The bomb squad parked on the asphalt and suited up. Lilly stood on the porch and waited for them to disengage the jerry-rigged shotgun. From the second floor of a ramshackle barn down the road, Jackson Titus watched the going ons. The long shadows cast by the ceiling hid him, as well did the rotten hay bales and a straw-colored tarp.
He dropped the crosshair of his scope upon the chest of Konan and flicked off the safety of his rifle. A cold smile crossed his face as his finger caressed the trigger.
“It would be so simple to kill him now,” Titus muttered.
Jackson Titus flicked the safety back on and withdrew from his sniping nest. There would be time enough to kill him later. For now, he needed to evade the authorities and complete his task.
After disengaging the booby-trapped door, the bomb technicians cleared the house. It was slow going, but they managed to clear the house with zero casualties. One walked out on the back porch and whistled. My leg had begun to ache, and my foot felt as if it weighed a hundred pounds.
“I wouldn’t drop that foot, boss man.”
“Oh yeah,” I growled at the tech. “You wanna take my spot for a while?”
“No thanks,” she responded.
“How much longer before I can get up from my knees?”
She gave me a smile and walked to the edge of the porch. A giggle escaped her, and she covered her mouth with her hand. My leg seemed to grow heavier with every passing second.
“Um, you can put your foot down.”
“There’s nothing behind you. Put it down.”
As I eased my foot down, I closed my eyes. Whatever happened, I wanted to be oblivious to it. The technician watched me, and when nothing happened, I let out a heavy sigh. I could hear her giggling.
“You can unclench your sphincter now,” she said laughing.
It took several hours for the bomb squad to clear the back yard. After I took several minutes to compose myself, I went to help Lilly. The forensic team swept the entire house, dusting for prints, gathering evidence. Lilly watched me as I walked in. She gave me a smile and motioned for me to join her in the hallway.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, Lilly. Considering I almost became red mist, I am fine.”
“The first victim is Jackson’s father. It looks like he sealed himself in, and someone shot him.”
“I didn’t notice any broken glass.”
“Yeah. There is, you missed it because you leaned against it to push the door open.”
I walked over to the window and looked at it. The window itself was nothing special, but it was broken into squares. There were 16 individual squares, and the last square in the middle row-all the way to the right-was the only one broken.
“The forensic team thinks he approached from the left. When the old man walked into the room, the killer fired three rounds. One to break the glass, followed by two more rounds that killed him.”
“Yeah. Stand there where the old man fell. I want to check something.”
I walked out to the end of the driveway and moved to the left. As I crept up, I held my arms out like I held a weapon. At the porch, I stepped onto it. Lilly saw me, and I stopped. She frowned, her eyebrows furrowed, and she waited for me to say something.
“He saw him, Lilly.”
“How do you know that?”
“How could he not? You looked at me as soon as I stepped onto the porch.”
“Yeah, but if he did it at night…”
“When was the old man killed?”
“Um, hold on,” Lilly said flipping her notebook open. “Ashley called time of death 7.5 hours ago.”
“It’s 1430. So, he was killed after daybreak.”
“What are you saying, Konan?”
“Dad saw his killer. He recognized him, and then the killer shot him. When the techs finish with the backyard we can check the bodies back there, and we will have a complete picture then.”
“You think Jackson Titus did his whole family in? Is that what you’re thinking?”
“I don’t know.”
“That’s a cold bit of business if you think he did that to his own flesh and blood.”
“Killing is a cold business, Lilly. Bloodlines have nothing to do with it.”
Even as I said it, I knew it to be false. Sometimes blood had everything to do with it.
The bomb squad parked on the asphalt and suited up. Lilly stood on the porch and waited for them to disengage the jerry-rigged shotgun. From the second floor of a ramshackle barn down the road, Jackson Titus watched the going ons. The long shadows cast by the ceiling hid him, as well did the rotten hay bales and a straw-colored tarp.
The house that belonged to the Titus family sat in the middle of a small community. People had abandoned the community years ago. With the drapes closed, I had no chance of peeking in. A rickety fence blocked off the backyard. Instinct gnawed at my guts. On the left side of the house, a partially collapsed gate led into the backyard.
Prior to becoming an officer of the law, I spent years as a soldier. That uneasy feeling sent cold shivers up my spine, as if the Grim Reaper ran his hand up and down my spinal cord, chilled every part of my body.
“Don’t pull in the driveway. Stay here in the car, Lilly, and keep your eyes open.”
She nodded wordlessly, and I got out. Every sense I had tingled from the pulsing throb of adrenaline. Some scientists had said that nothing could compare to the thrill of combat, which was one reason that many soldiers took their lives when they returned from the war. I didn’t know anything about that, but the overwhelming sense of danger was thrilling in its own right.
The door had opened, pushed by a light breeze that rattled the leaves. I stayed to the left side as I made my way to it. Red blood pooled near the door. My heart thudded furiously in my chest and sweat drenched my forehead. I cut my eyes to the car. Lilly was vigilant.
I checked the top of the door jam and the base of the door for wiring. Gingerly, I pushed the door inward, but it only moved a few inches before it stopped.
My breath was shaky, as I tried to breathe in through my nostrils. The door had opened enough for me to peek through a narrow crack. An old man lied on the floor; two rounds stacked one on top of the other in his chest. Tied to a black, faux leather office chair was a shotgun, it sat next to the wall. Fishing line, nigh invisible in the dark room, ran from the trigger to the doorknob. Had I burst through the door, the blast would have ripped me in two.
I motioned for Lilly to join me. She got out of the car and ran up the driveway until she reached me.
“What is it?”
“There’s a dead old man inside. Someone rigged the door with a shotgun. I need to go around and see if there’s another way in. Call for backup but tell them to be careful how they approach.”
“Okay, but why?”
“I don’t know what we’re dealing with here, Lilly. Until we know, safety is our watchword.”
I backtracked my steps and made my way to the gate that led into the backyard. A rusty metal latch secured the gate. In the distance I heard sirens. Someone covered the faucet in the front yard with a blue bucket. I took it and leaned it against the fence and stood on top of it.
“Jeez,” I muttered to myself. Two more bodies were in the backyard. My eyes searched the ground for devices. Not seeing any, I crossed the rickety fence and landed next to an unkept rose bush. Thorns cut into my forearms. Squared blocks of concrete formed a path to the back porch. Halfway to the porch though, stuck between two blocks was an anti-tank mine. I knelt on the concrete block, making sure to stay small on it and not let my feet touch anything on the ground.
My eyes drifted across the backyard, and my heart began to beat thunderously in my chest. I took a deep breath to calm my nerves. Then, I reached for my phone and dialed Lilly.
“Stay out of the backyard.”
“It’s a minefield.”
“Where are you?”
“In the backyard.”
“Are you okay? Back up is on their way here now. Can you get out?”
“I’m fine. Look around and touch nothing. If anything appears disturbed, consider it rigged to blow. Call for our explosive ordnance guys and tell them we have anti-tank mines in the back yard.”
“Okay. Do you think Jackson did this?”
“No. I think his dad was afraid he’d return.”
The problem with rattling bushes is that you never expect what falls into your lap. Or at least that’s what my mother said to me. “If you go looking for trouble, you’re bound to find it.” Mad Michael wasn’t much of a father, but even he knew you don’t hunt trouble.
You let it come to you.
As Lilly and I drove to the address provided to us by Paddy, I thought about the man I had seen last night. Lilly drove, so I had time to think of other things. Mostly because her ability to avoid collisions, and the high probability she’d cause one, had taught me the value of turning my attention elsewhere while she drove.
My partner was an expert behind the wheel, according to her, but my stress level would hit all-time heights if I didn’t avoid looking at the road. Lilly had her right hand on the wheel, her left hand held her phone, and she was trying to talk to me. All while driving.
“What are you thinking about, Konan?”
“There was a guy sitting on the bench last night when I boarded the bus. I’m trying to picture his face.”
“What did he look like?”
“He had a beard, like a blonde Viking would have.”
“So, he was a blonde?”
“What else do you remember about him?”
“Not much. It was dark.”
I put my left hand against the roof of the car and held onto to the bar above the door with my right. Lilly sighed, took a sip of coffee, and said, “I’ve got it, Konan. Sheesh. You worry more than an old woman.”
Lilly avoided the car, the owner of the Buick SUV jammed on the horn, and I leaned back against the seat. It was totally within the realm of possibility that one day I would file a disability claim for a bad back.
“Do you think the guy has something to do with our case? Was it Titus?”
“I don’t know. It didn’t look like Titus, but if he’s back he’s bound to change his appearance.”
“We ran him out of town, and he never showed to any of the usual ports. Do you think he survived?”
“I’d put money on it.”
“Survivors are fighters, Lilly. Titus didn’t give up when Bronowski got pinched. He didn’t turn himself in when his other cohort killed herself on the church steps. Titus continued to fight to not only exist but to escape.”
“You admire him? Do I need to remind you of what they did to Bradley Freeman?”
“Nope. I don’t need reminding. Drop me off about a mile from our destination. You continue going to the home. I want to check something out.”
“Just drop me out. Don’t get out of the car until I peck on your window.”
“Konan, what is going on?”
“Glance out your side mirror. Do you notice that black truck three cars back?”
“It’s been with us the whole way.”
“Do you think it’s Titus?”
“I don’t know. Speed up and pull off somewhere. Let it pass us.”
Lilly sped up and raced toward a small community. A bridge crossed a small creek prior to entering the community. She pulled the car off the right side of the road and popped the hood. I got out and lifted it. The black truck passed us, and I tried to get a peek at the driver, to no avail.
The windows were pitch black. It continued into the community, and I pushed the hood down. I climbed into the car, and Lilly proceeded to the address. There was no black truck in sight.
“Where did it go?”
“I don’t know, Lilly, but I don’t like it. Something isn’t right.”
“Battle lines? Retreat? Jesus, somebody needs some sleep.”
“Yeah, I do. I’m still right though.”
“Okay. Switching the channel now, what time do you want to head over to Titus’s homestead?”
“We can head out about 0730. It will take about half an hour to get out there.”
“Wanna leave from your house?”
“Sure. Do you need to call your parents and see if you can stay over?”
“I do not, but Gareth needs to see his mom.”
“How is the little dude?”
“The little dude is five now, Konan. He’s a persistent little turd. Gareth wants to know why his pre-school chums have dads, and he doesn’t.”
“Because his dad was a scumbag and got whacked by his own partners? That’s the truth of it, just tell him that.”
A sad smile crossed Lilly’s mouth, and I cringed. Why did I say that? I looked at Lilly, and said, “I’m sorry, Lilly. It’s gotta be tough talking to him about that.”
“It is, Konan. I’d put it that way to him too if he wasn’t five years old. It pains him to see the other kids playing with their dads, and he’s got a mom that’s always at work.”
“Would taking leave help sort it out, Lilly?”
“Crime doesn’t take a holiday, Konan. You know that. Best I can do is a weekend trip thrown in here or there.”
I pulled into the parking garage and shut off the car, and then I closed my mouth. I’d overstepped my boundaries and hurt my partner. She patted my arm and opened the door.
“I’ll see you in the morning, Konan. Have coffee made when I get there.”
“Roger, partner. I will.”
I waited until Lilly got in her vehicle and drove away, then I muttered “you stupid jackass” over and over while punching the steering wheel. Of all the people in the world that deserved to be hurt, Lilly Thompson wasn’t one of them.
Satisfied that my knuckles had been sufficiently punished for my verbal assault, I climbed out of the vehicle and walked toward the bus stop. From the corner of my eye, I noticed a man sitting on the bench watching me.
He didn’t move, and I stayed away. It was a scene from my past, the ghost of Blankenship or some derivative of it, I mused as I boarded the bus. When I turned to look at him from my seat, he was gone.
I had no idea why a sudden chill ran up my spine, but it did, nonetheless.
0730 came earlier than I expected, and Lilly was late. I made coffee and sat down in my recliner. I pulled on my boots and poured me a cup of coffee. The rumble of her engine informed me that Lilly had arrived, and I poured her a cup.
She walked to the door and stuck her head inside. I handed her a cup of coffee. She took it and sat down on the porch, I walked out and joined her.
Lilly sat in one of my rockers, I sat in another next to a stump and put my coffee down.
“Before we head out, Lilly, I’ve got something to say.”
“Um, last night I overstepped my boundaries with you. I know what you went through, and it was calloused of me to say what I did concerning Figueroa.”
“It’s okay, Konan.”
“It’s not okay, Lilly. I have never told you how much I admire you for choosing to keep your son, even after all that happened to you, you chose to let him live. He’s blessed, even if he doesn’t know it yet, that you are his mother.”
Tears welled up in my eyes, and I blinked them away. Lilly sipped her coffee and gave me a soft smile.
“Look at you,” she said with a smirk, “last night it was all battle lines this, and retreat that. Now, you’re a softie. Sleep does wonders. You look tired though, Konan. What happened?”
“I dreamt of my mother.”
“Oh. You never mentioned her before, or at length anyway. Why did you dream of her?”
“I don’t know.”
I sipped my coffee and looked out at my driveway. Tall trees full of green leaves covered the road and concealed my home from nosy neighbors. Lilly finished her coffee, and I took our cups into my trailer.
“Well, let’s go see if Jackson Titus has returned to our humble little town.”
“I sure hope not, Konan.”
I nodded in agreement, but I knew in my heart of hearts that we weren’t that lucky.
Jackson Titus sat under an emerald, green umbrella and sipped coffee from a teal-colored cup that had a clay stripe that wound its way around it. Steam rose from it, and he blew on the hot liquid. People rushed by their heads buried in the happenings, and non-happenings, of social media.
No one paid any attention to him. He counted on their disinterest in reality and knew people would rather watch a video showcasing the stupidity of modern man over an actual conversation with another human being.
Besides, the last time he was here, he served as a police officer. He’d kept his sandy-brown hair cut close to the scalp, was clean-shaven, and his mannerism was curt but professional.
Now, his hair was long and flowing, much like his beard, and dark sunglasses hid his eyes. Even if someone sat next to him on the bus or even at his table, no one would recognize him.
“Would you like some more coffee, sir?”
“No, thank you. Please bring my check.”
The waitress, a blonde named Alice, tried to meet his eyes, but Jackson ignored her. Alice, only days away from her nineteenth birthday, had a perky attitude, pale blue eyes, and full lips, and had never known a man she could not entice. She could not understand why this man resisted her charms. She slinked away and returned with his check.
“Have a nice day,” she said coldly.
Jackson gave her a smile and said, “you too.”
As he crossed the main square, he stopped by a paper stand and purchased one. The headline read: “Local police baffled by murders: Has Thermopolis Konan met his match?”
Yes, he has, he thought, as he shoved the newspaper under his left armpit. And this time, I won’t run away like a chased rat. Thermopolis Konan will pay with his life. He glanced at his watch; the digital numbers read 1530.
Phase two will soon commence, but first comes the orders.
As I drove Lilly and I back to the precinct, Lilly’s phone dinged. She checked it, smiled, and glanced over at me.
“Paddy sent us and address for the Titus family. They live out in the sticks. We should go out there tomorrow and rattle the bushes.”
“We can. You know he’s not going to look the same, right? He wouldn’t chance it. We should speak to a profiler and have them do a workup of his psych profile.”
“Do you know where we can find a profiler? Because the last time I checked, the Fredericksburg Police Department doesn’t have employ one.”
“The State Police may have one, if not there’s always the FBI.”
“I’d check with Janko before I called in the Feds.”
“I’m not going to call in the Feds, Lilly. I’ll call the staties in the morning.”
“I was just sayin’ before you call the Feds, talk to Janko. He deserves a heads up.”
“Okay. I got it, mom.”
Lilly laughed and smacked me in the chest. She wrinkled up her nose at me until I gave her a grin.
“It was good to see Paddy and Esther, eh?”
“Yeah. It was a nice visit.”
“Paddy seemed upset when we first got there, and he really didn’t seem to happy when you walked in.”
“Yeah. Apparently, it’s not good to disappear for whatever reason. Who knew people wanted to know you cared about them, even when bodies are piling up, the city is being burnt down, and racist cops are on the loose?”
“You could’ve called, Konan. That’s why you have a cell phone.”
“I don’t like cell phones, Lilly. The only reason I have one is because the job required me to carry one.”
“You’re a fossil, Konan. A cell phone is necessary in today’s life, it’s a staple of our society for God’s sake.”
“No, it’s not. While everyone is busy figuring out what kind of potato they are, the art of conversation is dying. While you murder your brain cells watching videos of stupid people doing stupid crap, actual knowledge is perishing.”
“You’re a fossil. What would you have us do? Burn our television sets? Go back to teletype? Or maybe do away with all new-fangled DNA crap?”
“I’m not saying good things didn’t happen, Lilly. DNA is a godsend, and it’s helped get innocent people out of jail, and the right ones put in it. Because of DNA testing, rape victims have a good chance of receiving justice. But the point remains, for every good thing, piles upon piles of bad has infiltrated our society. All you must do to educate yourself on this is look at issues facing our society today.”
“What? Like climate change? Abortion rights?”
“No. Look at the graduation rates, the murder rates in the 18–25-year-old bracket, the literacy rate, look at the power held by the teacher unions and academic strongholds, then look at how little power the parents have in shaping their own children’s lives.”
“Then take your college degree and compare it to a similar degree that came from any Asian country. You’ll see why our society is sinking underneath the self-inflicted wounds we imposed on ourselves to make us seem like everyone else.”
“Jesus, you’re such a sour puss, Konan. You’re a clean-shaven gloom and doom prophet.”
“The battle lines are drawn, Lilly. To withdraw now is cowardice.”
Paddy brought Lilly a perfectly grilled steak and a heap of steak fries on a plate and presented it with a flourish. “Here you go, darling,” he said, giving Lilly a warm smile that lit up his eyes. He turned to me and placed a cold chunk of hamburger steak in front of me.
“Shut up and eat your food,” Paddy snapped, as he sulked back into the kitchen.
Esther gave me a look and lit another cigarette. I cut into the hamburger steak, it was as nasty as a cold burger from anywhere else, and I swallowed it down. I enviously watched as Lilly tore into her steak with wild abandon.
“Do you know why Paddy is livid?”
“No, Esther. I haven’t the faintest idea as to why he’s upset.”
“Fredericksburg has had race riots, burned down businesses, heaps of murders, and a bank robbery. Not once did you come to see about us, and I’m not speaking for myself here, Konan, we deserve better from our nephew.”
“Esther, all that you named, I investigated. In the center of all that was me and Lilly.”
“I know,” Esther said, putting down her cigarette, “I told Paddy you were busy.”
“This steak was fantastic,” Lilly said, tossing her napkin in her empty plate, “may I go hug the cook, Esther?”
“Sure, hon. Go on in the back, he’ll be glad to receive it.”
Lilly excused herself from the table and went back into the kitchen. Esther and I sat quietly for a while. She watched as I finished my cold lunch.
“Your absence pained him, Konan. Did you forget that loss touched us as well when Michael died?”
“I wasn’t out to hurt either of you, Esther.”
“I know that Konan. Ever since Michael passed away, Paddy’s had his hands full. As long as your dad lived, our enemies stayed away. Now, they’re like buzzards circling a cadaver, hungry for anything they can rip from the bloody grasp of the dead. It’s open season on us.”
“People hated Michael, Konan. They see no difference between your dad and Paddy.”
“That’s not an explanation, Esther. What do they want?”
“These people figure Michael left his criminal enterprise to me and Paddy. They want us out of the way.”
“Did he leave his criminal connections to you and Paddy?”
“Yes. We haven’t used it, and we haven’t involved ourselves in anything illegal.”
Laughter sounded from the kitchen, and Esther smiled.
“He needed that, Konan, and he needs you. Paddy will never tell you that, but it’s true.”
“Excuse me, Esther,” I said, as I stood. She gave me a tight grin and nodded.
I walked back into the kitchen. Lilly had Paddy in a headlock, her brown curly hair tousled, her eyes wide with wildness, and a crooked grin stretched across her face.
“Don’t resist, Paddy. I’d hate to slap the clamps on you!”
“All right, darling,” Paddy chuckled, “I give up.”
Lilly released him and looked up. “Oh, hey,” she said, after she blew a curl from her forehead. Paddy stood and glared at me. I gave Lilly a smile, and then took a deep breath.
“If you don’t mind, Lilly, I need a word with my uncle.”
She nodded as she walked by and patted me on my arm. Paddy walked over to a stool and sat down.
“What do you want? Was there something wrong with your lunch?”
“No, the hamburger steak was fine.”
“Then, what do you want?”
I knew it. He’s not going to make this easy.
“I came to apologize, Paddy. Okay? I’m sorry. Things got nuts for a while, and I let you and Esther slide. I let you down, and I am truly sorry.”
“We’re the only family you have left, Konan.”
Paddy tapped two fingers over his heart, and tears wet his eyes. “You hurt me here,” he said, as his voice cracked. He wiped at his eyes and cleared his throat, so did I.
“Tell me about your enemies.”
“They ain’t worth mentioning.”
“Give me some names, I’ll go talk to them.”
“Oh yeah? You gonna go act like your dad now? Gonna go for the jugular? Hmm?”
“No. I’ll flash a badge and warn them to get out of town.”
“I don’t want you involved in it, knucklehead. I want you to come around and be family.”
“Yeah, okay. You made your point.”
“Don’t serve me no more cold dishes, Paddy. I’ll call the Health Inspector on you. Tell ‘em you got rats or somethin’.”
Paddy’s eyes darkened, and slowly he grinned when he noticed my smile. He threw his arm about my neck and shouted, “This guy! Tell ‘em you got rats or something!”
We laughed together and walked back to the table. Lilly and Esther looked up at us, and both women smiled. Hours passed as we sat and visited. Paddy made coffee and brought it to the table.
“What are you two working on?”
Lilly spooned in sugar and cream into her coffee, and said, “You remember the Bradley Freeman murder, Paddy?”
“Yeah. Who can forget the aftermath of that cluster?”
“He was killed by two cops and a woman. One cop is in jail, the other escaped. Now, the trio that ran the country club are dying, and we think the cop that killed Freeman is back.”
“Jackson Titus,” Paddy said, as he sipped his coffee. I frowned in Paddy’s direction. He took another sip and let out a heavy sigh.
“His dad ran with Michael for a while,” Paddy said, answering my unasked question, “That all went away when Michael got sent up.”
“Where does his family live?”
“I don’t know, Lilly. From what I recall, they lived outside of the city limits, and I don’t associate with racists.”
“Can you find out, Paddy?”
“Yes, I can find out.”
“Okay,” Lilly said, as she stood. “We appreciate it.”
She hugged Esther and Paddy and said good night, and I followed her example. I hugged Esther first and squeezed her tight. “Thank you,” I whispered in her ear. She gave me a nod and a wink. Then, I hugged Paddy.
“Do not hesitate to call me if trouble comes looking for a fight.”
“I won’t, nephew.”
“I mean it,” so Paddy and Esther would know I was serious.
Lilly waited by the door, and we walked to out into the warm Southern air. Lilly wrapped her arm around mine and leaned her head against my shoulder.
She was right; family is important.
Lilly and I escorted Jane Franks and Destiny to a holding cell, which would serve as their new home for the next 24-hours. Both women seemed relieved to be behind bars.
A young, black officer stood behind the counter and gazed curiously at Destiny. She met his gaze but said nothing to him. On our way out, the young officer met us at the door.
“Detectives, why is Destiny in holding?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“Because she’s my sister, Detective Thompson. Destiny’s never been in trouble before. I didn’t even know she was home…”
“What’s your name officer?”
“Samuels. Timothy Michael Samuels.”
“Did you have a falling out, Samuels?”
“I, um,” Samuels took a deep breath and let it out slowly, “she went off to college, and we never heard a peep from her. Now, she’s back.”
“Maybe, you two should patch things up.”
“Maybe. I should at least know what’s brought her back to Fredericksburg.”
Lilly took Officer Samuels free hand and squeezed it and gave him a warm smile.
“She’s your family, Samuels. Family is important.”
I cleared my throat, nodded at Samuels, and started for the door. Lilly said goodbye and followed after me. When she caught up to me, she looked over and said, “sad, isn’t it?”
“How families drift apart.”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“Sure, you would, Thermopolis. You haven’t been out to see Esther or Paddy since before the riots. When is the last time you went by Mad Michael’s grave?”
“I’ve been busy.”
“Un-huh. Now, you’re being short with me, because you know I’m right.”
I frowned at Lilly, and she returned my frown with one of her own. God, I thought to myself, I hate it when she gets like this.
“No, I haven’t.”
“Haven’t what, Konan?”
“Got short with you, nor have I gone to visit my father’s grave.”
“Because there is nothing to say, Lilly. What’s done is done.”
“You’re afraid, Konan.”
“I don’t know, Konan. You tell me.”
“Let’s go see Esther and Paddy. I’m hungry. Lunch is on me.”
“We can go somewhere else, Lilly.”
“No. I want Paddy to cook me a steak.”
I followed Lilly out, but unlike my partner, I wasn’t worried about drifting away from my family. When it came to family, I was okay with staying a long distance from them.
No one stood outside of O’Shea’s when we pulled up. Lilly and I walked up the stairs to the restaurant, and Lilly pulled the door open and stepped inside. Paddy looked up from the bar and gave her a warm smile.
He walked over and gave her a hug, and said, “How ya doin’, darling.”
“Good, Paddy. How are you doing?”
“Doing fine, darling. Follow me.”
We followed him to a table in the back of the restaurant, far away from prying eyes. My Aunt Esther watched us approach. Her cold, lifeless eyes seemed to bore into me. She lit her cigarette and sucked smoke into her lungs via the black cigarette holder.
“What do you need help with now, Konan?”
“Nothing,” I muttered.
“Then, why are you here?”
“I’m sorry,” I said, as I turned to leave.
Paddy snickered and said, “You hear that, Esther? He’s sorry. We haven’t heard not hide-nor-hair from him in months, but he’s sorry.”
I turned to Paddy, ready to knuckle up with my uncle-Esther too if she wanted some-but Lilly stepped between us.
“Easy, Paddy. Konan, sit down. We’re here to eat lunch and catch up with you two. Things have been hectic for a while now.”
“I always liked you, Lilly.”
“And I like you too, Esther.”
“What can I get you, darling?”
“A steak and fries, if you don’t mind Paddy.”
“Don’t mind at all, darling.”
“You’ll have whatever I bloody well bring you,” Paddy snapped, as he walked back towards the kitchen.
It’s true what they say, you know. You can’t go home again.
“I honestly don’t know,” Jane Franks sobbed, her thin shoulders shook with each racking cry.
Destiny shook her head in agreement with Jane. Both women had tears in their eyes, Lilly handed Kleenex to them both.
“All I have to offer detectives is rumors.”
“Well, we don’t have anything, so give me the rumors, Destiny.”
“I overheard Winston Smith talking on the phone. He said that they didn’t need a disgraced cop bringing heat down on them.”
“What was the name?”
“I don’t know, but I think they were meeting in Jackson.”
Lilly and I stared at one another for a long moment.
“It can’t be,” I muttered to myself. “After all this time, Jackson Titus is the man behind the killings? Why would he return?”
“Could he have said Jackson as a first name, Destiny?”
Destiny sobbed and looked at Lilly, and then shrugged. Tears caused her makeup to run down her soft face. Lilly handed her another Kleenex. I watched silently from the seat next to my partner. I was the sharpened edge; Lilly was the healing balm.
“It could have been, but how am I supposed to know?”
“Okay, okay. Calm down, Destiny. You too, Jane. I need you both clear-headed so you can think. Jackson Titus, do you know the name? If you do, then I need to know where you’ve heard it before.”
“Oh God,” Jane Franks said. “Terry mentioned him during a meeting. He said he wanted nothing to do with that monster.”
“Who was in this meeting, Jane.”
“Mr. Smith, me, Terry, the senior members of the board, and the Trinity.”
Lilly turned to me and raised her eyebrows, then said, “the common thread is Smith. Terry and Yvonne are dead.”
“Destiny, how long is it taking to replace these murdered members?”
“A week at the most, Detective Konan.”
“Okay. Jane, how did the senior members of the board react to the news of Jackson Titus returning?”
“They weren’t happy.”
“But they’re still alive,” Lilly said.
“For now, Lilly. It’s too easy to pick up a pattern, if they all suddenly show up dead at once. I don’t think they want to murder the board members, instead, they want to drive home the consequences for refusing to obey. A couple of high-profile murders will keep most of them in line.”
“What’s going to happen to us?”
I looked at Destiny and Jane and gave them a cold smile. “We can detain you for 24 hours, but then you’re on your own. I would completely alter my routine, and I’d find a different job far, far away from Fredericksburg.”
“I wouldn’t even go home to get my stuff,” Lilly added. “I’d catch a bus to nowhere special and make a new life.”
Chief Rogers pressed the red button to end the call and walked slowly back to his vehicle. Of all the detectives he could afford to lose, Konan wasn’t one of them.
“I’ve got to get to the bottom of whatever drama is between Rama and Konan. I need my best detectives working this case before more bodies get stacked.”
Rama and Rowell finished at the scene and drove back to the precinct. Rowell gave Rama a one-finger wave and pulled out of the parking garage.
I watched as Rowell started toward the outskirts, and after giving him three car lengths, I pulled out behind him. Rowell drove out to Gilly’s and stepped out. Gilly stood on the porch and waved for him to come up.
The last I saw; Rowell had his arm around Gilly’s waist as they walked into the house. So much grieving the dead. From the looks of things; Gilly wasted no time in moving on.
And that made me curious how long she’d had her hooks in Rowell.
I waited two more days, and then returned to work. During those two days, I tailed Rowell. Every evening, he returned to Gilly. On Thursday, I walked into the office and sat at my desk. Val Rankin glared at me from across the room.
“What are you doing back?”
“Chief Rogers asked me to come back. So, here I am.”
“They should’ve arrested you and thrown you under the jail, Thermopolis.”
“Oh yeah? On what charge, Rankin?”
“They have proof. You’ll see.”
“You’re truly stupid, Rankin. Dumber than the proverbial box of rocks. If they had proof, I’d be in jail.”
I suppose my retort caused him to go speechless, because all I got from Rankin was another glare. My phone beeped, and I picked it up.
“Detective Konan, how may I assist you?”
“Get in my office, Konan.”
“Roger, Chief. On my way.”
I stood and gave Rankin a smile. Then, I walked into Chief Rogers office. His office was at the back of the room, and it commanded an impressive of view of the town of Angie and the surrounding area.
“Have a seat, Konan.”
I sat down in the chair to my right and waited for Chief Rogers to start. He pulled out a cigar and sniffed it.
“I can’t pair you up with anyone else. There aren’t enough detectives to do so. Rowell is the sheriff, what he’s doing hanging around Rama is beyond me.”
Rogers lit the cigar and inhaled smoke into his lungs. He blew out a ring and continued.
“Thus, I’ve decided to allow you to operate separately on the case. You will investigate Hilda Gunderson. I expect you to call for back-up, do not be a hero. Rama will investigate Larry. At the end of the day, you will both brief me.”
“Furthermore, I want to know what is going on with you and Rama.”
“I don’t know, Chief.”
“Do not lie to me, detective.”
“I’m not, Chief. It feels like Rama and Rowell are trying to frame me for something or another. I’d rather not get fitted for the hangman’s noose, if you know what I mean.”
“Do you want to transfer out, Konan?”
“Is that an option?”
“At the moment, no. There are a couple of officers that’s passed the exam, but they need training.”
“As a matter of fact, take one of them with you. I’ll even let you choose. You can have either Watkins or Townley.”
“I don’t know either of them. Who are they?”
“Wilma Watkins has served as a patrol sergeant for six and a half years. Prior to that she served in the Coast Guard.”
“And the other?”
“Linda Sue Townley is a hard charger. She’s risen quickly through the ranks. She’s only been here for three years.”
“Three years to make detective,” I muttered. “What does she have, some magical formula to make the higher ups like you?”
“I don’t know, but someone wants her to rank up quickly.”
“I’ll take Watkins with me.”
“Alright. I’ll send Townley with Rama.”
Chief Rogers laughed and patted me on the back. “Don’t thank me just yet, Konan.”
Chief Rogers picked up his phone and barked, “send Watkins to my office. Time now.”
A few moments later, Wilma Watkins entered. She was tall, probably four inches taller than I was, and appeared to be underfed. She had black hair and eyes, and a soft, round face. Her eyes didn’t seem to miss anything.
“This,” he said motioning to me, “is your training officer, Detective Thermopolis Konan. Go change out of that patrol uniform and into plain clothes. Here’s your new badge. Welcome to the big leagues, Detective Watkins.”
She gave me a nod, and I nodded back. Watkins held her badge and I swear a tear welled up in her eyes.
“I’ll be right back, detective.”
“Sure. I’ll be at my desk.”
Wilma Watkins must have been part Tasmanian Devil, The Looney Tunes version, because she was back at my desk in no time flat. She’d changed into khaki slacks, black pumps, and white tee. Her Sig Sauer P320 was strapped to her right hip.
“Alright, Watkins. We’ve been assigned to investigate Hilda Gunderson’s murder. Let’s ride over and see what we see.”
“Okay,” she said, shifting from foot to foot. Watkins winced, and I grinned.
“Watkins, I know you weren’t expecting to get promoted today, but from now on, wear sensible shoes. This isn’t fashion week in Milan. A perp doesn’t care that you look nice, understand?”
“Alright. Let’s go.”
We walked out to the parking garage. At least now, I didn’t have to worry about Rama shooting me in the back. It was time to find justice for the dead.
Was I living in opposite world? Rama and Rowell had wasted zero time accusing me of murder, even tried to arrest me, and now they needed me at a crime scene?
I didn’t think so. When people called for your blood, you didn’t make it easy for them to take it from you. Instead of traveling to the purported scene of the crime, I’d go see Hilda Gunderson.
She’d given me to them according to Rowell. I needed to question her, and she owed me some answers. Someone was trying to set me up, and before I could solve the murder of my high school chum, I had to figure out who wanted me out of the way.
I might as well start with the person who lied to the police.
After a quick bite of breakfast and shower, I dressed and drove toward Hilda Gunderson’s home. Cops swarmed the lawn, blue lights flashed, and I saw Rowell and Rama standing in the yard. I turned left from the house and drove back home.
“Jesus, now Hilda Gunderson is dead. If I’d shown up the set up would’ve been complete. Now, I’ve got to figure out who killed her. Was it Rama or Rowell?”
My problems had just increased exponentially.
As I pulled into the driveway, my phone rang. It was Chief Rogers.
“Konan, where are you?”
“Rama said he came to get you this morning. Why aren’t you here?”
“Um, because I’m still on leave. I don’t have to return to work until the 30th.”
“We need you here. I know things are strained between you and Rama, but son, Hilda Gunderson is dead. The bodies keep stacking up. What will it take for you to return early?”
“I don’t want Rama as a partner. I won’t return until I’ve been assigned someone else.”
“There is no one else, son. I’ll do what I can.”
“I’m sorry to be difficult, Chief, but I can’t trust Rama.”
Chief Rogers grew quiet and let out an exasperated sigh, and said, “he says the same thing about you.”
“I’ll talk to you later, Chief. Have a good day.”