MRS WINSLOWS COP
I awoke with a terrible need to use the bathroom. If I had still lived in my nice little house on the cul-de-sac, I would have gotten right up. Since I no longer lived there, and since the distance from my bed to the bathroom was about twenty-five feet of bone chilling cold floor, I lingered in the bed.
Coal stoves are pretty to watch and cheap to run, but they tend to leave a house cold as hell in the morning. If I could make it as far as the bathroom, I would be all right. In the bathroom a very small, but efficient, electric heater ran to keep the pipes from freezing. It heated the room to only forty-five degrees but that was better than the thirty of the bedroom.
I knew it was thirty from the rather large thermometer on the wall. It had to be large if I were going to read the numbers without my glasses. I finally quit stalling. I made the mad rush to the bathroom. Along the way, I slowed down only to grab my pants, and wool shirt.
I lingered in the slightly warmer bathroom long enough to brush my teeth after I had answered nature's call. Showering could only be done in the afternoon. It took that long to build up enough heat inside to prevent the wet hair from freezing on top of my head.
When I returned to the one large room of the cabin, I shook the grate to dump the ashes into the bottom of the French coal stove. I added a few large lumps of coal to the stove, then slipped back into the bed with my clothes on. I couldn't sleep but I could lie in a twilight state until the room heated some.
Half an hour later, the area by the stove was at least warm enough for me to drag my sorry ass out of bed. The first thing I did was to reach under the sink to twist the long rod which led to a water valve buried underground. Without that valve and my draining of the sink pipe every night, I would have had burst pipes every morning.
With the water running, I filled an aluminum tea pot, then moved the pot to the coal fired stove. One thing about the old French coal stove was that it had a rather large top surface. When the stove had been used in France, it had been both the cook stove and the heater for a French peasant family. My father had bought it before anyone thought to collect such things. He had bought it just to heat his fishing cabin.
His fishing cabin had been my permanent home for the last two years. When Anne threw me out, I had nowhere else to go. The house, where we lived, had been hers before we married. Even though I paid for a remodeling job, it stayed hers after the divorce. In exchange for my repairs to her house, she didn't challenge the ownership of my dad's cabin.
I probably got the better deal, since I got away from both Anne and her daughter. I made the move the next day. It was only on mornings as cold as that one that I regretted the move. Since I lived in North Carolina, there weren't too awfully many of them.
I noticed again the funky smell of the cabin. It happened more on damp days than cold ones, but it was there that morning. The cabin had started life as a tobacco barn. The logs had retained the sweet smell of every leaf of tobacco which had been cured in it.
I had seen other barns and knew mine was large as tobacco barns go. At twenty-four by twenty, it was more the size of a double garage. My dad had made only a few changes. He had filled the dirt floor with broken bricks from a deserted power station on the river, the bricks made for a nice looking, but cold floor. He also added the bathroom, which bulged from the side of the barn like a tumor.
"The small kitchen sink, in the corner, and the insulation in the ceiling had been added the year before. I wasn't convinced that the insulation had done much good. The barn seemed to disperse heat like a giant outdoor radiator. Not withstanding, it was a pretty comfortable existence. I hunted some in the winter, and fished some in the summer. It was a pretty good life for a retired man in good health.
I pulled the plug as a sergeant of homicide just one month after the divorce degree was final. I had never looked back. Thirty years as a cop was more than enough for anyone. My pension was fair, and my expenses were low. I did just fine without any of their crap. I did, on occasion, miss the job. Usually when one of our backwater Sheriff's cars passed on the main road with his siren blaring.
My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the water boiling in my whistleless tea pot. I had learned a neat trick, sense my exile to the wilderness. I knew how to brew a single cup of coffee. I poured the water into a heavy mug, then dipped a small cheese cloth bag filled with coffee grounds into it several times. After four or five minutes, it was a fairly strong cup of coffee. I would have made more than one cup at a time, had I not drank so much stale coffee over the last thirty years.
I sat in the very old overstuffed chair for a long time, thinking about breakfast. To be honest I wasn't a very good cook, but I hated to spend the three bucks on somebody else's bad cooking. It was the only kind of cooking they did at the caf\'e9. The caf\'e9 was about five miles down the road.
Since the room was heating up, and the outside was still as cold as a two dollar whore's kiss, I decided to cook on the coal stove. Breakfast was a couple of frozen sausage patties and toast. It wasn't fancy but the animal fat was filling.
After breakfast, I sat in my chair trying to work up the courage to leave the warm cabin. I had been meaning to do some hunting, but just hadn't been able since the cold snap began. About the most I had been able to manage in the cold was a trip to the store house.
My dad had built a concrete block store house behind the cabin. He had used it mostly for tools and the like. I had cleaned it out, then installed a couple of dehydrators.
Many gallon mayonnaise jars were filled with dried fruits and vegetables bought in the summer when prices were low. There were also large white bags willed with dried meats of several different varieties. Most of it was game, I hadn't been able to eat at the time of the kill.
The coal stove was ideal for cooking soups and stews, which comprised most of my dinners. Lunch was usually a piece of spicy jerky and a biscuit left over from the night before. Reconstituted fruit of one kind or another made up most of my deserts. I was probably healthier than I had ever been in my life.
I finally gave in to my one great vice. I turned on the radio to the, all news, station, then lit a very smelly cigar. A cup of fresh coffee, a cigar, and a radio seemed almost like heaven. I should have known it wouldn't last.
A sharp rap on the door was followed by a female voice, "Anybody home in there?"
I moved across the quickly warming room to the door. I opened it to find a woman only a few years younger than my fifty-five years standing under my porch cover. "Can I help you?" I asked.
"I think so, that is if I am in the right place. It is hard to know for sure. People around here don't give very good directions," the woman said.
"I guess that depends on where you are supposed to be?" I replied with a smile.
"Is this the Taft place?" she asked.
"It is," I replied.
"In that case could I come in from the cold?" she asked.
"If you aren't a bill collector or process server sure," I agreed.
She stepped through the door, then took a long look around her. While she did, I took a look at her. She seemed tall at first glance, but that was mostly because she was thin as a rail. If she ever had any hips or breasts, they had withered away. She did have nice silver hair, and a fairly wrinkle free face.
"Are you Edgar Taft?" she asked. "And do you really live here?"
"Yes to both questions," I answered guardedly.
"Frankly, I would have expected more. Do you mind if I have a seat?" she asked motioning to the straight wooden chair by the small table under the window.
"Not at all, and why would you have expected more?" I asked.
"I heard you were the sharpest homicide detective ever," she stated skeptically.
"Not anymore, now I am the most incompetent hunter ever," I replied with a smile.
"I doubt that, anyone who could live like this has to be pretty good at all the primitive arts," she said sounding, for all the world, like a school teacher.
"So what can I do for you?" I asked. I almost hated to rush her into her story. I didn't get all that much company, especially women.
"Sergeant Everette suggested I come see you," she said.
"Donny Everette, do you mean to tell me some idiot, made another idiot a sergeant?" I asked with a smile.
"Donny is my cousin," she said indignantly.
"Does that make him less an idiot?" I asked. Since I didn't know why she came to see me, I didn't mind angering her.
"I guess not," she said with a gentle laugh.
"So why did Donny send you to see me?"
Her face slid from a smile to a look of great sorrow. "Mr. Taft six months ago my daughter was murdered by her husband. For some reason the police and district attorney have been unable to arrest him."
"All kidding aside, if Donny couldn't do it, then I sure as hell can't," I replied.
"My daughter lived in Greenpoint with her husband at the time of her death. Donny can't investigate over there. He also has been unable to determine, what if anything, the Greenpoint PD has done," she informed me.
"So exactly what is it you think I can do?" I asked.
"Donny said you could look over the reports, then begin an investigation of your own. He frankly said that if you couldn't find the killer, I should forget it. He has a great deal of faith in your abilities."
"That sounds real good Mrs.?" I left it open for her to fill in the blank.
"I'm sorry, I am Nora Winslow," she said.
"Not one of 'The' Winslows?" I asked.
"I suppose some people call us that," she said.
"I had no idea Donny had such a wealthy relative," I replied.
"Mr. Taft since there is no answer to that, I will not comment. It changes nothing, I still can not get anything done in Greenpoint," she said.
"Mrs. Winslow, with all your money, the cops and DA are beating their brains out to solve the murder of your little girl. If I were you, I would be content in that knowledge,"
"Mr. Taft, I want you to help me find out what happened to my little girl. I will pay you anything within reason," she said.
"I'm afraid money won't do it. Not that I am not inclined to take your money. It's just that I don't expect I can get the cooperation of the local police," I replied honestly.
"You need not concern yourself with that. I can arrange anything you need," she said confidently.
"I don't expect you know much about police departments. They tend to be rather closed mouthed with outsiders," I replied.
"Mr. Taft, I don't expect you know much about me," she said with a cruel smile.
Her smile was almost as cold as the air outside the cabin. "It's been a long time since I was involved in an investigation. I doubt I could be of much help." Actually I still doubted she could get the kind of cooperation necessary for an outsider to do any good at all.
"Mr. Taft, I understand the going rate for investigators is five hundred a day, plus expenses. I will pay that willingly."
"Mrs. Winslow, I think it would be a waste of your money," I replied. "One day should be about all it takes to convince you of that."
"Then give me one day. If you don't get full cooperation, I will give you one thousand dollars for the day."
"It's your money," I replied. "Answer me one question?\rdblquote
"No one has ever been able to say no to me," she said with a smile.
"That was the question," I replied with a smile to match hers.
"One more thing, I do not wish to merely be kept informed of your progress. I wish to be a part of the investigation," she said.
"Out of the question, I work alone," I replied.
"Before you say no, and I leave here without you, think about this. For six months I have been kept in the dark as to the facts surrounding my daughter's death. The small amount of information I do have, I had to pry from the district attorney. I have not been unable to get any information from the police. I have been going mad from the lack of information. I have to know. If nothing else, I have to know what is going on," she was as close to tears as a sophisticated woman ever gets. There was a mist in her eyes.
"If you are going to be involved then you are going to make yourself useful," I said.
"I will do anything within reason," she said.
"Exactly what do you consider outside the realm of reason?" I asked.
"I don't know at the moment, but if it happens I will tell you," she said.
"Fair enough," I admitted. "First of all, you are going to be my chauffeur."
"I had planned on no less," she stated without any emotion.
"In addition to the five hundred, there are going to be expense. I assume you will pay all of them?"
"I will, what exactly do you foresee?" she asked.
"A motel for sure, and possibly bribes."
"The bribes are no problem, but the motel is out of the question." Before I could object she said, "You will be staying with me. Until this ends, I do not intend to allow you out of my sight."
"Well, I sleep alone," I said in a strong voice.
"I hadn't planned to keep quite that tight a reign on you," she said smiling again.
"Good, let me take a shower. Why don't you go to the caf\'e9 while I do?"
"No thanks, I will wait right here."
"Up to you," I replied as I went to the wall which was filled with nails. On the nails were clothes hangers with shirts and slacks. I removed a hanger, then went to the chest for clean underwear. I left her sitting in the cabin, while I went into the cool bathroom. I left the door open as was my custom. It wasn't to embarrass her. It was to allow the heat to continue entering the bathroom.
"You might want to look away while I shower," I suggested.
"I shall," she said defiantly.
When I finished my shower, I pronounced myself ready to leave. "Aren't you going to pack?" she asked.
"If it makes you happy, but I expect to be home by dinner," I replied removing a canvas garment bag from the storage loft over her head. I tossed a few things into it. I turned off the water to the kitchen sink, then drained the water from the lines.
"Are we ready now?" she asked impatiently.
"Sure," I replied.
She looked at the pistol hanging on a nail. "Aren't you going to take your gun?" she asked.
"Let me explain something about pistols. First of all, I was a cop for thirty years, twenty of those I was a detective. A detective only needs a pistol, if he makes a serious mistake in judgment. If he does that, the pistol won't help."
"No matter," she said. "I never leave home without mine."
There was a smile on her face. I didn't know for sure whether she were joking or not. When I opened the door, I was again assaulted by the cold outside air. The sun was shinning brightly, but the air must have been well below freezing. "Damn I hate the cold," I muttered.
When I reached the edge of the cabin, I saw her car for the first time. She had parked beside my rusty old pickup. I was surprised to find that she drove a shiny red Ponitac Trans Am. Nora Winslow noted my surprise.
"You expected a cadillac?" she asked.
"That or a Mercedes," I replied.
"You are in for several surprises before we are finished," she said matter-of-factly.
During the ninety minute drive she filled me in on what she knew of her daughter Robin's death. According to her, Robin had married an opportunist. As long as the Winslow money came without question, the marriage was fine. When Robin reached the age of twenty-five her trust fund dried up. She would receive no more money until her mother passed away. Nora informed me that she had intended to out live Tony, the no good bastard, Robin had married.
With several questions tossed in by me to clarify her story she continued. Robin had always battled a slight weight problem. She ran between ten and twenty pounds over weight almost all the time. At the time of her death she had begun to jog to try keeping her weight down.
Since Robin and Tony, the no good bastard, lived in a town house on the city reservoir, she jogged around the lake. On that particular Friday, she was about half a mile from home. Her body was found in a wooded area just off the jogging path. She had been shot twice in the back of the head. Her clothes had been torn but there was no evidence of rape.
The no good bastard had an alibi. He was working late at the office, verified by a secretary who left shortly before the cops called about Robin. Fortunately for the no good bastard, the secretary was just short of sixty and married no office love affair as a motive.
"So Mrs. Winslow, if there was no inheritance as long as you lived, what motive could he have?" I asked.
"My daughter was a spoiled brat. Actually, I prided myself on that." She wasn't kidding. I could tell from her voice that she had meant for her daughter to be spoiled. "She had to be hard for any man to live with, especially one who could not give her all the things she had become accustomed to receiving from me. I knew when she married the no good bastard that it wouldn't workout. I raised my daughter to marry into money."
I cut her off, "So Robin was a hard woman to live with. In a case like that I wouldn't expect the husband to have an alibi. If he did it or had it done, it wasn't because of some argument."
"Add to that the fact that Robin carried half a million dollars in insurance and you might," she replied.
"Why would Robin have that kind of insurance?" I asked.
"Robin held a position on the board of her father's company. It was mostly a show position. We paid her almost nothing."
"How much is almost nothing, and why did she have all the insurance?" I repeated.
"Her pay was a flat twenty thousand a year," Mrs. Winslow informed me.
It might be a pittance to her, but it was a nice chunk of change for most folks.
"The insurance was carried by the company on all it's key employees. The board members qualified for it. Robin, against my wishes, named the no good bastard as the beneficiary," Mrs. Winslow informed me.
"So Tony, got half a mil when Robin got popped?" I asked.
"I'm not sure I like your cavalier attitude," Mrs. Winslow said. "We are discussing the murder of a beautiful person."
"I'm afraid I have to divorce myself from the person to work. You can't be emotionally involved and do the case justice," I replied gently.
"I see, Tony hasn't received the money yet. I have been able to block it so far. That I'm afraid will not be possible much longer. I'm afraid the police may no longer consider him a suspect in her death. If they state that to the insurance company, the no good bastard will be paid," Mrs. Winslow said. "The thought of him profiting from my daughter's murder is more than I can stand."
We rode in silence for a long time. We were probably twenty minutes out when I asked, "Do you watch much TV?"
"Not really why?"
"We are going to play a game with the cops," I admitted.
"What kind of game?" she asked.
"I am going to be very nice while asking for a list of things from them. They are going to be very nice when they refuse. At that time you and I will argue about my easy acceptance of their refusal. You will then bring all the juice you have." I replied.
"Juice?" she asked.
"You know influence. Don't hold anything back, give it all you have on the first try. Go just as high as you can on the very first try," I ordered.
"Are you sure," she asked with a small smile.
"Absolutely, I want them to think I am a good guy so that when I ask them later they will be inclined to help me all they can, but I also what them as intimidated by you as possible," I admitted.
"Okay, but you may be surprised again," she said.
I almost asked her why, but decided to let her run her string instead.
When we arrived at the police station, I admit, I was a little surprised to find that she knew not only where the building was, but where the chief of detectives office was to be found. She walked right into his office without even bothering to knock.
"Mr. Sims, I think we need to talk," she said.
Sims stood, then looked past her to me. "Edgar what the hell are you doing here?" He asked it not at all unfriendly.
"Lawrence," I said extending my hand. I really hadn't expected to see him in the chief of D"s chair. "What the hell are you doing in this one horsed town?"
"I moved over five years ago when they made me an offer I couldn't refuse."
"So Mr. Sims, it seems you know my consultant," Mrs. Winslow said. The bitch knew Sims and I had worked together. It was the real reason she had chosen me for her consultant.
"Yes Ma'am I do. Edgar taught me all I know about being a detective. If he had wanted, he could have had my job, or maybe the chiefs. Edgar never took the Lieutenants test. He didn't want to sit behind a desk."
"Then you two should be able to work together," she said shortly.
"So Edgar, how did Mrs. Winslow get you out of the back woods?" he asked.
"She came with a suitcase filled with money. Oh yeah, did you ever try to say no to her?" I asked.
"Haven't had to yet," he replied ominously.
"Don't bother, she gets her way," I replied.
"So what can I do for you?" he asked.
"I need a copy of all the police reports and other documents on her daughter's murder. I want to see the evidence, and talk to all the officers involved."
"Is that all?" he snapped. His attitude had changed as I expected it to do.
"That should do it," I said.
"Well I can't do that. The investigation is on going. I am not going to open my files to you," he said angrily.
"See, Mrs. Winslow I told you no one would give us those files. Now why don't you drive me home, I have things to do." I said gently.
"Is that all you are going to do? I mean this petty little official says no and you fold like an accordion. I thought I was hiring someone with guts," she said nastily.
"Well there is nothing I can do to force Sims to cooperate," I replied just as shortly.
"Let me give a lesson to the great detective," she said while opening her cell phone. She began punching numbers. I thought for a moment she would never stop. She actually smiled wickedly while she waited for someone to answer.
"Timothy, what took you so long? I told you I might need your help today," she held the phone just listening for a while. Then she launched a tirade against both Sims and me. When she finished, she listened again then asked, "Do you want to talk to the chief detective or not? Very well I will wait right here." She clicked the phone closed.
"I am expecting a call, if you don't mind we will wait here for it," she said haughtily.
"I have work to do, why don't you wait in the hall," Sims said angrily.
"Your call," she snapped.
I followed her into the hall. "Damn you played that a little strong. I sure as hell hope you have the juice to back it up?" I said as I watched any hope of Sims"s cooperation go out the window.
Fifteen minutes later I heard the phone ring in Sims' office. I couldn't hear his words because he either didn't speak much, or kept his voice very low. When he opened the door, his attitude was considerably changed. He spoke to us in the hallway.
"Edgar, I will have the reports copied, you should be able to get them in an hour or so. You can call the lab anytime to get a viewing of the evidence. Go by the DA's office anytime you are ready, they will have a copy of their reports for you," he said in a too calm voice.
"Lawrence, you have to know I had nothing to do with this," I said hoping to get off his crap list.
"In a pig's ass," he said closing the door to his office.
When Mrs. Winslow and I were in the parking lot she said, "It doesn't look as though he was fooled by your ruse."
"Never expected him to be," I replied. "It's kind of like a dance. He leads for a while, then we lead. Now, exactly who did you call?"
"The chairman of the democratic party."
"How the hell could he get so much done so fast?" I asked.
"The mayor needs party money and indorsement to get reelected. So does the DA," she replied with a grin.
"You do have the juice," I admitted.
"If that was a compliment, then thank you," she replied.
"How about lunch while we wait for the copies?" I asked.
The fancy restaurant was a waste. Winslow had a salad and I a roast-beef sandwich. We could have gotten the same things for five bucks. The bill in the Garden Restaurant was over twenty. Since it was her money, I didn't complain.
When we arrived in the police records section to pick up our copies, I knew from experience that some would be missing. I looked into the clerk's eyes. Since I knew how much juice we had, I was determined to get it all. "Could I see the original file? It looks as though some of the documents are missing," I said softly.
"They are all there," she replied cautiously.
"In that case, I would like to compare them to the file."
"Wait here, I will have to call my supervisor," she suggested.
"Okay, have her call the chief of detectives, tell her to remind him that I know what should be in a six month old murder file." I said.
"Maybe you are going to be worth the five hundred a day," Mrs. Winslow commented.
"Probably not," I replied.
When the clerk returned, she added another dozen or so pages to the pile. "That will be twenty-five dollars even," she said flatly.
I turned to Mrs. Winslow who paid the clerk in cash. I stuffed the papers into the manila envelope the clerk furnished us for the twenty-five bucks. I didn't even look at them first.
"So where to now?" Mrs. Winslow asked.
"The DA's office to get his file," I replied.
"Isn't it just going to be the same?" she asked.
"It had better be," I replied.
"So you are just going to make sure no one is trying to short us?" she asked.
"Some of that, but the DA will have a few papers his office generated. He will probably have the coroner's report. The cop file may or may not have it," I replied.
I didn't bother to question the DA's clerk. I simply took the file for which Mrs. Winslow paid twenty-eight dollars.
"So now what?" Mrs. Winslow asked once we were in the parking lot.
"Now we go somewhere to read all this crap." I replied.
"Do we need to stay in town or can we do it at my house?" she asked.
"It is going to be mostly reading and making notes, so it doesn't matter where we are so long as there is a phone," I replied.
"In that case, let's go to my house."
Twenty-five minutes late she pulled the Trans Am into the circular drive of a very old colonial style house. I waited until she had stopped the car before I asked, "The family estate?"
"Hardly, my husband started life rather poor. He amassed a fortune in the chemical business. His first wife, was from the same environment as he. He moved on, to a more stylish house, and wife. Actually the stylish wife, bought the house," she said.
"That would be you?" I asked.
"One and the same, I come from a rather good family which had fallen on bad times. I had the class Robert needed to climb even higher on the ladder. It was a pretty good trade, I traded my name and upbringing for a ton of money. We both profited from the marriage," she informed me lightheartedly.
When I entered through the front door, I was surprised to find that the rather large room held only a very large spiraling stairway to the second floor. The stairs lead to a round hallway with several doors. Each door she informed me led to a bedroom and bath.
As she took the files from me she suggested, "Why don't you go on up and pick one. While you settle in, I'll fix us a drink."
"Make mine iced tea, I have rather a lot of detailed reading to do." I climbed the stairs, then just opened the first door I came upon. It led into a bedroom all pink and frilly. I decided to try another. The second was pretty neutral, nothing feminine or especially masculine about it. I put my bag on the double bed, then began to unpack.
No more than ten minutes later, I descended the stairs to the entrance room, the area was much too large to be called a hall. I enter one of the two opening on the opposite wall from the front door. I found myself in a very modern kitchen. It was about as out of place in the grand old house as I was.
I tried the opening beside it and found myself in a kind of den. Mrs. Winslow was seated at a library type table with the files unopened before her. Also on the table were two glasses. One obviously filled with iced tea, and the other with a similar colored liquid. From the way she sipped the second glass, I had to assume it was liquor of some kind.
"Maybe you should wait in another room," I suggested.
"Not bloody likely," she replied sharply. Her nerves were on edge just looking at the envelops.
"Suit yourself, but I smoke rather smelly cigars while I think," I replied.
"Is that all you were worried about. I have been known to smoke one myself on occasion," she replied as she moved to the rather large desk. From it she removed a wooden box. I found it to be a cigar box. Inside lay a handful of very large thick cigars.
"Thanks, but I prefer my own," I said as she extended the box to me.
"Up to you," she replied taking one of the monsters for herself.
She removed a fancy lighter from the desk, then she lit the thick roll of tobacco. When she had it going, she handed me the lighter then moved an ashtray from the desk to the table.
Even with her skinny shriveled body, there was something marvelously sexy about her puffing on the fat cigar. I tried to ignore her as I returned my attention to the envelopes. I opened the cop envelope first. I removed the stack of papers. The reports were in chronological order except for the dozen extra pages. Those I put aside until last.
The patrolman's incident report pretty much followed the story Mrs. Winslow had told. Robin's body had been found by a young couple out for a nature walk. At least that was their story and they stuck to it.
According to his report the beat cop cordoned off the area, then called the detectives. The two detectives arrived half an hour later, followed shortly by the SI unit, then the coroner's office.
The patrolman held the couple who found the body, but did not write a report on their interview. That, I expected, was done by the detectives.
I went from the patrolman's reports to the first report filed by a Detective Riley. According to detective Riley's report one of those jogger's pouches was found on the body. In the pouch along with a couple of dollars was a card with Robin's name and address. The card was provided by the bag's manufacturer to be used as Identification in case of accidents. I expected they had falls and car accidents in mind. It was a hell of an idea, since joggers seldom carried their driver's license.
The detectives left the SI to search the scene while they went to Robin's home to notify the next of kin. Since the on scene investigation had taken so long, Tony, the no good bastard, was home at the time. The neighbors confirmed that he had arrived only moments ahead of the cops. Tony gave his whereabouts to the officers, who confirmed it with a call. Since the body appeared to have been sexually molested, at the time they accepted his alibi without further question.
After the initial interview with the husband, the two detectives began looking for someone who might have heard the shots. All the residents who lived near the area where questioned, as to noises or strangers. The results were that an old couple living about a hundred yards away from the crime scene had heard the shots at five twenty-five, but had not seen anything. Since there was a strip of trees between the crime scene and their house it seemed to be a plausible story. The time of death became five twenty-five on a Friday evening.
The SI report listed all the items taken into evidence. With one exception, they were the effects of the victim. The exception being two .380 shell casings found near the body. The .380 was a bit of a surprise. I would have expected either a .22 or a 9mm. The .22 was the gun of choice for a professional hit and the 9mm was by far the most popular weapon among the criminal element. A .38 wouldn't have been unusual, but the .380 was.
The coroner reported no sexual activity at all, yet the clothes were torn from Robin's body. Of the two slugs recovered one was in good shape but the second was mangled beyond identification. Everything else about the autopsy was normal. Descriptions of several interviews with neighbors proved almost useless. The investigation center around the no good bastard for a while, but had to move on when nothing showed up.
When the police packet was finished, I found I had only two notes. "Why the torn clothes and a simple notation .380."
"Well," Mrs. Winslow asked around the stub of her cigar.
"The cops seem to have done a respectable investigation. I don't know if they center in on the two oddities, but they covered all the standard things." I replied.
"What oddities?" she asked.
"Her torn clothes, and the pistol." I saw that she didn't understand. "If the body was found around six p.m. the killer wasn't frightened off, so why would he tear her clothes if he didn't intent to molest her. It doesn't say so, but I'll bet the clothes were torn after she was dead. Why anyone would do that, I have no idea.
The second thing is the pistol. Hit men sometimes use .22 caliber pistols, but most people think bigger is better. I really would have expected a street weapon. Those are almost exclusively 9mm with some .38s."
"So what does it mean?" she asked.
"Damned if I know," I replied thoughtfully.
"So what do we do now?" she asked.
"We read the DA's file to see if they have anything else, then we sleep on it," I replied.
"For this I am paying you five hundred a day?" she asked sarcastically.
"If you say that one more time, I am going home. Lady, I can use the money, but I wasn't starving when I met you," I replied.
It took a moment for the fire to leave her eyes, when it did she said. "I'm sorry this is all so frustrating. I was hoping you could just look at the file and tell me who did it," she admitted.
"Mrs. Winslow, it doesn't work that way. The cops are not idiots, no matter what you think, they have had six months to work on this. Maybe a fresh mind can find a lead, but even that isn't very likely."
"So what are we going to do tomorrow?" she asked more subdued.
"We are going to talk to the detectives, and the coroner. After that, I don't know, but I will think of something," I replied.
The autopsy photos were in the DA packet as I had expected. They were pretty gruesome but they always are. I looked at the color photos for any indication of bruising on Robin's body. The only marks of any kind were the two small holes in her skull. The photos only confirmed my opinion that her clothes were torn after her death.
Once the heart stops pumping the body no longer bruises. There surely would have been bruises from the ripping of her bra if nothing else. I didn't know from personal experience, but I had it on a good authority that it takes a great deal of force to rip a bra. I imagined the same would be true for the waist band of her shorts.
I hadn't allowed Mrs. Winslow to see the autopsy photos. The shots didn't ruin my dinner but they would definitely ruin hers.
Mrs. Winslow was exiled to the kitchen while I reviewed the photos. When I finished, I wandered into the kitchen. She was up to her elbows in dinner. At the very moment I walked in she was washing ingredients for a salad.
"I would have thought with the size of this place you would have at least a cook," I replied.
"I actually have a staff of three, but I sent them all on vacation until further notice. I don't want anyone distracting us," she replied.
Since I had no idea how distracting a staff of three could be, I said nothing. Instead I asked, "Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Get the hell out of my kitchen," she suggested with a smile.
I poured myself a fresh glass of iced tea then returned to what I then knew was the library. I returned to the crime scene photos which I had passed over at the time of the initial reading. I went through them carefully but saw nothing. I almost picked up the dozen pages which had been left out of the original offering. I decided again to leave them until after dinner. Something about them was important. I had emerged myself in the mundane facts so that I would be ready to understand the significance of those pages. There was also significance in the fact that the cops wanted to hide them from me.
Dinner was a rather nice steak complete with baked potato and salad. I ate with relish while Mrs. Winslow picked at hers. Almost all of hers went into the garbage.
"Do you think there is any chance I will ever know who killed Robin?" she asked.
"Damn you are direct," I replied.
"I don't know any other way. My daddy taught me to talk straight and carry the bigger stick," she said with a sad smile.
I nodded at the good advice, then said, "Odds are about one in four that you will find out who did it. However the odds that we can prove it from the evidence are about one in a hundred."
"What makes you say that?" she asked.
"A crime committed outside like this one is a bitch for physical evidence. There is no DNA, no blood and no prints. The only possibility is that there may be a pistol around to match. The odds of that are pretty long though."
"Why," she asked.
"This wasn't a random killing. The person who killed your daughter wasn't some wacko who might hang on to the gun. It was a planned execution, anyone who ever watched TV knows that the cops can match up the pistol. It probably went right into the lake."
"Couldn't it be recovered from the lake?" she asked.
"Possibly and it might even have a serial number. That would be a very expensive, and time consuming project. One not likely to end in success. I would say this though, judging from the fact that it was a .380, the odds are better that it was bought by the killer in a gun store. That isn't the kind of pistol you buy on the street corner. It still might have been stolen somewhere, but I kind of feel that it wasn't."
"Then tomorrow, we hire a dive team to search that fucking lake," she said angrily.
"I really wish we had the manpower to search the files for sales of .380s in the last year or so. We are going to be talking to a lot of people, it would be nice to have a list to cross-check."
"Mr. Taft, do you have any idea how much money I have?" she asked seriously.
"No Ma'am," I replied honestly.
"Money I can get my hands on immediately equals probably two million, money I could get in two weeks probably come to another ten. Give me six months and I could raise more than the gross national product of some countries. You just tell me what you want and I'll get it for you. I even thought about offering a million dollar reward, but the DA talked me out of it. He said there was only one person who knew who killed my daughter and no reward would make him tell."
"He is right, this wasn't a robbery where some kid will brag to a friend. Your daughter's murder has assassination written all over it. However, if you can use your money to get information, then it is better than any reward."
"Mr. Taft you are a simple man, I know. I want you to watch what a pissed off ,old lady can do." She lifted the phone from its cradle. Again she dialed several numbers. "This is Nora Winslow, is Mike home?"
She waited a few minutes then said, "Mike I don't have time for your ass kissing right now. I need the name of that research firm we used on the Billings thing. I know it is after work, but you can get it for me." She waited and listened. "Mike, I have a man here who is trying to help me find Robin's killer. We need that name now." She said it calmly but there was a threat in it.
"Okay, you call me back no matter what time it is," she said. She turned to me, "Mike is going to the office for the name. It will take about an hour."
"Those people are going to have a hard time getting all that information without cops to press the gun store"s buttons," I suggested.
"Don't you read the papers?" she asked. She went on without an answer. "All sales of handguns are now on a computer somewhere or other. It's a requirement of the Brady Bill."
"But those files are kept by the department of justice," I replied knowing at least a little.
"They are," she agreed without any concern whatsoever.
The call came an hour later. While she spoke to Mike, she wrote a long list of numbers then a phone number. She switched the call to the speaker phone so that I could hear.
"Electronic research," the metallic computer voice answered. Mrs. Winslow began punching in the numbers Mike had given her.
After a few transfer clicks, a man's voice came on the phone. "Mrs. Winslow, how very nice to hear from you again. I read in the papers that the Billings thing worked out well for you."
"It did, I have another task for you."
"The same type things as last time?" he asked.
"Not exactly, I need to know, Hold on a minute. She turned to me after killing the speaker. "What do I need to know?"
"The names and addresses of everyone who purchased a .380 automatic pistol in either North Carolina, South Carolina or Virginia, in the last year," I suggested.
She turned back to the phone, then repeated the information to the man on the other end of the line. "How soon do you need this?" he asked.
She turned to me. "Three days, " I replied.
She again relayed the information. They agreed on a figure that was staggering to me. When she finished the call I said, "Don't ever talk about how much you are paying me again. Between this and the dive crew, I am going to be your least expensive employee."
"I hope you are going to be the best investment I ever made," she said.
"That remains to be seen. I may be wasting your money," I said feeling a little guilty.
"Mr. Taft, for the first time in six months, I feel that I am doing something. Win or loose it is worth every penny," she said.
"If that's the way you feel, I promise you this. If we don't figure this out, it won't be for lack of trying." I made the promise while getting into it myself.
I stopped making promises and turned to the dozen unread pages. The first and only one of interest was a report filed by the SI. The lab"s investigator had written that the detectives seemed less than enthusiastic about pursuing the case. In his mind at least, they decided instantly that it was a sex crime. Those kinds of crimes when committed randomly have an almost zero chance of being solved with hard police work. It they ever get solved it is because the culprit gets caught in the act. Or more likely, a victim survives to identify him. Their attitude seemed to be, wait until we get him on something else and he will cop to this one.
The balance of the pages were a rehash and update after four months. It was the report which a new investigator would read when working a case that had been put on the rear burner. It was simply there for reference in case a similar crime occurred. One hopefully with a valid suspect, nobody seemed to want to fool around with a whodunit without a witness. I gave up after an hour of reading with no new information.
I had gotten so used to the cold cabin, that I had a hard time sleeping in the warm house. I did manage to sleep some, but it was only in short bursts. I awoke early then used the warm bathroom for all my morning things. I had to admit that it was nice to shower first thing and in a warm room.
When I arrived in the kitchen, Mrs. Winslow was sitting at the table over a dirty plate and a coffee cup. "What would you like for breakfast, I can just about cook an egg," she replied with a smile. Her smile was much warmer than the one from the day before.
"To tell you the truth, I don't get to town much. I was kind of hoping to get a biscuit from one of the fast food restaurants," I admitted. I saw the curious look on her face. "It's kind of a nostalgia thing. I would like a cup of coffee though."
I drank the coffee while I worked on the morning paper. Nothing of any real consequence had happened over night. Since I hadn't seen a paper in more than a week, nothing had happened in the last week.
After the coffee, we drove to a local dive shop. It was actually part of a sporting goods store. The dive club president worked at the store. I explained what I wanted done. He and his group were up to it, he assured me. He named a per day, per diver, fee to which Mrs. Winslow immediately agreed.
"There is very little current in that lake. If a pistol was tossed in, it is likely to be close to where it landed," he assured us. He also knew the location of the murder scene. He explained that he dived in that lake often so the description in the paper was familiar to him. He had never thought of diving there for a pistol. I was a little surprised that the cops hadn't had divers in the waters near the site of the murder.
Mrs. Winslow and I drove to the coroner's office in the basement of the Greenpoint Hospital. Doctor Shell was such a nice sympathetic man that the Winslow juice wasn't necessary. He and I poured over the pictures. In the end he agreed that the clothes were torn after Robin's death. Why neither of us knew for sure.
"Now what?" Mrs. Winslow asked as we walked to her firebird.
"Now we go somewhere to have a cup of coffee. While we drink our coffee, you tell me all you have learned about the no good bastard." I replied.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"Mrs. Winslow, you are not the kind of woman to have allowed your daughter to marry without a background on the prospective son-in-law. I also imagine you have had him checked out since the murder." She didn't even bother trying to deny it.
"Okay, I admit I have a couple of reports on Tony," she said dropping the no good bastard phrase.
"So let's get to a place with a coffee pot while you tell me," I suggested.
The place turned out to be one of those restaurant with cute little tablecloths and flowers everywhere. The coffee at least was adequate, if a little weak.
"When Robin met Tony, she was in college. At that time, Tony was a year ahead of her. She dropped out when he graduated. They married just as soon as I got him a job. I wouldn't have him in my company, so I found one of our suppliers to take him. I have been told that he is less than a hard worker. That is why his staying at the office on a Friday night bothers me."
"Does he still work at the same company?" I asked.
"Yes and he will until he gets the insurance money," Mrs. Winslow said bitterly.
I made a note to talk to his boss. I was forced to use a napkin for the note. It wasn't even all that unusual, I had done it often before while still a cop.
"So did your man come up with any girlfriends?" I asked.
"Plenty when he was in college, even one while they were dating. He could find nothing after he and Robin married. Why should he fool around, he would be risking everything?"
"Why would the president of the United States fool around? Some men just can't help themselves." I commented.
"He seems to have been a good boy after the wedding. My man checked carefully," she replied.
"No offense but Tony may have been more careful." I suggested. "He did have a lot at stake."
"I know but Matt would have found out if he was fooling around even after Robin's death," she said.
"Did anyone check his bank records?" I asked.
"I suppose the police did," she suggested.
"I doubt it, they had no probable cause for a warrant," I informed her. The suggestion was like a light going off in her head. I stopped her from calling the bank by informing her that the bank couldn't release that information under penalty of law.
Instead of calling the bank she called Electronic Research again. I finally knew for sure, Electronic Research was a fancy name for some computer hacker or hackers. It made no difference to me. Live and let live, was one of my many mottoes.
I waved to get her attention, "While you are at it get his credit card purchases for the last year."
When she shut off the phone, she asked brightly, "So what else can we do today?"
"We can talk to the detectives who investigated this case. Maybe you can convince the chief of detectives to have their notebooks copied for us."
An hour later we met Detective Riley in yet another restaurant. I was certainly getting a tour of all the restaurants in town. Winslow was actually very good during the interview, both with the coroner and Riley. She knew enough not to ask any questions. She allowed me to ask them all.
"So Riley, what happened to Robin?" I asked.
"She got herself killed," the moderately overweight woman said.
"Exactly what did she do to get herself killed?" I asked.
"You know that jogging is hazardous to your health," she replied with a grin. Either she didn't know who Mrs. Winslow was or more likely she didn't care. She was a civil servant and fairly immune from political pressure. At least civil servants like to think so.
"Okay, then who do you think killed her?" I asked.
"If I had any idea, I would go out and arrest him," she said.
"Did you like the husband for it?" I asked.
"I liked him fine, but he had an air tight alibi," she admitted.
"How about a hired hit?" I asked.
"You watch too many TV shows in your retirement. It was an attempted rape gone bad," she said. "You saw the pictures."
I was sure Mrs. Winslow was biting her lip to keep from screaming at the woman. I know because I was doing the same.
"I don't suppose you did a background on the husband, just to be sure?" I asked.
"Sure we did, he was squeaky clean," she replied.
After she left Winslow said, "No wonder they couldn't solve Robin's murder, they were looking in the wrong place. The no good bastard did it somehow."
"We don't know that, but it would be my guess at the moment. Let's just see how it shakes out before we draw any conclusions. We don't want to fall into the same trap as the cops."
We met with Edwards whose story was the same as Riley's. They had checked out Tony and every known sex offender in the area.
Winslow and I made the lab our last stop. The lab director was expecting us. He escorted us to a small room with a table in the middle. On it lay all the evidence from the crime scene. I didn't bother opening the envelopes with the slugs and shell casings. I did sort through the bags of clothing.
I noticed the portable tape player. I couldn't remember having seen it in any of the pictures of the body. I lifted the evidence tag, but it told me nothing.
"Is your scientific investigator who gathered this stuff working today?" I asked.
"He is on a call," the lab manager said.
"I have only two questions, could you get him on the phone?"
"I guess, what are your questions?"
"Where exactly was the tape player and what was the name of the tape in it," I asked.
"What possible difference could it make?" the lab manager asked.
"None probably, but I would like to know. Also did the husband identify the tape player as his wife's."
"That is three questions but okay," he said escorting us out of the evidence area.
When he returned from his private office he said, "The tape player was found on the path, and her husband identified it. The tape in it was a country and western tape of some kind. If you really need to know the name, Jake can look in his notes when he returns."
"If I need to know, I'll call back," I replied.
Once outside Winslow said, "That couldn't have been Robin's tape player. She hates country and western music. She told me it was too vulgar. She would have been listening to classical music."
"I expected that, not about the music, but I didn't think it was her player," I admitted.
"Why would you say that?" Winslow asked.]
"You said Robin was a spoiled brat. That was some Chinese piece of crap tape player. I don't expect anyone like Robin would have been satisfied with anything less than a Sony or a disk player of some kind."
"If Tony identified it as hers, then it proves he had something to do with her murder," Mrs. Winslow said.
"It doesn't prove anything, since we can't prove it wasn't hers. Besides he will just say he was upset and mistaken."
"That no good bastard can't get away with this," she almost sobbed.
"Come on, we have only been at this a day. Give it some time. He may not get away with anything," I admitted.
"I am personally ready to call it a day." I suggested after a pause.
"Why it's only five thirty?" Mrs. Winslow asked.
"Because, I don't know what to do next," I admitted.
Back at the Winslow house, I reread the SI report. It did indeed place the tape player on the path. Further down in the report, I found that an attempt to print the tape player proved useless. There were no prints on either the tape player or the tape inside. The SI had been through in his failures.
After dinner, Mrs. Winslow wanted to talk over her evening drink. "Do you plan to talk to the no good bastard tomorrow?" she asked.
"I don't think so," I admitted.
"Why not?" she asked.
"We have his statement from the police. He isn't going to change his story. He has had six months to work on it. What we need is a direction to move. To get that we need information."
"I don't understand?" she admitted.
"If this was a planned murder and I think it was, then somebody she knew planned it. You say it was Tony and I have no reason to doubt that at all. However, there has to be somewhere for us to begin proving it. All the background checks have been done by the police or your last investigator. Whoever did it knew your daughter and knew her well. We need to find out who she knew. The cops talked to her friends and came up blank, we need to use a different approach." I stated.
"So what's it to be?" she asked.
"We take the advice of every investigator since Watergate, we follow the money. When we get the bank records and the credit card records, we begin there. Those records should give us a pretty good idea of Tony and your daughter's habits. Even those nobody told the cops about."
"I don't understand?" she admitted.
"There will probably be a shop where your daughter bought her clothes, now Tony probably had no idea where she shopped. The cops sure as hell didn't ask the clerks if they knew anything, but we can."
"You are hoping that something from the credit card purchases will tell us something?" she asked skeptically.
"Maybe, or maybe Tony withdrew a couple of grand from the bank around the time of your daughter's death."
Maybe I need to speed up our little research firm?" she suggested.
"The sooner the better," I replied.
She made the call then without another word went to her home computer. Not five minutes later the phone rang again. The computer answered it. Ten minutes later it began vomiting out pages of paper. I sat in my chair marveling at what real money could do.
When I saw the first page, I knew that the research company had been worth whatever she paid them. The purchases were by date even though there were four different cards used. The research company had somehow merged all the cards into one giant list. I couldn't have asked for a better job.
The bank list was done similarly. Every transaction from either of the three bank accounts was listed by date. I began with the bank records. There were no large withdrawals and few withdrawals on a regular basis. The house payments, car payments, and utilities being the notable exceptions. I wasn't too disappointed, since I hadn't expected it to be that easy.
In the credit card list, I found weekly purchases from two different gas stations. It appeared that husband and wife used different brands of gasoline. I also found that one or the other of them belonged to a gym, most likely Robin. I found the name of a small boutique listed several times over the last year. I put it on my list of places to visit.
I noticed a regular charge to the account only on one card and only at a restaurant on the interstate. The restaurant wasn't near anything. The charge was for a hefty fifty bucks twice a week. A lot for me to spend for a meal but probably not too much for Tony or Robin. I wrote the address anyway. I wanted a list of anything either of them did on a regular basis. When the list was finished, I had two retail stores, the restaurant, gas stations, and the gym.
Mrs. Winslow had been reading the pages as I finished them. She checked the bank records and the credit card list a second time while I watched. I could tell she was looking for something.
"What's wrong, Mrs. Winslow?" I asked.
"There is no beauty shop on either of these lists. Every woman goes to the beauty shop."
I might never have thought of that myself. It did seem peculiar. "Why in hell would your daughter put gas on a card, then pay a beauty shop in cash?" I asked.
"She wouldn't without a damned good reason. My daughter loved credit cards."
"Do you happen to know where she had her hair done?" I asked.
"No, she and I didn't talk much after she married the no good bastard," she admitted sadly.
"Do you have any idea who might know?" I asked.
"Her only girl friend was a neighbor. The woman three doors down," she suggested.
"Let's go talk to her first then we will work on the other shops," I suggested.
Laura Duffy was the neighbor and only close friend. We spent almost half an hour with her. She gave us the name of the woman who did both Robin and her own hair. The story was simple as is usually the case. The woman had been doing Laura's hair for years. The beautician became pregnant and had to quit work at the fancy shop. The woman's husband had built her a small shop at home. She continued to work a few hours a day for her favorite clients In an emergency Robin had used her once. She had continued since she found the woman competent and pleasant to be around. According to Laura, she also loved the woman's baby. Robin would often stay after her appointment to play with the child. The cash was simple, the new mother was trying to beat the IRS. We had to reassure Laura at least ten times that we weren't going to report her friend. She actually seemed more concerned with the woman's availability to work on her own hair than any potential legal problems for the beautician.
"You know, women talk to their beauticians, maybe we should see this woman next," Mrs. Winslow suggested.
"That actually sounds like a good idea," I admitted.
The woman's name was Jean Davis, she was a very attractive thirty something woman. She had beautiful blonde hair. I would have expected no less. She seemed to be carrying a little extra weight, from the baby most likely.
I made a large point of introducing Robin's mother before I began asking questions. "Miss Davis, we are having a bit of trouble pinning down exactly how Robin spent her days. Could you help us with that?" I tried to start off easy.
"Jean, please call me Jean. Actually I don't know a lot about Robin, except that she loved children. She sometimes spent an extra hour playing with Mikey." Mike sat in a fishnet playpen in the middle of her small shop floor.
"Did you get the feeling that she and Tony were planning to have one of their own?" I asked.
"I don't think so. Frankly she told me in confidence, but since she is dead. I guess I can tell it. She told me she was thinking about divorcing Tony. I expect it was because he didn't want kids." She looked thoughtful, then added, "At least that was part of it."
She didn't go on so I asked, "What was the other part?"
"I think she had met someone else. She never exactly said, but I just got the feeling that toward the end she was moving closer to leaving her husband."
I tried but she didn't seem to know any more. In the car I asked, "Mrs. Winslow did you have any idea Robin might be considering leaving Tony?"
"None, I am shocked."
"Didn't your investigator find out?"
"He was looking at Tony, not my daughter," she replied defensively.
"If she had mentioned divorce to her husband, it certainly gave him a stronger motive to kill her," I admitted.
Mrs. Winslow had a picture of both Tony and Robin. I used those pictures to try to jog the memories of the clerks in the two boutiques. I found clerks who remembered Robin without too much trouble. Neither of them knew anything except that Robin had been a rather particular customer. She had always bought the best of everything, but she was picky. She was careful to buy only things which didn't emphasis her weight problem.
The weight thing reminded me of the gym. We tried it after the shops. I found the manager who explained that she didn't really have any dealing with the customers after they had signed the contract. She did allow me to interview the various weight instructors. The problem was, we were at the gym in the early morning. Robin worked out after lunch three days a week. If we wanted to speak with the instructor who had the most dealing with her, it would require a visit the next day after lunch.
"Why don't we go to lunch at the restaurant by the interstate?" I suggested.
When we arrived, I thought we were in the wrong place. The restaurant was one of those family places. I was very much at home in the place, but I doubted Robin would have been on a regular basis. To spend fifty bucks at that restaurant, she would have had to feed six people.
I guessed immediately that the motel attached to the restaurant might be the real attraction. I wondered why the hell she would be paying for the room if she were having an affair. Surely the man would pay, even in those days of women's lib. The only way to find out was to ask.
The clerk wouldn't even look at the photographs until Mrs. Winslow broke out the cash. I showed him first the picture of Tony. I still had hopes that it was Tony who charged the room. It would make more sense for him to pay the bill than for Robin to pay.
He didn't recognize Tony. On the other hand he did recognize Robin. "Sure," he said. "That's Jenny. She used to come in a couple of times a week, but she hasn't been in lately."
"I don't expect so, she was murdered six months ago." I waited for that to sink in. "So tell me did she check in with anyone?"
"No, but I'm sure she was meeting someone," he said.
"Why are you so sure?" I asked.
"Because she stayed only a couple of hours. Nobody checks into this place for two hours unless it is for a quickie," he replied with a smile. I hadn't explained that Mrs. Winslow was 'Jenny's' Mother.
"Did you ever see the man?" I asked.
"No, I never did," he replied. "She checked in, then left the key in the room when she was finished. She wasn't a hooker or anything was she?"
"No," I replied.
"I didn't think so, she had way too much class for that," he replied.
"Tell me why her credit card receipts have the restaurant as the charge?" I asked.
"Take a look at this place. We do it for the business," he admitted.
"You have a lot of short term guests then?" I asked.
"You bet," he replied.
We had lunch in the parking lot restaurant. "You know it is hard for me to believe that my daughter was having an affair. At least with a man who could not afford to pay for the motel," Mrs. Winslow said seriously.
"I know, that is bothering me some," I replied. "Where would she come into contact with someone like that, and why would she be considering divorcing her husband for such a man?"
"Love is a strange thing, Mr. Taft," she said with a sad little smile.
"I guess we might as well go buy some gas," I suggested.
"I suppose so," she agreed.
The first station was the one where Tony bought his gas. It was a self service station near his home. The clerk recognized the picture but knew nothing more than Tony seemed to be a nice man.
The second station was a little better. Robin had bought her gas at one of the few full service stations. The owner knew her car, better than her. At least that's what he told us. As I had done at every other place, I obtained a list of his employees as of the date of Robin's death. I had been compiling the list to cross check with the gun purchases when the records arrived. It was a real long shot, but we were reduced to playing long shots.
After we left the station, I suggested that we stop by the police crime lab. I wanted to talk face to face with the tech who had gathered the evidence. We managed to get him away from the lab. In the snack bar over coffee he explained his actions and his initial concerns about the detectives"s apparent lack of enthusiasm.
"At the time, there was just nothing to go on. As a matter of fact nothing really ever developed. I understand that everyone \lquote s conclusion was that the woman was just a random victim. You know, in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said.
"You know I have one little problem with all of this, I never got to see the items collected from her home. Surely things were taken from her home."
"We examined a few things but returned them to her husband's lawyer. Since none of it was important, we couldn't keep it," he declared.
"Did you make a list of the items before you released them?" I asked.
"Sure, didn't you get it?" he asked.
"No, I don't think so. Do you have a copy?"
"Absolutely, it's in my notebook. I can get it for you now," he suggested.
While the tech went for the list, I tried to think of anything to help move our investigation along. Nothing came to mind. After the tech had given me the list, he returned to work. Mrs. Winslow and I drove to her house.
I was seated at the library table when I said, "I need to think out loud a minute. Is that okay with you?"
"Sure, I am interested in what you think," she replied.
"Okay, starting at the beginning, we have to assume that the torn clothes were a red herring. The killer wanted us to think that it was an attempted rape gone bad," I suggested.
"Or that the killer was a man," I mused. "Maybe Robin was killed by a woman."
"Is that likely?" Mrs. Winslow asked. "I would think the amount of strength required to rip a bra would be more likely in a man."
"It would indeed, but let's not close our minds to any possibility. We are pretty sure Robin was having an affair. If so, it might have been her lover, or maybe he was married and it was his wife."
"I still think it was Tony," Mrs. Winslow said.
"Like I said, let's not close our minds just yet. However, maybe Tony was fooling around too. He could have hired someone to do the hit, but how did he pay him. There is no money missing,"
"Maybe he had a secret bank account," she suggested.
"His only income was from his job, maybe you can get someone to run the figures. You know, see if there is a chuck of money unaccounted for," I suggested. Mrs. Winslow made a note on a legal pad.
"What we really need to know is whom Robin was seeing at that motel. Now how do we go about it?" I asked.
"If she didn't tell her best friend, then she didn't tell anyone," Mrs. Winslow stated.
"Let's go at this another way. She met the man at lunch a couple of times a week. You probably could answer this better than me. Why lunch time?"
"Maybe it was the only time he could get away. Robin didn't work so she could have met him anytime during the day without any problem, so it must have been his problem," she replied.
"Can we assume, he at least had a job?" I asked with a smile.
"Yes, but he didn't have enough money for the motel room," she replied.
"Maybe he did have the money, but was afraid to leave a trail. He had her register and pay so that he wouldn't be seen with her," I suggested.
"Of course, we were looking at it wrong. He couldn't pay without leaving a trail. If Robin had to leave the trail, then she had less to loss than the man. That makes a lot more sense," Mrs. Winslow said. She seemed somehow relieved that her daughter had at least taken up with a man of means.
"That actually is bad news. It means the man covered his tracks well and that if we find him, he probably won't cop to it," I suggested. "That said, do you have any ideas?"
"Not right off the top of my head," she admitted.
"She wasn't into politics, was she?" I asked.
"No, I don't think Robin even knew who the president was," Mrs. Winslow admitted.
"You said Robin was on your company's board, could it have been someone there?" I asked.
"Men on the board are all in their seventies," she admitted.
"You keep thinking about it anyway, just to humor me," I replied shortly.
She nodded, then sat quietly for a while. "I can't think of anyone. How about dinner, it's that time you know."
"No offense to your cooking but could we order something brought in? I think I would like a pizza," I suggested.
She actually laughed. "I don't really like to cook, I was just doing it to show my appreciation. Pizza would be fine."
After the pizza I tried to get my mind off the case for a while. I sat in front of the television watching a mindless comedy. Mrs. Winslow sat beside me on the sofa but certainly not close.
"Taft, tell me something," she demanded. "Don't you get lonely living out in the woods?"
"I never thought about it. After I left the department, I needed the solitude to wind down. Now that you have dragged me back, I don't know how I will feel when I return," I replied honestly.
"I wasn't thinking about that, I was asking about women. Don't you miss the female companionship?"
"I was married until I went to live in the woods. I sure as hell don't miss that companionship." I replied.
"You may be the best detective in the world but you are dense as a post. Don't you miss the sex?" she asked.
I was a little surprised by her question. "To tell you the truth there wasn't much of that at the end of my marriage. I suppose I got used to it not being available. To answer your question, I just never thought about it." I thought about it for the first time. Mrs. Winslow remained silent while I did.
"How long have you been a widow?" I asked.
"Three years, but that wasn't an offer," she stated. "I have been with other men since my husbands death. I was actually seeing someone up until a couple of months ago."
"What happened?" I asked.
"Mr. Taft, rich women do not marry poor men. John worked for me. I should never have started up with him. He was too young for me anyway." She said it sadly. She obviously missed him.
"How young is too young?" I asked.
"He was forty. I am not going to tell you how old I am," she said smiling at me.
"Where is this John now?" I asked.
"Home with his wife and kids, I expect," she replied. "Could we not talk about him?"
"Not a problem for me," I replied.
"Edgar, I lied earlier. It was an offer," she said quietly with her eyes down.
"I don't know what to say, except that I am highly flattered. I do have a problem with it though. At this particular moment, I need to stay focused and I couldn't do that if we were involved. I mean you would be a constant distraction. If you will hold that thought for a day or two, I would be most honored to accept your kind offer."
"You mean we should wait until this is over?" she asked.
"I think that would be best," I agreed. Far from being angry as I had feared, she took it as a great joke.
"In that case, I will tell you that I may not look like a sex pot, but everyone tells me I am great in bed. So let that be an incentive for you to solve this quick."
We sat closer on the sofa during the evening news. I went to bed alone that night. I had second and third thoughts as the night drew out.
At breakfast the next morning I asked, "Were you seeing this John at the time of Robin's murder?"
"Yes, but John couldn't have had anything to do with her death. He and Robin hardly knew each other," she replied.
"I know but he was involved in the family life at the time. I really should talk to him. Could you arrange a non confrontational meeting?"
"We can just drop in on him. He does work for me."
John proved to be a wimpy little man. I doubted that he would have had the strength to pull the body from the path let alone rip Robin's clothes. On the other hand, he was very nervous when he spoke to me. I had the feeling all was not well with Johnny boy. While we spoke, I checked out his office. I found a very bad photograph of his family on the desk. The lighting was so poor the only thing I could tell for sure was that his wife was at least four inches taller than Johnny boy.
After the meeting we made the short drive from Avery to Greenpoint. We met with Robin's workout trainers. They expressed their regrets about Robin's murder but really couldn't help us.
I asked just in passing, how Robin had come to join a gym so far from her home. There were several gyms closer. One of them was much fancier. None of the instructor could give me an answer.
I returned to the manager's office. The woman behind the desk was more than happy to allow me access to Robins records. There was nothing in them of course. I was on my way out the door following Mrs. Winslow when the instructor called me back.
Mrs. Winslow kept going, "I didn't want to say anything in front of Robin's mother, but I know why Robin came here. I think she was having an affair with an instructor in the Avery branch of our Gym. The instructor recommended us to her. The way she talked about the instructor I felt like they might be real close, if you get my drift."
I nodded then asked, "Who was the instructor?"
"I don't know her whole name but Robin called her Molly," the girl said. "This isn't going to cause me any problems is it?"
"I don't see how," I admitted.
Son of a bitch, I thought as I walked to meet Mrs. Winslow. This was getting complicated. I suppose the motel meeting could have been with a woman. There seemed to be one hell of a tangle in Robin's life.
I was left with the unenviable job of telling Mrs. Winslow. I decided not to say anything for a while. After the meeting at the gym, I tried to think of something else to do. Nothing came to mind so I convinced Mrs. Winslow to drive me to her house. On the way I suggested we stop in the Avery branch of the Gym. Molly just happened to be working at the time. She was absolutely covered in sweat and her hair hung down in strings.
I convinced Mrs. Winslow to allow me to talk to Molly in private. Molly admitted to knowing Robin, but laughed when I hinted at a love affair.
"Where on earth did you hear that. I am a happily married woman with two kids," she said with a sigh. \ldblquote I get that kind of crap all the time because I look butch." She took it good naturedly.
"So how did you happen to know Robin?" I asked.
"Actually, I met her here. She stopped by for one of our free trial offers. She looked the place over, then came a couple of times on the trial. About that time she moved to Greenpoint. Since we have a facility there, I suggested she join it instead of making the long drive here every day or so."
I was more than a little thankful that I didn't have to tell Mrs. Winslow about the insinuation that her daughter was having an affair with a woman. Of course, it didn't get me one bit closer to the killer.
That evening over a dozen white boxes of Chinese take-out, I said, "We have to figure out who the boyfriend was. If we know that, then we can start beating on Tony's cage."
Mrs. Winslow asked the pertinent question, "I know the dodge about the restaurant had to appeal to Robin, but how did she find out about the place?"
"She surely didn't ask any of her girlfriends, maybe the man knew," I suggested.
"Maybe it was a lucky accident," she countered.
"What if the reason they chose that motel had nothing to do with the billing, at least not at first. Suppose they chose it because it was close to the interstate," she suggested.
"As in the boyfriend was from out of town?" I asked.
"Right, she might have phone calls on her home phone bill."
"The cops already checked the phone bill," I replied remembering having seen a copy in the files.
"Maybe they didn't know what they were looking for," she added.
"How so?" I asked.
"If Tony lied about the tape player, maybe he lied about the calls. He could have identified the numbers as those he had called."
In some twisted way it might make sense. I went through the files until I found the bills. I handed them to Mrs. Winslow to check. She went through them without any comment. "I don't see a thing. She made a lot more calls to me than I would have thought, but nothing else."
"How so?" I asked.
"There are several calls here to the plant. I didn't realize she called me so often," she said.
Little things make the difference between a run of the mill detective and a good one. I picked up on it, then tied it to my previous thinking. "Mrs. Winslow, what if the man kept his affair with you daughter quiet, not from fear of his wife or the publicity but fear of you. Could she have been having an affair with an employee of your husband"s company?" I asked.
"That's ridiculous, as I said the men she came into contact with were seventy or more years old."
"Humor me again, could you find out who those calls went to?" I asked.
"Incoming calls are not logged," she informed me.
"Maybe our man called her, would it be on the log, if he called her?" I asked.
"Absolutely," she informed me going to the phone. It was well past the closing hour of the plant.
"Mrs. Winslow, could you make sure it is a woman whom you call. I would hate to speak to the man who made the calls. If he buried them, we might never find out who it was," I suggested.
"Are you thinking Mike?" she asked disbelievingly.
"Not really, I just don't want to take any chances," I admitted.
"All right, I have the company directory around here somewhere. Mrs. Brown is the communications manager. She should be able to run it down."
She made the call, then we waited for Mrs. Brown to go to the office. While we waited, I asked Mrs. Winslow if the gun store records were ready. We might have a name to check against it soon.
The information was in her computer, she just hadn't checked. The names were all in alphabetical order regardless of the date of purchase. That research company was a marvel.
Mrs. Brown called with the names shortly after nine. Mrs. Winslow was of course on the log, as was her former Boyfriend John Matlin. One call could have been explained as a call concerning her mother, but twenty-four calls in the two months preceding Robins murder were going to be a bitch to explain.
"That son of a bitch was seeing my daughter and me at the same time," Mrs. Winslow shouted. "I'm going to kill that prick." She was sobbing hard by the time she finished her conversation.
I left her to sob while I checked the gun purchases. Neither Tony nor Matlin"s names were on the list, but Robin"s was. Tony hadn't mentioned to the cops that Robin had a .380.
I showed her daughter's name to Mrs. Winslow. I explained that there was almost no way it could be a coincidence. Robin had almost certainly been killed with her own gun. "That my dear," I said to Mrs. Winslow, "Opens up several new possibilities. If Tony knew about the pistol, but didn't mention it to the police, then he is going to up to his ass in it again. If on the other hand he didn't know, then no harm no foul. Robin might have had the pistol with her for protection. Someone might have taken it away from her, then shot her with it. What we are going to have to do is sweat some people tomorrow. It would sure be nice if I were a cop again."
"Why?" Mrs. Winslow asked.
"It is a lot easier to get information from a suspect when he has jail to look forward to. Without the trappings it's hard to get the same effect." I replied. I thought about it for a while. "With Johnny boy, maybe the job loss and the threat to tell his wife will work. On Tony, I have no idea unless we threaten to kill him."
"I can do that," Mrs. Winslow said evenly.
"Threaten or kill?" I asked.
"Either," she said quietly.
"Before you kill anyone, let's find out who needs killing," I suggested.
"I can wait," she said with a large smile. I wasn't sure whether she had changed the subject without me know it or not.
The next morning we began with Johnny boy. Mrs. Winslow kept an office at the headquarters building which she seldom used. On that day we both occupied it. John was summoned to the office around nine thirty.
"Come on in John and close the door behind you," she said icily.
"Mrs. Winslow, what can I do for you," bless his heart he tried to smile.
"John, Mr. Taft has some questions for you. If you want to keep your job, and your marriage, I suggest you answer them truthfully." Mrs. Winslow showed a cold side of herself which I had not seem before.
"I don't know what this is about but I can tell you Nora, I don't intend to sit here and be threatened," the whiner said.
"Shut the fuck up," I shouted loud enough to be heard outside. "You are going to sit there and you are going to answer my question or I am going to kick your ass all over this room."
Johnny boy cringed. "What do you want?" he asked close to sobbing.
"You are going to tell us when and how your affair with Mrs. Winslow"s daughter began," I demanded.
"I didn't have an affair with your daughter Nora, what kind of man do you take me for?" he asked. He at least tried to act indignant.
I tossed the telephone log on Mrs. Winslow's desk. "You called her twenty four times in the two months before her death. You met her twice a week at the Morrison Motel. Now either you come clean, or I go first to your wife then the cops," I threatened.
"What the hell are you talking about? I never called Robin, and I sure as hell never met her in a motel," he said.
"The telephone logs don't lie, asshole. You called her and you met her. Tell you what let's you and I drive over to Greenpoint. I expect that motel owner can identify you." Of course I knew he couldn't.
Instead of answering he bent to look at the logs. "These calls weren't made from the office. They are charges against my calling card. Someone must have stolen my number then used it to call Robin. As for the other let's go. If that will end this nonsense, let's just go see if the Motel man can identify me." His voice was quivering. I would have thought it a sign of fear, if I hadn't already determined that John was a wimp.
"You sit there and think about telling the truth, while I talk this over with Mrs. Winslow."
Outside the office, I said, "I swear I believe the little twerp."
"Me too," Mrs. Winslow said.
"Why did you two break it off?" I asked.
"Take a look at him. I got tired of mothering the twerp," she said. "It appealed to me for a while, but it got old after a few months."
"To tell you the truth, I doubt he could have moved the body, let alone ripped her clothes."
"So we are back to square one?" she asked.
"Maybe not, let's find out who could have used his calling card."
"Okay John," I said when we returned to the room. "I am about half convinced that Robin would never have had anything to do with a wimp like you. You tell me who else uses your card and I'll let you off the hook."
"Nobody else uses it with my permission, that would be against the company rules."
"John, somebody has been using that card. If that someone wasn't you, then all we really have to do is call some of the other numbers to find out who called them on that date. You need to get your head straight."
"Maybe it was my wife," he suggested.
"Why the hell would your wife call Robin?" I asked.
"She knew Robin from the gym. She might have called to change her appointment times or something," he suggested.
"You wife goes to the gym in Greenpoint," I said it sarcastically.
"No, my wife is an instructor at the Avery Gym. She had Robin as a client for a while," he suggested.
"What is your wife's name?" I asked trying to keep it casual.
"Molly," he said miserably.
My mind raced. "Did your wife suspect that you were having an affair?" I asked.
"I wasn't having an affair with Robin," he said again.
"Not Robin you ass, me." Mrs. Winslow said.
"I don't think so," he said less than convincingly.
"Come on John, spill it," I said as I slapped him from the chair.
He picked himself us with tears in his eyes. "She found out a few months before Nora ended it. We had a row, but I explained that I couldn't afford to lose my job. She hardly spoke to me for months. When our affair ended, Molly forgave me."
"Johnny boy, you sit right where you are for a while. I'll tell you when you can leave." I motioned Mrs. Winslow from the room.
"Come on Mrs. Winslow, we need to make a quick trip before Johnny boy calls his wife."
"Why," she asked.
"Unless I miss my guess, Molly killed Robin." I said.
"Why would she do that? If she knew about me and John, why didn't she just kill me."
"She would have been the number one suspect in your death. Besides Robin's death would cause you a great deal more suffering than a quick death.
"Shouldn't we call the police?"
"I don't think that will be necessary. I expect she will deny it for a while in any event. I just want to make her start thinking."
When we arrived at the gym, Molly met us in the lobby. It was an accidental meeting. She seemed to be in a hurry to leave the building.
"I see John called you," I said.
"I knew you had figured it out when he told me that you had left him sitting in the old bat's office." While she spoke she pulled a very small automatic pistol from her bag.
Mrs. Winslow hid behind me. I guess we can call off the divers at the lake. It looks as though you kept the pistol. Tell me something, I am curious."
"I don't have time to talk. I am on my way out right now."
"This won't take a second. If you tell me then I will step away, otherwise you are going to have to shoot me. I expect someone will come running even with the sound of that toy."
"Hurry up," she shouted.
"Why were you meeting Robin at that motel?"
"Why do you think. Her mother seduced my John, so I seduced her daughter. It seemed like a fair trade."
"So why did you kill her? Just to strike back at her mother again?" I asked.
"Hardly, I had done enough to her. I knew that someday she would find out. No, I killed her because she threatened to tell my husband about the affair. She had somehow gotten it into her mind that my kids were suffering because I am a closet lesbian. There was no talking to her. Now if you don't get out of the way, I am going to add an old man to my list of killings."
I stepped aside to reveal Mrs. Winslow holding a much larger pistol. I waited to see what would happen. Molly tried to drop her pistol but before she could release it completely Mrs. Winslow shot there three times in the chest.
People came running from everywhere. It was a mad house for a while. After hours of police interrogations, I found myself again at the Winslow house with a glass of iced tea in my hand.
"So Edgar, why didn't you tell the cops a different story?" she asked.
"You shot her. I didn't much care one way or the other," I replied.
"So, the case is solved and there is no reason for us not to sleep together."
"Only that I would be afraid to now," I replied remembering how she looked when she pulled that trigger three times.
"If I were you, I would be more afraid to refuse," she said.
I didn't see see Mrs Winslow again for over a year. When I did, I knew instantly it was trouble.
\b0 It was miserably hot. I knew that once the damp night air moved up from the river it would cool off. Unfortunately that wouldn't be for several hours. In the meantime I intended to sit on my front porch and drink. My idea of drinking was an ounce of bourbon in a sixteen-ounce Coke. I never was much of a drinker but in my old age I drank even less. Everyone warned me about becoming an alcoholic from drinking alone. My reply was always the same. There is no one whose company is as good as my own.
I took a look at my glow-I-the-dark watch. It had been a retirement gift from the cops. It was only ten p.m. I knew it would be at least another hour before it cooled off any. The warm breeze began to move through the pines. It caught the smoke from my grill. The fish were gone but as always the smell still hung over the grill.
"Too bad you can't make fish Jerky," I said to no one at all. I dried about everything else in my massive dehydrator. I hunted all winter and dried everything I didn't eat. During the summer, I dried the plentiful and cheap fruits and vegetables. I just hadn't figured out what to do with the fish. I knew that I could dry them, but what the hell would I do with them.
I got a fair pension from the cops, but there just wasn't any spare money lying about. I still had a few years before I qualified for social security; in the meantime I just had to make do.
It cooled off considerably after I fell into bed around midnight. I made it through the night with only one 'old man's call'. The heat woke me around eight the next morning. The sun had been up for sometime, and had already begun to bake the clay around my cabin. It hadn't gotten unbearable in the cabin, but it would shortly. I skipped my morning coffee during June July and August. It was just too damned hot in the house to use my stove. I could have made coffee on the outdoor grill but I hated to waste the charcoal on a single cup of coffee. I poured myself a glass of iced tea instead, after all caffeine is caffeine. I had a hard-boiled egg with my tea just like I did most mornings. It was about as good a breakfast as I ever had.
I was outside hooking the trailer to my old pickup when I saw the Firebird come across the dam. I recognized the car even though I hadn't seen it for over six months. I continued to make the trailer connections as the car came closer.
Just like before, she pulled up next to my rusty old pickup. The moment she stepped from the car I noted that she had gained a few pounds. Unlike most of us she needed the extra weight. As a matter of fact the pounds had replaced the concentration camp survivor"s look with that of a robust woman. She looked much closer to real age than she had the last time I had seen her.
She walked to me without a word. When she reached my side she kissed me gently then said, "Well Edgar, I see you haven't changed a thing."
"Things never change around here," I replied. I paused hoping she would answer. When she didn't, I informed her, "I am about to go fishing, would you like to come along?"
"Hardly," she answered with a smile.
"So what bring you out to the woods?" I asked with a smile.
"You know I might have come because I have missed you," she replied.
"But you didn't," I commented.
"You're right as usual. I came to offer you a job."
"What makes you think I want a job?" I asked.
She looked around before she answered. "You could use the money?" she made it a question with her tone.
"Not enough to actually do any work for it."
"Hear me out before you say no," she demanded.
"Why?' I asked.
"Because I want to do something and I want you to help."
"Nora, it's great to see you again, but I don't want to do anything out in the real world."
"Hear me out, the job will only take a couple of weeks."
"Okay I'll listen, but I warn you. You are taking me away from my fishing."
"Just hear me out," I could tell she was becoming agitated.
"So tell me quick so that I can get on to my fishing."
"Can we at least get out of the sun first?" she asked.
"Do you want to go sit in the shade?' I asked.
"Hell no, I want to go sit in the air conditioned cafe while I drink something with ice."
During the ride to the local cafe in her car, she asked, "So how have you been?"
"I've been fine. I don't need to ask how you've been. You look terrific."
"Why thank you Edgar. That's about the nicest think you ever said to me."
"I'm not real good with words or women," I replied.
"I'm going to let that one pass," she advised me. The conversation ended until we reached the diner.
"Edgar, when did you last read a newspaper?"
"Two or three weeks ago, why?"
"Because I have a problem with one of my companies. It's been in all the papers. You probably haven't read about it. It isn't exactly front page stuff."
"So what kind of problem do you have?" I asked.
'Somebody's waging war on Winslow Petroleum."
"You own an oil company?" I asked.
"Sure, it isn't Texaco or anything but I own an oil company. I got it when the previous owner went belly up. My husband had sold them some chemicals and equipment used in the exploration of oil. The owner got in trouble and I took over."
"The old take over trick," I commented.
"That's right. The company isn't worth anything but they do have the drilling rights to a parcel in the Gulf of Mexico."
"So you're going to do some off-shore drilling?" I asked.
"We are if we can get this pirate off our ass," she commented.
I'm afraid I laughed at her. "So who the hell is the pirate," I asked between snickers.
"If I knew that I wouldn't be here keeping you from your fishing." She said it almost angrily.
She obviously wasn't all that pleased that I had laughed at her predicament. "So what has this pirate done to stop you from drilling?" I asked.
"Up until a month ago nothing but talk and slashed tires once in a while. However as in the case of most terrorist his efforts have grown. His last effort was to blow up a truck filled with drilling tools." I'm afraid I laughed at her again. I really shouldn't have.
"Edgar this isn't funny," she said exasperated. "The man left notes around last week stating he would begin killing workers unless we stopped out drilling plans."
I could tell she was worried about more than her profit and loss statement. Since she had lost her own daughter, I was sure she felt for the people in her Mississippi operation.
"I'm sorry I laughed, if I had know physical violence against people had been threatened I wouldn't have treated it so lightly," I admitted.
"Do you have any idea who this pirate might be?" I paused, but she shook her head. "Are there any groups active in the area?"
"There are a couple of environmental groups but none that seem bent toward violence. They have mostly been carrying signs, that kind of nonsense."
"I know I'm going to be sorry I asked, but what do you expect me to do?"
"I want you to come to Mississippi with me. I think that between the two of us we can figure out who this pirate might be. I will pay you of course."
"You bet your beautiful ass you will. You stand to make millions if you can drill without any holdups. I may not be a business genius but I do know that delays cost money."
"I said I'd pay, so don't get your panties in a wad. By the way, I already knew my ass was beautiful. I am glad that you noticed though."
"Don't try to change the subject, we are discussing money."
"How much?" she asked.
"Five hundred a day, plus expenses. I also want a bonus if I catch this pirate fellow within two weeks."
"What kind of bonus?' she asked.
I took a good look around before I answered, "I want a new pickup, trailer, boat and motor."
"You bust this pirate quickly and I'll buy you the biggest damned fishing boat you ever saw."
"No just a fourteen foot john boat will do just fine."
"You can pick it out yourself. So, when can you be ready?" she asked.
"Just let me kill at the utilities and I'll be ready," I replied.
When I returned from the cabin, Nora was on the cell phone. "I don't give a damn what you are going to do without me, I am going to Mississippi." She looked up at me while she listened. "Look Mike, you take care of things. I'm going to have the phone with me, if you find something you can't handle call me. If you can't take care of things without me standing beside you just say so. I can have you replaced within an hour." She said it with a smile he couldn't see or sense.
"You're a tough old broad," I said as she hung up the phone.
"Sometimes I get really tired of holding their hands," she suggested.
'Why don't you just tell them if no one is going to die, the decisions aren't all that important." I said it with a simple smile.
"God Edgar, it must be nice to have such a simple philosophy. I'm sorry but millions of dollars seem rather important to me."
"If you are going to put it that way then the price is going to be a thousand a day." I said it with a smile.
She smiled back then asked, "Same rules as before."
"Same as before," I agreed.
The last time we worked together the rules had been carved in stone. Sure Nora and I had spent a couple of nights together but only after the case had been solved. The second rule was that she insisted I tell her everything. That one actually worked to my advantage. Nora had ways to solve problems that were only dreams to me.
With everything locked down tight, I allowed Nora to drive me to the closest airport. I expected her to buy tickets on a commercial flight. I was wrong; we actually waited in the general aviation area for her private plane.
I knew better than to ask why we weren't flying commercial. She wouldn't want anyone to know about the ten millimeter Glock she carried in her purse. Nora was a damned sight tougher than she looked.
We were seated in the rear of the six-passenger plane when she asked, "So Edgar do you miss me."
"Now and again, especially when the pension doesn't quite make it to the end of the month." I stated with a grin.
"You know you really are a jerk," she said it with more or less the same expression I had used.
"So, do you miss me?"
"Lord no, after I replaced the twenty pounds I had lost after Robin's death, I had to fight the men off with a stick. What makes you think I would miss a lazy, shiftless, washed up old cop."
"I'm sorry I asked."
"Of course I missed you. I will never be able to repay you for what you did."
"I wasn't fishing for a compliment," I demanded.
"Before you get all swell headed, you were just and adequate lover. You did give me something more important than a few good moments in bed. You gave me a chance to avenge my daughter's murder. I'm not talking about justice. I'm talking about vengeance, pure and simple."
"I know what you mean, but let's just call it a draw."
"It's never going to be a draw, but we can call it anything you like," she replied.
Neither of us spoke for the next several hours. I finally worked myself back into the cop frame of mind. "So Nora, what do the cops know about this pirate?"
"I haven't the slightest idea. Our people down there don't seem to have a lot on the ball. At least none of them can write a decent report."
"Didn't you are least send in some kind of trouble shooter. At least someone who could write a report."
"Edgar, I don't have anyone like that to send. That's why I am always after you to come to work fulltime for me. I need someone who can figure out what the hell is going on in a situation like this."
"It looks like you are going to have to wait for your cousin Donnie to retire," I suggested.
"If I thought Donnie could do it, I would buy him right now." She did say it with a grin. "After meeting you, I know what I want. I want someone like you, someone who knows what is going on."
"You just want me because I'm not available. If you had me for a month you would be disillusioned. Finding your daughter's killer was just a fluke."
"Maybe, but I should know a lot more after this trip." Nora and I made clumsy small talk until we landed in Columbus, Mississippi.
A man around forty met us in the general aviation terminal. "Mrs. Winslow I have your car outside." he informed us in a thick Cajun accent.
"Fine, do you need a ride to your office?" Nora asked while signing a receipt.
"No ma'am I have my scooter." He said it as he took the clipboard from her. I watched him leave the terminal then climb onto a three wheel Cushman. The Cushman had a tow bar on the front. He must have towed it with the rental car.
Nora was very much in charge and I didn't mind at all. I was completely lost once we left the triad area of North Carolina. I tossed my bag in the back and sat in the passenger seat as Nora pulled away from the terminal. Since she seemed to know where she was going I asked. "Have you been here before?"
"No but I managed to get good directions from Winters."
"Who is Winters?" I asked.
"Michael Winters, he is the project manager. We are going to see him tomorrow. Right now we are headed for dinner, then to check into the motel. We will be meeting him in the morning. So, how early do you want to start work?"
"I don't have a preference, you decide."
"Okay, then do you have a preference for dinner?" she asked.
"None, as long as it isn't nuts and twigs." I said it remembering her fondness for heath foods.
"In that case I am going to push on to the motel. Michael tells me there isn't much choice in restaurants. He said if worse came to worse we could drive up to Biloxi."
"I don't need a fancy restaurant, as a matter of fact I don't even like them."
"I do remember that about you," she said it with a gentle smile.
The drive continued for another twenty minutes. From the main highway she turned onto a narrow county road. We continued on it for another ten minutes before entering a small town. It was smaller than even the closest town to my cabin. The town we pulled into had a downtown of only about twenty buildings almost all of them were one story.
"This is it," Nora informed me.
"This is what?" I asked.
"This, love, is Tangiers, Mississippi, home of the Winslow Oil Exploration Company."
"Shouldn't your headquarters be on the Gulf?" I asked.
"The Gulf Of Mexico is exactly three miles down that road," she informed me pointing down a side road. "This is the closest town".
I took a quick look around the town. "It shouldn't be hard to spot the pirate here. I'm sure any stranger stands out here like a wart on a model's nose."
"I'm sure that's true, but we are fifteen miles from Biloxi where there are fifteen thousand strangers on any given day. That's just on the air force base, there are probably at least as many tourists."
"So you think the pirate is a commuter?"
"I have no idea, that's why I brought you along," she said that with her amused little smile.
I was surprised when Nora pulled into the motel. It wasn't really a motel at all. It was a collection of 1940"s style tourist cabins. Each small cabin was actually a duplex. At least it had two front doors with different numbers on them.
Nora checked us in. I was surprised to find that our cabin had been renovated in the not so distant past. My unit was actually a sitting room with a Murphy bed. A Murphy bed folds into the wall. Without the bed it became a quite comfortable sitting room. In one corner of the room sat a small bar complete with a small refrigerator. The refrigerator was empty except for two small ice trays.
I was seated in a comfortable chair by the door when Nora knocked. I opened the door to find her no longer dressed in her mannish-cut business suit. Instead she was wearing a very expensive silk blouse and a pair of very inexpensive cotton slacks. At least the slacks should have been inexpensive, since they were an almost perfect match to my plain cotton work pants. I expected that the slacks actually cost more than all the clothes in my canvas garment bag.
"The clerk said there was a pretty good seafood restaurant down the road a couple of miles. Would you like to try that?" She asked it while seating herself on a barstool.
"To tell you the truth, I eat fish almost every day during the summer. How about we try something different?"
"I thought you ate deer and little rabbits?"
"In the winter maybe, but in the summer it is mostly fish."
"Okay, they tell me there is an Italian restaurant between here and Biloxi. It's only about ten miles but that isn't really too far." That time she was wrong. Ten miles over city street and interstate highways is one thing, but ten miles over twisted badly maintained country roads is quite another. By the time we arrived I was worn out. It would have been much worse had I driven.
Nora had a couple of glasses of wine with her meal so I drove back to the motel. The drive took over an hour because I got lost twice. By the time I found Tangiers I was exhausted.
At nine the next morning Nora and I set off for the only cafe in town. The cafe was in a building at least fifty years old. It didn't appear that a paintbrush or even a scrub brush had been on the wall since the place opened. The food was pretty good, but then it doesn't take a lot of talent to cook an egg.
The Winslow compound was a half-acre of chain link fenced dirt. There was a double garage-sized metal building slap in the middle of the sandy parking lot. There were about a dozen pieces of rolling stock parked haphazardly around the building. They were mostly flatbed trucks loaded with pipe.
Nora parked her rental car besides the building. A man in clean work clothes came outside to meet us. He was about forty or so, with longish blonde hair.
"Mrs. Winslow?' he asked.
"You must be Michael." He nodded. "I'm glad to finally be able to put a face to the voice." Nora was smiling warmly. Then she turned to me, "This is Edgar Taft. He is here to put an end to this pirate nonsense."
"Mr. Taft, I certainly am glad to see you." He sounded genuinely happy to see me. That worried the hell out of me. "This pirate crap has got everyone on edge."
"How so?" I asked.
"The death threats, of course." he said it seriously. "Come on in."
Nora and I followed him into the building, which was both an office and storage area. As we walked through the building I glanced around. I found nothing of interest, at least not to me.
Nora sat in a chair by Winter's desk. I was forced to sit several feet away on a torn sofa. The two of them began to talk figures and production schedules.
"Excuse me, do you have a foreman?" I asked.
"Sure, do you want to talk to Tommy?"
"Sure, if you can get him without too much trouble."
"No problem," Winters said as he lifted the phone. "Tommy, come to the office." His voice came from his mouth and the outside speakers simultaneously. He immediately returned his attention to Nora. I couldn't blame him. After all, she was the boss. Not to mention that she was a damned sight better looking than I was. It was obvious that he felt me to be inferior and not worth his interest.
I could see that Nora also sensed it. She appeared ready to say something but I shook my head at her. Better that he think of me as an after thought rather than the main reason for our visit. He was convinced that Nora had come to hear about his plans for the drilling.
A couple of minutes later a man with grease stained clothing entered the building. "You wanted me, Mister Winters?"
Winters showed his frustration at being interrupted again. "Yes Tommy, take Mr. Edgars on a quick tour will you?" He said it dismissing us both with his voice. I grinned broadly because I knew his days were numbered.
"My name is Taft, Tommy, but you can call me Edgar." We were already outside when I said it. "Man that Winters is a real prick."
"I wouldn't know about that"Tommy answered in an even thicker accent than Winters. "So what do you want to see first?"
"How about the damages this pirate fellow has caused?"
"So, I guess you are the big gun?" he asked.
"What," I asked with a laugh.
"Winters said the company was sending in some kind of big gun to take care of this pirate mess."
"I don't know about that big gun crap, but I am going to take a look at it. So how and when did it all begin?" I asked.
"I can't say for sure. We began getting nails in the parking lot a while back. You know that kind of thing. Then a while back Winters got a note in the mail. It said either we stop the drilling or the pirate would stop us. Next thing you know all the tires on all the trucks get slashed. Couple of nights later a truck got burned. Then last week somebody set fire to the office. The fire didn't catch but it sure scared hell out of Winters."
"Next thing Winters gets a note saying stop or people are going to begin to die. That one scared hell out of Winters and some of the help."
"So you guys just went into a holding position?" I asked.
"Hell no, we are waiting for the platform to be set. When that happens we start with the drilling crews."
"So, who's been investigating the sabotage."
"The county Sheriff, if you can call what he has done an investigation."
"Sounds like you don't think much of the Sheriff?"
"Our Sheriff can't even find his chair, let alone what goes in it." He said it while grinning broadly at his own wit.
"So, do you have any idea who this pirate is?"
"Me, I expect it is one of those environmentalists. We been picked by them a couple of times."
"When was that?" I asked.
"Back when this place was under construction," he replied. "For the whole two weeks we had them parked across the street. You know with a can of Ajax some of them women would clean up real nice."
"So, where did they go when they left here?" I asked.
"Back to college, I expect."
"You got any idea who organized the demonstrations?"
"I expect, it was that group that calls itself the Pelican Fund."
"I never heard of them," I admitted.
"Me neither, not until they came here. Course I don't know much about such things since I ain't never kissed a tree." He broke into a giggle at that point. "Some old broad named Doud opened an office in one of those old building downtown. She told the paper she wasn't leaving town until the Gulf was safe, what ever the hell that means."
I saw Nora standing by the car. "Well I guess I better be running along." I nodded toward Nora then said, "There's the boss lady. One more thing, how many men you got here so far?"
"Six, we are pretty much waiting for the platform before we call the others in. We been working on the equipment. You know, getting it ready for the move to the platform."
"Anybody fired before this crap started?" I asked.
"About ten so far. When old man Ezell lost the place, your boss laid off everybody. She said she would call some back but so far it's only been about three. Most of the others were hired brand new. It makes sense though. The ones who worked for Ezell don't know nothing about drilling for oil."
"What did they know about?" I asked.
"Before Ezell got his name drawed out of the hat, we drilled for pier pilings and water wells. Ezell put his name in the hat hoping to make a million drilling for oil. What he did was run up so much debt, he couldn't begin drilling. When he went belly up your boss paid off the other creditors, then just took us over."
"I don't guess Ezell was too happy about that?" I asked.
"Would you be, not only did he loose his dream, he also lost his life's work." Tommy said it but I couldn't tell how he felt about it.
"So where is Ezell now?"
"Nobody knows, he just up and left town after your boss took over the company."
"Well Tommy, I got to run. I can't keep the boss waiting." I said it as I turned for Nora.
As I approached she asked, "So what did you find out?"
"Not too much, how about you."
"Winters is a butt kissing jerk," she informed me.
"My, My how you rich folk do talk," I said smiling.
"So, where to now?" She asked it obviously in a good mood. She really did love that kind of crap.
"How about we visit the Sheriff," I suggested. On the way we were forced to stop at a gas station to ask directions. The Sheriff's office was located in a slightly larger town about ten miles from Tangiers.
Saint Christian, Mississippi was about six square blocks of old run-down buildings. The jail and courthouse must have been before the Civil War. The building was constructed of granite from God only knew where.
We found the Sheriff in the basement of the building across the street from the courthouse. Actually, we found the Sheriff's dispatcher who informed us that the Sheriff was in route to the office from an earlier call. She also promised us the wait wouldn't be more than a few minutes. The bench where I sat was an antique thing and dirty as hell.
Nora wrinkled her nose before she sat down beside me. "So Edgar, who do you suspect?"
"Everyone except you and me. It seems you have an environmental group in town. Then, there are the employees you let go."
She must have sensed my disapproval about the layoff of the old employees. "I explained to them that if we found anything in the Gulf, they would all get their jobs back. At least those willing to work on the oil rig."
"In the meantime they are out of work and luck"I stated.
"Edgar, that's business." She said it in an unusually cold tone.
Usually I really liked Nora, but occasionally I didn't. It was one of those didn't times. I expected she felt about people like most other businessmen. People were just another component of the business. You used them when you needed then put them on a shelf until you needed them again. The only problem with that way of thinking was that machines don't have to eat but the people do. I would have given her a lecture on humanity except I never waste time on hopeless endeavors.
Nora had a set of values based on her own experiences and could no more understand my point of view that I could understand the Spanish cleaning lady's mumbles. She mumbled continuously as she mopped the floors in the Sheriff's office.
After ten minutes of heavy silence between Nora and me, the sheriff came through the door. He was in the lead of a small party of deputies and a civilian in handcuffs.
"Take them into the interrogation room, I'll be with you in a couple of minutes. Lou make sure you read them their rights with the tape recorder on this time." He turned his attention to the dispatcher. "Midge, you got anything for me?"
"Yeah, those folks want to talk to you." She said it pointing a finger at Nora and me.
The Sheriff strode across the room. "What can I do for you folks?"
"Sheriff, I'm Nora Winslow and this is Edgar Taft. We are here to determine what if anything you have learned about the sabotage at the Winslow exploration compound." Nora said it emphatically.
The Sheriff looked at Nora for a moment. I could tell he was trying to decide whether to tell her to go to hell or cooperate. She hadn't been especially pleasant but then again she was rich. "Actually, not very much, but you really need to talk to Lou. He did both investigations down there. We should be finished with those two coon asses in about an hour, why don't you call or come back then."
I was forced to touch Nora's arm to keep her from raising hell with the Sheriff. "Thank you Sheriff, we'll do that." I pulled Nora from the room.
Once we cleared the door Nora asked, "Why the hell should we be kept waiting while they interrogate some common criminal."
"Nora, how much juice do you have down here?" I asked.
"I know almost no one, why?" After a couple of seconds she answered her own question. "I see, this time I don't have the biggest stick."
"I'm not sure you even have a stick. You aren't hiring locals and your tax dollars might not even windup in the county treasury."
"In that case we need to go back to the compound while I call in some favors."
"The calling of favors is probably a good idea. On the other hand the compound might not be. There is no sense letting Winters know what is going on. Why don't we drive down to the docks instead? I do assume you are planning to load the drilling equipment somewhere nearby."
"Sure, they are going to load the equipment on to a barge about three miles from here. A tug will then tow it out to the platform. That is when the platform is finally down."
"Does the company making the deliveries have an office down there?" I asked.
"Hell, Edgar they own the dock."
"Then let's go meet the owner." As Nora had promised it was only a ten-minute drive to the dock. It was actually a marina as well as a barge dock. On the far side of the small inlet were several floating slips for the docking of small boats.
Across from the slips was a storage building and barge dock, which extended out some thirty or so feet. On the far end of the dock sat a small crane. It appeared to be for the loading and unloading of the flat-bottomed barges. I expected that a shallow draft tug could tie up at the end of the dock but certainly nothing larger.
There appeared to be a few small offices along the outer wall of the warehouse. We entered the building through the only walk in door. Inside we found a gum chewing teenager sitting behind a table. She was using the open table as a desk.
"My name is Nora Winslow. I would like to see Mr. Everette." I stood quietly behind Nora as she spoke to the gum chewer.
"He's out on the dock. You can go out there or you can have a seat over there. He shouldn't be more than a couple of minutes." As she spoke she pointed to a plastic covered sofa against the wall. "If you go out on the dock, you may miss him." I noticed as she spoke that she was a rather plain looking teenager.
"Let's just wait," I suggested. When we were seated on the old sofa, I learned a couple of interesting things about the skinny teenager. For one thing she had lousy posture and for another she wore black panties. I also learned that I was easily distracted.
Everette entered not five minutes later, he was a weathered man around fifty. He was thin as a rail but not sickly thin. I was almost certain he had been at sea himself over the years.
"These people are waiting to see you, Ev," the teenage informed him.
"Can I help you folks?' he asked in a gruff voice.
"I certainly hope so. I Nora Winslow and this is Edgar Taft," Nora replied.
"Mrs. Winslow, I have been expecting you. Why don't you two come into my office?" His office was small but he did have two extra chairs.
Nora spoke first. "I am down here to check on the progress of the drilling platform. I am also interested in the threats made by this pirate person."
"I know nothing about this pirate person, but the rig is right on schedule. It should be over the site in less than a week. A couple of more days to set it, then it's all yours. After that I will take the supplies out for you. It should be turned over to you in two weeks."
"Have you taken any precautions against this pirate?" I asked
"What precautions would you suggest? Once we are out on the Gulf the only thing he can do is torpedo us. I seriously doubt that some environmentalist nut has a submarine." There was a great deal of scorn in his voice.
"I would get a guard for this place. This fellow has a history of arson."
"Mr. Taft, my tugs are docked at a distant location. The security at that location is provided by the owner of the dock there. The only thing anchored here might be a barge overnight. The barges contain nothing more than drilling pipe. Frankly there is nothing to burn."
"It's up to you Mr. Everette, but I would still put a guard on the place.\rdblquote It was Nora who had come to my defense.
"I'll give it some thought." It was the most we could get from him.
"One more thing, could I use your phone." Nora hadn't forgotten to call in her favors even though I had.
Twenty minutes later on our drive back to the Sheriff's office Nora asked, "So, what do you think so far?"
"I don't have enough information to even make a guess."
"Well, let's see what the Sheriff's man knows." Nora had more faith in the law than I did.
Deputy Lewis Alder was waiting for us when we arrived back at the Sheriff's office. He was sitting behind a desk in the open area behind the dispatcher. He obviously didn't have a desk of his own. Alder was a patrol deputy, not a detective. Even though he was at least forty, he appeared to be a rookie.
"So, what can you tell me about the trouble at the Winslow compound," I asked after introducing myself.
"Not much, Winters didn't call about the tire slashing. I guess he figured it was covered by insurance so why bother. I expect he figured it was one of the men who got laid off. The first call we got was a fire of one of their trucks; the second was the fire at the building. Neither one had any clues, just a can of gasoline and a match. Hell it could have been anyone."
"Did you know any of the former employees?" I asked.
"I knowed them all. Hell I worked there myself. That is until the take over by Mrs. Winslow."
I couldn't tell if he were upset or not. "I don't suppose you have any idea who might be behind all this?"
"Don't know but the old man hired some pretty rough types. It takes a pretty tall man to stand up to that kind of work."
I waited but he didn't go on. "So could you give me the names and addresses of a few of these tall men?"
"Sure, but why?" he asked.
"I'd kind of like to talk to them myself." I watched as he scribbled three names and addresses on a piece of paper.
"Here you go, but I wouldn't take the lady along. These men are all out of work and not very happy about it. You also might want to check on your own insurance coverage."
"I'll do that," I said it with a nasty smile. Might as well dispel any notion he had that I was a corporate lawyer type. "By the way, you wouldn't happen to know what happened to old man Ezell?"
"Nope, nobody has seen him in a month or so."
I nodded as I stood to leave.
Nora just couldn't keep quiet. "What do you know about that environmentalist in Tangiers."
"Other than the fact that she ain't much of a looker, I don't know nothing. She seems to spend most of her time writing letters and pamphlets. She writes the governor regularly. I hear she sends a personal letter along with a pamphlet to anyone who will donate enough money." The deputy said it without any expression at all on his face.
Once we were outside Nora asked, "So what do you think of the deputy?"
"Nothing really, what did you have in mind?"
"Well do you think he is actually looking for the culprit?" She asked it with disgust in her voice.
"I doubt he did more than take a report for your insurance company. I don't know that I would have done any differently. Of course now that he is threatening to kill people, he might actually take a look around for him."
She nodded thoughtfully. "So how about a late lunch?" she suggested.
"What ever you say, you are the boss." I agreed but not with a lot of enthusiasm.
"Come on, we can go to that grease pit they call a cafe."
"It don't much matter to me." It really didn't matter, I was still full from breakfast, I usually didn't eat such a large breakfast.
She drove back to Tangiers where we ate lunch at the cafe. It was slightly after three when we finished lunch. She drove directly to the old downtown building with a banner hanging in the window. The banner proclaimed "Save the Gulf-Pelican Trust".
Once we figured out the combination needed to open the rickety door, we found ourselves in a small dark room containing a card table, laptop computer, and printer of some kind. The woman sitting behind the shaky table was pretty much what the deputy had described. She was certainly no looker. Even if she had worn makeup and dressed better she still would have been dumpy. She reminded me of a female wrestler I had once met on the job years before. It was in the days before models tried to convince people they were actually athletes. The wrestler I had met was a tough broad who could snap your arm like a twig. Which is exactly how I met her. She broke her boyfriends arm during an argument.
"Yes?' the woman asked.
"Hi, I'm Edgar Taft, I was wondering if you had some literature on the Save the Gulf movement."
"Are you interested in making a donation?" she asked hopefully.
'No, but I may be interested in volunteering."
"We can always use bodies for out demonstrations, but what we really need is money." She looked disappointed when I didn't volunteer to lay any bread on her.
"Actually, I had something a little more interesting than carrying a sign in mind."
"Really, what exactly did you and Mrs. Winslow have in mind?" She obviously took great pleasure in letting me know we were busted.
"I don't know I thought maybe the pirate needed some help."
"I have no idea who the pirate is but I would like to shake his hand. I expect he has done more for the cause than all the letters I have written. He at least has made the TV news. Nobody seems to be interested in the environmental issues."
"Then you don't think he is an environmentalist?" Nora asked.
"I wish he were, but I expect he will turn out to be a disgruntled employee. If he would make a statement for the cause we could get a lot more publicity."
"And a lot more donations," Nora commented nastily. "Tell you what, you tell me who this pirate is and I'll make a ten thousand dollar donation myself."
"If I did know, I wouldn't tell you." It was a fact that she didn't know. For ten grand she would have given up her mother.
"You know I haven't heard your name mentioned. Mostly they call you that nut on Main Street. You do have a name, don't you? I had heard her name, but I wanted to hear it from her." I asked.
"Chastity Dowd," she informed me. She seemed to expect me to make some kind of joke about her name.
"Well Ms. Dowd, nobody has been hurt yet, I don't much care about the past but I do care an awful lot about the future. If you bump into the pirate you might tell him that nobody seems to be looking hard for him but if anything else happens believe me they will be."
"If I see him, I'll tell him. Now if that's all, I have work to do downstairs."
We left the office with nothing much left to do that day. It was dinner before Nora asked, "Are we really going to have to wait until someone dies before the Sheriff does anything?"
"I expect so." I replied calmly.
"You are taking this awfully lightly."
"Listen Nora, most of the time death threats are just so much hot air."
"So, you are going to do nothing at all?" Her voice made it a question.
"I hope you know better than that. Tomorrow I am going to talk to some tall men. I expect it would be better if I did it alone."
"Oh no, you don't. I am going along to pack your body out." She at least said it with a bright smile.
"That probably won't be necessary unless you are along." I was smiling back at her just as brightly.
"I know everyone in town hates me. I fired those men without looking them in the eye. I can do that now and it's the least I can do. I hate executives who don't have the guts to face the people they fire."
I had to admit she had me there, since I had never fired anyone. Not unless you count my wife. Come to think of it, she fired me. After dinner we returned to the tourist cabins. I didn't hear from her again until breakfast the next morning. After breakfast we secured directions from the local branch of a larger bank in Biloxi. We followed them to the home of Marty Sloan.
Marty wasn't especially tall in statue but he was a powerfully built man. I found him working in his garden. "Marty Sloan?" I asked of the stout man of about forty years.
"Yep, and that would make you Taft and you," he said it turning his attention to Nora. "Would be the Winslow woman."
"Yes Sir," Nora answered in a strong voice.
"Why did you shut down the drilling company?" he asked.
"Mr. Sloan I don't expect you to understand this, but I am not in the water well drilling business. The only reason I took the company was to explore for oil. I didn't take the company to close it. I took it over for the oil lease. Drilling pilings and water wells is no concern of mine. As a matter of fact, if you can find the previous owner I will be happy to make him a hell of a deal on his old drilling equipment."
Slone gave her a hard look for a long time then said, "You really mean that don't you?"
"I most certainly do. That old equipment of his is useless in the drilling I am going to be doing. I will be selling the old equipment as scrap. I will sell it to you or anyone else who wants to use it. Hell, I'll even finance it for you."
"Let me talk to the others and I'll get back to you." His voice wasn't filled with as much anger as it had been at the beginning of our conversation.
"Take all the time you want but some scrap dealer will eventually come along and take it. There is one stipulation." I was afraid she was going to say something stupid like she wanted him to turn over the pirate first. She had him on the ropes and I hoped she wouldn't blow her advantage.
"I will not sell the equipment to any group with Mr. Winters as a partner." There was no room in her voice for any negotiations.
"You want to keep him working for you?" he asked lightly.
"Not hardly, it's just that any problems I have with you now would just come back to haunt me. Winters would shaft you somehow and you would blame me for it."
"I see you got old Winters figured out. Don't worry he was never part of the company, at least not until that damned oil lease. The old man brought him in afterward to grease the wheels. He managed to slide him right into bankruptcy."
"Ezell would have done that even without Winters," Nora said.
I waited while everyone digested the offer. When I was sure everyone was listening I asked, "So Marty, do I need to talk to any of the other tall men?"
"If the woman makes good on her promise, I give you my word that if it is any of the others I will stop it myself."
"Fair enough,' I said as I began walking away.
"We were in the car driving toward the motel when Nora said, "See, I learn something from everyone, even you."
"And what have you learned from me, my dear." I asked it in a mock serious voice.
"If nobody is going to die, it isn't worth worrying about. If I can stop someone from dying, it's better than punishing someone for burning a truck." She said it with pride in her voice.
"Very good, you have indeed learned something."
"Now Edgar, you tell me, will it work?"
"We have two things going for us. Like I said before, death threats usually are nothing to worry about and if it was a disgruntled employee, you seemed to have poured oil on the water."
"Lousy choice of words," Nora suggested.
"I know but I wanted to cover all the bases."
"How about we hang around until the rig is up and drilling," she suggested.
'I don't know, I wouldn't feel right charging you five hundred a day, just to be your companion."
"I wasn't planning to pay you for your company," she informed me.
"Does this mean we are going to rekindle the old flame?"
"Not really," she replied. "I just want to make sure we don't have to come back again."
"It sounds reasonable enough to be the truth, if I close one eye and stand on one foot"I replied. It turned into a nice little vacation. Nora moved into my room while we visited the local beaches. We even drove the hundred miles into New Orleans for a few days. It was probably a good thing that the murder happened. Not for the victim I am sure, but for me. I was beginning to get into Nora's life style.
The call came at 2 a.m. on our second night in New Orleans. Winters might have tried to call earlier but we hadn't been in bed more than an hour. According to him the murder had occurred around ten the previous night.
Just as soon as I hung up the phone Nora said, "Well Edgar, you're back on the payroll. It looks as though the foreman at the compound got himself killed."
"That's a shame, I like him a lot," I replied. "Well Nora, get you beautiful butt in gear, we need to get back to Tangiers tonight." I looked at my watch. "Well, first thing in the morning anyway."
I drove while Nora worked the phone. She called everyone she knew in Tangiers. She attempted to gain as much information as possible before we actually arrived in town.
The story seemed to go like this; Tommy had been called back to the compound. His wife thought the call had come from the Sheriff's office. Tommy had gone to the compound to secure the gate and check things out. When he entered the building someone caught him with the ever-popular blunt instrument. Tommy must have taken a lot of killing, because according to the Sheriff's office he was a bloody mess.
"So where was the deputy while Tommy was getting God's design of his skull modified?" I asked.
"According to the Sheriff there were no deputies, no one had reported a break in at the compound. Some one else called Tommy, someone he trusted enough to go down to the compound at ten o"clock.
"Then again," I suggested. "Maybe he didn't go down to check a break in at all. You know he was one of those tall men. He might have gone down to meet with the others about buying the drilling equipment."
"If the sheriff didn't call Tommy then the murderer must have," Nora observed.
"That kind of rules out a burglar caught in the act." I suggested.
"I don't know, maybe someone drove by and caught a burglar in the act. It could have been a coincidence." Nora suggested.
"How the hell did you ever get rich believing in coincidences?"
"I didn't get rich, my husband did. Since we never talked, I have no idea whether he believed in them or not." She snapped it angrily at me.
"You really don't take criticism well, do you?"
"Not well at all. So who did it?"
"How the hell would I know? We aren't even in town yet."
"Come on you're the big expect. After all that's why I hired you."
"Well Nora, you should know that experts like to put on a little show first. It helps to let the body at least get cold. If we made it look too easy everybody would try to be an expert criminologist."
"So, tell me, whom you suspect?" she demanded smiling.
"Everybody within a hundred miles in every direction. It's the only way to start." It knew it sounded like a ten-minute conversation but it took the whole four-hour drive just to get that far.
We pulled into Tangiers shortly before nine in the morning. I insisted on breakfast before I began questioning people. It was a lesson from my cop days. A good cop never gets wet or hungry. I was dry, but I was also starved. The murder seemed to be the only topic of conversation at the cafe. Most of the conversation centered on the suddenly saintly Tommy.
Even though there was some speculation about the killer's identity it seemed that the pirate had captured the town's imagination. Everyone assumed it was the death threat made good.
"So, who is the pirate?' I asked one of the local women.
"It's probably that nutty Dowd woman,' the woman suggested.
"The tire iron, just doesn't seem to fit a woman," I suggested.
"Have you met the butch?" One of the men asked. "A tire iron might fit her hand just fine."
After breakfast we drove to the Sheriff's office. The sheriff was in the open area behind the dispatcher when we entered. "Taft, I've done some checking on you," he said. "I called the police up in Andrews. They tell me you were one of the best." I stood waiting for him to continue. "I wouldn't ordinarily allow an outsider into an investigation but since you were in New Orleans I doubt you had anything to do with it. Come on in, I'll tell you all about it."
I was seated across from him when he began. "I expect you want to go around asking questions?"
"I expect so," I replied honestly.
"Well you can't do that around here without a badge." I waited him out since I knew he had more to say.
"How would you like to become a special deputy until this is over. We could really use the help. We don't get many murders, and the state boys aren't exactly welcome around here."
I understood perfectly. Local cops never like outsiders, especially one who have to power to investigate them. My guess was that the sheriff took a buck or two on the side. It was possible that Winslow had offered him a few bucks. It didn't matter why I was indeed interested.
"Why not, retirement is a drag,' I admitted.
"Good," he said as he tossed a badge on the desk. "Do you promise to protect the good guys and lock up the crooks?"
"Sure, why not." I said it with a smile that matched his.
"So, now ask your questions. I would like to see how good you really are."
"First of all, did Tommy have a girlfriend?"
"Now why the hell would you ask that?"
"A man leaves home at ten in the evening to check a burglary. One that you can't prove actually happened before Tommy left home. Surely you would want to know if there were any other reasons he might have gone down there?"
"Okay the thought did cross my mind. Tommy did have a lady friend, but we haven't been able to find her."
"So, how did you find out he had a lady friend?" Nora asked not wanting to be completely left out.
"This ain't exactly New Orleans, we pretty much know everything about everybody down here."
"So Lou told you."
"You are good, yeah Lou told me. Seems Tommy was cattin around with Eddy down at the bank. She's a widow lady about five years older than Tommy."
"So you got any idea where this Eddy is at the moment, or where she was around ten last night?"
"Nobody has seen her since work yesterday. They tell us she wasn't planning no trips."
"Did you find the murder weapon?' I asked.
"Yep, one of them big wrenches they have out there."
"Now that's strange," I commented.
"How so?" the sheriff asked.
"On one hand, you have someone making a call to set it up, and on the other a weapon of opportunity was used. Maybe he was checking out a burglary after all. Did you find any indications that a burglary had occurred?"
"You are kidding. With a tin can like that place, how would you know whether it was broken into or not?" the sheriff asked. "The door lock wasn't busted but it would have been a window or even an overhead door. Those doors have been bumped so many times it would be impossible to tell if they were pried last night or not."
"Then. Were all the windows and overhead door locked when you arrived?" I asked.
"Sure were," the Sheriff replied smiling at me.
'I don't suppose there were any prints on the wrench?"
"None that we could find. We sent it to the state to see what they could find with all their new toys. The wrench was pretty rusty and pitted. They might find something though."
"So how many times was Tommy hit with that wrench?" I asked.
"Too damned many just to knock him down. The killer meant for him to never get up that is for sure."
"That kind of does in the burglar theory, that is unless Tommy knew the burglar. If there was a burglar and he was a stranger, he would have just knocked Tommy down and run like hell. It looks like Tommy was either set up for murder or maybe Tommy recognized someone out there."
"That sounds pretty likely," the sheriff admitted.
"Of course, it could have been Tommy's wife or his girlfriend." Nora suggested, just staying in the conversation.
"That too," the Sheriff admitted.
"If you have the crime scene photos I would like to take them out to the compound. Maybe something will occur to me."
"Sure, I'll even get Lou to go with you. He is the one who found the body."
"How did he happen to find it?"
"We've been keeping an eye on the place since the death threats. He recognized Tommy's car in the parking lot. I expect he stopping in just to say hey. Anyway when he walked into the building he found old Tommy laid out not so neatly on the floor."
"What time was that?' I asked.
"About midnight." the Sheriff replied. "By the way, there was a lot of blood splattered around and Lou was as neat as a pin. Just in case you were wondering."
"I was, Sheriff. You know where I was at ten,so where were you?"
At first he was upset then he calmed down. "I was home watching TV with my wife and teenaged daughter. You can check if you want."
"No thanks,' I admitted.
The Sheriff tossed the envelope with the pictures on the desk. "I'll have the dispatcher call Lou, it will probably be easier if he meets you there."
"Sure, we'll be heading that way now."
Nora and I were in the car when she spoke. "Edgar you have a way about you. It's a way of upsetting just about everyone."
"I know, it took a lot of practice to get it down so well."
Yellow crime scene tape was strung across the entrance to the compound. I pulled into the drive just off the road then stopped. Nora and I left the car to slip under the tape. I found Tommy's ten-year-old Ford parked outside the building. Since the door to the car wasn't locked I began to check it out. I started with the glove box and the trash bag, which was suspended from the cigarette lighter. The glove box contained a few gas receipts and a warrantee card for a muffler. I contained nothing else of note. There was nothing of interest under the seats.
"It seems Eddy was a smoker," I said that pointing out the lipstick stained cigarette butts in the ashtray.
Nora nodded then said, "Let's take a look in the trunk. You did bring you lock picking kit?' she asked.
"I never go anywhere without it," I replied with a broad smile. The lock gave easily to the pick and tension bar. Inside I found a spare tire and a couple of empty plastic oil bottles. At first glance the plastic trash bag didn't appear out of place. It was only after I opened it that I got a whiff of something that smelled like wet rope. I turned the plastic bag inside out a couple of hemp seeds fell onto the carpet of the trunk.
"Well, well, it looks as though Tommy was a smoker too."
"What are those," Nora asked pointing to the seeds.
"Unless I miss my guess, they are marijuana seeds."
"What would Marijuana seeds be doing inside an empty twenty gallon trash bag?"
"Because my dear, it is the method of choice for transporting home grown week."
"Why home grown," she asked.
"When you transport it over a distance it is compressed into bricks. Loose like this is usually directly from the fields."
"So Tommy was growing Marijuana?' she asked.
"Either that or buying it in large volumes." I leaned back against the car a few minutes before asking. "Nora did your company get any land with the Ezell purchase."
"I'll have to check. All I was interested in was the drilling lease." Nora punched a long string of numbers into her cell phone. "She stood by the car talking to her office, while I walked around the building. I was looking for anything at all, and nothing in particular. It was a good thing too, since I found nothing at all.
"Ezell took an old homestead in a foreclosure. The homestead became part of our acquisition. I don't expect that we ever saw it. We did pay the taxes on it though. We have hundreds of pieces of land lying around just like that. Someday if we need it we will take a look at it. Otherwise it will just lay fallow."
"I don't suppose you got directions to it?" I asked.
"Of course I did. One doesn't spend much time around you without learning to get all the information available."
"Good, now we needn't mention this to our friend Lou."
She nodded her head in agreement. "That seems like a good idea to me. You suspect him don't you?"
"I told you before everyone except you is a suspect. You got off the list only because you were with me when Tommy's soul passed through the veil of tears."
"Do you have to be such a wise guy all the time," she asked.
"Actually I do." I was at least grinning when I said it.
We hung around a few more minutes then Lou arrived in his patrol car. Since he had presumably been working all night I didn't find it surprising that he looked like hell. I watched him almost stagger from the car.
"Sorry folks, I'm pretty well worn out," he said. "The sheriff said when I finished talking to you I could go home."
"I'll try not to keep you too long," I admitted.
"Thanks, I really am beat."
"So, tell me what happened. I mean what you saw and did."
"I drove into the drive to check the lock on the fence. I saw it open so I drove into the parking lot. I saw Tommy's car so I stopped just to say hey. When I opened the door I didn't even have to call his name. He was just lying inside. I knew he was dead before I even checked. He face was just beat all to hell. I checked just to make sure he was dead. When I was sure I called the office. The Sheriff himself came out."
"Who took the Photos?" I asked holding up the envelope.
"Mike came down with his camera. Mikes the only real photographer around Tangiers. The Sheriff told him what to shoot and he did."
"Let's go ahead and get this over with," I suggested. I held up the photos and he explained where the body was laying. I could tell from the photos how it all looked at the time.
"Okay Lou, I think I have it. Why don't you take off and get some sleep. We are going to hang around and walk through it a couple of times."
"If you want, I'll stay and help."
"No, you need some sleep and this may take a while." After we he had gone we walked through it a few times. We finally wound up in the office where I waited while Nora spoke with Winters.
"I wish I had an ultra violet light," I said.
"Why?" Nora asked.
"I'd like to know if Tommy or anyone else has been making love on that sofa." I said it pointing to the worn out carcass against the wall.
"An ultra violet light would tell you that?\rdblquote she asked.
"It might," I replied.
"Doesn't the Sheriff have one?"
"Let me explain something to you honey. The Sheriff doesn't have a crime lab. The lab work would have to be done by the state boys if he called them in. He isn't going to do that unless the investigation stalls or somebody like you brings a lot of pressure on a politician somewhere."
"Why is that, there has been a murder?\rdblquote she asked.
'Because love, he doesn't want anyone poking around his county. He is surely taking a buck or two on the side. He would just as soon the state boys stayed home. Now Lou is probably tied up in the weed fields. He may or may not have the Sheriff involved."
"Isn't that a stretch from a couple of seeds you aren't even sure are marijuana?" Nora asked. "Even if it's true this is hardly a multi-million dollar dope empire here."
"True, but just in case you didn't notice, this isn't exactly the sunshine belt here. This is a pretty poor area. A few grand would make a big difference."
"Enough to kill for?" she asked.
"Five bucks and a bottle of cheap wine will get you killed some places." I continued looking around. "Too bad we don't know the place well enough to know what has been disturbed."
"We could get Winters down her but I doubt either of us would believe anything he had to say." Nora suggested.
"Did you ever have this place's books checked out?"
"Taft, you know from nothing about business. There is going over the books because you are interested in buying and then there is going over the books because something stinks. We did the buying out kind of checking. Now I think it is time for a better look at those books."
"How long will it take?" I asked.
'If I make it a priority a couple of days," she answered. "That is without checking the inventory. If I did that it would take a couple of weeks unless I brought in a full audit crew. I could never justify that kind of expense."
"Not even for a murder?"
"Not unless you have something more than idle curiosity going for you. You don't do you?"
"No, but it is a possible motive for murder. If there was some serious hanky panky going on Tommy would have known."
"If nothing else, you are amusing," Nora said with a smile.
"Why thank you ma'am, I do try to please."
While Nora made her call on the cell phone, I walked through the warehouse portion of the building. I looked at the long rows of boxes. Most of the floor to ceiling shelves were half-filled with boxes of drilling equipment awaiting movement to the drilling platform. There was one section of the warehouse that was filled with boxes. The boxes were packed tightly together. At first glance it would appear just poor management to have one rack packed so tight with all the others only half filled at best.
I tried to lift one of the boxes but found it far too heavy. I continued looking around while Nora continued to make her calls. I found a forklift but had no idea how to operate it. Since the rack was about twelve feet wide and just as deep there was no way to get inside the pile of boxes. I went into Winter's office and found the number for Marty Sloan in his roll a deck. I called Sloan whose wife went into the garden to get him to the phone.
"Mr. Sloan, Edgar Taft here. I could sure use your help. Could you come down to the compound for a few minutes?"
"Are you telling me I am a suspect in Tommy's murder?" he asked.
"No Sir, frankly I need to move some boxes and I don't have a clue how to work the forklift."
"If that's all, I'll be right down. By the way I was home with my wife last night."
"Well that settles that, but I really do need you to work the forklift."
"I'll be there in ten minutes. By the way is Mrs. Winslow there?"
\ldblquote She is"I replied.
"Good, I need to talk to her anyway. I've been calling the motel but they told me you two were on some kind of trip."
"We were on kind of a vacation. If you would be so kind as to head on down we can talk all this over here."
"So, who were you talking to?" Nora asked.
"Mr. Sloan he is on his way here."
"Why?" she asked.
'I need someone to operate a forklift. You can't run one can you?" I asked.
"Hardly," she admitted as she returned to her phone. "Mike, have the purchasing director call me. I might have a buyer for that water well drilling equipment down here. Yes Mike, I do know that we are negotiating with someone but have him call me anyway. Okay Mike, then have her call me." Nora turned her attention to me. "It appears that we have promoted a woman. She is in charge of the sale. I certainly hope she doesn't give me any crap."
"Why would she? You still own the place don't you?"
"Not really, I kind of retired. I'm still chairman of the board, but I'm not really supposed to be involved in the day to day operations." She said that looking me hard in the eye.
"Then why the hell are we involved in this?" I asked.
"If you need to ask, then you don't want to know." She said it with a sly grin.
"So who is going to be paying me for this?"
"Don't worry you will get your money." she snapped.
"That isn't what I asked and you know it,' I replied angrily.
"The company hired you as a security consultant. It was all taken care of nice and legally before I left. They can call you on anything they want. As for me, I'm on vacation."
"Then how in the hell can you keep on pulling the strings," she knew I meant the audit crew.
"Because love, I can fire the president of the company almost anytime I want." She flashed me a smile one would use on a five year old.
She turned her attention back to whomever she had on the phone. I stood staring into the warehouse until Sloan arrived about five minutes later. Sloan and I could both hear the voice of Sally the purchasing director for the project. Nora said, "Hold on one minute and I'll ask. Mr. Sloan are you and your friends interested in purchasing the drilling equipment?"
"Yes Ma'am but we don't have much cash," he replied.
"The price for everything is fifty thousand and I promise the terms will be fair. You won't need any down payment. We can shake on that if the sale price is agreeable."
"The payback may be slow," he said sheepishly.
"Don't worry the payments will be low, you just see that you make them on time. If you don't I am going to send Mr. Taft here to collect." At that moment I knew Nora had bought the drill for the men. She was going to be the finance company.
"If there is any way between heaven and hell, I'll make those payments."
"Then give me your hand on it." She took his giant paw in her small hand. She looked him dead in the eye then nodded to him.
"Now, how the hell do we move those boxes? There are no pallets under them."
"You don't know much about warehouses, do you Mr. Taft?"
"Mr. Sloan, I don't know much about anything."
He laughed at my honesty, and then he said. "The pallet form is inside the box." I watched as he slid the forklift blades under the cardboard boxes. He made quick work of the first row. As the second row of boxes began to get lower we noticed the boxes behind them were different than either of the front rows. They seemed somehow softer than the others.
I had Sloan remove all the outside boxes before he tried to remove the inside ones. The first of the inside boxes that he grasped burst open. The green cloud of Marijuana leaves billowed out then settled over everything.
"I will be damned," Sloan said. His surprise was real; I had watched him as he moved the boxes. There was absolutely no apprehension on his face as he worked. "What is that stuff?' he asked of no one in particular.
"My guess is that it's Mississippi Marijuana," I replied.
"What the hell was it doing behind all those drill bits?"
"Hiding, most likely."
"Nora when you finish that call you might want to call the Sheriff." I shouted it then turned to Sloan. "Sloan did you ever smoke pot?"
"No Sir, but I sure drank a lot of been in my time."
"I never did either but somebody around here sure as hell did. Will you do me a favor," I asked.
"Depends," he replied.
"Will you keep this just between us for right now? I would just as soon you be gone when the Sheriff arrives, but I don't want the others warned either."
"You keep me out of this and I promise I'll keep my mouth shut," Sloan informed me as he headed for the door.
"Sloan, call me at the motel tonight," Nora demanded as he opened the door. She then turned her attention to me. "Well, now we know where the seeds came from."
"I expect so," I said in agreement.
"How the hell did Ezell go belly up if he was dealing dope?" she asked.
"I don't expect he knew anything about it. If it was going on before he lost the place, they probably came in the middle of the night to stash the stuff or to make withdrawals.
"So Tommy was dealing dope. That makes it a dope killing?" her voice made it a question. She paused a long minute and I could see her mind working overtime. "I don't suppose the tugboat people are in on this?"
"I wouldn't think so, not unless these people are growing a hell of a lot of pot. Most weed is imported. I have never heard of any being exported. Still they were growing more than they could ever hope to sell locally. I thought at first Tommy might be growing it for his own use, but there is a hell of a lot of dope back there."
"It they are using my company to sell dope, I am going to have somebody's head mounted on my den wall." Nora commented angrily.
"It could be, but only time will tell for sure," I admitted.
"Do you think Winters knew?" she asked, then answered her own question. "Of course he knew. He had to have noticed the same thing you did about the boxes."
"Well sweetie, they were at least warehousing it in here. What else they did here I have no idea."
"Well what about the Sheriff?" she asked. "Will he handle it right or is he involved."
"You did tell the dispatcher what we had out here?"
"I most certainly did not."
"I expect we will see the Sheriff at least one more time. He will want to know what we found. If he is involved he will either kill us or head for the hills. I don't expect he will kill us but just in case keep that Glock handy." I said it with a smile.
"I always do when I'm around you," he replied seriously.
Ten minutes later the Sheriff and a different deputy arrived. "So Taft, what secret did you find buried in the warehouse?"
"Why don't you come in and take a look?" I suggested.
"That's not really pot, is it?" he asked. He was looking at the broken box and the green flakes all over everything."
"I don't expect they were hiding grass clippings from their lawns back there," I answered.
"You know Taft, you may be smart as hell, but you really are a pain in the ass."
"Thank you Sheriff, I'll take that as a compliment."
"I wouldn't." he commented. "It's liable to get you killed."
"I hope that wasn't a threat," I said looking hard into his eyes.
"I don't make threats," He was returning my look with one just as hard.
"I'm going to have to pick up Winters. I suppose you are going to want to be at the interrogation?"
"I am, if you are going to ask if Lou or any other law enforcement officer was involved."
"Listen, if you do the interview, I may be able to avoid the state police. You are a deputy after all"the Sheriff actually smiled at me. I don't think he understood that I was suspicious of him as well as the deputies.
"How about me and Nora talking to him alone?"
"You did call Winters and explain that the compound was a crime scene. He does know that he can't work today?"
"Sure, I called. He knows exactly what you are up to. He'll be home or out fishing, I expect."
"Right," I said sarcastically.
"Taft, are you armed?" he asked. "Do you want me to loan you a pistol? This might get a little hairy somewhere down the line."
"No thanks, if I need a pistol, then I did something wrong. I am going to try real hard not to do anything wrong."
We were outside when Nora said, "You keep saying that about the pistol and I keep saving your butt."
"You only saved me once, besides I would have let the cops run her down. You, on the other hand, wanted to kill her for your own reasons." Laura didn't answer that because there was no answer.
She did say, "Taft you are a jerk, but you are also my jerk."
"So let's go talk to your project manager," I suggested.
"My former project manager, even if he isn't a dope dealing idiot, he is still an idiot."
"Why do you say that?" I asked.
"Because if you could find that dope anyone could have."
Winters lived in a nice house but not overly nice for the area. It was located several miles from Tangiers. Winters was loading his pickup when we arrived. "You going somewhere?" I asked.
"Fishing, why?" he asked.
"Because we need to talk. We can do it here or I can call a deputy to transport you to the sheriff's office."
"I don't have to talk to you," he said nervously.
"Sure you do." I flashed the badge at him as I spoke. "So how do you want to do this?"
"I want a lawyer," he said stupidly.
"Up to you," I replied. "In that case you are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent anything you say can and will be used against you. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney one will be provided for you free of charge. Do you understand each of these rights as I have explained them to you."
"I do and I want to talk to my lawyer."
"That's fine but it will have to wait until you reach the jail. While we wait no one will question you." I turned my attention to Nora. "Nora would you call for a deputy please. "Glad to"she said reaching into her handbag. First she made the call then turned to Winters, "Mr. Winters I should inform you that an audit team is on it's way here right now. After they finish I am going to take you to court. After that I will own this house and everything in it. Your family is going to be homeless. When I finish that I am going to use all the influence of Winslow Petroleum and Winslow Chemical company to force the prosecution of you for every nickel that is missing whether you took it or not. No matter how well you think you covered your tracks, let me assure you that my bean counters can find a missing paper clip. If I were you I would cooperate with this investigation. After all they are only local cops. Me, I can, and will, hunt you to the ends of the earth. Not just you but your whole family."
I loved to see Nora shove her weight around.
"Winters, I have lawyers on retainer that are sitting around drinking coffee at a hundred bucks an hour, I need to find something for them to do anyway.\rdblquote
"If I cooperate you won't prosecute me for the company stuff?" he asked.
"That's right," she replied.
"How do I know I can trust you?" he asked.
"You can trust me a hell of a lot more than I can trust you."
He thought it over for a few seconds then said, "Okay, what do you want to know?"
"Did you kill Tommy?' I asked.
"Lord no, if I had her threats wouldn't bother me none. All I did was allow Tommy to store the weed inside the warehouse. I had nothing else to do with it."
Nora wanted to speak but I shook my head at her. "Okay, I can buy that but who else was in the dope business?"
"He didn't need anybody else he had his girlfriend to handle the money."
"How long had Tommy been in the dope business?" I asked.
"Ever since Ezell started working on this oil thing. Ezell let the other business go. He brought me in to turn it around but it was too late by then. Everybody was on short time. When it became obvious that Ezell didn't care about any of them, Tommy began hiding the dope in the warehouse."
"Then he was in business before Ezell went belly up?"
"Sure," Winters said. "That stuff doesn't grow overnight. He had everything in place when he approached me about it."
"So, he had you and Eddy, who else was in on it?" I asked.
"That's it as far as I know," he replied.
"You do know that you are going to be in the county jail. If there are any of the Sheriff's people in on this, they are going to want to shut you up. If you give me names, I will arrange for your lawyer to get you instant bail. That way you won't have to sit around waiting for someone to put a knife in you."
"Man, you going to get me killed."
"Hey Winters, I'm not the one who put you in the dope business. You did that all by yourself." I said it as coldly as I could.
"Okay, Lou is in on it. He joined the Sheriff's department after the business went belly up. He was supposed to keep the Sheriff's men away from us."
"So who was Tommy selling the pot too?"
"Man, I don't know, different people I guess."
"If you really don't know then you better make up a name. That deputy will be here soon. After that I can't help you."
"All I know is that once a month some guy would drive down. Tommy would meet him at the warehouse. The guy would take a couple of boxes, then leave. I was never there but Tommy did tell me about him. Tommy was smart enough not to get greedy. That one guy was the only buyer, as far as I know."
"So who was growing the weed and where?"
"I think it was on that piece of swamp that Ezell owned."
He tried to sound vague but he knew. "So, who did the growing? That stuff didn't take care of itself. Somebody had to cut and process it."
"Lou and Tommy took care of all that stuff," he admitted.
"Did Lou kill Tommy?" I asked.
"Man, I don't know. The only thing I do know is that if Lou killed Tommy, then he is going to kill me." He did appear frightened.
"So where is Eddy?" I asked.
"I don't know but she isn't likely to just take off. She might be on the run or she might be dead. She and Tommy had a thing going as well as being business partners. I guess she could have beaten him to death."
"Then again, the killer could have gotten her too," I said it finishing his thought for him.
"I may be next," he said nervously.
"One more question, then you can call your lawyer."
"Man, I done told you all I know," he whined.
"How often did Tommy add new inventory?"
"I don't know. He only worked in the warehouse after I had gone for the day."
"Come on Winters, you had to know when something was different about the warehouse."
"Once a month he moved the boxes so he could sell to the man in New Orleans. I don't remember any other times. Of course if he put the front boxes back, he could have moved them around anytime he wanted." It made sense so I dropped it.
"So you're telling me this all a local operation?"
"As far as I know, all Tommy did was grow a little pot and sell it to the man from New Orleans."
"Nora, call the Sheriff and stop that deputy. As for you Winters, call your lawyer then go turn yourself in. He can arrange bail for you before you go to the lockup. Now listen close, Winters. I am going out to look at that piece of land Winslow owns. When I get back if you haven't turned yourself in I'm coming back to arrest you; when I do all bets are off.
"Don't worry about me. Just as soon as I get my lawyer I am going to the station. I figure the sooner I tell the Sheriff about Lou the safer I will be."
"If the Sheriff is in on this I would turn myself over to the DA. If he isn't, then the Sheriff is your best bet." I gave him one more chance to give me the Sheriff.
"No, he didn't know. Tommy and Lou were real careful about that."
"Edgar, just what is going on here?" Nora asked it as we drove toward the swamp owned by Winslow Oil Exploration Company."
"Honey, I have no idea. I do know that we are into something more than a little local pot business. It may have been nothing more than a lover's quarrel, but I think it is something else." It struck me like that bolt out of the blue you hear so much about. Son of a gun," I said. "Tommy was your pirate."
"What?" Nora asked.
"The pirate never cared about your drilling in the gulf, he just wanted you to stop moving things in and out of the warehouse. The Gulf demonstration just gave him the idea. He figured if he made enough trouble, you would begin shipping to the dock warehouse. That's all he really wanted."
"Didn't he know that I would sell the warehouse, if I couldn't use it." She seemed to have forgotten that she was retired.
"Maybe he planned to buy it, along with the water drilling equipment. He had to know from Winters that you were looking for a buyer."
"Rats," Laura said. "Remember when I called the new purchasing agent about selling the drill equipment to Sloan and the others?"
"Sure," I replied.
"Well the agent told me she was negotiating with someone down here. I told her to break them off. That was all the grief she was giving me." Nora sat quietly for a few more minutes. "I guess she won't have to worry about that second buyer now."
"Yeah, Tommy was trying to buy it all."
"So Edgar, If the pirate didn't kill Tommy who did?" she asked.
"Maybe it was Lou. He had time to go home and change his bloody clothes before he officially discovered the body."
Nora drove down a dirt road that turned into a wagon track. At the end of the track we came to a fence with a sign. The sign informed us that we were trespassing on property owned by the Winslow Petroleum Company. It also informed us that we along with every other trespasser would be prosecuted.
"I pushed the rickety old gate aside, then joined Nora for the quarter mile drive deeper into the swamp. We passed several meadows, which had once been plowed fields; none of which were in use at the time.
"So, where to now," she asked.
"Beats me. To bad we don't have the Indian here."
"What Indian?' she asked.
"Old friend from the cops. Since we don't have him, it don't matter much." Even without the Indian I found the path leading from the very end of the road. After a few feet in widened into a logging road of some kind. Farther down the road that ruined Nora's fancy shoes, we came across a place that could almost be called a clearing. Since growing season was in full blood so to speak, there were several six and eight foot stalks of marijuana growing among the other brush. Whoever planted it made sure it was placed randomly. It probably wouldn't stand out from the air at all.
"Nora, you keep that Glock handy. There is no telling who or what we might walk up on out here. We continued on through the semi-cleared area. When we had crossed the clearing I expected the path to end. I was wrong; it actually got wider and smoother as we left the clearing.
The path lead to a small clearing by what was either a river or at least some kind of waterway leading to the gulf. There was a rougher path leading off to the right. I led Nora down it. We came to a small shack completely hidden from the air by the forest canopy. Inside we found two bunks and some canned food on a shelf over one of them.
"It looks as though they stayed here while they harvested their crops," I said. In the clearing outside the cabin I found a 55-gallon barrel that had been used to burn trash. Inside the barrel I found ashes and few bits of butcher's paper. It had somehow escaped the fire.
I went back into the shack. Something just didn't seem right. I found a small woodstove in the middle of the floor. I opened it to find ashes in several stages of decomposition. I didn't know how old they were but I thought some of them at least weren't too old.
"What's wrong." Nora asked noting my confused look.
"I don't know. Let's look for some kind of drying unit. There should be something around unless they took it to somewhere else to dry it." We searched but didn't find anything.
"Okay Edgar, I want to know what's going on inside your head and I want to know now," she demanded.
"Okay, but it doesn't make much sense even to me. It appears that Tommy and Lou stayed here while they harvested the dope." Nora nodded her agreement. "The first thing wrong is that you harvest this stuff during the summer and fall. They hardly needed the stove for that."
"Maybe the stove belonged to a previous owner," she suggested.
"Maybe, but it's filled with fresh ashes. Before you ask, I don't know what it means."
"Maybe Tommy did stay up here during the winter," she suggested.
"Maybe, I also found some butcher's paper in the trash barrel. It's the kind of stuff you wrap dope with. Since all the evidence so far points to Tommy selling his dope loose it doesn't add up."
"I figure they dragged the fresh dope to the river in those cotton picking bags outside. From the river I have no idea where it went before it wound up in the warehouse. It had to be dried before it hit the warehouse. Another thing what happened to the stalks. You don't smoke the stalks, so what happened to them?"
"Surely you can do something with the stalks," Nora suggested.
"You can make ropes, cloth and paste with it. Paste is more profitable but it takes time and a cooker to make."
"So why don't we just turn all this over to the Sheriff?" Nora asked.
"Oh we are, I just like to figure these puzzles out before I go to the boss."
"He isn't your boss," Nora reminded me.
"What I really want to know is, where is Eddy?" I was more than a little concerned for her welfare.
"Probably on the run from a murder charge," Nora suggested.
"Wouldn't that be a bitch? The man is playing in the majors with the dope and all. Would it be something if a bank teller iced him because he couldn't get it up."
d\fi720\qj "You know his wife could have done it for the same reason," Nora suggested
"There's something else about this place that bothers me. If they were coming and going by the river, why wasn't the road at least a little grown over."
"Maybe they were coming in by truck and someone else was using the river to pick it up."
"That makes as much sense as anything else. The most logical answer is usually the correct one."
"I guess you need to get your handy dandy cell phone and call the Sheriff. It's probably time to let him in on all this," I suggested.
"Before I do that, I have never made love outdoors. Do you think you could manage out there?"
"You know that I don't do that while I'm working a case but this time I will make an exception. Especially since I never did it either."
An hour later the Sheriff walked into the clearing. "He had a man in civilian clothes with him. The second man carried a camera. While the Sheriff and I walked over the area, the little man with the camera shot pictures of everything. When we finished covering the area I asked, "Did Winters show up at the station yet?"
"No, but he called. He and his lawyer are on the way down. I told him to hold on until I finished up here. So what do you make of all this?"
"It looks as though Tommy, Winters, and your man Lou were all in the Drug business."
"Lou, I hadn't heard that part." He acted surprised.
"Winters made me agree to his lawyer bringing him in before he would give me Lou. He was afraid Lou did Tommy. He didn't want to get a dose of the same."
"Damn," the sheriff said quietly. "Did Lou do Tommy?"
"I don't know, but I think we should talk to him. Right now we need to find Eddy. She may have done Tommy then took off. If not she may be in the swamp somewhere."
"So, why would Lou do Tommy?" the sheriff asked.
"Who knows maybe a falling out among dopers? It would sure be the easiest explanation. I won't know until I know exactly what Eddy's part in all this was. Winters seems to think she was involved with Tommy as well as handling the money."
"That was the rumor," the sheriff admitted.
"Could his wife have iced him in a jealous rage?" I asked.
"It's possible she might have caught them together. She could have killed them both."
"If she did, where is Eddy's body?"
"Don't ask me. You're the big gun here. Me, I'm just a country bumkin."
"Okay bumkin what do you make of the Butcher's paper, and what did they do with the stalks? I have a better one than that; I can't find a power supply for a dryer.
"Someone came by the river to take the green dope away. Maybe they used the stalks for the drying?" Nora said it to stay in the conversation.
"Wouldn't be near enough. That stuff would burn out long before the dope was dry."
"That's what I figured. You could use the stalks to make a low grade hash, but nobody would ever buy a second batch."
Maybe they were making rope with it," the sheriff suggested with a laugh.
"Whatever they were doing with it. It is a minor mystery compared to Tommy's killing."
"You like Lou and his girlfriend for it?" the sheriff asked.
"Yeah, and a couple of others too."
"I got to admit Taft, you covered a lot of ground quick, but I expect we would have gotten around to it all eventually even without you."
"I have absolutely no doubt of that," I agreed.
"The real crap is just about to begin."
"I expect Lou will give it all to us. We don't need your help anymore," the sheriff informed me.
"So, I suppose you want my badge back?"
"No, you can keep it as a souvenir."
"If Lou cops to Tommy, you will tell me?" I asked.
"Sure, if he cops there is no sense your wasting any more time here."
I nodded my agreement. "Well, if you don't need us anymore, I think I'll take the boss and leave."
"Why not, I have her cell number. I'll call if anything comes up," the sheriff informed me.
"Where to now?" Nora asked as we drove away.
"Eddy's house, of course."
"I suppose you have her key?" She knew exactly what I planned to do.
When we arrived at Eddy's small frame house I knocked several times. When I received no answer, I finally just picked the lock on the rear door. At least there were no dead bodies inside. I would have searched the house but someone had beaten me to it. Everything was heaped in one large pile on the kitchen floor. I knew better than to expect anything different in any of the other rooms. As I expected each of the other rooms looked about the same. That is, except for the actual contents of the heaps.
Nora and I searched anyway hoping to find something. It was Nora who found the unopened bill. The person who searched previously had been looking for something but it hadn't been the kind of thing found on an electric bill.
"I noticed the electric company's return address wasn't in Tangiers so I opened it." Nora explained it as she handed me the bill.
"Do you have any idea where Saint Maria is?" I asked.
"No but I'll bet it's on the road map we got from the rental company."
Saint Maria was indeed on the map. It was also in the same area as the farm. Nora and I drove immediately to Saint Maria. During the drive Nora called the power company. She was able to obtain the address of the account on the invoice.
The address belonged to a farm directly across the inlet from the shack. The farm road ran past the farmhouse then a half-mile to the waterfront. During the drive we passed two mobile homes and a metal barn. It was the kind of barn used around home to cure tobacco. Picking that lock proved unnecessary. Someone had been there before we arrived. The barn was dead empty. I couldn't tell if they had interrupted the drying process or not. I did find a double handful of seeds on the floor of the barn. We found the burners, which provided the heat to speed up the drying process. Outside was one very large propane tank.
The first mobile home contained two very long tables but nothing else. I was sure that a thorough vacuuming of the cheap carpet would yield several more seeds. The second mobile home was pretty much as the factory had produced it twenty or more years before. There had been a great deal of wear and tear on it since. While taking a look around I found dishes in the sink. I quickly checked the coffee pot and found it warm.
"Damn Nora, pull the car behind the barn someone is staying in this trailer."
Nora pulled the car behind the pack barn then returned. We sat on the sofa necking like a couple of kids while we waited for the owner to return. Fortunately the car pulled into the dirt yard before the necking got too serious. I didn't know what had gotten into Nora. She had suddenly gotten insatiable. I had heard cops talking about female partners. It had something to do with the tensions or the danger. I never could remember which it was.
I watched from inside the trailer while I small middle-aged woman emerged from the car. Nora and I waited while the woman unlocked the door, then entered with her grocery bags.
"Hello Eddy," I said it in a loud voice.
"Who the hell are you?' she asked.
"Deputy Taft"I showed her the souvenir badge. "Now, you tell me why I should arrest you for Tommy's murder."
She almost collapsed, and then she wailed, "Tell me it isn't true."
Nora comforted her while I sat on the sofa watching. I glanced out the window and noticed that the light was failing fast. Nora reached over to turn on the light beside the sofa.
"Eddy, if you didn't kill Tommy, why did you disappear?"
"Tommy called to tell me he was meeting a new buyer. He was supposed to call after the meeting. When he didn't call I drove to the warehouse. There were Sheriff's cars all over the place when I got there. I got scared and just took off. I didn't figure I would do too well in jail."
"So you didn't go home?" She shook her head. "So, tell me who would search your house and what would they be looking for?"
"I don't know who searched my house but I do know what they were looking for." She said it while handing me a computer disk.
"What's on the disk?" I asked.
"Tommy said it was his get out of jail free card. He said he could turn it over to the state cops in exchange for a walk on the dope charges."
"What is it a list of the participants in his dope business?" Nora asked.
"Everybody he ever dealt with is on the disk," she replied.
"So, who knew about the disk?' I asked.
"Probably everybody named on it. He said it was also his insurance policy as well as a get out of jail card. Everybody knew about it, but nobody knew I had it. They all thought some smart assed lawyer had it."
"So the person who searched your house wasn't necessarily the killer?"
"Not necessarily, I imagine when word got out that Tommy was killed a lot of people got scared."
"So you were afraid someone would kill you, same as Tommy."
"That or for the disk," she admitted.
"Tell me how the dope thing worked." I demanded.
"First, I want a drink."
She and Nora each had a drink in hand when she began. "Tommy began growing dope before I met him. It was at least two years ago when he began depositing all that cash. I was looking for something, I just didn't know what. I knew what he was up to when he brought in that first envelope stuffed with cash. I returned it to him without touching the cash. I told him he needed to figure out something else if he wanted to stay out of trouble with the feds. I explained to him how to make it work. I even helped him buy the money orders. I even set up a dummy account for him."
"The Pelican Trust?" I asked.
"You are smart," Eddy said. "Yeah that old broad we hired couldn't raise a dime. All the money came from dope. She is just a nut who thinks she is doing good work."
"So she knows nothing?' I asked.
"Not a single thing," she replied. "I told her she had to keep quiet because my boyfriend worked for Mrs. Winslow. I guess she liked her job enough to keep quiet."
"So how long had you and Tommy been buying dope?" I asked the question while noting the surprised look on Nora's face. She knew enough to keep quiet.
"Damn Taft, maybe you should be telling it." she paused then after a moment she began again. "After a while the people in New Orleans developed a taste for the homegrown Marijuana. A couple of times a year we had more dope than we could sell but then a few months later we were completely out of dope. Tommy figured he could buy some Mexican pot and mix it with the ground up stalks from our fields. The stuff was pretty close to our blend so nobody complained. Tommy said the Mexican was pretty harsh, but mixing it with our stalks mellowed it out some. Anyway he sold the fake stuff for more than enough to cover our costs. If we hadn't needed to get rid of the stalks we probably would have just repackaged the Mexican crap."
"Okay, so who was involved in the business?"
"Tommy and I grew the dope. I handled the money for them. Old man Everette sent a tug up a couple of times to haul the stuff across the inlet. He took it down to his place. Tommy picked it up in a Winslow truck after he had delivered some pipe or something to the warehouse."
"Was Everette a partner or did Tommy just pay him?"
"Everette was an paid employee," she informed me. "Tommy thought it was a great joke. Everette bossed Tommy around during the day, but Tommy bossed Everette around at night."
"So, which one killed Tommy?" I asked.
"Which on of who?' she asked.
"You said the disk was to go to the state police, I assume the Sheriff was on the payroll."
"The Sheriff is on everybody's payroll. Lou might have killed Tommy, but I can't imagine why he would. Everything was working out real well for everyone."
"So, you think it was a dope deal gone sour?"
"I don't think so. From what I got from Lou, it wasn't a rip off."
I was about to suggest something else when the door burst open. The middle-aged woman wouldn't have been impressive at all had she not been holding a sawed off pump shotgun. "You must be Tommy Timmons' wife?" I said it as calmly as a man looking down the barrel of a cannon could.
"I am. You must be Taft; everybody said you are smart as hell. Well it looks like your smart guy days are over."
"Before you shoot me how about telling me one thing. Did you really take a wrench to your husband?"
"Why should I tell you anything?"
"Why not, I assume you are going to kill me. Did you find out about Eddy, and then decide to rearrange Tommy's features.
"Not hardly, I knew about the teller for over a year. I got my revenge with Lou."
"So why did Lou ice Tommy?"
"Ask miss hot pants over there," she said waving the gun at Eddy.
"Hey, I don't know." Eddy said through quivering lips.
"Sure you do. You set up those bank accounts. Tommy was shorting Lou on his end."
"I can buy that, but why would he kill Tommy before he had the disk?"
"Lou knew hot pants had the disk. He figured he would get it before she found out Tommy was dead. He had no idea she would drive by the warehouse after the meet. He saw her drive by the warehouse before he could get away. He knew she would be long gone."
"So why did it take you so long to figure out where she was hiding?" Nora asked.
"It didn't take long. Tommy was killed about this same time last night. You two were just a lot faster than anyone could imagine. I've been taking care of funeral details all day." She paused to look out the window. "You know Taft, you are one smart cookie. Too bad that it's going to get you killed."
"Obviously you aren't going to kill us. Are you waiting for Lou?"
"I will kill you if you try anything, if you don't then Lou can kill you all." She looked out the window again. "He should be here anytime now."
"So what you are telling me is that if I reach for that shotgun you will kill me, but if I wait Lou will kill me. That's really not much of a choice."
"It's the only one you got." She said it without taking her eyes off me.
Suddenly there were three popping sounds. Tommy's wife went down. She did manage to pull the trigger before she fell. I felt a terrible pain but I couldn't tell just where it came from. I didn't even know when I passed out.
I awoke in a room painted white. From all the light I thought I might be in an operating room. It took me just a second to realize that the lights came from the three light systems attached to a ceiling fan in my private room. I heard her voice before I could remember how I got to the room or why I was in the hospital at all.
I heard Nora"s voice in tears. "I am getting awfully tired of saving you."
"What about Lou?\rdblquote I asked.
"The Sheriff caught him on the road headed for the trailer. These cell phones are the greatest." I heard her voice fade as I drifted off to sleep.
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