Authors: Don Porter
Tags: #FICTION / Mystery & Detective / General
Angie opened the door. The state trooper came in, so big he almost filled the doorway. Neat uniform, Irish face, black hair regulation cut under his trooper hat, and his hand on his service revolver. “What happened here?”
I was glad to be awake. “Two guys came through the woods and attacked us with rifles.”
“Two guys? There’s only one by the car.”
“The other is in the trees. Come on, I’ll show you.”
Angie had both hands on Turk’s leash and was braced in the bedroom doorway, but Turk wasn’t in attack mode. The poor dog was confused. I led the cop outside and we tromped back to the scene of my crime. He winced at the bloody mess.
“Want to tell me what’s really going on? There’s two bullet holes in the door, but they weren’t made by that rifle.”
“Right. Contact Trooper Timothy Literra in Bethel. He has an ID on one of these guys from fingerprints. He’s a hit man from Detroit and this is their second pass at us. We just don’t know why we’re targets.”
We walked back to his car and he stood outside to talk to his radio for a while. His partner drove down the lane for a conference, then backed up onto the road, apparently to stand guard. More radio talk, then the trooper walked over to the doorway where I was leaning.
“Okay, you’re clean. Trooper Literra swears by you and says he made you a special deputy. Horse pucky, of course, but good enough for now. Unless you’re an albino, you’d better go in and sit down.”
Judging by the scratching on the door, Angie had locked Turk in the bedroom. I sat down on the couch and Angie handed me the brandy snifter. I resumed my therapy.
The trooper was looking at me, but talking to Angie. “How much blood has he lost?”
“Oh, very little. He’s a real sissy, you know, a regular pansy. There isn’t a macho bone in his body, and he always faints at the sight of blood.”
“Is he your husband?”
“No, my husband was killed a few days ago in an accident. It was his pickup that exploded in the parking lot at the Rendezvous.”
“That’s what the police report said.”
“Yes, that’s what the news report said. No point in scaring the public, and no point in alerting the bomber that we were looking for him. Actually it was a very sophisticated bomb that screamed Marine Reconnaissance, and the dead guy out on the road is almost certainly the bomber, but you knew that, didn’t you?”
Angie nodded, a kind of a deep, almost sarcastic nod that told the whole story. The trooper matched her nod. I concentrated on breathing brandy fumes.
The ambulance was one of those big, square, boxy vans that look as if they should be delivering bread. A wrecker came, snorted and squealed cables for a while, and left with the car on a trailer. One trooper had followed the wrecker but ours stayed to supervise the environmental restoration. He came in carrying a notebook.
“Coffee?” Angie asked.
“Wonderful. I just need to take your statements. May as well level with me and tell me the whole story. I’ve got plenty of time, and I’m not going anywhere just yet. By the way, I’m Jim Stella. Here’s my card, office and home phone.” I was sitting on the couch, and the trooper had sunk down into an easy chair, so we both had to reach to transfer the card.
“Thanks,” I said. “Alex Price and Angie Demoski. I didn’t realize troopers gave out home phones. Oops, lieutenant, I should have recognized the bar. ”
“We don’t give out cards, and never mind the rank, it’s embarrassing. The card is because I have a feeling this isn’t over yet. Trooper Literra tells me you can hit anything you can see with your pistol. That mess in the woods confirms it and today it was a good thing, but as a general rule, we’d rather you didn’t do that.”
Angie brought coffees and offered sugar and cream. Stella and I both turned down the embellishments, so she put her tray on the table and came to sit beside me on the couch facing the trooper.
Stella took a grateful sip of his coffee. “So, if you see another situation coming up where you might be tempted to shoot people, I’d like a call. The point of calling me personally is that I’ll know who is calling and why, so you won’t waste a lot of time answering questions.”
“Thanks, I really appreciate that.”
Angie frowned. “So it’s really not over?”
The trooper and I both shook our heads, but I answered, “Angie, all we did today was cut an arm off an octopus. Those guys were hired guns, easily replaceable. Our problem is whoever hired them.”
Stella nodded that time. “Okay, we all understand each other. Now, about those statements. Skip the car bomb and start with the bullet holes in the front door.”
I filled him in with what we knew, which actually wasn’t much. What we suspected and wondered about was way too sketchy for a police report. For instance, I did not tell him about my stint as bodyguard for the governor, nor mention men with hard eyes.
He finished his notes and his coffee and stood. “Please call me Jim, because I’m going to call you Angie and Alex.” We shook hands, Angie held the door for him and we stood on the step while he backed down the drive.
“Shall we trust him, Angie? He seemed sincere and he didn’t confiscate my pistol, although he probably should have.”
“Yep, trust him. It’s his eyes, same as Stan and you. He’s tougher than walrus hide, has seen it all and is ready for anything, but there is nothing hidden in him.”
“You read all that?”
“Hey, me heap big Indian medicine woman, but it’s true. In the old days when shamen were judge and jury, they didn’t bother with testimony and such. They just sat with the accused and stared into each other’s eyes, and it always worked.”
“Remind me to pick up some sunglasses. What do we do with Turk?”
“First, I let him out of the bedroom, then we set out food and water, then I tell him to stay here.”
“Nah, he may get into some mischief but he won’t wander off, and he does know better than to attack porcupines.”
“He learned by trial and error?”
“Yep, had so many quills in his feet that he was trying to walk on his wrists. Do dogs have wrists? It took the vet two hours to dig all of the quills out of Turk’s nose and mouth.”
Angie was driving because she said I still looked pale. I felt fine, but the road did seem to be undulating in a way I didn’t remember. It seemed like taking a nap would be a good idea, but the cot at the Maranatha wasn’t inviting.
“You know, Mary Angela, I’m about as healthy and tranquil as I care to get for a while. Do you suppose that credit card of yours would go for a room with a phone?”
“With the greatest of pleasure. My mouth is still watering for the lamb béarnaise you had the other night, and I need to teach you about Côtes du Rhône. How about a cottage at the River’s Edge Resort? Mary can afford those from September first through April. The bungalows have two queen-sized beds and the restaurant is wonderful.”
“Great, sooner the better. There’s one bullet left in the .357 and the box is back at the hotel, so don’t run into any ambushes.”
When we checked out of the Maranatha, they loaded us up with tracts, various versions of the
. We took the material, thanked them, and fled.
The River’s Edge Resort is on Boat Street, and it was better than good. Mary Angela checked us in and produced two keys with the satisfied smirk of a cat with a bowl of canaries and cream. Our new digs featured two queen-sized beds, every amenity that’s ever been in a bungalow, and the Chena River gurgling along right outside our picture window.
Angie was right about the restaurant, too. Another picture window overlooked the Chena with a floodlight making a crescent on the water. It was good to be dining by candlelight again with a waitress who had finished college. We both ordered lamb, Angie dealt with the waitress, and a bottle of Côtes du Rhône appeared. Once again she sampled and smiled, once again I took a sip and I smiled, too. I’ve got to remember that: red wine,
Côtes du Rhône
A miniature loaf of sourdough bread showed up with the wine, then Caesar salads, and rare racks of lamb with béarnaise from heaven.
Angie swallowed, blotted, sipped, blotted and smiled, but she was thinking seriously beyond dinner. “What do we do next, Alex? Keep getting lucky and shoot a few assassins every day before lunch?”
“Could take a while. There are several million people in Detroit, and if the newspapers are correct, at least half of them are killers. We’ve got to get to the head of the octopus, and my money is still on Interior. Nowadays it’s incumbent on all criminals to keep records and leave evidence in their computers, so perhaps we should have a look? Reginald is a Nixon fan, so he probably tapes all incriminating communications.”
“Won’t they notice you snooping around?”
“Maybe not. I do have a key to the office, but this time it’s stealth and flashlights. Say around midnight?”
“You mean I get to come, too? Enfranchised at last?”
“Yep, you can sit on a cushion and sew a fine seam while keeping a lookout, and I’ll toss the files and computers…doing a word search for
, I guess.”
In black slacks and turtleneck, Angie did look like Cat Woman. The lot was empty, office dark. We parked several spaces down the line and walked back to Interior. The tie-down area is nominally lighted for security by mercury lamps on poles, but we ducked from shadow to shadow. Not that it was practical, but it made us feel like commandos. I didn’t see the security pickup cruising. Perhaps they take Sunday mornings off.
I unlocked the door with my copied key, we slipped inside and snapped on flashlights. Angie wrinkled her nose. “Cheap perfume. Is that your new girlfriend?”
“No, that’s the smell of a successful business. Park yourself in front of the window and holler if anything moves.”
“Don’t I get a cushion?”
“Yep, union rules, fifteen minutes every two hours. Meantime, see that door on the left?” I flashed it with my light, then lighted the drawbridge in the counter. “If we’re about to be assaulted by an army, duck under the counter and out that door. It leads to a freight shed big enough to hide in for a week or two. What I’m actually expecting is airport security in a pickup. Just holler in time so that I can switch off my light, and hit the deck under the window until they drive away. They won’t come in unless they see lights flashing around.”
“Gotcha. Go do something useful.” Angie assumed a sentry stance, I ducked under the drawbridge and wondered what to do next. For want of something constructive, I plopped down at Celeste’s desk and fingered through the flight tickets. The Otter was still flying, two trips almost every day. I checked the rest of the flight tickets. Some were pilots I didn’t recognize, and Freddy himself had flown several.
That made perfect sense and I wondered why he needed me at all. Maybe it was just charity, or maybe he really was busy with office work. I noticed a slip signed by Tommy Olsen, and that was a surprise because I thought Tommy was flying out of Cordova, but then, pilots do get around, and he’d be equally surprised to find a ticket signed by me.
I noticed a flight ticket signed by Alvin Hopson. The name caught my eye because the Hopson Brothers are the big names in the North Slope Borough, but I didn’t recognize the name Alvin. Probably he was the son of Steve, or maybe Ebon, who owns the hotel and cable television system at Point Barrow. I pulled the ticket out, and it was for a flight from Point Barrow to Prudhoe Bay. According to the ticket, Interior keeps a Howard and a pilot stationed at Point Barrow. I remembered that plane because it used to belong to the Ball brothers in Dillingham. Apparently Interior was a bigger outfit than I’d realized. I rummaged further and spotted several more tickets signed by Alvin.
Time was wasting. I checked the brunette’s desk and found piles of invoices and letters. I was looking for the ledger I’d seen, but her desk was locked so I settled for the papers on top, scanned a few, got no ideas at all, and wandered into Reginald’s office. I left the door open, but with Angie on guard I felt free to shine the flashlight around. His bookcase held an eclectic mix of federal publications, Jack London, Robert Service, Louis L’Amour, Baedeker’s
Guide to Alaska
, and a bottle of Courvoisier with six brandy snifters. His desk drawers held stationery, a few folders that appeared innocuous, and a nickel-plated .38 revolver in the center drawer with the pens. I turned to the computer.
When Bushmaster gets rich, we’ll buy a computer like that one. Reginald hadn’t logged off; the computer was only sleeping. I tapped the space bar and the screen glowed with fifty icons taking up half the space. One of the few I recognized was Orbitz, the travel people, so I clicked on that one.
It invited me to sign in, so I typed in
and it asked for a password. Would Reginald use his wife’s name, his mother’s name? Did he even have a wife or mother? Then I realized this was a corporate account, not a personal one. The same account would be on Celeste’s computer, Freddy’s, probably the accounting office in Anchorage. I typed in Otter.
“You have entered an incorrect password.”
“You have entered an incorrect password.”
“Welcome, Interior Air.”
I clicked on
and a listing of flights and hotels came up. I relied on Jody’s estimate of two weeks. She probably tells time by counting thirty-dollar bottles, so she should know. I ran back fifteen days and found two first-class, round-trip tickets, Detroit, Fairbanks, with open returns.
I tried the most recent entry and it was two first-class, round-trip tickets from Seattle, also open returns. Each reservation had a name, but I didn’t bother with them. I figured that hired guns probably travel with half-a-dozen phony picture IDs. I was in the right church, but which pew? Anyone with access to that system could have booked those flights. In fact, I could have booked Angie and me first-class to London with a couple of dozen keystrokes, and, with the account name and the password, I could even do it from Bethel.
and was confronted with hundreds of files. I was in overload, no idea where to start, when Angie hollered. Sotto voce, but big-time urgency. “Hey, Alex, a big black Cadillac just stopped out front and I think someone is coming in.” I heard her bump against the counter, then the door to the warehouse closed, but I had to shut down that damned computer. If I just pulled the plug it would be obvious someone had been prowling. I closed the file, pulled up
. It said,
Closing files…Saving settings
…agonizingly slowly. I snapped off my flashlight, but the glow from the computer looked like a floodlight. The outside door opened, the drawbridge banged, and I dived under the desk.
Brisk footsteps came straight to the office, the door closed and the light snapped on. I tried to bury myself in blue shag. The desk was big enough, unless someone looked under it, but I didn’t dare move a muscle or bat an eyelash. If I’d breathed, the desk would have gone up and down. Polished black oxfords came around the desk, walking fast, and someone tapped the spacebar on the keyboard. The computer must have made it to Off. That was a goof, because the computer had been left on, but I couldn’t have waited for it to go to sleep.
He typed fast, so he knew the passwords. I heard a disk inserted. Twenty seconds later, more typing. Was he copying a file, or had he just ordered a new wave of gunslingers? The shiny black oxfords backed up, walked around the desk, the light snapped off. I breathed, the drawbridge dropped down, and the front door closed. I scrambled out from under the desk. The computer showed the desktop with icons, no clue to what the intruder had done. I hunkered down and ran to the front window without using the flashlight. Angie had been correct; it was a big black Cadillac, but it was pulling away without lights so I couldn’t see his license plate. It must have been, very probably was, Dave Marino the campaign man, but like everything else in this screwy business, I couldn’t be positive.
I opened the door to the freight warehouse and warbled, “Ollee ollee outs in free.”
A flashlight snapped on behind the freight desk, a small circle of light in the massive dark cavern, and Cat Woman followed the beam.
“Kinda close, huh?”
“It’s a good thing you made me shave. If I’d had whiskers, I’d have been caught.”
“Well, the other good thing is that now we know who the bad guy is.”
“Nope, Angie, what I know is he wears black oxfords and knows his way around Reginald’s computer. All I could see was carpet pile and dust balls. Believe me, if I had so much as batted my eyes, I’d have been spotted, and no way could I get my pistol out from under that desk.”