Authors: Jeff Carson
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense, #Serial Killer, #Crime, #Police Procedural
With a frown he dropped the phone and pulled over. The tires scraped to a stop and he turned toward her.
“What did I do? A scumbag comes up to our table, obviously eyeing you up, gropes you right in front of me and then I’m supposed to take it? Supposed to be grateful to meet the guy?”
She shook her head and looked over at him. “You think that’s what happened?”
Wolf blinked. “Something else happened?”
She inhaled and leaned her head back, closing her eyes in exasperation. “That man, Carter Willis, is an interior designer that we worked with for one of our projects in Aspen. He’s one of the best.” She looked at Wolf and raised her eyebrows. “And he’s also gay.”
Wolf frowned and looked out the windshield. “What? The guy might as well have grabbed your ass.”
Sarah shook her head again. “I … knew this was too good to be true.”
“And what do you mean by that?”
“This. Us.” She twirled her hands around. “We … we had our run, and every single time it looks like we’re going to make a good go of it—every single time since you went off in the Army, mind you—something goes wrong. For the longest time, we throw some wrench into the gears of our relationship, or some gay guy comes up to our table in the worst possible moment and ruins the whole mood. Or some … bitch from the FBI comes and sleeps with you for months. Or …” she shook her head.
“Or you tell me you cheated on me with some guy when I was in the Army, so whenever I see some guy like that give you a groping—a
hug, sorry—I can’t help but wonder if I’m meeting that guy.”
“David!” Her voice rose to a yell. “How many times do I have to apologize for my mistake?”
Wolf exhaled and gripped the wheel. “Maybe Jack knows something we don’t.”
“Yeah. Maybe so.”
Wolf put the truck in gear and drove.
Wolf pulled down the sloping driveway and stopped in front of Sarah’s house.
“Good night,” Sarah said, stepping out the passenger door and slamming it before he had a chance to respond.
His headlights reflected on the front bay windows, and his heart skipped when he saw that Jack was inside squinting against the onslaught of light, watching the whole situation unfold.
Wolf was not overly surprised. Jack lived with his mother now that she’d purchased her own place, finally moving out on her own and out of her parents’ house, but
. It was Friday night and he was thirteen years old. Wasn’t he out with his friends?
Wolf exhaled. Jack’s grim expression said it all. It was as if he was watching a bad movie scene again—his mother turning his back on his father, their relationship a hopeless mess, and his dream for his mother and father to get back together so they might one day have a regular family evaporating into mist once again.
It was heart-breaking for Wolf to see all that in the course of one glance.
Jack strolled along the inside of the window toward the front door and greeted his mother as she stormed inside, and then looked out at Wolf.
Wolf shut off his headlights, rolled down his window and leaned out. “Hey.”
Jack lifted his chin and stepped out onto the pavement in his socks. “Hey, dad.”
“What’s going on? Not out doing something tonight?”
Jack stopped, flipping his head to one side to move his bangs out of the way. “Brian’s downstairs. We’re playin’ vids. I was just getting some food for us in the kitchen and saw you pull up.” He looked back toward the house. “Nice date for you and mom, huh?”
Wolf looked at his son and pulled his mouth into a thin line. “Oh yeah, you guys have that football camp tomorrow up in Vail. That’s why you aren’t out at a movie or something.”
Jack nodded, looking up into the sky at nothing in particular.
Wolf nodded. “Well, be careful, all right? You’ve grown a foot since last fall, but that doesn’t make you invincible.” He poked a finger into Jack’s ribs. “You’re a freaking stick.”
Jack slapped Wolf’s hand away and smiled. “I’m bulking up.”
Wolf smiled at the crack in his son’s voice. If it weren’t such a harrowing experience for his son already, Wolf would have laughed out loud at the audacity of his son’s transformation as he underwent puberty, springing up from five foot nothing to over six feet tall in the course of nine months and acquiring the voice of Barry White. And Jack
complained about pains in his legs. The kid was going to surpass Wolf in no time.
“I’m not going to be able to make it up to the camp. Sorry.”
“Yeah, I heard about the bodies at the lake. It’s all over the news.”
. That had been a quick reaction by the media, and he still hadn’t told the Pollards about Nick’s body. Hell, he’d only just confirmed the body’s ID. He looked at the glowing clock on his dash and wondered if he should be acting. But it was late. Almost ten pm. He would talk to the Pollards first thing in the morning.
Wolf turned to Jack. “What?”
“Nothing.” The disappointment on his face told Wolf everything.
“Look. Jack. Your mom and I …”
Jack held up a hand. “Don’t worry. I know. You guys both love me.” He slapped Wolf’s hood and walked back toward the front door.
“I love you,” Wolf called after him. “Have a good weekend. Give me a call and tell me how the camp went. Or give me a call during.”
Jack waved over his head without turning and disappeared inside.
Wolf stared at the closing door, then flipped on his headlights and backed away.
“Oh! That’s what I’m talking about!” Wolf watched the ex-sheriff of Sluice County, Harold Burton, lean back on his bar stool and pour a brown shot of liquid down his throat, slam it on the bar counter and wipe his mouth. His hand shot up in a fist and his eyes clinched shut. “Ahhh, I’ll take another beer, please sire.”
Jerry Blackman, owner of Beer Goggles Bar and Grill, stood behind the counter. “How many is that you’ve had?”
“I’ve got a cab on retainer.”
Wolf came up next to Burton and leaned his elbows on the bar. “Yeah, I bet you do.”
“Oh!” Bob Fitzgerald, one of Hal Burton’s drinking buddies pointed at Wolf and covered his mouth. “Busted!”
Burton swiveled and burst out laughing. He gripped Wolf in a vicious headlock and started scrubbing his hair. “This guy is my boy! Get him one, too!”
Wolf escaped Burton’s painful embrace and smoothed his hair.
Looking resigned and exhausted, Jerry raised his eyebrows at Wolf.
Wolf nodded. “I’ll take a Newcastle.”
“That’s what I’m talkin’ bout!” Burton repeated, slapping the counter.
“Wow, I didn’t expect to see you drinking with such aggression. What happened? Cheryl leave you?”
Burton’s smile faded as he reached for the next draft beer that sloshed in front of him. His face was red and puffy, like he’d just been upside down for an hour, and his walrus mustache was wet. “Nah. She’s outta town. She gets home Tuesday. She’ll be none the wiser.”
Wolf smiled to himself. After leaving Sarah’s he’d called Burton on his cell phone, and when he hadn’t gotten an answer he had called Burton’s wife, Cheryl. She’d pointed him straight here. She may have been out of the state visiting her sister, but she was as aware of her husband’s predictable movements as if he wore an ankle monitor.
Jerry pushed a dripping bottle in front of Wolf and waved him away when Wolf pulled out his wallet.
Wolf watched Jerry leave down the back of the bar, swerving in between another bartender and a bar back frantically stacking glasses. The speakers blared some jam-band music Wolf had never heard—two electric guitars, bass, drums and keyboards. It was ten o’clock, and the weekend crowd was swollen and alive, like the Chataqua River that flowed outside the rear windows.
He put a five on the counter and took a sip. It was ice cold, and with the mood he was in, tasted like he could sit and drink six of them.
“What’s goin’ on?” Burton looked at his watch, did some drunken mathematics in his head and looked back up at Wolf. “I thought you were with Sarah tonight? It’s early, ain’t it?”
“No, not tonight.” Wolf lied, taking another sip. “Listen, I have to talk to you.”
“Shoot.” Burton swilled his beer.
Wolf stared at him.
“Oh, like in private?” Burton turned to the back of the room. “There’s a booth … you wanna go there?”
Wolf sat across from Burton in a rear booth by the windows. The pleather booth cushion squeaked as he looked out the window at the river below. The light of a full moon reflected off the shifting rapids of the raging water, which was running high now that it was the peak of melt-season. A few warm days in a row and this building might be swept down the river.
“Runnin’ high.” Burton read his thoughts.
Wolf turned to him. “We found Nick Pollard today.”
Burton lifted his beer, took a sip, and then clacked it on the table hard, beer splattering out onto the table and into Wolf’s lap.
“Shit,” Wolf said as he scooted to the side.
“Shit! I’m sorry!” Burton raked the spilled beer back towards him with his hairy arm, squeegeeing it onto the booth seat next to him.
Wolf looked at Burton closer, into the glossy, half-closed eyes, and saw there was little consciousness left in the man. Burton in a bar was like a dog locked in a room with a fifty-pound bag of dog-food; he was going to get all he could ingest, until he could ingest no more.
“You found him?” Burton said, rubbing a hand over his silver buzz-cut hair. “Where?”
Wolf wiped the rest of the table with some napkins. “In the lake.”
Burton leaned back and clapped his hands. “In the lake!”
Wolf looked around. A table of men and women were staring at them, laughing.
“What the hell you lookin’ at scrubs?” Burton’s voice was like a train horn.
Their faces dropped and they looked at their table.
Wolf raised his eyebrows. “You done?”
“With what?” Burton grabbed his own handful of napkins and helped wiped the mess, leaving wet beads on the tabletop.
Wolf waited patiently until he finished.
“In the lake. God damn, your dad was right.”
“Your dad scuba dove down there, oh … must have been five times. Never found anything. It was too deep. Couldn’t get to where he wanted to go.”
“He did?” Wolf grabbed another wad of napkins and finished Burton’s clean job. “How did he know where to dive?”
“The moon guy.” Burton looked down into his beer and burped, then took another swig.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“The guy who was drawing the moon. He had a telescope and would sit there and draw it. Kind a’ crazy.” Burton’s eyes closed halfway and then he widened them. “A Vietnam vet, lives up on the lake, on top of that cliff.”
Wolf stretched his neck. “Can you start from the beginning? I wanna know what you guys knew back then. Tell me about Nick Pollard. The whole thing.”
“The whole file’s in records.”
“Yeah, I know. But I wanna hear it from you.”
“Well, I’m gonna need another beer for that. This one’s—”
Wolf slid his bottle in front of him.
Burton gripped it lightly and settled back into the seat. “Let’s see. It was the fifth of July when Nick’s mom called us. Afternoon. Said her son never came home the night before. We said,
? The kid was a misfit. One of those kids always runnin’ with the wrong crowd. Druggie. Weed, probably coke, meth.”
Burton shrugged. “Ran with the crowd. Like I said.” He sipped his beer and then gazed out the window for a few seconds. When he looked at Wolf again he broke into a big smile. “It’s good to—”
“Nick Pollard’s mother called you. You guys checked on it, I’m assuming?”
“Yeah. Yeah. We … she said he went up to Cold Lake, Nick, because he was dating a girl who lived up there. Went up to watch the fireworks show with her. And then he never came back.”
“Who was the girl?”
“Kimber. Kimber … Grey, with an ‘e’. We went up and talked to her and her family that afternoon. I me’member they were pretty standoffed. Standoffish. Said they ne’er saw him that night. Said he musta been lyin’ to his mother.” Burton took another swill and put the bottle down on a wet napkin so it was teetering at an angle.
Wolf stabilized it. “And then what?”
“We … oh God I’m drunk. I’m gonna be hurtin’ tomorrow. Every time—”
“And then what?”
Burton looked at him, twisting his face with ridiculous effort. “Where was I?”
Wolf leaned back. “Nick Pollard’s mother says Nick went up to visit Kimber Grey at her cabin on the lake. The Greys said they never saw him. What did you think about that?”
“But they were fuckin’ lyin’!” Burton’s train horn voice triggered sideways glances, and as the speakers played the opening bars of a familiar bluegrass tune, Wolf’s knuckles played tabletop percussion. His abrupt palm slap shook Burton back to the conversation. “Who was lying?”
Burton looked over at a different table of people across the room and his eyes went mean.
“All right. I’m taking you home.”
“I’ve got a cab on retainer.”
Wolf mimed to Jerry that he was taking Burton home. Jerry nodded, held up Burton’s credit card and put it in a drawer. Wolf gave him the thumbs up.
The screen door squeaked and slapped shut behind them, and Burton stumbled over a knot of grass and landed onto his knees on the wet gravel lot.
“Shit!” He got up, pushing Wolf’s hand aside, and stumbled forward, barely putting his arms down in time to break his fall. By the time he got into Wolf’s truck the old man’s bloodied, pasty forearms looked like candy canes.
“You going to be all right?” Wolf eyed the pile of flesh and bones in his passenger seat.
“Yeah. We worked that case.” Burton lifted an index finger.
“Yeah.” Wolf shook his head and reversed out of his spot.
Burton folded his arms and burrowed himself against the dangling, unused seatbelt. Within moments, Wolf heard the old man snoring.
Wolf pulled through the arch to his ranch at 11:18 p.m. to a familiar sight. The one story L-shaped house and barn off to the side—built by his father a lifetime ago and completely rebuilt after an explosion three years prior—stood lonely in the moonlight with black holes for windows. He was used to it—coming home after dark to a dark house. He liked solitude, but loneliness was niggling at him tonight.
But there was something different after all. He leaned forward and squinted when he saw the shiny paint of Sarah’s black Toyota 4runner in the circle drive. His longing for company turned to anticipation. Looking inside the cab of her vehicle as he slowed to a stop, Wolf saw it was empty.