Authors: J. T. Lewis
The raspy whisper had returned as he listened to his new orders.
“The new instructions are at the drop. You need to go
and get them.”
The man happily responded that he was getting his coat on as they spoke. The thought of proceeding on to the next project was already making his heart rate rise as his eye fluttered in excitement.
“Follow the directions word for word, no more cowboy antics or you’re out,” the mentor threatened authoritatively.
The man assured Jasmine that he had learned his lesson. Picking up his keys as he hung up the phone, he walked out of the dingy apartment and jumped into his car.
Heading over to Taylor Park, he angled the car into a dark slot and started walking as normal as he could muster towards the assigned spot. He covered the hundred yards to the designated park bench in about three minutes, sitting down casually like he was just enjoying the night.
He nonchalantly reached into his pocket and got out a cigarette, lighting it and inhaling the pungent flavor of the non-filtered cigarettes that he preferred. After making sure no one else was around, he reached down under the bench, finding the brown paper sack exactly where it was supposed to be. Finishing his cigarette a few minutes later, he put the sack in his coat pocket and stood up, returning to his car by a different route through the playground.
Upon returning home, he got out the sack and opened it.
Finding the usual storage container inside, he lifted the lid and took out the crumbled wax paper. She had designed this to look like someone had just left their lunch container in case anyone had ever found it.
At the bottom, he found the tightly folded piece of paper within a plastic sandwich bag, opening it to reveal the cryptic lettering inside. Taking the paper to his messy desk and brushing off enough room to lay the paper out, he opened a drawer and pulled out a notebook.
Mastering the code book given him by the mentor had been hard for him, reading having never been a strong point. But he had done it…and felt a huge amount of pride in his accomplishment.
Another skill useful to fulfill his dream!
Checking the top set of characters that told him what page to work off of, he turned the book to that page and started decoding the instructions.
When he had finished the decoding, he lifted the paper and sat back in his chair to study the writing, reading it through several times and committing it to memory. He then folded the message and stuck it in the back of the book, replacing the book back into the drawer.
The new preparations would take some time to accomplish, but at least he had something to do. And of course, the reward at the end would make all of his time worth it.
Having lifted his spirits with the thought of his mentor’s new instructions, he decided to celebrate with a few beers.
Celebrate the inevitable return of the Ghost!
February 19, 1997
The first full meeting of the Major Crimes Taskforce was scheduled for 9:00 AM, but a short meeting of the minds between Frank, Betty and I to discuss the necklace had occurred at 8:30. Frank went off to contact the family to see if they could shed any light on the subject, and I walked Betty to the meeting room.
All in all I think I definitely got the better of the assignments.
All of us on the task force were of course very familiar with each other, all having worked together on more than one occasion. There was Frank and me, of course, Tucker and Larry from the Sheriff’s department, and Betty along with Harry Clausing from the Allenville police department.
Harry was an unimpressive specimen physically, easily being around a hundred pounds overweight. A lieutenant in rank, he had long ago been removed from any type of daily patrolling, the resultant desk duty having culminated in a massive girth.
Harry was not a man to be dismissed easily though, having thirty years on the force under his massive belt. He had seen a little of everything over the years, and had been involved with solving many of the city’s cases.
Overall I felt pretty good about the makeup of our group. If we couldn’t solve this crime, I felt no one could.
We all busied ourselves with getting coffee, a number of the group bagging one or more of the bagels sitting on a tray as we waited for our leader to arrive.
The door suddenly exploded open as Allen Vanguard entered the room like a whirlwind, carrying with him an arm-load of folders.
Setting down the folders at his favored spot at the head of the table, he worked the room like the politician that he was, greeting everyone individually before heading to the side board to claim his own cup of coffee.
Frank was the last to arrive, showing me a note as he filled his own coffee cup and grabbed a bite out of a bagel before we sat down.
We all took our seats, and I spread my accumulated files and information out in front of me for easy access.
Allen had confided in me a few weeks ago that he was really excited about getting his new taskforce off the ground, a project that he had dreamt of for years. Getting the best of this county’s investigators working together as a unit was a no-brainer, and he had been working tirelessly for months to get approval and funding for his dream.
When Allen had seated himself, he thanked all of us as a group for agreeing to work on the taskforce. He then started handing out the file folders to each member of the group.
“Ok people, whatawegot?” Allen started, “Does anyone know anything new on the murder of Abby and Tyler Letterman before we get to these files?”
I nudged Frank, who gave me a pissy look before speaking up.
“A few of us were working on the mark on the neck of Mrs. Letterman, trying to figure out what might have caused it. Betty came up with the idea that maybe she was wearing a necklace that the perp forcibly removed, so I contacted the family this morning to ask if that was a possibility.”
“The mother confirmed that Abby always wore the same necklace,” Frank continued, “A Celtic cross, given to her by her grandmother when she graduated high school. I asked if they had access to a fax machine and she agreed to find and send a picture of Abby that showed the cross. We should have it in a few hours.”
“Ok, good work,” Allen stated excitedly, “Anything else new?”
When no one spoke he continued, “Let’s go over the case file once, and then I will leave you guys to your labors. From here on out we will meet every two or three days as the case warrants. Otherwise, consider this your fulltime job for the duration…at least until we find the perpetrator of this crime.”
“Ok, let’s get started.”
We spent the next hour going through the too-thin information, rehashing the evidence, trying for a new angle. Everyone was getting pretty frustrated when there was a knock on the door and Allen’s assistant Ellen immediately walked in. Taking a thin file around the table, she leaned over and whispered a few words to the prosecutor before taking her leave.
Allen anxiously opened the file, reading it with a serious expression for what seemed like ten minutes before looking up.
“I have a report on the ballistics of the gun, they have matched it to a Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum revolver, previously used in a robbery in Allenville in December 1994. It was entered into evidence April 1995, and the last known location of the piece since then has been the Sheriff department’s evidence locker.”
He looked up with disbelief showing on his face, “People, this murder was committed using one of our own guns!”
February 19, 1997
Sheriff Lean McHenry was fit to be tied.
“Where’s that paperwork?” he shouted at the room, waiting for the evidence log to be brought to him. He took the cigarette from behind his ear and stuck it in his mouth. In his distracted state it dangled precariously, barely catching his upper lip in a display that would have done James Dean proud.
He stood up and paced back and forth behind the desk, wondering how this could have happened, knowing it must be some kind of mistake. Finally tired of waiting, he quickly strode off toward the evidence lock-up, mumbling under his breath at the incompetence of his deputies.
Half way down the stairs he met Jane and Jason walking up, clutching an armload of binders each.
“Where the hell you guys been?” the sheriff asked, frustration mounting in his voice.
The Chief Deputy looked down at his shoes, but Jane stood her ground, being used to the blustery disposition of her dad when he was stressed out.
“We were just making sure that we had all the relevant files that might in any way have to do with the missing gun. Would you like to take them back into your office, or look at them here?”
The sheriff looked at his daughter for several long seconds with a look that said,
“Who the hell are you?”
He then turned on his heel and headed back up the stairs. Grabbing the cigarette out of his mouth in frustration, he crushed it like an insect between his fingers before throwing the remnants in a garbage can as he passed.
Entering his office, he went straight to his desk and pulled out the pack of cigarettes from his pocket, tapping out a fresh smoke and sticking it in his mouth.
“Speak,” he uttered as he sat down heavily in his chair, sitting forward rigidly like a statue in the park. Jane and Jason sat across the desk and spread out the binders in no particular order, then dug through them to find the ones to show the sheriff first.
“The revolver was entered into evidence on April 4
, 1995” Jane stated matter-of-factly as she studied the first page of the chosen binder intently. “It sat there until June 28
, when it was moved to Superior Court for the trial.”
Taking the second binder from Jason, she thumbed through some pages until she found what she was looking for. “On July 6
it was returned to our possession, re-sealed in an evidence bag and stored in box 116-48 with the rest of the evidence from the B&G Quick Mart robbery.”
Quickly checking back and forth between the original binder and a second one to confirm her facts before continuing, her brown eyes intently scanned the pages as if they might disappear if she blinked.
“Deputy Bill Maddux signed the evidence in and out on all occasions, but he retired in August of 1996. He has since moved to a Florida retirement village with his wife.”
Pulling out a third binder from the pile and studying it quickly, she continued, “He had an exemplary service record while at the department, the evidence lock-up being his last assignment before retiring.”
Jane sat down the binders and leaned back into her chair. Sheriff McHenry sat stiffly in place for half a minute before he too sat back in his chair, slowly pulling the cigarette out of his mouth and sliding it behind his ear.
“Jason, you know Bill Maddux fairly well don’t you?” the sheriff asked while looking down at his desk, idly rolling an ink pen back and forth between his thumb and second finger.
“Sure do Lean, Bill and his wife are my parents’ oldest friends,” the deputy answered lightly.
After a short hesitation, the sheriff looked up at Jason.
“How about you give him a call and have a short but friendly conversation. See if he remembers the case, and if he can remember anything unusual that might have happened to the gun. Maybe you can nicely ask him if it was possible, of course with no threat of prosecution, if the gun may have left with him, maybe he sold it to someone for a little extra cash.”
Mulling over his words before he continued, “Make sure he knows that if that is the case we just need a handle on where it went is all. Let him know that it was involved in a murder if you need to, but I would keep that under your hat unless you really need it.”
“Will do, Sheriff,” Jason said as stood got up and headed out to his desk to make the call.
Looking up at Jane sitting across the desk from him, the sheriff gave her a small, tired smile.
“Not one of my better days, JJ,” he started, reverting to the nickname they used when she was a girl.
“I just don’t know how this happened.”
“It may have happened before you even took office,” Jane said as she leaned forward with a determined look. “We’ll keep investigating the gun of course, because people will want answers, but we need to stay on point with the murders as well.”
Stopping the conversation abruptly, a sudden notion seemed to enter her thoughts as her eyes lit up before continuing.
“This is actually a possible break; we now have at least a possible back door into identifying the perp. If we can find who took the weapon, it may lead us to the murderer.”
Sheriff McHenry straightened in his chair, identifying with this new line of logic, hope returning for the first time that day.
“I don’t know what I would do without you Jane, but it proves once again what I’ve always said…I picked the right man for your job.”
Smiling, he extricated himself from the chair and started walking out of the office.