more descriptive. I also was impressed with your ability to make is feel empathy for a criminal antihero. That is never easy. Great read. Just business indeed!


Jon Casper
17:14 Aug 14, 2021

Thanks Jude! I am flattered by your compliments. So glad you liked it.


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A.G. Scott
03:28 Aug 13, 2021

This was a joy! A well-paced twist on a classic detective story with interesting details. I can picture it all on the big screen in black and white.


Jon Casper
09:41 Aug 13, 2021

I'm glad you enjoyed it! Thank you.


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