Thomas A. Damron
My Grandson, Blake Gregory Damron, His Father Greg, and Mother, Oreana,
and My Editor and Very Good Friend, Donna Jean Hanna
These stories are a work of pure fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Thomas A. Damron
Unless permitted under the U. S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the Author.
Table of Contents
A man of many names offers to reconcile problems for clients for a substantial fee. Little do they know how far reconciliation goes beyond the original need.
Rory’s job takes him to an unfriendly, rainy town where he rescues a young person from a mudslide deluge. His hopes soar with the possibility of having found a connection he could develop into a friendship to ease his loneliness.
On break from his job on a Gulf oil rig, Gaston, a nice friendly, but an unattractive man, meets a long-haul truck driver that elevates his hope for a relationship. However, his overtures fail which cause him to take unusual actions.
While visiting her home town while in rehabilitation, Baye Fowler is stunned when she accidentally sees an adversary whom she had been told was dead. Her visit changes direction as she executes her plan to take action against her ‘ghost’ foe.
Jericho, Texas comes under a siege on moonlit nights of unusually odd murders of a few of the town’s young people. Suspects are non-existent, young townspeople fear moonlit nights. Assistance in enlightening the Sheriff comes from an Indian Reservation detective.
The vehicle digital clock read ’6:23 P’ when I left Interstate 10 at the Comfort exit. I checked the Trip A mileage on the odometer. It displayed in white, ‘forty-five point six’ exactly, and assuming the rental Outback was correct that meant about a forty-five minute drive back to the San Antonio airport. I drove directly to the Cypress Creek Guesthouse to check in and dump my bags before I journeyed to Eaze, at most a twenty-three mile drive. Time was a factor and it was on my side if I could get back on the road quickly. I had reserved the cabin for two nights, Friday and Saturday. When I saw it, I liked what I saw. It was a stand-alone house with kitchen, bath, and queen-sized bed and, although I didn’t need those amenities, it was the perfect location for my brief stay. The reservation was in the name of Clay Campo from Richmond, Indiana. I presented my driver’s license as identification and was welcomed to Comfort. After check-in, I parked at the side of the cabin, went in and threw my largest bag on the kitchen table. The carry-on I left in the kitchen floor. I keyed the combination lock and opened it carefully. I dug through the shirts and retrieved my Smith & Wesson Model M&P22. From the side pocket at the end of the bag, I took ten twenty-two long rifle shells and loaded the pistol. I extracted my black Sketchers from the bag, reached into the right-foot sneaker, removed the sock I had stuffed inside and shook the shoe until the silencer dropped into my hand. – I stuffed it in my jacket pocket, sat in the chair and changed my shoes, putting on the sneakers for comfort in the dirt roads and paths. I removed my Kimber Ultra Carry II and holster, walked to the bed and put it under the pillow. I had no rounds for it. I would buy those rounds tomorrow morning. I looked at the clock and nodded to myself. The timing was in sync with what I had been told.
In the car, to avoid being obvious when I left; I took a secondary exit away from the cabin. I drove north and then returned to Interstate Ten west. I left the highway when I arrived at the exit for Kerrville. I drove slowly until I saw the Farm to Market dirt road heading west that I had been told to use. I smiled, turned, and met the wind-blown dust head-on. November in Texas is still hot most days. The three-year drought decimated much of the greenery and left farms as nothing but burnt stubs of prior crops. Ranchers have moved their cattle farther north, some as far as Montana, in the search for feeding land. Dust is a constant in the air and when you drive a farm to market dirt road, turn your intake fan off or you’ll poison yourself with the terra cotta-colored dust from the underlying red clay. I already had the fan off, taking no chances because I had a twelve mile drive in this airborne shit.
My destination tonight was the ranch named Hatchell Canyon Acres that was once the boyhood, and now weekender home, of Wyatt Hatchell, the seventy-two year-old oil baron billionaire many times over. He was expecting me, but not tonight. Tomorrow night was our appointment. I parked at the gate leading up to the spreading wooden one-story house. I stepped up quietly on the porch, went to the door and heard nothing. I peered through the window and all was dark in the front of the house. Texas ranch houses traditionally have porches that encircle the entire house. This one was no different, so I eased myself to my left turned the corner and tiptoed easily down the ancient wooden planks. In the last room on the left rear corner of the house was a light. I couldn’t see through the green blind that was pulled below the bottom of the window. However, when I turned the corner to the back of the house, the window faced the old barn and was pulled only two-thirds of the way down. I dropped to my hands and knees on the planks and inched forward to where I had a view of the entire room.
Hatchell was propped up in the bed; his head tilted toward the ceiling, not a stitch on and to his right side was a naked peroxide blonde with her head in his lap and her butt high in the air. Both of his hands were on the top of per head pushing it up and down as he howled like a lone wolf at midnight. I kept looking until his head fell to his chest and his hands flew to her shiny butt and pushed her across his lap. He proceeded to spank her until her ass was beet red. She didn’t object, in fact, she laughed with him throughout the loud spanking. I knelt there wondering if that qualified as domestic abuse even though both were having the time of their life. All I knew was I’d like to find out by repeating what I just watched them doing. I had to back up slightly when the blonde stood while looking at the window. But, she quickly turned, put her butt in front of my view and asked Hatchell something. He nodded and I watched as she left hee room. I turned to see him again and backed up and stood when he began playing with himself.
I went back to the front door and started knocking loudly on the door. I glimpsed a flash of the blonde as she ran to the bedroom with two glasses in her hand and disappeared from my view. I stood quietly at the door for several minutes and when I looked through the glass again, Hatchell was scurrying down the hallway toward the door, still naked and mumbling to himself. The light came on over my head, the door flew open and he said loudly, “What the hell do you want at this time of night?”
I handed him my card and said, “Wyatt, I’m sorry but my plans had to change. I know we’re scheduled for tomorrow evening, but I’m hoping we can reconcile our deal tonight. It won’t take but five minutes.” He was squinting to read my card. It announced ‘Mitchell Sullivan, Personal Service Representative, 800 The River, Savannah, GA.’
“God dammit, Mitch. You’ve interrupted a business meeting I’m conducting. Come on in and let’s get ‘er done so that I can get back to my meeting.”
I followed him in as I said, “I’ve heard that you were always one that screwed your board members. Now I believe the stories.”
He stopped, turned and laughed as he slapped my shoulders. He was still laughing when he said, “I like to deal with hired assassins that have a sense of humor, boy. Let me get the case for you.” He clicked on a table lamp, and quickly bent over; I turned my head to change my view as he pulled a small brief case from under the table. He flipped it open and the money was stacked neatly across the bottom of the case, one hundred dollar bills two bricks high filled the space.
“It’s all there, all quarter of a mil. The envelope on top has the instructions of when she’ll be in Savannah, where she’s staying and a picture so that you don’t make a mistake. Guarantee me that you won’t.”
“No mistakes in ten years, Wyatt. There’s been no backlash to either me or my clients. You’ll get a clean job with no worries. Is your new heir the glasses bearing blonde that passed in front of the window when I knocked?”
“So you saw my client, huh? Now you understand why I’m anxious to get to the next subject on the agenda. And hell no, she’s not my heir. She my whore for the weekend.” He laughed hard again, slapped my shoulder once more and said, “Can’t hold up the agenda. Let yourself out.” I watched his creaky, naked, bony ass heading rapidly toward the bedroom. The door slammed closed and I could only see a strip of light from under the closed door. The voices, however, were loud and amused. I snapped the lamp off, tromped loudly to the front door, shut it with a bang, turned and eased very quietly back and sat down lightly on the overstuffed aged couch waiting. He was amazing for an elderly codger… It took an hour and ten minutes before the light went off in the bedroom. I calculated twenty more minutes before both would be so worn out that they would be in deep sleep. I hadn’t planned on collateral damage, but from the looks of her I wouldn’t waste any time regretting it. I removed my .22, reached in my jacket pocket and screwed the silencer on the end and stood.
I carefully maneuvered my way to the bedroom, eased the door open and listened. All I heard was heavy breathing meaning deep sleep from both. I glided across the room, stood by the bed looking down at him because he would be first. No covers on either. Easy shots. I aimed the gun directly at his heart. I moved it to within about two inches and pulled the trigger soundlessly twice. His body humped once and then sagged back into the indention he had created. I walked around the bed, looked at her on her left side. Her breast was in the way, but I didn’t dare touch it. I placed the silencer about one inch from her left breast and centered it over where her heart would be under it. Two shots, no movement on her part. I rose and listened for any sounds of life. No breathing, no response when I shook both of them.
I tracked back to the front room, grabbed the case, left the house and walked back to the car. I drove a southern secondary highway back to Comfort and re-entered the resort from the same route I had taken out, but with the lights off. I put the car in the same parking spot, took the case and secured it inside my locked suitcase. In the event anyone was watching the cabin, I undressed in the dark to prevent any of the late night light from showing at the windows. I pulled the bedding down and slipped under the covers. I rested well with the assessment that I was well-satisfied with the results of my reconciliation with Hachell. My plans for reconciling with Lenore Hatchell are now the priority of my concentration. But that can wait until I am in Savannah.
I hadn’t pulled the shades. The morning sun was burning my forehead as I awakened on Saturday. I showered, dressed went to the car and drove to downtown Comfort in search of breakfast. I was starving. I ate in San Antonio but that was at about five yesterday afternoon and I hadn’t had anything since that plate dinner at a Tex-Mex cafe after I picked the car up. Not being familiar with the local places, I opted for the McDonald’s Big Breakfast. It was satisfying, the coffee is always good, and the biscuits usually consistent and tasty. I glanced at the San Antonio papers while I was eating and saw nothing of any interest to me because it was mostly state or local news.
On leaving McDonald’s I drove back to Eaze taking the same dirt road and facing the identical dust clouds. This time I drove a little faster since I could see better with the morning sun being behind me. Eaze, is a very small interruption of the drive west. It is less than a thousand population and was not a complicated place to locate the business establishment I was seeking. It was the second largest, but the busiest spot in town this morning. I parked at the meter-less curb, read the sign—‘Stubby’s Sports Shop’—“If it involves a sport, we’re the place.” I stepped on the crumbling, cracked sidewalk and opened the door. Nice and cool. I imagine some of the good ol’ boys hang in here on some hot summer days only for the free air conditioning. I saw the cash register in the left backend of the store. Stubby had it all. Hunting. Fishing. Boating. Soccer. Basketball and any other sport you can think of was represented in the mix of merchandise.
I stood by the register and waited to catch the attention of a clerk. One passed by with a customer buying fishing lures. When he had bagged the items, I asked, “Is Stubbs here?” The young man, identified on a badge as ‘Julian,’ pointed at the gun counter and said, “In the yellow Nike shirt behind the gun counter.” I thanked him as he scurried off to grab another customer. I took a card from my pocket, crossed the room and stopped at the upper end of the gun display. He and two men were merely jawing about the coming bird season. When he saw me, he shut the conversation down and came toward me. I handed him the card that identified me as Wade Endicott, Private Investigator, 1324 Elk Avenue, Dundalk, Maryland. He read the card, looked up and said, “How can I help an Investigator this morning?”
I grinned, held out my hand and he grabbed it in a vise. We shook, he released his grip and I answered, “Sleepy Paul told me that if I needed anything in the way of sports that Stubbs was the man to see. I need two boxes of ammo for my Kimber Ultra Carry II. I want to get in a little practice this afternoon to keep my eye sharp while I travel. I didn’t want to pack ammo. Too dangerous when you’re flying.” I pulled the left side of my jacket open and displayed my Kimber nestled inside its shoulder holster.”
Stubbs nodded and said, “Nice weapon, Wade. The best ammo, as your probably already know, is the ACP .45. I have them on the ammo shelf. Follow me.”
While we were dodging customers on our way to the ammo shelf, Stubbs asked, “How do you know Sleepy? You being from Maryland makes me have to ask.”
I laughed and said, “Yeah, we’ are pretty far apart, but we were once buddy-buddy in Iraq a few years back. I haven’t seen him in three years but we text and e-mail back and forth. Iraq is where I got my training to be an investigator.”
“Just like Sleepy was able to join the State Police. I’m a firm believer that everyone ought to have a military tour. It gives you a lot of skills plus the savvy to put them to work. Just like you and Sleepy. I got my training in Nam but couldn’t pass the physical because of my knee injury. So I hocked it all and opened this dump. Where do you intend to shoot today?”
“I don’t have a place. I was hoping you could recommend one.”
We stopped at a shelf loaded with ammo of all types, brands, and prices. He picked out two, handed them to me and said, “Since you’re only plinking today these will be the ones I would use. Put them in your pocket. These are on the house. Any pal of Sleepy is a pal of mine. Now, let me show you the map.”
The map was pinned to the wall. He pointed to where we were and then used his finger to show me the farm to market road to use. He told me it was nearly a mile up the hillside to where I would see a cinder block building and small cinder block wall. That was where the locals went to practice with both rifles and handguns. He handed me three targets to use and then said, “Behind the building there’s a barrel where we dump our cans and bottles for shooters to use. Check and see if there’s any available. Take all you want. Have a good practice, Wade. Let me know if you need anything else.” I shook his hand, smiled at his wave and I left his store a happy man on this sunny, yet dusty, morning in Eaze.
I went to town, stopped at the Cypress Cafe and ordered a cheeseburger, a bag of potato chips and a bottle of Pepsi to go. I observed the crowd as I waited. No one was excited, no hush-hush whispers among the groups, so I knew that Hatchell and Blondie hadn’t been discovered yet. I drove up the dirt road until I saw the cinder block building on my left. I backed into the trees to hide the rental sticker in the back window. I removed the front license plate using my Swiss Army knife. I didn’t want any questions to pop-up about the vehicle because my story now was that I am driving back home to Maryland after a visit to relatives in Demming, New Mexico. After eating, I loaded my weapon and began shooting. I had been firing at five cans I had arranged on a log for about three minutes when a pickup of three young boys stopped and they took their rifles from the rack in the back window. I nodded as they moved farther up the hill from me. One of them waved at my nod. They didn’t speak, only fired about a box of ammo each before they packed up and left.
I was starting the second box of ammo when a Sheriff’s car pulled up; a man somewhere in his late fifties stepped out and came to where I stood. He said, ‘Howdy, Stranger. Nice pistol.” He looked at the log and continued, “Killing the old cans I see. Mind if I ask who you are, where you’re from and where you’re staying?” His thumbs were tucked in his leather multi-purpose belt that held his pistol, stanchion, handcuffs and what appeared to be a Taser.
I smiled and said, “No sir, don’t mind at all.” I passed him my Maryland investigator’s card, flipped open my wallet and showed him the driver’s license from Maryland with my current picture on it. He read the card, merely glanced at the driver’s license and then asked, “Where you staying, Wade?”
I told him I had taken the cabin at Cypress and was currently residing there but was leaving tomorrow morning to continue my trip to Maryland. He pocketed my card, turned to leave and said, “Sorry about interrupting your practice. I was actually on my way to see Timber Jack on up the hill when you caught my ear with the firing.”
I said, “Timber Jack? Is he the one’s that’s sawing the trees? I have heard his saw off and on since I came to the range.”
“Yeah, he’s a recluse. He fells trees in the summer, cuts them into firewood and then takes them into Boerne and San Antonio in the winter to sell to homeowners. He has no market here except for the convenience stores that stock some for campers and a few elderly homeowners who can’t cut their own wood any longer. That may be me in a couple of years,” he laughed as he sat in his cruiser and keyed the radio to tell the office his destination. I waved and he drove off never to be seen again.
I had dinner at the Cypress Creek Cafe. I was served excellent food by a very competent lady in a place where the decor was heavily used old barn. But I wasn’t hungry for aesthetics, so I paid little attention to the less than pleasing surroundings as I focused on the impressive meal. Later, back at the cabin, after my shower, I sat in the bed with the three pillows as my backrest, the television as background noise, and I read the intriguing material on Lenore Hatchell given me by the late, and only I knew he was the late, Wyatt Hatchell. Wyatt wove the story of the disintegration of the Hatchell marriage. Lenore knew of his philandering but had always turned her head as if it didn’t exist. The turning point was reached one afternoon at the Galleria in Houston where their main home in River Oaks was located. Lenore had been shopping with two friends when the time neared six that Saturday afternoon.
The friends left Lenore because their husbands were at home and expected them for dinner. Wyatt was in D. C. testifying before a House panel about the fracking turmoil of causing earthquakes that had arisen. Coastal Oil, Hatchell’s parent company, was being sued to stop fracking near urban areas. Since Wyatt wasn’t home, Lenore decided to eat downtown. She chose Fogo de Chão, the Brazilian steakhouse. She was having a pre-dinner martini when a younger woman slid in the chair beside her and said, “Good evening, Lenore. I’m Marsha Teller, a friend of Wyatt’s. I want to ask you something. Wyatt told me last week that you told him that you wanted to do a threesome with us. I’d like to set up a date when we could all meet and spend the night.”
According to Wyatt’s material, Lenore threw the martini in Teller’s face, stood and ran from the restaurant. She went to the house, packed her bags and flew to Hilton Head Island to the condo they owned there. She hasn’t been home since. Wyatt learned through an attorney that Lenore was in the process of transferring her old family homestead south of Hilton Head to her niece and the two lots in Savannah to her nephew. Wyatt wrote that he wanted those two properties because he had planned a housing development on the homestead property and had two clients interested in the city lots for multi-story office buildings. He was pissed. And, he was mostly accurate in his story. Lenore had told me basically the same accounts almost word for word.
Her picture was a good one and I studied the face of the elderly, but still very attractive Lenore Steele Hatchell. I had long ago burned the face into my memory until I knew that I would recognize her even after a bombing in World War III. Wyatt penned that she would be at the condo until those transactions were completed and that target date was three weeks from today. He gave the address, the places Lenore frequented, and, of course, the contract price that I collected last night. What he couldn’t tell me was that Lenore had also contracted with me to reconcile their argument. I executed that contract last evening.
I knew that the niece had been the caretaker of the homestead for the last fifteen years. She lived in the homestead, ran her Arts and Crafts business in Savannah and lunched with her brother twice weekly when he flew into town. He was a pilot for a major airline based in Atlanta. I knew that the two clients for the Savannah lots were already in contact with the nephew thanks to Lenore. The attorney working with Lenore had introduced the niece to a developer who was arranging funding to develop the property into upper-class residential lots.
I put the material away, relocked the case and sat it beside the bed. I used the remote and turned the TV off, clicked off the light and turned to my left side facing the window. I was asleep within ten minutes and didn’t budge until the clock showed seven. It was Sunday morning; the sky was heavily clouded with very few rays of sunshine bursting through the clouds. I got up, shaved, dressed and drove to the office. No one was around, but I had already paid, so I dropped the key in the slot and was swiftly on Interstate 10 speeding toward San Antonio to meet my eleven A. M. flight to Savannah/Hilton Head. I had expressed the money to the Westin on Hilton Head Island to be held for my arrival. I had my carryon as I checked the larger bag that contained my pistols but no ammo, so the TSA didn’t question them when I showed my permits. After turning the car in to the rental agency, I had breakfast in the airport before heading to my assigned Gate. I was flying under the name Kyle Morris, an accountant from Corpus Christi when I checked in at the Gate. The attendant welcomed me to the flight and said that boarding would begin in ten minutes. I was flying first class and would be one of the first boarders called. I sat in the leather theater seat near the window where someone had left the Sunday paper. I perused it but found no reports of Hatchell. It appears that my planned early arrival had been just the trick to make my plan successful. Had I showed up Saturday evening there would have been no blonde, no rush to get back to her, no naked bodies in the bed, and the execution of the reconciliation would have proved far more difficult. The surprise factor usually provides me with unquestioned results.
While I waited, I reflected on the past. I resurrected my years in Iraq as an Intelligence agent and the extensive training Uncle Sam gave me in the art of killing. My reminiscing went back as far as when I left Lafourche parish in Louisiana. It focused on my time in college that I spent each summer searching graveyard headstones for young males near my birth year who had died in their infancy. I collected and still use those names and dates of birth. I had read a mystery novel in my first year of college and was intrigued when the villain in the story had gathered a number of valid birth certificates by garnering names from the graveyards. He had then applied for birth certificates in those names. From the birth certificates he had obtained passports and drivers licenses in several states that he used to throw off his true identity. I did that. I now have ten valid names plus my own true name, Donald Tencount that I use. I have business cards in those names, occupations, and false addresses. My shadow names have served me well the last five years. In fact, they have made me a millionaire several times over. I also learned from that book that one does not leave witnesses. I’m a firm believer in that advice. I looked up as my thoughts were interrupted by the boarding call and that took preference.
We arrived so close to the predicted time that I was actually startled when the wheels hit the tarmac. I fly frequently and on-time arrival is mostly a cruel joke. We’re either early—rarely—or late—mostly and late is what I expect. Once I had snatched my bag from the carousel, I drug it behind me, wheels squealing at the slick tile, to the National Rental desk where I had reserved a rental car. I had requested a Buick Enclave and sure enough, I was given a nice cream-colored one with very few miles on it. Luxury was included and the vehicle drove like a dream. The GPS guided me flawlessly over Hilton Head Island. I didn’t stop until I was at the portico of the Westin and having the bellman removing my bags from the hatch. I drove forward, parked the car and returned to the front door. I went in, checked-in and received my room key and garage ticket. I went back to the portico, gave the key to the bellman and went to put the car in the garage now that I had authority. When I arrived at my room, he was just adjusting the drapes and had turned the air conditioning on to begin a cool down of the room. I tipped him, secured my bags in the closet and went to the poolside bar.
I ordered a beer with a tuna salad sandwich. While I waited I watched the ocean waves create nice easy whitecaps for the few who preferred to frolic in the ocean waters in lieu of the pristine pool. My first beer was gone by the time the sandwich was delivered so I ordered a second, dark, different brand. The sun felt good, the beer was mellowing me after the flight and all in the world of me was good. After I ate, I took a lounge chair and moved it under the shade of a tree. I spent the next two hours drinking beer and watching every type of bikini on the face of the earth either in the water or avoiding water. The exposed flesh was charming and tempting, but I wasn’t on a pleasure trip. The ladies would have to wait a week or so to entertain me and when that time came, I would open the flood gates of womanly pleasure for them.
Lenore Hatchell lives on the route to the Westin. When I turned, I drove slowly past her condo on Folly Field Road on my way to The Westin. It is an easy walk or pleasant jog back to where the condo is one of many in that development. Hilton Head Island is mostly a condo community because of the tourism and desire to have a vacation home in a popular and busy location on the water. When I visit Lenore it will be on foot because it is a gated community and I want no records of my being admitted through the gates. Without a car, I will have easy, undetected access and once inside, face few questions since being stopped is a rarity. It is such a large development that hordes of those in residence are always on the move from the pools, the mail boxes the playgrounds, the cars and just generally moving around the grounds. I will be one of those milling around aimlessly.
Lenore is not scheduled to be here until Wednesday. She is still at the old home place with her niece. Tonight the two of them will have dinner with the nephew, the pilot. who is checked-in at the Sheraton for a layover rest period. He flies out tomorrow as Captain on the 3:20 P. M. flight to Cincinnati. That scheduling means that I have all day Monday and Tuesday to do my advance preparation before my appointment Thursday with Lenore. Wyatt conveniently mapped where he had hidden a key that I will use for undetected access to their Unit. Theirs is two units combined. When they contracted to buy, Wyatt bought two and had the builder configure them into a much larger and more efficient living space for Lenore and her Mother who was still living back then. My plan is to scour the condo tomorrow morning to familiarize myself with the floor plan, to locate items of key interest such as a safe, guns, alarms, or any other hazards to my safety that could be used or triggered by Lenore. I abhor surprises when I’m in a session of reconciling with a client, so I do what’s necessary to temper the chance of a surprise.
.The wind has changed direction and intensity. It was now blowing in from the ocean and was much cooler. I abandoned the lounge chair, went through the lobby and took the elevator to my room. I showered, changed into nicer clothes and went down for dinner. I went to the bar and sat on a stool. When the bartender smiled at me, I ordered a dry Rob Roy in an old-fashioned glass, not a stemmed cocktail glass. He flashed me another smile, popped a thumb up and went to the prep area on the center storage behind him to fill my order as well as two others. I was watching the waves pounding the shoreline and slowly enjoying the pleasant bite of the drink when my attention was drawn to the television set. There was a picture of Wyatt Hatchell in the right side of the screen and the reporter was in front of the old homestead giving his report.
One of the bar denizens jumped up and turned the sound up to where we could hear it. The bartender stopped his preparations and stood listening. The man that turned the TV up turned to the bartender and shouted, “.Oh, Hell! Wyatt used to be a regular here when he was in town. He was always flirting with the babes at the pool.” The waitress groaned loudly and said, “And he always had his hand up our skirts when we served him. But he tipped very well.”
The man looked at her and then the bartender before saying, “Yeah, a slow feel is always worth a few extra bucks isn’t it, Ellen?” The waitress smiled at him and responded, “Yes, Jack, it is. That’s what made you jealous when he didn’t feel your ass.” The bartender went back to his mixing while he continued laughing at Ellen’s remark. Not knowing Jason I just assumed he was a little gay from the playful chatter between them. No one seemed overly shocked at the news of Hatchell’s death. Maybe Hilton Head has so many billionaires with property there that the loss of one didn’t warrant community bereavement. Tomorrow’s newspaper will give me more insight to what the island thought of Wyatt Hatchell. But, you can imagine that I was a little smug when I ordered my next drink because I was the only one on the entire island who knew the correct story. Fortunately for me, another person who knows will be here Wednesday for a short stay like mine although she’s not aware that it will be short.
I set the clock for seven. I dressed in my black bathing trunks, a plain white tee-shirt, and boat shoes with no socks. I had breakfast and read the Island report on Hatchell. Skimpy details, Sheriff’s office reported no clues or suspect (s), not much in the way of praise, a passing reference to his condo here and little else. Lenore was not named in the article. I discarded the paper, finished my breakfast and left the hotel Monday morning near ten. I took a towel around my neck and jogged to the condo development. I stumbled down the rough path to the water across from the development and joined the frolickers on the small, narrow beach. I bided my time until a group of five began picking up their towels and coolers. When they started back up the rough path half covered with overgrown ferns, I tagged along at the back end of the group. We crossed the street, waved at the Gatehouse guard and went through the gate with no challenge. I broke off from the group when we reached the end of the first block of buildings.
The buildings were numbered up high so they could be seen at a distance from cars and trucks. They were all three story, each with four units of each floor except for Hatchell’s. I was looking for building number 214. I was aware that the even numbers were on the left so I meandered south until I came to 214. His unit was 2140A, a first floor unit. There was no B as he had taken the entire ocean side of the building. I went to the back of the building, found the phone box for 2140A, used my Swiss Army knife to unscrew the bolt on the cover. I looked up and sure enough, there was the key lodged in the grove of the cover opening. I jimmied it free and pocketed it. I closed the cover but didn’t put the bolt all the way back in place. I would return the key when my reconciling was concluded.
No one was visible when I entered the building. I keyed the lock and quickly stepped inside. It was a mite warmer than my hotel room as the air conditioning was set on eighty-two. The entire unit with the kitchen being the exception was carpeted in a thick, high pile ecru-colored rug. I started my search in the living room. I found no alarms, no safe, no guns or anything else that could be easily used as a viable weapon. The dining was room was next and after a thorough search yielded it no surprises. I stood and surveyed the kitchen, a large room probably made from the two kitchens normally found in these condos. I located the knife drawer and removed the larger knives. I put them in a paper bag I took from the pantry and hid them behind the paper towel stock. One of the drawers in the kitchen cabinet next to the fridge had a false front. I felt under the cabinet door and located the release. When it snapped open it revealed the home safe. I had no interest in what was in it. I only wanted to know where it was in the event Lenore had placed my money inside. I scrubbed the kitchen until I was satisfied that it was now clean.
The next room was small and was being used as a sort of office, sort of dump, sort of junk room. It had soft drinks, beer, cases of bourbon, and lots of bottled water. I assumed that it was stored in the event they were caught there during a hurricane event. The other items were probably there because of that fear. I checked the desk and saw nothing but old utility bills, grocery receipts, a few letters from the bank and an address book with phone numbers and e-mail addresses. No computer was in sight which meant they brought a laptop when in residence. I went through the bedroom with a fine tooth comb and came up empty handed. Evidently they had no fear because there was no burglar alarm evident. I guess with an armed gate guard and numerous residents, burglars didn’t find much opportunity in this development. I went through the house and swung the doors back and forth to see if there was any squeal or creaks. None made much of a noise. That could be a danger alert in case someone wanted to sneak up on you. Now that I knew they could, I would have to be extra alert when I meet with Lenore.
I locked the unit, strolled back toward the gatehouse and then began to jog. I jogged through the gate, waved at the guard and received a smile in return. I jogged back to the hotel, went to the pool and grabbed one of the empty tables. It was now noon and the crowd would swarm at any minute. I wiped my face with the towel, put it across my lap and read the menu. I settled on the crab cakes which came with green beans and mustard potato salad. I ordered an extra side of cantaloupe with unsweetened ice tea. Sure enough, the poolside cafe was filling rapidly. Some who couldn’t find tables opted to go inside to one of those tables. I was concentrating on the kids playing in the waves when I was tapped on the shoulder. I turned and there was a bikini babe smiling down at me. I grinned at her and asked, “What can I do for you, Miss?”
“We.” and she pointed to the babe beside her, “We’re wondering if we could join you since you have three empty chairs and there are no other tables?”
I jumped up, pulled two chairs out and said, “By all means. I don’t want to hog the only available space left.” She laughed and said, “I’m Cindy and this is Marilou.”
“Good, Cindy and Marilou, I’m Keith and I would give you the menu but the server took it. I’ll signal her and get you each one”. I caught the eye of the young lady who had taken my order and pointed at the table where she could see the two babes sitting. She nodded, picked up two menus and two sets of utensils and rushed through the throng of milling bodies and delivered the menus. I asked her to hold my lunch until the two of them had ordered. I already had my tea so I took a sip and sat it down on my right near where Cindy had sit. She eyed it, looked up, eyed it again and I asked, “Would you like a taste?” She nodded, picked it up, sipped daintily and made a horrible face. She sat it down quickly and said, “Wow! No sweetener. That is strong.”
I told her I grew up with no sweetener and couldn’t take sweet tea. She asked where I grew up and I told her North Carolina. She and Marilou giggled and Marilou said, “That’s where we’re from. We live in Winston Salem. We’re here for a pharmaceutical meeting to learn of new drugs coming on the market. I invited Cindy because she writes a number of prescriptions. “I smiled, nodded and said, “Charlotte. Or just outside the city limits about a mile. Been gone from there for years though. Probably wouldn’t recognize it. I’d bet our old place is now inside the city limits.” They both nodded vigorously with Marilou saying, “You’d win that bet.” It’s big now.” I casually asked how the meeting was going and they both thought they were encouraged by what they’d heard in the first session. Before I could ask exactly why they were at the meeting, we were distracted when we noticed that the server was back and wanted to take their orders. They asked what I was having and they settled on the same items except they wanted a Pepsi instead of tea. Before the food was delivered, Cindy asked if I was staying very long. I said that I would be here until Sunday. She looked at Marilou but said nothing else.
I sat through lunch assessing the two babes. They seemed intelligent, savvy, and level-headed. They cleared up the meeting comment by telling me that Marilou was a pharmacist and Cindy was a dentist which totally surprised me. After the plates were cleared and it was time for them to move on, Cindy looked at me seriously and asked, “Keith, could we ask a personal favor of you?” I nodded and she continued, “We went out last night and we were harassed by the men in the clubs we wanted to spend time in. We were disappointed that we had to leave because of their continual rude manners and crude innuendoes. If we go out again, would you tag along with us and help deflect those apes? We really would appreciate it. We’ll buy your drinks if you will.”
I grinned at the two of them and said, “I’d be honored to accompany you. I won’t let you buy my drinks though. I want to be the envy of those crude assholes and we can beat them down together.”
Cindy stepped over and gave me a bear hug, whispering “You’re a real gentleman and a jewel of a person.” Marilou held my hand and thanked me. I asked which evening and Cindy said, “Wednesday if you can make it. We have a formal dinner tomorrow evening.” I then inquired of the time because Wednesday was my Lenore reconciliation. Marilou said seven-thirty or eight would be good for us. I told them I would call Wednesday and tell them which time was best for me. They left happy and with more confidence about going out on the town. I stayed and watched them walk away. My first thought was: This will give me cover in the event someone sees me and the police come knocking with questions. I stood there facing the ocean beach wondering what they would call me if they knew what my life’s work was all about. Hopefully they’ll never find out because once they did, well, knowledge has its consequences.
Tuesday I lounged around the hotel killing time. I went for a morning swim in an almost empty pool. I had breakfast with two other men who were dressed in suits and had briefcases parked near their feet. Whether everyone had slept in or was in meetings or went somewhere else other than the Westin was obvious with the lack of humanity visible. I glanced through the paper and saw another small story about Wyatt Hatchell detailing that no suspects or persons of interest were disclosed. None of the stories so far had mentioned blondie. I wondered if the Sheriff had suppressed the fact that a deceased nude blonde was found in the bed with Hatchell. No longer my concern. Wyatt and blondie were now ancient history. After dinner in the half crowded hotel restaurant, I retired to my room to gather my equipment and rehearse my plan once again. I turned the lamp off after the late news and was asleep in five minutes or less.
Wednesday arrived windy and heavily clouded with the threat of afternoon showers. I smiled and welcomed afternoon showers because they provided excellent cover by keeping people inside and inattentive to what was going on around them.I dressed as a vacationer. I wore khaki shorts, Nike sneakers, short white socks, a South Carolina Gamecocks tee shirt and a white Titlist Golf cap. I would be a challenge to be picked out of a crowd on Hilton Head Island because I looked to be almost a clone of every other man on the streets. I went down for breakfast and ran into Cindy and Marilou in the lobby. They were on their way to the meeting and reminded me of tonight. I assured them I would call once my appointment was over. After breakfast, I stopped in the gift shop and bought a cheap tennis racquet and bag as a prop to use this afternoon.
I skipped lunch and went to the condo development. I stopped at the guardhouse and told the guard that I was Martin French and had an appointment with Mrs. Hatchell He checked his list and gave me a pass for my window. I drove to her building, parked and went across the parking lot to the tennis courts and took a seat under a canvas sunshield. Lenore drove in and parked her white Lexus in the assigned slot. She stepped out the same time as a greaser exited on the passenger side. He looked to be in his fifties, in good shape, and about my size, say five-eleven, one eighty-five, black hair combed straight back, no part. They didn’t bother to survey the area; they went directly in the side entrance, no looking back. Confident, over confident that all was well in condo land. His presence alerted me to the fact that Lenore didn’t have the money in the condo.
I waited until two-thirty. Neither had come back to the car or left the building. I picked up the bag, left the racquet in my chair and crossed the parking lot, stepped soundlessly up the steps to the door and went inside. I stopped, put my ear near the door and listened for any sounds inside. It sounded like she or he had turned the TV on to some afternoon game show. I heard no other voices. I rang the bell and waited. The TV went off. I couldn’t hear footstep because of the heavy carpeting but momentarily the door cracked open about four inches and Lenore gaped in surprise. She stuttered and then said, “W-What are you doing her now, French? Our appointment isn’t until tomorrow at six-thirty.”
“I’m sorry Lenore, but circumstance piled up on me. I tried to call you earlier this morning but there was no answer. Look, our reconciling will only take five minutes. All you need do is hand me my fee and I’m out of your hair forever. Let’s get it done.”
She looked out in the hallway and saw no one so she opened the door and said, “All right, French. Come on in and I’ll get the money for you.”
I had figured that the greaser was in the dining room behind the wall, so I led her to the hallway to the makeshift office where there was a silent door I had tested. I stood against the wall and said, “I’ll wait here. Get the money and I’ll put it in this tennis bag to avoid suspicion.” She nodded and said, “I’ll be back in a second.”
I eased the silent door out, stepped behind it and waited. I took my silenced Kimber from the tennis bag and stood ready for the greaser. He came soundlessly on the carpet. I could see him through the crack in the door hinges. When the gun in his hand protruded beyond the door, I slammed the door hard against him and before he recovered from the violent hit to his hand and arm, I had put two rounds in his chest. His eyes bulged; he dropped the piston and grabbed his chest, mouth open, and no sound being emitted. His knees collapsed under him and he went to the floor. I put my hand behind his head and pushed. He landed face first in the high pile with no other movement. Lenore yelled, “Vince! What happened Vince? Did you get him?”
I stepped to the office door and said, “No, Lenore, Vince didn’t get him. He’s still here and ready to collect his money. Now get your ass out here and call the bank. I know you don’t have the money here. You will take this card and call now. Wire transfer the funds to the Bank of Arizona in Sierra Vista. And, by the way, it’s now three hundred thousand because of the complications you introduced with Vince.” She grit her teeth and through her clenched jaws angrily said, “You son-of-a-bitch French. You’ll pay for this and quicker than you think.”
“Lenore, I did the job you requested. You know it’s done, so now we settle the reconciliation contract that you agreed on two months ago. Get to the kitchen and pick up the phone now!” I shoved the gun at her and she responded. When she stepped into the hall, she almost fainted at the sight of Vince in the floor, bleeding all over her ecru carpet. With hesitation, she reluctantly stepped over his body. I goosed her with the Kimberto speed her up.
I handed her the phone, she called the number I had written on the card and when it was answered, she asked for the wire department. She was following the script well. I listened closely to her repeat the account number and the confirm by text to my phone. She hung up and I said, “Sit! Don’t make a move or a sound, Lenore.” She dropped to the kitchen chair and nervously tapped her fingernails on the table top. It took about three minutes until my phone beeped that a message had been received. I slid the screen open, hit ‘Messages’ and was rewarded with a confirm number that the funds had been transferred and received by my bank in Sierra Vista.
I smiled down at her and said, “Nice doing business with such a cooperative client, Lenore. Now I’ll get out of your hair as promised.” I walked around the back of her in the chair and as I did, I put the silencer two inches from the nape of her neck and pulled the trigger once. Her head hit the table with a loud thunk as the blood began to spread over the white table top. I stopped at the thermostat and turned the air conditioning to sixty, the lowest setting available. The cold air would preserve the bodies until well after I had left the island and would confuse the facts of their deaths preventing the medical examiner from determining the exact day and time of their deaths. I went back across the parking lot, retrieved my tennis racquet, went to the car and left the gated community without a glance from the guard. At the hotel, I called my bank, transferred the money to the account I maintained in the Cayman Islands to await further disposition of the money. Unfortunately I was still holding the quarter million from Wyatt that was secured in my locked suitcase. I bought another box, packed the money securely and had the hotel call a messenger service to pick it up. I sent it to my home address by express delivery again. It’s difficult these days to deposit large sums of money without drawing close attention of our famous Uncle.
I changed to my bathing suit, donned a white New Orleans Saint’s tee shirt, stuck the Titlist cap on my head, stepped sockless into the deck shoes and sauntered to the large patio where the pool was located. I ordered a chicken salad sandwich with a side of honeydew melon and a 22 ounce draught beer. I smiled as I thought about how good my week had been. I pocketed over a half a million dollars with no income tax or Social Security withholding grabbed by our Uncle’s infamous rats at the IRS. After lunch I cooled off in the pool, tired of it and went back to the lounge to sun dry. The warm day plus the breeze dried my trunks in no time. I left the pool, returned to the room, changed into shorts but kept the tee shirt and cap. I stuck my feet in white socks, changed to my sneakers, went to the garage and drove to a nearby golf course. I rented four clubs, bought a large bucket of balls and spent the afternoon releasing my pent up energy by slamming golf balls at the target flags on the driving range.
I showered, changed into dressier casual clothes and went to the enclosed patio bar to wait for the arrival of Cindy and Marilou I sat in a barrel chair and watched the vacationers frolic in the pool that was now crowded. I was sipping a cold Cuba Libra when I spotted them exit the main building and come rushing across the patio, skirting the splashing kids while smiling at them and waving as they passed. I stood and met them at the door. Both gave me a kiss on the cheek and a quick hug. I held the chairs for them and asked, “Do you want a drink here before we go?” Cindy nodded and answered, “Please. It’s too early to go to town and I need one after the last presentation.” I signaled for the server, she took their orders, and I asked, “What happened in the last session?”
Cindy rolled her eyes and said, “It was all about battles with the FDA over research statistics and the results. It involved a Power Point presentation that had so many percentages, so many calculations that I ended up cross-eyed. Marilou understood it much better than I did. I only write prescriptions and don’t really care about FDA battles,’ she giggled and tapped my hand, pointing to Marilou who had a sly grin on her face.
“Okay, Marilou. I assume you understood all those numbers that confused Cindy. So what was your take on the presentation?”
“To be truthful, I had been following the FDA approval process closely because this new antibiotic will be a huge advance against those diseases where present antibodies no longer work. The medical profession was too free in prescribing some of our present antibodies and the disease mutated to where it became immune to the drugs. The numbers made sense to me but wouldn’t to an outsider like Cindy.”
I answered her by saying, “I’ve read about that problem several times in the last couple of years. So this new drug is an answer to the problem?”
“You bet it is. We’ve been waiting on it now for four years. Yes, it’s taken four years to get to this approval. Europe approved it in only fourteen months. We need faster approvals, not more studies. But, that probably won’t ever happen so I quit crossing my fingers. Anyway, let’s talk about your day. How did it go?”
“I had a fantastically successful day. The client I met with was extremely happy with my services. My partners back home will be jealous of what I accomplished this week.”
Cindy grinned and said, “So you went in knocked them dead with your personality, huh?”
I laughed and said, “You hit the nail on the head, Cindy. They were so dazzled they couldn’t get up to let me out. Days like today are worth all the effort it takes to bring them to a great ending.”
Marilou sipped her drink and said, “Any other deals like today in the near future? Where do you go from here?”
‘I go back home for a breather and try to scratch up a few more deals while take a rest. I’m thinking of flying down to the Cayman Islands for a few days.
Two days later I was parking in my assigned space on Decatur Street in New Orleans. I checked my mailbox and took the handful of mail that had accumulated in my absence. I sat at my desk and slit the mail open. The third letter I read was a notice of an urgent Powwow called by the Tribal Council of the United Houma Nation of which I am a member. I read the date, noted it on my calendar as a reminder to attend. The office side door opened and one of my partners in our financial services operation came in and sat in my side chair. I smiled and he asked, “How was your vacation, Tencount.”
I swiveled around and grinned as I answered, “It was a killer of a time Kenny. Let me tell you about the two gorgeous women I met and what happened afterwards.”
My name is Rory Reardon. I am turning twenty-five in two months and have nothing to look forward to because I am lonely, fruitlessly looking for new friends and finding none in this tiny, awful, clannish, closed-society new dump where I have been transferred to begin my career in marketing. The closest company office where I knew only two co-workers was sixty-fives miles due west from me. Up until now I have led a charmed life and I think I am now being punished for my good luck. I graduated last term from the University of Kellman with an MBA in Marketing, one of only five students in that major. Kellman is truly a liberal arts school and most students are in the arts and believe me, they are liberal. The time I spent at Kellman was less in the classroom than it was in getting sex from the wildly, over-sexed liberal women who attended Kellman only because of its reputation of sleeping in class to rest up for wild and frequent sex at night. See what I meant by good luck. Don’t get me wrong, I had other luck during my school years. I had scholarships, one in baseball, one from the Douglass Foundation, and one from a trust that my Granddad had established when I was born. I was in luck as a graduate because I was possibly the only one in my class who walked away with not one penny of student debt. Now that’s luck in this day and age.
I joined a church group and have yet to be singled out and introduced as a new resident and member of the singles class I was assigned to attend. I am mostly ignored in the class and at the social functions. I joined several civic clubs. They were all populated by much older men who, for the most part, are sole-proprietors of their own local business and wanted nothing to do with an employee of a national giant company. Thank goodness none are my customer as they would be a tough nut to crack. To cap it all off, it rains constantly here in the valley between the mountains. The only salvation is that the rainfall is light, has no threat of violent wind or lightening, and surprisingly, at least to me, has little to no thunder.
After a particularly grueling week on the road, I returned home to my small rental house tired, upset, disgusted, in dire need of someone to unload on and generally pissed at the World and myself for accepting this transfer. I sat in my lonely dim living room drinking beer and staring out the window at the damn rain splashing on the pane when all of a sudden, the dam broke and the rainfall began rapidly increasing. I sat my beer on the table and walked to the window to watch this phenomenon taking place. The increase didn’t slow; in fact it sped up until I couldn’t see the drugstore catty-corner from my house. The drops hitting on the roof became deafening. I thought it was hail but no, it was only heavy rain drops. I saw mud slipping around the corner of my house and flooding the streets with its slimy, slick yellowish consistency. The city had built two sluices, one on each side of my house. They were designed to carry the runoff from the winter snows and the spring rains. They normally run in underground streams with grating spaced at ten yard intervals. The underground flow goes under the street in front and ends up in the river two blocks away. But today, within minutes the overflow from the heavy rain had filled the sluices and the excess was filling the streets from curb to curb. I turned and ran to the
back door to check for any breach. My luck held. The mud from the mountain behind the house that couldn’t enter the sluices was splitting and bypassing my rear entrance, following the sluices, second rivers of knee-deep mud over the jammed sluices on each side of the house as it flowed toward the street.
I ran back to the front as the rainfall increased in volume and blew sideways toward the drugstore. Traffic was non-existent as it was impossible not only to see to drive but to also manage driving through the flow of the thick, now mostly red, mud. I leaned toward the window when I saw the movement of something in the street. I blinked, rubbed my eyes and couldn’t believe that it was a bicyclist maneuvering through the god-awful mud stream. I watched with unbelieving eyes as the bicycle was passing the front of my house, pedal deep in the slime. Without a warning, the front wheel dipped drastically, the rider went over the handlebars into the street and was wallowing in the streaming flow of mud. The bicyclist was desperately trying to rise from the maelstrom that kept pouring mud over the body and head. I was torn over what to do. Calling 911 would not be the answer. It would be too late even if they could manage the trip. So, I made my decision.
I donned my raincoat, my gloves, and galoshes, opened the door and sloshed across the lawn, carefully wading through the mud stream, and stepped into the street unaware of the strength of the flow. I struggled to gain my foothold to keep from becoming a victim myself. I slowly waded through the slime and reached the bike rider who was now facing down in the mud, flailing arms weakening while trying to turn over to breathe. I could see that the helmet had filled with dripping mud and was spilling down the face into the eyes and mouth. I straddled the back of the biker, reached under the arms in front and lifted. When the face rose, clear of the water and mud, I used my gloved hand to wipe the mud from the eyes and mouth to open an air passage. I held the body to see if there was any evidence of breathing. I determined breath when the person gave a harsh cough that expelled mud and yellow water. I lowered my hands, turned the body and lifted it to my arms. I thrashed about in the mud as I fought to hold the slippery biker. I scuffled my feet forward without lifting them to keep from losing purchase on the concrete street surface. I stepped up on the curb, crossed through the river of mud by sliding my feet along the side walk until I reached my walkway. I tussled with the slick body, slipping and sliding while ascending the steps in my mud-laden rubber galoshes. I was exhausted when I finally reached my front entrance. Now I had a decision to make about entering the house with masses of wet mud on both myself and the biker. I looked around. There was no one in sight, no evidence I was being watched, and the rain so heavy no one could have seen us unless they had been on the porch with us and that was a lifesaver. I laid the unconscious body on the doorstep, stripped my clothes and piled them near the window wall. I stooped, began undressing the biker and when I removed the helmet, wet, muddy, medium-length blonde hair fell out and I discovered, to my complete surprise, that the body I was uncovering was that of a nubile young female.
When all her clothes were off, I picked her up, went directly to the shower, warmed the water and stepped in still holding her body. I sat her on the shower floor, shampooed her hair twice to rid it of the mud, scraped the mud away from her face and neck and scrubbed her from top to bottom. I moved her to the shower seat and did the same cleaning job to myself. I was doing my feet when she roused, opened her eyes and stared at me. She said nothing, just sat and stared at me. I assumed she was in shock from her tumble. I sat my clean foot down, put on my most friendly smile and said, “Welcome back to the World, Miss. Do you feel all right? You had quite an experience in the street just a few minutes ago. I thought I had lost you.”
She began crying. Her heavy sobbing upset me, so I knelt in front of her, took her hands and said, “It’s all right. You’re safe now. The rain is still coming down, but we don’t have a problem in here. I’m Rory. I’ll take care of you until you can get out on your own. I’m sorry, but your bike is ruined. Your front wheel went down inside the sewer where the lid had washed away. Please, stop crying. There’s no need to be upset.”
Through her sobs, she managed to stutter her reply, “Thank you, Rory. I thought I had died.”
“You would have if I hadn’t been at the window watching the rain and saw you fall. Why were you out?”
“My manager closed the store and told all the employees to go home. I don’t have a car so I had to ride my bike when the store closed.”
“What’s your name? I can’t keep calling you Miss.” I laughed in an attempt to relax her somewhat.
“Tina. I’m Tina Shaw.” She stuttered as she still sobbed
“Okay, Tina Shaw. Let’s get out of the shower and dry ourselves and then I’ll find you something to wear until I can wash and dry our clothes.” She tried to stand but couldn’t. I pulled her up, and held on tightly as she was still extremely weak from her near drowning.
I dried her and then myself. She showed no resistance at my rubbing the towel over her nude body. She was completely compliant, turning when I asked, raising her legs, when I had her sit as I dried her hair and pronounced it squeaky clean again. I hung the towels to dry and then I led her to the bedroom, pulled out a blue dress shirt with long tails and put it on her to wear as a gown. I led her to the bed, laid her down and went to get a small whiskey and a glass of water. When I returned, she had turned to her right side and was quietly sobbing again. Rather than sit on the bedside, I sat on the floor, handed her a tissue and urged her to sip the whiskey and chase it with the iced water. She complied, made a face at the first sip, gulped the rest down and drank the balance of the water. I sat and held her hand. Her stomach rumbled so loudly that I could
hear it over the roar of the rainfall pounding the roof. I released her hand, went to the kitchen and heated a large can of chunky beef and vegetable soup, took a few crackers from the box and fed her the entire bowl. I said, “My, My Tina, you were starved after your near-death episode, weren’t you?”
She nodded her head slightly and answered, “I didn’t eat breakfast to keep from being late for work. I live over two miles from the store and it takes a while to go by bike. When the rain started, I couldn’t get to the deli so I had no lunch. Thank you for the soup and crackers.” I grinned and responded, “Tina, you rest while I check our clothes. I’ll be back in a short while. Okay?”
I had on shorts, no shirt or shoes when I stepped out the front door and was lambasted with the frosty, wind-blown rain. Two pieces of mud-free clothing, her panties and my boxers, had been blown away and was nowhere in sight. I pulled the remaining mud-laden clothes closer to the brick wall at the door and quickly got out of the storm. I knew I couldn’t put those in the washer. I would have to rinse the mud in the bathtub before they could be washed. I went to the bathroom and discovered muddy water in the tub where the flooding had backed up the drains. I ran to the kitchen and put the plug in the sink drain to keep it from filling the sink with mud. There’s was nothing I could do with the shower to stop the flow once it began. I opened the storage closet and took an armful of towels and began to stuff the towels around the glass door hoping to keep from flooding the bathroom. My confidence in being safe was quickly vanishing when I realized that these other hazards come into play.
The icy chill had flowed through me and I began shivering. I put on a sweatshirt, made coffee and sat at the kitchen table warming myself sipping the hot coffee and mulling my options. My plan was to gather all the vessels I could find: waste cans, trash cans, the recycle bin, the one large boiling pot I had and whatever else I could devise to hold wastewater until it could go down the drain. I spent the next half-hour lining them in a row along the kitchen wall. I knew I could dump them in the overflowing sluices running at the sides of the house, so that meant we could continually empty them. I kept the cleanest one, the boiling pot, for fresh water to use for personal hygiene purposes, like brushing our teeth and washing our faces.
I went back to the bedroom and saw that Tina had drifted off to sleep. The long shirt I had put on her had bunched at her waist and was exposing her lower body giving me an excellent view of her lovely, clean, glowing butt. I had been too busy when I showered and dried her to take closer notice of her shapely body and gorgeous private parts. Now that it was calm, I was most impressed with what had spread itself before my eyes. Being a male, seeing what we males love the most, I was uncontrollably becoming aroused. The longer I stood there, the more it was causing me pain as I remembered the loneliness I am suffering in this isolated small town. Reluctantly, I spun on my heels and went back for another cup of coffee, but this time with a full
shot of Jack Daniels Black to calm my nerves over what I kept thinking while ogling the naked Tina Shaw.
As the day began to fade away, I turned the lights on in the living room only to see them flicker a few times. Tina was still asleep when the knock came to the front door instantly shocking me. I looked thorough the peephole and saw an army uniform knocking. I opened the door and listened as he told me that the power company was being forced to shut down its generating plant. At nine o’clock, power would no longer be available. He asked if I wanted to be evacuated and I shook my head no. I then answered, “I have made preparations to be okay for at least four days unless the rear of the house is breached, which I don’t expect to happen. I have enough food, bottled water, and emergency lighting to last four days. I moved here from hurricane country and learned to always be prepared for this type of disaster. Thanks. I’ll contact you if things change.”
He looked at the other three men with him and shouted over the whistling sounds of the wind-driven downpour, “We have at least one well-positioned citizen. When this is over we need to have him as part of our preparedness team.” I nodded and said, “Llet me know if you mean it.” He saluted me and the four of them slid off in the mud covered walkway to knock on other doors.
My lights went out well before nine. I had the flashlights ready. I went to check on Tina and saw that she was in the same position as before. Poor lady was really whacked by her day. She’s young and probably had never lived through this type of natural disaster. I went to the kitchen, had a sandwich, the rest of the coffee, another Jack Daniels with water and without anything else to do, I stretched out on the leather couch to rest from the day’s activity. I lay there thinking: Maybe fate put me at that window at the exact time she tumbled. It answered my prayer for someone, anyone, to be close to and care for. She’s not too young for me. Maybe I can develop a relationship with her and finally break my loneliness. I’m going to do everything I can to make it happen.
Ultimately, the rhythmic patter of the rainfall on the one skylight dome over the couch lulled me to sleep. I awakened with a start, springing upwards in the dark to see what was pulling my foot. In my sleep weary stupor I had forgotten that Tina Shaw was in the house. I clicked the flashlight on and focused it on my foot where I saw a hand with chipped red fingernail polish holding my toes. Moving the light upward, I saw Tina looking down at the light and saying, “Rory, I didn’t mean to take your bed. I’m sorry I fell asleep earlier. Trade places with me, please.”
I was shaking my head, but then realized she couldn’t see my face so I said, “No, Tina. You stay there. I’ll be fine here on the couch.”
‘But you don’t fit the couch. You’re too tall to be comfortable. Come on, change with me.”
“No, I’m okay, really. This’ll do for me.”
“Rory, if you won’t trade with me, at least come and take to other side of the bed and be comfortable. If you don’t I won’t go back.”
I thought about it and decided that since it was a Queen sized bed, there would be enough room for both us without creating a problem. I glanced at my watch and noted the time as two-fifteen and figured she might be hungry. I relented, stood and asked, “Do you want water or something to eat before we go to bed?”
“Thank you, but no, I’m all right for now. Give me your hand so that I can follow the light.”
I took her hand and was leading her to the bed when she asked, “Rory, how old are you?”
“I’ll be twenty-five in three weeks. I’m getting old, Tina. I can feel it in my bones with all this rain,” I laughed and tugged her up closer to me, stopped in the doorway and put my arm around her shoulders and asked my question, “How old are you, Tina?”
“I’ll be twenty in November. I hope to go back to school in February.”
“Why did you drop out? And where do you work?”
“My parents were killed when our house in Avondale burned in April. I dropped out to attend to their burials as I have no brothers or sisters that could help. I moved here to live with my grandmother. She is very old and was alone as was I, so it has worked well. I work at the Outlet Course, LTD. I do stocking work and sometimes run a register when we’re busier than normal. I wanted to stay there tonight, but the manager said he couldn’t allow me to stay alone in the building. Company policy and such.”
She edged closer and was pressing herself against me as I had my back to the doorframe. She put her hand on my cheek and whispered, “If not for you being my guardian angel, I would be lying dead in the muddy street, Rory. May I kiss you, please?”
I lowered my head, she put both hands on my face and I felt her lips touching mine. It was a very nice gesture and her lips were inviting me to engage again. I put both arms around her and held her tightly as I gave her a deep, meaningful kiss. When I released her, she sighed longingly for more. For the third time today I picked her up and carried her to the bed, laid her on the right side and crawled over her. I turned and put my arm over her and turned her head to mine and kissed her again, this time with an easy push of my tongue against her teeth. She
slowly opened her teeth and touched my tongue with hers. I sucked her lips and held hers harder against mine.
When I broke the kiss, she whispered in my ear and asked me, “Rory, can I ask you a personal question? A really personal question?”
“Of course you can, Tina. What do you want to know about me?”
“Today in the shower when I woke up I was staring at you. You looked at me with a puzzled look. I was staring at your body because I’ve never ever laid eyes on a naked man before today. I was stunned. Will you allow me to look again later?”
“Of course, Tina, if that’s what you want. When I do, would you like to take a much closer look? I’m willing to show you what it is like.”
“You don’t mind? If you really don’t mind, I would love to see it up close.”
The thoughts running through my mind were: is this for real? Can a nearly twenty year-old girl in today’s world not know what a man’s body looks like? Is she shitting me or is she really that innocent?
She continued saying, “I grew up in a stringent and sheltered home. I never went to a prom, never had a date, and the college I attended is a strict girl’s school with no boys allowed. You have probably guessed that mine was an authoritarian religious upbringing that I lived under. The store where I work has only two male employees, both in their fifties, married, and fat. I’ve had no opportunities, Rory. Will you give me some lessons?”
“What lessons do you have in mind, Tina? Yes, I’ll give you guidance and teach you a few things if you want. Tell me if you think I can help.”
“I heard some of the girls in the dorm talk about having sex, sex with their high school boyfriends. As I told you, I’ve never had a boyfriend before.” She hung her head as if in shame.
“Tina, If you’re absolutely certain that you want to learn and not just be curious then I’ll give you lessons. Do you want me to do it now?” She eagerly nodded, took hold of my hand and squeezed when she said, “Oh, yes, Rory. I’m ready. Do what you need to do.”
I rolled to my back, lifted my hips from the bed, jerked the shorts off and tossed them to the side of the bed. I took the flashlight, clicked it on and said, “Tina, take a close look.” She scooted down, rose over my abdomen and eyed my genitals with her mouth gaping open. She looked upwards toward my eyes and said, “I think I have affected it, Rory. It seems to be growing larger. Is that what it does?” I could only grin and nod as I moved the light away.
I had her sit up, pulled my dress shirt over her head and left her lying naked before me. I tenderly laid my head on her Mound of Venus. I didn’t look at her but I began telling her, “Tina, those girls you heard talking had crude boyfriends and I’ll tell you why. I have my head on the greatest gift a girl can give to a man. What a man should do is relish and savor that gift by treating it with respect and honor. Are you positive you want me to continue?”
“Your description was beautiful, Rory. What you do has to be better than they ever thought that their boyfriends did to them. Yes, I’m certain that I want to learn from you.”
I turned my head and gave her navel its first ever kiss. She sighed, moaned that it felt divine and that she was dying in anticipation for me to continue. I lay there, a grin on my face as I concentrated on the sounds of the rainfall on the roof. I wanted her to know she had a lifetime of learning and enjoyment ahead of her. I let her go on and on before I told her that we would continue the lessons after we had had our critically necessary sleep. I wrapped my arms around her and snuggled while the rainfall beat a rhythmic tattooing that rocked us swiftly to sleep.
The wind woke me at ten. We were still naked and I lay quietly admiring her gorgeous body shining in the morning light. I eased to the side of the bed, stood and went to the kitchen to brew the coffee and scrounge for breakfast. I tried the lights but no luck. It would either be cold cereal and bananas or scrambled eggs for breakfast. I was fortunate to have a gas stove and an old aluminum coffee percolator or we wouldn’t have had hot coffee to wash the choice of breakfast down. I took a second cup and went to the bedroom. I gently shook her awake. She stretched her arms, smiled and said good morning. I handed her the coffee and told her cereal and bananas or scrambled eggs was the special of the day and she vowed that she loved cereal and bananas, so that would be our choice of meal. On the way to the kitchen, we went to the window in the living room and watched the heavy, mucky reddish mud flowing steadily over the curbing and piling higher in the yards, including mine. I asked if she needed to call her grandmother and she panicked when it dawned on her she hadn’t called to tell her she was safe. I got my cell and cautioned her to make it quick as we had no way to recharge. She nodded and called. I smiled as she excitedly told me that her grandmother was elated to hear that she was safe and sound. She put the phone down near her bowl and we ate.
Over the second cup of coffee, she smiled and said, “Rory, as long as it’s still raining, could you give me a few more lessons?”
I smiled back and said, “Class will start as soon as the banana digests. In the meantime, I’m going to look for you some clothing to wear.”
I left her at the table sipping coffee when I went on my search. I was scrambling around in the floor of the bedroom closet looking for anything that might fit her when I heard the door open. I knew it could only be her so I didn’t turn around. I kept digging through the box I had split open. I wasn’t paying close attention to her as I screamed once before I pitched forward over the clothing when I felt the knife enter the right side of my neck. In desperation, I slapped my hand on my neck when the blade was removed. My blood was spurting through my fingers and splashing everywhere. She put the second entry point between my shoulder blades on the left side, puncturing through near my heart. I fell farther over the box, and sensed that she had a grip on my feet. I felt myself begin to move and realized she was dragging me across the wooden floor toward the bed. Her third chosen entry was near the kidney on my left. I was gradually losing consciousness; the light in the room was dimming as I realized I was fading from the rapid loss of blood.
She had my cell phone at her ear and I faintly heard her saying, “Doug, it’s me again. It’s done. When it’s safe, come and help me put his body in the sluice so that the mud will cover it. We can strip the house once the rainfall stops. Yeah, I snooped around last night while he was sleeping and found his office. It has a Mac Pro laptop and a Mac desktop. He has a Bose stereo rig, a flat screen Samsung Smart TV, the new i Phone 5-S I’m using and a number of other electronic gadgets that should bring us great piles of cash. I also have the receipt showing that the rent is paid for two months. We can take our sweet time in stripping whatever is worth selling.
“We were so lucky that he needed someone to talk to while you changed his tire. Everything he told you was spot on. Just as he said, no one in this dumpy ass town knew him well or was close to him, so he won’t be missed for quite a while. He was the easiest scam we’ve ever had. The moment he saw my naked ass he rolled over and was eating out of my hand. Nah! He played games staring at me, but never really touched me. He bought the entire story hook, line and sinker. What a gullible preppie asshole.”
I detected a tear flowing across my nose, but couldn’t reach it. The last thing on Earth I saw looking across the bloody floor was Tina Shaw’s beautiful ass in the opening of the doorway as she left me dying on the floor.
The wind was roaring at an increased sustained level. It created ghostly screeches as it blew through the legs of the normally unmanned installation (NUI), best known as a ‘toadstool’ platform, located three miles directly south of Lafayette, Louisiana in the vast waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Gaston Chaisson was paying no mind to the wind as he was absorbed in doing his frequent routine maintenance inside the covered tin hut. He was diligently servicing the umbilical cable that was attached to a satellite platform that operated in conjunction with Gulflexa, a deep-well permanent platform owned and operated by Gulf Flexible Annex. Gaston was a member of the maintenance crew on the Gulflexa mother platform. He uses a medium-sized ten man crew boat to travel between the mother platform, its satellite and the toadstool that he was servicing. His crew boat was tethered to one of the steel legs of the toadstool, secured with a cable that was locked to an O ring on the leg. He opened the door of the small tin hut cable cover to discover the wind had increased considerably from the time he climbed up the ladder to the tin shack. He listened closely to the screeching as it whistled loudly under him. He frowned, knowing his decent to the heavily rocking boat was going to be a nail biter. Following company rules, before he moved, he latched the safety hooks of his leather tool belt to the pipes at each side of the ladder, took a deep breath and began the climb down.
He stopped on the last rung, actually a small steel landing where he could stand and board the boat. He stood, still attached to the pipes, fighting the wind and now the icy cold whitecaps blowing over his legs on the small platform as he stared at the taut, straining tether. The boat was being pulled backwards and was brutally rocking over the waves the wind created. He was wondering if he had the strength to pull the boat close enough to the ladder to safely board the boat once his safety hooks were removed from the pipes. He was facing one of those life and death iffy situations one occasionally faces. He looked down and saw that his gloves were now wet, the leather slick, and when he pulled on the boat tether, his grip kept sliding away. The question now became: should he violate company policy and try it with his bare hands. He shook his head and said to himself: Gaston, you’re not a loony Cajun like some of your friends. That tether cable will rip your bare hands apart and hurt you more than the company disciplinary action if it found out.
He grasped the sides of the ladder, put his hands on the upper rung and climbed back to the larger platform. It was hard to stand without support. He wrapped one arm around one of the stand pipes and surveyed the skies around him. He saw no breaks in the clouds that would give him hope. He returned to the tin hut, took his mobile short-wave radio and called the mother platform. He reported his decision and the chief of maintenance congratulated him on making a sound analysis of his situation. Gaston would spend the night inside the hut, safe from the elements, but destined to be hungry. He had left his lunch pail on the crew boat.
He had difficulty sleeping because when the rain started, the noise on the tin hut was worse than baseball-sized hail on a car in the middle of June. Even ear sound protectors wouldn’t have been any help it was so loud and consistent. Nearing four that morning, the rain had subsided; Gaston peeked out the door and realized that the wind had eased also. He flipped the switch on his flashlight, left the hut and attached himself to the ladder. At the bottom, he easily pulled the boat close enough to safely step aboard. He started the engine and backed away from the legs. He put it in forward, opened his lunch pail and instantly devoured the contents, including two bananas. The coffee was no longer hot, but yet warm enough to fight off the early morning chill of the mist hanging low over the calmer Gulf waters. In forty minutes, Gaston was in his bed on the mother platform, pleased that the adversity he challenged didn’t leave him in worse shape than it did.
One week later, Gaston stepped into his boat, secured his suitcase, and left to service the satellite platform. When his servicing job was complete, it was time for Gaston’s rotation, hence the suitcase. Gaston worked a schedule of six weeks on, six weeks off. His crew boat would be turned over to Jules Babineaux, his rotation partner His service job took less than an hour, so he was back in the boat with the destination of Blanche Bay and through the bay to Franklin where he would turn the boat over to Babineaux. Gaston was age forty-three, never married, well below average in looks, but a hard worker that lived alone in the old, run-down family home in Jeanerette. He never saw the need to spend his earnings to live elsewhere because he was there only part of the year. He told his sisters, both who lived in Lafayette, if his job ever changed, he would tear down the old house and build a new one under the moss-hung trees. They thought his idea was a good one under the circumstances. Argument settled.
If Gaston had any vices they were limited and unknown to his associates and sisters. However, the one habit he was known to have was his love for alcohol, always bourbon. Never on the rigs, only when he was ashore. He usually spent very little time at his home in Jeanerette. He could most often be found haunting the Cafe La Boue Bug in Beaux Bridge where many of his friends lived nearby. He would sit with them and let off the built-up steam of the rigs when they were ashore. His attempts to connect with women were an abject failure. The lowliest of the lowly rejected Gaston, calling him Frankenstein without the makeup. Even the desperate, seedy whores on Bourbon Street in New Orleans accepted him with anguish and trepidation, fearing that he was a monster ready to crush them. Many were surprised by his demeanor and afterwards, most called him a true gentleman, a great lay, a man who showed them respect, was never rough or rude, and left them with generous tips. They would welcome him back if he was in town and looking for a good time and he always was at some point when he was ashore.
The Saturday before the end of his six week home stand found him in Breaux Bridge with one of his fellow company employees, but Eloi Prevost worked a different rig. They were in the Cafe La Boue Bug where a casino was attached to a large truck stop service station. Gaston had his familiar bourbon and branch in his ham-sized hand when the door opened and two women truckers looked around, one pointed, and they headed for the ladies locker room. Gaston watched them go by his table, turned his head and watched the tight fitting jeans covering their butts go around the corner. Gaston’s friend slapped his hand and said, “Chaisson, get your eyes back in your head and listen to what I was saying.” Gaston smiled at him and said, “I had a better subject for my attention. When you start to look like the ass on the one in the blue Moosehead tee then you’ll have my undivided attention, Prevost. Continue your story.”
The two women came out, went to the bar and ordered. While their sub sandwiches were being prepared, they brought their beers to a table across the aisle from Gaston and Eloi. They pulled the chairs toward the back of the table so that they could watch the slot machine feeders with an unimpeded direct view. Prevost, a married man, ignored the truckers, but Gaston still had his eye on blue tee shirt and could see her in his line of vision. He became aware of her glancing at him between sips of her beer. Their food was delivered along with a fresh beer and Gaston, never staring, was fully aware of every bite that blue tee took from the sandwich. When their plates were empty, blue tee opened a trucker’s wallet, removed a bill, went to the jukebox, inserted the bill and punched two numbers. Gaston knew the songs were a half-dollar each so he knew she fed it a dollar. The first song, a lively Cajun zydeco favorite, began playing. Blue tee turned and danced her way back to the table, took a sip of beer and danced her way to Gaston’s side, leaned over to his ear and whispered, “I know you’ve been watching me. If you’re interested, dance with me.”
Gaston smiled, pushed his chair back, pulled her to his lap and whispered, “I certainly am interested, my name is Gaston. What do I call you?”
“Andy. It’s really Andrea but since I drive a big rig, everyone thought Andy would be more appropriate. So, call me Andy, Gaston. Let’s dance handsome.”
He led her to the floor and they danced to the Cajun songs she had selected. When the music ended, he held her hand and went to the bar, ordered her another beer, one for her friend, one for Eloi and another bourbon of his own. He touched his bourbon glass to her beer bottle and softly said, “Andy, no one ever called me handsome. Thank you for being the first.” She laughed, hugged him and as she started back to her table, turned and said, “Thanks for the dance and the beer, Gaston. I need to go get my shower and head to the confines of my sleeper cab.”
When she had finished speaking, he waved her back and put his arm around her shoulder, pulled her close and said, “You sounded as if you’re tired of the showers in truck stops and sleeper cabs. Are you?”
“Gaston, I’ve been on the road now for nine days. I abhor truck stop showers. My sleeper isn’t bad, but here in the south it gets damned hot inside, even at night.”
“I see. And I understand. I work in the Gulf on a rig and we have the same problem at times although luckily our quarters are air-conditioned. What would you say if I offered you a full bathroom, a queen-sized bed, and a full breakfast in the morning?”
“I’d say you were a man looking for a horny girl for the night. I’d also say, I think you’ve found one.”
“My truck is the white Dodge Ram parked nearest to Pump Ten. Get your clothes and essentials and meet me there in ten minutes. Just throw your stuff in the bed. It’s clean. How about your friend? What will she do?”
“No problem with Mazie. She’s leaving. She had her rest period starting at noon today, so she can drive again at eleven. She’s heading to Jacksonville where I just came from.” He left her walking toward Mazie when he went to tell Eloi he was leaving. Eloi was ready to go home anyway and he told Gaston goodbye and wished him luck.
One the way to Jeanerette, she told him she was from Hardin, Montana, east of Billings on Interstate 90. The company she drove for was in Billings and she had been a driver for six years. She had been married once, he ran off with the neighbor’s wife her first year on the job and she had no time for romance with the job she had as a long-haul driver. She bragged that her company was noted for the numbers of women drivers it had on the road. She let him know that the southern route was the most profitable and that as the economy improved, more of the women drivers would be stopping in Breaux Bridge. He asked, why Breaux Bridge and she said the company had a national contract with the truck stop for servicing its trucks
He told her that the house wasn’t much to crow about but was clean, comfortable, and paid for which made it Paradise for him. He parked behind the house, they entered through the kitchen and as he had said, it was clean, neat and with older farm houses, extremely large. He led her upstairs to the guest room on the left, flipped on the light and she sighed longingly, saying, “That bed is the most inviting thing I’ve seen in a month, Gaston. You’re a jewel for offering it to me.” He shyly grinned, kissed her cheek and showed her the bathroom with both a tub and shower. Another long sigh from down deep in her gut. He left her in the doorway, saying, “I’ll get you another beer while you get ready for a bath or a shower, your option.”
He came running back up the stairs, handed her a beer and a glass, turned and said, “I’ll be in the kitchen. Call when you’re finished.”
Andy took her sweet time. She was enjoying the luxury of soaking in a tub instead of being crammed in a small fiberglass shower stall in a truck stop. When the water became so cool she was shivering, she took one of the extra large towels from the rack, wrapped it around her and went to the top of the stairs. She yelled, “Come on up, Gaston. Time to show me your stuff.” When he entered the bedroom, she had dropped the towel on the floor and was in the center of the bed naked. He stopped in his tracks. He eyed her from the doorway and was stunned by her nice, round firm body with matching breasts. She waved him over, teasing, “Don’t be bashful, come on over and sample the merchandise.”
The time for him to be fully stripped of his clothes was a new record for him. He jumped in the bed with her, sidled up close and kissed her. That was the signal for her and she made the most of it for the next thirty minutes or so. When both were sated, she whispered in his ear, “How about another beer, Gaston?” He nodded; still naked; he ran to the kitchen, took another beer from the fridge, popped the lid and hustled back to the stairs. She had wrapped another dry towel back around her for the warmth and was at the top of the stairs smiling when he hit the top step. He handed her the beer, she thanked him and took a sip. She touched his face and said, “You’re such a nice, gentle man, Gaston. A good lover and very generous. It’s such a shame that.you’re so damned ugly. Ugly enough to turn ones stomach if they didn’t grit their teeth like I had to do.”
He was taken aback by her words. When he caught the breath she had knocked out of him with her words, he spit harshly at her, “But, Andy.You said I was handsome and I told you that you were the first to ever say that.”
“Gaston, Gaston! That was a come on from a horny old truck driver. It turned out great, much better than I expected and I do appreciate all you’ve done. But go look in the mirror. God, you’re so damned ugly it’s almost a sin God created you.”
Gaston turned, his face an inflamed red when he said, “You god damned whore. You took advantage of me by lying! I hate that and you’ll pay dearly!” She became frightened by his outburst. She stepped back two steps away from his anger but to no avail. He swung his huge fist, drove it into her nose, knocking her backwards down the stairs. The beer bottle flew over her head, hit a picture of his mother on the stairwell wall, it fell braking the glass. Her towel fell on the steps as she went feet over head backwards down the stairs, the glass cutting her back and arms. When her head hit the third step down, her neck snapped loudly. So loudly it broke the eerie silence in the quiet house jarring him to move down the stairs toward her. When she hit the bottom landing, her arms splayed over her head, her legs covering the last two steps, blood slightly oozing from the cuts, she was already dead from the broken neck. Gaston bent over her, loudly yelling, “Andy! Andy! I didn’t mean to do knock you down the stairs. Please wake up.” He had tears flowing from his cheek and dropping on her face as he held it in his huge palms.
Realizing she was dead, he stood to pick her up and move her to the dining room table, but when he stood, a glass shard from the picture frame glass went farther into the arch of his right foot causing him to fall to the floor in excruciatiating pain. He held the foot in the air and could see the end of the shard tilting toward his left. He took hold with two fingers, began to pull but it cracked and the broken end was all he could remove. He stood on his left foot, pulled himself up the stairs by using the banister and then used the wall to reach the bedroom. He sat on the bed and began to dress, leaving his foot without socks or shoes. Using the same technique on the return trip down the stairs, he made his way to the kitchen, opened the pantry door and took his mother’s old wooden rubber-tipped cane, using it to get to the truck.
At the emergency room, the doctor on duty told him that he would call for help because the glass was embedded so deep that he needed a surgeon to remove it. He gave Gaston a shot near the glass entry to ease the pain. Two hours later, Gaston left the hospital on crutches with a pocket full of pain killers. The surgeon told him after the glass was removed and the wound stitched that he had one of the deepest embedment’s he had ever seen and then asked how it had happened. Gaston told him he was running down the steps and didn’t know a picture had broken when he put his full weight on the foot where the shard stood waiting. The surgeon shook his head, patted his knee and said, “Keep the wound clean, Gaston. You don’t want an infection to flare up.”
He sat quietly in his truck thinking. He knew from what the doctor told him that within two hours, even with the pain pills, he would be having intense localized pain again. He had to act before it put him down for the day. He started the engine, looked at the blood covered floorboard and pedals before he pulled out and awkwardly, slowly, drove home with his left foot. He stood on his crutches looking at the body of Andy. He was hit the fact that he knew her first name, but not her last name. He looked at the blood route on the stairs and his lips parted in a small grin when he began the implementation of his plan. The foot cut was the perfect cover for her blood. He would have no fear of any questions about the blood. He was holding the reason in the air under him. He turned and saw the trail of his dripped blood leading to the kitchen, the pantry, and out the door. It would also be on the porch and in the truck. The bonus to the blood was the large amount of fresh blood, now clotting, that was on the floor leading to the bedroom where he put on his clothes. He leaned against the banister baluster and listed what he needed to do to erase Andy from his association after the cafe incident with her. He would have to change the bed, he would need to move the body, he needed to destroy her clothing, he had to get rid of the beer bottles and wash the glass she had used. The towels needed washing to remove any DNA evidence. A large order for a lone one-footed individual to handle, but time was on his side. None of those were an immediate need and he could easily handle the washing, making the bed, washing dishes and burning the clothes with his regular burning barrel trash.
He pushed away from the baluster and struggled his way up the stairs, avoiding the glass and clotted blood. With the bathroom cleansed, an easy job, he made the bed, gathered the towels and threw them over the banister to the floor below to be washed. He put the empty beer bottles in his pockets, washed the glass in his bathroom and left it on the sink stand. He found it testy going down on the crutches and he knew it would take practice before his fear ebbed.
At the time he began to feel twinges of pain in the center of his foot, he was nearly finished. He searched her jeans pockets, took her wallet and looked at her CDL license picture. He became emotional while reading her license and felt the blurring of his eyes as the water of tears gathered at the lower rim. Her name was Andrea Morgan Weatheral of 986 2nd Street West, Hardin, Montana. She had pictures of a smiling young woman holding a toddler of about age two. Gaston was hit hard when he realized the picture must be her daughter and grandson. The tears broke the rim and flowed down his cheek. He was undecided if he should anonymously mail her wallet and a note to the address on her license. After thinking a little more about that act, he shook his head and discarded it. Too easy to track to Louisiana and back to me. It would go in the burn barrel with her clothes. Her truck keys would be dumped in the center of Blanche Bay when he left for the rig.
By the time he hobbled to the daybed in the sewing room, he was left with only lighting the trash barrel and moving the body. Those items could wait. He swallowed two of the pain pills, lifted his bandaged foot to the bed, grimaced and then emitted a low groan as it hit the mattress. He stretched out, shook off his left shoe, dropping it on the floor, closed his eyes, groaned again and didn’t wake until well after dark. He put his right hand over the end of the daybed, turned on the light, grabbed his crutches and stood, left foot in the air, pain still coursing through the wound and around the stitches. He tottered on the crutches through the house and to the utility room. He took a thirty-three gallon black bag from the box, braced the freezer door open and began throwing packaged fish and shrimp in the bag. Two bags later, he removed the shelves, storage boxes and sat them atop the freezer. Now that it was empty, he closed the door, dragged the bags to the back porch and left them near the steps. Back inside the house, he stood over Andy’s body and studied how he could best get her to the utility room since he wasn’t able to carry her.
He felt he could think better with a little bourbon in him. Tottering back to the kitchen, he poured about two fingers of the brown bourbon in the short glass, took a bottle of cold water from the fridge and topped the bourbon with a splash of the iced water. He sat in a chair; right foot extended as far as possible, and sipped the bourbon while he did deep thinking about Andy’s body and the distance to the utility room. He was only dreaming of a second drink when an idea flashed through his mind. Rope. I need a rope. I can tie the rope under her arms, wrap it around my waist and drag her to the freezer. Her blood is clotted so it shouldn’t be a problem. He pictured his route and planned to walk where her body wouldn’t smear his drippings. He grinned to himself as he became thankful that he had stayed to the left on the way to the truck. That gave him a relatively clear path to drag her body. If his were smeared, that would raise questions .should the authorities ever learn of our leaving the truck stop together. He smiled again when he had thought of how fortunately it was that he parked near Pump Ten because that parking area has no surveillance cameras.
He did celebrate his thoughts with a second drink, unaware that two drinks combined with the pain pills were about to put him under for nearly fourteen hours.
His eyes opened at seven-twenty Monday morning. The taste in his mouth was worse than the odor of the fish and shrimp on the porch that the wind was blowing back through the aging sills and cracks in the house. He made a quick decision to place the burning barrel at the top of his project list. He put coffee on to brew, opened the door and the stench blasted him fully in the face. He gagged at the reeking stink. He took the bag of clothes, his lighter and hobbled to the barrel, dropped the clothes out of the bag, spread lighter fluid on them and lit the clothes. While they gathered the flames, he went to the porch and began dragging the fish bags to the barrel. He took papers from the shed and added them to the flames until the fire was shooting out of the barrel above his head. It took him almost an hour before he dropped the last package on top of the gathering ashes He broke the beer bottles and dropped them into the recycle can. He was already worn down and the day was just starting. He found an old clothesline rope, stuck it in the vee of the left crutch and went inside to begin the process of moving Andy to the freezer.
He cleaned the coffee pot after emptying the carafe into his work vacuum. He sat down to rest and to lift his leg as instructed while he drank his first cup of the boiling coffee. Hunger pains hadn’t arrived yet so he discounted eating until Andy was safely inside the freezer. He dropped his foot, yelped lightly as he rose from the chair. He went to Andy, dropped the rope above her head, stood on his left foot and used the left crutch to hoist her left arm upwards. He grabbed her hand, lifted the body and used the crutch tip to push the rope under her. He repeated that action on her right side. Using his left crutch, he lifted the rope to his hands, went below her head, straddled her body, wriggled and pulled the rope until it was under her arms. He flipped the rope over her breasts with the crutch tip, and used the tip to move it to his hand. It was working like a charm. He made a slip knot in the rope, pulled it tight under her arms and stepped over her head, wrapped the rope around his waist, tied it well and tested his strength using the crutches. One step and she slid easily. Second step and she slid easily. He nodded to no one and began the single step movements until she was at the entrance of the utility room.
He rested against the wall knowing he needed to keep her tied in order for him to successfully stuff her in the freezer. Finally he opened the door, used the rope to lift her to where he could get his hands under her arms and using the wall, he lifted upwards, turned her and sat her butt on the freezer bottom. He pushed her back against the left wall, turned her legs and lifted, bending them at the knees to crunch them through the door and against the right wall. When she was inside, he struggled to get her lower legs up the wall and over her head. He was worn out when he backed against the wall and looked at the U-shaped body now fully ensconced inside the freezer. He stepped forward and put her hands on her abdomen, stepped back, closed the door, locked it, pocketed the key and smiling to himself, went back for his second cup of coffee and maybe something to eat.
The clock was nearing five when he trudged to the truck, got in and left for Breaux Bridge. When he walked inside the casino on crutches, Eloi jumped up, ran across the room and shouted, “My God, Gaston. What it is you did to yourself?’ Come sit and tell me about it.” Well, by the time they were at the table, three others had joined and were sympathizing with Gaston. Eloi spoke up and pleaded, “Tell us how you ended up on crutches.” They were gathered to the side of his chair and anxious to hear his story.
Gaston displaying a sad serious face began to tell them, “You remember that picture of mama on the stair wall? Sometime during the late evening, it fell and the glass broke. I thought the noise was someone trying to break in so I grab my gun, jump from bed and run down the stairs. I stepped on a glass shard and rammed it all the way through my arch and into the bone. I had a hard time getting to the hospital. A surgeon, you know, at the Jeanerette Emergency Room had to do surgery to get it out. You should see the floor of my truck with all the stinky blood.”
They all ughed and touched his back. At hearing the story, Louis LeBlanc spoke up and said, “Give me your keys, Gaston. I’ll get Joe to steam clean it while you’re eating. Hey, someone get Gaston something to eat.”
In about ten minutes, Gaston had a steak, baked potato, hush puppies and fried okra in front of him. He smiled and said, “Thanks, boys. It’s nice to know there’s a helping hand when you need one.” After their beers were gone, everyone except Eloi sauntered away to refresh their drinks and to pursue different stories. Watching Gaston eat, Eloi asked, “How about the house, Gaston? You can’t clean it with only one foot. What if Cecilia and I drop by and scrub away the blood? We can do it in the morning before lunch.”
“Okay, but only if you let me buy us all lunch at Mulate’s. Crawfish are in season and they have the best.”
“Oh, yeah, and you know how we love them crawfish. Mulate’s it is. Ten okay with you?”
“That’s a perfect time. These pain killers knock me out like your favorite, Rocky Marciano would.” Eloi laughed and slapped the table twice shaking the pill bottle until it rolled over and rolled toward Eloi. He sat it back up, read the label and said, “Those are powerful pills, Gaston. Do you need help getting back home?”
Gaston shook his head and responded, “I’m getting the hang of left footed driving and the good thing about it is, with the pills, I can’t speed so I won’t get any more tickets.” Eloi laughed, slapped the table once and Gaston grabbed the pills before they turned over again.
Gaston opened the door when Eloi and Cecelia were still getting out of the truck. Eloi carried a gallon jug of bleach and a scrubbing broom. Cecelia had a mop, a bottle of Pine Sol, and a jug of detergent. Gaston led them to the stairwell and they stopped, wide-eyed and said, “Jesus Christ, Gaston, you lost a lot of blood. It’s a wonder you didn’t pass out.”
Gaston grinned waved his head from side to side and said, “I didn’t tell you that part. The surgeon orders a pint of blood but specified it had to be from a bourbon drinker to have any effect on me.” Cecelia laughed loudly in the quiet room and Eloi, being a little slower, joined in when he caught Gaston’s joke.
Cecelia filled a bucket about half full, added about a pint of the pure bleach, took the scrub broom and began at the foot of the stairs. She turned and ordered Gaston to go sit in the living room and wait. He turned the TV set on and watched an old John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara movie on the Movie channel while she and Eloi scrubbed and mopped the blood away. At twelve-twenty she stepped to the doorway and said, “Come look, Gaston”
He hobbled to the stairs and was amazed at the great job they had done at removing all evidence of the blood. He smiled, congratulated them and then said, “What’s the charge to have you do the rest of the old floor to make it match the clean part.” He laughed and said, “Just kidding. It looks great and I owe you more than just crawfish.”
Cecelia stepped forward, picked up the empty bucket and said, “You don’t even owe us that much, Gaston. What we did is what friends do for each other. Maybe one day you can repay it with something similar for us.” Now go back to the movie while we finish.”
They drove away after lunch. The doctor’s office called at three and reminded him of the check-up the next day at ten. He showed a little early. The nurse put him in an examination room and removed the bandage. She ahhed and said, “It looks good. No infection, no swelling around the stitches. Doctor Landry will be here in a minute.” She left him on the table with his foot sticking out the end of the table. Landry walked in, shook his hand and asked, “How’s the pain now?” He lifted his leg and was closely eyeing the wound.
He shook his head and answered, “Very little. I didn’t have to take a pain pill last night. Do you think I’ll be able to go back to the rig come Sunday?”
Landry touched the wound with two fingers pushed down lightly and asked, “Any pain when I push?”
He shook no. He pushed harder; Gaston screwed his mouth up and said, “That did hurt a little.” He dropped his foot and said, “Come in on Friday and we’ll see if you can walk on it. What do you do on the rig, Gaston/”
“I’m maintenance. I don’t do any drilling, pipe pulling or physical labor. I maintain the rotary engines, the umbilical cables and such.” Landry nodded, turned and before he opened the door, said, “I’ll see you Friday. Stay put. The nurse will redress the foot.”
She came back in, began opening drawers and gathering the necessary materials. She took a swab, cleaned the wound, put a salve on it, a white gauze pad on it and taped it. She looked at her work, then at him and said, “Minimal coverage this time. Keep it clean. Don’t walk on the foot until after you see the doctor on Friday.” She handed him the crutches and left him to leave on his own.
Back in the truck, Gaston drove to the first grocery store he came across on Highway 90, and now with a smaller bandage, no pain and more experience with the crutches, went in the store, to the liquor department and asked the clerk for two 1.75 Liter bottles of Evan Williams bourbon. The clerk checked him out, bagged the bottles separately and then called for assistance. A young man, about seventeen or so came to assist with the bottles. He carried the two bags and walked beside Gaston and when Gaston opened the passenger side door, he carefully put the bags on the passenger side floor. Gaston tipped him two dollars, went around the truck where the young man had run to open the door for him, climbed in the seat and stowed the crutches behind him. The young man waved as Gaston, using his left foot, slowly drove away.
He pointed his truck north and drove to the truck stop in Beaux Bridge; He pulled sideways in front of the service bay, honked and yelled, “Tell Joe to come out. I need to see him.” He moved up enough to clear the entrance and waited. Joe came to his side of the truck wiping his hands with a red towel. Gaston stuck his hand out to shake, but Joe held his greasy hands up and said, “You don’t want this on your hands or steering wheel. What’s up, Gaston?”
“I just left the doctor with good news about my foot, so I came to give you a little something for the cleaning you gave my floorboard. Come to the other side, Joe, and open the door.”
Joe opened the door, Gaston said, “Take one of the bags. I know it’ll please you.”
Joe peeked inside, looked up and said, "You didn't have to do this, Gaston. We're friends and help each other out. Remember when you fixed my broken air- conditioner? You wouldn't let me pay you but now you pay me?"
“Joe, you didn’t have stinky blood all over your air-conditioner like my floorboard did. It was a different kind of help you did. Just enjoy the bourbon.”
“Oh, I will, believe me I will. Thanks Gaston.” Joe backed away from the truck, shut the door and waited until Gaston was back on the street to Interstate 10. He went across the lot and locked the bottle inside his utility tool box attached to the bed of his pick-up. He smiled on the walk back to work.
Gaston drove to the rear of his house. He eased out of the truck, went to the back and opened the doors to the cap. He dropped the tailgate, backed his truck as near to the porch edge as he could, got out and eyed the height of the gate as compared to the edge of his porch. With just an eyeing, he decided the tailgate would not be more than two inches below the porch level. Nodding to himself, he put the tailgate up, closed the doors, locked the truck and went inside the house.
He had to assume that he would be cleared to go back to work which meant he had to order his supply delivery to be safe. He took his normal list, added the necessary changes in bandages, antiseptic, and tape. He used the house phone and called the grocer. He told him he wanted the same order as always, but he had to add a few items. Once that was done, he prepared his lunch. After eating, he took his two pills, stretched out on the daybed and drifted off to a more comfortable sleep because he could now turn on his side with no pain or concern over the foot.
He was awakened by bells. In his pill-induced sleep stupor it took a while for him to realize it was the phone ringing. It was a consistent non-stop ringing. When he picked up it was Eloi, so excited that Gaston could hardly understand the rapidly shouted Cajun words. Finally, he said, “Eloi, slow down and calmly tell me what you just tried to tell me.”
It wasn’t Eloi this time, it was Cecelia speaking. She calmly told him, “The police just left here Gaston. They told us that a driver hasn’t moved the truck in nearly a week. The company hasn’t heard from her and she can’t be found. She and another driver named Mazie were in the cafe on Saturday night when you and Eloi were there. This is to warn you that you’ll be questioned by the police about her. Everyone who was there is being asked what they know if anything.” Gaston thanked her for the warning, put the phone down and scoured the house once more to be certain there was nothing that could connect him to Andy. He breathed a sigh of relief when he felt that he was clear.
The State troopers arrived just before six. Gaston let them in, acted as if he had no knowledge of why they might be there and sat in the living room facing the two of them. When they brought up Andrea Weatheral, Gaston looked blank and asked, “Who is Andrea Weatheral? I don’t think I know anyone with that name.”
The lead Trooper then said, “Gaston, she was known as Andy. We understand she asked you to dance Saturday night.”
“Oh, yeah! Blue tee shirt. I didn’t know her name. We danced to a couple of Cajun tunes; I bought her and her friend a beer afterwards. I was with Eloi Prevost. Have you talked to Eloi?”
They ignored his question and asked, “What happened after you danced with her?”
“Well, I bought the beers, she told me she had to go shower and get her required rest time in before she could continue her trip. She said that her friend was leaving at eleven because her rest time had ended. I went back to Eloi, told him I was heading home. He said that Cecilia wanted him home also, so we left at the same time. I was parked over by pump Ten, so I jumped in the truck and came here.”
“What happened later?”
“Around midnight I’m guessing, I heard glass breaking and thought someone was trying to burglarize me. I jumped from bed and ran down the steps. When I hit the bottom I fell on my ass because I had a severe pain in my right foot. I looked at the foot and saw a large shard of glass in the arch. I struggled back up the stairs to get dressed and saw what made the noise. My mama’s old picture fell from the stairway wall and broke. I stepped on the glass. After I dressed, I finally made my way to the ER at the hospital.”
He held his foot out for them to see the bandages on the foot. He said, “I saw doctor Landry this morning and they changed the dressing. He said I may be able to go back to my rig Sunday.”
“Doctor Landry treated you at the hospital and has the records?”
“He was the first who saw me. He had to call a surgeon to remove the glass it was embedded so deep. All the way to the bone.”
“Who was the surgeon, Gaston?”
“The new one, Remy Dufour. He’s good.”
They stood and the lead trooper calmly said, “Show us the stairwell.”
Gaston grabbed his crutches, led them to the stairwell and pointed to the cleaner space on the wall where the nail was still hanging, slanted downward. They looked at the cleaner spots on the floor and stairs, turned and looked at the clean trail out the door. One trooper went up the stairs, eyed the nail closely, went to the top and followed the trail to the bedroom. He saw the bed made up, the room neat, decided the bed hadn’t been slept in and came back down stairs. He didn’t follow the trail out the door. He stopped at the pantry door and opened it, looked inside and closed it. He talked with his partner in private for a few seconds, came back and said, “Who cleaned the floor for you?”
Gaston smiled and said, “My friend Eloi and his wife Cecilia volunteered to clean up my mess. Joe Boudreaux at the truck stop in Breaux Bridge steamed the blood from my truck floorboard. It’s nice when friends help when you can’t do things yourself.”
“One more question Gaston. Why is there a larger clean spot in front of the pantry door?”
“I was hobbling on one foot because the glass was sticking out. I got in the pantry and found my mama’s old cane to use. It didn’t help all that much, but it did help a lot with driving the truck left footed. It’s still in the truck if you want to see it.” The trooper shook his head and started back to the living room. Gaston followed but they didn’t sit. The lead trooper turned, said, “If you’re released for work, we may have to call you back if the evidence changes.” They opened the door, nosily plodded across the rickety pine wood porch and drove away in their shiny, clean State Police SUV.
Gaston went directly to the kitchen, poured double bourbon, added water and sat in the nearest chair. His heart rate was slowing, his nerves lost the edgy feel, and the bourbon soothed his fear. It seems that he passed the smell test.
The lead trooper, driving toward the hospital ER entrance, was telling his partner, “All the stories jibe, the parts fall in place. I am feeling more like our first take on the missing driver. Another long-haul trucker abducted her. Someday a body will be found on the route of a long-haul and it’ll be her. It happens, Luke, just like I told you when we arrived at the truck stop. That was what my gut was telling me. Women long-hauls are always in danger. They’re targets because of their bodies.” In less than ten minutes they left the ER, walked back to the SUV, having been given verifying data that confirmed Gaston’s version of his Saturday night. But Gaston didn’t know that yet.
Gaston tested the foot. He could walk without pain so long as he didn’t try to hurry which put more weight on the foot. If he can convince Landry that he can work without damaging the foot, he should be cleared to leave Sunday. Thursday afternoon, after having lunch with Eloi, he entered the kitchen, leaned the crutches in the corner behind the door and spent the rest of the day, with no shoes, walking on the foot. Friday morning, he put on his best sneakers, the New Balance with arch support, and went to his appointment with Landry walking without crutches. The nurse smiled when she saw him, checked his blood pressure and asked him to remove the shoe and sock. She checked the stitches and saw only a few dark spots remaining of the self dissolving thread. The wound had healed perfectly; his walking had done no damage. She tickled the bottom of his foot causing him to jerk, smiled and said, “All looks great to me but that’s the doctors decision. He’ll be in shortly. Keep the foot uncovered.”
Landry tested the wound, put pressure up and down the scar area and said, “You’re good, Gaston. We’re finished. You can return to work immediately.”
Gaston nodded, shook his hand and said, “Thanks for the good work. I hope you never have to do it again.” Landry grinned and kidded, “But if you’re not clumsy again, how do I make a living Gaston? Incidentally you provided a little excitement when the two State troopers showed up. But they were satisfied when I gave them the records.” Once again Gaston was left to make his own way out. However, this time he was elated to be leaving on his own.
When he was at his home desk, he used his company provided short-wave radio to call Babineaux on the rig. When Jules answered, Gaston told him that he would be at the dock at ten Sunday morning ready to load his supplies. They talked for a few minutes about the mother rig and the two satellites. Jules assured him he had encountered no problems while Gaston was ashore. When they hung up, he called the grocer and cancelled the medical supplies he had ordered. He verified that the delivery van would be at the dock at nine-thirty. He spent the balance of the afternoon packing his suitcase with the clothes he had laundered and had ready for the return trip.
At seven, he left for Breaux Bridge. Eloi and the others were straggling in and all stopped at the table to satisfy their curiosity about Gaston’s return to work. Gaston found himself at the table with four bourbons that were bought by his pals. It was nearly eight when Eloi came in, looked around and saw him at the table. Eloi sat, pulled the chair up closer and leaned forward, asking, “Everything went okay with the cops?”
Gaston nodded as he answered, “They looked around, wanted to know who cleaned the floor. I told them you and Cecilia and Joe did the truck. That was about all.”
“What about the foot? What did the doctor say” Eloi shot across the table to him.
“Clean bill. I leave for the rig Sunday.”
“That’s when I leave also. I hop the copter at nine in Lafayette. Before we get away for another six weeks, if you don’t mind, tell me what happened between you and blue shirt Saturday night.”
“No, man, I don’t mind. She blew me off. Told me she had to get her mandatory rest to be able to leave the next morning. When she went out the door, she went to her rig and then to the showers. I never saw her again.”
“Yeah, that’s what I told the cops that probably happened. I knew when you came back to the table and she left, it wasn’t a connect. Damn shame about her though. Another trucker told me that in the last five years they’ve lost two women drivers that way. Some of those drivers have to be son-of-a-bitches about women drivers.”
“It’s way too bad about her. Even though I didn’t know her name, she seemed to be a very nice lady. Remember, she called my ugly ass handsome. No one else has ever said that to me,” and he laughed hard. Eloi was uncomfortable about his reference to being ugly but he joined the laughter to be sociable with his friend.
Gaston finished the second bourbon, picked up another and said, “I won’t be here tomorrow night. I have to pack and be ready to meet my supply truck before I take the boat from Jules. Just wanted you to know in advance.”
“Well, that makes me feel better because Cecelia insists that I go with her to her sister’s for a birthday party in Church Point. I’ll be able to make her happy about her sister for a change.”
Eloi had eaten at home. Gaston was getting hungry so he ordered the Friday special. They drank while he ate and the talk was about what they would be doing on the rigs for the next six weeks. At ten, Eloi stood, said, “Want another bourbon? Gaston shook his head and then Eloi stuck t his hand out to shake and said, “See ya’ in six, buddy. Have a safe time out there ya; hear.” Gaston shook it and said, “Same to you. Tell Cecilia I send her my best.”
Gaston slept late Saturday morning. Sleeping late wasn’t one of the luxuries of working the rig. After he ate and drank a pot of Cajun coffee, he loaded his suitcase in the truck, spread a canvas tarp over the bed, backed the truck to where it was barely touching the edge of the porch about two inches or so from the top. Down was better than up. He went to his storage shed, took out his wheelbarrow and took it in the kitchen with him. He propped the screen door open with a flower pot and went to the freezer. He retrieved the key from his pocket, opened the door and stared at the frost covered naked body of Andy. She was frozen in the U configuration which would make it easier to fit the wheelbarrow. He put on his gloves, took her right arm and began the struggle of removing the frozen body from the freezer. Being frozen made it much easier than when he had put her in limber in that position. When he had her turned, he lifted her by her butt and put her on her right side in the wheelbarrow.
He pushed the body through the door, across the porch and into to covered bed of his truck. He raised the handles, she slid to the bed and he backed out with the wheelbarrow. He went back in the truck, pulled the tarp tightly over her and stuffed the ends under her body to secure them. He raised the tailgate, closed the door on the cap and took the wheelbarrow back to the shed. He pulled the truck forward and parked it under the moss-covered oak where the shade would protect it from the searing afternoon heat, but would thaw the body to make it pliable once more.
Back in the shed, Gaston filled the lawn mower with gas and wheeled it to the front yard. He went to the kitchen and brought two large bottles of iced water and sat them on the porch. He spent the rest of the afternoon mowing and trimming the yard. For the next six weeks, a professional service would do the yard twice.
After he had showered, he ordered a delivery pizza from Domino’s. When it arrived, he sat on the front porch, rocked and ate the pizza while downing two cokes. When the sun started down over the trees at the end of his land, he went in, poured bourbon and turned the news to the local station in Lafayette. He was sipping his bourbon when his attention became riveted to a female reporter standing in front of the truck stop. He turned the volume up and was hearing her say. “State Police spokesperson Sarah Vadrine has said that investigators now believe that the missing trucker, Andrea Weatheral, was the victim of another long-haul trucker. Any local suspects have been cleared of all questions of Weatheral. Station KVOL has learned of other missing women truckers under similar circumstances. Stay tuned to KVOL for further developments when they become available.”
Gaston sat back with his drink at his smiling lips. He felt the best he had since just minutes before he hit Andy in the nose. Until she called him ugly, he had been on cloud nine with hopes of her being more than just a one night stand. He felt bad that she had paid the price for turning nasty on him, but he also felt she deserved the punch, however not her death.
He slept with an easy mind. He rose at six, had his breakfast, dressed and left for Franklin at eight. He stopped and bought four dozen of assorted doughnuts for the guys on the rig. He went to the grocer and bought four pounds of chili meat. He arrived at the Blanche Bay dock some fifteen minutes early. He sat in the truck and ate one of the doughnuts while drinking a cap full of his vacuum coffee. He heard the soothing familiar humming sound of his crew boat coming up toward the dock. He stepped from the truck, walked to the piling tie-off point ready to catch the rope when Jules threw it. He smiled at Jules who was waving at him. He wrapped the rope around the tie-off and took Jules suitcase, sat it on the pier and then pulled Jules up by the hand. He shook the hand in his hand and Jules slapped him on the back. He asked Gaston if anything exciting had happened and Gaston shook his head as he said, “Same old stuff, Jules. A dead Jeanerette and a few drinks in Breaux Bridge with Eloi and the guys. At least the work on the rigs gets exciting at times.” Jules nodded and said, “That it does, Gaston. That it does. I heard about you being trapped on the toadstool. Better you than me, “and he laughed as he picked up his suitcase and headed for his truck.
Gaston loaded the supplies that the delivery van had deposited for him. He waited for another ten minutes to make certain that Jules wasn’t coming back. He went to the truck, backed it to the pier, opened the cap, lowered the tailgate and drug Andy and the tarp to edge. He rolled her off the back off the truck and watched the tarp open when it hit the bottom of the boat. He stood looking at the display of her nude body. He loaded the doughnuts, his suitcase and the chili meat. He re-parked under the carport, left the truck, unwound the tie rope, threw it aboard and jumped in the boat. The engine was running so he put it in gear, turned the wheel to his right and glided into Blanche Bay. Once he was out of sight of land, he took Andy’s keys from his pocket and heaved them into the deep water of Blanche Bay.
He sat his GPS for the toadstool, not the mother rig. When he slowed to tether the boat, he opened the chili meat and dropped it overboard near the small metal platform. By the time he had tethered the boat, the water was roiling with an eating frenzy over the chili meat. He lifted Andy’s body, rolled her head over the side of the boat. He kissed her cheek, lifted her legs and let her gently slide into the roiling water. He sat sideways on the railing and watched as the fish devoured her until little but bone was showing. He unhooked the tether and headed for the mother rig.
Seven weeks later he and Eloi sat at their table in the cafe. Gaston was sipping his bourbon when the door opened and a blue tee shirt entered the door, stopped and searched for the ladies lockers. Gaston punched Eloi as she began walking toward them. When she passed, Gaston turned his head and watched her tight jean-covered ass go by, turned to Eloi and said, “Do you think blue shirt would like to dance, Eloi? Maybe she’ll ask me.”
As the traffic slowly came to a dead stop, Baye Fowler was reminiscing about her childhood as she eyed the familiar surroundings. To her surprise, Sammy’s hadn’t changed all that much in the five years since the last time she passed this corner. Most of the block had undergone modernization of one type or another: new facades, new entrances, different colors, but Sammy’s were still Sammy’s and that was worked well for them. As she mused of her past, she was suddenly jerked alert when Sammy’s door opened and she felt as if she had been detonated where she sat. Straining her eyes to be certain of her discovery, she knew she couldn’t have made the wrong judgment. What she had focused on was the actual image of Javier Villegas casually strolling out the door and turning left toward the Hillside Community Living Complex. Her eyes didn’t lie to her, but how could a dead man have eaten breakfast at Sammy’s and walk away?
When the light changed she bullied her way in front of the car to her right, forced her rental car to the curb, illegally parked, flashed her badge at the honking horns, and began to jog toward the complex where she observed him entering through the portal and disappear. She spent fifteen minutes searching the streets in the complex with no luck in sighting where he may have gone. Retracing her steps, she quickly returned to Sammy’s, went in and pretended to be looking for someone. The hostess approached her and inquired as to whether she preferred a booth or a table. She shook her head and told the hostess that she was supposed to meet someone, but didn’t see anyone dressed like he said he would be. She gave the hostess a pleading look and asked, “He said he would be wearing a tan golf jacket, blue-striped shirt and black pants. However, there’s no one dressed like that here.”
The hostess smiled and said, “You mean Jack Vines. You just missed him. He left not twenty minutes ago.” Baye grinned and responded, “I just flew in and was caught up in the rush hour and arrived late. I’ll give him a call and rearrange our schedule. Thanks for your help.” Baye turned and stepped out to the sidewalk and stood thinking about Vines. Her thoughts ran the gamut. From, so, he’s changed his name to Jack Vines using the same initials so that monograms won’t trip his story. My quandary is not the name change, its how can a dead man be here walking around. After he shot me, I know for certain that I put a double tap into his chest and saw him go down, bleeding profusely. Before I passed out, he tried to rise and couldn’t push himself up. So how can he walk today?
Baye returned to the car and just sat there assessing all the possibilities of what could have happened after she became unconscious. I was shot once. I know for certain he was hit twice. I also know my partner called the shooting in. Did I ever ask what had happened to Vines after I was lucid again following my surgery? I have to file it with those others things I can’t recall, however, this is a priority for me. Those other minor things can wait in line. I must resolve this question and resolve it now while I’m here where he is living.
She started the car, increased her speed, foregoing her ogling the changes and remembering familiar landmarks as she sped toward her brother’s home where she would finish her recovery time before returning to work. Her brother, Phil, lived in the old home place that they jointly owned. She had left here after the death of their mother eleven years ago. It has now been five years since she had last visited, not wanting to put up with Phil’s drug addictions and the fights that continually developed over his excesses and waste of their inheritances. She pulled into the driveway and before she unloaded her one carry-on bag to go in, she used her cell phone to call her partner in Phoenix. When he answered, she spouted, “Josh, Baye here. I need some answers and I need them now.”
“Baye, you’re supposed to be rehabbing, not worrying about answers. I’ll humor you for a minute of two, but get yourself well.”
“Don’t worry your dead ass about me, its Vines’s rehab I’m concerned about at the minute. You and everyone else led me to believe that he was dead. If that’s true, I just ran into his ghost here in Dallas. No bullshit, Josh. Tell me what the story with him really is as I need to rehab in peace and I can’t with his walking around town.”
“Okay, give me a minute to get to a private place. I can’t risk being overheard telling you what few facts I know.” Baye held on hoping that Phil wouldn’t look out and see her in the driveway. That could create problems for her. In less than three minutes, Josh was back on the line and was softly saying, “Baye, I’m really sorry, but I was sworn to silence, so you didn’t hear this from me. Swear to it. I won’t go on unless you give me your absolute word of silence.”
Irritated and pissed, Baye huffily replied, “Josh, I have my hand over my heart and I swear that your name will never come up if I’m caught. Is that acceptable?”
“It’ll have to do, but what did you mean when you said ‘if I’m ever caught’?”
“That’s for me to worry over. Now, tell me about the true story of Vines and his disposition.”
“You do remember that when you spotted him on the street and decided to stop him, he shot our target before you made it to the scene. You pulled your weapon and he dropped to his knees making you assume he was surrendering, but instead, he turned and shot up at you with the armor piercing ammo. Okay so far? I called it in, but unknown to either of us; he was being watched by the DEA task force crew. When our responders arrived, Villegas had already been removed from the scene by DEA. I was holding you and was unaware of their moving him. I want you to believe me when I say that I have no idea where DEA took him.”
“Okay, but where he was treated is not that important. What I need to know is what happened later.”
“His connections to the cartel got him some preferred treatment by DEA, the FBI, and the U. S Marshal. To save his miserable ass, he agreed to spill it all and I mean all. He gave names, addresses, routes, distributors, pushers, and death details by who and when. He led them to where the bodies were stored. It was their jackpot. They have been quietly and efficiently taking down all those he named. When you get back to duty, we’ll have a squeaky clean slate for us to keep clean. He did us a huge favor.”
“Josh, you named the U. S. Marshal as one of those involved. I assume then from what I saw today, Vines is in the relocation and re-identity program under the auspices of the Marshal. Is that correct?”
“It is, but, Baye, I don’t know his new name so I can’t help you there. I had no idea he was in Dallas. That’s new to me as you told me that first. I was only told that he survived and was relocated. It took a month or more until I found out that he squealed. And that info was found out through an overheard conversation in the men’s locker room. Hey, I’ve got to get back. I hope this helped, but you knew as much as me. Get well Partner. Really, I do miss your smartass remarks.” He laughed as he hung up. I was in no mood to laugh at anything. I was pleased that I had found the man who almost killed me, who left me with only one breast, and with a scar that resembles the Grand Canyon.
I took the one bag and went in the side door. Phil heard to door close and came running toward me. I couldn’t believe my eyes. God, he looked good. Straight, clean, clear-eyed and for once, healthy. He picked me up and swung me around whispering, “I was becoming worried. You refused to let me pick you up, insisting on a rental when you know we have an extra car here. And then when you didn’t show, I called the airline and found that it had arrived on time. Where have you been?”
“Phil, I should have called. I’m sorry, but I was tied up at baggage claim as my suitcases weren’t on the plane. Well, anyway, they’re looking for them on flights that left Phoenix and will call when they find them. Forget my bags, you look great, bro! What have you done?”
“Baye, I tried to convince you I’d changed when I was at the hospital after your shooting. But you wouldn’t listen and ordered me to leave. I’ve been clean now for several months. I still go every week for counseling because I am dead-set on not relapsing again. I work every day, haven’t missed a day yet, and my boss is very supportive of my rehab. Life is much better now, sis. I’m going to keep it that way.”
Baye had the start of tears in her eye when she replied, “I’m on your side. We can share rehab together while I’m here. I have a month more before my next tests are scheduled. You can’t begin to know the horror of being hit with an armor piercing bullet. The damage it did was massive and the doctors shook their head at how I managed to live. Maybe it was the will to see you as you are now. Clean and healthy again,” I did laugh a little when he tickled my rib and gave me a kiss on the cheek.
After he left for work the next morning, I jumped in the car and drove back to Sammy’s. I dumped the car a block away, sauntered to Mika’s Deli that served the finest espresso in town. I chose it since it was on the corner across from Sammy’s. I bought a cup of the daily Darkest blend and opened the book I had brought. I sat at a window table where I could observe the entrance to Sammy’s. Javier came slowly down the street; smiling and waving at passerby’s, jerked the door of Sammy’s open and vanished inside. I patiently waited him out, sipping the strong coffee and reading between glances at those going in and coming out of Sammy’s.
It took thirty minutes of fortitude before I saw him begin to repeat his act of yesterday. I bolted from the table, slammed the book back in my purse and I trailed him from across the street. When he turned into the complex, I held my badge out and stopped traffic as I illegally crossed in the middle of the block. I snaked along far behind him as he took a right at the end of the second block and when I arrived at that corner, he took another right and I could see him using a key to open the door of the first unit on that street. Once he was inside, I eased up slowly, memorized the number and started back to the car. On the trip to the main drag, I checked my options and the make-up of the route as I passed the two alley entrances and the first street in the complex as I journeyed to the city thoroughfare.
I returned home, went to the garage and rummaged through Dad’s old tool box. I was looking for a particular tool he stored from the plant the family operated. We had been in the ice distribution business. When I said we, I meant it. As we grew up, we worked with dad in the business. I took orders, Phil made deliveries and helped Dad do the bagging and storagein the giant freezers that were kept full of ice at all times, summer and winter. Mom did the books. We supplied restaurants, convenience stores, grocery stores, pharmacies, schools, hospitals and even the railroad. Our business slowed as more and more sophisticated ice makers came to market and when Dad died, we voted to sell out to another distributor.
I took the tool to the kitchen, washed and polished it, making certain that it was shiny and clean. Our name, ‘Fowler Ices’ was delicately removed from the wooden handle until no trace was evident. After I had honed it the way I wanted it, I dropped it in my purse for later use. I piddled around my old room for the rest of the day. I managed to fill two trash bags of my now useless, to me, youthful collections of clothing, books, shoes, and memorabilia no longer of interest. I took them to the car where I would drop them at the Salvation Army collection center and give the receipt to Phil for his tax return.
I fixed dinner at five-twenty and when Phil stepped in the door, I told him we had to eat in a hurry as I had a call from the airport advising me that my suitcases would be on the flight from Houston at nine. I laughed and said, “You wouldn’t want me running around naked like I did when I was three.” He laughed and pointed at me, saying, “I remember the neighbors calling mom and telling them you were naked in the front yard sprinklers.” We both had a good laugh at that memory. Phil gave me no additional resistance about dinner or any questions about my bags. He made no offer to accompany me, thank goodness. I received just an understanding nod before he confessed and by saying, “Sis, that works out well for me also. You see, I had plans as Bucky is coming over and we’re going to the gym for the high school basketball finals this evening.”
He promised to clean the kitchen, so taking him at his word; I drove back to the airport, ran through the parking lot with a stamped and timed ticket in my hand. At the exit, I told the attendant that I had dropped my sister off and had been late so I used the lot, but couldn’t now find the ticket. She told me that the minimum without a ticket was five dollars. I gave her a five and drove directly back to Mika’s Deli with my book. Around seven-twenty, Vines entered Sammy’s for his dinner meal. Dinner took a little longer, but I was in no rush tonight. I had until nine or shortly thereafter to accomplish my goal. When he left at eight-ten, dusk was becoming much heavier, street lights were flickering on, and the flow of traffic was nil at that hour. I followed closer this time knowing the darkness would cover me. When he turned left, I sped up and caught up to him, close enough to precisely time my approach. When he crossed the first complex street, I yelled at him, “Mr. Vines! Could I have a word with you? It won’t take a moment and you can continue walking as we talk.”
He stopped, turned, scrutinized me, saw I was a woman and assumed I was not a threat. He answered, “Certainly, miss. Come on over.” I crossed the street, he examined me and said, “You’re not one of my rehab members are you? I think I would recognize such a pretty face,” and he snorted a small irritating laugh. I forced a tight grin in response.
“No sir, I’m not. I have another question for you though.” We were slowly approaching the first alley way and I was surveying the entrance, making certain that I hadn’t missed a light when I checked it earlier that morning. I hadn’t, it was dark and quiet. No one else was on the street, many of the houses still dark.
Just before we stepped from the curb to cross the alley, I took the shiny ice pick from my purse and took his arm. When we stepped to the pavement of the alley, I put the ice pick at his neck and said, “Turn left into the alley, Javier. We’ll have our talk in there.’ He jerked hard when he heard his real name. He stuttered and said, “What do you want from me? I’ve reformed. I’m active in the church doing counseling. I told the authorities everything I knew. Who are you anyway?” I pushed him against the fence of the second unit, between the recycle bin and trash barrel. I moved the ice pick to a spot just over his heart. I angrily shot in his face, “I’m the woman with one breast, a scar you could get lost in, one who can never wear a low cut dress again and an enemy worse than your old cartel bosses could ever be to you.”
His face spread in panic and he spouted, “Oh, my God! You’re Officer Fowler that I shot in Phoenix. I’m so sorry that happened, Fowler. I said I’ve reformed and I have. I go to church every Sunday and pray for you. I counsel drug addicted citizens. In fact, I’m the one who got Phil straight again. Please, believe me. I’ve atoned for my sins. I’m truly a new person.”
This was a new wrinkle and I softly shouted, “You have worked with Phil, my brother?”
“Yes, Baye, I compelled the Marshal’s to relocate me here just so that I could work with Phil. I was so upset over what I did to you that I checked you and your family and found that he needed help. I’m the one who gave it to him.”
“Shit, Javier, that’s great! I want to thank you for what you’ve done for Phil. He looks fantastic! I too am sorry about all that happened between us in Phoenix, but not too sorry not to finish the job right here and now.”
I swiftly pushed the ice pick into his heart until it was stopped by the handle. I avoided looking at his face. I leaned him against the fence and assisted with his slow descent to the pavement. He died quietly without a struggle. I carefully cleaned the ice pick with lighter fluid, lit it and left it in his heart. When I felt no remaining pulse, I stepped into the dark alleyway and casually turned right. With a relaxed, easy feeling glowing within, I returned to my car.
I drove to Love Field, pulled into the parking lot, took the ticket and went to the lobby, discarding the ticket in the first trash bin I passed. I talked up the teen-aged boy manning the Pizza Hut shop and casually flirted with him as I bought a beer and a slice of pizza, just another stranger waiting for a plane to arrive or depart. The difference is that I am a vigilant and expert stranger who has a dated and timed parking stub from my earlier trip through the parking lot, a pizza receipt from a kid who will remember me, and a baggage claim employee who will definitely recall my loud gripes. Phil is with Bucky at the game and can prove it. Should the question of my whereabouts ever come up, I have the time verifying evidence of my presence at the airport.
As with most small towns in many states, the preferred spot for residents to meet was either the local general store or a favored eating establishment. Jericho, Texas was no different in that respect. However, the lack of an old-time General store left the citizens with only one option: Grubby’s Grilled Grub. It was noted for its smoked brisket prepared by its founder Jackson ‘Grubby’ Grubbs. It was also noted for the rumors, humors, and gossip of Grubby as he leaned on the counter and directed the traffic around his order-taker and server, Loren Aylin. Loren, a fixture at Grubby’s for the last twelve years was the butt of many cruel jokes by the young crowd because of his severe limp and his manner of speech—mostly slurring sounds that came with hitches as he tried to form the words to reply to the customers. Loren had been critically injured as a five year-old. His parents and he were returning from a Christmas day visit to his maternal grandparents when the weather turned wintery. Ice had formed on the highways and bridges making the drive hazardous.
On the overpass that crossed the Katy railroad tracks, the bridge was especially thick with ice caused by a clogged drain. The car entered the unseen ice on a downhill slant and suddenly turned sideways, out of control. It hit the abutment, bounced against the railing and fell onto the tracks some fifty feet below. Loren’s mother and father were killed on impact but Loren, asleep in the back seat, survived the crash but was left with a crushed left leg and a severe head injury. He was hospitalized for a period of six months before being released to his grandparents for continued rehabilitation. Through rehabilitation, he learned to walk with the limp but never regained his ability to speak normally.
Grubbs had been the neighbors of Manfred and Greta Aylin and valued their friendship with more emotion than he ever displayed. After the accident, Loren had been taken to Kroy, Texas to live with his maternal grandparents. When Loren reached the age of majority, he returned to Jericho because his parents had loved the town and its people, especially Grubbs. Grubbs immediately hired Loren. His ties were deeper than he would admit to anyone. He knew Loren would have a struggle finding suitable employment to support himself. Once hired, Grubbs took him under his wing and dedicated himself to teaching him everything about the business. When Grubbs sensed that Loren had learned the job well enough, Loren became invaluable to him as he assumed more and more of the duties in the operation of the restaurant. He was a loyal, hard working man now and Grubbs depended heavily on Loren to keep the restaurant orderly, clean, and functioning smoothly.
Grubbs leaned heavily on the young people who tormented Loren with their wise cracks and cruel treatment. Three young men as well as their girlfriends were barred from entering the establishment because of pranks they had foisted on Loren. They could be served at the drive-thru but couldn’t come inside to eat. All three resented the treatment but reluctantly followed the penalty Grubbs had placed on them. A local high school science teacher, Vernon Bulan, one of the few city residents who had befriended Loren, had warned Grubbs that those teenagers were troublesome before they graduated from Jericho High two years previous. He had said that they caused evacuation of the science lab more than once with their tricks of mixing volatile chemicals without permission.
In addition to the young people, there were several adults under the eye of Grubbs that he felt were mistreating Loren but none of the pranks were severe enough for Grubs to act in any way against them. But he kept close watch if their names came up when Loren spoke of being harassed.
Monday afternoon Grubbs noticed Loren sitting in the kitchen peeling potatoes, head down and crying as he worked. Grubbs pulled a chair beside Loren took a potato and stared peeling. In a few minutes, he casually asked, “Loren, these aren’t onions, so why are you crying over peeled potatoes?”
Loren thought it was funny that Grubbs thought he was crying from the potato peeling and he giggled in his slurring way as he muttered, “Someone pulled another trick on me, Jack. It hurt my feelings.”
“Oh, gee, buddy. I’m sorry about that. What did they do this time?”
“They had a girl call me yesterday after church and ask me to a picnic at Luna Lake. I drove out there to the Gazebo and saw her sitting at the table with a picnic basket. After I stumbled up the steps to where she sat I realized it was a scarecrow in girl’s clothes. The basket was filled with horse poop and had a knife, fork, and a note that said ‘Grubby’s Grilled Horse Shit—Help Yourself.”
Grubbs was inflamed by what he heard. He was red in the face and was squeezing the potato he held so hard that he had to trash it he had mangled it so harshly. He put his arm on Loren’s back and with restraint, calmly asked, “Did you keep the note, Loren?”
“No, Jack. I left it in the basket. I didn’t pick it up. Should I have?”
“We might have been able to figure out who wrote it but that’s okay. I wouldn’t have wanted to touch it either. If anything like this happens again, let me know sooner will you?”
He turned his teary face to Grubbs and with difficulty answered, “I sure will, Jack. I sure will.”
Grubbs continued to stew as he and Loren finished the tub full of potatoes to boil for the masher as they readied the kitchen for the dinner hour. Grubbs left Loren at eleven to close for the night. Loren checked the kitchen from one end to the other and found all in order. He activated the alarms, locked the front door and went around back to his car. He started the engine, back out and drove to the front of the restaurant, turned right on the Highway and stopped at the light. While he was stopped, the man in the car next to him was signaling him and pointing at the back of his car. Loren pulled in at the corner drugstore, got out and before he managed to limp to the back of the car, a loud explosion erupted from the right rear. Loren jumped back hit the curb and fell over striking his head on the fireplug.
Two customers coming from the drugstore ran to his aid and the woman held his head while the man went for the pharmacist for help. The pharmacist grabbed a First Aid kit and ran to where Loren was now sitting up holding his bleeding head. They asked what happened and Loren told them of the driver who had signaled and then the explosion. The customer went to the rear of Loren’s car and noticed hanging rubber strips. He used his pocket knife to pry the binding loose and brought the residue to where Loren sat. The pharmacist looked at it closely and said, “That’s a Punching Balloon. We sell those as does almost every convenience store. They’re much thicker than a regular balloon and kids can use them as a punching bag. Someone bound it to the tailpipe and the exhaust blew it up to where it exploded.”
Loren added, “The man in the car that signaled must have seen it full before it blew up.”
The customer nodded and addressed Loren, “Even as dark as it is it would have easily been seen being bright yellow. It was someone playing a prank on you.”
The pharmacist cut the last piece of adhesive and asked, “Do you feel strange, have any dizziness, or nausea? You could have a slight concussion from the blow to your head. Stay up a little later tonight, Loren. Make certain that you don’t have vision problems, dizziness or nausea. If you have any of those symptoms, get to the hospital clinic as soon as you can. Change the bandage tomorrow evening after you shower.”
The pharmacist helped Loren to his feet and made him walk around while being observed. His walk was good even with his leg problem, so the pharmacist felt that he could continue his trip home alone. Loren thanked him and the customers for their help and slowly drove home feeling none of the symptoms described by the pharmacist. He stayed up until two when he felt safe to sleep.
Grubbs was in the kitchen when Loren showed for the work day. He saw the bandage, poured two cups of coffee and had Loren sit with him and tell him exactly what had happened. Grubbs was enraged but held it in to keep from upsetting Loren even more than his manner and voice indicated that he felt. Grubbs told him that if he wanted to take the day off and rest it would be okay, but Loren insisted he was fine and wanted to stay. He told Grubbs that if he felt worse later on that he would leave and Grubbs was okay with that offer.
After the doors were open for business and things were going well, Grubbs left to do some banking and a few errands. The main errand he had in mind was to check the stores and determine if anyone could remember selling one of the punching balloons recently. At the third convenience store, the ‘Grab and Run,’ he got lucky. He was told that Chip London and Kelli Swift bought a yellow punching balloon, a bottle of green dye, and a tube of Crazy glue on Sunday evening. Chip was one of those that had been banned from being inside the restaurant. Now that he had a name, he would watch Chip and his two friends closer, even away from the restaurant when he had the chance.
However, his vow came too late. Sometime during the time they were in the kitchen peeling potatoes, a glass bottle of Milk of Magnesia was glued to the top of Loren’s car along with a typewritten note that read, “For Removal of the reeking shit caused by Grubby’s awful Grub.” In addition, green poster paint had been used to write on the windshield “The Gimps Garbage.’ Vernon Bulan was the first to notice the windshield and the bottle. He was entering the restaurant when he encountered Grubbs on his way to his truck to bring in a supply of cash register rolls that he had stashed in the tool box attached to the truck bed. He told Grubbs about the windshield and bottle on top and said that he had had tried to pick the bottle up but couldn’t because of the glue. Grubbs thanked him, looked at the bottle and knew he had had acetone to use in cleaning kitchen tools but was concerned that if he used it, it would damage the paint. He used his cell to call the Chevrolet dealership and learned that acetone could remove the clear coat. He went inside and asked Loren if he could borrow his car for an errand. Loren gave him the keys, Grubbs started the car, turned the window washers on to clear the poster paint and was stunned when the spray came out green and made the windshield worse. Grubbs was seething as he swiftly turned the washers off. He exited the car, took the hose used for cleaning the waste cans and cleared the windshield sufficiently to be able to see enough to safely drive to the dealer three blocks south.
When the dealership shop had removed the glued-on bottle and cleaned the green dye from the car, Grubbs went looking for Chip London. Chip drove a red Mustang but it was nowhere in sight in the downtown area. Chip worked in Maysville, about seven miles north. Grubbs decided not to confront London at his place of work, but would wait until later that evening. He returned to the restaurant, gave Loren his keys, told him he had the car washed, and thanked him for the use of the car, never mentioning the pranks to his car. He saw no good to come from upsetting Loren anymore than necessary.
The following Sunday was one of those early spring days to be relished. It was a cloudless brilliant blue sky served with a very slight cooling breeze that kept the sun from being overly hot .Grubbs kept his eye on the streets for the red Mustang but no sign of it ever caught his eye. The dinner hour was one of panic with guests having to wait for tables and the cash register was getting hot from all the sales rang up. None of the employees had time to wipe their brow it was so busy. The dishwashing machine ran continually pushing out clean plates and utensils to meet the demand. Loren and Grubbs passed each other in the doorway but didn’t even have time to smile at each other they were so swamped. At ten after nine, breathing room began to occur and around nine-thirty, Grubbs grabbed Loren by his apron strings and pulled him to the rear door saying, “Let’s take a break and enjoy the evening breeze.”
They were leaning against the wooden storage shed looking at the gorgeous full moon that lit the entire block. It was so bright that they could read the small print on the Utility pole warning. Loren stuttered a moment saying, “Jack, tonight was the best night we’ve had all year. I think the whole town was here to eat.” Grubbs smiled and punched Loren’s left bicep and answered, “I had to empty the register three times it had so many bills stuffed in it. Those are the days that make it all worthwhile, Loren. It solves the depression of the bad days.”
Loren thought for a moment and said, “Days like today encourage people to get out of the coop and test their wings again. We need a lot more moonlit nights like tonight, huh?”
“You bet we do and maybe we’ll finally get more of these now that spring is beginning to show its colors. Anyway, you did a fantastic job of keeping up with enough supplies to serve everyone without a wait. Good job, buddy. Now let’s get back inside and start the cleanup so that we can get some rest.”
“Yep, I’m for that because I’m tired for a change.”
Monday morning before the eleven hour lunch crowd began to appear, the Sheriff, Nealy West, a good friend of Grubbs, came in and told Grubbs he needed to talk with him. Grubbs nodded and said, “Let’s go out back, Nealy. You know I don’t have an office where we could sit.”
When they were outside, the Sheriff asked, “Where were you last night between six and eleven, Jack?”
“Inside swamped with the biggest crowd of the year. Why?”
“What was your beef with Chip London and Kelli Swift?”
“Pranks they were playing on Loren. Go look at his head. They put one of those punching balloons on Loren’s exhaust and when it exploded, it caused Loren to fall and hit his head on a fireplug. You can verify that with Howard Mangess at the drugstore. Later, they glued Milk of Magnesia and a nasty note of his car top and then put green dye in the windshield washer. I wanted them to stop harassing Loren because of his disabilities. They should know better, they’re old enough to be responsible citizens and not act like stupid kids. So, why are you concerned, Nealy?”
“This morning, when Eddie Womack got to the ‘Sun Days Tanning Salon’ he noticed that the door had been jimmied during the night. He immediately called the office and Ray Crowder went to investigate. When they went in, Eddie noticed that two tanning beds were running. He and Ray went in the rooms and looked. When Eddie opened the beds, they found Chip and Kelli, both naked, dead, and burned to a crisp by the lamps. While they waited on the Coroner, they searched the building but could find no clothing for either of them. That means that whoever put them in the beds took their clothes or possibly brought them there after stripping them.”
“Oh, my God, Nealy! How were they killed?”
“We don’t know yet. We have to wait for the medical examiner to determine the cause of death. The burns were so bad we couldn’t see any signs of trauma on the bodies. Tell me, Jack; was Loren here all the time?”
“He was and he didn’t know about the glued bottle and green dye. I handled that with Briggs Chevrolet and didn’t tell Loren. I didn’t want to upset him even more. Just so you know we have at least a hundred and fifty witnesses that will testify that we both were here until after eleven last night.
“Good. That means we can probably eliminate two suspects right away. Have you heard any rumors about anyone else with a beef against them?”
“None. I do know that the high school science teacher had a few problems with them when they were in school. But the way they act, there’s probably a few more around town irritated with them. And by the way, they’re not the only ones I’ve had a run in with. You know Cynthia Meyers, Gordon Lamar, Kenny Muraco and Lewanna Chandra? I had to ban them from the restaurant because of the torment they were putting Loren through. Check with those six and see if they can shed some light for you. They were as tight together as any group around Jericho.”
“I will check with them, Jack. Thanks for your time. I may pull you in to the investigation because of what you know about them. You know that if I do, you can’t say anything to anyone.”
“Yeah, I know the rules. They’re the same as those on the other cases you confided to me, right?”
“Exactly, but this is one you’re much more involved with than the others. So, don’t get too far away. I’ll probably be back with more questions.
“I have no reason to run, Nealy. I haven’t done a thing that would warrant that action. See you for lunch later?”
“That depends on what happens with the bodies. Take care, Jack, take care.”
Nealy didn’t show for lunch. He didn’t show the next day either. But on the third day, he came in, waved Grubbs over to his table and said, “Sit, Jack. I have a story to tell you. Last night around ten, Ray had a call from Lenore Williams. You know Lenore. She lives just across Lakeshore Drive from the Gazebo at Lake Luna. She was very upset and could barely tell Ray what she had found. It was a nice moonlit night, so she took her dog for an evening walk to the park. She noticed bare feet sticking out over the bench at the center table inside the Gazebo. Her dog started barking so she went to examine. When she stepped up on the first step she realized it was a naked woman on the bench. She backed off and ran home to call the department. When Ray and I arrived there, we found not only the woman, but a man on the end bench that Lenore couldn’t see”
“No, Nealy! Not another couple dead? What the hell is going on in Jericho? Who were they?”
“Jack, tell me that you don’t know who they are. Can you account for your time last night from about seven until around ten?”
“Nealy, I have no idea who they are, why would I. I was here from five until eleven and never set a foot outside. And yes, I have witnesses. So does Loren. Who were they?”
“Two of those that you named that you had banned from here. Kenny Muraco and Lewanna Chandra. No clothes anywhere in sight. Either stripped when they were placed on the bench or done before being brought there. Can’t tell when they were stripped. The medical examiner thinks they were suffocated but that was a preliminary observation. We still don’t know the cause of death in the first two. The burning has hindered the discovery according to the medical examiner’s office.”
“What about the other two whose names I gave you? Are they okay?”
“Don’t know yet. Ray is trying to locate Gordon Lamar now. Lamar didn’t show up for work this morning, didn’t call in, and hasn’t been heard from by Cynthia Meyers, who was at her parent’s home in Maysville. She has been advised to take precautions if she goes out.”
“Jericho doesn’t need this type of crime, Nealy. We’ve never had four killings in a year ever. There’s a madman on the loose taking young lives and who knows the reason other than the killer?”
“I can only hope that we will soon know the motive but we don’t have a clue at this point. Forensics found no identifiers. No loose hairs, no fingerprints, no random discards. Nothing. It’s a blank page in the murder book. Keep this under your hat hear. The papers have the basics but not the lack of forensic clues. We want that hidden.”
You know you’ve got my confidence. I’ll keep my ears open for anything that may be related to any of this mayhem. Thanks for keeping me informed.”
Grubbs moped around the restaurant until seven when he told Loren he had a severe headache and was going to go home and lay down. Loren closed up and left at eleven-fifteen. When he stepped from his car in the driveway, Cynthia Meyers met him in the shadows at the steps to his porch. He backed away from her but she pleaded with him to listen to her. She apologized to Loren for all that she had been a part of in the past. She was teary-eyed as she asked if he knew where Gordon might be because he had been missing for two days with no calls or contact. Loren shook his head and said, “No, Miss Cynthia, I didn’t know he was missing. I hadn’t heard about it.”
She stepped closer and in a lower voice asked, “Jack Grubbs didn’t tell you? Did you know that Lewanna and Kenny were dead?”
“Yes, Maam. Everyone at the restaurant was talking about it. Just like they did with Chip and Kelli. Why would you think I know anything?”
“Because we all picked on you and you were the only one I could think of that might have been involved.”
“Look at me Miss Cynthia. I’m a crippled weakling. Gordon was twice my size. So was Chip. I couldn’t do anything like that even if I wanted, which I don’t. I wouldn’t have been able to lift even small Kelli. I’m sorry but I have no knowledge of where Gordon may be.”
She touched his arm and said, “Thanks, Loren. Again, I’m so sorry about the way we played pranks on you. I’m so scared that someone is out there hunting for me. The Sheriff seemed to think the same thing. Please forgive me. I’ll never do it to anyone else again. This has every one of us young people scared to death. We don[‘t know what to do about it.”
“I know how fearful everyone is and, Miss Cynthia, I don’t hold anything against you or Gordon. Of course I’ll forgive you because I never thought much about what you did. I learned to live with it while I was in school. I sure hope nothing happens to you.”
“Loren, I want you to know I was the one who called about the picnic. But I had nothing to do with the basket of horse poop. That was Chip and Kelli. I only made the call.”
“Miss Cynthia, I recognized your voice, but thanks for admitting it. Too bad it’s too late for Chip and Kelli. Will you be safe going home?”
“That’s my dad over there in the car waiting on me. He won’t let me out unless he’s with me. Thanks for your understanding and help, Loren. Take care of yourself.” She turned back into the shadows against the hedges and silently slipped to the curb and got in the car with her dad. Loren waved as the car drove away. She was in full tears on the ride back to Maysville.
Noting happened during the next two weeks. Grubbs was called to the Sheriff’s office once during that time. Nealy told him that the medical examiner had detected chloroform in all four bodies. The suffocation occurred with no trauma to the bodies. It was theorized that the victims had been chloroformed before being put into a large bag, the air was sucked out and the victim suffocated inside the bag while unconscious.
Grubbs frowned and asked, “You mean like those bags that we store sweaters and things in for the summer?”
“Exactly. If fact, Mike suggested that it could be one of those large bags. All you would need is a vacuum cleaner to withdraw the air just like you do at home. You keep the body inside the bag until you get it to the chosen dump spot like the Gazebo or the tanning salon.”
“Our marketing people in this country certainly do provide killers with easy products to do one in if they’re so inclined. I would never have thought of it though. I guess I don’t have an evil mind.”
The Sheriff gave a rare smile as he said, “Well, that’s good, Jack. Myself? I couldn’t get the darned vacuum to connect to my sweater bag so they never got squeezed inside.”
“Mine did. You may not have had the right type of vacuum. This winter try your shop vacuum. It’s easier.”
Nealy slapped his forehead and said, “Dummy me. I never considered my shop vacuum. It works very well. I’ll use it this fall. Good tip, Jack. But to conclude, we have no starting point because we have nothing to point us in any direction.”
Grubbs quickly asked, “What did the science teacher have to say? You did interview him didn’t you?”
“Yeah, and he told us that the three boys were trouble makers when they were in school. He had to have the lab evacuated twice their senior year because of dangerous fumes from chemicals they had mixed and then exposed to the air. I checked with the principal and he verified the incidents and told of putting the three boys on detention for a week each time. Even with three Deputies and me digging the entire town, we still haven’t learned of anything unusual that would point us toward anyone of interest. And we still haven’t found Gordon Lamar.”
“That’s too bad, Nealy. At least it’s been quiet for a couple of weeks now. I have my fingers crossed that it’s over. Maybe Lamar saw the risk of staying here and took off for somewhere else. Even with Lamar still missing a resolution of sorts would be helpful.”
“Yeah, we haven’t given up but without any forensic evidence it’s difficult to tie things together. You would think that Lamar would have called his long time girlfriend if he were still alive though. That’s what is strange. Thanks for coming in, Jack. If we get a break, I’ll let you know.”
They had spoken too soon. On another moonlit evening, Gordon Lamar was found naked and lying at home plate on the local high school baseball field. He had been a star catcher on the regional championship team three years running. His cause of death was suffocation in the same manner as the other victims. Again no forensic evidence could be found on the body or the surrounding area. The only bright spot was that Cynthia Meyers, fully protected by her dad, was safe and sound at home in Maysville. However, she was a nervous wreck, under the care of her doctor, and on the edge of a nervous breakdown over her fright. She wouldn’t leave the house when the moon was bright because of her fright of being taken like the others. Her dad was careful to prevent her from hearing about Gordon until he could get her to the doctor’s office where the doctor broke the news to her after giving her light sedation.
Grubbs was uptight about the news also. He left the restaurant and drove around town until he cooled down enough to assist Loren in closing. He was blaming himself because he had threatened the five who were now dead. He truly regretted banning them from the restaurant because he felt that was when the troubles started. Loren attempted to sooth his fears about it being his fault but couldn’t find the words to make sense about what he was getting at with Grubbs. Grubbs settled down over the next few days and realized that his actions had no bearing on the killings. Few knew about the ban. Only the victims, the restaurant employees and no one else unless the victims talked which he doubted. Nealy assured him it wasn’t because of his ban. There had to be other deeper factors involved.
It was now the first week of June, flowers were in bloom, the trees full of leaves, and the calm was openly noticeable. Even Cynthia Meyers was seen in downtown walking along the street as she did her summer shopping for swim suits and shorts. She came to the restaurant for lunch and to say hello to Loren. However her father was always in the background with an eye on Cynthia wherever she went, whatever she did.
Grubbs received a call from Nealy to meet him at his office. Jack jumped in his truck and headed to the County Offices. Nealy met him at the door and told him they may have caught a break. An Indian Reservation police detective was in his office with some very interesting theories.
Nealy introduced detective Greg Tsosie from the Tigua Pueblo Tribe in Marfa. After the introduction he said, “Greg has a few theories he wants to share with us. Greg, tell Jack what you think.”
He turned to Jack and said, “I read of these victims in the crime releases that crossed my desk. It caught my attention because of the name associations. I don’t know if you’re aware of what the town and the victim’s names mean.” Jack was shaking his head while Nealy had a sly smile on his face.
Tsois continued, “Jericho is Arabian with references to the moon. London is an English association for moon. Lewanna is moon in Hebrew and her last name, Chandra is from India for the moon. Muraco is American with an association for moon.”
He paused to let it sink in and then said, “That’s for the victims but that’s not all, Cynthia is Greek for moon and your employee Loren, his surname, Aylin, is moon in Turkish. All the victims were killed and found on a moonlit night. I have told Nealy that he needs to focus the search on finding who is obsessed or possessed by the moon. I can assure you it is no one from our tribe. We keep close eyes on their activities, so we feel certain it originates elsewhere. It is not necessarily a Native American. It could be someone from any of those countries that the name associates with moon.”
Nealy took over and said, “Jack, I told Greg that we would never have been able to put those moon facts together. None of us had any idea what the names meant or where they originated. His interpretation has been invaluable to us. It gives us a number of new avenues to approach in our search.”
Grubbs sat up and said, “I knew Loren’s parents well and always thought they were German. If you recall, his name was Manfred and hers was Greta.”
Tsois answered, “He could have been German. There were a lot of Turks that immigrated to Germany after World War I. The globe is a small spot nowadays remember. People move around with ease from nation to nation. We even have some Kickapoo’s living among our tribe. It’s very common. Run names through Google and look at the name association and origin. We find it leads us to many factors of our investigations.” Tsois stood and asked if there was anything he could answer for either of them. They both said no. Tsois shook their hands and after their many thanks, took his leave.
When they were alone in the office, Nealy shut the door and said, “Sit, Jack. I want to have a man to man talk with you.”
When Jack was back in his chair, Nealy looked across the desk at him, sucked a breath in and said, “Tell me of your relationship with Loren, Jack. Don’t give me the Good Samaritan crock. I want the truth.”
“Crap, Nealy. You know how to put one on the spot about their life. What makes you think there’s something other than wanting to help a young man who has difficulties?”
“I work in the County offices, Jack. When legal documents are filed I know about them. It’s rare when someone creates a Will and Trust that has an employee as the beneficiary of the estate. I need to know, Jack. It won’t leave this office, but since its public record, remember that everyone else has access to it if they want.”
“Okay, Nealy. Okay. You knew that Amy and I were great friends with Manfred and Greta. We were both childless so we partied, ate, traveled and spent lots of time together. About six months after Amy died; Manfred was in St. Louis for a week. I had been in a depressed mood, broke off our association and pretty much stayed home alone. If you recall, even you were concerned about my mental state.”
“Yeah, you were a bundle of crap for a while back then. I remember talking with you about getting back to work.”
“Okay, so you remember. Well, one evening I was heating a can of soup when Greta walked in with a bottle of wine and a glass full in her hand. She said something like; you’re no fun anymore, Jack. So I brought some wine. Sit down and have a drink with me. I could tell the glass she had in her hand wasn’t her first. So, I got a glass and the corkscrew and brought them to the table. I pulled the lead wrapping off the bottle and started to pull the cork when she said, ‘You really know how to screw, Jack.” I laughed and pulled the cork with a loud pop that had her laugh and say; ‘And you know how to end a screw too!” I forced a laugh at her joke as I poured my glass half-full.
“I touched my glass to hers and took a sip. It was an excellent Burgundy, an expensive bottle. When I was topping her glass off, she said, ‘I need to use the bathroom.’ She stood, staggered slightly and headed for the hallway. I was stirring my soup when she came back. Naked! She stood beside me and said, ‘Show me that you can do more than a cork, Jack.’ Remember, Nealy, Amy had been dead for almost seven months and I hadn’t been out much. Greta was a gorgeous woman with a body to match. What was I to do except demonstrate to her that I could do more than a cork. It went on for about four months each time Manfred left town. At the end, she had come to me and said that it was over. That she was pregnant and had to stop. I didn’t argue with her because I was not way too happy stabbing Manfred in the back. After Loren was born and was a year-old, she came over one day and said, ‘I want you to meet me at UT Southwestern Tuesday at noon. We’re going to have you and Loren tested. I can’t live any longer without knowing which of you is actually Loren’s father.”
Nealy had been quiet but now he asked, “Did you meet her and have a DNA test?”
“I did. I was going to Dallas anyway to buy my new refrigeration equipment. You remember when I remodeled. Turns out that Loren was my son. That’s why I’ve always treated him as a hidden son. I was angry when the grandparents took him away after the accident. I wanted to confess at that time and show them the DNA report but chose not to expose their daughter as an adulterer. They were nice and caring people who didn’t deserve to be hurt.. I was the one who encouraged Loren to return to Jericho. As I had no heir, I wanted him to have the business when I’m gone. That’s the story, Nealy. Not a pleasant one but one I’m happy with as I age.”
“Jack, I think you’ve done the right thing, especially with Loren. The fact that you let him go to keep from exposing Greta was an admirable act. You’ve done a great job with him. Thanks for finally telling me the truth.”
“I feel better now that someone knows and will understand my feelings toward Loren. If you’re still around when I’m gone, you can tell the World about it. His grandparents are both dead and it doesn’t matter any longer. It’s just that I don’t want him to know while I’m still around.”
Jack stood, to leave. Nealy hugged him before letting him leave.
A week passed with nothing new developed. Nealy come into the restaurant and cornered Jack. “Jack, let’s go outside and talk for a minute.” Grubbs caught Loren and told him he would be outside by the shed if needed. He and Nealy leaned against the side of the shed and Nealy said, “I followed the advice of Tsois and researched every name associated with this case and those victims, including Cynthia. He was right on about the moon theory. I learned that Bulan is Indonesian for moon. I went back to the Superintendent of schools and questioned him again about Vernon Bulan. I threatened a subpoena if he didn’t open up. He reluctantly told me that Bulan lost a full scholarship for his advanced degree over his poor evaluation that resulted from the lab incidents.
“I learned that Bulan was sanctioned not because of the lab evacuations, but because he provided the formula that the boys used to make the chemical bombs knowing their history of mischief. That formula wasn’t part of the curriculum and was a rogue action on Bulan’s part. Bulan appealed but the Board, in a closed session, upheld the evaluation, and in fact, suspended Bulan for a month without pay. That never came out for the public to see or know about.”
“For God’s sake, why do they keep such things from the taxpayers? We should all know about a rogue teacher.”
“Jack, I don’t disagree but the Superintendent led me to believe it was because the Board didn’t want to risk a lawsuit from Bulan. He, according to all I could garner, was a vindictive son-of-a-bitch. After I left the Superintendent I went to his home to talk to him. I got no response for two days. I had the Judge issue a search warrant and we opened the house. It was a furnished rental. Everything was in place except none of his personal items were found. It seems that he has left Jericho with no forwarding address. When we analyzed his background, it was obvious that he was capable of obtaining chloroform, using his science knowledge to destroy evidence, and to easily suffocate the victims.”
“What now, Nealy? Where do you go from here?”
Nealy was shaking his head when he responded with, “I issued a Be on the Lookout order and have had no responses to the order as of now. We’re running checks on the airlines out of Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, and Amarillo but we aren’t expecting good news as the responses come in. We’re up shit creek without a paddle if he left the country. While questioning the Superintendent I learned that Bulan is fluent in five languages, so he could be anywhere. I need to ask you to speak with Loren and see if he may have a hint of where he may have gone. Will you do that?”
“Of course I will. Loren won’t hide anything he knows. Stay here and let me go ask him.” Jack turned, went back inside the restaurant and went directly to the kitchen.
He stopped Loren at the freezer and asked, “Loren, do you know where your teacher friend Vernon Bulan went this summer?”
“No, Jack. I didn’t know he was gone. I haven’t seen him since the last week of school. He came in the night of graduation with two other teachers. Remember? They sat at the table closest to the Wurlitzer and listened to the music for almost an hour. They didn’t eat, just drank beer.”
“Yeah, I recall them now. Who were the other teachers?”
“Jess Marcum the track coach and Phil Newton the math teacher. They were pretty close friends.”
Jack went back to where Nealy still leaned against the shed and gave him the names. Nealy shook his head and said, “I’ve already had long sessions with both of them. They both said they were surprised to learn that he had left town. He didn’t give them any hint that he was preparing to leave. They are a dead end.”
Weeks passed without any new information or leads of where Bulan had ended his flight. Grubbs had Loren move into his house with him by convincing Loren that he had room to spare. He pointed out that Loren didn’t need to pay rent when Grubbs had wasted space. Nealy continued to pursue Bulan but with waning results. Cynthia Meyers had finally convinced her father that she was now safe from the moonlit killer and he turned her loose on her own. She had become good friends with Loren and spent time with Loren and Grubbs at their home.
Life had returned to a semblance of normal in Jericho, Texas.