In Orlando investigative reporter Steve Danton knew that he was onto a big story, perhaps even the story of a lifetime. But what he didn't know was that it could be the last story of his lifetime if certain people had their way. First came the warnings, and then came the threats. But when none of this seemed to work, Steve found himself on the receiving end of a very professional and very painful beating, accompanied by a last warning: drop the story or die! Despite the pain and the fear, Steve knew he couldn't walk away from this story now, but he would need help if he was going to stay alive long enough to reach his deadline. Lucky for him, Birmingham's best bodyguard is an old friend of the family. Derrick Olin returns to the sunshine state!
It was January in Birmingham, and everywhere else on Earth, I suppose. Another new year. For a change, it was actually cold this year. At least for a few days. The long-range forecast had the temperatures climbing into the low seventies by the weekend, but at least for now it seemed like winter. The high for today was supposed to be thirty-eight degrees with moderate winds. Even so, the sun was supposed to shine all day making everything bright and pretty.
It seems like more and more over the past year I've been noticing things like that. Bright, sunny days, pretty flowers, stuff that never used to matter to me. Well it still doesn't really matter to me, but I notice it now, and for some reason it seems to make me smile a little. Must be getting old.
Anyway, this New Year I'm thinking about making some changes. The first was on New Year's Day when I stood in the shower and shaved off my mustache and goatee, seeing what my face underneath looked like for the first time in years. It was odd at first. I looked like a kid despite being several months into my fortieth year, but gradually after a couple of days I got used to seeing my naked face and I remembered that for the longest time I hated fa- cial hair, never could stand the way it felt on my skin. But then several years ago I had to grow a beard because of a job I was doing and afterwards I de- cided to cut it to a goatee and see how it looked. That had been about six years ago and I had become accustomed to it, even though sometimes the itching bothered me. But now it was gone, and I liked the new look even bet- ter.
The second change I was thinking about making was in where I lived. I'd been in the same apartment since moving back to Birmingham after leaving the Air Force over eight years ago. The location was good and I really didn't have any problems living there. The apartment was small and cozy and suited my needs just fine, but the reason I was thinking about moving on was because twice over the past year someone had tried to shoot me in the parking lot outside my building.2 They had failed both times, of course, and had paid the price for their ineptitude, however both times they had done damage to my neighbors' vehicles and nearly scared a lot of them to death. Under- standably there had been complaints to management, a few tenants had even moved out, and the publicity on the news was not good for soliciting new ten- ants, but so far I had not been asked to leave; although I suspected this might be coming soon.
Other than the two murder attempts, I was a model tenant. Paid my rent on time--often times early--kept the noise down, kept to myself, and because of my job, I was away a lot. The apartment manager liked me and I suspected that she had interceded with the owner on my behalf after the first shooting to keep him from evicting me, however now it was unclear if she would be able to do this again, or if she even wanted to. It had been almost two months since the last incident, so far no letter of eviction, but I could sense something in the air, and for this reason, I was out now having a look around, being proactive.
This morning I was downtown on the north side. Recently a number of big developers had started renovating many of the empty office buildings in the downtown area and converting them into loft apartments. At first, no one was sure this endeavor would amount to anything other than a huge waste of money because it was not believed that many people who could afford to live somewhere else would want to move back into the Birmingham city limits. There were a number of much nicer suburbs with much lower crime rates nearby where most people have been moving to over the past decade-plus.
However, much to the shock of many--myself included--the lofts started to attract a fair number of people of means, and in no time all of the buildings were filled with tenants; so more of them were bought and reno- vated, and now all over downtown most of the buildings that had once set empty and decaying were now thriving residential communities.
I was on the fifteenth floor of a building on 4th Avenue North across from the Green Acres Caf? and about a block around the corner from Kelly Ingram Park. The building had just opened for business last month and was already half full, at least that's what the little redhead who was showing the unit advised me. Her name was Sondra and she was bright and bubbly and as helpful as anyone could be. She was also quite annoying but I tried to ignore this, letting her show me all the amenities of the unit and the property.
I listened and looked, imagined myself living here. Not the worst place I've been in, but did I really want to live here? A place was a place. The fifteen hundred a month price-tag was a bit steep. Nearly double what I was paying for my furnished apartment in Homewood. And at least there I got free wireless internet access. Still, I could afford it, and could get DSL, or buy another wireless card I suppose.
Sondra had stopped talking. We were standing in the kitchen. I glanced around. It was bigger than the one in my current place. Actually everything was bigger. But bigger was not always better.
"We could get you moved in very quickly, Mr. Olin," Sondra said with an inviting smile. "Just as soon as we run a credit check on you, which I'm sure will be no problem, and then there's the deposit, maintenance fee, and first month's rent. You could be in place by late next week."
She seemed fairly confident that there would be no problem with my credit check. Or maybe that's just what she said. I knew that if the right numbers didn't come back from the credit bureau I'd probably never hear from her again; probably receiving a letter of regret in the mail in about a week or so.
But that wouldn't happen. My credit was excellent. So far.
I nodded some more, then looked down into the young broker's dark eyes.
"It is a nice place," I said.
"Oh yes," she said. "And a great location. Plenty of places to eat, the
park's just down the street, and the Civil Rights Museum is just across from it. I should tell you that these units are going fast. My boss expects we will be full up by the middle of February."
Sure he does, I thought. Just a subtle way of telling me that I really shouldn't dally. I didn't like being pressured. Even so, if I were going to move this was as good a place as any. But I wouldn't make a decision today. Just because. And anyway, I did have a couple more places to look at before making that decision.