Authors: Creston Mapes
Galen’s voice quavered. He had a lean, ruddy face with brown splotches on his forehead. His mouth formed a sad horizontal line. Perhaps he was thinking of his deceased wife.
“Travis said you had dates in there when you could actually see the fiberglass spewed all over the neighborhood?” Travis said.
“You know it’s a fact they killed Betty Jo, my wife.” Galen eyed Jack, then Derrick. “It ain’t right. It ain’t fair. And it ain’t American. There wasn’t no other way for me to go against them than with a lawyer.”
Jack scanned his notes. “But two attorneys you pursued didn’t want to work with you on this?”
“I should’ve known better.” Galen rubbed his beard stubble. “They was just ambulance chasers. Think I saw ’em on the TV. Charlie finally put me in touch with Coon; he swears by him.”
“And Charlie is your best friend, is that right?” Jack said.
“Since we was boys.” Galen shook his head, and his eyes wandered. “Walkin’ the railroad tracks in our bare feet; fishin’ down at Kline’s Pond …” Galen had returned there in his mind. “Takin’ our nickels to Drucker’s General Store for fresh-squeezed lemonade …”
“What else you wanna know, Jack?” LJ snatched the remote and tossed it back and forth in his large hands.
“We need for Galen to try to recall for us as many of the names as he can think of from his notes.” Jack waited for an objection from the boys, who’d had a long day, were tired, and wanted to watch their race.
“I’ll tell you who you need to talk to,” Galen said. “Spivey Brinkman. Lives right round back of us in the double-wide.”
Travis snapped his fingers, loud and quick. “That’s the handicapped girl’s daddy, Jack. The one you said you wrote the story about. Remember?”
“Jenness Brinkman, the East High honors grad? That’s Spivey Brinkman’s daughter?”
“That’s it.” Travis was so proud he looked as if he’d just won a contest.
“I met Spivey when I was there.” Jack recalled the short, plump, gray-haired man with round glasses, who seemed quiet and polite. An older sister was at the house too, but Jack had not spent much time with her.
“He’s your ticket,” Galen said. “Knows people. Got the inside dope on Demler-Vargus. More than me. I just jotted down things here and there. Spivey is like the underground know-it-all. He’s got connections.”
Jack checked Derrick to make sure he was taking notes.
Galen yanked the bedcovers, puffed them up, and wiggled back and forth.
“Look at you, Daddy.” Travis leaned him forward and flipped his pillow. “You’re like a fart in a skillet.”
“I’m ready to git
Had far ’nough a’ this hospital.”
Jack eyed Derrick. “We need to talk to Spivey Brinkman, pronto.”
“I talked to the
about this whole thing once, long time ago,” Galen said. “Ain’t nothin’ gonna come of this. No offense toward you boys …”
It took a second for Galen’s comment to hit Jack.
“What do you mean, you talked with the
?” he said.
“Gal named Sheets,” Galen said matter-of-factly. “Don’t recall her first name.”
“Amy Sheets?” Derrick said.
Galen nodded. “That’s it. She done interviewed me about Demler-Vargus long time ago. Never heard another word about it.”
“You never told me that,” Travis said.
“Me either,” LJ said.
Jack underlined Amy’s name on his pad. “This is the second time her name’s come up.” He looked at Derrick. “Jocelyn told me Amy was nosing around Demler-Vargus nine months or a year ago.”
“You need to get with her,” Travis said.
“She’s gone,” Derrick said.
“She moved to Columbus,” Jack said. “Jocelyn said Amy was interviewing a couple who worked at Demler-Vargus. But then it just dropped. No one in editorial even knew about it.”
“I never heard about it,” Derrick said.
“What did you tell Amy Sheets, Galen?” Jack said.
“I had some friends who worked in the plant—Emmett and Barb Doyle. That’s who she interviewed.” Galen closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out. “They was trying to get some money out of Demler-Vargus for their ailments. Barb struggled something awful with eye problems, breathing trouble—” Galen coughed. His voice was weakening. “Git me some of that cranberry juice, would you, Travis? With the crushed ice?”
Travis crossed to the sink.
“Did they have an attorney?” Derrick asked.
“Naw,” Galen said. “They went direct to Demler-Vargus. Told ’em if they didn’t help pay for their medical bills, they’d go to the media, tell the whole world. They had some gumption.”
“Did it work?” Derrick said.
“No sir,” Galen said. “That’s why they contacted the Sheets girl.”
“They told Amy about all this?” Jack said.
Galen took the cranberry drink from Travis and practically drained the plastic cup, dribbling some down his chin and onto the white blanket. “Ahh, thanks, son.”
LJ hurried over with some paper towels to clean him up, but Galen shooed him away.
Jack was on the edge of his seat. So was Derrick, who breathed audibly through O-shaped lips.
“The Sheets girl came to me because Emmett and Barb told her about Betty Jo, my wife.” Galen rested his head back on the pillow and closed his eyes. Thinking about his wife again, probably …
“Jack, we’re gonna need to stop soon.” Travis moved toward his dad. “Daddy’s gettin’ wore out.”
Jack knew he was right.
Galen lifted his head and looked at Jack. “Barb and Emmett knew that I thought Demler-Vargus was responsible for Betty Jo’s death. Barb’s symptoms was just like Betty Jo’s. Eyes burnin’ like blazes. Headaches. Dizzy. At times her whole body felt like a pincushion. She needed oxygen all the time.”
Galen’s head dropped back onto the pillow.
Travis moved over and squeezed his shoulder. His father patted his hand.
“Where are Emmett and Barb now?” Derrick said.
There was a knock at the door.
“Good grief, what now?” Still holding the remote, LJ lumbered to the door.
Galen was distracted but continued. “They moved south. Doctors said it might help Barb.”
“Do you know where in the south?” Derrick asked.
“Nope. They was up and gone faster than a bee-stung stallion.”
Jack eyed Derrick as they closed their notepads and stood. “We need to find Barb and Emmett Doyle.”
LJ reappeared, rolled his eyes, and motioned backward with the remote. “Look what the cat drug in.” He was followed by a bulk of a man wearing a heavy overcoat over an expensive suit and polished black shoes. The man had a wide face, neck, and nose and wore sleek silver glasses. His eyes narrowed when he saw Jack and Derrick.
“Mr. Coon!” Travis jumped two feet. “We been tryin’ to reach you all day.”
Ralston Coon set down his brown briefcase, removed his fedora, and held it in front of him with both hands. Smoothly, he ignored Travis’s outburst, as well as Jack and Derrick, and crossed directly to Galen Randall’s bedside. “Mr. Randall.” He patted Galen’s shoulder. “I’m sorry to hear about your complications. How are you feeling?”
“Galen. I’ve told you before, call me Galen. I could’ve gone home today if it weren’t for the paranoid doctors ’round here. So afraid of lawsuits they keep you till you git sick all over again.”
Coon smiled. “Well, you look very good, I must say.”
“Do you know what’s happened today?” Travis pushed up his sleeves. “Did you get my messages?”
Coon’s eyes flicked to Jack and Derrick.
“It’s okay,” Travis said. “These are friends. Jack Crittendon and Derrick … what’s the last name?”
“Whittaker,” Derrick said.
“I tried to reach you today too,” Jack spoke up. “We’re with the
“You know Daddy got poisoned this morning?” Travis said.
Coon nodded. “Yes, I got your messages.”
Travis unfolded the piece of paper he’d finally found in his pocket and stuffed it in Coon’s hand. “Our house got busted into this morning.”
Coon stuffed his hat under his armpit, unfolded the paper, and read the note the intruders had left at the Randalls’ house. His eyes locked on Travis. “Was anyone hurt?”
“No one was hurt because no one was there,” LJ spouted. “But whoever it was took them Demler-Vargus notes of Daddy’s.”
“The ones you copied,” Travis said.
“What else did they take?” Coon said.
“That’s it—after they destroyed everything,” LJ said.
“Mr. Coon, I’d like to see the copy you have of Galen’s notes,” Jack said. “We’re doing an investigative piece on Demler-Vargus.”
Before Jack had finished speaking, Coon gave a shake of the head. “I’m afraid that won’t be possible. The Randalls are my private client. Those notes are confidential.” He looked at Travis, then Galen. “You’ve got to understand that giving those notes to the press would impede our case.”
“What exactly is your case?” Jack said. “How far have you gotten with Demler-Vargus?”
“Excuse me, Mr. Crittendon, with all courtesy, this is all confidential.”
“You can answer,” Travis said. “Where are we? We must be getting close if they’re goin’ to all the trouble to poison Daddy and ransack our house.”
Coon shook his head at Travis and spoke in a firm, parental tone. “I would not be serving in your best interest to talk about the case here, now, with these men present. I hope you haven’t divulged too much already. I’ll be glad to give you the latest once they’ve gone.”
For an awkward moment everyone looked at everyone else. LJ slapped the remote against his thigh repeatedly.
“Look.” Coon sliced the air with a karate chop. “I understand you are all friends. But we are at a crucial place in our negotiations. I urge you, Randalls, to refrain from speaking with these gentlemen—with
representative of the media—about Demler-Vargus until we reach a settlement.”
Jack understood where Coon was coming from and wanted the Randalls to win whatever case they had. Even if he and Derrick couldn’t get their hands on Galen’s notes, they had a handful of fresh leads to pursue: Spivey Brinkman, Emmett and Barb Doyle, and Amy Sheets, for starters.
With both hands on his waist, Travis arched way backward and let out a groan. “We need to wrap this up for today. Daddy needs rest—”
“Not till I see the checkered flag,” his father said. “LJ, hand me that clicker.”
LJ hit the power button, the volume blared, and he handed the remote to Galen.
Travis’s eyebrows arched. “Well, I think that’s it for today, gentlemen.”
Jack was glad he would get to spend time with Rebecca and Faye before bed. As he and Derrick headed for the parking lot, he mentally juggled the leads he planned to follow the next day. He would get into the paper early and explain everything to Cecil, in hopes that the editor would allow both him and Derrick to dig into the Demler-Vargus story full force.
“Right now, Demler-Vargus doesn’t know we’re looking into this,” Jack said.
“Was that a question?” Derrick hit the unlock button, and the lights blinked on the Cruiser as they hurried toward it in the cold night.
“I’m just trying to keep everything sorted out.”
“I know, this thing is feeling big.”
“You’re feeling it too?” Jack said. “It’s not just me?”
Derrick hopped into the driver’s seat, started the car, and flipped the heat on. “Are you kidding me? I feel like we’re standing on top of a hornets’ nest, but the hornets don’t know we’re there yet.”
“I gotta get Cecil to turn us loose on this.”
“He’ll be all over it. Nothin’ he likes better than a scoop.”
Jack’s phone vibrated as Derrick maneuvered the Toyota out of the parking lot. Seeing Pam’s number on his phone made Jack’s heart skip; she usually just texted him while he was working, unless it was something important.
“Hey, hon,” he said.
“Just be calm, okay?” Pam whispered. “Granger Meade is at our front door.”
As she crouched in the dark by the window in the dining room with her back to the wall, Pamela made herself take deep breaths, in … very deep … as far as she could, and out … phhheewwwwww.
She had sequestered the girls in Faye’s closet, upstairs in her bedroom, with the door locked. Jack and Derrick were on their way. So were the police.
She thought of how her mother would be freaking.
She thought of the gun they’d never bought.
Keep the girls calm, Lord, please …
Rebecca had spotted him first and casually called from her bedroom upstairs, “Mommy, someone’s parked out front.”
Rebecca had known her mom would want to know. Ever since the home invasion, Pamela checked the street frequently out of habit.