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Chapter One: The First Rodeo
The bullet zipped past my ear like a angry supersonic bee and smashed into the front window. It turned to a spider web stretching in all directions. Was I scared? Hell, yeah. On a good day, any idiot can drive down a North Dakota road. It’s got all the topography of a kitchen table. Unfortunately, there’s only about a week of good days in North Dakota and this wasn’t my week. The road was more like a sheet of ice with signs on the side. The truck only had about a million miles on it. Your US Air Force squeezes every dime out of its vehicles.
The pickup was closing fast on me. I could clearly see the driver and the front passenger. From the back seat, the shooter lined up another shot with his rifle. Like I said, the terrain of North Dakota is flat – just the thing a guy trying to shoot you could use. I needed to turn but the nearest intersection was at least five miles away. There was, however, another choice. Minot Air Force Base once had a third gate that led directly to the housing area. It had long been closed and the single narrow road that led to it had been in disuse ever since. The road that was rapidly approaching on my right. Any port in a storm. I jerked the wheel hard. Thought my old Suburban was gonna tip over. I crashed through a sign and chain linked fence and got all four wheels straight. I looked into the rearview. The pickup slid past my turn. It stopped, backed up and turned after me. Well, at least I got some distance between us. Now, my biggest problem was travelling over this moonscape. The road was now a dividing line between two farmers’ fields. The lack of maintenance resulted in pits and valleys so deep that I hit my head on the roof more than once. The impacts were so jarring, the wheel was constantly jumping out of my hands.
I stole another glance back. My pursuers were all over the place behind me. They looked like surfers battling a series of waves. I smiled and thought I had a chance. I was just about to wonder what would greet me at the base, when I saw it. The old entrance was a break in the fence, barred by a pair of cement blocks that made it impossible for a vehicle to enter. On each side of the blocks sat a blue Suburban with the words US AIR FORCE SECURITY FORCES on their doors. I was never happier to see a cop.
At about fifty yards out, I slammed on the brakes. The SUV fishtailed around over the frozen lumpy mess the road had become and finally stopped about ten yards from the security team. There were eight of them, looking all jumpy. There is a questionable wisdom to giving eighteen-year-olds loaded M-16s in the most boring state in the union. I got out the vehicle, hands up. I looked back and the pickup was still coming, probably a mile away. Must have been a better driver in those days than I thought. I walked quickly, mind you, not too quickly, towards my armed rescuers.
“Sandpiper! Sandpiper!” I shouted the primary distress word as I cut through the freezing wind. You see, guys involved with strategic weapons are given a word they can use to let the good guys know they’re in trouble without the bad guys being alerted. It’s complicated. Don’t worry about figuring it out.
“Noble?” The voice came from one of the vehicles. A big guy got out of the driver’s seat of the Suburban on my left. He put his field cap on as I got a good look at him. It was Captain McNichols, one of the ten black officers besides me on base. With a number that small, it was no surprise we knew each other.
“Jeff?” I asked. “Jesus. Thank God. I’m under duress.” At the time, I didn’t notice, but the other security force cops didn’t react to the duress word. They didn’t challenge me or take any defensive actions. They just kept looking at me, their rifles in the ready position but not quite pointed at me. But like I said, I was so glad to see some Air Force guys, they could have been purple and I wouldn’t have noticed.
I finally got to Jeff and grabbed him by the arm. My adrenaline was wearing off and some shock was setting in. I was shaking so much my teeth were chattering.
“Man, am I glad to see you!”
“What’s the problem?” Jeff asked. He was calm. Too calm. Initially, I chalked it up to his cop training. I turned back to the road and immediately wished I didn’t. The pickup had crept up to about fifty yards away. It rolled up like it was heading for a toll booth or something. Then I saw the cops. They were all facing me, their backs to the strange unauthorized pickup on Air Force property. Their faces were blank. Their hands tighten on their weapons.
“Aw, shit.” I turned back to Jeff. His teeth were on edge – you know the way you do when you have a secret that just came out. He put his hand on my shoulder.
“Jordan, man. I wished you hadn’t come this way.”
The doors of the pickup squeaked opened and closed. Footsteps crunched behind me along with seven mouths breathing noisily. I didn’t know what was going on but I did know that this was a messed up situation. I also knew I was about to die.
“Fuck that,” a tiny voice in my head said. I swear, I heard the words, Fuck that, at that very moment. I head butted Jeff with everything I had and he dropped like a stone. As he disappeared from my view, the Suburban he’d come out of appeared. Still running. I bolted. Behind me, the eighteen-year-olds with guns started asking questions while the four guys from the pickup quickened their pace. I got in the Police Suburban, dropped the thing into reverse and tried my best to push the gas pedal through the floorboard. Rocks flew and through the windshield I saw the pickup team readying their weapons. I ducked below the dash. I remembered Paul and knew these guys wouldn’t hesitate to shoot. The truck went backwards and bullets pierced the windshield and thumped along the body. I guessed that I was far enough from the fence line and rotated the wheel. When I didn’t crash into anything, I popped up. Before me was a road leading through the base’s housing area. More bullets – one penetrated my seat and me. I had been shot – in and out right through my lower back. I wasn’t in pain. The going into shock business took a back seat as I had to get out of there. I dropped the truck into drive and headed out.
Everything was coming together. This wasn’t some random attack on a missile combat crew returning to base. These guys had a whole team of security forces in their pocket, including their CO. This was big.
I got out of the housing area without killing anyone and headed towards the hangar. No one was going to believe me but I had to try. I turned onto the road heading for the flight line. Directly ahead of me, another security forces team leveled their M-16s at me. Standing alongside them were men in dark coats with submachine guns. They were, of course, the Secret Service.
Jordan T. Noble III paused for a moment to take a drink. He pulled back the sleeve of his left arm and the IWC Da Vinci reported 6:50 pm. He smiled. Despite Mrs. Steed’s constant mothering, she had made a fine selection for him. The simple and clean lines of a black tuxedo were always the best approach. When in doubt, his father had told him once, dress like Cary Grant. Or, in Jordan’s mind, Denzel Washington. He enjoyed his Vernors while his friends and partners, Malcolm Ewing and Don Ross looked at him with twin visages of confusion.
“So, let me see if I got this straight,” Malcolm said.
“OK,” Jordan said.
Malcolm Ewing reared back, throwing his hands up as he did. Next to him, Don Ross shook his head with folded arms. His face had the curve of a smile.
“So, they killed your partner, Pete?” Malcolm asked.
Jordan was used to Malcolm’s harsh approach to even the most sensitive topic. “Paul. Yes.”
“And then they shot you?”
“In the back?”
“Yes. Through the seat. You wanna see the bullet hole?”
Malcolm came forward, mirroring Don Ross on his right. “And you just kept on going? Like nothing happened?”
“This is the story. You asked me to tell you about my past, my first rodeo,” Jordan said, “well, here it is.”
The three founding members of the UrbanKnight Investigations and Security Services stood around a high table in the Detroit Institute of Arts. The table was a temporary feature, just like the huge fountain behind them. Both had been brought in just for this event. The fountain shot water into the air in different patterns and timing. Dozens of people in their finest evening wear worked their way around it pausing a moment to appreciate the display. Black and White people comingled in the urban location – a testament to the changes the city gone through and those yet to come.
“You gotta admit,” Malcolm said, “your story is pretty unbelievable.” He adjusted his glasses as he smirked. His skin was a deep caramel, a shade or two darker than Jordan. He was the shortest of the trio and wore pair of round glasses just at the end of the nose and his usual lopsided grin. Ever the rebel, he sported a black striped tuxedo with an extra-long jacket. The tie and cummerbund both sported an African pattern of red, green and gold. Jordan said nothing to that. He was just glad his partners were on time. He felt that they made it their personal mission to maintain the stereotype about African Americans and tardiness.
“You believe me, don’t you, Don?”
Don stroked his chin and narrowed his eyes as if he could see the truth in Jordan’s face. “What do you mean ‘strategic weapons’?”
“What?” Jordan was constantly caught off guard by Don’s ability to ignore the topic and dive head first into minutia. He was the exact opposite of Malcolm, tall where he was short, quiet to his loud and large to skinny. His tuxedo was more traditional, only it was gray versus the usual black.
Don wagged his finger at Jordan. “You said guys handling ‘strategic weapons’…”
Jordan shook his head. “What has that got to do with anything?”
“Does that mean ‘nuclear weapons’?”
Jordan was struck dumb again. Don not only went out of his way over minutia, but once he found it, he was like a dog with a bone.
“I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of nuclear weapons in North Dakota,” Jordan said.
Malcolm went into a giggling fit. “Worst government secret ever!” Everyone joined in the laughter.
“Look, I told you the story,” Jordan said, “If you don’t want to believe me, well that’s on you. I haven’t even got to the good part yet.” He leaned back and folded his arms. Casually and without really knowing he was doing it, he scanned the room. The main entrance of the museum had been transformed into a reception area. Every one of the high tables was occupied. Off to the right a couple held hands, and each other’s eyes. Next to the UrbanKnights’ table, a mirror hung on a wall – apparently a work of art. Jordan walked to it and discovered a card next to the glass. It read Self. He chuckled and used it to straighten his tie. In the reflection, he saw something, rather someone traverse the stairs behind him. He whirled and got just a glimpse of a purple hue dress wrapped around a delicate frame. The woman vanished through a marble archway. Jordan considered going after her, when Don spoke again.
“Well, if you say it’s true…Still, the Secret Service? Does that mean the President was involved?”
Jordan waved his hand like he was shooing a fly. “Look, this clearly was a bad idea. Y’all ain’t ready for the truth.” Malcolm and Don both held up their hands.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Don said.
“How you gonna stop mid-story?” Malcolm asked.
Jordan shook his head. “I will not have my origin story doubted.” His partners laughed.
“You Batman now?” Don asked.
Jordan stroked his chin. “I think I can pull off the dark Knight angle.” He smiled as he thought it was clever as he referenced both his race and occupation as the head of the UrbanKnights. Malcolm’s eyes corkscrewed to the ceiling and Don covered his face.
“So you’re not gonna finished the story?” Malcolm asked.
Malcolm blew a sigh. “Fine.” He looked around. “So, why are we here again?”
“Civic responsibility,” Jordan said.
Don shrugged. “How is this civic responsibility? The museum’s not on the auction block anymore.”
Jordan nodded. “True, but they’re always in a tight spot.” It was no secret the during the state of bankruptcy Detroit found itself in, the Detroit Institute of Arts was in danger of closing its doors forever. Ever mindful that only the slightest of misfortunes could put them back in that precarious situation, the directors of the museum took steps to secure funds. Steps like that night’s event.
“Besides,” Jordan continued, “it will be a good opportunity to meet with possible clients. Lots of money is gonna be here.” Beside him, Malcolm curled his lips into a snarl. Jordan slapped him on the back. “Networking, man! Isn’t that what you’re always going on about?”
“Fine,” Malcolm said with a nasal voice, “before I go and rub shoulders with the one percent, tell us about the car.”
“Yeah,” Don said, “let’s hear about the new Noble-mobile.”
Jordan tried to hide his smile but just couldn’t. The brand-new Shelby GT 500 Coupe was like a beast waiting to be unleashed on the city streets. He had picked up the car just that morning. A former contractor with the Department of Defense had crafted the Shelby GT 500 with a stunning array of aftermarkets. Like his previous car, the 1991 Corvette ZR1, this new car had features that would make James Bond jealous. Not to mention the barely street legal capabilities of its engine.
“Oh, no,” Jordan said, “you don’t want to hear about my car. My excessive spending. My thoughtless endangerment of the populace of Michigan.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Malcolm said, “whatever. You know you can’t wait to tell.”
Jordan smiled. “This machine...” he paused as if overcome by emotion, “is like having sex with your clothes on.” He turned to Don, “is it still OK to say ‘awesome?’”
Don shook his head. “If you’re fourteen-year-old girl.”
Around them, people began moving through the marble archway Jordan’s purple ghost had vanished earlier. Jordan glanced at his watch. “It’s getting close to that time. Let’s go.”
The detectives flowed into the crowd. Through the arch, the UrbanKnights entered a large room, normally reserved for the museum’s photography display. Now, the multi-level room hosted a series of tables for a silent auction. The entry led to a broad staircase. On the lower level, the white linen cloth table sported the spoils of the auction: rare and not so rare art pieces, vacations for two, dinner at the finer restaurants in the area – all donated by the richest and most dedicated ‘friends’ of the museum. Somewhere on a piano, an acceptable version of “Moonlight Serenade” played.
Near the center of the room, an empty space formed, and at its center stood Mayor Dwayne Turner. Jordan and his partners moved to the arch’s side, allowing the rest of guests to enter. Mayor Turner was a good looking guy; Jordan could give him that. He had the athletic built and height one would expect from a former center for Purdue. Deep brown skin with short dark hair. He was young, but not too young. Old, but… His visual appeal won over many voters. Along with his beautiful wife, now at his side in a black evening gown, Turner carried the election with the promise of a brighter future. And Lord knows Detroit could sure use one.
“There’s your mayor,” Malcolm noticed where Jordan was looking. “Detroit’s pretty boy.”
“Hater, much?” Don asked. Malcolm stewed in the juices of his own discontent.
“Well, I for one think he’s doing a fabulous job.”
The team turned and Mrs. Steed appeared at their side. The executive assistant for the UrbanKnights wore a blue evening gown complete with matching shawl. When she got close enough, Jordan took her hand and kissed it.
“Go ahead, Mrs. S!” Malcolm said. “The UrbanKnights very own heartbreaker.”
“Oh, hush, you,” Mrs. Steed said, “I’m old enough to be your mother!”
“Hey, I’m just saying. Some guys are into that. What they called, Don?”
“Cougars,” Don said.
Mrs. Steed tried to stay vexed but instead blushed. She positively glowed at the attention. Her mouth formed a smile that forced dimples deep into her cheeks. Along with the fashionable hairstyle, it would be hard to believe that in four years, the Polish mother of three will be seventy.
“Thank you, boys. An old lady doesn’t get out of the house much.”
“Fan of the mayor?” Jordan asked, allowing her a graceful change of subjects.
“Well, he’s certainly proved to be of a better sort than the previous administration.”
Jordan saw Malcolm draw a breath. He was sure that Malcolm was, no doubt, about the share his view of the mayor. Jordan cut him short. “OK, guys, time to do that mingling thing.”
“Sure, boss,” Malcolm said, “C’mon, Don. Saw a buffet table over there.”
“Hope they got shrimp,” Don said and they wandered off. Jordan watched them vanish into the crowd. He had grown up with them and was simultaneously shocked at what goofballs they were and proud of all they had done for the city. And him.
“I have to say, Mr. Noble, you are striking quite the picture today.” Jordan smiled. It was Mrs. Steed’s not so subtle way of reminding him of her role in selecting his wardrobe.
“Why, thank you, ma’am. Dress like Denzel, I always say.” He casted an eye towards Turner. “You know this is a meet and greet; I’m sure the mayor would love to talk to you.” The empty space around him and his wife had shrunk and His Honor was shaking hands with the citizenry.
Mrs. Steed blushed. “Oh, Mr. Noble! I don’t think the mayor would want—”
“What? Talk to someone who voted for him? You’ve obviously never met a politician. Come on.”
They made their way through the crowd. Jordan stopped for a moment here and there to greet someone or shake a hand. The very public ending to his manhunt for Saif Al-Matwalli had thrust him into the public eye, but that was months ago and he was rapidly becoming yesterday’s news. All that was needed was for a Kardashian to show up somewhere naked or a video of a talking cat to pop up on YouTube and he’d be totally forgotten.
A moment from adjoining the mayor, a figure appeared from one of the room’s many side doors. A short man in a Detroit Police uniform. Jordan recognized the man instantly. The brown face with the bald head had been on television enough times for any Detroiter to know the Chief of Police, Mike Hogan. He headed straight for the mayor, excusing himself as he forced his way through the crowd. At his boss’s side, Hogan couldn’t look more out of place. He wore his duty uniform and not the dress kit. A short bomber jacket and a uniform baseball styled cap completed the look.
Turner’s smooth features twisted into disappointment at the approach of his police department’s head. Hogan put his lips to the mayor’s ear and spat out a quiet report. Jordan switched focus to Mrs. Turner, her face nearly reptilian.
Turner bobbed his head at Hogan’s message, turned away and transformed back into the cheerful politician. Hogan faced Mrs. Turner and offered a meek bow and no doubt murmured the word, “Ma’am.” He backtracked and vanished through the same door he entered.
Well, now. What was that all—
“Really, Mr. Noble,” Mrs. Steed said, “What do you think of the mayor?” Jordan looked over at his companion. If she noticed the short drama that took place, she gave no signs.
The detective twisted past a couple who seemed oblivious to everything around them.
“He’s got a tough-on-crime stance,” he said, “always a good start.”
“But…?” the woman at his side said. He looked at her. Mrs. Steed had been in his employ for so long she operated under the assumption that she knew his every thought. She was right about seventy percent of the time.
“Mayors have been rebuilding Detroit as long as I’ve been alive. I’ve yet to see one do it. It would be a nice change of pace. I am cautiously optimistic.”
As she nodded slowly, Jordan turned back to Turner. The crowd shifted and he lost line of sight on Turner. The crowd’s movement did put something far more…interesting in view. The purple ghost had returned. She was, in a word, amazing. The way the Asian woman stood gave the impression she was strong despite her slim stature. He got the feeling she could handle herself. Her hair, silk and black as night was in a kind of up-do. Still, it looked long enough to reach her waist. She had on a plum, off the shoulder cocktail dress. If there was an ounce of fat on her, Jordan couldn’t find it and he was checking.
“She’s very beautiful,” Mrs. Steed said.
“Who is?” Jordan asked.
“Oh, please, if you think for one moment I believe that you are looking anywhere in that young woman’s direction and not notice her...”
“Oh, her. I suppose...”
“With all due respect, Mr. Noble, shut up. I’ll get her away from the mayor and you make your move.”
Jordan arched an eyebrow. Mrs. Steed’s not so clandestine mission was to marry off her employer. She customarily focused on Dr. Jackie Myers, one of Jordan’s oldest friends. Then she was sure that Robin Summers was destined to be Mrs. Jordan Noble, especially given how much he had been seeing of her of late. But that ship had sailed. It appeared that she was not above selecting new targets for him. Jordan was not of a mind to disagree, but couldn’t let her think he was actually agreeing with her—he’d never hear the end of it.
“Well,” he said, “I guess. I mean, it is a meet and greet...”
They bee-lined for the mayor. The mysterious woman had her back to them. Jordan tried to get the mayor’s attention but, even with his wife at his side, he only had eyes for Jordan’s raven-haired beauty. Fortunately, Jordan had a secret weapon.
“Excuse me,” Mrs. Steed stepped between Mayor Turner and the woman. She was almost shoulder to shoulder with her so the younger woman smiled and deferred her position to the older. Immediately, Mrs. Steed started chatting up the mayor like they were the only people in the room. The woman stopped next to Jordan, a quizzical look on her face. She watched as the mayor and Mrs. Steed walked away. Jordan cleared his throat.
“Sorry about that,” he said.
“Yeah. You’d think he didn’t wanna talk to me.” The woman looked over Jordan. The corner of her mouth turned up slightly. At the closer distance, she was incredible. Her face was just as beautiful as her body. Her green eyes were damn near hypnotic. The hair was jet black but he didn’t care for the way she had it pulled up. She fixed a stare on him like she was about to say something when she stopped.
“If you’ll excuse me,” she said out of the blue. Jordan stood gaping like a fish. The woman navigated the crowd like a shark gliding through the sea. He could only watch the retreating form with its silken black hair disappear.
“Son of a bitch.”
He was suddenly alone. Mrs. Steed continued chatting up the mayor, now joined by a few other hangers-on. Jordan looked up and saw Don and Malcolm standing on the landing of a stairway. A sly smile, let Jordan know Malcolm had seen the strike out with the beautiful woman. There would be hell to pay.
But not now. He wandered over to an area set aside for a silent auction where a variety of donated pieces were displayed. Everyone within a fifty-mile radius with more than five dollars to spare had been invited. And Jordan Noble, multimillionaire and hero of the city was close to the top of the list. He hadn’t plan on buying anything, but it couldn’t hurt to look.
“You have more drama with women, man.” Malcolm came and stood next to Jordan. Malcolm wasn’t wrong. Jordan’s breakup with Robin Summers was more than a tender subject right now. She had, for no apparent reason, sent a text saying it’s over. It would have been more devastating if not for the lightning fast and equally hot affair with Nellie Fennel. His first case as a reserved officer in the Defense Intelligence Agency brought him in contact with the fiery Jamaican. It had been over two weeks and his back was still killing him. Jordan told himself he was going to take it easy. To slow down this pattern over the past few years of love ‘em and leave ‘em. Then again, never let a good opportunity go to waste.
“Not now,” Jordan said to Malcolm. He threw his chin in the direction of the Turners. Mrs. Steed had moved on. Detroit’s First Couple were with other patrons.
Malcolm focused as Don appeared on Jordan’s other side.
“So?” Malcolm asked. “Turner’s doing the ‘press the flesh’ thing.”
“The Chief of Police was here,” Jordan said. “In and out. Whispered something to His Honor and bolted.”
“Didn’t we go to school with him?” Don asked. Jordan looked at him. Don had a plate filled with shrimp. Jordan scowled but Don’s goofy grin reflect cluelessness.
“What?” Don asked.
“What does our going to school with Hogan got to do with anything?” Jordan beamed harsh eyes.
“I’m just saying.”
Malcolm broke in, “So what are you saying, Jordan?”
“It’s just…” Jordan thought for minute. Perhaps he was seeing problems were there weren’t any. Maybe he felt unfulfilled after his beautiful woman in purple vanished and he wanted to refocus his attention. Still, that creeping sensation fell upon him. His “spider-sense.” His unexplainable, but never wrong, sense of danger.
They whiled away another hour and a half. The piano player continued to butcher jazz standards. Ultimately, the mayor made a little speech. Applause rang out and the rich and well to do opened their wallets to partake in the auction. Jordan enjoyed the people watching, when at the top of stairs, leading out of the room, he saw her again. The vision in purple paused for a moment to take one last look around. Jordan started to move, but at that exact moment, they locked eyes. A smile creased her lips as Jordan tried to project his willpower to freeze her in place. Instead, she whirled and exited the door. He sighed. Detroit wasn’t as populated as it once was, but there was little chance of another random meeting with the raven-haired beauty.
Ah, well. Need to slow down, remember?
Ten o’clock came calling and the UrbanKnights left the Detroit Institute of Art. They stepped into the cold. March still had its talons on the Motor City and they all pulled their coats a little tighter. After seeing Mrs. Steed off safety in a MetroCar Lincoln, they quicken their pace to the parking lot at the building’s side. Malcom, who for some reason, never seemed to have a vehicle, joined Don at his BMW 610. Jordan pressed the fob of a more impressive vehicle.
The new Shelby GT500 Coupe sat in a spot directly beneath a security light. Jordan paused for a moment before climbing into the black on black performance vehicle. Jordan heard Malcolm click his tongue. He turned to the noise.
“Problem?” Jordan could barely contain his glee.
Malcolm shook his head and attempted entry into Don’s still locked car. “C’mon, Don. Let’s get out of here before this madman gets behind the wheel of another death machine.”
Jordan reeled as if he had been struck. He put a hand to his chest. “Death machine? Are you referring to my Corvette? Bite your tongue, sir!”
Malcolm made a dismissive gesture. “I ain’t talking to you. You seem to forget I was with you the last time you drove that Corvette. Just before it got blown up.”
Jordan pointed a gloved finger at Malcolm. “Which, I have to say, had nothing to do with my driving!” The comment when unchallenged as Malcolm disappeared into the car. Jordan laughed softly at his small victory. He sank into his own vehicle and with an engine roar that split the night, headed for home.