Wednesday, May 31, 2017

#FreeDailyThriller - Lust, Money & Murder - Book 10, "Black Widow" - Part 53

Chapter 62

Luna got up early the following morning, checked out of the hotel, and headed south.
It was 7 p.m. by the time she reached Atlanta, or Peachtreeville, as she thought of it—the city had something like seventy streets with the word Peachtree in them. Peachtree Lane, Peachtree Avenue, Peachtree Circle, Peachtree Drive, Peachtree Memorial Drive, New Peachtree Road, Peachtree Park Drive, Peachtree Parkway, the list went on and on. If you went to Atlanta and needed to find any address with Peachtree in the street name, you were in for a long and frustrating day. Luna had learned that the hard way.
She had made a reservation for a hotel in Dunwoody, an establishment that was not on any Peachtree-named thoroughfare, she had made damn sure of that. She then spent a grueling evening searching the gay bars and clubs for Lonnie Hendrix. Apparently he’d been quite active in the area and had been here both before and after his time in Baltimore. No one specifically knew a man named Lonnie Hendrix, but quite a few people recognized his photo and knew him under one of his other many aliases—Jeremy Rhodes, Brendan Russell, or Lawrence Kavanaugh. And when Luna cranked up the crocodile tears in her spurned lover act, the comments were always the same:
“Ha. You fell for him, too? Take a number.”
“Yeah, he dumped you and everybody else this side of the Mississippi.”
“Poor you. Line starts in the back, Carl.”
Since no one seemed to have had any contact with the man in at least four years, she wondered if he could have died of AIDS. She now understood that Lonnie Hendrix must have had thousands of sexual partners in his lifetime, and most of them were gay men. He could have wasted away under some alias that he created to receive medical treatment and be left alone by the law. That would account for him dropping out of sight completely.
She finally got a reliable-seeming lead from a man who claimed to have seen him several times recently in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The next morning, Luna drove to Charlotte and spent another long night of searching for him in her Carl Frazier persona, but with no better results. Then she stumbled on another lead that put Hendrix in Nashville, and she spent the next day driving over the Smoky Mountains and into Middle Tennessee.
No luck there, either.
By Thursday afternoon, Luna was exhausted, having done nothing but drive from one city to another all week. She had visited so many gay bars and clubs that they all blurred together, and so did all the men she had chatted with and fought off.
At midnight Thursday evening, she returned to her hotel in Nashville and collapsed on the bed, thoroughly discouraged—the only man she had met tonight who seemed to be acquainted with Hendrix said that he knew “for a fact” that the sleazy con man was now living in Charlotte, where she’d just come from!
 At this point, Luna felt like she was going around in circles. She had hoped she could have tracked down Lonnie Hendrix by now, before Elaine executed her big plan to win Spyro’s trust. But it just didn’t seem to be in the cards.
Glancing at her watch, she forced herself up from the bed and seated herself at the hotel room desk. She decided, as a last ditch effort, to call Frank Hagland and see if he had anything on Hendrix, even a tiny morsel. She had called him last Sunday and asked him to check on any leads he could find via the FBI on Lonnie Hendrix or any of the aliases she’d known about then, but only activity that had taken place in the past five years. Frank had done so, had called her back the next day, and had come up empty-handed. However, he told her that he was playing around with a new face recognition package that could be set up to crawl the entire web, and that he would use it to search for any photos of Hendrix that had been posted recently.
 As Frank’s phone rang, she leaned back in the desk chair, struggling not to doze off. When he answered, she said, “I’m sorry to call so late, Frank, but—”
“Hey, I was just about to call you!”
“You were?”
“Yeah!” he said excitedly. “I’ve been playing around with the settings on that face recognition package, and it dug up something interesting posted on your man Hendrix. Kind of out of character for him, though—might not be the same guy, but it sure looks like him to me.”
Luna felt a twinge of excitement. “Where did you find the picture?”
“On a political website. It was taken at a Steve Ezell rally a couple of years ago. The software gave me a face-in-the-crowd match from his mug shot photo.”
“Steve Ezell?” The name sounded vaguely familiar but she couldn’t place it. “Who is he?”
“A Southern politician, a real nutcase, kind of scary, actually. Ran for Governor of Georgia as an independent a few years ago.” Now Luna remembered reading something about him. “Are you online with your computer at the moment?”
“I can be, just a sec.” She pulled her laptop from her satchel and turned it on.
Frank gave her the website address where the photo was posted. The picture was taken outdoors, with maybe two dozen people clapping and cheering as they gazed above and past the camera, presumably at the podium or wherever Ezell was standing and giving a speech.
“Lonnie Hendrix, or the match I’m getting for him, is in the second row there, between those two scraggly looking guys with the beards.”
“I see him,” Luna said, but she had spotted him instantly. With his handsome face and clean-cut appearance, he did not fit in with the rest of the heavyset, redneck types around him. He and his two bearded companions, if they were indeed companions, were wearing bright yellow STEVE EZELL FOR GOVERNOR T-shirts.
“That’s odd,” Luna muttered, mostly to herself. “I had no idea he was into politics.”
“Yeah, that’s where things get even weirder,” Frank said. “Steve Ezell is about as conservative as you can get, has the alt-right and a lot of super right-wing extremists behind him. He’s staunchly anti-LGBTQ, anti-gay rights, anti-gay marriage, anti-gay everything. Anti-federal government, too, the type that the NRA types love, talks about a revolution if there is much more gun control, and so on. Steve Ezell didn’t even come close to winning in the election, of course, only got a couple of thousand votes.”
“That is odd all right,” Luna said, now finding herself doubting that the man in the crowd was actually Lonnie Hendrix. But the chiseled features, the ice-chip blue eyes, and the cleft in his chin were unmistakable. His hands were raised to his chest, applauding the invisible speaker, grinning, his facial expression one of excitement and enthusiasm.
“You told me Hendrix is gay, right?” Frank said.
“Well, yeah, he’s bi, he’s all over the rainbow.”
“Why would he be supporting a political candidate like Steve Ezell?”
“I have no idea,” Luna said, baffled.
She looked at the date on the photo. It was posted a little over two years ago.
Maybe this explained why he’d dropped off the radar for five years? Luna thought.

Chapter 63

Luna got up at six-thirty the next morning, checked out of the hotel, and headed south again, back to Atlanta.
She and Frank had determined that the political rally that Lonnie Hendrix had attended two years ago had been held in the parking lot of a large Baptist Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, which was one of Atlanta’s biggest suburbs. Her instincts told her that Hendrix was still around that area, somewhere, and had possibly changed his lifestyle and might still be involved in politics. Perhaps he had grown too old to keep up his seduction/blackmail scheme or had simply gone through some sort of mid-life crisis, maybe had even settled down. That often happened to people with age, even career criminals, and Lonnie Hendrix was almost fifty now. Maybe he had found God or gotten married and had kids, who knew?
In any case, Luna believed she had a real chance of finding him now.

* * *
When Luna entered the outskirts of Atlanta that afternoon, she stopped in Marietta and checked into a hotel just off I-75, wanting to avoid the heavy city traffic as much as possible. The location was also fairly close to Roswell, which was where Mike Remmick, one of Steve Ezell’s former campaign managers lived. She had tracked down Remmick’s home address and phone number early this morning, and made an appointment with him for four in the afternoon.  She told him that she was a family lawyer and wanted to talk to him about one of his former workers and that it involved a significant amount of money. Remmick resisted at first but she told him that it would only take five minutes, and he agreed.
The meeting with Remmick turned out to be a waste of time, and a huge disappointment. When Luna arrived at his house, she was dressed in her usual Secret Service attire and told him she was trying to track down a man named Lonnie Hendrix because his half-sister had died and left him a sizable chunk of money. Remmick didn’t recognize Hendrix’s name, and when she showed him the photo, Remmick claimed to have never seen him before. When she told him Hendrix might have used an alias for privacy, he said, “I can tell you for sure that he never worked for our campaign—I never forget a face.”
Luna didn’t sense that Remmick was lying, but it was an unpleasant meeting all the same—she had the distinct feeling that Remmick was a racist, and not ashamed to be one. He acted surprised and flustered when he saw her in person and realized that she wasn’t Caucasian.  He also seemed embarrassed about inviting her into his house, which appeared to be in a lily-white neighborhood—he just stood there on his front porch talking to her, as if she were a pushy door-to-door saleswoman.
Luna left Remmick’s house in low spirits. Because of the STEVE EZELL FOR GOVERNOR t-shirt that Hendrix had been wearing in the photo Frank had found, she had thought he might have worked on Steve Ezell’s campaign and could have been easily tracked down through friends he had made during the run-up to the election  But apparently Hendrix had only been an enthusiastic supporter at the rally in Alpharetta. Everyone who attended had received a free T-shirt.
She drove back to her hotel in Marietta, steeling herself for another miserable night of gay barhopping.
At least Dmitry was on track to go help Elaine. He had called from Moscow while she was on the road today and told her that he was ready to leave for Greece, that he had bought the GPS trackers and other electronic surveillance equipment that Elaine said she might need. Luna had bought his plane tickets and made his hotel reservations. She also reserved him a nice SUV, a Suburban. He would be catching a flight for Athens from Sheremetyevo Airport tomorrow morning and then connecting with a flight to Santorini Island.
Due to the time difference, Dmitry should arrive there about the time she got up tomorrow.

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