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Their First Murder Case

 

 

 

 

 

M&M Investigations

Their First Murder Case

by

Phillip N. Hancock, Sr.

 

 

 

The following book is totally fictitious and any resemblance to actual places, characters or events is a product of the writer’s imagination.

 

Text copyright @ 11/15/2015 Phillip N. Hancock, Sr.

ISBN:

Shakespir Edition License Notes

 

This e-book is licensed for your enjoyment. This e-book may be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please pick up an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not get it on line, or it was not picked up for your enjoyment only, then please return to Shakespir.com or your favorite retailer and pickup your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Note: All cover artwork is a combination of free photo art combined with the authors use of computer programs and no copyrights were violated.

Cover photo was taken by Patricia Hancock

 

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Book Characters

Before You Go

Chapter One

Megan Ann Morgan, a slim five foot ten, could have been a runway model. Her dark hair was naturally curly but could be easily straightened to give her a completely different sultry look. The only thing she was missing was the stern untouchable look that most of the models held as they walked the runway. She really had a tough time with any look except the smile she almost always wore. She was thirty-two years old in two months but still sometimes thought of herself as a teenager. She lightly chewed on one of the earpieces of her reading glasses as she scanned the area. This was a habit she was actually trying to get rid of, but when she was idly concentrating and not reading, she sometimes took her glasses off and chewed without thinking.

“Christ, it’s dark, even with the full moon. I hope JJ can see something while he waits and watches the back of the building; it’s even darker back there,” Megan said to herself as she again took a slow 360 degree scan of the area around the front of the building. This was the third night they had staked out this area and this particular structure. The information they had obtained after two weeks of digging led them to believe that whatever was going on would entail this large two story abandoned building in some way.

Megan was seated on the front bench seat of an engineless, tireless rusted shell of a 1960 Plymouth Fury. The doors had been well oiled to prevent any noise when they were opened. The bench seat was the only thing that had any value or comfort in the entire car. The car’s appearance was staged as an abandoned vehicle: the plates had been removed and all the windows were broken out.

Megan’s view of the front of the structure was somewhat hampered by the presence of a row of wooden pallets and three small unused garbage cans, all in a line. She didn’t believe it was enough to prevent her from observing anything happening on this side of the building, even from the front seat of her planted vehicle. Although the pallets and garbage cans appeared almost solid black, seemingly with no depth, they were highly visible due to the light color of the stucco building that backlit them, the full moon that adorned the sky and the enduring glow of the nearby city lights.

Megan, a graduate of Harvard Law School, was not your typical lawyer, in fact she wasn’t a lawyer at all. Well, she had easily passed the bar exam and had everything in line to go into business but she got distracted. Her old love popped up and pointed her in another direction, a not so lucrative direction per se, but for Megan a fulfilling one.

An old friend of hers, Karl Winters, had invested some money with a get-rich scheme that seemed too good to be true and as we know they usually are just that. Things were going absolutely as predicted and the early investors had received some really nice profits from their investments so he too got on board. By the time he contacted Megan, he had been invested for three years and the returns had dwindled to zero for those early investors and his individual contribution had not produced one nickel of profit. His recent inquiries got the response, “give it a little more time”, and that should have been his first clue; second, the contact numbers, all of them, were now disconnected with no forwarding numbers listed. Karl was in a panic as some of the money he had helped invest was the life savings of his wife’s parents who were also taken in by this seemingly lucrative scheme. Both parties had monitored and followed the stocks’ progress for several months before diving in. The fact that Karl actually did the paperwork for them is what made him feel responsible.

When Karl approached Megan with his problem she was very hesitant and tried to convince Karl that she wasn’t an investigator, she was going to be a lawyer and any type of investigation should be done by a competent licensed service. Karl pleaded with her to just take a look. He was so embarrassed and wanted to try to keep this whole thing out of the limelight if possible.

Not giving Karl a definite no, Megan called her friend JJ and gave him a quick summary of the situation and asked for his advice. JJ was her confidante when she was in school and together they investigated numerous mysteries. They had solved them all, well that is, all except the first case they undertook together. That one was a real mind bender and the puzzling answer was finally revealed by the actual perpetrator.

Now sitting here in front of this structure with time on her hands. She was trying to think of a name for this case but she didn’t really have any real facts to go on. She would just have wait until they closed this case but naming it was most important to her.

Megan’s eyes remained in the present scanning the area around her, while her thoughts of naming the case suddenly took her back almost to the beginning of her investigating curiosity.

Megan Ann Morgan was twelve and getting ready for school. Her dark hair gleamed and the curls bounced as she tossed her head. She frowned in thought, and removed, then replaced her glasses. They were not prescription, just plain glass, they embellished her classic beauty. This was not the results she was seeking. She had hoped that the addition of these glasses would make her look more intelligent.

Megan made it to school in plenty of time, but now she was in trouble again. She was caught lying, which had recently become her usual crime. Her lies never concerned real serious stuff, however, she lied so often that everything she said was suspect. Her close friends, Christine Collins and Petra Yonich, understood this and accepted it as just a minor, temporary personality flaw. That was ok, however, the lying also caused a minor drop in grade point average, and this was not ok. It wasn’t serious but if it continued it might become a problem. Her parents were concerned and the teachers felt the same; however no one had a quick fix for this situation.

This whole lying thing was still relatively new to Megan but she felt that she had a good reason to lie. It was just practice and she had to perfect it if she was going to achieve her lofty goal. She practiced in front of any and all mirrors, she practiced, to the negative delight of her teachers, while in school and she practiced, to the dismay of coaches and referees, when she played soccer. “I didn’t touch that ball, it went off that other girl,” she would tell the referee even though all clearly saw her kick the ball that caused it to errantly go out of bounds. She was so serious when she lied, that it sometimes made people doubt what they actually knew to be fact. She knew if she was going to be that Oscar winning actress, she had to take whatever role she was given and be convincing and portray it as reality. Her facial expressions and her body language had to be completely in tune with the scenario she would be living as her future roles would require.

Lunch at school was almost always disappointing and the time you arrived in the cafeteria was, on some occasions, a big deciding factor. The earlier you got there, the better the choice of food. If it happened to be pizza day and you were late, it would not be pizza day for you. Today was one of those days, a day you tried to avoid. Pizza day and Megan had to remain after class, the one preceding lunch, due to that little white lie she had tried to lay on the teacher.

Mr. Morrison, her fifth period teacher, had known Megan for some time and he was surprised at her recent tendency to fabricate just about everything. What amazed him was not the fact that she lied, but it was the unbelievable excuses or explanations she used in those lies. Megan would actually have her work completed but would not turn it in. Close to tears she would explain, saying something like, “I don’t have it, my dog ate it, but it’s not his fault; he didn’t know how important those papers were. He’s just a little innocent dog. Don’t, please don’t call the dog police. I’ll make sure he’ll never do it again, if you’ll just leave him in my custody this time.” Mr. Morrison knew Megan, he knew her mother and father and he knew that Megan did not have a dog. She had one pet, and that was a box turtle she had picked up while on vacation in Mississippi. The turtle was kept in a very nice and roomy terrarium and it did not have access to her homework, even under the most bizarre circumstances.

Now in the lunch room, too late for the recently departed pizza, Megan looked at the choices left for her lunch. The vegetables looked wilted as they had been under the heat lamp far too long. The alternate main dish, stuffed bell peppers, not pizza, had taken on a brown color instead of the bright green color expected, not very appetizing. The macaroni and cheese was now dark orange, and so solid the servers were, with some difficulty, cutting individual portions with a steak knife. She decided to opt out and just have a piece of fruit and a glass of juice. That should hold her over until she got home.

There were only two oranges remaining but both had severe bruises on the skin so she bypassed them. She saw the skin of a bright red apple in the back of the fruit bowl and that was now her target. She reached around and picked it up to place on her tray. True the apple looked delicious and just ripe enough for excellent eating, but there was a problem. Through the center and out the other side was a number two pencil, solid black in color with a very sharp point.

Ouch, what the heck is this?” she said out loud as she held up the apple so the servers could see. She was careful not to stick her finger again, avoiding the sharpened point of the pencil. “Who did this? Who put a pencil through this apple?” She placed her injured finger in her mouth to try to ease the pain of the small red injured spot.

The servers all looked at the apple and then at each other. “Don’t know,” is all they said.

Look, hey look, someone did this and it has ruined a perfectly good apple. It’s just luck that I wasn’t pierced by that dangerous weapon sticking through its heart,” she said a little louder, causing the lunch room to quiet and most of those still present to turn in her direction.

You sure you didn’t put it there yourself?” the principal Ms. Raystone said. “You would be my first suspect if it was up to me. It would be just another part of your future acting career.”

I did not do this, I am serious, I did not do this,” Megan replied in her most serious voice. She heard some familiar giggles coming from behind Ms. Raystone. It was Paula Smartly and her two, better than you, clones. She wondered why they had not already left the cafeteria. It all had to be some kind of a plot, a plot to embarrass her.

Her words, however, did not make a dent in the resolve of those present and the principal seemed to glare at her. They were all conditioned to Megan’s recent fabricating in any given situation. My little lies sometimes come back to haunt me and at the most inopportune time, she thought.

Ok, ok thanks a lot. I will have to find the answer myself and I’ll prove I didn’t do it. Thanks a lot for your help, thanks a lot.” She then left the lunch room and made her way across the tarmac toward her next class, her hunger forgotten. People, some gathered in small groups, looked at her as she passed. She felt like the outsider she always knew she was. It was ok to feel like an outsider, it was another thing for others to treat you like an outsider, a weirdo, someone alien and different. Their looks pressed in on her and crushed her confidence. She had to go deep within herself to get the strength to press on and hold her head high. They could not touch her with their thoughts, how she felt and acted was simply left up to her. She was strong enough to put this behind her and go on with her quests, the quest to be an actress, an Oscar winning actress and now, maybe the quest to solve the mystery of the black pencil.

Hey Megan, Megan, wait up.” Lucille, one of the young kitchen workers, came running from the back door of the cafeteria as Megan followed the pavement that ran the length of the building. She wiped her hands on her white apron as she hurried to where Megan had stopped. Lucille was barely out of high school and still felt she had a lot in common with these young students. “I have some info for you, well that is, if you are truly going try to find out who did that pencil through the apple thing?” She then stopped in front of Megan and spread her hands palms up. “Well, are you, are you going to try to solve this mystery?”

I could solve it if I wanted too. I could do that, as a matter of fact, I think I will. What have you got for me, something good I hope.” Megan moved in closer, hoping to avoid this info being overheard by some other crime fighter.

Ok, you did not hear this from me, but,” Lucille spoke just barely above a whisper, “this is not the first incident that involved a black pencil. There have been two now in the cafeteria alone. The one with the apple today and last Thursday Old Mary found a black pencil stuck through a baked potato. She, of course, did not put that potato out on the serving line, so no one knew about it except us, the lunch room workers.”

Lucille turned her head and looked both ways before she continued. “That’s not all, it was supposedly rumored that there was another black pencil incident. It happened a few weeks ago in the band room. It was rumored that someone put a black pencil in the horn of one of the trumpets. When Jason Smith started his warm-ups and played his first note on that instrument, a black pencil shot straight out of that horn, shooting through a page of sheet music. It was quite loud as it ripped through that music sheet, bounced off a snare drum then skidded across the floor. Everyone jumped and then, on seeing what had happened, all had a good laugh. Anyway, that is what I heard. No one thought much about it at the time but now, with these other two incidents, it has become a matter of concern for some of us.”

Megan could understand that. It seems three times now the black pencil had been the center of a mysterious unwarranted strike. When Lucille finished with what she thought were significant clues, she headed back to the cafeteria. Megan thought to herself, third time is the charm. Lucille re-entered the cafeteria, closing the door behind her. Now alone, Megan said it out loud. “Third time is the charm and now M&M Investigations is definitely on the case, the case of The Black Pencil, no, no, the case name has to be more mysterious. I’ll have to use the thesaurus on the computer to get a name that is the same but more eloquent.” Her smile, almost a sneer, made her eyes crinkle and sparkle as they always did when she was about to get involved in trying to solve a mystery. She took out her small notepad and jotted down the incidents and information she had gained so far. She carefully noted, Mary the Ancient, a very famous chef, Luchillia the Italian Caterer/Wedding Planner and Trumpet Legend Jasoni Smyth. She jotted down how they were connected to this case.

Her first step would be to secure a name for this case. Once that was done she would have a chat with this legendary trumpet player, this Jasoni Smyth. She knew he was not a legend and she knew that Old Mary and Lucille were lunch room workers, but it made the case, her case, sound a lot better if those involved were famous. All of her previous cases involved famous people.

The Electronic Paper Chase that she solved just three months ago involved the Postmaster General of the United States and the Local Company President. Actually it was only her mailman and her dad looking for a missing electrical bill, but it sounded a lot better if it was someone important.

A latter case, The Petroleum Caper, was littered with dignitaries, a shipping magnate, an oil field sheik and a port import inspector for the U.S. Government. Sounds like a very important case, huh? Actually Megan’s dad had forgotten that he loaned the can that he kept the lawnmower’s gas in to the neighbor and his son. No matter, she did the job and recovered the missing item and nailed the culprits.

Today was a minimum school day and all classes were finished about one o’clock. After that last class Megan ventured into the school library and snagged a computer. She then opened Microsoft Word and typed in the word “black”. With the cursor of the mouse on the word “black” she selected the thesaurus and clicked the pick button. She did not like any of the choices that came up. Clandestine, evil, hopeless, dirty and dishonorable were just a few of the choices under “black”. None were appropriate for her case.

As she sat there in front of the computer she stared down at her hands where they rested on the computer keyboard. She tried to think of something that would help her get a meaningful case name. Her small birthstone ring glittered as she continued to stare unfocused at her hands. Maybe I should look for pencil and see what is listed for that, she thought. After a few minutes of reading the thesaurus results she formed an opinion. “Well, it could be almost anything that is used for writing or drawing,” she spoke out loud to herself. She then looked up writing instruments and settled on a name. Quill, a writing quill, wow, it sounded so mysterious that it had to be the right one.

As she thought and smiled about the quill she continued to stare at her hands, the small jewel in her ring glittered again. “A jeweled quill, that sounds good, but it does not refer to the color of the pencil.” She spoke quietly as some students had entered the library and took up other computers. Megan typed in jewel and again selected the thesaurus. Gem, precious stone, semiprecious stone, rock and crystal were shown in no particular order. The thesaurus could help her no further. Each item she selected led her back to the same list of things, not listing the stones and a description, as she had hoped.

It’s time, time to go to the web.” She smiled and again she spoke only in a whisper.

A list of jewels, all beginning with an ”A” were there with a picture and description as she expected. She thought that maybe under the ”B” she might find the jewel she was looking for. After a few moments of searching and looking at the stones and descriptions, the only logical selection was the black pearl. There was a problem with this one and she did not choose it because of the movie, Pirates of the Caribbean. The Curse of the Black Pearl: everyone would think I was copying and not able to think for myself.

Going from letter to letter and looking at jewels too numerous to mention, she was becoming very frustrated. She had been in the library for over an hour before she came to the ”O” and almost immediately settled on the jewel she would use. Onyx, so mysterious and the first word in the description was “black”. “I should have thought of this before now,” she whispered to herself, “my uncle has a big black German Shepherd and his name is Onyx. Where is my brain?”

It was now settled, it would be ”the Onyx Quill”, the case of the Onyx Quill. She of course loved it.

“What was that?” Megan pulled herself up straight with the help of the steering wheel of the abandoned vehicle. “There was a light at the top of the building, hang on, there it is again. Ok, ok, it wasn’t on the building, it was an airplane just passing over as it left the airport en route to wherever its schedule deemed.”

[]Chapter Two

Megan settled back down and continued her scan as her thoughts returned to the early years of her then yet to be decided career.

Jason Smith, ah, Jasoni Smyth was nowhere to be found. With the classes over for the day, as one would expect, he had gone home. Megan stopped by the admin. office and asked for his home phone number. The principal’s secretary told her in no uncertain terms, “I am sorry young lady; that is not allowed. The privacy of our students must be protected at all times.”

But I’m also a student here. Couldn’t you make an exception this one time? It’s very important, very important,” Megan pleaded. “I promise, this is just for me and I will forget the number as soon as I contact him this one time, it is so very important.”

I am sorry, I know you are a student here but,” she waggled her finger at Megan, “rules are rules and this one is never violated, never ever.”

Megan left the office realizing that an impassable obstacle had been thrown in the path of her investigation. She decided to change tactics and talk to the Ancient One now and leave the Trumpet Player till later. She hurried back to the cafeteria and grabbed the door handle. She pulled but the door was securely locked. “Oh no, no, I suppose they have also gone home. Minimum days are sometimes a pain.”

She pushed her face up against the small tinted glass rectangle that allowed a view through the door into the common area. She scanned the room as she held her hands to the side of her head to block out the reflection of the sunlight. This was the only way she could see through the darkened glass. The tables, with their folding benches, were moved and arranged together on one side of the vacant multi-purpose room. The room, so alive with warm bodies just a short time ago, was now empty. The lunch dispensing window had the metal shutter pulled down, shutting off the view into the cooking area. This to Megan was like having a big period at the end of the sentence, ”we are closed now go away”. What could she do? She went away.

She slowly ambled her way home. She had picked up a stick on her way and now she unconsciously tapped it on everything she came to. Letting it run the full length of the picket fence she passed, it caused a steady beat like the rhythm of a drum. She seemed, to any observer, to be idle and just meandering in no specific direction. To Megan she was deep in thought, tuned in to the case at hand. She turned the clues about the case over and over in her mind looking for something solid to grasp.

The minimum day meant it was Friday and she would have to spend a very long weekend, unable to pursue the Case of the Onyx Quill. Everything had to be put on hold until Monday. “Sometimes I hate weekends. This is just going to delay me from saying, facts please, just the facts.” She said it to no one but she did say it out loud.

The sound of the electric lawnmower was the first thing she was really aware of as she walked. She then realized that she was on the street where she lived and that sound meant that her dad was home early. He was getting a head start on the weekend by mowing the lawn on Friday instead of Saturday morning.

She dropped the stick she had carried and hurried toward the sound and her home. “Hey Dad,” she waved and called out as he came into view following the mower down to the edge of the sidewalk.

The mower, as was required by law, had a safety brake that stopped the blade when the handle was released. Her dad released the handle and as soon as the mower was silent he gave her a very warm smile and asked, “Hey Megan, you home early?”

Minimum day, out by one, home by two.”

Actually, its two-thirty now,” her dad said as he glanced at his watch. “Never mind, I am so glad you are home, you know I miss you more and more with each passing day. You are growing up so fast. I just hate it when we don’t have much time together.”

Me too Dad, you are busy, I am busy, it’s almost like we have to get our calendar/planners out and actual set a date and time to get together.”

Come here and give me a hug. I know you’re not too old for that.”

Megan quickly closed in on her dad and wrapped her arms around his waist. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders and kissed her on the top of her head. “I love you very much,” he whispered to her.

Me too, I love you too,” she replied as she squeezed him. “I would have been here a little earlier but I went to the library to look up a word that had been bothering me. By the way, why are you home so early?”

Well, we did well, our office was tops and they gave us the afternoon off with pay, so I thought I would get some things done today and have the weekend free. Hey, maybe we can do something together if you don’t have a date or previous engagement.”

Sometimes you are so silly. What would I have planned that couldn’t be unplanned in order to spend some time with my dear old dad?” She laughed as she said “old dad”. She knew how much he liked it when she picked on him and called him old. It was a good way to get started.

I’ll show you who is old, I’ll race you into the house for some lemonade. Ready, set,” and as soon as he said “set”, he took off for the house; as he reached the porch he turned around and said, “GO.”

Hey, that’s not fair, not fair at all.” She was laughing as she scampered after him and into the house. “You are such a cheater,” she said as she stood by and watched him pour some lemonade for each of them.

Mom entered and took one look. “Are you two at it again, is this going to be a long weekend or what?”

Oh yeah, well maybe, we certainly hope so. Did you have anything planned that could not be changed?” Megan’s dad said as he smiled at her and winked.

Well you know I am usually a very busy person and pressed for time. Now, this is just for you guys, this weekend I am absolutely free, free of any schedules.”

Ok, ok, now what will it be?” Megan’s dad looked back and forth between the two of them.

I am up for anything, well as long as it is fun and has nothing to do with my job or housework,” Mom said.

I’m thinking, yes, it has to be, oh please let it be the lake. It just has to be, can it, seriously, can it be the lake?” Megan looked at both at once with her hands together just under her chin in a prayer mode, mouthing please, please.

Her mom and dad looked at each other and together said, “We have a winner, it’s the lake.”

[_ Her dad continued, “A weekend at the lake, couldn’t have said it any better myself.” He then messed up her hair with his hand as he gave it a twirl on the top of her head. “Ok, I am going to finish that lawn and put the mower away. Sync the watches, blast-off time is in one hour. It is now three-fifteen,” he said as he tapped his wristwatch and looked at the two ladies. “Four- fifteen we are out of here. If you are not ready you could be left behind.” _]

I only need fifteen minutes; there is no way I will be left behind.” She hurried off toward her bedroom to collect the things she would need for a weekend of water fun. She knew that her mom would pack for both of her parents and her mom was a very fast packer.

When Megan again went outside toward the garage, things had changed. They had changed for the better. Her dad had pulled the four door Toyota Tacoma TRD pickup out and hooked the boat to it. Oh man look out, she thought, water skiing and swimming, this is going to be a great weekend.

She ran her hand down the side of the ski boat and peeked over the side. She saw the water skis, a boogie board, a large inner tube, some ropes curled ready for use and her dad had added their favorite fishing poles. “Are we going to have time for water skiing and fishing? Weekends are so short, will we have time?”

It’s a long weekend honey, holiday on Monday and we have the rest of today to get there. We’ll spend this evening to get set up, then we should have two and a half full days of water before we head back.”

The Case of the Onyx Quill had been pushed out of her mind and placed somewhere on a back burner. She suddenly realized that she really did not hate weekends after all.

The weekend was just absolutely the best ever. There was no wind on Saturday or Sunday, so the lake was like glass, and skiing, boogie boarding and tubing were so, so awesome. They must have spent 12 hours each day on the water. Monday morning the temperature dropped and the wind had come up out of the north. The wind was not enough to cause whitecaps but it was just a little too cool for water sports, but not for fishing. It wasn’t the best fishing, however, they did catch enough for a good meal.

Megan opened her eyes and realized she had been reliving the weekend in her dreams. She looked at the clock and knew it was time to get back to reality. Tuesday morning, the holiday was over, back to school would be today’s main topic.

She automatically headed for the shower and spent a little time with shampoo and soap. She was standing in front of the mirror brushing her teeth when it hit her. “The quill, the Onyx Quill.” Although it sounded more like “blub blubber blubber,” this was due to the toothbrush and toothpaste she had in her mouth. Her eyes were wide open now, back to the case at hand, alright. She did not try to say these words out loud but she did think them. Just the thought of the current case put some speed and purpose in her preparation for school.

Breakfast was like a hundred meter dash and was finished before the toast could pop. She did wait for it and grabbed the two, still hot, lightly brown pieces of wheat bread as they popped up and then headed for the door.

Megan, are you in a hurry?” Mom asked her as she watched the race Megan seemed to be in this morning.

I’ve got a case, er, ah, I have something I need to do before class starts and no, it is not late homework or even school related, well not really,” she said as she continued out the door.

Well, have a good day,” her mom called after her. “I will see you after school.”

Thanks Mom, you too.” This was barely heard because Megan had already put some distance between herself, her mom and her home.

She found a place, off to one side, on the top step of the entrance to the school. Visibility was excellent and she could see both ways. She had two targets and she hoped she could intercept them both before that first school bell rang. Jasoni Smyth was on top of her list and her plan this morning was simple. She just needed to set up a time to interview him, sometime today if at all possible. She didn’t want too much time to elapse between the crime and the interview of witnesses.

Her second target was James Jacques, a trusted associate. He was the other member of M&M Investigations. JJ was smart, however, being smart was sometimes a problem. The problem was that he didn’t always agree with her. They both used each other to bounce ideas off of. It seemed to work, for they had solved every case they had taken on, both of them.

She spotted JJ as he and some friends came around the corner. She looked around both ways and then waved to him. She tried not to attract too much attention, just wanted to catch his eye. Ok, she saw the slight nod of his head, indicating that he had seen her. She put her arm down joining the other arm that was wrapped around the books she held to her stomach. Megan then continued her watch for Smyth. She should recognize him, even though she had only seen him around school a couple of times. She was pretty sure she could pick him out in a crowd. She had looked him up in last year’s yearbook and was surprised at how much he resembled JJ. Then again she was not sure how much that would help. Those yearbooks held some photos that resembled everyone and no one.

She actually somehow felt JJ’s presence behind her before he spoke. She did not turn around when he cleared his throat, continuing her vigilance of the approach to the school.

Are we on a case or something?” JJ pretended to be also watching the front of the school and it wasn’t apparent that he was connected to her in any way. He had brought his hand up and was scratching his nose as he spoke, so no-one saw his lips move. He was her associate but he and she were the only ones who knew it. He was totally clandestine in his involvement. She was out front in the investigation and he was behind the scenes, picking up on things said or done after she had interviewed someone.

Your first recess, standard location, together again, it’s two for Tuesday.” Megan did not turn around with this answer. She kept her back to JJ and said it through a big toothy smile while she returned a wave to her friends.

Christine Collins and Petra Yonich both spotted Megan on the top step. They waved as they gingerly stepped off the number 24 big yellow school bus. The bus ride behind them, they hurried up the steps where Megan waited alone. They had not seen JJ who no longer was to be seen. After he received the meeting time and location he had made himself scarce.

Oh girl, we hate that bus ride. You are so, so lucky. You have a ten minute walk and you don’t have to put up with Billy Pick-his-nose either,” Christine said and they both laughed at the moniker she had given Billy Picket. “So, we had this very long weekend and what did you do? We did not hear from you, not even once. Petra and I called but no answer, where were you?”

Sorry, I was going to call you but when I got home on Friday my dad was there, he was home early. The things I thought I was going to do were scratched and dumped in the trash.” Megan gave her a very sad face as she relayed this tidbit of information.

Oh girl, I am so sorry, so what happened, bad weekend?” Christine asked.

Not a complete disaster.” Megan added still in that sad slow mode, that is, until she got to the activities part. “We struggled through as we took the truck and towed the boat up to the lake and spent the weekend on the water, skiing, boogie boarding, tubing, with a little fishing thrown in. We didn’t get back until late Monday night.” Megan was holding both girls’ hands and jumping up and down as she rapidly finished telling this. “It was absolutely the best weekend I have had in a long time.”

I am so envious of you. You had us going and here I was really feeling sorry for you.” Christine slowly shook her head as she continued. “Here I was stuck with my cousin all weekend. She is just a kid, a year younger than me and acts every bit of it. It was really tough sticking with her on every ride at Six Flags for two days! It was so awesome.” Christine and Megan were both jumping up and down by the time Christine finished laying out her weekend.

I am not saying anything,” Petra said. “I was at home all weekend, this long weekend, stuck at home.”

Hey girl, we got to go. We have to pick up books from our lockers to use in first period. We will catch you later, ok.” Then they rushed off, waving as they went.

Megan waved and then continued her surveillance of the entrance to the school, hoping to see and recognize Jason Smith. She was surprised, there he was and she did recognize him. She headed down the steps and made her way through the gathering to where he was standing.

Jason, Jason Smith,” Megan said as she stepped in front of him. When he shyly nodded his head she continued, “Hi, I am Megan, Megan Ann Morgan.” She extended her hand and he unconsciously took it as the blood rushed to his cheeks. “If at all possible, I need to talk with you later today. Do you have a particular time that would be best for you?”

Jason’s mind had momentarily ceased to function and he just stood there and stared at Megan. “Talk with me? You want to talk with me?” he finally replied.

If you have some time today, yes I need to talk to you.” Megan said, then she smiled at him and he simply melted.

Jason dropped his binder and his papers scattered. Megan stooped and helped him gather them up, occasionally smiling at him as she worked. He gave Megan his schedule for the day and let her know that anytime he was free it would be just grand if she talked to him.

They set a time and a location to meet. She promised that she would not take up too much of his valuable time.

Take all the time you need, I am available,” Jason said, with a little more confidence, as he continued to stare at Megan.

Megan said goodbye and went on her way. Jason stared at her and watched her leave. “She wants to talk to me?” he said quietly to himself and then he reached over and pinched himself. “Ow, I guess I am awake and this is not a dream.” The bell rang and Jason hurriedly made his way to his first class.

Megan contacted JJ later that day. She gave him the time and place that she would be meeting Jason. She also gave him a picture of Jason. She had scanned it into her computer from the yearbook.

Try to make yourself look as much like Jason as you possibly can. I want him to be very comfortable with you before and after I meet with him. Here is a pair of eyeglasses that will help. These are almost the same as his.” Megan handed JJ the glasses. “Be there when I come in and you will see why I wanted you to look like him.” Megan and JJ split up then and returned to their individual school day.

Her cell phone broke her concentration as it vibrated on the console. She quickly picked it up and whispered, “What’s up, JJ?”

“Just checking in, anything happening out there with you?”

“All quiet on the Western front, so to speak.”

Chapter Three

After assuring all was well with JJ, her thoughts went to the first time she met JJ.

He was eleven, slim, wore glasses and was in the fifth grade. He was the complete opposite of Megan. He never lied and his ambition far exceeded hers. His goal to be a leader, foreman, boss, CEO and maybe the president, not necessarily in that order, was secure and in place. His only flaw, if you could call it a flaw, was his attraction to Megan and her curiosity.

Three months ago, JJ happened to overhear Megan talking to a friend about a mystery that she was working to solve. He doesn’t know or remember exactly what it was that got him, however, he was hooked and had to get involved.

Not wanting to be pushy, he did not approach Megan with this wish. The way he got on board was to add a little mystery to Megan’s personal life. He slipped a note through the air vent in Megan’s school locker. The note was very simple. “Quality investigator, looking for work. If you have an opening please leave an application for me in the hand of Milton.”

The hand of Milton. JJ was so clever he almost outsmarted himself. Megan was, of course, supposed to know who Milton was and leave an application with him, but did she even have an application? JJ spent the rest of that day and a portion of the next, wondering if Megan would do what he asked or even care to try and figure out who Milton was. He checked with Milton every chance he got all day long and continued checking through the next morning. It was fifth grade’s lunch hour, second day, when he checked again, now wondering if he had piqued Megan’s interest at all. Milton had a white sheet of paper rolled up and held in his left hand. JJ could see it as he approached and he could only hope it was for him.

Milton was available to everyone but JJ had never heard of anybody else using him for this type of transaction. JJ looked both ways and, absolutely sure he was unobserved, he took the paper. Milton just stood there like a statue, well after all Milton was a statue. Eight foot tall, including the base, he stood there as a reminder. His right hand with the index finger extended, he stood there, as if making a point. Milton Millstone, founder of Millstone Elementary School, K through 6th grade. His left hand down by his side with the fingers and thumb making a perfect circle. This left the middle of this hand open for the insertion of a sheet of rolled paper, a school diploma or maybe the tickets to the school dance.

JJ slipped the paper in his binder thinking it probably wasn’t what he had been expecting. He was also a little concerned over the possibility of a flat-out rejection from Megan. It was three periods later that he finally got the nerve to take a look at the still rolled sheet of paper.

APPLICATION FOR INVESTIGATOR.”

The form was neatly typed and contained blank lines in the areas where he was to supply information. The numbered questions were in bold type, well stated, understandable and actually fit the job. The information he had gained on Megan, from school and such, left him wondering who made up this application. If she did it, she had a lot more going for her than people gave her credit for. This intrigued him and made him even more determined to get this position. Get it he would, even if it was done, just to learn more about Megan.

Evidently the answers in his application that he left with Milton were winners. He was contacted again, through Milton, and a face to face interview had been set up. ”My house”, time and date were included.

JJ thought, the time and date I can do, where Megan lives I have no clue. Ok, I get it. This is just a test to see what kind of an investigator I will make. If I can’t find her house, you can bet I won’t get the job.

JJ thought of all the ways he could acquire her address. Ask her friends, check the school office, ask her teachers, look her up in the phone book and many others. He picked the one he liked and just followed her home one day. In other words, he put a tail on her. As far as he could tell she never knew he was there and once his quest was accomplished he removed the tail and went home.

. Saturday morning, five minutes before his appointment time, he arrived at Megan’s house. Megan introduced him to her mom and dad and then showed him into her dad’s office, which she would use for the interview.

After she closed the door, she turned to JJ and extended her hand. “Hi, I am Megan Ann Morgan, and you are?

Taken back just a little by the formality, he said, “JJ, wait I mean, James Jacques.” as he took her hand.

James Jacques, I am glad to meet you, please relax and have a seat, this will be very informal.”

Thank you, just call me JJ. I have been looking forward to meeting you,” JJ responded as he sat in the indicated chair. He had felt a spark or something when he took her hand, probably static electricity he assumed.

JJ, I can do that and you can just call me Megan. Ok, wow, it is so dry and this carpet has a tendency to charge a body and cause static electricity. I am sure that was what happened when I touched your hand.” Megan wondered if that was the truth even as she said it.

The interview went so well it was a given that they could work together. JJ was a little surprised when Megan asked if anyone knew he was coming to meet her here today. Once he had told her that no one knew, his unasked questions were answered when she asked him to be a clandestine operating investigator. He was not sure if this was the role he wanted, as he was not sure what clandestine meant. Megan went through the whole spiel about the need for info after an interview. She explained about an undercover clandestine agent and how he could pick up on what was said after she had finished and left the individual interviewee. What they said later was sometimes more important than what was forthcoming in the interview itself and he as a spy could gather that info.

Once JJ had considered this information, he agreed that it just might be true and it would be fun to be the spy, the unknown factor in the solving of a case. The employment of James Jacques, JJ, was made official and they shook hands on it. The spark should not have been there. They had not been shuffling around on the carpet or anything. Unseen by the other, they each rubbed and looked at their hand after the contact.

Milton had become the standard location for info to be passed. The info never included the sender, the proposed receivers or the name of the subject in the information placed for transfer. This was to prevent piracy by other individuals and so far there had been none.

JJ entered the band room ten minutes before Megan was supposed to meet Jason Smith, Jasoni Smyth. He struck up a conversation with the target about his music. When was his next performance, was he the lead trumpet in the band, did he like the instructor and things like that. He, of course, made no mention of the black pencil or Megan, just another kid interested in music appreciation.

Megan entered the band room and she was again surprised at how much they, JJ and Jason, looked alike. Both eleven, both about the same height, they could have been brothers, maybe even twins. This had given her the idea.

They were both laughing when Megan entered. Both being in the fifth grade, they had the same spelling words. One of the words was kleptomaniac, an uncontrollable urge to steal, not necessarily for profit or economic necessity. When Jason brought up the similarity to a word used in music the conversation went straight downhill. “The clef, a symbol placed at the beginning of each staff to indicate pitch,” Jason told JJ.

JJ responded with, “So a singer that can’t find the music pitch could blame it on a clef-toe-maniac musician who must have stolen it.”

Megan stood there until they got over the giggles. She approached JJ and said, “Jason Smith?”

No, I am JJ.”

Oh, sorry, my mistake. You two look so much alike.” She then turned to Jason. “Sorry about that, of course you’re Jason Smith?”

Ok, you got me again, you wanted to talk to me?” From his tone he had worked up a little confidence after their meeting this morning.

I did, as I said before, I am Megan Ann Morgan, I would like to ask you some questions about an incident you may have had.”

An incident, what incident, I did not do it, it was someone that looked like me.” And then Jason looked at JJ and laughed.

You are not in trouble, I just need some information. I understand that you, how should I put this, were surprised by a black pencil in your trumpet.”

A black pencil, hey you know what, I had a pencil go through a sheet of music. Was that pencil black, well it could have been. First note I played that pencil came out and went right through my music.”

Do you have the pencil?”

Why would I keep the pencil? I may have, but if I did I used it and probably used it up.”

Do you have any evidence that this actually happened?”

Evidence? What, for a practical joke? I didn’t keep anything, no wait a minute, I did keep something.” Jason dug through his backpack and then looked in his trumpet case. “Here it is, see, this is it.” Jason held up a sheet of music and then put his little finger through the hole that was almost dead center. “The pencil went right through the middle. I kept the page because it is my music and although it has a hole through it, it’s not completely ruined.”

Could I see that for a moment?” Megan asked.

I suppose.” Jason handed it to Megan.

Megan carefully examined the pierced paper and saw a tell-tale pencil mark where the pencil had slid a little as it went through the paper. Once satisfied, she handed it back to Jason.

Thank you, you have been most helpful.” Megan then turned started to leave the room, then stopped and turned back to Jason. “Oh, excuse me, do you have any idea who would play this practical joke on you?”

No, I can’t say that I do. I am not sure that it was meant for me anyway. The trumpet I used that day was generic, you know, it belonged to the school and anyone could have used it or set it up. On that particular day I had left my horn at home, unforgivable I know, but true.” Jason paused and then continued, “Does that help?”

Not much, but thanks for your input.” Megan then left the room.

Jason simply stood there. His eyes followed her as she left.

Milton had a note for JJ, date, time and home was the entire message.

Megan was waiting when JJ arrived. They headed straight for the office. Once the door was closed she asked, “Anything, did he say anything that might help after I left?”

Yeah, he said quite a bit, but I don’t think his words will help. He commented on how intense you were and didn’t see how talking to him was going to help you solve anything. I don’t think he had any other info, just what he told you. I said to him, ‘Someone put a pencil in your trumpet. That is so cool. Any idea who did it?’ He did not have a clue, just a harmless joke is all he would say.”

Nothing, absolutely nothing. A whole day wasted.”

It wasn’t wasted, we found out he didn’t know anything, so we can eliminate him and go forward. Oh, I did find out one thing.”

Yeah, what was that?”

He thinks you are very cute.”

Hey, I’ll have you know, a detective is never cute.”

They made plans to corner Old Mary tomorrow during lunch or right after school. They would have to wing it and hope for the best. Time would be a factor because lunch, for the fifth and sixth grades, was offset by fifteen minutes. His was early and hers was fifteen minutes later with forty-five minutes total for each.

Early the next morning Megan headed to school. She had a full day and wanted to arrive at least fifteen minutes before the bell rang. Once she reached the school grounds she headed straight for her locker. As she approached she saw a group of people standing in front of the lockers, the row her locker was in. “What’s going on?” she asked as she started to move through the group. When the group heard her voice they moved apart and to the side. She had a clear path to her locker and she could see why they were gathered there.

Her lock was nowhere to be seen but her locker number twenty-three was secure. It was secured with a black pencil stuck through the hole where the lock should have been. A banner had been run through by the pencil and hung downward, slightly moving in the breeze that blew along the corridor. On the banner in large letters were two words, “Strike Four.”

With as much control as she could muster, she removed the pencil, slowly folded up the banner, opened her locker and placed both items inside. On the shelf at eye level, in the middle of the locker, lay her opened lock. She felt violated and her face turned almost beet red. She did not turn around for some time. She waited until she felt that most of the onlookers had left for class and hopefully the redness had left her face.

Whoever did this has made one serious mistake,” she softly whispered to herself. Even though the combination had evidently been compromised, she inserted the arm of the lock through the sliding handle and snapped it closed, securing her locker. She rotated the combination dial three times, ensuring it was scrambled, then placed it back on zero. The bell rang and she headed for class.

Later that day during lunch, JJ happened to be hanging around when she got a chance to ask Old Mary a few questions.

Yeah, it was funny. That baked potato was steaming with little puffs coming out both ends where the pencil had pierced the skin,” Mary said and smiled as she recalled the incident.

Did you see anyone in the area, anyone that should not have been in that area?” Megan asked.

You know what, I didn’t actually see anyone, not a soul. I thought I heard someone and when I came out of the pantry to check, it was there, sitting in the middle of the cutting board. Little puffs of steam coming out the ends around the inserted pencil.”

Was there anyone else with you when you discovered it?” Megan asked and watched Mary as she answered.

It was too early, I was alone. I come in early when the day’s menu calls for something that takes time to prepare, like baked potatoes.”

Megan saw no sign that might indicate that Mary was untruthful in her answers. She never expected that there would be, what reason would she have to lie about something so silly? A practical joke, ok, get over it.

She said she was concerned that you would drive yourself crazy over this silly practical joke and she wished you would just get on with school,” JJ reported. He had stuck around trying to get a second dessert from Mary. He had asked her about the serious looking girl that had kept her from responding right away to his wishes, something additional for his sweet tooth.

Well, did you get the additional dessert at least?”

Ha, you got to be kidding. It would be easier to get a free computer virus program from Norton, than seconds from Mary.”

You heard about the locker incident?”

Talk of the town, made the top ten in group discussion today.”

Shut up! I was so humiliated. I stuck my head in my locker and waited until everyone had left and gone to class. I did not look at anyone the rest of the day.”

Third period next day, Megan was called to the principal’s office. Ms. Raystone had some small objects, with several wires attached, lying on her desk. “We, the school and school board, decided to add some video equipment above the student’s lockers, you know, for security purposes. Your incident, yesterday, was just the last of many complaints and we considered it the last straw.”

Sorry about that, I cou…”

Megan stopped when Ms. Raystone held up her hand. “It’s not your fault Megan, but let me finish. While the contractor was installing this new video equipment, in the area of your locker, we found a camera already in place and it had power and was active.”

What, I don’t understand. The school had already put a camera there, oh wait, hey we should be able to see the dastardly coward that violated my privacy and invaded my locker.”

Unfortunately, it is not the school’s camera. Someone unknown to us had put that video equipment in place.” Ms. Raystone paused for a moment and then continued while Megan stood there with a blank look on her face. “From what we could tell, the focus of that camera was isolated on the handle of your locker. From its vantage point, whenever you dialed in the combo on your lock, the camera owner could see the combination as easily as you could. That’s probably how your locker was violated and why it was so easy for someone to gain entrance.”

Megan had not spoken for some time now. She was absorbing this info and it disturbed her to no end. This black pencil thing had just reached a new level. Things had gone from old fashioned physical actions to modern electronic surveillance.

Were there any other lockers that had cameras installed above them, you know, like mine?” Megan finally asked.

None that we could find, apparently yours was the only one. I can only guess, but evidently, you are a very special person to someone,” Ms. Raystone just had to add. “This information has not been shared with the rest of the school and we would like to keep it that way. Do you think you can keep this to yourself?” Megan’s thoughts seemed far away so Ms. Raystone asked. “Are you still with us Megan?”

Megan was thinking, if they only knew about the secret of her and JJ doing investigations together without the knowledge of others, she would not have been asked if she could keep this to herself. “I see no reason to pass this info along. I have been humiliated enough by the incident this morning. I don’t want to give anyone any more ammunition or more reasons to stare at me, discuss me or stop talking when I approach. They all have enough of that already.”

On the way in, from afternoon recess, JJ went by Milton and, making sure no one was looking, retrieved the note left by Megan.

MY PLACE, AFTER SCHOOL.”

JJ retrieved the note and thanked Milton. “Thanks for holding this for me.” He patted Milton’s hand that gave off a metallic sound with each pat. After reading, JJ tore the paper up and then thought about eating the evidence but decided that the trash can was a better solution. He tossed the torn pieces in the trash bin as he entered his next class. He put the note out of his mind and sat down turning his attention toward the teacher.

Fully returning to the present, Megan made a quick full three-sixty scan of the area. She quietly opened the door and stepped out of the vehicle. She stood for just a moment looking hard at the front of the building. She took a long drink of water from one of the four plastic bottles she had placed in the vehicle. Nothing was happening so Megan returned to her previous position and quietly pulled the rusted, but well oiled, door closed.

[]hapter Four

It only took a moment for her thoughts to return to middle school and the “Onyx Quill”.

If Millstone had a girl’s soccer team, they would not be on it. If Millstone had a girl’s volleyball team, they would not be on it. If Millstone had a girl’s swimming or basketball team, they would not be on it. These were all a given, however, if Millstone had an expensive clothes shopping team, they would be the first to sign up.

This did not bother Megan, people were who they were. What bothered her was the fact that they made sure she would hear when they told each other about the price they paid for their clothes. This was always compared to the cost of Megan’s apparel, that is, if Megan had purchased hers new. They never actually said this but Megan was sure it was intended.

This being the case, Megan simply avoided them whenever she could. Of course sometimes they would not be avoided and that too was extremely irritating.

Hey, Megan.” Carla said in her sweetest voice as the three girls blocked the hall preventing Megan from reaching her school locker.

Uh, hi, hi Carla,” Megan replied as she scanned the three girls expecting some verbal attack. Being in the presence of Carla was bad enough but add Sheila Lang and Betsy Lofton and you knew the deck was stacked against you.

We found this and thought it might be yours,” Carla said as she pulled a black number 2 pencil out of her bag and tossed it at Megan. The three of them then raced by her, giggling loudly as they ran up the hall.

The pencil bounced off Megan’s notebook and fell harmlessly to the hall tile. Megan simply stood stock still and looked at the offensive object.

Hey, wait a minute,” she said quietly to herself.

Megan bent and picked up the pencil. It was different, not the same as the one before. After a closer look she realized that this number 2 pencil was actually originally yellow. Someone, probably Carla, had taken a black sharpie and colored this one so it would, at first glance, appear to be a black pencil.

Not even a good copy,” Megan said as she rolled the pencil in her fingers. “No originality with those three. This imitation actually makes me think of those three, all you get is an outward appearance, there really is no depth.”

Discarding the replicate in the nearby trash bin was her first thought but then she decided to keep it. She placed it in her backpack, then hurried to her locker, exchanged books and made her way to her next class. As she proceeded she wondered, was there a way that she could respond in kind to what those three had done? Catching herself, she said, “not worth my time. I have too many things to do. I don’t have any time to waste on these petty, trivial, insignificant and extremely childish matters.” She turned and, in the direction the three had gone, she beamed a smile, a smile seen by no one. She then turned back and continued on her way.

Since the black pencil in the apple incident, Megan had become intense in class. She paid close attention, took notes and, when required, turned in homework. She was making sure nothing impaired her quest to find the culprit in the case of the Onyx Quill. The teachers were, to put it mildly, simply pleased with her return to a real student, the student they had before she decided to be an actress. The lies were gone and everything was straightforward in class. It is not to say she was some type of robot, she still had her sense of humor and she continued to think on her feet. Actually the only noticeable change was that the elaborate fabrications were missing.

Fifth period class was over and all the students filed out past Mr. Morrison’s desk. Each student placed their homework in a neat pile on the corner of his desk as they passed. When Megan placed her homework on the pile she noticed that the desk drawer was partially open. She thought she saw the sharpened end of a black pencil lying in the drawer. Before she could get a good look, Mr. Morrison had closed the drawer. He was talking to one of the students and had not seen Megan looking in the drawer. It just seemed like he was straightening up, returning things to normal, not hiding something so Megan left without further thought.

As requested, JJ returned to Megan’s house after dinner that evening.

I was attacked at school today. Paula Smartly and her clones threw this pencil at me.” As she spoke, Megan dug it out of her backpack, then held up the blackened pencil. “Of course it is not really a black pencil, see it has been painted with a black marker. You can still see some yellow at different places.” She showed the object to JJ as she described it and told him about the incident. “I am really proud of myself. I did not react to their attempt at humor and humiliation. I let that stupid pencil bounce off my notebook and fall to the hallway tile.”

You did the right thing and I too am proud of you. Those three have nothing to do with this case. The actual problem is, I don’t think we are getting anywhere. We’ve got to find a clue or take a different path in order to figure this out,” JJ said and he seemed to be at a loss on what direction to take now.

Hey, don’t get down and give up on this. I was watching TV last night, one of those police detective shows, and they were having problems on a case. They made an incident display board and placed all the factors of the case in sequence on it. When it was finished and after all of them studied it, they came up with some good ideas.”

Well, I guess we could try that too, you know, to see if it would give us some ideas.”

It took some time and effort to get it set up, but a little help from her dad and his chart easel, they managed it. By the time they had finished, the evening had gone and it was quite late for a school day, and Mom reminded them of that fact. JJ looked at his watch, muttered something under his breath, said good night and immediately headed home. Megan went and got ready for bed. Clad in pajamas, she came back and took one more look at the board. Satisfied, she turned out the office light and went to her room.

That night her dreams were filled with animated black pencils. The pencils had pink arms and legs. The legs were attached about a third of the way up the pencil, leaving the pointed end as a tail that swung from side to side as the pencil moved. The hands were white-gloved and, like Mickey Mouse, had three fingers and a thumb. The feet wore floppy white socks inside of large black sneakers. These sneakers seemed alive, in that they had huge red tongues that vibrated and constantly emitted raspberry sounds over and over. On each side of the shoes, at the ankles, were large wild crazy eyes bulging out far enough to make them capable of looking around corners.

These animated pencils were released on the school by none other than Carla Smartly. She opened her purse and they poured out jumping to the tile floor. They ran in all directions down the hallways of Megan’s school, going in lockers, hiding in school bags, running and jumping on and sticking holes in pieces of fruit with their pointed sharpened tails. If that wasn’t strange enough, when they had finished these considerable activities, they would, one at a time, enter a classroom and climb on the teacher’s desk, open the desk drawer, wiggle inside, lie down and then proceed to go to sleep. At the last moment, before sleep, a white-gloved three-fingered hand would reach out and pull the drawer closed. They did this in every classroom where Megan was a student. The principal’s office desk was also a target; no known desk was overlooked.

All in all it was not a very restful night. When Megan got up the next morning, she immediately went into her dad’s office and, with a clean sheet of paper and a red Sharpie marker, added one more item to the list of incidents.

Megan did not arrive at school early the next day. She walked slowly and paced her travel to arrive just in time for the last bell. She did not want another scene at her locker and when she did arrive, everyone was already in their first period classrooms. The hallways were absolutely empty of students so she hurried to her locker and then to her first class.

Sorry,” she quietly mouthed to the teacher as she was the final student to enter accompanying the last bell.

The first period went as planned and she took a lot of notes. She avoided eye contact with other students and stayed focused on the teacher and the subject he was covering. This normal school process was followed class after class until the fifth period.

Megan was taking notes again when her pencil point all of a sudden broke. She opened her bag and retrieved a second pencil but it was unsharpened to the point of being unusable. A third pencil was retrieved and it was just plain broken off at the tip; no lead was showing. Frustrated, she up-ended her backpack and everything fell out on her desk and the floor.

Megan, is everything ok?” Mr. Morrison asked as he stopped his lecture.

Yes sir, well, actually no. My pencil broke and I don’t seem to have a sharpened one in my bag.”

I am surprised. You are usually more prepared than this. We will wait until you are ready to go on.”

Megan rose and made her way through and around the other students on her way to the pencil sharpener. She could feel all of their eyes on her as she passed to the front of the class. She knew her face was red so she looked straight ahead and avoided all eye contact. She went around the corner where the sharpener was located, at eye level attached to the wall. It was out of sight to the rest of the room and this provided her with a little privacy from the class.

She took the three pencils and laid them on the desk that stood below the pencil sharpener and selected the first one to sharpen. When she started to insert it she noticed that there was already a pencil in the small electric unit. She reached and pulled it out. It was just a nub of a pencil but it was large in its reference. The number two on the side was yellow but the pencil was all black.

Her knees actually shook, her mouth fell open and the utterance that came from her mouth was ghostly and loud. It was loud enough to cause the teacher to notice.

Megan, you ok?” again he asked.

She shyly peeked around the corner, back where the class could now see her and said, “I’m ok, just thought I, well I thought, er..”

What are you trying to say?”

A spider, I thought I saw ah, a spider.”

Thanks for that info, I’ll let the janitor know and he will take care of it.”

Megan quickly finished the sharpening of her pencil and returned to her desk. She placed two of the three pencils, along with the nub of the black one, in her backpack.

If you are ready now, we must continue.”

Megan was again humiliated by the black pencil. She put it away out of her mind and focused on her teacher. At lunch she left a note with Milton. The note was rolled around the nub of the black # 2 pencil.

At the afternoon recess, JJ collected the note and as he unrolled it the pencil dropped to the ground. Luckily he saw it fall and bent down and picked it up.

Hey, what you got there?” Jason Smith asked as he happened to be walking by.

Oh hi, found a little pencil nub on the ground back there,” JJ said as he hid and slipped the rolled note into his jean pocket.

Not much left of that one. Hey it is black, kind of looks like the one that pierced my sheet of music.”

Oh, yeah I guess that’s true. That one was black too, wasn’t it? Hey was it this short, just a nub or do you remember?”

Hmmm, a little longer I think, but it had been used and sharpened a couple of times, I could tell.”

Could this be the same pencil?”

No way, I was just a little upset, you know, I snapped that little booger into two pieces and tossed it into that big blue dumpster, the one outside the music room.” Jason glanced at his watch and said, “Whoa, gotta go, music lessons, I’ll see you later.” He waved as he rushed off in the direction of the music room.

JJ took out the note, unrolled it and read the short note.

”This was stuck in the pencil sharpener in Mr. Morrison’s class room.”

JJ had no idea of what to make of that. Megan had Mr. Morrison in her fifth period class. That left all morning, four class periods, for someone to put that pencil in the sharpener. How could anyone expect that item to be in place when Megan went to sharpen her pencil? Is it possible that she was just the lucky one and not the target? Maybe the whole school was the target and Megan had just been one of the random choices. He thought that it didn’t make any difference. The case was the same no matter the target.

JJ made it a point to check pencil sharpeners in each class for the rest of the day. No further incidents were realized by him or Megan and they were not disappointed in that fact. They left school by different routes but after several blocks, unseen by others, they joined up and discussed the black pencils all the way to Megan’s house.

They both joined Megan’s mother in the kitchen and quietly enjoyed some fresh baked oatmeal cookies and a glass of milk. They made no mention of the black pencils as they told Megan’s mom about their day at school.

We’re going to the office to start on some homework. Ok, I know we are different grade levels and have different homework, we’ll do our own, not to worry,” Megan told her mom.

No problem, I didn’t say anything,” her mom said as she continued removing the cookies from the cookie sheet and placing them in her favorite cookie jar.

I know, it was the look, I know that look,” Megan said and smiled at her mom as she left the kitchen.

They entered the office and both cleared a spot to do homework. Megan took out her notes from today and started to go back through them, scribbling corrections as she went and making the notes more legible. Once completed and satisfied with them she started on homework assignments for the next day. She was totally immersed in her work and had completely forgotten that JJ was there.

JJ had started his work but he had completed most of his at school during class. He had the ability to listen, take notes, answer questions and work on homework all at the same time while in class. All classes except math, that is. He loved math and would not divide his attention when in that class. He figured he needed every bit of info he could obtain to make sure he would advance to the level of math he desired, his one true love.

JJ worked the problems, doing most of the calculations in his head as he went. Once he had the solution, he would then put the problem on paper to check his answer. On one particular problem he stalled. It took him some time to comprehend exactly what the problem was asking him to do. He leaned back in the chair looking up as he thought and ran the problem statements over and over in his mind.

He stopped running the statement and rose from his chair. He had seen the new item on the incident board. He read the words, written in red marker. He then turned to Megan and said, “Hey Megan, what’s this, what does this mean?”

Busy now, hold your horses.”

Get unbusy, what is this, when did this happen?”

What? What? Oh, that.” Megan finally looked up. “Yesterday, that happened yesterday fifth period. Oh right, I forgot to tell you.” She put her hand to her mouth and then took it down. “Sorry.”

In Mr. Morrison’s class, yesterday, and now today the pencil in the sharpener. And whose class was that in, right, Mr. Morrison? Does this, in any way, suggest a pattern or person that might be suspect?”

Are you suggesting it might be a teacher, a teacher doing this?” Megan shook her head. “Are you nuts, why would they, what purpose could they have?”

I may be nuts, but you know it is possible,” JJ said. “Oh yeah, by the way, I saw Jason again today and he did give me a little more information on his incident.”

What, what was it?”

Well, it seems that after the pencil went through his sheet of music he remembered what he did with the pencil.” JJ paused waiting for Megan to ask.

Don’t be a pain, just tell me.”

Ok, he said he was just a little upset when that pencil shot out and pierced his music sheet. He then said he picked up that pencil, snapped it in two and tossed it in that big blue dumpster outside the music room.”

Not much help, but let’s add that to the incident board. That will close that particular route.”

They paused in thought and studied the incident board hoping for some clue to appear.

“Hey JJ, do we need to readdress the incident board?” Megan asked when JJ had answered her phone call.

“What’s the matter Megan, are you doubting yourself again? We did our work and this was the only avenue that made any sense, so relax and enjoy the night.”

Megan’s phone screen returned to the icon menu page indicating JJ had clicked off.

Chapter Five

Settling back she replaced the cell phone on the console and let her eyes scan as her mind returned to Millstone.

A minor tactical change was made the next morning. Megan rose early and arrived at school early. She found an isolated spot on the school grounds that afforded her a view of the locker area. Her intentions were to monitor activity around her locker, to see if anyone paid particular attention to it. One minute before final bell, she abandoned her monitoring position and made her way to her locker and then to class. The monitoring session was a complete bust as no one even paused near or looked at her locker. Last one in class again, she got the same look from her teacher that she had received yesterday. She hurried to her seat without comment.

Megan was not only first to school she was also first to lunch today. She got her tray and headed out to the outside tables for fresh air and quiet.

Before her friends arrived, a small pigeon flew over and walked near her table. It looked at her and paced back and forth as if waiting for some food or something. Megan didn’t really have anything to give to the bird, even if he was the first to arrive. It stayed by her table until her friends joined her. As it flew away, Megan noticed that there were numerous other birds that had gathered by some kids a few tables over. They were hopping around and chirping as the kids threw crumbs for them to eat. The little bird that had been beside her did not join the other birds. When it left her table it flew across the school yard and headed into the nearby woods.

Megan softly said, “Sometimes the early bird does not get the worm, sometimes that bird is just like me, just early.”

As she placed her food on the table, Christine said, “What about the bird?”

Just an idle comment, nothing really. What is up with you two?” she asked as Petra also joined them at the table.

We both got an A on our math quiz. Christine’s family will absolutely freak out when she tells them,” Petra replied and seeing Megan’s “whatever“ face she said, “Hey, it’s a big deal to us, we know, we know you always get an A in math, but to us it is a big deal.” They high fived each other.

Sorry, give me some of that five, I think it’s great too,” Megan said as she smiled and slapped hands with both of them. After giving credit to Megan for tutoring and helping them with their math, they spent the rest of the lunch period talking about everything except two things: their school and the current case Megan was working on. It was just a really refreshing break and Megan hated to see it end, but classes were calling.

Megan’s grade point average had climbed back to its previous mark and held there since the black pencil incident. Her acting career had been put on hold and her concentration on the case and schoolwork had eliminated the recent tendency to disruptive lying. Was this a good thing? The teachers and her parents thought it was. The only other person that was involved seemed oblivious to the results of her new direction. Megan had just narrowed her goal and the path to that goal included avoiding obstacles. Obstacles such as incomplete homework, friction between her and the teachers, lectures from parents on dropping grades and anything else that might place some restrictions on her movements.

It had now been almost a month since she started investigating ”the Onyx Quill”. Megan felt that she was no closer to a solution than she was when she first picked up the red apple pierced by the black pencil. She revisited the people that were involved with each separate incident, hoping that they would remember something that had been overlooked. Jason Smith was sure that he had relayed all he knew. Old Mary, who was involved in two incidents, could not recall any additional helpful information. Lucille was even more adamant about the lack of information she had.

Look girl, that is it. I saw what you saw when you held up that apple. Before that, I don’t remember anyone handling the fruit and I don’t remember anything that might help you find out who did this. Hey, I was busy and I was not on the serving line all the time. I had spills to mop up and restocking of food items to keep me busy.” Lucille then paused and put a hand on Megan’s shoulder. “I wish I had something, you know, something to help you, unfortunately I do not. I got to get back on my chores, but good luck in your search.” Lucille then left Megan standing there.

The early bird doesn’t get the worm,” Megan said as she stood there in the cafeteria.

Megan, you still stuck on that bird?” Christine asked as she came up behind Megan.

I guess, I was just thinking we, me and the bird, had the same luck today. We were both early to school but neither one got a worm, so to speak.”

Ok, I wasn’t aware that you liked worms,” Christine said as she smiled at Megan to let her know she was just joking.

Worms, yuck. What are you and Petra doing right after school?”

No plans, riding that bus home, why you got something?”

Mom gave me a few dollars this morning. She said she would not be home when I got out of school and I should go have a soda or something at Taco Bell.”

Lucky you, thanks for sharing your good fortune.”

What I mean is, I have enough money for all three of us to have a soda, are you game for that?”

Oh, that’s different. I am sure we can join you since you insist. I’ll call my mom and see if she can pick us up at your house and we won’t have to ride that bus with Billy P-Y-N.”

Oh believe me, I do insist but I feel bad about taking you out of the bus and away from your friends,” Megan said and they both laughed and slapped a down low five.

Megan and her two friends spent about an hour at Taco Bell. She ordered a nacho plate that they all shared along with their sodas. They worked on their homework. Megan again assisted them with understanding the questions that were being asked in their math reading problems.

The first thing you must find out is, what are the results the problem is requesting? This is something you cannot guess at, it has to be definite. You will sometimes find that problems include more facts than are necessary to get the solution required.” Megan, when dealing with tutoring on math problems, became a teacher in almost every respect. “Look at this problem. Problem number four. John and Bob took the test with nine other students. Six of those students were girls. How many students took the test?

If you didn’t understand that six of the students were girls was an unnecessary fact, you might end up with seventeen as your answer.”

Seventeen, you mean fifteen don’t you. You know nine and six is fifteen, duh, even I know that,” Christine quickly popped in.

Actually the real answer is eleven, nine and two.”

Nine and two is eleven but there were only nine students,” Petra added as she supported Christine.

Did you forget John and Bob?” Megan asked. “They took the test with nine other students.”

Christine and Petra looked at each other. “John and Bob and nine others, that is eleven. We overlooked those two, sorry,” Christine humbly explained.

Don’t want to dwell on it, but there is no rush on getting the correct answer. Take your time, don’t guess and reread the problem until you are sure what it requires you to do,” Megan said. “Ok, try the next one.”

And so it went for an hour, then the girls left and walked together to Megan’s house where Christine’s mom was waiting. Megan said hi to Christine’s mom and gave both girls a hug before they climbed into their car and left.

Megan had arrived shortly before her mom. She took this time to check the incident board and see if there was anything that needed reviewing or anything new that should be added. The only thing that had not been investigated thoroughly was Mr. Morrison’s desk drawer. Sure they had sneaked a peek in the drawers but had never asked Mr. Morrison about it. Megan was still sure she had seen a black number two pencil in that drawer.

After Megan and JJ talked on the phone, they decided that it was time to go to Mr. Morrison and ask him if it was possible that a black number two pencil had been in his desk drawer on the day in question. They decided that tomorrow would be the day they did this.

Fifth period had ended and the students filed out, already in lunch mode. Megan remained in her seat until everyone, except Mr. Morrison, had left and the classroom door was closed.

Megan rose and walked up to Mr. Morrison’s desk. “Mr. Morrison, could I ask you something.”

Oh, yes Megan, skipping lunch today?”

Actually no, I have a question before I go.”

Ok, shoot.”

About a week ago I noticed a black pencil in your desk drawer. Is that possible and, if it is, do you still have that pencil?”

A week ago? I can hardly remember a day ago and yes, that is possible, but I don’t recall it.” Mr. Morrison opened his desk drawer all the way out and, reaching in, he made sure all items were visible. No black pencil was included in the items left in the drawer. “If I did, it is not here now.” He then looked at Megan. “Did you lose a black pencil or something?” he asked.

No, no I just thought I saw one in your desk, thanks.”

Is that all you needed?”

Yes, that is it. Thanks, I’ll go to lunch now. Thanks again.” Megan held her books to her chest and made her way to the lunch room.

JJ sat at the table behind Megan and they were back to back. It was late in the lunch period and most of the students had eaten and gone outside. No other students were close so they talked without looking at each other.

I felt like Patrick when I asked Mr. Morrison about the black pencil I had seen in his desk.”

If you’re Patrick then I must be Sponge Bob.”

Well, I felt like him.”

Did you get any info or did he remember having a black pencil?”

No, nada, absolutely nothing, zero, just a few moments of humiliation for me.”

The rest of the school day was normal with no black pencil incidents. Once Megan got home she again went into the office and went over the incident board. She tried hard to see something that she had missed but she drew a complete blank. Her interviews gained nothing and JJ’s questioning after the fact had produced very little.

Megan on automatic pilot went through her homework, her dinner and she was still on automatic when she watched her favorite crime show, ”Cold Case.“ She wasn’t aware she was absorbing any of tonight’s episode, but she must have been. Later that night her dreams took her into the large warehouse where the detectives from Cold Case stored the boxes that held the old unsolved cases. She read the ends of the white cardboard boxes as she slowly pushed a waist-high flat cart down the isle of the huge facility.

Jasoni Smyth, 2007 The Onyx Quill, Unsolved/Open Case.”

Ancient Mary, 2007 The Onyx Quill, Unsolved/Open Case.”

Luchillia, 2007 The Onyx Quill, Unsolved/Open Case.”

Locker 23, 2007 The Onyx Quill, Unsolved/Open Case.”

Mr. Morrison 2007 The Onyx Quill, Unsolved/Open Case.”

The Pencil Sharpener, 2007 The Onyx Quill, Unsolved/Open Case.”

She removed the Jasoni Smyth box from the shelf and placed it on the cart. She lifted the lid of the box just a crack. A piece of sheet music floated out. It was accompanied by music as it started falling slowly toward the floor. Suddenly there was a trumpet blast and a black pencil shot out of the box and pierced a hole through the sheet music before it had a chance to reach the floor. Red ink poured from the hole and the sheet of music folded almost in half as if in pain. It landed on the floor and rolled in agony for a moment, as the music slowed, then lay still as the music died.

JJ came from somewhere and rushed to the sheet. He knelt down next to it and placed his fingers at the top left of the page as if checking for a pulse. He turned his head toward Megan and, still checking for a pulse, slowly shook his head indicating that the sheet music had met its demise.

The killing black pencil jumped up and ran over and climbed up the leg of the small cart. It jumped from the cart onto the storage racks and started kicking the lids off the other cold case boxes. From those now open boxes, black pencils poured out like ants from an ant hill, heading in all directions, including right at Megan. Hundreds of them flowed over her and started to cover her entire body.

Megan woke in a sweat. She felt like she was tied up. The sheet and blanket of her bed were wrapped tight around her from her tossing and turning during the dream. It took her a moment to get free. Once released from the bedding, she headed to the bathroom and washed her face with cold water. It took her a few moments to calm down. She was in no hurry to go back to sleep. It took some time but later on she did sleep a few hours before morning rudely arrived. She was tired and sleepy as she went through her morning routine getting ready for school.

It was seconds before the last bell rang when Megan arrived at school. JJ was the only person she saw as she hurried down the hallway toward her locker.

Forget the locker for now, they are having everyone gather in the all purpose room. Something must have come up, come on, we’re going to be the last ones in as it is,” JJ told her as he pulled her along by her backpack strap.

Ok, I’m coming, I’m coming,” Megan said as they hurried down the hall.

It took a few minutes to get there and it was quiet as they slipped in and found a couple of empty seats. It was kind of dark with just a spotlight shining on the vacant podium providing the only source of lighting.

Good, whatever it is hasn’t started yet,” JJ whispered.

Why is it so dark in here?” Megan whispered back.

JJ raised his hands up with his palms out and shrugged his shoulders in an “I don’t know” answer.

Ms. Raystone rose and made her way to the podium. “Good morning students, please rise for the pledge of allegiance.” The students stood and, placing their right hand over their hearts, along with the teachers they repeated the pledge.

When the pledge ended, Ms. Raystone again spoke. “Please take your seats and come to order. We, the teachers and I, called this meeting to present a special award to our most outstanding student. This student’s grade point average has set a new record at Millstone, a record that will be hard to beat. I am not going to say it won’t be broken because we have some really good students advancing from the lower grades. Those students will get the recognition they deserve as they earn it. Our task today is to recognize someone who has already made it.”

Megan craned her neck from side to side to try and see who this special student was. The room was too dark to make out much and she figured whoever it was would soon appear in the spotlight. Then she would know, they would all know.

From kindergarten all the way through sixth grade this student has occupied a position at the top. Now that this student will be heading out to junior high, we felt it necessary to call a special meeting in honor of this accomplishment.” Ms. Raystone paused and looked around the room. “Megan Ann Morgan, would you please join us on stage.” The teachers started it, standing and applauding, and everyone in the room joined in. Megan sat for a moment waiting to see who the student was.

JJ poked her and said, “It’s you, Megan, it’s you they are calling, you are it, you’re the record setter.”

Me, I, what, me?” She stood and slowly made her way toward the stage. Oh, she thought, I hope this isn’t some kind of a joke. She pinched her arm as she walked in case she needed to wake up from this, just another nightmare. The applause was loud and she could swear it sounded more adult than usual, maybe there were more people here than just the students.

Congratulations Megan, you have worked very hard and we hope you appreciate this as much as we enjoyed preparing it for you,” Ms. Raystone quietly said to Megan as she shook her hand and led her on stage. “Please, please everyone take your seats. I would like to introduce the gentleman who will present the award to Megan. Ladies and gentlemen please welcome the mayor of our small town, the Honorable Clinton Dunkin.”

Everyone stood and applauded His Honor as he made his way to the podium. He waved and smiled and even shook hands with some on his short trip.

Thank you Ms. Raystone and thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your applause and recognition.” He waited until everyone had reseated and quiet had returned to the room, then he began. “Megan, your achievements are many and your future is as bright as you wish to make it. Your teachers, your parents and as a matter of fact the whole town lauds your ability and your accomplishments. This symbol I hand you now is only a token of the admiration we hold in you. Along with this comes a letter signed by the President of the U.S.A. with the presidential seal embossed at the bottom, a merit achievement certificate from the school and a certificate from the town council giving you the key to the city.” The mayor took Megan’s hand and shook it. “We are so very proud of you,” he said and then left her along at the podium.

Megan, we have one more thing for you before we release everyone,” Ms. Raystone said as she took the mike from the podium. She led Megan to the front of the stage. “Could I have the house lights up, please? Thanks, that’s fine. Ok everyone, this is our turn to show our appreciation so let’s give Megan our special salute we had planned.”

Everyone stood and put their right hand up as high as it would go. “Salute!” they all said. She looked at them and smiled. Then she noticed the object held in each raised hand. It was like a forest of black pencils. Everyone had one. She noticed her parents, sitting in the back, holding up a black pencil. It is a nightmare she thought. “Wake up, wake up!” she whispered to herself.

She didn’t wake up, she wasn’t asleep but she was confused.

Megan, I can explain and we, the teachers and I, hope that you will forgive us for our deception.” Ms. Raystone had again taken Megan by the hand and led her back to the podium. “Mr. Morrison, could you bring Megan a stool so she can sit down while I explain this situation to her.”

Mr. Morrison brought a stool up close for Megan. “Congratulations Megan, I am so proud of you,” he quickly said and then he went back and sat down with the other teachers.

A month or so ago, you hit a dip in the road that threatened your grade point average. You decided to become an actress. To be a good actress, according to you, you had to play out every role you were given. If you weren’t given a role you would invent one and play it out. The result was, you had to fabricate things and pretend that they were real. Not turning in your homework and giving the flimsiest excuses on why was beginning to be a problem. Leading the class in a direction other than the teacher wished to go was disrupting good order.” Ms. Raystone paused and looked at Megan.

We decided that we had to take some action to put you back on the path that you had traveled so diligently during your preceding school years. We secretly talked to your friends and your parents. We did this because talking to you was not working and the situation was declining rapidly. We found out how much you liked mysteries and how much you liked to solve them.” Ms. Raystone held up an apple with a black #2 pencil through the heart. “This would be the culprit and hopefully you would take the bait.”

You did it, you stuck that pencil through that apple in the cafeteria?” Megan asked in astonishment.

I have to admit I did. Mary and Lucille helped me pull it off. The potato story Mary gave you was completely false.”

Jason Smith?”

Never happened. I poked that pencil through that sheet of music. There never was a pencil in a trumpet that was blown out. Jason was nice enough to help with that one.”

The locker incident, the video camera?”

Nope, I have the combination to all the locks and I opened yours and put your lock inside. I did not pilfer through it or anything, just set the lock inside and put that pencil through the handle and attached the banner. The thing with wires on it, lying on my desk was just that, something with wires on it.”

Dang, you are good,” Megan said.

I hope you will forgive us for our action but we felt it was worth it to save an exceptional student from herself.”

Ok, here goes. Some time ago the teachers, school board and town council had a meeting. We, the teachers at Millstone, told them about Megan and her scholastic achievements. They thought it was special and we knew, at the rate she was going, she would exceed the old grade point record by some margin. That is when we started planning this special award for you. In order to save the day we put together this little plan. Our little plan worked and again we hope you will forgive us our transgressions. We are so proud of you. This meeting is now over. Please proceed to your next class period. Thanks for joining in on this celebration.”

Later at home, Megan’s dad came in, accompanied by JJ, and the festive atmosphere gained a little altitude as they settled around the table for dinner. The meal and the conversation took them late into the evening. Her parents knew, by the smiles on Megan’s face, “the Onyx Quill” was history. What loomed ahead was a twelve year old girl, going on twenty, with a new destination and a bright future.

That case behind them, JJ and Megan began a partnership that spanned the years with numerous young adult mysteries cataloged in the solved files that filled the desk at Megan’s home office.

Karl Winters and the successful return of most of the money invested after a short involvement by Megan and JJ earned them an unexpected dividend. The feeling of doing something so positive and the actual high gained from that success could not be ignored. In the end this love of mysteries led her away from being a lawyer and into the field of private investigation. She and JJ started the business using her old title and now M&M Investigation had an excellent track record and more than enough clients to ensure the two of them would reach a secure financial future.

Chapter Six

“What the!” Megan whispered to herself as her thoughts returned to the present and she watched something moving that barely extended above the row of pallets. “JJ, I have movement and I’m going in toward the front entrance,” she whispered into the phone as soon as JJ quietly answered his vibrating cell phone.

Having previously made sure this wreck had no battery installed and the vehicle’s interior lighting had no way of working, she quietly opened the door and slid out.

Megan had not gone so far as to blacken her face for this stakeout, but she did dress the occasion with only dark colored clothes and a Giants black baseball cap pulled low to partially conceal her face. Where she had parked the inoperable vehicle would give no-one a background that might be a clue to her presence by presenting a silhouette of her as she stood. The background around the car was as dark as she was.

Leaving the car door ajar, she quietly moved around toward the anomaly as it made its way along, showing just above the pallets toward the lidded garbage cans. It was dark but whatever it was seemed to progress on the sidewalk that led toward the entrance of the building parallel to the front of the structure.

Megan pulled her small 32 Cal special handgun out of its ankle holster and squatted down just behind and near the last of the three garbage cans. She quietly waited and listened to the almost silent approach of her quarry. She suddenly stood up, snapping on her small mag light, exposing her presence to the skulking culprit as she shouted, “Hold it right there.”

A loud scream came from the moving suspect and a garbage can flew over as the prey vaulted from the top of the second of the three garbage cans to the ground and hightailed it for security somewhere else. The four feet of the black cat beat a fast pattern on the concrete as it exited stage left, so to speak, its claws sending back a whispered scratching as the feet searched for traction on the hard surface.

A little shaken by the event, Megan re-holstered her weapon, not realizing the quiet approach of JJ. She turned from the still rocking garbage can and stood face to face with him. “Uh, uh,” Megan stuttered trying to speak.

“What’s the matter, cat get your tongue?” JJ asked with a smirk on his face.

“Holy shit!” she exclaimed as she gained her voice back. “Thanks JJ, I needed that. You just scared the crap out of me, I could have shot you!” Megan said as she used both hands to playfully push JJ in the chest to accentuate her statement.

“The cat did it, right?” JJ smugly asked.

“Right, all I could see was the back of that cat as it crept along. I thought the curve of that cat’s back was someone’s head as they walked along the sidewalk. I had no way of knowing, from my vantage point, the cat was on top of those pallets as it moved,” Megan replied as she tried to explain her mistaking what she thought she saw.

Megan and JJ had a good laugh and then agreed that apparently there was nothing happening this evening and they decided to call it a night and try again tomorrow evening. The vehicle she used as the stakeout post would be left where it was so it would be assumed as just another abandoned wreck that had been there for some time. They had placed it there several days ago and they had seen no activity around it as most would consider it as a now permanent fixture.

Back at her office, JJ and Megan brought their office assistant, Christine Panix, up to date on their lack of progress. They all went over the info they had accumulated again in case there was something they all had missed. Actually the case was straightforward, multiple home burglaries where the only things taken were of little or no intrinsic value. No single item was valued at more than two hundred dollars. The thefts were almost laughable and reminded Megan of a mystical character like a packrat, collecting trinkets for their own personal treasure just because of the item’s glitter, not for the value of the items.

Yes, the police had taken the multiple reports of the minor thefts. They were actually active cases but so minor in value very little action would be taken to solve them. The cops had larger fish to fry and could not afford the time on things that were so insignificant. If clues came in or someone was caught during a theft, then they might get involved.

One of the victims had contacted M&M Investigations due to lack of progress by the police and the expected no progress in the future. It was true that the item lost was of little monetary value but it was a family heirloom. It had been in the family for numerous generations, passed down from father to son on each heir’s twenty-first birthday. Mr. George III Holsom’s son, George IV, would be twenty-one in two months and to George III, it would be a family tragedy if the presentation of this family heirloom didn’t occur. To this family, no matter the intrinsic value, this particular ceremony was and still is a big deal.

Megan and JJ had pestered the local police until they finally gave them access to the ongoing robberies. They weren’t too happy with them getting involved but the priority was so low on this one that if M&M Investigations solved it, it would actually look favorable on the local cops as a community involved service and that could never hurt.

Christine brought Megan and JJ coffee in the small board room off the office lobby. She placed the cups close to the chairs at the end of the meeting table where Megan and JJ always sat. They took those chairs as Christine took hers, with tablet and pen resting on her knee, just off the corner of the table.

At the other end of the table stood the crime board. The available clues of the case were arranged in what all felt were high value to low value order. There was the list of fifteen incidents, and date and estimated times were noted beside each. Under each incident was a list of things taken with the approximate value underlined.

Christine had come up with the idea of using a city map to pinpoint the location of each crime. She thought that seeing the neighborhood of the crimes might give them an idea of the influence of the culprits and where they might be operating from. Unbelievable as it might seem, those locations were in an almost perfect circle. The center of that circle was, you guessed it, the abandoned building they were staking out.

“Is there a discernible time frame that meets any criteria that we can map?” JJ asked the room in general.

“Not sure, the dates and times look all over the place, not routine as far as I can readily see,” Megan hesitantly replied. “Let’s enter the dates in the computer and ask for any and all matching information related to said dates.”

After turning on the computer Christine took the keyboard and started typing in the dates. Everything was displayed on the dropdown screen to the right of the crime board. When the dates were completed she went online and brought up a program by asking the computer to compare dates for similarities. When the suggested program came up she copied and pasted the dates she had entered onto that site then executed the program.

All three sipped their coffee and stared at the screen as the program evidently ran in the background. There was only a small circle going around in the middle of the screen, indicating action.

There were no glaring incident similarities presented when the program finally ground to a halt. There were a couple of the incidents that popped up showing the same number of days between the crimes but it did not fit all as a pattern. The program actually spelled out the fact that there were no real similarities between all dates. The last sentence, however, got their attention as it suggested they should check the almanac for similarities.

After a few minutes of searching they came up with the info from the almanac. The moon phase calendar was the only thing that had any reference to all dates. That calendar left them with at least one idea. All crimes were done with the dark of the moon or no moon at all. Evidently the criminal or criminals used the absolute lack of natural lighting, such as moonlight, to hide the act of their crime.

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” JJ sarcastically said. “They do their crimes in the dark, how unusual.”

“Not only that, we have been staking out that facility on the wrong nights. We’ve got to do it when there is no moon,” Megan added. “Hey, there is something really positive that is suddenly giving me some comfort.”

“Ok, I’ll bite. What did I miss now?”

“Funny you should say bite,” Megan smiled as she continued. “We don’t have to worry about the culprit being a Lycanthrope. You know, if there’s no moon, there’s no werewolf.”

Chapter Seven

“I’m suggesting a new procedure,” Megan said as she moved her hand in a circular motion that ended with a stab of her index finger. “We continue the stakeout, but only on moonless nights.”

“I agree and I’d like to add that we don’t try to apprehend any suspects. We need to follow them so we can find the loot location, you know the “LL” if you were texting,” JJ laughingly said as he added the quotes around the “LL” with two fingers of each hand.

The Farmer’s Almanac promised that the upcoming night would be the darkest night of the year. Just thinking about it left Megan with the impression that it was somehow true. It had to be a mind thing as it couldn’t get much darker than it had been when they were previously on their stakeout. The city lights would still be burning, leaving the sky with some reflected glow that was just short of being bright enough to cast shadows.

Megan thought about JJ’s comments on no apprehension, just place a tail on anyone observed in the area of the structure. Placing a tail on someone without their knowledge was tricky, especially if you were not very familiar with the geography of the area. This shouldn’t be a problem as she and JJ had made numerous ventures in and out of the facility, but they had used the light of day in their investigation of the building as they went from floor to floor. The knowledge they had gained wouldn’t make them infallible but it would sure help if they had to wander through the structure’s interior in the dark.

Grabbing a nap in the afternoon was a must if Megan wanted to be alert throughout the upcoming stakeout. JJ’s suggestion about putting a tail on someone gave her a lot to think about, however, she thought she would put that off and simply try to rest. After removing her clothes down to panties only, she slipped on her favorite T-shirt so she would be comfortable. She slid under the covers and almost immediately fell into a deep sleep. REM came on fast as her dreams took her back to the first time she had placed a tail on someone.

Megan noticed it on her way home from school one day. She went by a second time a couple of days later and thought she again observed an anomaly of sorts. The old structure was rundown and should have been uninhabited but Megan was sure something or someone had grabbed her attention from the upstairs front window. It was a curtain that moved as if someone was peeking out while trying to stay hidden.

Megan told JJ of her suspicion and they started an investigation to see if they could find out if someone lived there and who that someone might be.

Using the statue of Milton to pass secret documents back and forth, Megan and JJ put all their young investigating techniques into play to corner their prey.

Contacting one of her mom’s friends, a local real estate agent, she found out who owned the old structure. She also found out the owner had passed away and now the property was vacant.

Searching back through the obituaries for the owner’s next of kin yielded zero info as the obit posted in the paper was done by a neighbor who had no other info about relatives or friends.

Megan and JJ did a couple of sidewalk roller skating stakeouts with little success.

They found a park behind and below the hill that the old structure sat on; it looked like a good place to set up a stakeout. Conning Megan’s dad into a star-gazing outing in the darkened park gave them an opportunity to observe the building for errant lights and any nighttime activity.

Taking turns at the expensive CGE-1400 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, part of Celestron’s “top-of-the-line” German equatorial mounted astronomical telescopes captured and held Megan’s dad’s attention. Megan and JJ took turns at the telescope but, unbeknownst to Megan’s dad, they also took turns watching the back of the old darkened building.

The next morning, Megan was up early and she was smiling as she left home on her way to school. Although the surveillance of the mansion had been a bust, the previous evening’s experience with the viewing of the planets had left her on an unbelievable high. She stopped just short of skipping as she went on her way. She was a mature young lady and skipping was for young children, she thought. She looked around in all directions, forward, backward, left and right to ensure she was not being watched. She would still be mature if no one actually saw her skipping so, just like a child, she did for almost a full block.

She was again walking, not skipping, as she entered the school grounds. On her way she had spent several moments observing the old structure and those moments had robbed her of an early arrival. She walked by Milton without even glancing at him as he stood there in all his metallic glory. She was at least ten yards past him when something made her stop. She stood there for almost a full minute, staring straight ahead but not seeing, before she turned back and looked around.

What was it?” she asked herself. “What made me stop?”

Megan looked back up the sidewalk and then looked at the school grounds, left and right. “Milton, it was you, wasn’t it?” she again asked as she saw the edge of the rolled up white paper in Milton’s left hand. A message from JJ I presume, she thought as she approached the eight foot tall statue.

Megan was very clever and knew there was a chance that someone would be watching her as she retrieved JJ’s note. To avoid suspicion by onlookers she made it a habit to carry a small pack of white tissues in her school bag. She withdrew one now and, standing on her tiptoes in front of Milton, she reached up and cleaned his face in the spots where a few birds had taken some liberty.

As she completed the task she brought the tissue down along Milton’s arm. As she passed by the note, in Milton’s left hand, she paused, pretending to clean. She removed the note that was now hidden by the used tissue. She put tissue and note in her school bag then patted Milton and walked away from the memorial statue. As she entered the locker area she removed the tissue from her school bag and placed it in the trash receptacle leaving the note in her school bag. She would read the note later, alone and at her leisure.

Nothing unusual at her locker and her classes were as routine as ever. She was, as always, fully prepared for all her classes. Homework completed, reading done, including her tendency to go just a bit further than the assignment required. She didn’t hog the question and answer sessions during class although she usually knew the answers. She always allowed others to attempt to answer first. When and only if no one could come up with the right answer would she raise her hand. Her teachers knew her and they knew that she probably knew the answer, so they would just wait on her to indicate that she wanted to answer.

While she absorbed the teacher’s questions, she would, without drawing attention to herself, try to glance around and see who else knew the answers. Some of the other students were, as usual, stumped. Some of them would mouth the answer but not raise their hands, seemingly not wanting to draw attention to themselves. One in particular, Karl Winters, he seemed to always know the answers but never raised his hand during these sessions. This one deserved watching, Megan thought.

Megan had worked hard at school and was labeled “tops” in her class. She, however, wasn’t comfortable with this title but she considered it one of the burdens that went with her drive to always be prepared. She would gladly share this position, this title, with a worthy adversary. Could he be the one she wondered?

School days were long and you would think it would be easy to get some time to herself to read JJ’s note. This however was never the case. Recess was always a social outing as was lunch period. Classrooms were not the place to be distracted, the time between periods was too short and the hallways were always too crowded. The only place she could have any privacy was the girls’ bathrooms. Her first occasion came and she took full advantage of it. Parking herself in one of the stalls, she hooked the latch and removed the note from her school bag.

JJ wrote, “I didn’t get a chance to tell you last night and when I called this morning you had already left for school. I scribbled this long note before I left home in case you get a chance to read it.”

While you and your dad were putting away the telescope I maintained vigilance on the rear of the mansion. I saw a momentary dim glow and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t some kind of reflection. It was like a lamp, not electrical, a soft fire lit lamp. Reminded me of camping, like a Coleman lantern’s glow.”

Another thing, it wasn’t coming from the house exactly, it was more like on the hill that ran up to the house. I know what you are thinking, a lightning bug maybe. I thought about that too but dismissed it. The glow wasn’t a pinpoint of light but a half circle glow like an arched doorway partially hidden, partially open. It only lasted a moment and then went out.”

See me soon.” He did not sign the note.

Megan read it again, then she folded the note and put it back in her schoolbag. She took out her notepad and scribbled a reply.

Walk with me on the way home.”

Rolling the note she again visited Milton and, making sure she was unobserved, inserted the rolled note in Milton’s left hand. Megan hurried back to her locker and then to her next class.

School over, Megan made her way home on the route that would take her by the old mansion. JJ, having removed and read Megan’s short note, joined her a few blocks from school shortly before they reached the old building.

Let’s go into the park and I will try to point out about where I saw that peculiar glow.” JJ pointed toward the street that would lead into the park and they turned that way.

Well, this is hard, let me think. Ok, up about half way from the fence to the house there are some bushes. I think it was in there,” JJ said as he started to point in the direction he had indicated.

Megan reached out and gently took his hand before he could raise it up to point.

Don’t do that, JJ. You are going to give us away. Just describe the area. Is it located directly below a certain part of the house, you know, like a window or door or something?” Megan asked.

Sorry, it was an automatic reaction to giving directions,” JJ said. “Ok, let’s see, straight below the window that is on the right side of the back door. Oh, wait, wait, better yet, it was in the bushes located directly above the sign that hangs on the back fence that surrounds this park. I had looked at that sign with the binoculars last night and then raised them straight up to monitor the house. I saw that light as my view passed by those bushes.”

I’ve seen enough. Let’s head home now. We will have to check out that area when we can be sure we won’t be seen.” Megan handed JJ his math book and they left the park and headed home.

It was two days later that the opportunity arose. Megan’s mom was having a Lia Sophia jewelry party. JJ’s mom was invited and she came bringing JJ with her. Both dads were out, with JJ’s dad expected home at eight that evening. JJ and Megan were so noisy and annoying that the moms agreed to let them walk over to JJ’s house and stay there until JJ’s dad got home. He could then bring Megan back home after the party.

Backpacks on, they left Megan’s house. Unknown to the moms left behind, books were not the only thing carried in those backpacks. Megan had packed each of them with dark clothing they would wear while investigating the bushes. She had suggested black shoe polish for their faces but that was ruled out as being a little extreme. Wearing dark clothing, if caught, would not be suggestive of wrong doing. Wearing dark clothing combined with darkened faces might suggest otherwise.

Streetlights came on as they walked. The sun had set and twilight was slowly changing fully to night. The moon was evidently a late riser tonight making the approaching darkness a little menacing. By the time they reached the break in the shrubs on Second Street it was night. No street lights were located on this side of the street except at the corner with Thirty-second Ave.

Megan and JJ checked both ways and then slipped into the small break between the shrubs. Once through, the area opened up and they took a moment to pull the dark clothing on over what they were wearing.

From their position only the roof of the old structure was visible and no other houses could be seen. The park was below them but no-one seemed to be inside that area.

Satisfied with their lack of visibility they proceeded toward their target, that clump of bushes and its secrets, if any.

Megan stopped at the edge of the concentrated vegetation. It no longer looked like a clump of bushes. It was more like a small serious forest. The shrubs were planted on the edge of a small rounded mound that extended out from the natural slope of the hill. The age of the growth was not apparent; however, it had to be considerable. The trunks of the shrubs were thick and gnarled as if by age.

Megan circled the growth, climbing up and over the mound, while JJ stood and watched back the way they had come. JJ wanted to make sure they were not surprised by someone that used that same access entrance.

JJ, here, come here, come around the bushes. I think I have found an access to the middle of this small forest,” Megan loudly whispered.

Shhhhh, someone might hear,” JJ cautioned.

The light and visibility had continued to dwindle. It was now almost impossible to see anything. As JJ rounded the shrubs he ran right into Megan. She was bent over looking at the ground and the dark clothing and her dark hair prevented her from being seen.

Sorry, I couldn’t see you,” JJ stammered. “What did you find?”

That’s ok. The grass is worn away here and there is a small break in the density of the shrubs. I am going to try to go in, you wait here.”

Megan turned and, as she faced away from JJ, she disappeared. He heard the movement of leaves and small limbs as she made her way inside the bushes. It was only a moment later that he heard a solid thump and Megan’s “ouch”.

You ok, Megan are you ok?” JJ loudly whispered, just a little on the panicked side and he started toward the small opening.

I’m ok, stay there, I’m coming out,” Megan whispered.

Megan reappeared and stood very close to JJ. “There is a door inside, a very solid wooden door.”

Did you open it, is it the one I saw the other night?” JJ asked still whispering but totally excited.

It was locked, the door was locked and didn’t budge when I pushed down on the handle.” Megan’s head came up suddenly and whispered, “Someone is coming down the sidewalk. We better become invisible in case they come in here.”

Megan and JJ quickly went around the edge of the bushes on the side away from the sidewalk. JJ covered his head and Megan turned so her back was toward Second Street. Squatting and squeezed behind the bushes, they remained still and very quiet and the footsteps stopped outside the break in the street side shrubs.

Megan and JJ sat quietly and tried to breathe as silently as possible. He came by so close they were sure they would be found out. Luck was with them and the individual entered the bushes and the rattle of keys was heard followed by the minor sound of a bolt sliding followed by a solid wood door being opened. The thump had to be the door closing and they both could hear the locking sound of a bolt sliding back home. Megan had caught the glow showing from the inside when the door was opened and she assumed this glow was the same light JJ had seen from the park.

It was several minutes before they felt it was ok to move. Quietly they agreed it was safe and Megan went again into the interior of the growth. She checked the door and made sure whoever had entered had indeed locked the solid door. Megan, once satisfied, emerged from the bushes and they left the area by the way they had come, out through the street side shrubs and away from the backyard of the old structure. Their pace was much quicker as they made their way to JJ’s home as the wait they had experienced kept them a little longer than expected.

Megan and JJ decided to try to follow the man that entered the hidden door. Megan took on the early morning, trying to catch the individual as he left for the day. JJ would pick up the evening shift and try to catch him on the way home.

The mark was easy to spot as he wore a red windbreaker and an Oakland A’s baseball cap pulled down in front to hide his face.

It took several days of investigation but in the end they put together the routine the mark was using, doing all his work at several different libraries and returning to the old building late each evening. With Megan pretty sure now who the culprit was, late one evening, she and JJ hid in the bushes again and confronted their mark. After totally surprising him in the darkness, Karl Winters invited them into the old house and told them his story. He was living in his grandfather’s house until he was sixteen, then he would receive it as stated in the old man’s will.

Megan and JJ promised to keep his secret if he would occasionally join them at a cook-out at either of their houses, whichever the case might be.

“What the, oh man, cell phone alarm. How rude and I was having such a nice dream.” Megan remembered that Karl Winters had kept his promise and so did they. “I’ll bet JJ is waiting for me,” Megan said as she headed to the bathroom for a quick shower in preparation for their outing.

Chapter Eight

Almost totally refreshed from the shower, Megan took the time to put on her face. Even though she expected to see no one but JJ, he too deserved to see her at her best.

The temperature had fallen and the night was expected to be a little cooler than normal. She decided to dress in the motorcycle leathers JJ and she had bought when they helped that Motorcycle Club with their problem. The leathers fit the bill to a tee. They were black, except for the small club logo stamped into the leather on the left side over a member’s heart. The black made them hard to see in the dark and they were designed to keep the wearer warm even in extreme conditions.

“Ha ha, I should have known,” Megan said as she stopped to pick up JJ at his house. “It seems we have a case of ESP. When did you decide to dress like a chopper rider?”

“Nothing to do with ESP. It was the weather and the drop in temperature that decided it for me.”

Dark wasn’t just a prediction from the almanac, it was a reality. There were no clouds in the sky to reflect the city lights so, without moonlight, they were literally working in the dark.

They parked some distance away from the building and made their way into position on foot. JJ, as had been his routine, went around back to cover the rear of the building while Megan proceeded to approach the structure’s front. Once on site she quietly climbed back into the parked, staged, flat-tired and abandoned looking vehicle.

She took her cell phone out and made sure it was on vibrate then set it down on the center console. The hard surface of the console should make the phone rattle if there was an unexpected incoming call. Leaving it out made it easy to grab and contact JJ in case she had some action up front of the structure. It would also be easy to answer in case JJ called with some action in his area in the rear of the building.

It was like she was suffering a case of deja vu as she watched the dark rounded subject proceed along the edge of the sidewalk. Then again not on the sidewalk, maybe as before, it was actually up on the pallets in front of the building. She was not about to abandon her post to be embarrassed again by some wondering feline. She kept her seat and monitored the movement just in case she was wrong this time.

It only took a few moments to reward her for her patience. The black cat came to the end of the pallets, jumped down and slowly made its way down the sidewalk past the building.

Megan released the tightly gripped steering wheel and leaned back in the seat. She hadn’t realized how much tension she had placed on this minor intrusion until she relaxed her grip. She could now feel the strain she had placed on her arm muscles and hands due to the tightness of her grip.

“I’ve got to relax or I will be worn out before the night even gets started,” Megan whispered to herself.

Megan didn’t get worn out but the night was a bust. There was no activity in or near the facility as far as they could perceive from their individual locations. Around midnight they agreed to abandon the surveillance for the evening. The walk back to their parked operational ride was riddled with silence and the trip from there to one of the 24 hour restaurants was also quiet. Once in the car, both were simply trying to feel a little of the warmth coming from the car’s ventilation and heating system.

Seated in a booth at a restaurant they warmed up and the hot cups of coffee Megan and JJ sipped seem to loosen them up a little and they started sharing the evening’s lack of activity. The only thing out of the norm was evidently normal as that cat probably prowled that area each night.

Summing up as they calmed down from their unfilled expectation didn’t take long. Megan got the tab from the waitress, added the appropriate gratuity, then paid the bill with the office’s credit card. Megan and JJ got back in the car and headed out. She dropped JJ off at his apartment and headed home. Maybe a good night’s sleep would revitalize her brain and give her some desperately needed insight and an avenue to take to solve this little mystery.

Chapter Nine

The next two nights were also a bust even though the lack of light was a constant. It was early in the fourth night of complete darkness that things suddenly took a detour from the normal.

It wasn’t the cat that proceeded down the sidewalk in front of the old structure, it was an actual human being. Surprisingly, the view from the abandoned vehicle was almost, except for the square silhouette, a repeat of the previous occurrence. Square, or so it seemed, instead of the rounded dark back of that previous cat was all that could be seen as Megan watched.

“JJ, I have a certified anomaly, that is unless that cat has decided to wear some type of head gear or silhouette altering device,” Megan whispered into her cell as soon as JJ answered her call.

Megan maintained her position and waited for JJ to join her. It only took a few moments until he opened the passenger door and climbed in.

“What you got?” JJ whispered as soon as he was seated.

Megan lowered the field glasses then passed them to JJ. “Whatever it is, it is almost to those trash cans.” Megan directed JJ’s view toward the aforementioned containers. Megan pulled another set of field glasses out of a bag she had placed in the back of the vehicle and joined JJ in their surveillance.

“There, there he is, there he is!” Megan excitedly whispered as she pointed toward the now exposed individual.

“Ok, ok I see him. Kind of short in stature isn’t he?” JJ said as he checked the individual out.

“Come on, time to follow this little dude and find out if we have been wasting our time or not,” Megan said as she quietly opened her door and proceeded to climb out.

As they watched, the small individual turned and seemed to skip down the walk toward the suspected structure.

“Must be a child, look at him skipping down the sidewalk,” JJ whispered. “Sounds like something is jingling.”

“I believe it is coming from him,” Megan added.

Pulling open the door just enough to slide through, the small individual disappeared into the dark interior.

The door remained in the open position and Megan and JJ also slid inside. Taking care not to move the door from its current position eliminated the possibility of a squeak or noise from its movement. They momentarily paused to listen before continuing.

Their many trips through this building during the daylight gave them the lay of the land. Knowing where most noise-making obstacles were located gave them a pass even in the dark.

The jingle they heard came from the left so they turned that way to follow the sound, pretty sure it was the tailed culprit. Interior doors had all been removed so there was no danger of having to open something that might be rusty and squeaky.

A small glow suddenly appeared from an adjacent room and they quietly headed that way in the hopes of catching this small creature at his lair.

The glow of the light was in front of the individual, shining toward the what seemed like a blank wall that had some boards nailed in a almost crosshatch pattern..The small person was outlined with the light bouncing off that wall.

Megan lightly pushed JJ to the right as she went to the left. Both had their cell phones out and, as they had previously planned, they would take snapshots from both sides.

The outlined small individual reached out and pulled one of the crosshatched boards to the right and laid it down out of the way. He then lifted a board straight up and placed it next to the previous board. He pushed another board to the left as he held the boards that remained in place. Once he laid the removed board out of the way, he swung the remaining collection of boards, a pattern that measured about two and half feet wide and a foot and half tall, to the left and propped it against the wall. It was like the boards were arranged in a sort of Chinese puzzle box configuration, coming loose only when the correct boards were removed.

Once the boards were out of the way, Megan could see that they had covered up a fireplace. Her eyes opened wide as she saw the iron pot that sat there in the middle of the open fireplace. It resembled an old cauldron and made her think of witches and secret sects.

The flash of JJ’s cell camera caused the suspect to turn allowing the second flash to capture a full face view. Megan caught him with her cell camera as he turned to avoid JJ’s picture taking. She had now captured a full face view from her side of the room.

Megan turned on her mag lite and lit up the corner of the room where the suspect was standing.

It wasn’t a child, it wasn’t even a teenager, it was a mature male dwarf dressed to the nines in a leprechaun outfit. The top of his head had a cap on it similar to an old nightcap. The jingle they heard came from a bell at the tip of the cone-shaped apparel. The bend in the cone hanging down gave the top of the cap a square appearance. The shoulders of his outfit resembled football pads, giving him some unusual very wide shoulders. The pants were actually shorts bloused and stopping just short of the knees of his bowed legs. His shoes were in the dark but they were suspected of being pointed and curling up at the ends maybe with additional bells.

Behind him and in the fireplace, the cauldron provided a perfect hiding place for the items he had evidently stolen.

“Stay where you are and you won’t be harmed!” JJ shouted, as he thought the dwarf might be getting ready to bolt.

To their surprise the dwarf sat down and placed both hands on his head. “Don’t shoot, please don’t hurt Peti, I give up, don’t hurt Peti,” the dwarf said as he started to cry and blubber like a child.

JJ pulled some plastic cuffs from his pocket and placed one set around the dwarf’s wrists and one around his ankles. This was just in case the blubbering and submission was a trick, trying to gain sympathy, planning to flee if they relaxed a little.

Megan placed a call to the police station robbery division and told them of their situation and the need for them to respond.

While they waited Megan looked through the items that had been placed in the pot to see if the family heirloom they were seeking was present.

“Well, is it there?” JJ impatiently asked. “Are we the best or not?”

“Oh, we are the best,” Megan said as she held up the family heirloom, now lit up in all its glory from the light of the mag light. It glittered and sparkled as it dangled from the ornate chain that was used to secure it to a person’s neck.

Peti LaFiff, the dwarf’s name, was a member of an out-of-work circus organization. He wasn’t destitute, had a fairly good job with one of the trendy shops that filled the local mall. His problem was the dream he had about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow guarded by a magic leprechaun. He somehow got the idea that if he got enough sparkling items together maybe, just maybe, with all the sparkle he could create that rainbow and he himself would be the guarding magic leprechaun. The reward would have been making him capable of real magic and the granting of wishes, especially to those out-of-work circus friends. He didn’t like robbing people and only took small items of low value so no one lost much. He said he left coupons for local items on sale, to replace the things he took. The thefts were in fact more like a pack rat, in the fact that the dwarf actually took an item, leaving something in its place as a trade for that item.

Although back at the office, neither JJ nor Megan could remember anyone saying anything about sales coupons, and then again who would have connected the coupons to those thefts.

JJ was in the process of putting away the field glasses, mag lite and the other tools they had used during the stakeout. He turned from the wall storage unit as a realization suddenly hit him. “Hey Megan, I noticed you failed to put a name on this now closed case.”

“I didn’t have enough information to formulate one but I do now and I am assimilating that info so standby for some real sensational glitter,” Megan said as she arranged the case’s info on her desk.

Megan’s mind was actually burdened by too many choices. The case on “How a Rainbow is Made”, the case of “A Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow”, so many good choices. Those were good but her favorite was, the case of “the Leprechaun at Rainbows End”. This one really had a nice ring to it.

“Come on, just tell me. I can see by your little know it all smile that you have decided. So, just lay it on me.” Having turned from the wall storage unit, JJ crossed his feet, crossed his arms and leaned back against the near wall. He patiently tapped his foot as he waited.

“Ok, I hope you like it. It’s my choice and I like it,” Megan said as a friendly warning that JJ better like it too. “The case of, wait for it, the Leprechaun at Rainbows End.”

“Ok, that is actually very good and very poetic. It really does cover the situation as we now know it.”

“I like it. Let’s take a break and go for some coffee, I’ll buy,” JJ said as they left the office and headed for the Starbucks on the corner.

Chapter Ten

“Hey Megan, Reldon B. Gladley, your old buddy from law school. When you have a moment, please give me a call. I think I have an interesting case for you,” he said after he got the leave a message beep from Megan’s unanswered phone and voicemail recording.

Reldon and Megan had gone through the last couple of years at law school together. They had talked about starting their own firm after they passed the bar, but never put anything into play. It would have been moot anyway, with Megan’s decision to not practice law.

Reldon joined a well known law firm and had now worked his way up to partner. He was a demon in court and judges had grown to respect his abilities although they were not always impressed with his antics.

Reldon and his law firm occasionally employed M&M Investigation for background checks and numerous other endeavors that required some in-depth digging. M&M’s stellar results had placed them at the top of Reldon’s list of investigators and he was always a player at their “end of case” parties.

“It still blows me away that there was a leprechaun in this case,” JJ said as he slowly shook his head and unlocked the office door, holding it open for his partner to enter. Upon stepping inside he looked at his desk. “Hey, telephone is blinking, looks like we got a phone message. I’ll get it.”

“Good, I’m making a potty room break,” Megan said as she pointed at the hallway and left the room.

JJ was at his desk typing up some notes on the computer when Megan came back in. “So, who was it?”

“Your old buddy Reldon. He asked you to give him a call as he might have an interesting case for you,” JJ replied without turning around or stopping his typing.

“Great, an interesting case for us. That is just what we need and I need to invite him to our current end of case party, without any leprechauns I hope. We are available, right, you finished with the Jenkin’s surveillance?”

“Wrapping it up now, just dotting the Is’ in finish, so to speak, there it’s done.”

“Hey Reldon, this is Megan, I have you on speaker phone so JJ can be included.”

“Great, hey JJ,” Reldon said.

“Hey back at you, Reldon.”

“I have a client that will be, if I’m not wrong, charged with first degree murder in the very near future,” Reldon responded, then continued. “He assures me he did not do it even though he really, really wanted to.”

“Do you believe him?”

“Come on Megan, you know that’s not important. What I believe is actually irrelevant and has no basis in what I have to do.”

“Taking the fifth huh?”

“I guess you could say that, but he is damn sincere when he claims his innocence. I have to give him the benefit of doubt he deserves.”

“Just harassing you, what would you like us to do, and hey before I forget, Saturday night end of case party at Phil’s.”

“You know I’ll be there, can’t wait to hear what we are celebrating.” You could hear Reldon smiling a mile away whenever there was going to be a party. “Look, I need you to go talk to this guy and see what you think. I won’t bias you with any info so you will have to get it all from him firsthand.” Reldon then proceeded to give Megan the name and address of the client.

Paul Haley lived on a twenty-acre ranch about eighty miles away out in the country just west of a freshwater lake. Megan contacted him by phone and arranged an interview for later in the day. Megan and JJ made the trip. The drive was fast, four lanes until they left the last small metropolis and headed out east on a two lane lightly traveled highway. Twelve miles later they turned onto an even more rural route that continued for some twenty miles.

The country was beautiful and really refreshing for the two city dwellers. With the windows down, Pandora’s country and western quietly coming from the speakers on the radio, they turned onto the drive that led to Paul Haley’s address.

The road held Megan’s attention as she navigated the narrow, winding, sparsely paved road. They came upon a small western looking “L” shaped strip mall. The building’s facade was unpainted wood topped by professional hand painted signs. The decorative post supporting the covered walkway made everything look like something out of the old west. A small paved and lined parking lot extended out from one end of the small area toward the main road. A sign on the left side read “Restaurant Parking Only”, identifying that customers were expected to use that side of the area. Megan pulled in and parked next to the four other cars parked there. She and JJ had some time before they were expected so they decided to have lunch.

After lunch they again headed out. The view off to the right side of the road was all lake. The road curved and twisted outlining the small lake’s fingers, sometimes bringing the water almost to the very edge of the meandering thoroughfare.

Megan stopped the car on the edge of the road when they had a clear view of the lake.

JJ took in the scene and was too mesmerized to speak. There were no motor driven boats on the lake but there were numerous canoes, kayaks and oar driven rowboats making their way to different areas of the sparkling water. A couple on a bicycling type paddle boat worked hard, slowly making headway across toward the nearby island that marked the center of the lake. One large yellow floatation device came out from behind the island. The apparatus was simply overflowing with laughing young bodies. Several paddles were in use but the major forward push was accomplished by the multiple hands that splashed in the water from all those aboard.

It was like a picture postcard in its poetic setting. Several families were present along the sandy beach that lined the small lake. Some were tending bar-b-qs while others were monitoring small children as they splashed in the clear blue water along the edge of the lake. Several ladies, each with a dog, were standing on paddle boards and slowly making their way around the lake. JJ was wondering and asked Megan, “Do you think those boards all come with a dog on board?”

Both had a good laugh but Megan assured him that she didn’t think so but it just looked like it.

On one end of the small beach a pickup had been pulled to the very edge of the beach. The truck’s tailgate was down and in the bed of the truck was a large slingshot. The bungees attached to that slingshot had a small web of material in the center to hold a payload. The slingshot operator had pulled the two bungees all the way back until he was almost lying on the ground. The man placed a water balloon in the small web and then released the load.

Everyone on the beach had stopped their activity as they watched the small water filled balloon travel several hundred yards out across the lake, narrowly missing a young man standing on a paddle board who had been waving his arms and presenting himself as a live target. Everyone cheered and clapped their hands at the near miss.

Megan put the car in gear and pulled away leaving the small beach behind.

Breaking the silence, JJ turned off the radio and leaned his head out the window. “Hey Megan, do you hear that?”

Megan slowed the car and leaned her head partially out her window and listened. “I don’t hear anything.”

“Right, great isn’t it?” JJ said with a smirk.

Rounding the last curve on the edge of the lake gave a view of an earth and rock dam that held back the lake’s water. The dam was also picturesque and ran absolutely straight more than three hundred yards, between the supporting hills on each side.

Much too soon, the dam and lake both fell to the rear as Megan continued on the small road. Suddenly a small doe jumped a fence and darted across the road in front of their vehicle. Megan stopped the car quickly and was glad she did as two more small deer came out of the surrounding shrubs, leaping the fence and also crossing the road. The animals were in no hurry as they wandered across an open area, finally silently disappearing into the almost impenetrable brush that bordered the small meadow.

The drive slowly continued with farms and ranches stretching out from each side as they proceeded. Several donkeys in a nearby field lifted their heads and watched the PIs’ car as it passed. The next ranch held several alpacas and they too stopped feeding to give the car a once over, quickly losing interest and returning to their grazing. The next ranch started with the end of a picturesque white fence that paralleled the road for some distance. The fence led up to and continued past the beautiful solid white, very wide, open entrance gate.

The green sign out front of the open gate had the correct address numbers so Megan turned in. The house itself was barely visible tucked in against the wooded background of the distance hillside. The driveway was almost a quarter mile long with white vinyl fencing bordering on both sides from the main road all the way to the house and the surrounding out buildings.

JJ opened the sun roof, unbuckled his seatbelt and stood up on the seat. With half his body out through the roof of the car he turned a full three-sixty as he took in the panorama of the ranch. The entrance road ran uphill toward the house leaving the first pasture completely visible as JJ looked back down on it from an elevation that was just high enough to reveal all the nooks and crannies. The first three quarters of that pasture was open, with the far one quarter sparsely populated with scattered trees just open enough for a nice ride through on the back of a horse.

As they moved along slowly up the road, three horses matched their pace from inside the pasture and along the pasture side of the fence. All were whinnying, trying to get the attention of the pleased travelers.

Several large geese took to the air from the pasture as they were spooked by the progress up the driveway by Megan’s vehicle.

“I am in love,” JJ said just a little bit louder than necessary.

“I know, that’s why you got married.”

“No, no, I’m in love with this property, why did you bring up marriage?”

“Sorry, where is my head?” Megan said as she laughed at JJ.

At the end of the long driveway, Megan turned left onto the drive that led to the main house. She avoided the crushed rock drive that led up and around the large rounded Quonset style outbuilding and bypassed the barn that faced the end of the main drive. The view back toward the main road, now almost a quarter mile away, was simply spectacular in its beauty. The lower pastures were green and three cows could be seen grazing in the far corner of that pasture. The sparse wooded area and the openness made Megan think of how much it resembled and made her think of a golf course. Although the area was quite large, someone had taken the time to keep the grass down almost in a manicured appearance.

She parked in front of the steps that led up to the front door of the main house. JJ jumped out and quickly ascended the two tiered set of steps. He stopped and turned back to take in another view of the four separate pastures that spread out before him.

He smiled and pointed at the second pasture as it was inundated with another flock of geese. This flock had twenty to thirty geese waddling around pecking the ground for some unseen nutrient. As if on some sudden command they all took flight, honking louder than taxis on the streets of New York City during rush hour. A moment later they were out of sight. “What was that all about?” JJ rhetorically asked.

“Don’t know, I didn’t see anything that would make them all of a sudden fly,” Megan said as she had joined JJ at the top of the steps.

“Hey Megan, look at the size of that door knocker. I sure wish there were two of them, then I would have said, ’What a set of knockers,’ just like in the movie, ‘Young Doctor Frankenstein’, with Gene Wilder and Terry Garr.”

“With or without, you said it anyway, as I would have expected.” Megan shook her head then raised the knocker and let it fall one time.

It was only a short wait, then the door opened and a somewhat elderly gentleman, dressed in jeans, a blue and black plaid long sleeve shirt and a pair of western styled boots, looked at Megan and said, “Ms. Morgan?”

“Yes, please call me Megan, are you Mr. Haley?” They shook hands.

“Yes and call me Paul please, come in, come in.”

“Thank you Paul, this is my associate JJ.”

“Good to meet you JJ, I’m Paul,” Paul again offered and shook JJ’s hand.

“Thanks Paul, a pleasure to meet you.”

“Something to drink?” Paul said as he showed them into a small parlor off the main entrance.

“No thanks Paul, we just had lunch at that small restaurant across from the lake.”

“Oh yes, I like that place, they have excellent food. Were you pleased with their menu?”

“As a matter of fact we couldn’t stop commenting on it. The quality of their food and their service was tops.”

Paul seemed nervous and hesitant in his gestures and responses. Megan could only imagine what he was going through with the shadow that was hanging over his head.

“Paul, come on, sit down with us.” Megan noticed that Paul had a half cup of coffee nearby, so hoping to relax him, she said, “I see you’re having coffee, if it isn’t too much trouble I wouldn’t mind joining you with a cup, how about you JJ?” Megan and JJ took seats on a brown Naugahyde covered sofa.

“Me too,” JJ added.

“Good, I need to warm mine up and it’s no problem, the pot I made is still quite full.” Paul took his cup into the kitchen and returned with three cups on a tray, one for each. A small pitcher of cream, a few cookies and a bowl of sugar completed the tray. He placed the tray on the coffee table in front of the couch. Leaving two cups and the tray there, he took his cup and took a chair on the opposite side of the table facing Megan.

After a couple comments of general conversation Megan asked, “Paul, from what your lawyer tells me you might be in some type of trouble and, believe me, whatever it is we are only here to help. I want you to relax and tell us what is going on. Mr. Gladly told us nothing except you might be arrested for first degree murder. He did this because he wanted us to hear everything, every detail from you and you only, so there would be no unintentional confusion or misinformation leaving us with the wrong idea.”

“Honestly, to tell the absolute truth, I had murder in my heart but I know I didn’t have it on my hands.” Paul’s reply was exaggerated, with his posture and facial expression somewhat stricken.

“Ok, evidently you have a motive for murder and sometimes that’s all the police need to make an arrest,” Megan said, then attempting to stall Paul’s reply, she placed her hand in a stop position. “Wait, could we just try to start from the very beginning of this situation.”

“The beginning, ok, let’s see, I guess I will start from the beginning of our problem. It was almost three months ago my wife, Sophia, and I started looking for a nice piece of property to retire on.

Chapter Eleven

Paul Haley told about his search and purchase of the ranch that led up to the confrontation with Roger Jenkins that began some months ago. The following is a summary of that event.

Sophia Haley concentrated on the road that wound through the hills in central Yuba County. The land was beautiful with wooded hills on both sides of the road. Long driveways led off the main road and some driveways were sporting realtor’s signs attached to a single stake that was driven into the soil beside those roads. The fences that bordered the different properties were a veritable cornucopia of confining types of material. From barbed wire, painted wooden boards, actual split rail fencing to some type of manufactured product, the list ran to a considerable length. The actual product used gave each land owner a different flavored view with property lines defined and beginning with the change in style of preferred fencing.

“Keep going Sophia, I’ll let you know if something gets my attention,” Paul said as he pointed out the front windscreen.

“The road is so narrow and it’s like driving on the back of a large snake having to follow these twist and turns,” Sophia said as she gripped the wheel and turned the next curve.

“The road has to snake like this to border the lake.”

“I know that but it’s still worth the driver saying it.”

“Ok, I’ll give you that. Look, the road straightens out now with the lake behind us.”

“Doesn’t seem as narrow now either, kind of nice too.”

“Wow, look at that one. Nice fenced pastures all spread out, the white fencing is gorgeous. It is so open, that land is definitely usable for raising horses and cattle. I wish that one was for sale.”

“Uh oh, Paul, don’t pass out on me. This gorgeous one does have a realtor sign. I guess your wish has just been granted, should we turn in?”

“No, no, keep going, I’ll write down the address and the number for the realtor,” Paul said as he grabbed a pencil and piece of paper and jotted down the number.

After looking at a couple more for sale signs, Paul and Sophia headed home. Paul couldn’t wait to get on the phone and get some info on the place he was interested in.

It took just about another full month for Linda Sue Hammon, the land owner, and her realtor, Nancy, to accept the offer that Paul and Sophia, and their realtor Yvonne, had put together. There were a few contingences to deal with but nothing that couldn’t be ironed out.

Linda Sue told Paul she was anxious to move on. Her husband had suddenly died unexpectedly two years before leaving her with this twenty acre ranch that had to be maintained. The actual difficulty in operating the ranch was not the only thing that pushed her to move.

She then told Paul and Sophia about her so-called handyman. It began when alone and vulnerable, she was approached by Roger Jenkins, a man who offered to watch the place and help her with the minor things she couldn’t do. For his assistance she allowed him to park his RV behind the large Quonset hut type shop and that’s where he lived for the better part of two years. At first it was a deal made in heaven as Roger was helpful and polite and Linda felt so relieved to have someone nearby. She thought she had found someone that shared her ideas and concerns on the operation of her ranch. Linda introduced him to all her friends and neighbors speaking highly of him and his sudden appearance as if sent by the angels.

A few months into this relationship the tides had turned. His politeness had turned into argumentativeness and he almost demanded not only a place to live free, he wanted pay for his caretaker type arrangement. His actual help had dwindled to very little as he would leave most mornings around eight and return in the evening just before dark. The only time he made an effort to help was just before demanding some payment for his services.

For a little less than eighteen months, Linda took this abuse in order to have someone around at night. The lack of actual help grated on her until she finally said enough and put the ranch up for sale. Giving notice to Roger was traumatic and he didn’t take it very well to say the least.

Final walk-through for Paul and Sophia came as Linda had the movers hard at work packing and loading the moving van. Paul, Sophia and both realtors did their inspection. Paul also made his way through all the outbuildings to see if things were as they were expected. Roger was out near the shop and told Paul that this small assortment of boxes and equipment, located in one corner of the shop, was his and he would be loading it all and be out by Saturday.

Close of escrow finished and then Roger told Linda, and her realtor, he wasn’t leaving. He was a resident and required a sixty day notice to vacate. Even though he was told back in September, three months ago, that he would be required to vacate at close of escrow with the sale of the property, it didn’t matter as it wasn’t a written notice. It seemed Roger was way ahead of everyone. He had obtained legal advice from a free senior legal service and, with the info he gave them, he was told he was within his rights to require this sixty day notice in writing. An actual eviction notice would be required before he was moving.

Linda Sue filed an eviction notice on Roger just before she left. Paul and Sophia had now moved in, Roger came and went as he had before. Frustrated with the situation, Paul called and asked Linda for some advice. She said that Paul should disconnect Roger’s RV from the power source and lock things up as he had planned for security purposes. Paul proceeded to disconnect the large RV from his power and locked up the shop.

That evening when Roger returned, it only took about a half hour for the sheriff to show up on Paul’s stoop.

Sheriff’s Deputy S. Mour told Paul that he couldn’t lock the main gate, he couldn’t lock the shop due to Roger’s stuff inside and he was not allowed to unplug Roger from the power outlets in the shop.

It seems that Roger had called the sheriff telling them he was a resident and his landlord had cut off his power and locked him out of access to his equipment. The sheriff’s office had no choice but to respond and have Paul allow the connection to power and unlock the shop returning things to the way they were when Paul moved in. Any change in Roger’s status would have to come by legal means not by the hand of the new owner landlord.

Roger made a single quick appearance, walked by the sheriff and handed Paul a business card. Paul was stunned. He looked at the card. A legal council was listed on the front with a cell phone scribbled on the back with “Roger” written in pencil. Roger didn’t say a word and quickly returned to his RV.

Chapter Twelve

“You know what?” Paul told Megan. “I didn’t even know I was a landlord, I thought I was just a person that had bought a ranch for himself and his wife.”

“Is that the end?” Megan asked.

“Oh hell no, I did some other things but I’m not very proud of them.”

“What other things did you do?”

“I am naturally a very early riser. That is one of the reasons we opted to purchase a ranch. I love the mornings and like to get the necessities done before noon so I can have the afternoon for relaxing and maybe even a nap if I so desire.” Paul rose, left the room and returned a moment later with the coffee pot, warming up each cup then setting the pot on the empty tray. “Where was I?”

“You’re an early riser,” JJ quickly added.

“Right, early and to hopefully initiate Roger’s early departure, I spent the early mornings in the shop. I used a chainsaw to cut wood, I did a lot of vacuuming and I did anything and everything that created irritating and sleep disturbing noise.” Paul slowly shook his head. “I was a very busy person but I actually truly only did things that needed to be done. I didn’t invent unnecessary tasks but in my heart I knew that Roger loved to sleep in, usually until around 8 AM, what I call mid morning, and just maybe my activities might entice him to seek a quieter place.”

“Evidently that did not work,” Megan said.

“You can say that again. I got another visit from the local sheriff department. This time it was Deputy B. Hye with a warning about trying to force an unwanted resident out with the use of irritating actions by the landlord. Anything like loud noises, blocking driveway or access, stalking, mean or rude comments and any other, too numerous to mention, type actions solely designed to irritate or disturb a tenant.” Paul looked at Megan. “You know the worst part of this whole experience so far was the fact that my own complaints fell on deaf ears. I actually felt like I was in some type of “B” movie. I had this deputy S. Mour, or S’mores I called him, accompanied by Deputy B. Hye, sounds like a man with a suggestion to use some type illegal pharmaceuticals for relaxation. All in all it seemed frustratingly comical.”

“That’s funny, a regular camp outing with s’mores and wacky tobacky. So Paul, did you take a more active or maybe a violent problem solving technique?” JJ asked.

“NO! No way, I decided to fight with legal means. I used a comment I heard from a neighbor. My neighbor said that a person cannot reside on someone’s property in a motor home; it is a county code violation. I went to the county code violation office and checked this out and it was true. So, to make a long story short, I had them serve Roger with a code violation and he had five days to respond or further action could be taken. The problem with this is if he didn’t take corrective action, stop living in the RV, the property owner would be liable for the violation and it could get expensive.”

“I’d think that would do the trick, did it?” Megan said.

“Nope, five days later and he was still there and no action had been taken. This time I decided to get a lawyer and see what I could do before the code office came down on me and started demanding fines be paid for the code violation.”

“Sophia and I hired our first lawyer, a Mr. Reldon B. Gladley, whom you evidently know. He told us the eviction notice was a mistake and shouldn’t have been served and the code violation reporting was also a mistake. I hadn’t accomplished anything and had added several complications to a real problem.”

“A couple of days later, after doing some in-depth research, Mr. Gladley gave me a legal paper that gave Roger three days to correct the code violation or this matter would be going to court and he could expect to pay expensive court and lawyer costs when he lost the case. I had to go and personally give him this notice and tell him he had been served.” Megan could tell this didn’t sit well with Paul. “I went to Roger’s RV later that same evening. I made sure he had returned before I knocked on his door. When he answered I tried to hand him the three day notice but he wouldn’t take it. He said I should give it to his lawyer. I said no, I had to serve him with it not his lawyer. He would not take it but Mr. Gladley told me that him taking it was not required. All I had to do was offer it and tell him he had been served then drop it if he wouldn’t take it, so I dropped it on the ground. Sophia took pictures of the event and, believe me, Roger wasn’t very happy with the picture taking even though I was told by the sheriff that Roger, for his own use, videotaped anything and everything from his RV.”

“It took some time for Sophia to calm me down as I was so upset with the whole process and then him not taking the notice I offered. I was actually ready to take some violent action but I assure you I didn’t.”

“So you left the paper lying there on the ground by the door to his RV?” JJ asked.

“I did, it’s what my lawyer said I should do if Roger refused to take it.”

“Ok, so what happened next?”

“The next day I was talking to my neighbor, Linda’s brother-in-law, and he told me that Roger had come by and said he would be leaving due to this code violation.” Paul almost smiled. “Sophia and I were so relieved we decided to go away for a couple of days and stay with our daughter so as not to interfere with Roger’s move.”

“That was a smart thing to do, keeping clear I mean,” Megan said.

“We were gone three days and, up until we turned on the ranch entrance road, we felt really good.” Residual anger caused Paul’s face to redden as he continued. “We saw the edge of that dam RV still parked behind the shop; it hadn’t been moved.”

“I can understand your anger,” JJ said. “I would have been livid.”

“Exactly, I was really put out. I drove right up to the front of that RV and got out of the car. Sophia told me over and over to calm down, me being so angry wasn’t going to help matters. I didn’t stop. I went and banged on the door of that RV. When Roger answered I asked him what the hell he was still doing here. He said his legal people told him that the eviction notice superseded the code violation and he still had the rest of those sixty days before he had to vacate.”

“So that is when you took violent action toward Roger?” JJ asked.

“No, I was too shocked to do anything, I just stood there. Sophia grabbed me by the arm and led me back to the car and drove me around to the house. I spent the rest of the day trying to calm down.”

“What happened next, did you have another run in with Roger later?” Megan asked.

“No, that was my last contact with him.”

“Well, you lost me. Why did Reldon, uh Mr. Gladley, tell me you might be arrested for first degree murder if that was indeed your last contact? Where is this Roger now and someone must have died for you to be under the gun for murder, who the heck was that?” Megan asked before JJ could.

“He, Roger is at the city morgue I guess. He’s the one that died,” Paul said. “I don’t understand, you didn’t know? He was murdered that same night, the night we returned.”

“No, no, as I said before, Mr. Gladly wanted us to get all the info from you.” Megan had stood up, a little frustrated with her lack of information, then she retook her seat. “What happened to Roger, where did he die and who found him? We need it all if we are going to be able to help you.”

“I’m sorry, I thought you at least had some of the details.”

“No, we got nothing so far except what you have told us,” JJ added giving Megan a few minutes to become calmer.

“Well, here’s what happened.” Paul was a little on edge and cleared his throat then told them what happened. “The next morning, Sophia was up and out to the stables to tend to one of our young horses. He was suffering with something like colic and she was trying some water additives suggested by the vet. She wanted to do it herself so I said I would fix breakfast.” Paul’s eyes filled with tears and they ran down his face. “Sophia found him. Roger’s dog was out by the RV barking and scratching on the vehicle door. He never left that dog out by itself. I’m just guessing now but I have to assume that Sophia knocked on the door. I’m sure she didn’t get an answer so she decided to just let the dog in to stop its barking. I heard Sophia scream so I went and looked out the patio door. I could see her running back toward the stable, then she fell, she fell so hard. I ran to her and carefully turned her over, she was almost unconscious and her chin was cut and bleeding. Before she passed out completely she pointed at the RV and said ‘Roger’.”

“I picked her up and carried her back to the house and put her in our bed. I called 911 to get an ambulance dispatched. I had no idea how badly she was hurt. I took some gauze and put pressure on the cut to stop the bleeding.” Paul was no longer crying and seemed to gain some strength from somewhere. “I sat with my girl until the ambulance arrived and I held her hand while one of the EMT’s checked her out. She was stable but they decided to transport her to the hospital due to her being nonresponsive.”

“Is that where she is now?” Megan asked.

“Yes, with recovery, she might be released later this week.”

“What did she tell you about what she had seen?”

“Nothing, she hasn’t spoken since then.” Paul’s eyes filled again. “Doctor says we just have to be patient with her.”

“What about Roger?” JJ impatiently asked.

“Oh right. Well, I looked at my beautiful Sophia lying there. Her rosy cheeks had paled making her skin seemed so thin and fragile. It was like a switch was flipped, as my head all of sudden filled with rage. I was thinking, that son-of-a-bitch was putting us through so much stress and now he has hurt my Sophia.”

“I knew one of the EMT’s would stay with Sophia so I headed for the door. I told the other EMT’s that Roger must have done something to my wife and I was going to go over to his RV and kick some ass. I would make him never forget and forever regret his actions, if I let him live.”

One of the EMT’s did stay with Sophia while the other one, who wouldn’t let me go to confront Roger alone, went with me to the RV and that’s when we found him. He was lying just inside the door of his RV and he had been beaten to death with a hammer. It was one of my hammers.” Paul shook his head. “The EMT looked at me a little differently, pulling me back from the scene and leading me back to the house. I stayed there with Sophia as they both went back to the RV for another look. They both said that someone had really been angry with that man and took it out with some frenzy and it looked like he didn’t die right away. I was thinking my comments about not letting him live really made me look guilty of murder and with the EMT’s reactions, I shut my mouth to avoid saying something else stupid.”

“Well, that was smart, although a little late. Now I know why Mr. Gladley thinks you might be charged with first degree murder. You have both a real good motive and more than ample opportunity,” Megan told Paul. “I know it’s going to be tough with your wife in the hospital and this hanging over your head but I hope you can find a way to relax and let JJ and me do some digging and see what we can do for you.”

“One of the deputies that responded to the EMT’s call asked me about Roger. He wanted to know who he was and what our relationship was. After I told him about our situation with Roger, he said he thought he had recognized Roger due to a call from a similar landlord situation in another small town in Yuba County.” Paul stood and walked Megan and JJ to the door. “Do you think maybe he has done this type of thing before and do you believe this might have some bearing on his demise?”

“You mean irritating land owners by squatting on their property? It’s possible, but I have no idea why anyone would do something like that. We will check on viability, maybe you’re not the only one having a good motive for murder,” Megan started to say goodbye but JJ piped in.

“Is the crime scene still here?” JJ asked.

“It is, it is still cordoned off with some yellow crime scene tape.” Paul rose as he said this. “I can take you out there to the RV if you would like, but I don’t know if the sheriff’s office has completed their investigation.”

“Do you have a number for the sheriff?” Megan asked as she rose to accompany Paul toward the rear sliding glass door.

“Yes, hang on, it is right here on the counter.” Paul found the card and gave it to Megan. The card had Officer Bill Hye and a local phone number.

Megan quickly dialed the number. Two rings later Officer Bill Hye answered the phone. “Sheriff’s Office, Officer Hye speaking,” came from the earpiece.

“Hi, this is the ranch of Paul Haley on Lake Francis Road and I was wondering if you had completed your investigation on the incident that happened out here?” Megan kept her voice as professional as possible.

“Just a moment, please.” Office Hye partially covered the mouth piece of his phone and yelled to someone in the background. “Are we finished with that killing out on Lake Francis Road?” Whatever the answer was Megan couldn’t hear but Officer Hye came back on and said. “Yeah, we’re finished out there, any reason you wanted to know?”

“Nothing specific, just wanted to clean up around the shop and remove that hideous yellow tape you guys left out here,” Megan replied. “Thank you, Officer Hye.”

“Ok Paul, we are clear to take a look, lead the way.” Megan gestured him out the door and she and JJ followed.

[]Chapter Thirteen

They left the dining area through the sliding glass door. They were immediately met by a very friendly black German Shepherd puppy. “That’s Onyx, he loves people,” Paul said.

Megan stooped and petted and coo talked to the puppy, who ate up the attention. The tail was in a constant wag while his tongue explored Megan’s hand with friendly licks.

On the way to the crime scene, the three walked down a path and over a small bridge. The bridge was over a trench that was used to divert water runoff from the steep hill behind the house. The trench kept the water away from the house. They proceeded on the path behind the horse stables toward the shop, a large Quonset hut. Megan kept looking back as the puppy clambered over obstacles that precluded easy travels for something with such short legs. The puppy’s antics kept a smile on Megan face and took her mind away from what lay ahead.

On the left side, on the rock driveway that circled the shop, a large two-tone brown RV was parked. Yellow crime scene tape ran across from the shop edge in front of the RV to the fence that paralleled the vehicle.

Megan grabbed the tape and started rolling it up for disposal.

“Are you sure we should remove this?” Paul just had to ask.

“Officer Hye said they were finished, so this now belongs to you.” Megan pulled and rolled the yellow plastic until she had all the tape in a disposable ball. Paul took the ball and placed it in a trashcan inside the shop.

JJ and Megan did a preliminary check around the perimeter of the large vehicle. At the back, on one side, an exterior propane gas tank had been set up on wooden saw horses. There were hoses securely connected from that tank to the vehicle’s external service connection. A long orange extension cord ran from the vehicle to the shop thorough a hole in the shop wall, evidently supplying free power to the parked RV. There were wheel chocks placed in front and back of the rear wheels to prevent rolling of the mobile vehicle. On the left side, there was a small step placed below the single entrance door; otherwise the area was free of obstructions.

“Shall we?” Megan asked as she reached for the door handle.

“We shall, it’s time to see the crime scene,” JJ responded.

Megan pulled the door open and took a preliminary quick look inside. “Hey Paul, do you have some old newspaper or something we can lay on the steps and floor here so we don’t track the place up?”

Megan turned and whispered to JJ, “Actually, I don’t want the blood on my shoes.”

While Paul went in search for something to cover the floor, Megan, standing outside with the door open, took a little longer look into the vehicle. There was quite a bit of blood splatter on the steps and on the walls around the entrance way. Megan realized, whoever did this had to be also splattered with a considerable amount of the blood of Roger Jenkins. One spot was not splattered. Something had kept the splatter from completely speckling the steps. The blood spray left an almost perfect outline of a shoe print. Someone had stood on this step while they did the bludgeoning of Mr. Jenkins.

“Can you use this roll of butcher paper?” Paul asked Megan as he handed her a white roll of paper used for wrapping meat for freezing and refrigerator storage.

Holding the roll out, inside the step well of the vehicle, Megan started unrolling the paper. “This will work out just fine. The roll is almost as wide as the steps so coverage will be great.” Megan unrolled enough to cover the steps then push the roll and let it roll across the floor and into the far wall of the interior.

Megan fitted the paper to the shape of the steps and then she started to climb in, then stopped.

“What’s the holdup?” JJ asked.

“No need to rush JJ. I was going to take a hold of that chrome grab bar. I’m thinking anyone going up these steps would do the same.” Megan moved back out of the way and said, “I want you to take a good look at that bar. See if there is any evidence of the sheriff’s office doing a dusting for fingerprints.”

“Good thinking, let me take a look.”

While JJ examined the entrance area Megan moved back beside Paul. “Did the investigating officers serve you with a search warrant?”

“No, they did come in the house for a short interview but most of their time was spent out here at the RV,” Paul answered.

“Did any of the officers ask to inspect your shoes?” Megan added.

“No, why would they want to look at my shoes?” Paul asked.

“When I looked at the steps in the RV, I could see a footprint. It’s the only spot that doesn’t have speckles of blood so I would assume that someone’s shoe is speckled with blood splatter. If it were me doing the investigation, I would have bagged all your shoes and taken them in for a forensic scrutiny. I would have taken your clothes too. Blood is very hard to remove from clothes and leather.”

JJ moved back out of the doorway and turned to Megan. “I see no sign of any dusting on that bar. I’m going to the car and get my kit. I will do my own dusting and see if I can raise a couple of prints.”

Megan led Paul up to the open door and lifted the butcher paper and pointed at the food print. “What size would you say that shoe could be, it looks bigger than yours.”

“I agree it is bigger, I would say a ten or eleven. That also looks like a dress shoe, kind of wide and round. All of my shoes are western style with pointed toes. I can guarantee you, that’s definitely not a print of mine or Sophia’s shoes.”

“I was pretty sure of that but I thought I would ask.”

JJ returned and spent the next half hour working on the grab bar and surrounding area for any usable prints. Some smudges were present but none were clear enough for use.

Once they were satisfied with JJ’s conclusions, Megan and JJ climbed up into the RV. Megan took the roll of butcher paper and tore off the portion they were using on the floor and handed the roll back out to Paul.

They took their time and went through everything. It was true that Mr. Jenkins videotaped just about everything that happened near the vehicle. The camera was mounted on a swivel just above the driver’s side of the windshield. The camera could be turned on to record anything out front and inside the vehicle. There was a box of VHS tapes under the dash on the passenger’s side of the cab. The box of tapes led them to believe that he taped each day and kept that tape for a week then he would tape over it and keep that new taping for the next week. Each tape had week by week dates on them with most dates having a line through it with only the latest date unlined. The box was seven tapes long with only six tapes in the box, a empty slot with one tape apparently missing. A check of the VCR found no tape inside ready for play or recording. The latest date on a tape was of the day before Mr. Jenkins was killed, however, nothing of any value was on that tape, it just showed the activity visible from the front of the RV and no one approached the vehicle as far as the tape showed.

The living area and the rest of the RV was as one would expect. It had a lived-in look but was virtually undisturbed, showing no signs of a search by anyone unless they were very clever, returning things to the way they were found. To Megan, this did not sound like a thorough search or investigation by any law enforcement outfit she knew for they had very little regard for a victim’s belongings during a search. Things were normally left out as they removed them, leaving clutter as they went.

“Hey Paul, JJ and I are going to be tied up here for a little while. If you have something else to do, please, go ahead and take care of it.”

“Yeah, ok, I do need to take care of the afternoon chores. Hey when you finish just come on back to the house,” Paul replied.

“Will do, thanks.” Megan gave a slight wave and then she and JJ returned their attention to the tapes and the VCR.

[]Chapter Fourteen

When they returned to the house, Paul had prepared glasses of iced tea and a small plate of cold-cut sandwiches.

“Wow, thanks Paul. The iced tea is awesome and I was getting hungry,” JJ said as he took one of the sandwiches.

“Same here,” Megan put in.

As they ate they brought Paul up to date on what they had found, which was very little.

“We fast forwarded through Mr. Jenkins’s recording and found little of value. We saw where you and Sophia gave him the paper from your lawyer and we saw where you approached him after returning from your short three day trip. If the cops looked at this tape they had every reason to believe you might have taken some violent action on Mr. Jenkins. On the other hand, if they viewed them, why wouldn’t they take the tapes with them as evidence?” Megan slowly shook her head. “I am afraid they jumped to an unjustified conclusion and didn’t feel the necessity to do an in-depth investigation. This lack of investigation is why you are left under the gun.” Megan paused then continued. “We think a VHS tape is missing and we have no idea where it could be or what could be on it. I have to ask, is there anything on that tape that could show up later and bite you in the butt?”

“No, no! You mention you saw the recording where I confronted Jenkins and that was my last contact with him and that was the last time I was anywhere near him or his RV.” Paul was adamant in his reply.

With that said, Megan and JJ bid farewell for the time being and left Paul and the ranch behind as they headed out to see if they could get some info from those in charge of investigating this crime.

The drive was still very pleasant as Megan and JJ headed for the closest County Satellite Law Enforcement Office. It was an easy trip as the GPS unit again called out the directions as they proceeded.

It was a small single story building with a sign showing a badge and “Sheriff’s Office” on the right of the entrance door. A three pole flag array was just off the steps on the left side. The American flag, the state flag and a county pennant were slowly waving in the breeze that came in from the southwest.

JJ said, “I’ll wait here for you, I want to make some notes of what we heard from Paul while it is fresh in my mind. I will let you look at them later and we can edit them if we each heard something and remember it differently.”

Megan entered the front door of the office and approached the officer sitting behind the tall counter that faced the door. He had looked up at her as she entered.

It was about thirty minutes before Megan returned to the vehicle. She handed a folder to JJ as she climbed in behind the wheel.

“Wow, it looks like you got everything they had,” JJ commented as he waded through the file that Megan had obtained from the Yuba County Sheriff’s office. “This is why I don’t go in those offices with you,” JJ said as he held up the full folder. “If I had gone in with you we might have got a page or two, never this much. You always have everyone falling all over themselves to please you when you are alone. It’s like some type of magic spell you cast. You walk in by yourself and men trip over each other to help you.”

“Shut up, you don’t believe that. We, you and I, just have a good relationship with the boys in blue, well, boys in uniform.”

“Right, like they knew you from Adam. You never graced their office before, not that I can recall.”

“Actually, Reldon had called this office some time ago and told them an investigator would probably be coming up for any info they could provide. I guess they have known about us for several days now.”

Megan made no reply about his comment about the magic spell but JJ had caught that little smile she always used when she agreed with JJ’s on-track comments.

Julia’s was a small bar, quaint and local. The outside was grey raw boarding, old looking, with the small neon sign glowing brightly. The sign simply said “Julia’s Place” in blue and pink colors. The simple statement sent a homey feeling to the patrons as they entered just under that sign.

The music was western, the beer was super cold and the bar tender/owner was lovely, and she was friendly. Those were just a few of the reasons the two officers, now in civilian clothes, frequented the bar almost daily after duty. Another obvious reason was it was on the way home.

There were only a few customers and they all seemed to be locals but neither Officers Bill Hye nor Sam Mour thought much about that. Their concern was the beer and the female behind the bar.

“Damn Sam, I swear Julia Simms gets better looking every day,” Bill Hye said to his partner as he lifted his beer in salute.

“Yes she does, but the sad thing is, we only get to look. And when looking, we both can see that huge ring she flaunts every chance she gets. I’m thinking it keeps the patrons in check,” Sam Mour replied.

“Speaking of flaunts, did you catch Smith trying to hit on that PI that came in earlier today?” Bill shook his head. “He is on Mercer’s shit list. He gave that PI everything we had on that Jenkins’s killing. What pissed Mercer off so much was, we finished that case and she is trying to find some loophole we missed so that murdering SOB can walk.”

“We have him dead to rights, I don’t know what she expects to find but, then again, I have to admit she and M&M Investigations seemed intense on their diggings in on this case.”

“You gentlemen ready for another round?” Julia Simms asked as she picked up the empty glasses and quickly wiped the table.

“Julia Simms, you are a silver tongued devil and I believe you have talked me into another ,” Bill said as he gave her his best smile. “We will certainly have one more round.”

“Same here, I’m ready, ready for anything,” Sam added.

“Ok, you guys keep your shirts on and keep your seats and I’ll be right back.” She hurried back to the bar. She collected a couple of frosted glasses from the cooler and quickly pulled a couple of beers and brought them back to the two officers. “Cheers,” she said as she retreated.

“You know what, I worry about that PI’s progress. When I think back about our investigation at that ranch, it could have been more in-depth,” Bill said. “I know I’m not the detective, I’m just a grunt but, personally, I would have done more.”

“Man, don’t let Mercer hear you talking like that, you could lose this cushy assignment. You could be downtown Marysville, writing parking tickets.”

They spent the next half hour going over a few of their personal problems as well as some shop talk. They nursed their beers, dragging out the drinking to prevent intoxication. They turned as the front door opened and another off-duty came in.

“Oh uh, here comes the man of the hour. Hey Smith, how’s it hanging?” Bill said as he saw Officer Joe Smith entering then approaching their table. “Can we buy you a cool one?”

“Yeah, sure. I could use a cool one after what I just went through. I might even need something stronger.”

“What’s the matter, someone glue your coffee cup to the desk again?” Sam said and they all three laughed.

“That only happened once and that little shit is still paying for it.”

“So what was it that got your goat today?” Sam asked.

“Mercer, he is pissed. I was just doing what I thought was right. Attorney Gladley, the lawyer for our suspect, Paul Haley, asked and has the right for all our info so I gave it, as he requested, to that PI.”

“You mean that lovely PI, don’t you?”

“Well, I guess you could say that.”

“We saw how you responded when she came in. You were all over yourself trying to please her, it was so obvious.”

“Just doing my job. Where is that beer you offered?”

Bill held up a hand and as soon as Julia saw it, he did a circle with his index finger, suggesting another round.

“M&M Investigations has a friend at the sheriff’s office but now that friend has his butt in a bind with his boss,” Bill offered. “Better watch it or Mercer will have you doing some unspeakable duty in a faraway place.”

Julia appeared with a beer for Joe Smith.

One of the few customers who didn’t look like a local and was within earshot, was sitting around in a booth behind their table. He climbed out of the booth and quietly headed for the door.

Julia caught the movement with her peripheral vision and turned and said, “Thanks and, hey, you hurry back now.”

The man didn’t turn. He just waved with one hand as he went through the door.

Chapter Fifteen

Once back at their office, JJ spent the next hour at the computer. He scanned in all the info Megan had obtained, plus the notes he had taken during their interview with Paul. After creating a usable file he displayed the results on the big screen. Standing up at the large monitor he placed his hands on the screen and moved things around until he was satisfied with the timeline sequence and the total look of the exhibit. JJ loved the program that allowed him to move and adjust things at the screen.

“Nice JJ,” Megan said as she walked up beside him. “Everything we have so far points right at Paul, so that means we really have our work cut out for us.”

“I don’t see any reference to Paul having a record and in that respect he has a lot going for him.”

“Maybe Paul’s not the problem, maybe we should take a look at Roger and see what turns up with him,” Megan added.

After several days of in-depth digging nothing jumped out at them and the background check on Roger yielded very little. The only address they could find on him came from the free legal clinic and the residence he listed was Paul’s place, where he had his RV parked. He did not have a mailing address or a post office box that they could find and, according to the local post mistress, he never received any general delivery mail.

“One thing I don’t see is any mention of a previous contact with the sheriff’s office. I’m talking about the comment that Paul made about one of the deputies recognizing Roger from a previous situation,” JJ said as he again perused the displayed info.

“Could have happened but not made official due to the problem, if there was one, being resolved without intervention by the County Mounties. That could happen you know?” Megan said as she took a closer look at the display, taking her time to check minor details.

“Let’s take a trip back up to Yuba County and see if we can find that deputy who made the comment about recognizing Roger,” Megan said.

Being the middle of a week day, the traffic was very light. Highway 70 was relatively traffic free so their travel time was less than expected. Making all the right turns and following the directions coming from their GPS unit, they were led right back to the front of the small Satellite Sheriff’s Office. There was one patrol car parked near the building; otherwise, except for the small sign with the badge and the flag poles, the office had little evidence of what was housed inside.

One uniformed deputy manned the tall counter that faced the entrance door. “Can I help you?” Deputy Smith said as he looked down on Megan and JJ.

“Yeah, hi, it’s me again, I need to pass along some info on the murder case that happened out on that ranch,” Megan said as she gave a small wave at the deputy.

“And you are?”

“Ah, I’m Megan of M&M Investigations. I was here the other day. I am also investigating that murder. You don’t remember me?”

“What’s to investigate? We’re pretty sure we have all the info we need and I think we will be making an arrest real soon. Our suspect has both motive, opportunity, the weapon was his and the murder happened on his property. Kind of a slam dunk if you ask me.”

“I need to see the lead investigator if you don’t mind,” Megan said a little more forcefully.

“He’s not in,” Smith flatly stated.

“Ok, do you expect him back soon?”

“How would I know, he’s not from this office.”

“I told you, I should have stayed outside,” JJ whispered.

Megan didn’t think it would have made any difference and she was sure something had changed. Her best guess was that the DA’s office had put out the word to not give out any more information and they were probably pissed about the info she had already obtained.

“Ok, would it be possible to get the phone number and location of the office the investigator works out of?” Megan sweetly asked.

Megan’s guess was validated when Smith said, “I can give you the district attorney’s number, that’s the best I can do.”

“That’s even better, I should have thought of that myself,” Megan said through a smile with a lot of teeth.

Expecting some other response, the deputy was a little taken aback with her comment. It took him a moment to respond but he did with the phone number, name and address of the office that would be handling the prosecution. He even smiled while he gave her the info. Maybe he was making up for his icy reception when she had approached this time.

Things had changed during the short time inside. The clouds that had moved in overnight had now darkened and rain had started to fall. It was the first rain they had for a couple months. JJ and Megan jogged to the car.

“Nice, you threw him off with that ready acceptance of the DA’s office number rather than the investigator,” JJ said as they quickly climbed in. “You never fail to amaze me with your tap dance.”

“I won’t dance, don’t ask me,” Megan sang in response to JJ’s comment. “In the long run I needed to know the prosecutor, however, I got the info I requested.”

“He slipped you a note with the info on it, didn’t he, and I didn’t see it.”

“Nothing so dramatic. Sometimes lowering one’s eyes is not actually flirting, as he probably thought, it could be a misleading ruse. There was a paper on the desk with the name of the investigator on it and I simply read it upside down.”

The rain had increased and the windshield was wet and the drops had accumulated enough to cause small meandering streams to trickle down in several areas. Megan dug in her purse for her cell phone. She checked the number Deputy Smith had given her and quickly tapped it into her cell.

“Clever girl, but I’ll bet if you had come in again by yourself he would have given you everything and threw in the kitchen sink. He was looking at me when he gave you that icy reception.”

“In your dreams only,” Megan said as she held up her index finger asking for a moment as she heard the call go through. “Hi, this is Megan Morgan of M&M Investigation, I need to talk to Assistant DA Jefferies.” Megan waited a moment with the cell phone pressed to her ear. “Megan Morgan, 916-222-7755.” A moment later she said, “Ok, I will expect his call, oh sorry, her call.”

“That smile is not going to help you at all since the DA is a female,” JJ laughed and continued. “You won’t get anything from her.”

“I know you are joking and I know you are not biased against women so what makes you think this DA won’t be accommodating?”

“I’m just saying, you get a different response from female authorities than you do from males.”

“Your imagination is beyond belief,” Megan said as she slowly shook her head.

Megan started the car and, not knowing what else they could do here, they headed back to their office about an hour and a half away. As Megan pulled away from the parking area the wheels spun with just a minor application of pressure on the accelerator. The falling rain was a relief and desperately needed but the previous lack of rain had caused a minor accumulation of oils to rest in the cracks and crevices of the roadway. The heavier water now rooted out and floated the oil to the surface making the road a little slick.

Aware of the road’s slick condition caused Megan to concentrate more on her driving and less on her surroundings. She didn’t see the old pickup’s windshield wipers come on, the vehicle pull out and make a U-turn. It slowly picked up speed but stayed some distance back as it started to follow her.

The roads through the back hills of Yuba County were in relatively good condition and normally safe for the fifty-five miles per hour speed limit. The only difference from most roads was the lack of shoulder on each side of the road. Most of this roadway was bordered by a narrow two foot strip off the edge of the pavement with a sharp drop off to a deep ditch, canyon or river bed that at some places passed beneath the paved road or simply bordered that narrow strip. There were no “emergency parking only” signs as there were no emergency parking places along the road.

Megan’s speed was around forty and sometimes forty-five so it wasn’t a problem for the now faster moving pickup to catch up and ram the left rear of Megan’s vehicle. The contact caused her vehicle to spin clockwise and pirouette off the right side of the road and go sideways into the air and then drop from the roadway.

The old heavy pickup fishtailed for a moment but the driver was able to maintain control. A cloud of black smoke poured from the exhaust as the vehicle raced away from the area. It rapidly topped a nearby hill, putting it out of sight so the driver of that pickup couldn’t see the final result of the contact.

The violent forward push from the contact caused both Megan and JJ to snap back into their seats. The safety head rest probably prevented whiplash and the seatbelts kept them in place as the car spun. The gorge out Megan’s side window beckoned her and her conveyance to a speedy trip to the rocky bottom.

The vehicle’s sudden stop caused the front airbags to deploy. The car landed sideways between two boulders protruding from the sides of the drop off. The side airbags also exploded striking Megan in the forehead. With her being thrown sideways the force of the blow was considerable but once deployed it did make a protective cocoon for the car’s passengers. The air bag pushed against her arm momentarily pushing her away from her door and the side window glass. The severe crash bent the vehicle in the middle and caused Megan’s door to fail and suddenly spring open. It left Megan dangling from her seat belt, partially out the door above that steep drop.

A small cloud of steam rose from the front of the broken vehicle. The steam’s quiet noise was like an air leak from a low pressure air tank. There was also a tick, tick, tick, as one of the wheels, no longer in contact with the ground, slowly turned while brushing a small bush that had been squashed by the weight of the car. The quiet was deafening in its completeness. The noise of the crash had silenced all the surrounding wildlife and it took a few moments for those undetermined sounds to return.

JJ was the first to stir. He opened his eyes and looked around. He had been somewhat thrown to Megan’s side of the car and he was also left straining against his seatbelt. “Holy shit, what the heck happened?” he said as he tried to push himself back into his seat, away from Megan’s side of the car and the sheer drop that seemed to beckon. “Megan, Megan, are you ok?” JJ said as he gently pushed her shoulder but quickly stopped when his motion caused a grinding noise as if the car had moved or slid on rocks.

JJ became very quiet as he slowly checked things out. He knew they were in a precarious situation that could quickly turn into disaster in a heartbeat. He kept his body still, turning his head only as he tried to take note of their condition. He heard a sound like the sliding of a vehicle’s tires on pavement. Then he heard the sound of a car backing up above him on the road.

“Hey! Hey down there! Anyone in there? Are you ok? Hey!” someone called from the road above.

“We’re down here, not sure if we are all ok. My partner is not responding at the moment. Our vehicle doesn’t seem safe and I am afraid to move,” JJ said while trying to remain calm and in control. “Could you call 911 and get us some help, we need to stabilize our car so we can get out?”

“I’m calling them right now.” It took a few moments and JJ could hear him talking but couldn’t make out the actual words. The man called back when he finished. “I called it in and they are sending help. Normally I would be in my truck and it has a winch but today I took my wife’s car, sorry about that.”

“Not your fault although that would have been very helpful. Thanks for seeing us, did you see what hit us from behind and knocked us off the road?” JJ asked.

“Something hit you, are you serious? There’s no one up here and I didn’t see anyone when I drove up.” The man paused and then continued. “Which way were you going before you crashed?”

“We were headed to Marysville and I believe it was south.”

“Yeah, that makes sense, I was headed the same way you were or I might have seen your mystery hit and run driver. Hey, I’m going to wait up here until help gets here. I don’t want to take a chance that might cause your vehicle to move.”

Chapter Sixteen

It was almost an hour later before JJ heard the now attached wrecker cable tighten up with the vehicle moving slightly back up toward the roadway. During the delay, he had made sure Megan wasn’t in any duress, constantly checking her pulse and color.

Once the vehicle was considered securely held in place by the cable, two EMT’s rappelled down on Megan’s side of the car and did a preliminary check on her vitals. Heartbeat was strong, breathing wasn’t impaired and her color was good. Attaching the small Oximeter pulse checker to her fingertip showed the EMT that her blood was receiving sufficient oxygen and her pulse was slow and even. There was a bruise on her forehead but no lacerations were apparent.

The EMT’s, after securing themselves to the busted vehicle, got Megan back far enough into her seat to close the door. They broke the glass out so they could secure the door with a strap through the driver’s side window and around the door frame. Once complete, the wrecker operator engaged the wench and pulled the vehicle back to the surface of the roadway.

They brought a stretcher around and unbuckled Megan to remove her from the car. They placed her on the stretcher and started to secure her with the gurney safety belts. She, however, picked this moment to wake up. She threw her hands up to protect herself from the crash that to her was still in the process. One of her hands knocked the glasses off of one of the EMT’s.

“You’re ok miss, you’re ok, you’re safe and we have you on a gurney,” he said as he collected his glasses, patting Megan’s hand in the process.

“Oh sorry, you ok? I thought I was crashing, did I crash? Is JJ ok? What happened? Did we go off the road? Is the car broken, I mean is it totaled or what?” Megan’s questions all ran together as she tried to look around the EMT and see what was going on.

“Megan, hey Megan, I’m ok. You should let the EMT’s take care of you. You need to get checked out, you were unconscious for some time and I couldn’t wake you,” JJ said as he peeked around the EMT and smiled at Megan. “We are one lucky crew, very lucky, we live to investigate another day.”

Megan spent the rest of that day and another in the hospital. All checks by the attending physician gave her a clean bill of health and he foresaw no lingering problems. The CAT scan they ran did show a mild concussion but no bleeding had occurred as a result of the blow she received from the airbag.

When she was released JJ picked her up in a rental car explaining that her car was indeed totaled and had made its way to the wrecking yard. JJ assured her he had retrieved everything from the vehicle before he released it.

It was Friday so Megan went home and rested through the weekend. Monday morning early found her at her desk going over the info on Paul’s case when JJ came in.

“Hey, good morning sunshine, back to it already?” JJ asked as he smiled at his friend and partner.

“Got to, we lost several days due to that accident and I’m pretty sure the cops have arrested Paul by now.” Megan stopped what she was doing and smiled at JJ. “Good morning to you too, how was your weekend?”

“It was good and I have some info on our accident.”

“Was it an accident?”

“No, I don’t think so. I think it was a deliberate act. The back left fender and bumper suffered considerable damage, indicating contact with another car or truck. There was sufficient paint transfer to get trace working on a match that might make the type of vehicle. I am expecting a call from them this morning.”

“Speaking of the devil.” Megan picked up the phone. “Hi, this is Megan of M&M Investigation.” She listened for a moment then shook her head at JJ. “Well that’s what we expected, all the indicators point right at Paul. Thanks for the update, we have a lot to do to turn this around. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Reldon?” JJ asked.

Megan just nodded her head as she replaced the phone. “Paul’s at the county lockup in Marysville, 1st degree.”

JJ grabbed the phone on his desk and punched in the numbers from memory. “Hey, this is JJ. Did you get the results from that paint sample I gave you?” JJ grabbed a notepad as he listened, then wrote down the info. “No, no, that’s ok, I know you guys are busy and believe me I appreciate your including us even if it is in your spare time. I don’t know how we would get things done if not for your help, thanks again, I’ll see you at the next party if not sooner.”

“Helpful?”

“I think it might be, the color came back as original paint and a match for a 1977-78 red Chevrolet Silverado pickup. I wonder how many of those are still on the road out there in Yuba County?” JJ stared at Megan and then pointed at the phone. “Your turn.”

“What?” Megan said as if irritated.

“Hey, you’re the one who went out of your way several times to dance with Jim Blackstone at the leprechaun party.”

“And?”

“He works with DMV, it’s a source we can use.”

“Sorry, I didn’t know that, I just thought he was handsome and lonely.”

JJ pushed Megan’s phone toward her indicating she should get busy dialing.

“Ok, ok, give me a moment to gather my thoughts,” Megan said as she smiled remembering the dancing. “I’ll need some privacy if you don’t mind.”

“No problem, I’ll get us some coffee.” JJ then left the building.

Jim was more than accommodating as he too remembered the dancing and the party. It turned out that there were only three such vehicles still registered in that area of the state. Megan now had the names and current addresses of all three. A promise for a dance at the close of their current case was all the leverage it took.

The next morning, armed with the addresses and vehicle info, Megan and JJ headed out again into the hills of Yuba County. JJ had done some checking on the internet and the Yuba County telephone book, looking for any and all info on the three he had listed.

Arizona Hills Road was their first stop. George Freewill was listed as living on this road on a small five acre parcel with his wife Jerry. The place was easy to find as all the parcels had a nice long green narrow sign that stood up horizontally from the ground with the numbers, one on top of the next, running down the full length. Knowing the name of the road, the five numbers were a dead giveaway.

“There’s a truck way up by the house, ah, his is listed as a 1978 red Silverado and I’m pretty sure that is it,” JJ said as he pointed at the house. JJ continued to read the info he had gathered on Mr. Freewill while Megan watched the house and listened.

“Oh crap, we shouldn’t have stayed here so long,” Megan said as she watched the pickup make a u-turn in front of the house and start to speed their way. “Let me do the talking.”

“Can I help you?” the driver of the pickup said when she stopped next to Megan’s vehicle.

“Mrs. Freewill?” Megan asked.

“Who is asking?” the older lady said.

“Sorry, I’m Megan Morgan of M&M Investigation and this is my associate JJ,” and Megan smiled.

“Investigations, what are you investigating?”

“We are investigating the death of a man named Roger Jenkins, did you know a man with that name?”

“No.”

“Are you Mrs. Freewill?”

“Yes.”

“Does your husband know a man named Roger Jenkins?”

“I don’t know if he did or not.” Her patience seemed limited.

“Could we ask him, please?”

“No,” Mrs. Freewill said as she shook her head.

“Why not?”

“He’s been dead for a year now. Do you have any more questions?”

JJ had got out of the car and walked around back and took a good look at the front of Mrs. Freewill’s pickup. It had no damage visible and the paint was old and faded so there was no chance that it could have been repaired and repainted.

JJ climbed back in the car and shook his head at Megan. “No we don’t. Thank you for your time, we are going and we won’t bother you again. Have a good day, sorry about your husband’s passing,” Megan said and gave a small wave of goodbye to Mrs. Freewill.

“Thank you, you have a good day too.” Mrs. Freewill left at the same speedy pace she had arrived. She was soon out of sight, going wherever she was originally headed.

“Well, that was embarrassing to say the least,” JJ said. “That info wasn’t available anywhere, I had no way of knowing her husband had passed away.”

“Where to next?” Megan asked.

JJ read off the address and then reset the GPS unit to that address. “Please proceed to the highlighted route” came from the unit’s small speaker and Megan turned the car and headed the highlighted way.

“I feel like we stand out like a sore thumb,” JJ said as he took in the panorama of the small attractive farms as they passed.

“I know, I feel the same way. The people that live here are expecting only locally owned vehicles on their roads, and ours is not and that makes us stand out,” Megan added.

“Hold up a minute, no, no, pull off at the next street and stop,” JJ suddenly said.

“There’s an older pickup in front of the post office back there.”

“Was it red?”

“It looked severely faded but yes, I think it was red.”

“Don’t look back, I have the vehicle in my rearview mirror.”

“I can also see it with the side mirror so I don’t plan to look back.”

With the help of their individually selected mirrors, they both saw the man exit the post office and climb into the vehicle. He backed it out and headed their way, not looking around as he was busy sorting his mail as he drove. The truck was a Chevrolet, a Silverado, the year seemed right and it was red although severely faded. One other small item got their attention: as the vehicle passed, the front right fender and bumper were smashed back, almost against the tire on that side. The headlight was completely destroyed also on that side of the vehicle. JJ checked the license plate as it passed and he was rewarded with a match.

Knowing that truck was probably headed home, there was no reason to follow it. Megan and JJ sat where they were so as not to alert the driver in case he was the culprit who had smashed into their car.

They both wondered, would someone who tried his best to end someone else’s life be so bold as to go on as if nothing had happened? Preferring to avoid an actual confrontation and with the information they now had, they decided to check with the highway patrol and see if they could take some action on the suspected vehicle or owner.

Chapter Seventeen

“Believe it or not, the highway patrol actually stopped that old pickup and checked the front for any signs of paint transfer from our vehicle,” JJ quietly said as he slowly replaced the cordless phone in its charger, his thoughts seemingly miles away.

“And, and, I have to ask?” Megan looked over from the folder she had been studying while she patiently waited for JJ to give her the good or bad news.

“Oh, sorry. It’s a bust. The damage was done by a deer and was done some time ago. The owner had filed a claim to his insurance company which included and required a police report on the accident.”

“Almost back to square one, although we still have one more vehicle to check out. I know hindsight is 20/20 but we should have checked out all three of those vehicles while we were there just in case this happened. We’ll just have to make another trip back up to that area and check out that third vehicle. Maybe we will get lucky and number three will be a winner.”

“Don’t hold your breath, things are never that easy,” JJ said in response. “Finding the person that hit us is not what I consider as a winner,” JJ added smiling at Megan so she knew he was being facetious.

It was a few days later that Megan and JJ had an opportunity to return to Yuba County. Paul had put his ranch up as collateral and agreed to wear an ankle locater bracelet while awaiting a trial date. Paul’s boundary limits were his property’s fence lines with no allowances made for any excursions beyond those limits.

Sophia had been released from the hospital but was still bedridden back on the ranch. Paul’s release to the ranch was to take care of her. Megan and JJ followed up on an interview with Sophia to no avail; she had little info to add to what they already knew so there was nothing that could help Paul’s situation.

After the interview, Megan plugged in Jim Webber’s address into her GPS unit. He owned the third suspected vehicle. “Proceed to highlighted route” immediately came from the small unit’s speaker. Megan started the car and left Paul’s driveway turning onto the highlighted route.

They followed the highlighted route until they came to the address off to the right of the small narrow road.

“Oh man, don’t dare turn in! I mean it, just drive on by!” JJ excitedly said as they approached the small drive that lead to the dilapidated single story rundown house sitting on an unkempt unmaintained yard. The hand painted “No Tresspassing” sign in itself was ominous with the misspelling of trespassing making it even more so.

Several old vehicles were parked near the house with some up on blocks. An old faded red Chevrolet pickup was included but did not seem itself to be on blocks.

“Let’s go back to the office and see if we can find a phone number for this owner. There’s no way I am going anywhere near that place without backup,” JJ said as he slowly shook his head.

Back at the office and while JJ searched online for a possible phone number, Megan dug through the file she had received from the sheriff’s office on the case against Paul. It was in-depth and included the forensic report on the autopsy of Roger Jenkins.

Megan assumed Mr. Jenkins’s death was the result of repeated hammer blows to his head and the pathologist confirmed that in his report. To be thorough, Megan decided to read the autopsy from A to Z.

The details of the murder were of course gruesome and left Megan with a queasy stomach. Somehow she got through those details and then continued on to the description of the actual individual. Height, weight, age and color of hair and eyes were all documented. “Individual had stage four terminal pancreatic cancer” written in bold letters literally jumped off the page and caused Megan to say, “What, seriously?”

“Find something?” JJ took his head out of the computer and asked.

“We might have something. Mr. Jenkins was dying from cancer.”

“No lie, wow, hey that could change things. A person could act a lot different when faced with his own mortality.”

“I think we need to go talk to this doctor who did the autopsy and find out his prognosis on Roger. Maybe he can tell us when he would have died if he hadn’t been murdered.”

Megan grabbed the phone and started with information. It took almost a half hour to finally get the connection she needed to talk to the doctor that performed the autopsy. She, without any further trouble, got him on the phone and set up a meeting. “Did you get a phone number for Mr. Webber?” Megan said as she retrieved her handbag and car keys.

“I got two, home and cell. I’ll call him while we head to Marysville. Did you contact this doctor?”

“Yep, he agreed to talk to us and I told him we would be there in about an hour.”

The home phone of Jim Webber rang five times then went to voice mail. JJ left a short message with his own cell phone number. Hanging up, he quickly punched in Webber’s cell phone number, the one he had retrieved from his internet search. The call was answered after the third ring.

“Hey, this Jim.” Friendly but business-like.

“Good morning Jim, this is JJ. I was wondering if you still owned that old red Silverado pickup or not, 77 or 78?”

“78 and yes I do, who is this?”

“It’s JJ, does that thing still run?”

“Ok JJ. It did the last time I was out at the ranch. Are you interested in buying it? It’s for sale.”

“I’m sorry, you don’t live out here in Yuba County at the ranch anymore?”

“No, no, not for some time now, I haven’t even been out there this year. I couldn’t keep the place up by myself so I moved to Sacramento. I had planned to sell but changed my mind after deciding to hold onto the land for my son. He asked me to hold it as he plans to live out there as soon as he finishes his hitch in the Army.”

“Would there be anyone out here that would let me look at that truck so maybe I could give it a drive?”

“No, not that I can think of, but if you want the keys are in the truck. Go take a look but I’m not sure about the battery or the fuel, it has been sitting for some time.”

“That place is kind of scary, any dogs on the property that might be a threat if I go out there?”

“If there are, you have my permission to shoot them. I personally don’t have any of my own and I don’t expect any to be out there.”

JJ continued on with a short discussion about the trespassing sign and they both laughed over the misspelling and how it actually increased the warning’s validity. A well wish to each other and JJ hung up the phone.

“He said the keys are in the pickup and he hasn’t been up at the ranch in some time. He gave us permission to go in and look at the truck.”

“Ok, we’ll do that after we meet with the pathologist who did Roger’s autopsy.”

JJ continued and brought Megan fully up on Webber’s side of the conversation. Megan and JJ both thought that the keys being in the truck was more than convenient for anyone who knew they were there and desired to take a ride. They also decided if this vehicle checked out to be “The One”, they would get back in touch with Webber and find out if he had known Roger.

It was a little under an hour when Megan parked in front of the city morgue. The receptionist, Patricia Young according to the sign on her desk, rose and came around from behind her desk. “Ms. Morgan?”

“Yes, I’m Megan Morgan and this is JJ.”

“Good to meet you. The doctor is expecting you.” Patricia Young then led them back down the hallway and to the door of the coroner. She softly knocked on the door.

“Yes?” came from inside.

Patricia slowly opened the door and said, “Ms. Morgan is here doctor.”

“Oh good, come in, come in. How can I help you?” Dr. Jan Su Yang also rose and then shook hands with JJ and Megan. The doc wore a brilliant white doctor styled smock. In the pocket on the left side he had a pocket protector filled with an assortment of pens, pencils and small instruments and, last but not least, the ever present stethoscope wrapped around the back of his neck dangling down on both sides of his chest.

Megan looked at the stethoscope a little longer than normal; it was just so unexpected. She was thinking why would he have that, he deals with people who have died, no heartbeat.

“I know what you’re thinking. Why would I have a stethoscope?” The doctor smiled. “Habit and before I start a post, I have to be sure of the status of my patient.”

Dr. Jan Su Yang was more than accommodating. He answered all of Megan’s questions without hesitation. He gave specifics and added additional comments to elaborate on each detail of his investigation into the death and condition of Mr. Jenkins’s remains. He was articulate and informative. When it came down to a prediction on Mr. Jenkins’s mortality status he said, “My conclusion is, he had no more than a month, maybe a month and a half, before he would have succumbed to his condition. The cancer had already spread into the liver and lymph nodes and those organs had begun to shut down.”

There was a knock on the office door, then the secretary poked her head in.

“Yes, Pat?” Dr. Yang asked.

“The daughter is here to view and confirm the ID on Mr. Jenkins,” the secretary said.

JJ and Megan looked at each other with a, “I didn’t know he had a daughter”, look.

“Fine, tell her I will be right with her. Megan, JJ, I don’t want to keep the family waiting. If you have any other questions I could give you a little more time after I finish.”

“I think we have all we need. You have been more than gracious and we really appreciate your time.”

They each shook hands with the doctor and left his office. “Let’s wait outside and see if we can have a conversation with the daughter when she finishes with the doctor,” Megan told JJ.

“You took the words right out of my mouth,” JJ added.

It didn’t take long before a young lady exited the county morgue. Megan and JJ assumed she was the daughter and hurriedly approached her before she could leave. “Ms Jenkins?” JJ asked.

“I was a Jenkins, it is Mrs. Stone now. Can I help you?” the young lady asked.

“Hi, I am Megan and this is JJ. We are investigating the death of your father. Mr. Jenkins was your father, right?”

“Yes, he was, but we were estranged until just a short time ago.”

“I’m sorry for your loss and I really don’t want to intrude on you at a time like this but we are sort of under the gun to get to the bottom of his death.”

“The police told me they had the guy who did this.”

“Well, we think they just grabbed the most obvious without doing any investigation. I know sometimes and usually that is correct but sometimes it isn’t.”

“How can I help you, if this guy they have didn’t do it, I don’t want him to go to prison for it. Even though my father and I didn’t get along, I don’t want the violent bastard who did this to get away with it.”

“How long had it been since you had any dealings with your father?” JJ asked.

“Ten, eleven years nothing, then last month he got my phone number somehow and calls me. He said he was dying and wanted to see me before he died.” You could see it in her face, this was the first time she had felt any emotion toward her father’s condition or his death. The tears ran down her face seemingly unnoticed by her. “Why did he do this to me? Years went by when I could have had a father and he’s not there. He’s suddenly going to die and he dumps it on me, man that is wrong, it’s just wrong.”

Megan moved in close to Janet Stone and took her in her arms. She simply held her and let her cry until she gained control again. Megan released her and moved back a step.

“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Stone, I agree, it’s got to be a real downer for this to happen this way,” JJ said as he offered her his handkerchief.

“Thank you and it’s Janet, call me Janet or Jan,” Mrs. Stone said as she blotted the tears from her eyes.

“Thank you Janet, do you know anyone that would want to harm or had ill will against your father?” Megan asked.

“I’m sorry, I know so little about him or his business.”

“Do you know what business he was in?” JJ inserted.

“I’m not sure, some type of real estate dealings, I think. You should ask his partner, I should think he would know.”

“His partner, do you know who his partner is or was?” JJ again inserted.

“Don or Donald I think, he only mentioned him once. He said he had to clear things up and then leave the business.” Janet gave JJ back his handkerchief as she smiled warmly at him and added a silent thank you.

“Thank you Mrs. Stone, Janet, I know you have things to take care of so we will try not to bother you anymore,” Megan said and offered her hand.

Janet Stone raised her chin, looked both of the investigators in the eye as she shook hands with Megan and then JJ. She whispered an almost silent goodbye and, with a slight wave, she turned to head for her car.

“Janet, here take my card, if you think of anything or if you just want to talk, call me.” Megan handed her card to her and gave her a small friendly goodbye wave.

As soon as Janet was out of earshot Megan turned to JJ. “You know she could be a suspect. She seemed to have a lot of pent up anger about the way she was treated and ignored by her father.”

“Yes, she could be, but I don’t honestly see that anger blossoming into enough hate to physically do someone harm,” JJ replied.

“I agree, so we will keep her comments to ourselves and hope old Mercer doesn’t get wind of it and needlessly torture this poor girl.”

Megan and JJ climbed back in the car and JJ adjusted the GPS unit for that rundown ranch.

Chapter Eighteen

The return to the rundown ranch was no less exciting than it was before. This time Megan turned the car onto the drive that led to the house and the abandoned vehicles. JJ’s head was turning back and forth, searching for that unexpected and hidden anomaly, and it put Megan’s nerves on edge.

“Could you relax? I’m sure you are safe in here and, if you don’t feel you would be safe outside, you can remain in the car,” Megan said as she parked behind the old rundown vehicles.

“Sorry Megan, I’m letting my imagination get the best of me, I’ll be ok. I’m ready to check out this pickup, you can sit tight if you like. This should only take me a minute at the most.”

The damage to the pickup was clearly evident and true to his word, JJ was back in the car in no time at all. “The right fender is destroyed and, there is no doubt in my mind, the paint smear transfer is there and the color clearly suggests it’s from our car. The only thing we don’t know is who drove that piece of crap and attacked us.”

JJ waited until they were back at the office before he again called Jim Webber.

“Hey, this is Jim.” The voice and manner were a repeat from the previous call.

“Hey this is JJ again. I need to let you know who I am before we continue.”

“Ok, who are you?”

“I am a private investigator looking into the death of Roger Jenkins.”

“Roger Jenkins, hey I saw that on the news, I thought that was a done deal. The cops got the culprit and were just waiting for the trial.”

“We don’t believe it’s a done deal and we are pretty sure the person they picked for the crime didn’t do it. He was just the obvious easy choice because he had a motive and an opportunity.”

“Ok, so what has that got to do with me and the pickup you inquired about?”

“That pickup, your pickup, was used in an attempt to send me and my partner into oblivion. It happened last week. Somebody driving in that truck rammed our vehicle from the rear and knocked us off the road and into a ravine. If our vehicle hadn’t lodged on a couple of outcropping boulders we would have been debris at the bottom of that gorge.”

“Well, it wasn’t me. Am I being accused of this, do I need a lawyer?” Jim’s voice had changed from business to personal and a little shaken.

“No, no. I don’t think it was you but the keys being in the vehicle sure made it convenient for someone. Did you know Roger Jenkins?”

“I’m sorry, I am feeling overwhelmed here. I can’t answer any more questions until I discuss this with my attorney. I’ll call you and we can set up a meeting, ok?”

“No problem, we are just looking for info but you should be comfortable before answering our questions. I’ll await your call, we are under the gun here so I hope it won’t take you too long to get back to us.”

“As soon as I can.” Jim Webber hung up the phone then picked it up again and called his attorney.

Jim Webber returned JJ’s call and set a time, that day at 3 PM, for a face to face with M&M Investigation and he said he would be bringing his lawyer, George Lupus.

Webber and his lawyer were prompt, arriving five minutes before 3:00 PM. JJ showed them into the conference room and offered refreshments that both declined.

“Good afternoon and thank you for coming over. I am Megan Ann Morgan and this is JJ, James Jacques. This is very informal and we will answer all your questions as we go. Anything you need to know before we start?”

“Good afternoon, I am George Lupus and informal or not, I will caution Mr. Webber on volunteering any information that might be used against him in a trial.”

“We totally agree and, as I’m sure you know, we have no legal precedence to require Mr. Webber to answer anything.”

“Ok, go ahead with your questions,” Mr. Lupus said as he swept his hand in an opening manner indicating questioning reception.

“Mr. Webber, did you know Roger Jenkins?” Megan asked.

After a short whispering session between Webber and Lupus, Webber said. “Yes, I know who Roger Jenkins is. He was interested in that vehicle you asked about.”

“I’m sorry, you say you met Roger Jenkins?” JJ put in as he and Megan exchanged surprised glances.

“No, I never actually met him. I talked to him on the phone and according to my neighbor Pete Travis, with my permission he took that vehicle for a drive several months ago.” Webber spread his hands as if laying it out for them to see. He then pointed a finger at himself and said, “I thought they might buy it.”

“You said they, who was they? Did you mean your neighbor and Jenkins?” Megan asked.

“No, not my neighbor. Pete said there were two people that took the truck for a drive.”

“Anything else?” Lupus asked.

After quick eye contact between JJ and Megan, Megan said, “Nothing that we can think of. Again we want to thank you for coming over and answering our questions. Oh, there is one thing, could you give us some contact info on your neighbor? Pete Travis, right? Do you mind if we call him about his contact with Roger Jenkins?”

“No problem, I’m sure he will be receptive to your inquiries.” After he was handed a pad and pencil, Webber wrote down the contact info for Pete Travis. Finished, Jim Webber and his lawyer took their leave, saying goodbye and shaking hands with JJ and Megan.

Phone contact with Pete Travis netted very little. All he could tell JJ on the phone was he had shown the two the pickup and they took it from there. The other guy with Roger was called Dan or Don, Pete wasn’t sure of which. He did say he thought the other man was a little slick, like a dishonest car salesman. Where Roger was in jeans and a plaid shirt, this guy was in a shiny suit and tie. Pete also noticed his shoes were not farm or ranch shoes, they were more city like, you know, dress loafers.

JJ gave Pete his thanks and promised to let him know where their investigation led. Pete added that he would be willing to look at photos or a live person in order to identify the man that was with Roger that day.

JJ brought Megan up to date on the phone conversation with Pete.

Several days later back at the office, “Wiped clean, I should have guessed. No one’s prints were found in that truck, not even the owner’s or the neighbor’s. Whoever drove that thing last took the time to remove all traces of their presence,” JJ said as he hung up the phone. “Those boys up there did a rapid response once we called them and told them what we had found. I’ll have to give them one for that even though we got zilch in results. Maybe those county boys aren’t so bad after all.”

“Grab that picture of Roger, we’re going back up in that area and question every shop, store, restaurant and anywhere else that has customers coming and going. Maybe, just maybe, someone will remember Roger’s friend and point us in the right direction,” Megan said as she collected her things for the trip.

They checked out each place. JJ would enter in advance and shop, being very busy looking at things when Megan would enter. They made no indication that they were together. Megan would bring out the photo and question the owner, workers and anyone else in the store, even JJ, not leaving anyone out. After Megan finished her questioning of everyone, she would leave the building. JJ, pretending to be dumb on the subject, would say something like, “What the heck was that all about?”, trying to get someone to release some info that they were reluctant to give to Megan.

It was the same routine from place to place, the Grange Hall, The Store and at the Palace Restaurant where Megan entered first and ordered lunch by herself. JJ came in almost a half hour later and sat by himself and ordered lunch. When Megan finished her meal she went through out the restaurant showing the photo and asking for any info on Roger Jenkins or his friend. JJ was also questioned as previously. After Megan left, without any results, he again questioned a little loudly about that lady’s interest as if he didn’t know.

The post office was next, then the thrift store, both without any positive results. It wasn’t until they stopped in at the 21st Century real estate office before they got any positive feedback. Mary Quinn, 21st Century realtor, recognized Roger from the photo and had been introduced to the man, a Donald George, who was with him. This Donald George said he was a real estate developer and was interested in any 20 acre parcels in this area.

Mary Quinn said, “I remembered him because, although he had the real estate lingo down pat, his manner was just a little on the slimy side and I didn’t appreciate being called ‘a 21st girlie’.”

“Did you do any follow up on their request or maybe do a little background check on Mr. George as an individual?” Megan asked.

Mary Quinn looked to both sides before answering Megan’s question. Seeing that no one was near to overhear she leaned in and whispered, “You know, I did try to check up on Mr. George and got a couple of hits on the web. I’m not sure if either one was actually him as I got busy with a client and then forgot all about him, not worth my time.”

Megan and JJ checked out the two post offices in the area without any results. It seemed that Roger didn’t have a post office box nor had he ever picked up any mail general delivery. The local postmaster said that if Roger had been receiving mail at Paul’s ranch she would have been required to notify Paul as he was the resident and had to approve any and all persons 15 years or older receiving their mail there. As far as the local US Post Offices were concerned, Roger did not exist.

Chapter Nineteen

He chose an early Saturday morning in the hopes that by Monday he would get some results. Making slow block by block circles, he drove by the building numerous times and from each and every direction possible. He didn’t see anything that looked out of place and, as far as he could tell, there were no cops or surveillance type vehicles in the area.

Finally satisfied with his drive-by surveillance of the area, he parked several blocks away and proceeded on foot back to the front entrance of the building. He didn’t skulk along but he did go slowly and checked out every nook and cranny as he went. Once he was as sure as possible that nothing was amiss, he approached the front door of the targeted facility.

It was quite dark but, with the use of a small pen light, the single key operated office door lock could easily be seen. The slight jingling noise came from the ring of keys he held up with his left hand. He placed the pen light in his mouth and slowly scrutinized each key trying to match the name on the key to the maker of the office door lock.

Accustomed to looking at many door locks, he already knew that this particular lock would never stand up to a serious threat, a piece of cake for someone who has a bunch of master keys and one or two illegal “bump keys”.

It only took a few minutes and he was inside. He stood for a few moments listening for a possible alarm system that could preclude his plans. There were no tones and no beeps from an active security system so he proceeded. This agency was entirely too trusting. No sudden blaring alarms and, of course, the office was deserted as expected, due the early morning hour. No one would be working at 2 A.M., not even the energetic Ms. Morgan.

His search parameters were wide open. He needed something that would pull the two PIs away from their current case. He felt their computers were a logical area that could be compromised and that compromise might just create the needed deflection. He searched for the most likely place to try and put a stop to the interference by these busybody PIs. He checked JJ’s computer but it was password locked and there were no indication that the password was written anywhere. It was the same results with Megan’s PC. He checked the assistant’s at the front desk and, upon sliding out a small writing shelf on the right side of her desk, he found a list of possible passwords. They were written on a small square piece of note paper taped to the far back corner of that shelf. Most on the list had a line through them as if they were used and discarded with only the last written with no line through it. It had small letters, cap letters, numbers and a character from the keyboard and it was nine characters long.

He booted up the computer and, when asked, he typed in the nine character line from the small note paper. The password was accepted and all the files were listed but the files were encrypted, not available for him to peruse at his leisure.

He did find a folder that listed clients by name and with email addresses. He had no idea if this was a current list of clients or previous clients or maybe both. He printed out a copy of that list in case he needed it later.

He worked at the computer for over an hour and a half. He deleted some files, sent out some emails and edited some entries in different files. Most of the things he did were just malicious and wouldn’t cause any serious problems while others could have considerable consequences on future business ventures with their company. If not a serious effect, maybe a derogatory mark on the relationship with their customers.

He knew it wouldn’t slow them down forever but it may give them pause long enough for them to lose their current jobs including the one of his concern. Getting them off this case might just result in a less active and less result oriented investigative agency looking into the death of Roger Jenkins.

When he finished, he wiped the assistant’s keyboard down and he wiped the keyboards of both JJ and Megan’s computers in case he left a telltale errant print. Once satisfied, he wiped the door handles, inside and outside, then, as he left, he relocked that easy picking, entrance door.

He slowly made his way back to his vehicle, while again, checking out every shadowed alley and hiding place to make sure he wasn’t under surveillance. Seeing no one around, he spoke quietly, “Maybe I should just burn that building down.” He shook his head as he then whispered to himself, “I will save that option for later if this computer action fails to have the desired effect.”

Chapter Twenty

The weekend was a bust as far as the murder investigation was concerned. Entering the office early Monday morning was normal for Megan. She went straight to the small break room and filled a small pitcher with water and poured it into the tank of the Keurig individual coffee cup brewer. Megan toggled the small on-off switch to on. She went to the small fridge and made sure there was some hazelnut creamer to lighten up that upcoming first morning cup.

Seeing the blue brewing light come on, indicating the brewer was ready to brew, she opened the small standing tubular glass container that held the small plastic individual coffee ground packs and selected a San Francisco Bay, Gourmet Coffee, French Roast pack. She lifted the cover of the chamber for coffee and placed one of the items inside the Keurig. She secured the lid, which pierced the lid of the pack, and hit the tall button on the lit up cup selection. She watched as the machine started producing the liquid gold while emitting an enticing rich aroma into the air of the small confined room.

While she waited for the brewer to finish she went to her desk and picked up the handset and checked the phone for messages. The blood left her face as she listened to the first message. She had never had a client berate her in this fashion. She saved the message so JJ could hear it and then went to the second recorded message. To her disbelief, it was more of the same and from a different client. She stopped checking the messages and looked at the number of messages waiting to be heard and she was amazed at the number. Something had definitely gone wrong between their office and their clients.

Megan sat down at her desk and listened to a small portion of each recorded message jotting down the name of the individuals that had called in. She did not listen to each complete message, she would wait for the other personnel of the office to get there so all could be brought up to speed on this frustrating situation.

Megan left her desk and went back into the break room. The cup of coffee she had brewed was now cold, as was true in most cases, this small Keurig brewer did not have a warming plate to keep the individual cups of coffee hot. Megan took the cup and placed it in the microwave and heated it back up, added the hazelnut creamer, then returned to her desk.

It was a half hour later that JJ and Office Assistant Christine Panic came in conversing on the weekend happenings that evidently had their spirits soaring. Their smiling faces took a definite downturn when they caught the look on Megan’s face.

“What’s up, you look like someone kicked your puppy,” JJ asked.

“Grab a chair, I will put these phone calls on speaker so we all can hear them.” Megan hit a couple of buttons on the desk phone unit and then played the first message. The mood in the office took a plummet as Megan played message after message, all with similar content.

“As you both know, we did not send out these messages our clients are referencing.” Megan pointed at the computer. “It looks like we were hacked this weekend while we were out enjoying our time off.” Megan then faced the two that sat there numb from the phone’s berating. “What I want to know is, why this happened and how were we hacked? We are all password protected and, due our diligence in the password selection, there is no chance that our passwords could be compromised. We collectively made sure that our passwords did not include or reference any individual or anything about this office. As we decided, no one wrote these passwords down, right?”

Christine paled as Megan asked that last question. “Christine, is there something you want to tell me? Wait, please don’t tell me your password is written down somewhere where someone could see or get it?”

Red-faced and completely embarrassed, Christine reluctantly answered. “I don’t know, I guess it’s possible as I do have it written down, but then, someone would have to be in this office to find it.” Christine pointed out toward her desk and Megan headed that way.

Stopping in front of Christine’s desk, Megan didn’t bother asking. She took just a moment and then she pulled out the writing slide on the right side of Christine’s desk. Megan pulled it all the way out revealing the passwords written on the small piece of paper, taped down, at the very back of the small removable shelf.

The tears fell as Christine hid her face in her hands. “I am so sorry,” Christine almost incoherently blubbered as she sobbed behind her hands.

“It is done, now you have to just get over it. You have work to do. Since I am pretty sure someone entered our office and found your passwords, you have to contact these customers and convince them of our integrity and, even though their email addresses were compromised, all their personal data was and is still secure.” Megan shook the list of names as she continued, “As we listened to those phone messages, there was no mention or reference to the reason we investigated for these customers, so that is something you can use to gratify these clients.

Megan turned toward her office but stopped just short of her office door. She turned and held up her hand like a stop sign. “Wait, wait, don’t do anything, wait, don’t touch anything, just back off from your desk.” Megan approached her receptionist who had started to cry again expecting the worst. “Christine, I would love a Starbuck’s latte. I know it’s not in your job description to fetch coffee for me or JJ but, if you don’t mind and just this one time, would you fly if I buy?”

“Oh no, no, am I being fired, I am so sorry.” Christine started crying again even harder.

“No, no, I couldn’t fire you. I need you on board so you can correct this.” Megan took Christine’s hand. “You have to convince our clients where the fault lies, besides, you are an important part of this office and we couldn’t operate without you.” Megan squeezed Christine’s hand and ushered her out the door in search of a latte for each.

As soon as Christine was out of sight, Megan turned to JJ and said, “Get the fingerprint kit and dust all our computers for fingerprints.” Still thinking on her feet, she swept her hand around and said. “Not just the computers, do the whole room, treat it as if it is a crime scene, as I believe it is.”

An hour and a half later, the lattes finished, JJ sat down in the conference room with Megan and Christine. “I didn’t find any strange fingerprints,” JJ said as he encompassed the offices with a sweep of his hand.

“Well, that is disappointing to say the least,” Megan said as she slowly shook her head.

With a sly little smile on his face, JJ replied, “Actually it is perfect, not only no strange fingerprints, there were no fingerprints at all on any of the keyboards. They have been thoroughly wiped down and I know I didn’t do it and we don’t have a cleaning service that came in this week. They wouldn’t have wiped down our keyboards even if they did come in this week, so it had to be someone else. Not only that, the front door, inside and out, has only your fingerprints since you opened the door when we came in. All previous prints there have been removed and the door is wiped clean.”

“Ok, this is better than good, we know where the hacking came from and that, believe me, is usually the difficult part of computer crime,” Megan said trying to reassure her personnel and herself.

“Christine, bring up your computer and let’s look at those emails that were sent out to these individuals.” Megan handed Christine the list of clients who had called in and guided her toward her desk. “It is ok to use your computer now, we know where this thing happened. I just wish we knew why.”

“I am so sorry, I can’t tell you how bad I feel about this. I can tell you one thing though, this won’t happen again, at least not to me,” Christine said as she sat down at her desk and switched her computer on again. She slid the small writing slide out and ripped the small piece of note paper off the shelf then, after checking the current password, she ripped that small paper into shreds. She held the ripped pieces above the trashcan. She moved her fingers and thumb back and forth, letting the pieces fall from her hand into the trash bin like confetti at a tickertape parade.

Once the computer was online, Christine selected “Live Windows Mail” from the drop down menu. The program loaded and she selected “Sent Mail” from the left menu listing. There were 27 emails sent out around 3 A.M., early this morning and, since no one who worked here was in the office at that time, these 27 had to be the client offending culprits.

The language and tone of the emails suggested they were written by an educated adult, not just a juvenile act by some delinquent hacking as a prank.

“Any thoughts on the reason for this attack?” Megan asked. “Do you guys have anyone mad at you that might do this?” Megan held up her hand then continued. “I think there is an ulterior motive behind this attack and that motive is way more important than the attack itself.” Megan headed toward her office as she finished. “So, take your time and think about it before you answer, it’s important. Christine, you can get started and fix these emails now?”

JJ followed Megan into her office. “It’s going to take some time to fix these emails, so maybe we should put our current cases on hold until we square this.”

“That would seem logical since our reputation is the basis for our success in this business.” Megan sat down at her desk. She placed her hand on the file that lay in the middle of her desk. Paul Haley was written, by a bold black fine line Sharpie, on the upper left corner of the manila folder. “I hate another delay on Paul Haley’s investigation. We already had one with the automobile accident and now this.”

“Delay, hey, that could be an ulterior motive, a delay,” JJ said as he approached Megan’s desk. Tapping the case file he continued. “Maybe someone is very serious about our not looking any further into the Paul Haley case. Maybe the vehicle attack and this computer attack are actually joined at the hip. This Paul Haley case is the only case that is time sensitive. That is if we want to get our client out of jail and avoid our client going to court.”

“Well, bravo JJ, I think you might have hit one straight down the fairway. This case is really our only case that could cause someone some serious time and, since the cops are satisfied and ended their investigation, we are the only threat left.” Megan paused then continued. “If this is all true, we have got to be on guard for any further attacks. I want you to call a locksmith and get us some serious locks and, hey JJ, let’s get those security alarms installed now. Tell that alarm company that we’re not waiting any longer, if they can’t do it now we will find someone else.”

 

Chapter Twenty One

While Christine worked at her computer, JJ went in his office and contacted a locksmith and the alarm company. Both would respond right away, pushing other jobs back if necessary.

JJ then booted up his computer. He typed in Donald George followed by Yuba County. “Did you mean Donald W. George?“ popped up on top of the screen followed by list after list with the name Donald or George as the first word on those lists.

He quickly read the web address below each list as he knew if he didn’t he would get another list under a search engine called “Ask” He hated “Ask” with a passion and it was one search engine where he never got any of the expected results.

The fourth entry down looked promising so JJ selected it. A web site came up with a picture of Donald W. George, Real Estate Developer for Yuba and Placer Counties. Phone number and office location, with a map, were all prominently arranged in an attractive and logical layout.

“I believe this is him, the age looks right and the description fits,” JJ said as he turned the screen slightly so Megan could see from her desk. “He does look kind of slick, almost to the point of being oily.”

“If you’re sure, try to do some background checks and see what you can come up with.”

“Should be a snap,” JJ said as he turned the screen back and started typing.

It was simply amazing the amount of info you can procure from a few simple searches on line with the computer. Donald W. George had been a real busy camper. His acquisitions in that area of Yuba County were all very profitable. It looked like he had treated real estate like a person should treat stock and the stock market, buy low and sell high.

JJ took his time and looked at the purchases he made, comparing the seller’s asking price to the actual price our Mr. George paid. Out of five 20 acre parcels he purchased, JJ calculated the average difference between the asking and getting price was approximately fifty thousand dollars each. That could give him a clear quarter million dollars difference, if the property was appraised at the asking value. This was all done over a five year period and to JJ seemed a little on the shady side of things. He thought, maybe, just maybe, he needed to look into those acquisitions to see how Mr. George got so lucky.

To actually get concrete evidence on those investments JJ called his friend Carol, who was a realtor for ReMax Gold. He needed to find out about researching previous sales so he could see listing prices, then compare them to the actual sale price. She told him about the listing archives one could peruse as they were public records. He also wanted to know how much contact info he could expect from a listing agent on their clients.

Evidently and as it should be, the amount of info one could expect on clients was extremely limited and most of it strictly protected. Their client’s reasons for selling were a different story and, without naming the client, that info was readily available. Most realtors would volunteer to contact their clients and ask them if they would be receptive to an investigator’s interview.

It took a while and several realtors before JJ had enough information to attempt to contact a couple of previous owners of those properties. The two previous owners JJ interviewed on the phone reported their reasons for selling were essentially the same. The funny thing about these two was the fact that they were both widowed within the last three years before selling their property. The care and maintenance of the property had just become too much. Things had started to go downhill and, even with their hired help, the appearance and value of their property for marketing had started to decline.

The comment from both on having hired help set a small alarm off in JJ’s head. The next question JJ wanted to ask was, “Had anyone hired a man named Roger Jenkins during the period before they sold their property?”, however he didn’t ask. He thought that question should be asked in person while the interviewed looked at a picture of the late Roger Jenkins. The name may not ring a bell, but the name with Roger’s picture might just stir a memory that was somewhat suppressed and not readily available.

JJ spent some time on the phone with each individual, convincing all three that a face to face interview might be more appropriate. He asked each if they would be available for a short luncheon in their area. It was funny, they all knew and had frequented the Palace restaurant and they all agreed they wouldn’t mind at all being treated to a nice meal. JJ explained to each about the other two and asked each if they knew each other; the reply was negative on all accounts. JJ went on to query each about transportation and they assured him transportation was not a problem as each still drove and had their own car.

JJ called the Palace restaurant and reserved their small conference area for five people, Megan, he and three ladies as JJ had also invited Linda Sue Hammon who sold her place to Paul. He called the ladies back and set the time and date for their get together.

Friday evening found JJ and Megan making small adjustments to the table settings for themselves and the three expected ladies. Menus and fresh glasses of water, iced and waiting, had been placed near each place setting. Megan, all though she found it unnecessary, made sure the chairs were as expected so her guest would be comfortable.

The motif of the restaurant was pure country. The knotted pine interior walls made one feel at home. The wooden beams crisscrossing the ceiling reinforced the natural beauty of the large room and continued into the small conference area. Ranch work clothes and cowboy boots could be expected and would be fully accepted as proper attire.

JJ loved the look of the place. He checked his watch and, seeing they were a little earlier than expected, he motioned for Megan to sit and relax. He got the waitress’ attention and ordered some hot tea for Megan and himself. “Relax, they will be here soon, we are just a little early. You have your questions all set in your mind? I can’t wait to get started and see if there is any connection between these ladies and the sale of their property.”

“Me too. In my mind I can see an organized effort to buy property at a reduced price. I know this is not illegal, well not unless you actually participate in a deceptive, underhanded manipulation of the reason for the reduced sale,” Megan replied. “This is really a nice place to dine and even if the results are not what I wish, I plan to have a good time and enjoy a great meal.”

“I’ll drink to that.” JJ lifted his cup of tea up and tapped Megan’s as she also lifted her cup up, then both took a sip. “Oh, I think this is one of our guests,” JJ said as he noticed the approach of an attractive lady probably in her early sixties. “Ms.?”

“Barbara Smith, and please call me Barbara,” she said.

“Hello, I am James Jacques, everyone calls me JJ, and this is Megan Morgan,” JJ said indicating Megan, then offering Barbara Smith his hand.

Barbara shook hands with both, then JJ offered her the chair where Megan and he had decided they would place her. JJ and Megan had named each chair and position to make it easier to remember who was who when all were present.

“Thank you for joining us, would you like a beverage or a cocktail perhaps?” Megan asked.

“You know, I think I will.” Then she shyly smiled causing her eyes to crinkle as she continued. “I think a glass of our local port wine would be perfect.”

“Ms. Morgan?” was asked by a mature lady that had walked up behind Megan and JJ while they were arranging things for Barbara Smith.

“I’m Megan Morgan, please call me Megan,” Megan said as she rose and turned to the new comer.

“Hi, I’m Linda Sue Hammon and I answer to Linda or Sue but using both together, Linda Sue, is preferable.”

“JJ, everyone calls me JJ, good to meet you. This is Barbara Smith.”

Linda Sue and Barbara shook hands while exchanging greetings.

JJ said, “Could we get you a beverage?”

“I’ll have whatever everyone else is having,” Linda Sue replied.

“Megan and I were having some hot tea and Barbara has ordered a local port wine.”

“Ah, the local port is my favorite so let’s go with that,” Linda Sue said and smiled at Barbara.

JJ got the server’s attention and relayed the order. “We are waiting for one more young lady before we start if you don’t mind?” Megan explained.

“With a little port I can relax and wait for almost anything,” Linda Sue put in while Barbara nodded her head.

Megan and JJ both changed their order and all four now had a glass of the almost dessert like, deep burgundy colored port wine. JJ rose again as another lady approached their small out of the way location.

“Ms. Crowder?” he asked.

“Georgia Crowder, hi, are you JJ?”

“I am. This is my partner, Megan Morgan.” JJ waited while Georgia shook hands with Megan. “This is Barbara Smith and this is Linda Sue Hammon.” Again JJ waited while they exchanged greetings. “We have all ordered a beverage, what would you like?”

“Is that our local port?” Georgia asked.

“Yes, would you care for the same?

“You bet, it is the best. I know the brewer personally. He has threatened to kick me out of the wine tasting due to my continued sampling the port only,” Georgia added with a little laugh.

Megan and JJ didn’t rush to the subject of the meeting, deciding to let the port do some of the work for them. They both knew that the port would act like a communication lubrication as it relaxed the ladies and hopefully removed any information inhibitors they might have.

Megan and JJ inquired about their current locations and family. All three were surprised at the almost mirror-like circumstances that each had gone through. Georgia told Linda Sue that she remembered her husband’s bio in the local paper and was sorry for her loss. It didn’t take long before all found out that all had lost their husband and all sold their property in the not too distant past. Each added a little of the process they went through with their individual loss. All had done bios on their husbands in the local papers.

Megan and JJ exchanged curious glances as the ladies reported all their husband’s bios listed the surviving relatives as expected. To the two investigators it rang a bell as something in common with all three. This could be an avenue for a slimy crook to get a leg up on his competitors. Finding property owners that were in a vulnerable state could benefit a vulture.

While chatting, all had perused the menu and were ready to order when the server stopped at the table with her order pad at the ready. Once the order was taken and the server had parted, JJ told the ladies some of his and Megan’s background. All were taken by the length of time JJ and Megan had been partners and that they now continued to work together.

Lunch was delicious and the servings were more than expected. All three ladies ended up asking for doggie bags for leftovers. JJ was the only one that finished his plate completely. Megan joined the ladies in the doggie bag request. Everyone refused dessert as Linda Sue said, “the port is my dessert.”

“Now that everyone is well fed and comfortable, Megan and I would like for each of you ladies to look at some photos and see if you can identify the people in them.” JJ handed each lady a small assortment of pictures. “Please keep your photo to yourself until I ask, I don’t won’t anyone’s identifying a picture to influence the others. The pictures are numbered at the top of the photo. I’ll give you a number, you look at that photo and tell me the name that goes with it. If you don’t know the person tell me so for each number.”

“If I tell you who I think is in the picture won’t that influence the others?” Georgia asked.

“Actually, we covered that by numbering the photos different for each of you. Your number one is not the same as Linda Sue’s or Barbara’s,” Megan answered. “We have this score sheet set up to put the photos back in order so we can see if you three happen to recognize the same person.” Megan held up a paper that had numbers and lined brackets on it.

“Georgia, look at your photo number two and tell me if you recognize that individual,” JJ requested.

“H’mm, I think I met this guy, well he looks like a guy I met once.” Georgia paused thinking hard. “I believe that caretaker I hired introduced me to him. His name was Daniel or Donald or something like that. His last name, George, I remember as it’s almost the same as my first so that made it easy to remember, if it is him.”

“Ok. Barbara look at photo number two, does he look familiar?” JJ asked as he noted the results given by Georgia.

“Nope, don’t know this one,” Barbara replied.

“Try photo number three,” JJ said as he made a note on the score sheet.

“Don’t know his name but I have seen him, however, it was some time ago.” Barbara paused then added, “I think he may have been one of the people that came through during an open house my realtor put on years ago when I sold my property. I can’t be sure but something about how he is dressed rings a bell.”

“I know numbers 1, 2 and 3. Number 1 is Donald George!” Linda Sue excitedly put in before JJ could ask her to look at a number. “He is some kind of real estate developer. He was interested in my property but his offer was way below what I thought the place was worth. Number 2 is Roger Jenkins as you know I know and number 3 is Paul Haley.”

“Thank you Linda Sue, I have noted that. Barbara look at photo number one, do you know him?” JJ asked.

“Oh yes, I know this one. I thought he was a gift from the gods at first but that changed after a while. Sometimes I think he was half the reason I sold my ranch so cheaply. His name is Ronald Jacob but to me his name is Mudd.”

“Ronald Jacob, are you sure?” Megan asked as JJ showed her the score sheet with the list he had just checked off noting the name Ronald Jacob beside the picture of Roger Jenkins.

“Free room and board with a monthly stipend, you bet I’m sure and I have the cancelled checks to prove it,” Barbara’s response was somewhat heated as she recalled her problems with her hired help.

“Georgia, your hired help’s picture is not in the packet, right?” JJ asked.

“Nope, he’s not one of the three photos I have,” Georgia replied.

“Do you have any contact info on him?” Megan asked.

“Actually I do. Strangest thing, a few weeks ago he sent me a letter apologizing for his indiscretions. I didn’t reply, you can’t just say I’m sorry when you put someone through the trauma he invoked.” Georgia picked up her purse and she quickly unsnapped a side pocket then withdrew a previously opened envelope. “I put this in my purse as I thought it might have some bearing on your quest.” She handed the envelope to Megan.

Megan took the envelope and as she removed the letter she asked, “Is it ok if I read this?”

“You have my permission to use it however you wish,” Georgia waved her hand across as she spoke.

Megan took a few moments to read the letter then she gave it to JJ and as he read he made notes on the score sheet below all the pictures then placed a large question mark at the end of the notes.

There was a name, a home phone number, a cell number and a mailing address included at the end of the short letter. The address included street, house number, the town, state and the zip code.

JJ excused himself and left the restaurant dialing his cell phone as he went. Megan opened a small writing pad and continued her questions with the three ladies. Georgia was very curious as to whether the info she had added would really help. Megan told her she wasn’t sure but it was another avenue they hadn’t explored before.

“Hello.” A male’s voice came from the answered phone.

“Hello, could I speak to Frank Simmons, please?” JJ asked.

“Who’s calling?” the voice asked

“James Jacques of M&M Investigation,” JJ replied.

“What is your connection with Frank Simmons?” the voice asked.

JJ was a little taken back with that question. “I’m sorry, is Frank Simmons at this address and, if he is, could I please speak to him?

“What is your connection with Frank Simmons?” the voice repeated.

“Evidently you are not going to help me so I might as well hang up,” JJ said deciding to give the voice a moment to change his reply before breaking the connection.

“This is Sheriff Deputy Smith, I need to know your connection with Frank Simmons,” Deputy Smith said.

“I don’t have a connection yet, is he available and could I talk with him?” JJ had quickly grown tired of the deputy’s question as he recalled meeting Deputy Smith at that little sheriff satellite office.

“Yes he is here, but no you can’t talk to him,” Smith said.

“Why not, is he under arrest or something?

“He’s dead, murdered we think,” Smith finally replied after a conversation with someone in the background.

“This is Frank Simmons’s phone number, are you at his house now?” JJ continued. “Did this murder just happen?”

“We are at the crime scene and yes he was just found a short time ago,” Smith stated.

“My boss and I need to come there now, we may have some information you don’t have,” JJ said. “We are on our way.”

“I’m not sure if you will be allowed in but I can’t stop you from coming here.”

JJ hung up the phone and hurried back into the restaurant to get Megan.

A short explanation followed by Megan paying the bill, she and JJ headed for their car.

The three ladies followed, exiting the restaurant, a little confused as to the sudden rush the two investigators were in. The three spent a few moments after the investigator’s car had gone around the corner, out of sight, before they said goodbye to each other and headed for their individual transportation, probably heading home.

Chapter Twenty Two

By the time Megan had got the car back on Marysville Blvd., JJ had put Frank Simmons’s address into the GPS unit and the voice had responded with directions and “please drive to the highlighted route” came again from the small speaker.

Megan kept the vehicle within five mph of the posted speed limit so it took almost thirty minutes to get to Frank Simmons’s address. The house was off the main road and had numerous sheriff vehicles up near the house. One county vehicle was left near the main road blocking the gated entrance. JJ could see the county morgue wagon parked in front of the small house that sat at the end of the driveway.

Megan turned in and stopped the car near the entrance blocking vehicle. The seated deputy opened his car door and exited the vehicle then he approached Megan’s side of the car. “Hi, I am Megan Morgan with M&M Investigation and this is my associate JJ.”

“You’ll have to move along, there’s nothing here for you,” the deputy said as he waved his hand in a get along motion.

“We talked to Deputy Smith on the phone about this situation,” Megan said to the deputy.

“Deputy Smith? Stand by please, I will have to contact Deputy Smith,” the officer said as he stepped away so he wouldn’t be heard during the contact.

A few moments later he returned. “Go directly to the house and park behind the black detective’s car on the right of the county wagon. Smith will meet you there.”

The deputy climbed into his patrol car, started it and backed it up just enough to allow passage for Megan and JJ’s vehicle. Megan gave the deputy a small wave as they drove past his car and proceeded up the driveway toward the house. In her rearview mirror she could see the county vehicle moving back into place again blocking the entrance; they were now locked in as it also blocked the exit.

Megan followed the deputy’s advice and parked just where he told her to park.

True to his words, Smith was waiting. “Look, I don’t know what you expect to learn here but, as for us, we need any info you might have on this Frank Simmons individual,” Smith said as he approached Megan and JJ as they exited their car. “You can give me the info and I will pass it along as I’m sure you won’t get any help from the detective, that I can guarantee.”

“Hello again Deputy Smith. How is your day going?” Megan just had to say.

“Ok, hello, my day is fine so far and you?”

“We could be better. What makes you think this Frank Simmons was murdered?” JJ quickly asked, hoping to catch the deputy unprepared and get a reflex answer.

“Uh, head bashed in is what made us suspect murder. Difficult way to commit suicide, if you ask me.”

“Not with a hammer again do you think?” Megan followed up trying to keep the deputy on a roll.

“Hammer, why would you think he was killed with a hammer?” Smith asked.

“Roger Jenkins was killed with a hammer, his head bashed in. I thought this might be similar and done by the same individual, you know a serial killer, a hammer fanatic.”

“Hammer fanatic, huh, you are funny. Look, I don’t know, that determination hasn’t been made yet. Why would you connect Frank Simmons to Roger Jenkins?”

“Simple, they knew each other or they knew someone that knew both of them. That’s how we got here, we connected the dots,” Megan added. “Could we please talk to the detective?”

“I’m telling you it won’t do any good but, since you insist, come with me,” Deputy Smith said as he guided the pair inside the house. Once inside he stopped them in the living room. “Wait here, don’t go wandering around. The detective will be with you shortly. Bill, keep these two company until I get back,” Smith said to deputy Bill Hye as he left the room.

JJ and Megan talked about the two cases but no matter how they stated things they couldn’t get Deputy Hye to comment on anything. They guessed he was going by the motto, “loose lips sink ships”, an old but still valued motto.

The wait wasn’t long. Deputy Smith returned followed by a man in a suit and tie. “I am Detective Sergeant Harold Mercer, and you are?”

“I’m Megan Ann Morgan of M&M Investigation and this is my partner James Jacques, JJ,” Megan said as she offered her hand.

Detective Mercer held his hands up showing the latex gloves he was wearing. “PIs, just what I need. Well, Ms. Morgan, Deputy Smith said you have some info on our victim here?”

“It’s Megan and I think I can help you with this case and assist you with the murder of Roger Jenkins if you will permit an interview?”

“Roger Jenkins? I closed that case, we already have our man. Now, let me understand, you want to interview me about this case?” Detective Mercer seemed a little put out.

“Actually interview may be the wrong word, more like an exchange of information. I believe I have some info you don’t have yet and I’m sure you have some I don’t have.”

“You bet your sweet ass I have some info you don’t have and I don’t see any way some skirted PI might persuade me to give it to her,” Detective Mercer turned to Deputy Smith and said, “Thanks a lot Smith, you interrupted my investigation for this crap, are you on drugs or something?”

“Detective Mercer, did you know that Frank Simmons and Roger Jenkins had similar occupations, they were both caretakers for widowed women here in Yuba County?” Megan, a little red faced with the detective’s rude dismissal tactics, voiced her comments a little louder than she had planned.

Detective Mercer halfway out of the room, turned and spoke over his shoulder. “That’s not unusual, lots of land owners are widows and some have caretakers to do odd jobs around their property.”

“Did you know that Frank Simmons and Roger Jenkins knew each other?”

“Hey, it’s a small world and a small community.” Mercer raised both hands up and spread them as he nodded his head with this comment.

“Don’t you find it odd that two people who knew each other and did the same type of job are now dead within the same month? And I might add, both were murdered by having their heads bashed in?” Megan took a step toward Mercer and continued, “I’m pretty sure Paul Haley did not murder Roger Jenkins and, since you have Paul on ice at his ranch, I know for a fact he didn’t murder Frank Simmons.”

“You’re pretty sure.” Mercer repeated Megan’s comment as he pulled a small notepad out of his suit jacket pocket. “That is a great clue. Let me make a note of that.” Mercer repeated Megan’s comment, “Pretty sure,” as he pretended to write it in his notebook. “I’ll take this to the DA’s office right away, I think you may have solved that crime and saved us poor county people some real embarrassment,” Detective Mercer sarcastically said as he left the room.

“Aw, you don’t have to do that, I plan to go to see Assistant DA Jefferies myself. Maybe she is intelligent enough to put two and two together and get the right answer. Should I pass along your regards while I’m there?”

“Do what you wish. Deputy Smith, show these two out of my crime scene and hey, don’t bother me with this kind of silly crap again,” Mercer shouted as he went down the hallway back toward the actual scene of the murder.

“What an asshole, he wouldn’t know a clue even if it struck him on his thick sarcastic skull,” Megan said as she turned back to Smith. “And here I thought you were just being a pain. Now I realize what you must go through having to work for someone like that, I’m sorry I jumped to the wrong conclusions about you.”

“Thank you Ms. Morgan, I tried to warn you,” Smith said. “Please, I have to show you out now or I will have to endure another undeserved basting from Detective Mercer.”

Smith walked JJ and Megan to their vehicle. “I’ll contact the deputy at the entrance to let you through,” he said as he closed Megan’s door for her.

“Thanks Officer Smith, here take my card, you never know when you might need a private detective,” Megan smiled as she handed him her card.

“It’s Joe,” Smith said.

“Pardon?”

“My name is Joe, Joe Smith.”

“Thank you Joe, I’m Megan,” she smiled again. “I hope to see you soon, bye.” She added a small wave.

Megan drove the car past the deputy at the entrance and headed back the way they had come. After driving for a few minutes she turned toward JJ and said, “You are awfully quiet.”

“I didn’t want to break the spell.”

“You didn’t want to break the spell, what are you talking about?”

“Joe Smith, but I think he is fully under by now, so it’s ok, that spell you cast on him will last an eon. I think your powers are getting stronger because you did it this time with me as a witness.”

“Seriously, are you for real?” she said while shaking her head but she was all smiles as she spoke.

“Oh, and hey I took a look down the hallway while you were having fun with Mercer. Guess who I saw?” JJ asked.

“You will just have to tell me, I was so mad I couldn’t see anything but red.”

“Our friend, Dr. Jan Su Yang, the county coroner.”

“Ok, that’s good to know, he may gives us another audience once he has Mr. Simmons on ice in his lab.”

Megan drove straight into Marysville and parked in the lot near the county court house. JJ took a short walk to the nearest fast food, a Wendy’s. He would pick up the new salads currently advertised on TV. He hoped the actual product would at least resemble those appetizing ads. He was thinking he was being overly optimistic after so many fast food disappointments he had suffered. The product he usually received had little resemblance to the advertised product.

While JJ looked for lunch for both, Megan went in search of DA Jefferies. Megan hoped to find someone in authority that would be receptive to her and JJ’s conclusions about the connection of these two murders.

“Ms. Morgan, DA Jefferies will be with you in a few moments. Can I get you a refreshment, coffee, tea or a soda?” the secretary asked.

“No, I’m fine, thank you.”

It was almost fifteen minutes before DA Jefferies came and invited Megan into her office. “Sorry about the wait, it has been hectic around here lately, two murders in the same month.” Jefferies shook her head in disbelief. “Ms. Morgan, if my memory serves me correctly, you called me a few days ago and I wasn’t available, but you never called back, right?”

“Your memory is evidently pretty good, it was more like a couple weeks ago and, no, I did not call back. I was in a vehicle accident, spent a couple days in the hospital. I guess I got sidetracked.”

“Sorry to hear that, are you ok?”

“The doctor did a scan and found I had a mild concussion, not too serious. A few days of rest fixed me up. Thanks for asking.”

“Glad to hear it. First thing first, let me introduce myself, I am Janet Jefferies, assistant DA for Yuba-Sutter Counties,” Janet said as she offered Megan her hand.

“Megan Morgan, M&M Investigations.” Megan shook hands with the DA.

“Please, take a load off,” Jefferies said, waving Megan to a chair as she moved behind her desk and took her seat as Megan sat down. “So, what can I do for you?” Janet asked.

“I need to tell you what we have uncovered and see what you think about our conclusions so far in our current investigation.”

“Your current investigation pertains to the murder of Roger Jenkins and the murder of Frank Simmons, is that correct?” Janet said as she looked at some notes she had lying on her desk.

“I see you are well informed,” Megan said with just a hint of a smile. “I’ll bet Detective Mercer just couldn’t wait to relay the essences of our meeting.”

“Seems like you guys really hit it off. Look, I’ve got a few moments, so tell me your story.”

It took almost a half hour for Megan to, in a condensed form, bring DA Jefferies up to date on her findings and conclusions. She covered the murder of Roger Jenkins, the accident, the interview with the three ladies and the connection of Frank Simmons and Roger Jenkins.

Janet listened as Megan laid out her progress so far. She occasionally interrupted with a question when she wanted some clarification on a point. Did she give any credence to Megan’s results and conclusions? Megan didn’t know but at least DA Jefferies had listened. This was way better than the contact with Detective Mercer who had dismissed her before he heard her first words.

DA Jefferies promised to consider Megan’s story. She however didn’t promise anything else. She would consider the things Megan had brought to light, which was something. In the long run it wasn’t much but it was better than being dismissed right out of the box.

JJ sat on a bench near the parked idling vehicle. His salad container was empty, placed there on the end of the bench. He had somehow kept Megan’s salad somewhat fresh by keeping it cold with the vent from the AC which was set to maximum cool. The car was like a refrigerator when Megan opened the door to retrieve her lunch. She joined JJ on the bench and, as she enjoyed her salad, she brought him up to date on the meeting.

Chapter Twenty Three

Megan wanted to go see Dr. Yang right away but JJ convinced her to give the doc time to do a work-up on Mr. Simmons before they approached him. JJ was concerned that Detective Mercer might be hanging around and, if he saw Megan or JJ, he might get a clue and ban the doctor from meeting with them in any shape or form. Staying out of the limelight was something he and Megan should try to control. JJ just hoped that Mercer’s super ego and their absence would preclude him from considering any other avenue they could take except through him.

“Ok, no Dr. Yang today, any suggestion on what we should do now?” Megan asked as she started the car.

“I was just thinking maybe we should check in with Paul and Sophia. You know we never asked them if they knew Frank Simmons or Donald George. Paul’s place is only about thirty miles out and it’s an easy drive, let’s go there. I’ll call him even though I know he is home due to the ankle bracelet he’s wearing. Besides, I love that place. The way the pastures are fenced and laid out, it’s like a picture postcard, I get such a relaxed feeling when I’m there.”

“Ok, you can relax JJ, Paul’s place it is. I also love the look of that place.” Megan nodded as JJ punched in the numbers on his cell.

“Oh, hey Sophia, this is JJ of M&M investigations. We are just leaving Marysville and wondered if you and Paul were up for a couple questions about the case?” JJ said into the phone.

“No, nothing concrete, but we may have someone of interest and we need to know if you might know him.” JJ paused and listened as Sophia asked a few questions. “If it’s ok with you, I would rather wait until we get there to go over these things.”

JJ waited a moment. “Thanks, but we just had lunch.” You could tell that JJ was interrupted. “No, I’m not going to refuse dessert and coffee. We should be there in about thirty minutes, please don’t go out of your way for us, we’ll see you soon, we are just leaving Marysville.”

“Megan, I hope you’re up for dessert and coffee? I think it is the price we have to pay to get into the ranch,” JJ said with a smile on his face and anticipation on his tongue of things to come. Somewhere in his memory he knew country desserts were almost always homemade and almost always more than expected.

Paul and Sophia met them on the front steps, and both had smiles on their faces. They seemed very pleased to see the investigators and JJ knew their hopes were running higher than he and Megan could possibly broach with the small amount of info and conclusions they had reached.

Some of the color had come back in Sophia’s face and the handshake she gave Megan was quite strong. It gave Megan the idea that she would soon be back to her lovely active self.

Paul and Sophia invited Megan and JJ to please join them out on the front veranda sitting area. This veranda, with its white vinyl flooring and white banister, ran three quarters of the way around the lower floor of the two story ranch house. The four white wooden rocking chairs, sitting idle facing out across the four lower pastures, were so inviting JJ couldn’t wait and immediately took the further chair. Between the chairs was a small white individual table, just made for the placement of iced libations or tasty deserts and coffee.

The blackberry cobbler, topped with a dollop of fresh whipped cream, was homemade and even better than JJ’s imagination had predicted. He devoured the ample serving in short order. He actually had to restrain himself to keep from licking the serving bowl. The individually brewed cups of coffee from the small Keurig appliance were strong and black, adding the perfect offset to the berry cobbler’s natural satiating sweetness.

As soon as Sophia returned from the kitchen, where she had placed the dessert plates in the sink, and before Megan could get started, JJ jumped in with some questions and observations. “I wanted to ask you something and it has nothing to do with the murder of Mr. Jenkins.” JJ swept his hand across toward the panorama that spread out before them. “I have to tell you, I fell in love with this place as soon as we started up the driveway that first day. I didn’t bring it up then because you two weren’t both here at the time, it was just you then, Paul.”

“I think you had the same feeling I had on the first view of this layout,” Paul, with a knowing smile on his face, said in response.

“I have to ask out of curiosity, are there two ponds over there, one in each of those pastures?”

“Yes, oh, you would not believe how beautiful that upper one is. It simply gets inundated with lotus blossoms and huge lily pads in the early spring. The pads are fourteen to twenty inches in diameter and the blossoms are a real deep pink. I can tell by the croaking, the frogs love them.” Sophia’s smile and facial expressions were so lively that JJ and Megan were both caught up in her pride of ownership of this property.

JJ simply nodded his head in understanding and quietly sat, slowly rocking as he soaked up his surroundings. “One more thing.” JJ held up his index finger. “Those geese, do they just come and go all the time? They are so graceful and they are so big.”

“All the time, winter, spring, summer and fall, all the time in and out just pecking at something in the fields,” Paul answered.

“I hate to bring everyone down but we still have a long way to go to get this cloud off from over Paul’s head,” Megan said as she opened her briefcase, which she had placed nearby. “We have some pictures we would like you to look at. We would like to know if you knew these people or if you have seen these people anywhere around your small town here.” Megan withdrew the pictures from a retrieved folder and spread them out on the small table between Sophia and Paul. “Take your time, you can discuss it between yourselves as you please.”

Paul and Sophia did take their time as they studied the pictures. JJ knew they were anxious to find something that would take the target off Paul and place it on the real culprit, that someone who had actually killed Roger Jenkins.

“I don’t know any of their names but I swear, one day some time ago, I saw these two men with Roger. It was either at the farmer’s market or at the local thrift store, I believe.” Sophia handed the pictures of Frank Simmons and Donald George to Megan. “Who are these two and what do they have to do with Roger’s death?”

“We are trying to piece that together. I can tell you that this one, Frank Simmons, was a caretaker for a widow not too far from here.” Megan held up Frank Simmons’s photo. “I can tell you that he was an irritant to the property owner and she thinks that maybe to get rid of him she sold her property at a somewhat reduced price. I also need to give you some bad news in reference to this Mr. Simmons.” Megan paused and directed her comments to Sophia. “You ok Sophia, are you well enough for some rough news?”

“My doctor gave me a clean bill of health and I feel really strong so give me your best shot and I’ll try to weather the blows,” Sophia said as she gave a short upward jab with a closed fist.

“Frank Simmons was murdered, either yesterday evening or early this morning. He also had his head worked on by someone who was upset or angry with him. JJ and I both think Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Simmons were killed by the same person.” Megan laid the picture of Frank Simmons on the table. She went back into her folder and removed a picture of Roger Jenkins and placed it on the table beside Simmons’s photo. She took the photo of Donald George and placed it on top of the other two pictures. “We also think that both of these deceased gentlemen worked, in some fashion, for this Donald George.” Megan stabbed the photo of Donald George with her index finger as she spoke.

“Are you thinking this guy killed these two?” Paul asked as he moved the pictures around.

“All we have right now are conjectures, no actual proof.” Megan pulled the copy of Roger Jenkins’ autopsy out of her briefcase. “Did either one of you know that Roger Jenkins had cancer?”

“Cancer? He never said anything about having cancer.” Paul and Sophia shook their heads as Paul spoke. This news appeared to be more of a shock than the news about the death of Frank Simmons

“The medical examiner said he only had a few months to live before he would have succumbed to his condition.” Megan replaced the papers in her briefcase after giving the Haleys a chance to read the doctor’s comments on Roger’s terminal condition.

“Do you think this would have anything to do with his death?” Sophia asked.

“We know that Roger was aware of his condition. We know that a few weeks ago, he contacted his estranged daughter and, after ten years of no contact, he laid the news of his impending death on her, causing her considerable stress.” Megan raised her hand in a “take this as our conclusion”. “Now you must remember, what we think is not proof, but we believe Roger, on learning of his condition, grew a conscience and started to act like a human being.” Megan looked at JJ, a signal for him to follow up with his ideas.

“Although we don’t have any proof yet, we believe that Frank Simmons and Roger Jenkins were in some type of shady real estate dealing with this Donald George. We think that Roger, due to his condition, decided to come clean on his part of those dealings and that might have been the catalyst to his demise.” JJ paused to let this info sink in, then he continued. “We think that Roger contacted Frank Simmons to warn him of his coming clean and this might have spurred Simmons into some similar action. We do know that a few weeks ago, out of the blue, Frank Simmons contacted his previous employer and apologized for all his indiscretions while working for her. We think Mr. Simmons was attempting to soften the blows in case the house of cards they had built came crashing down.”

“What kind of dealings were they involved in?” Paul asked.

“Not sure, we do know that Mr. George acquired numerous properties here in Yuba-Sutter Counties, all of them way under the fair market value. He is either a very lucky individual, a very clever pitch artist or there is something going on in the background that induced those owners to sell at a reduced price. We talked to some of the ladies who sold their properties to Donald George’s company in an attempt to gain an insight into his operation.”

“You have been busy,” Sophia added.

“One of the most important things we found was, Roger Jenkins wasn’t always Roger Jenkins. Before he worked for Linda Sue Hammon, he was Ronald Jacob, a caretaker working for a widow named Barbara Smith. She said Ronald Jacob was such an irritant, getting rid of him was a large part of the reason she sold her property below market value. So, we have two widows who had an irritant who was the same man with two different names. This two named man helped in some fashion to drive these ladies toward selling their properties under the prices set by comparable properties. According to Ms. Georgia Crowder, Frank Simmons, her caretaker, also had a share in the reason she sold her property for less than should have been expected.”

“You’re telling us we got this good deal on this property because of Roger Jenkins being a pain in the ass to Linda Sue?” Paul asked.

“Yes, that’s right. We believe the lower price you paid may have been partially determined by the irritating actions of our Mr. Jenkins. We also think you somehow beat this Donald George’s timing when you purchased this land,” JJ put in.

“What are you thinking Mr. Haley?” Megan asked as she saw him drop his head in thought.

“He was dying of cancer and I was trying to kick him off the property, I can see why he was so angry when I tried to give him that notice from our lawyer. He had more on his plate than he could rationally handle,” Paul said as he reached and took Sophia’s hand. “I wish I had known, it would have made a difference.”

“It wasn’t your fault and you had no idea. You were just trying to get things as you had expected when you bought this property,” JJ added.

“I guess I shouldn’t have been angry with Roger as he actually helped me get this beautiful property at a really good price,” Paul said, then continued. “However, if he did this to Linda Sue on purpose, he was a real ass and I still should be mad at him.” Paul suddenly stood up, staring past Megan out over the pastures. “Oh crap. This can’t be good, there are a couple of cop cars coming up the driveway, I should have locked that gate after you came in.”

“Maybe they are coming to remove that bracelet you’re wearing,” JJ said without much optimism. “We gave them a lot of info, showing them you can’t be the only suspect in this murder case.”

Megan met them at the front door. As you would have thought, it was Detective Mercer and he wasn’t there to remove that bracelet.

“Detective Mercer, are you following me? Did you now need some more information? I have some new stuff if you want,” Megan said with a smile.

“Don’t need any of your crap Morgan. Haley, on your feet and come with me,” Mercer said. “Your wife’s doctor has given her a clean bill of health and the judge has revoked your house arrest sending you back to the old hoosegow, right where all murderers should be.”

“You can’t be serious!” Megan said. “You know Paul is not guilty. I don’t think this has anything to do with the case, this is just your ego running loose.”

“You might be right, stay out of my investigation and get out of my way.” Mercer handcuffed Paul’s hands behind him, then pulled him along by the arm as he used his other hand to move Megan to the side of the door. “Stop interfering with our police work or you will regret it,” Mercer menacingly whispered to Megan as he passed. He handed Paul to a uniformed officer and followed them toward the two waiting vehicles.

“You are such a jerk but ok, you start investigating and I’ll stop interfering,” Megan replied.

JJ pulled Megan back out of the way and said, “Let it go Megan, he’s not listening, don’t let your comments add to Paul’s situation.”

The uniformed officer put Paul in the back of one of the patrol cars. Mercer and his waiting driver climbed in front, then the entourage preceded down the driveway and left the ranch.

“Sophia, I am so sorry. I had no idea Detective Mercer would take this avenue. He and I sort of bumped heads up at Frank Simmons’s house and I guess he’s doing this to show me who’s in charge.” Megan took Sophia’s hand and asked, “Will you be ok? Is there someone I can call for you? I can also provide transportation if you need it.”

“No, no, it’s ok. What I need is for you two to show that jerk what a mistake he has made. I want to see his name smeared on public TV if possible.” Sophia gave Megan a hug and ushered them out to get on with their investigation. “I’ll call my sister and she will come over or I will go there. I’ll be just fine and Paul is a real strong person, he will also be fine.”

As soon as Megan left the ranch, she called DA Jefferies and started to unload her ire on her for the stunt Mercer pulled on Mr. Haley.

“Hold on, Morgan, this was not my idea but then I had no choice. When Mercer found out that Mrs. Haley had been given a clean bill of health he was hell bent on doing something to get back at you. Hey, I tried to stop him but he threatened me with prosecutable misconduct in the treatment of one criminal suspect over all the other suspects and technically he’s correct.”

“Yeah, well I’m going to make him sorry he did that. I will bring you the evidence you will need to convict the right person and I will be trying my best to taint Detective Mercer’s less than stellar record with unwarranted miscue. I’ll be talking to you soon.” Megan said goodbye to DA Jefferies and hung up her phone.

“JJ, I need an excuse to go see Dr. Yang again. I need something to talk to him about. I can’t just go there with nothing and expect him to tell me all about the murder of Frank Simmons,” Megan said as she drove back toward their office.

 

Chapter Twenty Four

Christine came and knocked on Megan’s door. “I am getting really good replies from all our clients. Even though they called and let you know how upset they were, they all actually had an inkling that this wasn’t our doing. I think we’re going to be ok.” Christine paused, then said, “Again I want to tell you how sorry I am I didn’t heed your warning on computer safety. It won’t happen again.”

“Ok, forward progress. Thanks Christine, keep up the good work on the repairs.”

“Hey Megan, this might be a topic you can approach Dr. Yang with.” JJ turned Megan’s computer around and quickly typed in the web address so Megan could see the article he had found.

The screen showed an article Dr. Yang had written for Real Crime magazine. It was a step by step procedure he had taken to detail the violent act taken on a victim and the evidence trail that led to an arrest and conviction of the perpetrator.

“Ok, I think this might work. I will give him a call and see if he is willing to give me some time and guidance on how I should follow a trail of evidence. Mmm, this just might be ok, no one can fault me for trying to learn.” Megan picked up the phone and dialed Dr. Yang’s number.

Evidently Mercer was still unaware of Megan’s previous meeting with the good doctor as Dr. Yang was open to an interview and invited Megan up. She set a time for later that day. She wanted to get to him before Detective Mercer discovered his error in not closing this loophole.

“Dr. Yang, so good to see you again. Thank you so much for taking a little time away from your work to help me learn and let me glean just a little of your vast knowledge,” Megan said and meant it.

“Well, I hope my experience and limited insight can assist you. I feel our jobs are actually very similar and, in a way, they both require almost the same in-depth detailing,” Dr. Yang said as he shook Megan’s hand.

“Are you working on anything particular that I’d be taking you away from? I know you’re busy and I don’t want to hold you up,” she said as she followed Dr. Yang into his office and took the seat he offered.

“Kind of slow right now, I just finished a procedure on another murder here in Yuba County.” Megan could tell he wasn’t finished as he had touched his chin while shaking his head. “Strange, this particular case is in some ways similar to that murder you were investigating last time we talked.”

“That Roger Jenkins’s murder, yes we are still working that case and that is part of the reason I came back to see you. We have discovered some things that JJ and I feel give someone else a significant reason to permanently silence Mr. Jenkins. Your current case, just curious, but how is that similar to our case?”

“Several things jumped out at me right away. First the fact that both were killed by several severe blows to their cranium. Second thing I noticed, there were no defensive wounds on either person. Third thing was, whoever did these murders did not break into either place. The fourth thing that jumped out at me was the fact that Mr. Simmons was struck from behind. Mr. Simmons having his back to the perpetrator suggested he was comfortable with his assailant. That makes me presume it was someone the victims knew and trusted or, at least they thought they had no reason to fear that individual,” Dr. Yang told Megan.

“Was the victim in your current case killed with a hammer?” Megan asked even though she knew, according to Deputy Smith, it wasn’t a hammer.

“No, no, it definitely wasn’t a hammer. The laceration this latest weapon caused is not consistent with those that might be received from a hammer. In this current case, the cranium epidermis was sliced by something metal, semi-sharp and about three and a half to four inches in length.” Dr. Yang held up his hand, spreading his thumb and forefinger, showing the approximate length of the device that caused the lacerations to Frank Simmons’s cranium. “There are some linear striations just below each laceration and I was having trouble identifying them. Just above the sliced openings, there is some irregular bruising that resembles some design that might have been stamped in the victim’s skin.”

“You’re smiling, you know what the weapon is, don’t you?” Megan pointed her finger at the good doctor as she spoke.

“Actually, I am almost a hundred percent sure of the weapon and I think I also know who the manufacturer is,” Dr. Yang said as he continued to promote a huge smile.

“This I’ve got to hear, how is that possible unless you found the weapon?” Megan asked.

“No, the weapon wasn’t found anywhere on site.” A small pause with the shake of his head. “I have always been taught to keep my equipment clean, shinning and sharp; even dead bodies deserve a measure of respect,” Dr. Yang said as he held his temperature probe up for show and the rooms light actually caused a bright star reflection from the polished chrome of the instrument. Putting the instrument away he continued. “I was inspecting the laceration with my scalpel when I noticed the reflection of that irregular bruising in the blade of that tool.” Dr. Yang added a small clap of his hands as he continued. “The irregular bruising wasn’t irregular bruising at all, it was actually two words stamped in the skin backwards. They were put there with considerable force from the blow of the weapon that was used.” Dr. Yang held up his hand in a “wait for it” standup comic routine. “’Tour Edge’ was stamped in several places on Mr. Simmons’s head.”

“That’s a golf club, Tour Edge is a golf club manufacturer, the weapon of choice was a golf club?” Megan’s surprised smile was the reward the doctor expected.

“Exciting, right? Who would have thought it would have been that easy. There was a designated club number also left from the iron in those stampings. In my first detailed inspection, it looked like the number 9. However, I was looking at the bruise straight on and not in a reflection. With the help of a mirror and a second look, I now think it is a large P. Yep, in my humble opinion the murderer used a Tour Edge Pitching Wedge to kill Mr. Simmons.” Dr. Yang stood and did a small golf swing simulation as if he were Jonny Carson on the old Tonight Show.

“Wow, that’s not a weapon of convenience, well, not unless Mr. Simmons was a golfer,” Megan said.

“Well, I can’t say for sure but, at my house, you’ll find a golf tee, ball marker or a golf ball left in numerous areas. At Mr. Simmons’, I saw no evidence of any golf clubs, golf tees, golf markers or golf balls, so I don’t think he was golfer.”

“That probably means that whoever did this must have brought that club with them. I think it also means that Mr. Simmons knew this individual and wasn’t alarmed to see him with a golf club,” Megan thought out loud.

Dr. Yang and Megan spent the next forty-five minutes discussing ways to detail and follow clues to a reasonable solution. Megan gained more information than she could have ever expected. Dr. Yang made sure to invite her back any time and especially if she needed some fresh eyes on a clue that didn’t make sense. Megan invited the doctor to the next end of case party and promised to save a dance just for him; she would let him know as soon as the next event was planned.

Megan’s mind was boiling with the new info she had received from the good doctor and it caused some distraction while she drove, gaining her a couple of horn honks from other drivers. The honks did not stop her thoughts and she got the idea she might have a way to find out if their Mr. George was a golfer or not.

“Call Jim Blackstone,” Megan said out loud and it was picked up by her bluetooth connected cell phone.

“Jim Blackstone, please,” Megan told the DMV operator when asked the “how may I direct your call” question.

A very short wait later, “Hey this is Jim” came from the speaker of Megan’s car radio.

“Good morning Jim, this is Megan.”

“Wow, ok, what did I do to deserve a call, out of the blue, from some lovely lady. End of case party maybe?”

“I wish. You previously asked me to go golfing with you and I called to take you up on it. Make a tee time and get back to me and we will go play.”

“You got it, I’ll call you back, and hey, thanks Megan, you just made my day.”

“Wow, your days must be easy to make and, hey Jim, do this golf thing for me and you just might make my whole month.”

After a few more pleasantries and well wishes, they ended the conversation and Megan closed the connection. Still humming from the meeting with the good doctor and looking forward to a golf game with Jim Blackstone, Megan continued on her way back to the office.

Chapter Twenty Five

“Wow, I may be sorry I asked you to do this, you really hit that shot,” Jim Blackstone said as he watched Megan’s drive roll inside the 150 marker in the middle of the fairway. She was twenty yards closer to the pin now than he was. She had gained several yards playing from the forward tees but her drive had nearly duplicated Jim’s efforts.

“Playing on the ladies’ team in high school didn’t hurt. We had a good coach and a good team, tops in our division for two years, my junior and senior years,” Megan said as she replaced her driver in her golf bag and climbed back in the golf cart. “You coming, Tiger?” she said as Jim, shaking his head, put his driver away.

They were several holes in before Megan broached the questions she was actually playing for. “What clubs do you use?”

“My clubs, Taylor Made, Irons and Metal Woods, how about you?” Jim responded.

“My set is all Cobras, but they are an old set and I was thinking about updating to something a little more modern. I had read some good things about Tour Edge, do you know anything about them?”

“Not really, I only know what I have read about them but that was from bias ads.” Jim held up his index finger requesting a moment. “You should check with Woody, Woody Stiles, he is a Tour Edge salesman and a scratch golfer. He would be able to tell you all you need to know about those clubs. I have his card back at the club house. I’ll get it for you when we get back.”

The game was great. Jim went one up on the 17 hole and both took a par on 18 to finish. True to his word, Jim gave Megan the card from Woody Stiles and during the relaxing lunch at the club house, Jim promised Megan an opportunity for a rematch in the near future.

Later back at the office Megan got busy. The phone was answered on the third ring. “Good morning, this is Woody.”

“Mr. Stiles, this Megan Ann Morgan of M&M Investigations. I need to ask you some questions about your product, Tour Edge.”

“You’re a private investigator, wow, are you also a golfer?” Woody asked.

“Yes, I am both. I have a low handicap although I don’t get the time to play very much.”

“Well I hope you are a customer also. What can I do for you and, please, call me Woody.”

“Ok, Woody, call me Megan. I might be in the market for a new set of clubs but right now I need some info on your equipment.”

“Hit me with your question.”

“Ok, here is my question. I found a Tour Edge Pitching Wedge the other day and I was surprised that the name Tour Edge was on the sole of the club along with the P, indicating a wedge. Is this normal or is it an indication of something special? I would sure like to return it to the owner.”

“On the sole? No, it’s not normal. Tour Edge does have the club number on the sole but the name usually appears in the hollow on the back of the club face.”

“Well I truly don’t understand now, any idea why this club would be so different?”

“Special order, I guess. Hey, you know what? I believe there was a special order from a guy who requested that specific change, I guess he wanted everyone to see the name of the clubs he played. It would make no difference from what angle they were viewed, even if just looking at the sole of the clubs while still in the golf bag.”

“Sounds like someone with a super ego,” Megan said.

“Megan, thinking back, I believe you hit the nail on the head and you got that super ego right. If my memory serves me correctly, this guy is not from our club but he was with a club in Yuba County. Hang on a minute, I’ll see if I still have that info.” It took about five minutes before Woody came back on line. “According to the order form, it was a very specific special order and they were delivered to Yuba Butte Golf Club.”

“You have the name of the club but no actual person’s name?” Megan couldn’t hide her disappointment.

“Oh, I remember his name and, anyway, it is right here on the order form. Attention: Donald George, is printed in the contact info area. I guess that he’s the person who ordered these clubs and this specific change.”

Megan couldn’t believe what she heard and she was stunned into silence for a few moments, causing Woody to ask, “Megan, did you get that?”

“Yes, sorry, yes I got it but I am surprised. Donald George, are you sure?”

“I can only tell you what is written on the order form.”

“Thank you so much, I will take care of this. Hey, I will get back with you later to discuss some new clubs.”

“You bet, I’ll be waiting your call.”

“Holy crap, JJ. This could be the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

“Special order, a special order? This guy uses his own special ordered golf club as a murder weapon, what was he thinking?” JJ said as he slowly shook his head.

“I’ve been mulling that around ever since Mr. Stiles told me. In my opinion, Mr. George didn’t plan to murder Frank Simmons. I think George was just visiting and Simmons said something causing George to snap, resulting in the bludgeoning of Simmons to death. I’ll bet George’s pitching wedge was a kind of security blanket and he had it with him at all times, even off the golf course. This could make it, again, a weapon of convenience.”

The phone rang and Megan answered. “M&M Investigation, this is Megan.”

“Hi Megan, this is Janet Stone.” Janet Stone spoke quietly and without any emphasis as if she was doing a required reading, not something she desired.

“Hey Janet, are you doing ok, you sound kind of down.”

“Things are getting better, I think I have processed most of my feelings and I’ve decided to try to remember my dad as he was when I was much younger and actually knew him.”

“I think that is best.” Megan said.

“There is something I have to tell you but I was warned not to.”

Megan placed her hand over the phone mouthpiece and whispered as she pointed at the activation button, “JJ, speaker phone now!”

JJ hit the button and Megan hung up the hand set. She and JJ took a seat at the conference table and stared at the remote speaker in the center of that table.

“JJ is on with us, now what kind of warning, who warned you?” Megan quickly asked.

“I don’t know who it was, but it was a male voice. He told me, if I know what’s good for me, I won’t have any contact with you guys.”

“Janet, are you safe, that’s the most important thing, do you need some protection?” Megan asked.

“No, I think we got it covered if this caller is going to be isolated and captured soon. My husband and I are out of town, taking this opportunity to do a little vacation even if it wasn’t well planned.” Janet paused then added, “I’m not telling you where we are and I’m not telling anyone.”

“That’s perfect, I can use this cell if I need you, right?”

“Yes, that will work, I have turned off the locator on my phone so it won’t show location for anyone snooping for it.”

“That’s good, ok now, have you actually got some info that will help us with this case?” JJ asked.

“Yes I think so, I don’t know how the caller knew that I had something but I do and now you also have it. I made you a copy.”

“You made us a copy?”

“Yes, so what did you think of the video recording?” Janet asked.

“Video recording, I’m sorry, what video recording?” Megan sat up straight at table as she spoke.

“You didn’t see the recording? Detective Mercer promised he would contact you and give it to you,” Janet replied.

“Ok, I’m sure that won’t happen. Detective Mercer is not one of my fans.” Megan had to smile as she relayed this info. JJ and Megan looked at each other as Megan continued. “So tell me about the video.”

“A few days ago I received a videocassette in the mail from my dad. It went into detail about his business and the underhanded things he had been doing. He explained it all and he also named his accomplices in their dealings. There was a Donald George who he worked for and a Frank Simmons who was also involved, doing the same things my dad did, more or less.”

“What kind of things did they do?” Megan asked

“Believe it or not, their first job was to research the obituaries for newly widowed women in this area. Their second job was to be the godsend and get hired by these unsuspecting victims, promising to be a friend and caretaker for their property. Once on board for a while they had to change and be so abrasive and irritating to their property owners that they would sell their property just to get rid of these caretakers and, hopefully, sell below the suggested price. This Mr. George would then appear and make them a very low offer, but a real offer anyway. He would make it just attractive enough to induce them to sell and George made it possible for them to sell right away. The video is worth watching. My dad also said he was meeting with this Donald George later that evening and he had also warned Frank Simmons of his intentions of coming clean.”

“Janet, I want you to get in touch with DA Jefferies and make sure she has seen that video.” Megan paused and then said, “I am going to give you her phone number. I can’t stress it enough, it is imperative that you do this right away so an innocent man can get back on his ranch where he belongs and the guilty party can be put behind bars. Would you please make another copy and send it to me? Have you still got my card?”

“Yes, I have it.”

“Use the address on that card and post the copy to me. I’ll reimburse you for your expense.”

“If this helps put the right guy in prison, I’ll donate the expense,” Janet said.

Evidently Janet’s call to DA Jefferies did the job. The pace was slow but the results were rewarding. Three days later Paul Haley walked out of the county jail, cleared of all charges.

A judge-ordered warrant was issued for the arrest of Donald P. George. A search warrant was attached for house, property and all personal effects of Mr. George.

A squad of detectives showed up at the home of Mr. George but no one was there. Gaining entry was obtained by some force to the entryway. The place was empty of any people but there was some evidence of a hasty exit by those living there.

The detectives spread out and did a detailed search, room by room. It was clear that personal underclothing had been disturbed, with drawers left open and half empty. There were no suitcases found on the premises indicating traveling plans or the said Mr. George didn’t own any suitcases, which was highly unlikely.

A search of the office area revealed a location where a computer had been in use but no computer was found. The office trashcan still had some discarded paperwork. Spreading out the debris revealed an itinerary of sorts with several number signs followed by four digit numbers. The detectives figured they might be flight numbers so they assigned one detective to follow up on those numbers with the nearby airports.

Most of the numbers were for flights leaving later in the week with only one scheduled out a few hours from the current time. Airport security was alerted with a photo taken from Mr. George’s web page on the internet to search and detain the individual pictured.

Donald P. George was found and detained by airport security. Later, the arrest warrant was presented to him at the airport by the detectives listing him responsible for both murders. His baggage was recovered before it could be boarded. The baggage included a set of Tour Edge golf clubs.

His ego wouldn’t let him dispose of his treasured pitching wedge and, although it had been wiped down, a blood DNA test on minor residues left on the blade of the club removed all doubt about its violent use with Mr. Simmons in that fatal act.

Megan didn’t find out until much later of the things discovered during the search of the premises of Mr. George. The servers of that warrant also found a to-do list down in the basement lying on top of a small desk. It was a list of things to try, an actual detailed schedule with one purpose in mind, to stop the Paul Haley investigation by M&M Detectives Agency. Running the detectives off the highway, Step # 1, had been completed but the attempt was marked with a ”check/failed” after that listing. The other items listed had not been finished, at least not yet, although most items were marked as in process.

The list read:

1. Get rid of detectives, suggest car accident…. Check/Failed

2. Discredit detective agency…. In Process

3. Steer detective to another suspect….In Process with Paul Haley

4. Frame someone else for the murder….In Process

5. Consider total elimination of PI agency.

This list showed that George was very concerned and, if M&M’s investigation continued for any length of time, he would probably become the number one suspect.

Reldon, Megan’s attorney, received a copy of that to-do list from the DA’s office and he gave a copy to Megan. It was a very scary shopping list and both she and JJ were quite pleased with it not being completed.

Megan held a news conference and described the process she and JJ had used to cause the release of Mercer’s wrongfully arrested suspect. Megan told how Detective Mercer showed up and took Paul to jail even though he had in his possession a videotape from the murdered victim that named someone other than Paul as the prime suspect. She explained how she had offered Detective Mercer the clues she had uncovered but he was too hardheaded to accept her help and only put Paul back in jail to teach the interfering PI Megan a lesson. She thanked DA Jefferies for her assistance and her willingness to entertain an outside agency’s involvement in one of their cases.

The end of case party was a spectacle to behold. Everyone who was invited was there. True to her promise, Megan saved a dance for Dr. Yang but most of her dancing was with that special golfer from DMV. DA Jefferies made an appearance, staying for a drink or two and dancing once with JJ. She had come with Deputy Joe Smith and spent most of her time with the young deputy. Paul and Sophia had a great time, the fog had been lifted and their days should now be as sunny as their summer would be at the ranch. Sophia told Megan she really enjoyed Megan’s news conference and could only imagine the look on Detective Mercer’s face when he saw or when he would see that particular TV coverage.

Reldon B. Gladley showed up and he too had a great time. He also brought the check for M&M Investigation’s time and effort in the Roger Jenkins case. Paul and Sophia had purchased a bond to cover all expenses and it paid everything, lawyer and PI.

Janet Stone came to the party and told Paul and Sophia she was selling the big RV. Her plan was to give them half the sale price to help defray some of their expenses incurred in Paul’s defense efforts. She made them understand that this would help her deal with and maybe forgive her father for some of his shady dealings. With this explanation and a promise to bring her family to the ranch when they needed a break from city life, they reluctantly accepted her generosity. Horseback riding, animal petting and visiting the nearby lake would be on the activities list when they did come.

Back at the office the following week, it was time to put Paul and Sophia’s case to bed. One of the last things Megan did was name the case. JJ smiled when he read what she had written.

“Getting Hammered in an RV is Murder” really spoke volumes about the case. They were both pleased with the title.

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Customers who read this book also read the following books by this author

Moon Trip: The original discovery of the Facility on Shakespir.com

Co-Or Scott Standard and his sidekick travel the universe fixing problems on Shakespir.com.

I’m Not the Man I Was a time travel novel available on Shakespir.com

The Facility The crew ten years after the “Moon Trip” story on Shakespir.com.

Accurate Visions” Alien artifact gives visions of future numbers on Shakespir.com

Waiting to Heal” a M&M Investigation novel out fall 2017 on Shakespir.com.

Watch for other books by this author as they will appear shortly on Shakespir.com.

 

 

Book Characters reference only:

Megan Ann Morgan: Co-owner of Investigation Service

JJ, James Jacques: Megan’s partner & Co-owner

Peti LaFiff: A dwarf burglar

Karl Winters: A friend from high school

Reldon B. Gladley: Lawyer in Marysville

Paul Haley: Accused murderer of Roger Jenkins

Sophia Haley: Paul’s wife and partner ranch owner

Linda Sue Hammon: Previous owner and seller of ranch

Nancy: Linda Sue’s realtor

Yvonne: Paul and Sophia’s realtor

Roger Jenkins/Ronald Jacob: Squatter and murder victim

S. Mour: Sheriff Deputy

B. Hye: Sheriff Deputy

Deputy Joe Smith

Julia Simms Bartender/Owner of “Julia’s”

Assistant DA Jefferies: Prosecutor of the case for the state

Jim Blackstone: Works in DMV, friend of Megan

Mrs. Freewill: Pickup owner of red Chevy Silverado

Jim Webber: Another owner of red Chevy Silverado pickup

Dr. Jan Su Yang, Yuba-Sutter County Coroner

Dr. Jan Su Yang secretary, Patricia Young

Janet Stone: Roger Jenkins’s estranged daughter

George Lupus: Jim Webber’s Lawyer

Pete Travis: Jim Webber’s neighbor

Mary Quinn: 21st Century Realtor

Donald George: An accomplice of Roger

Barbara Smith: Prior real estate ranch owner

Georgia Crowder: Prior real estate ranch owner

Frank Simmons murder victim associate of Roger J.

Detective Sergeant Harold Mercer

Woody Stiles: Tour Edge Salesman

First Impressions, front desk: Christine Panix

 

 

 

 

 

 


Their First Murder Case

They grew up together investigating childhood and school grade mysteries as curious children sometimes do. Now as adult Private Investigators, and fresh from a case dealing with a missing heirloom , they are handed their first murder mystery. Working for a lawyer who has a client that is destined to be charged with murder, they search for clues that will exonerate the client and reveal the true culprit. They quickly find out that real murder investigation is a far cry from the childhood mysteries and the uncovering of relative clues could cause disastrous consequences to their livelihood.

  • ISBN: 9781370005031
  • Author: Phillip N Hancock, Sr
  • Published: 2017-09-21 22:35:16
  • Words: 59399
Their First Murder Case Their First Murder Case