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thewordsmith
August 20th, 2010, 06:38 PM
Keeping a promise.
I recently commented on a couple of posts by Nightstalker and, since it would be unfair to dissect his work without allowing equal opportunity of my own work and, since I promised him I would do so, I am posting, herewith, a short story of my own for comments and review. This one is not only an exercise in writing a short story, it's also my first effort at writing first person. Thanks for your views and comments - good, bad, and otherwise. 8-[
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SANDS OF CRIME



(6,491 words)
It started out to be a pretty simple case, missing person. ‘Course there was nothing simple about it. Sparky Steele was a small time hustler. No big deal. He turns up missing, it probably means he beat his connection for a score and he’s laying low for a while. These small timers do that kind of thing on a regular basis. But when Sparky’s car turned up in the impound lot, blood all over the front seat, Captain Dolman got different ideas.

That’s how I got into it. I’m Conrad Malone - Detective Conrad Malone. My friends call me Connie. I work for the Hillary, Indiana police department. Now, Hillary is not what you’d call a bustling metropolis. I mean, New York City it ain’t. And I like it that way. After nine years in Houston, I came back to Indiana.

Not only is it home, it’s quiet. Sometimes it seems like two jaywalkers and a speeding ticket all on the same day constitutes a crime wave. Then something like this happens and ... but, I’m getting off the track. I was telling you about Sparky.

Me and Sparky have crossed paths more than once through the years. Hillary’s too small to have a big sophisticated police department, or to really need it. Everyone shares what little work there is to be done from the eighteen dollar robbery at the car wash to the toilet paper vandals on Spring Street. But we’re close enough to the big cities, Indianapolis and, across the river, Louisville, Kentucky, to pick up our share of excitement every now and then. Usually the dopers stick to the big cities, too. Good ole Sparky, though, he believed in keeping his business at home. "Don’t do me any favors," I used to tell him.

Sparky did a little smoke, which we used to wink at so long as he kept it quiet and stayed away from the kids. Every now and then he messed around with pills. Sparky believed in that old misquote about honor among thieves. He never dealt with kids and he steered clear of the hard core stuff like heroin and crack. He was one of those displaced hippie types - thirty years after the fact. Wait a minute, I’m not getting anywhere this way. Let me start at the beginning. That would be three days ago. We got a missing persons call ...

Dave Porter was on dispatch, Eriksen was the only one available so she took the call. Yeah, she - Shauna Eriksen. Affirmative action even reaches places like Hillary. Don’t get me wrong now, I’m glad to have her around. Not only is she one smart cookie, but she’s got one nice set of ... bones. Easy to look at, if you take my meaning. I was in the office when the Bones came back from the call and I picked up a little on it from her. Seems that two nights before, Sparky went out to a business meeting and his girlfriend’s been waiting for him to get home ever since. Then she gets the bright idea that, since he’s been gone for two days, maybe something’s wrong. This dame gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "dumb blonde" y’know?

"Drugs?" I asked Bones after she filled me in.

"That’s what I thought too," she said. "But the girlfriend acted like she didn’t even want to talk about him."

"Try again," I suggested. "I know Sparky Steele from way back. If he’s in it, it’s got something to do with drugs you can bet on it."

Bones looked at her notes and nodded. "Sure seems like it. But the girlfriend’s turned cold on the whole thing. When I got out to the house, she didn’t even want to talk to me. Wouldn’t even open the door! I thought I’d give her overnight to stew about it. Maybe she’d be more cooperative the longer he’s gone."

"Any ideas?"

"Well, he drove to Louisville. That’s about the best I could do. I’ll have better luck with her tomorrow."

I wondered why she thought so, but didn’t tell her that. "Okay for tomorrow," I said, "how about tonight? Dinner?"

She smiled, which made the rejection a little easier to take. "Gee, Sergeant Malone, I. . ."

"Call me Connie. Everyone else does."

"That’s really sweet of you, Sergeant, but I’ve made other plans. Maybe some other time."

I guess I’ve been gone from Indiana longer than I realized. I must be losing my homespun, country boy charm that women find so irresistable. I went to the golden arches for a romantic burger and fries before going home to my apartment. Dylan met me at the door with half a couch cushion as soon as I walked in. Dylan, I should explain, is my dog. An overgrown puppy of indistinct parentage, leaning heavily to sheepdog and mastiff. I found him under an overgrown milkwood bush in the landlady’s yard when I moved in and we’ve been together ever since. Looking at the shambles he made of my place, I had a hard time figuring out why, though. I picked my way through the room to the phone wailing impassively somewhere amid the clutter. Dylan didn’t care for the sound of a ringing telephone and he learned quickly how to stop it. Now, if I could just teach him to take messages...

Finally, I located the phone and hung up the receiver. As soon as I did, it practically jumped out of my hands, ringing.

"Malone," I shouted into the phone.

"Who the hell have you been talking to all night?" he yelled, "I’ve been trying to reach you for two hours."

"Who the hell wants to know?" I shot back.

"Sorry, Connie. This is Mike Dolman."

"Chief Dolman, sir." Mike Dolman was a family friend. Went to school with my older brother. He taught me how to ride a two wheeler when I was five years old. But the tone of his voice said this was strictly a business call.

"Forget formalities, Connie," he said, "we had a car pulled into impound tonight. Abandoned out on 36. It’s registered to Orwell Steele."

"Sparky? We got a missing persons on him today."

I’ve know Sparky almost as long as I’ve been a cop. He was my first bust, back when I was Hillary’s greenest rookie, before I grew up and headed for the big time down south.

"Yeah, that’s why I’m calling. I want you to take a look at the car in the morning."

"Aw, Mike, that’s Eriksen’s case. You know what she’ll do if I horn in on her."

"I’m not really asking, Con. You’ve dealt with things like this before, she hasn’t. You’ve had more experience. She’ll take your help and be glad to get it."

"Sure she will. And I believe in Santa Claus, too."

"Just be at the station around seven. I’ll meet you there. Good-night."
In the garage beneath the stationhouse the next morning, the car sat in the back of the lot covered with a tarp. Mike and I pulled the cover off as he explained the case to me. Boy, what a mess! The seats were splattered with blood. Looked like a hit squad held a training session in the little MG.

"Samples have been sent to the lab in Indianapolis already," Mike was saying, "be a couple of days before we hear anything back, though. You know how it goes." He gave me a minute or two to study the mess then leaned against the car and said, "Not your everyday missing person, is it?" He knew I was hooked.

We tossed the tarp back over the car and started upstairs. From the other end of the garage, Shauna Eriksen was bearing down on us, full tilt.
"What do you mean he’s working with me?" she shouted at Mike from across the compound. Good, that meant she was going to tackle him instead of me. "What’s wrong? Can’t a woman handle it alone? Maybe I’m not smart enough? Not strong enough? What? Not MAN enough? Just give me one good reason why he has to be given my case."

God! She was fun to watch when she let loose. Wish I’d stayed out of it and watched. It would’ve been easy enough for Mike to just tell her it was "boss’s orders" but Noooo! I had to stick my neck out and my two cents’ worth in. I must’ve been born with a wide self-destructive streak in me but I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut.

"Hey, easy Shauna," I said. "Nobody’s saying you can’t do it. Chief Dolman just figured..."

"You, Conrad Malone, can take your smart mouth and your big brass plated ego and -- shut up!" she screamed and descended on me so fast all I could do was back up to the wall, wait for the storm to pass and pick up the pieces when she was finished. But she was nowhere near finished. After she called me a few names I hadn’t heard outside a longshoremen’s hall, she had a few choice selections reserved for the Lone Star State.

When I thought she’d had enough, I gave her my best midwestern cornfield grin and said, "y’know, when you get mad, you get little gold flecks in your eyes."

"What?" she shrieked. That was good. I had her off-guard.

"Yeah, right there. You can see’em."

She let out a scream like you wouldn’t believe and that’s when she let me have it. I mean, she really let me have it. And she’s got a right on her that would’ve done Ali proud. Right to the gut, too. I really need to get back in shape. While I was examining the oil spots on the garage floor and hugging my belt buckle, trying to find my breath, Mike showed her the car.
"Detective Malone has experience with this sort of thing," he was saying, "you haven’t, that’s all. I don’t expect you to turn your case over to him completely. Just let Connie work with you. Take advantage of his expertise. I don’t have to remind you that I really don’t need to ask your permission."

When I started breathing again and made my way back up to six foot two, Shauna was glaring at me and Mike was making a fast getaway up the stairs. I couldn’t tell if she was mad because she was stuck with me or if she just didn’t like me. My grandaddy always told me, "If you don’t know how deep the water is, don’t jump in head first." Seemed like sensible advice at the moment. I offered Shauna my hand. "Well, I guess we’re going to be partners on this one."

"Hold your breath, Ranger," she fired back then stormed off to the watch room.

Chalk one up for Grandaddy.

I don’t guess I have to tell you, that long, cool drink of water gave me one long, cool day. Before the shift was over, though, I began making progress. I got her to talk to me. As I walked past her desk that afternoon, I accidentally knocked some papers onto the floor.

"Watch yourself, Ranger. Don’t they teach you guys any manners down there in Texas?" she snapped.

Well, I didn’t say she was in any better disposition.

"Look, Bones," I said as I put the papers back on her desk, "I didn’t ask for this assignment." I sat on the edge of her desk - she didn’t spindle my leg, definite sign of progress. "Believe me, I don’t want to step on your toes. I told the chief it was yours." I jumped from her desk. "I’ll tell you what, I’ll go into his office right now and tell him I want out. It’s your case and you’re entitled to handle it on your own." I was almost at Mike’s door and wondering if she was going to let me go through with it when she called me back.

"Wait a minute, Malone, if you do that, we’ll just both get in deep with Dolman. We might as well make the best of it. But you listen here, Ranger, I’m in charge."

Fine with me. I had seniority but there was no sense in pulling rank. As long as she was going to be generous with the case, I guess, if she wanted to be in charge I’d just sit back and see how much voltage she carried.
"You bet, boss," I told her. "Where do we begin?"

"Begin? Oh, well, I guess we get the results back from the lab in the capitol and then we. . ."

"Ah-h, yeh." Boy! I could tell right from the start, this was going to be an uphill draw. I reckoned if I, er, that is, we were going to get anywhere, I’d better fill my new boss in on where we were going. "Okay, but, may I make a suggestion?" I asked. She shrugged so I went on. "First of all, it’ll take three days, maybe longer to get those results back from Indianapolis. The only way we could wait for the reports before doing something is if we go pick up the work ourselves. Secondly, what are you looking for in the report? If you don’t know what you’re looking for I can almost guarantee you won’t find it. For instance, what blood type was the guy driving the car? If you don’t know Sparky’s type, you won’t know if he was a likely victim or if maybe somebody ripped off his car. So now we’re back at square one Or maybe Sparky did a job on somebody. Why don’t I go down for the file on him - see what we can dig up?"

"What makes you think he’s got a rap sheet, smarty?"

"I wrote it. A few early chapters, anyway. I’ll be right back. While I’m gone, why don’t you get another look at the missing person report. We can go out an talk to his girl... uh, that is, if you want to. She finally waved me out the door and I took off.

About an hour later we were on our way out to Sparky’s place. Sometimes you gotta wonder if you’re in the right business, like when we pulled up at Sparky’s. How come some small time, chump-change doper like Sparky rates a layout like that while I put in double shifts just to keep up with three rooms and a bath with hot and cold running cockroaches?

The woman who answered the door looked a little surprised when she saw Shauna, in uniform, walk up behind me. She was the kind of lady who, you could tell, was accustomed to having nice things. She belonged in a place like that. She was just Sparky’s type, too. He liked the finer things in life and she was definitely fine.

"I’m sorry, officer," she said after we explained our purpose, "there must be some mistake. I didn’t call the police."

Shauna was pushy, though. She pulled me back a few inches and whispered in my ear, "That’s the woman I spoke to before. I recognize her voice." Then she addressed the woman. "Aren’t you Julianne Dunne?"

Tall, blonde and money laughed a little. "Good heavens! Where did you get an idea like that? My name is Rockwell - Sabrina Rockwell."

"Whatever. Are you saying that Mr. Steele isn’t missing?" Shauna asked.

"No. Of course not. He’s away right now -- on business."

"When do you expect him back?"

The lady shifted from one foot to the other. There was an odd look in her eye when I caught her attention, that faint glimmer of recognition when you think you know someone but you’re not sure. But I was. She looked away quick and said, "I don’t know really."

When I couldn’t hold back any longer, I got into the conversation. "Miss, uh, Rockwell, did you say?" I nailed her with the toughest stare I could muster. Her shoulders twitched. "How well do you know Steele?"

"I think I can handle this," Shauna broke in.

Like I said, I knew from the start this wouldn’t be easy.

After I apologized and slacked off to give her a little rope - just enough to hang herself, maybe - Shauna repeated my question. She added a few of her own and we left twenty minutes later knowing little more than when we arrived. As soon as we got back to the station I left her to fill in the reports. After all, she was in charge. I had more important business to take care of.

I made the fifteen minute trip back to Sparky’s in eight, but it was almost too long even at that. Miss Rockwell, as she was calling herself, was preparing to make a hasty departure, so hasty she almost broadsided my trusty old Chevy on her way out of the driveway. I climbed out of my car and met her just as she slithered out of hers. It was a cinch she wasn’t going anywhere.

"Hi, again," I smiled, offering her a hand, "going somewhere?"

"Lose your way getting out?" she snapped back. A real cucumber she was.
Okay, lady, off with the kid gloves.

"Now, now, is that any way to talk to an old friend? My partner’s kinda new at this sorta thing," I told her, "I’m not. It’s been awhile, but not that long. I remembered you as soon as I saw your name in that report. What’d you do - get a nose job? It’s an improvement, but you know what they say. ‘Beauty’s only skin deep,’ right? Geez! You’ve got more name’s than a public toilet wall. Julianne Dunne, is that the name you’ve been using lately? I like the Sabrina Rockwell, myself. It has a certain touch. If you don’t mind, though, I’ll just use the one you were born with, Sara Jean Dunsmoore. Now, why don’t we go back inside where we can be more comfortable while we talk?" She hemmed and hawed but, in the end she finally led the way back into the house.

"Okay, Sara Jean," I said when we were settled, "how long has Sparky been gone? And where’d he go?"

"I don’t know," she said.

I love bad liars, they make my job so much easier. And Sara Jean was one really bad liar.

"No good," I told her, "I put a call out on the street on you and word has it that you’ve been spending some time with some pretty high rollers." Yeah, I was bluffing, but if you can’t play your hunches, what good are they?

"I don’t know what you’re talking about," she said.

"I think you do," I shot back. "I’ve known Sparky Steele since he was lifting hubcaps from moving cars when he was fourteen years old. We practically grew up together. I think I know him well enough to spot trouble."

"What kind of trouble?" she asked, curious, but calm as ever.

She was cool, alright, but I still had a couple of aces in the hole.

"Your boyfriend’s car turned up in police impound last night. It was abandoned out on old highway thirty-six. I don’t guess you know anything about that though, huh?" That was a good start, she was crumbling already. Highway thirty-six was a well worn old dirt path anymore and not much else. She didn’t say anything, but she was twisting that big rock on her hand like it was the doorknob to the gates of Heaven. She was nervous alright, and that put me in control. Next ace.

"There was evidence that someone had been hurt. Probably Sparky. But you don’t know anything about that either, do you?" You could see her head working overtime trying to figure all the angles. "You want to tell me what you know about all this now, or do I arrest you and we can talk about it at the station? Your choice." That put her on the defensive.

"You can’t arrest me. You’ve got nothing against me."

"Lady," I told her, "I’ve got a man missing. His car turns up covered with enough blood to fill Red Cross. You could be considered an accessory. For good measure, I’d be willing to bet half the stuff in this museum’s hot. Come off it, Sara Jean. What’ll it be, your place or mine?" That was just enough pressure. She was ready to be cooperative

"Listen," she told me, "I didn’t want him to go. I didn’t like the whole deal."

"What’s that?"

"He was into a big thing down in Louisville with some guy we met awhile back. This guy was heavy into coke and had lots of money to throw around. Y’know?"

"That’s why you backed out on the missing persons report. Sparky’s dealing again, isn’t he?" Of course he was dealing. Sparky dealing dope was about as reliable as snow in winter or basketball in the Ohio Valley. "What is it this time? Coke?" Coke was a little out of Sparky’s league. I wasn’t sure I was following right, but she said the mark was into it so I took a guess. She nodded. Made sense come to think of it. Sara Jean came from a wealthy family. She loved money and expensive thrills. And it helped explain the scuttle on the street about a big line comin’ through. Sparky was a natural born dealer. Running scams came as easily to him as breathing. Cocaine might be a little out of his league, but it was right up Sara Jean’s alley.

Sara Jean wasn’t sure of the guy’s name, but at least she knew where, The Galt House. Armed with the few scraps of information I had, I beat it out to Louisville. Soon as I hit the highway, Eriksen was hitting the radio. The last thing I needed was the Bones on my case. I snapped off the squawk box and floored the gas pedal.

# # #

Nobody at the restaurant remembered Sparky and I had no better luck down in the bar. But I always say, police work is at least sixty percent luck, and that’s what I got at the hotel desk, pure, dumb luck. The desk clerk didn’t remember him, but one of the housekeepers was passing through the lobby and added her two cents worth.

"Yeah, he was here last Thursday night," she said, looking over my shoulder at the picture.

"Was he alone?" I asked.

"Yes, sir. He came in alone. Didn’t leave alone, though. Met up with that young snot, Craig Merrick. Must’ve been about two o’clock when they went out of here."

Merrick, huh? Old man Nathan Merrick owned one of the biggest sand and gravel companies around. His grandson Craig had a reputation as a wild boy. Craig was a snug fitting piece of my puzzle. One way or another, I’d bet young Merrick had something to do with Sparky’s disappearance. Now if I could just put a finger on how. Fortunate for me, Merrick liked to throw his money around in the big city but he lived on my side of the river. I checked around a bit more, then headed for home.

When I got back to Hillary and made it out to the Merrick place Bones’ unit was parked in front. She hadn’t been there long. The engine was still warm. My knock on the door was answered by the maid.

Bones was still in the hallway. "What are you doing here?" she wanted to know.

"I could ask you the same thing," I answered.

Her answer was so smug. "If you’d answer your calls every now and then, you’d know."

"I was across the river tracking a lead. It led me here. Your turn."

"Mickey Thompson picked up a guy downtown on a DUI. He had a ring with an inscription to Steele in it. He said he got it from the old man’s grandson, Craig. I thought he might know something about Steele’s disappearance."

I knew the ring - Sparky’s grandfather’s. He’d had it for years, the only ring he ever wore. It was worth over a grand fifteen years ago. I also knew that Sparky was a sentimental old slob. No matter how hard up he was, he’d never willingly part with that ring.

Like I said, she keeps rolling even when she’s on the wrong road and somehow she makes it to the right place anyway. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to needle her a little.

"Did you ever think that Steele might've sold the ring to Merrick? He could’ve gotten rid of it months ago - years."

"Maybe," she countered, "but since you're here, too, we must be on the right track."

At that point, Craig Merrick made his grand entrance. "Well, well," he almost crooned, "what can I do for you, officers?"

Despite the fact that it was a muggy eighty-two, Merrick was wearing a long sleeved shirt. I shook his hand firmly and noticed that he tried to stifle a grimace. Pain, maybe? "Sorry, Mr. Merrick," I said, "I didn’t mean to hurt you."

"Me? No! I’m fine," he protested, but I noticed he kind of favored his right arm all the while we were there.

Bones started in with her questions about the ring. Merrick was a little edgy but headed her off alright.

"He was hard up for money. I bought it off of him as a favor," he said.
He claimed it had been months since he last saw Sparky and had no idea what he was up to lately.

That ring must’ve set you back pretty good, huh? How much is a piece like that worth on the black market? Four hundred? Six? Where’d you come by that much bread that you can just give away?

Bones was doing a slow burn, but I couldn’t stop once I got started. I just hoped she wouldn’t start doing a feminist housewife routine and louse it all up. Merrick puffed himself up full of indignation at my question.
"Surely you’re joking," he said.

"Not a bit," I deadpanned. "The way I hear it, your grandaddy stopped bankrolling your parlor games when you got kicked out of college. How are you paying for your thrills these days?"

Merrick’s eyes must’ve doubled in size. He had nothing to say.

"Been to Kentucky, lately?"

It was another curve he wasn’t expecting.

"No. I mean, yeah. I go over there all the time." His smile twitched.

"Do a lot of business there, do ya?"

He didn’t answer my question, but beads of sweat popped out on his lip like foam off a draft beer.

"When you’re huntin’," my grandaddy used to say, "don’t mess around with your prey. Back’em into a corner and go right for the jugular."
Well, Merrick sure looked like he was cornered, so I pounced.

"I spoke with a woman today who says you were with Sparky Steele the night he disappeared."

"Oh, yeah! I did bump into him the other night."

"M-hm. The parking lot attendant at the Belvedere garage says you two left together in Sparky’s car."

"Yeah ... well, he gave me a ride. Look, if there’s nothing else, I’ve got to be going."

He was sweating like a man at the gallows. The wild boy had been known to blow a line or two, but we didn’t have enough to hold him, just suspicions. We didn’t even have a crime to speak of. All we could do was let him go - and wait.

After we left the Merrick place, I followed Bones back toward town. She was a little miffed at my taking over the questioning so I called her on the radio.

"Hey, Bones, why don’t we stop on the way in and pick up some supper?"
"Hey, Ranger Rick, why don’t you climb out of the gutter and get back to civilization? We’re working a case together, no late night get togethers, no working dates. You got that?"

Boy! What a chip on that kid’s shoulder. Out of the gutter? I radioed back. "It’s after seven o’clock. I haven’t eaten since breakfast. I just thought, if you were hungry, we could stop and get something to eat. Geez, lady, if you’re not hungry, just say so."

The line went quiet, then I heard her radio in that she was off for the night. A few minutes later she pulled into the restaurant parking lot. Bingo! The beast had a heart after all. She apologized when I approached. I could’ve taken the hard line approach and played the injured party, but I figured best leave well enough alone.

"I’m sorry, Sergeant Malone," she said. "I’m just so accustomed to those guys always hitting on me. You get a little defensive after awhile." She smiled so pretty, I had to wonder what she’d look like out of uniform, and you can take that any way you like.

"Don’t worry about it," I said. "And, please, call me Connie. Everyone else does."

Over dinner, we finally got the lines of communication opened. The lab tried to pull prints off the car, but the only clear ones were Sparky’s - in the glove compartment, trunk, like that. The steering wheel and door handles had been wiped clean. A call to Indianapolis didn’t help much. Doug Moranis went up to pick up the reports. Sometimes a warm body in the office helps to hurry things up and Bones didn’t want to wait until tomorrow for the results. Craig Merrick was heavily in debt, apparently from drugs and gambling. Opportunity and motive, he was looking like a gift-wrapped suspect - not to mention the only one we had. Still, we had no idea where Sparky was. If he was alive, which I’d already discounted, he would’ve been seen somewhere by someone by now. If he was dead ... the Ohio River has swallowed plenty of corpses in its time. No telling how many get washed down to the Mississippi and out to the Gulf. It could be months before a body washed up, if ever.

Bones was obviously thinking along the same track ‘cause she said, "Y’know, Ranger, if Merrick did kill him, we might never be able to prove it."

I knew that, too.

We had just gotten to dessert and conversation about something besides Sparky Steele, when my beeper started vibrating. Reluctantly, I excused myself and went to the bar to call in. Mike was waiting for my call.
"Sorry to bother you, Connie," he said, "but Moranis just got back from Indianapolis and they can’t raise Eriksen. She wanted the reports as soon as he got in."

I debated calling her to the phone - yeh, for about three seconds - then had Mike give me a summary on the results. There were two bloods types apparent in the car. The first one was B negative. That’d be Sparky, if I remember right. It’s my type, too and I noticed it on his sheet. The other one was O pos. There were traces of cocaine in both samples and the car was dirty with it all over. O pos was just plain dirty - alcohol, barbs, coke - a regular pharmaceutical disaster area. The B- just had coke. There was gunpowder all over the place, too, which seemed to clinch the notion that we weren’t going to be finding Sparky alive.

"Do me a favor," I asked. It was really just a formality, but I needed to know Merrick’s blood type. With that bad arm of his, I was willing to bet the bank that he was O positive. Mike promised to call me back as soon as he got the info. I started back to the table but Bones met me halfway there. I must have been grinning ear-to-ear.

She gave me one of her little Mona Lisa sneers and asked, "Good news?"
"Moranis just got back. Looks like we might have a murder after all. The car was filthy with gunpowder and we got two bleeders in the car."

"And are we making odds on young Mr. Merrick being number two?" she grinned.

"Looks like a safe bet. Want to talk to him again?"

She did. We took my car, but the trip looked like it was going to be a waste. Craig wasn’t home.

"His car was leaking something," the housekeeper told us, "he was going to get it fixed." After eight o’clock at night he’s going to get his car fixed? I can’t even find a mechanic at nine in the morning unless I get an appointment three weeks in advance. That’s money for you, I guess.

As we backed out of the driveway, though, sure enough, there were signs of leakage. But the car with the leak wasn’t heading toward town. It went in the opposite direction. On a hunch, I did too.

"What’re you doing?" Bones hollered.

"Gambling," I told her. "What’s out this way?"

"Nothing."

Sometimes I think she’s stubborn just for the fun of it. "Come on, Bones, wake up! ‘Nothing’ is the Twilight Zone. What’s out here?"

She stared at the road ahead of us and finally it began to click. "There’s the palette factory, a railyard, the auto wrecker junkyard, a couple of gravel ... gravel pits! Merrick Sand and Gravel."

Halleluia!

"Where else would he go out here?" I sniped.

When we got to the pits, the gate was already open and about forty yards in, under the office, was Craig Merrick’s car. I pulled up next to his car and checked it out as I got out. Craig, I thought, I’m really going to enjoy taking you down. There was a dark stain on the front seat - could be blood. We started up the skeletal Erector Set stairway to the office, but Bones backed down halfway up. I figured she just got a little scared of heights and turned back. Upstairs, the nightwatchman was the only one around.

"Yeah," he told me, "Mr. Merrick drops by sometimes at night ... yes, he was at the pits last Thursday. No, it was Friday. I remember cause we were closed up Friday night and I thought it was funny, him comin’ in like that when we’re not workin’ it."

"Where is he now?" I pointed to an aerial view of the lot. The guard rose slowly and joined me at the photo on the wall. He then moved to a map of the grounds and drew his finger across the grids. "He took a truck out this way the other day. Headed off in that same direction tonight. I expect he’s headed out to number three. Don’t know why, though. Been closed down for months."

I didn’t bother to tell him that I had a pretty good idea what little Craig would be doing at a shut down site, I was already out the door and running down the stairs. Down below, Bones was nowhere in sight. In between the mountains of rocks, pebbles and sand, I weaved my way in the general direction of the number three pit. Before I got there, I heard Bones and Merrick talking. Moving into closer range, I saw them, still a pretty good distance from the pit.

“Mr. Merrick," Bones was saying, "I realize that this is really an imposition on you but I really need your help. I hate to bother you twice in one night but I was hoping that, if we talked again, you might be able to recall something that would help us to locate Mr. Steele. Maybe you saw him with someone ... Any lead you could give me, I’d really appreciate it."

Pretty cool, kid. She knew darned well he could help us find Steele. Keep him busy ‘til I get there, babe, I’m on my way.

Merrick was pacing around, trying to appear calm and failing miserably. When Bones saw me, she looked to be pretty well in control, so I just kind of laid back and let ‘er have at him. She was saying something about the ring, receiving stolen goods I think, when her voice broke. I looked up to see what was wrong. Her face was ten shades whiter than a full moon. She cleared her throat and went on talking, but I followed in the direction of her glance. It was nearing dark, but there was still enough light to see. If I’d wanted evidence to point the finger at Merrick, I couldn’t have done a better job than Sparky did, himself. There, barely visible above the sand, was a purplish hand, protruding from a newly filled pit.

Bones read him his rights and we hauled him back to the station. Next morning we dug up Sparky’s body, a little worse for the wear. He was wearing a mohair sweater. Its sleeve caught on rebar in the pit wall and held his hand just above the sand when it was filled in. There was skin under the nails. We got a rush on the tests and, yep, it was type O+, just like wild boy Craig Merrick. There was also a hole in the side of his head where his brains were supposed to be. In the bottom of the pit was a gun. It was registered to Craig, Sr., but the prints all over it were all Junior’s. This was going to be one that all grandaddy’s money and connections couldn’t buy him out of.

Merrick sat in jail overnight and his lawyer picked him up this morning. As he walked out he made a comment I couldn’t hear. It was addressed to Bones and I heard her reply loud and clear. "Do me a favor, Merrick. Hold your breath."

My grandaddy always said, "If you’re going fishing, use the right bait and get ‘em when they’re hungry." Bones looked like she was ready to feast on the glory of last night’s bust so I figured, now’s my chance. It worked, too. I got a date with her. I moved on over to where she stood and offered congratulations on the collar.

"We work pretty good together, Bones."

"Yeah, we do," she conceded.

"We ought to celebrate, tonight," I suggested. "What do you say?" She didn’t say anything, just smiled and walked away. "Is that a yes?" I hollered after her. "Is that a yes?"

Slowly she turned around flashed me that knock out gorgeous smile of hers and, with a look of pure unadulterated evil, possible only in a beautiful woman, she said, "Hey, Ranger, ask me next year."

Okay, so it’s not a firm date, maybe, but at least she didn’t tell me to drop dead. And come to think of it, my grandaddy was a rotten fisherman.

# # #

KelvinMurray
February 20th, 2011, 03:08 PM
Hi Wordsmith,

I know this is quite an old post but since you recently posted on my thread I wanted to return to favour as such, and since nobody has commented on this yet I thought it would be fine.

Firstly, I've only read half so far and intend to read the rest tommorow but there are only a few things that I wanted to mention otherwise I really enjoyed reading what I have so far.




When I started breathing again and made my way back up to six foot two.

I just wanted to say that I liked this alot for showing how tall the character was, it made me smile.




About an hour later we were on our way out to Sparky’s place. Sometimes you gotta wonder if you’re in the right business, like when we pulled up at Sparky’s.

When reading this I didn't think the "like when we pulled in at Sparky's" was necessary as the previous sentence implied that's what he was referring to.



Highway thirty-six was a well worn old dirt path anymore and not much else.





I read this a few times and I'm pretty sure it just doesn't make sense.

And that's it, I look forward to reading the rest.

bazz cargo
February 20th, 2011, 07:37 PM
hi
I like the hard boiled tec attitude.
Not sure if you want to put a punning title in front of a work a day plot.

Shauna Eriksen was bearing down on us, full tilt.
If there is only one Shauna in the story you don't really need to keep on giving her full name.
Do you have any knowledge of police procedure ?

There were two bloods types
Some times it pays to read stuff out loud, helps to catch the silly typos.
Could do with some kind of date reference, it feels like it's sort of mid fifties in places.

Quality stuff
bazz

thewordsmith
April 3rd, 2011, 04:44 PM
Good catches, guys. Thanks for the input.