Lady Justice and the Mysterious Box
Los Angeles, California
Harley Simpson looked up and down the alley and, seeing no one, quietly lifted the lid on the dumpster. This particular dumpster behind the Burger Bar was one of his favorites. He could always find half-eaten burgers, cold fries, and once in a while, a few onion rings.
He was about to reach for a promising bag when he heard angry shouting down the alley. Harley gently closed the lid. He could come back for the bag later.
He moved silently down the alley toward the sound of the voices, ducking behind dumpsters, careful not to reveal his presence.
He peered around a corner and saw two men in a deserted parking lot. He was close enough to hear their argument.
“Just give it to me,” one of the men said. “It’s not worth losing your life.”
“Never!” the other replied, stubbornly. “I’ll die before I let it fall into your hands.”
It appeared to Harley that the men were fighting over a cardboard box on the ground a few feet away.
“Then so be it!” the first one said, pulling a switchblade from his pocket.
The blade flew open and the man lunged, burying the sharp steel to the hilt in the other man’s stomach.
The wounded man staggered back, clutching the handle of the knife with one hand while pulling a revolver from his waistband with the other.
He pulled the trigger hitting his adversary in the chest. Both men fell to the pavement, their lives ebbing away.
Harley’s mouth dropped open as watched the deadly exchange. He waited several minutes and when neither of them stirred, he moved quickly to the bodies.
He looked closely and when he was satisfied that both men were dead, he picked up the box and opened the lid. He was hoping the box contained money or jewels --- something valuable enough that it cost two men their lives, but when he peered inside, he was perplexed. He had no idea what he was looking at.
No matter, he thought. It must be worth something or the two men on the ground wouldn’t have been fighting over it.
He knew somebody who might know what it was and what it was worth.
He put the lid back on the box, looked around, and seeing no one, slipped quietly out of the parking lot.
The man behind the counter at Pete’s Pawn Shop looked up as the bell over the door tinkled announcing Harley’s arrival.
“Mornin’, Pete,” Harley said enthusiastically. “I’ve got a doozey for you today.”
Pete grimaced as the old man approached. “Jesus Harley! You’re ripe. Been dumpster diving again?”
“Mebbe, mebbe not. Don’t matter one way or the other,” he replied, holding up the box. “I got somethin’ special here.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Pete replied, dubiously. “Let’s give it a look.”
Harley handed the box to Pete. He carefully lifted the lid. Pete had been in the pawn business thirty years and had seen just about everything, but he’d never seen anything like this.
“Where did you get this?”
“Found it in a parking lot,” he replied. It was a partial truth.
“Sure you did. Any idea what it is?”
“Not a clue, but it’s got to be worth a few bucks. Whadda you say?”
Pete thought for a moment. “I’ll give you twenty-five just to get you out of my shop.”
“Twenty-five!” Harley roared. “That thing’s gotta be worth a lot more. Give it back. I’ll take it to Sparky’s pawn. I’ll bet he’ll do better.”
“Just keep your britches on,” Pete replied, taking a closer look at the contents of the box. “I’m taking a chance since I don’t know what we have here, but I’ll give you forty.”
Harley thought for a moment. “Deal!”
Harley smiled as Pete handed him two twenties. He hadn’t seen that much cash in months.
As soon as the old man left the shop, Pete grabbed a can of deodorizer and sprayed liberally.
Randall Stokes and Brian Steele entered the dry cleaning establishment and walked up to the counter.
“Homeland Security. We need to see the security camera footage for your parking lot,” Stokes said, holding up a badge.
“I don’t know,” the proprietor replied, “don’t you need a warrant or something?”
“We could shut your place down for the day while we get one. Is that what you’d like?”
The proprietor thought for a moment. “No, that won’t be necessary. Follow me.”
He led them into a back-room office. “There,” he said, pointing, “I’ll boot it up for you.”
“Not necessary. We’ll take care of it from here. You go back up front.”
“Trust me.” Stokes said. “You’ll be much better off up front.”
Understanding the veiled threat, the proprietor left the two men alone.
“Glad we got that mess out back cleaned up before the store opened,” Steele said, pulling up the footage on the security cam. “Here we go. Let’s see what happened to our box.”
They watched as the two men fought and perished. A few minutes later, an old bum appeared. After examining the two bodies, he picked up the box, opened it, then slinked away.
“Great! Just great! That old geezer has no idea what he’s gotten himself into. We have to find him.”
“And eliminate him, I suppose.”
“You heard what Scarborough said, ‘Anyone who sees the contents of that box is a threat.’”
“But he’s just an old homeless guy. How’s he going to be a threat?”
“That’s not our call. We just follow orders. Let’s go find him.”
“That shouldn’t be too hard. From the looks of him, he spends a lot of time in the alley behind the shops. We’ll watch. He’ll show up.”
They pulled the disk from the recorder, thanked the proprietor for his cooperation, and went off in search of their quarry.
Harley couldn’t believe his good fortune. Forty bucks! He might even be able to get a cheap room for a few nights. It would be great to sleep in a real bed for a change.
Then he thought about the bag in the dumpster behind the Burger Bar. He was hungry and he figured the contents of the bag would be enough to get him by. No need to spend his forty on food.
He had just lifted the dumpster lid when he heard footsteps and saw two men approaching.
“Damn!” he muttered. “Busted!”
He was about to take off when one of the men called to him. “Don’t run. We just want to talk for a minute. Then you can get back to whatever you were doing.”
That certainly didn’t sound threatening. Harley waited as the men approached.
“We don’t mean to frighten you,” one of them said. “We just want some information.”
“What kind of information?” Harley asked.
“We know you were in the parking lot this morning. We saw you on the security camera’s footage.”
Now Harley was really alarmed. “Hey, I didn’t have nothin’ to do with what happened to those two guys. They offed each another.”
“We know that. You’re not in trouble. We just want to know what happened to the box they were fighting over. We know you took it.”
“Well yeah. I figured with both of ‘em dead they wouldn’t be needing it no more.”
“And you were right. We just need to know what you did with it.”
“I don’t have it no more.”
The two men looked at one another. “What did you do with it?”
Harley thought for a moment. “What’s it worth for me to tell you?”
One of the men opened his wallet. “How’s fifty sound?”
Harley couldn’t believe his good fortune. “Works for me,” he replied, grabbing the bill. “I took it to Pete’s Pawn Shop a few blocks over.”
“That’s all we need to know,” the man said, pulling an automatic with a suppressor from his holster.
There was a quiet ‘pop’ and Harley slumped to the ground.
A few minutes later Harley’s body was in the dumpster on top of a bag with a half-eaten burger.