Authors: Ron Base
Tags: #Mystsery: Thriller - P.I. - Florida
He collected Marcello’s plate and the empty milk glass.
“Would you like some more milk?”
Marcello shook his head. Tree put the dishes in the sink. He hated dirty dishes in the sink, but he didn’t want to take the time to wash them. Not right now, not when he had Marcello’s full attention.
He sat down across from the boy. “Marcello, look at me.” The boy reluctantly raised his eyes to meet Tree’s.
“This is a lot more serious, okay? Things are happening I’m not equipped to handle. You understand, don’t you?”
“No,” Marcello said.
“I don’t want you to get hurt.”
Tree paused, waiting for Marcello’s acknowledgement. There was none.
“I know you don’t like this, but I think it’s time to go to the police.”
Marcello’s face went flat.
“The police can protect you from these bad men you talk about,” Tree went on. “I can’t do that.”
“They can’t do anything,” Marcello said.
“Yes, they can,” Tree insisted. “They’ve got the training I don’t have. If these guys who are after you show up right now, there’s nothing I can do. I don’t even own a gun.”
“You don’t have a gun?” Marcello looked surprised.
“No, I don’t.”
“Gotta go to the bathroom,” Marcello said.
“In the meantime, do you want me to call the police?”
“Let me go to the bathroom first,” he said.
“Through that door. Down the hall on your left.”
Marcello slid off his chair and went out of the kitchen. Tree debated whether to call Cee Jay Boone but that felt like a betrayal. Wait for the kid to come back and then work it out with him. That was the right way to handle this.
Tree went to the refrigerator for a Diet Coke. The telephone rang.
“Is this Mr. Tree Callister?” a voice on the other end asked.
“Yes,” Tree said, immediately regretting picking up the phone.
“Mr. Callister, my name is Tommy Dobbs. I’m a reporter for the
. I want to ask you a few questions.”
Tree looked toward the bathroom. “What about?”
“You’re the guy who found the body in the house on Barrington, correct?”
“That’s right,” Tree said. “But I’ve got nothing to say.”
“You’re a former reporter, right? Used to work for the
“What did you say your name was?”
“Dobbs. Tommy Dobbs. When I was a kid, I used to read your stuff. It was syndicated down here.”
Marcello still had not come out of the bathroom.
“Tommy, I don’t have time for this right now.”
“This is amazing. Big-time reporter moves to Sanibel and becomes a private detective. I mean, how weird is that?”
“What’s weird about it?”
“No disrespect intended,” Tommy hastily amended. “But it’s a great story, and I’d like to talk to you.”
Still no sign of Marcello. “Some other time, kid.”
“‘Kid?’ I love it. Real old-time newspaper stuff.” As though this guy had unearthed an ancient relic from a long dead civilization. Maybe he had.
“Mr. Callister, please, just tell me what you were doing at that house. I’ve got to get something up on our website.”
“I didn’t think the day would ever come when I would say this, but ‘no comment,’” Tree said.
“Come on, Mr. Callister. You’re talking to a fellow journalist here.”
“No, I’m not,” Tree said and hung up.
He called down the hall. “Marcello?” No answer. “Marcello.” More insistent this time.
Tree went along to the bathroom door. It was locked. “Marcello? Come on. Open up.” He pounded on the door.
Finally, Tree smashed his shoulder against the door. It shook but did not budge. He hit it again and still the door held. Now he really was angry, at Marcello, at himself and his inability to get anything even close to right. Why, he couldn’t even break down a bathroom door.
He heard an outside door open and turned as Freddie poked her head into the hall. “What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to break down the bathroom door.”
“Okay. But why are you doing that?”
“Because I goddamn feel like it,” he said.
She came along the corridor and put her hand on his arm. “Bad day?”
He couldn’t help but laugh.
Freddie led Tree outside to the open bathroom window through which Marcello escaped. She suggested Tree crawl through the window into the bathroom and unlock the door from the inside, thus saving them the cost of replacing a door.
Tree told Freddie about his discovery of the body, the police, the encounter with Marcello. She remained calm but her displeasure was evident. He could hardly blame her.
In the kitchen, Freddie poured herself a glass of wine. Tree noticed Marcello’s backpack, still lying on the chair where he left it. He picked it up and opened the flap.
“Should you be doing that?” Freddie asked.
“Snooping through other people’s property.”
“I’m a detective,” Tree said. “That’s what us detectives do. We snoop through other people’s property.”
“This being a detective appears to allow you to indulge in all sorts of questionable behavior.”
There wasn’t much inside; a partially-eaten Mars chocolate bar, a bottle of Evian water, half empty; what looked to be a pretty old version of a Gameboy handheld video game; and a dog-eared paperback copy of
To Kill a Mockingbird
Freddie picked up the book. “He has good taste.” Blue cards dropped out and fell to the floor.
Tree bent to pick them up. “From his mother.”
“His real mother?”
“So he says.”
There were four greeting cards altogether—blue, engraved with a tiny white heart. Two of them Marcello had already shown him. Two others Tree hadn’t seen before. He laid the first unread card on the kitchen table so they could look at it together. He put on his reading glasses.
Hi, my little love,
I’m sorry to say there have been problems I was not expecting. I’m getting past them but they will delay us being together. Please, don’t despair. We will be together, I promise. It’s just going to take a little longer than I expected, that’s all. I hope you’re getting these notes, sweetheart, so that you know I miss you every day, and I love you very much. I will be in touch soon.
The second card read:
I’m on my way.
“Except she wasn’t on her way,” Tree said.
“Or maybe she was,” Freddie said.
“What do you mean?”
“That woman you found. Maybe that was Marcello’s mother coming for him. Maybe this guy O’Hara killed her before she could get to her son.”
Tree stared at the four hand-written greeting cards spread out on the kitchen table.
“I’m worried about the boy,” Freddie said.
“So am I,” Tree said. “This guy Reno O’Hara is after him. Marcello’s scared.”
“There is something else at work here,” Freddie said.
“I’m not sure I can put my finger on it,” Freddie said. “Maybe it’s this new Tree Callister. The Sanibel Sunset Detective.”
“You think that’s a different guy?”
“I wonder if he is, yeah.”
“And if he is?”
“I’m not certain about him. I’m not sure what he’s up to. He’s involved in things I don’t know anything about, dead bodies and danger. I’m not sure about this guy. I’m not even certain I like him.”
“Hey, it’s still me.” He tried to hold her. She pulled away.
“I’m serious. I like my old Tree, the dependable fellow who can’t find his reading glasses and might not have taken a lot of chances but didn’t find dead bodies or receive threats from nasty people or get the police pissed at him.”
“Okay, fair enough,” Tree said. “But I’ve got to be honest.”
“I wouldn’t want you any other way,” Freddie said.
“I kind of like the Sanibel Sunset Detective. Life’s suddenly a lot more interesting with him around.”
“That’s fine,” Freddie said. “Just make sure the Sanibel Sunset Detective doesn’t get Tree Callister killed.”
Tree tossed and turned for the better part of an hour, unable to sleep. Beside him, Freddie’s chest softly rose and fell. He marveled at her. No matter what happened, she slept soundly. He eased himself out of bed and went into the kitchen. He spent ten minutes locating his glasses, resisting the urge to wake up Freddie and ask her where they were. He found the glasses under a copy of
magazine. How the blazes did they get there? The blue greeting cards lay on the table where he had left them. He read all four again. Something was familiar. Something he should recognize.
ate the next morning, Tree came out of the office and started across the parking lot. A young man leaned against the Beetle, squinting into the sun, Ichabod Crane-thin, with short bristling hair and Ray-Ban sunglasses. Acne crawled up his neck and danced across cheekbones the color of putty. A faded white shirt was open at the frayed collar. Tree stared. He might have been meeting himself a long time ago.
“Don’t tell me. You’re Tommy Dobbs.”
Tommy Dobbs’s mouth dropped open. “How did you know?”
“You should separate your lights from your darks,” Tree said.
“When you’re doing a washing. Separate white clothes from dark. That way you won’t end up with white shirts that are grey.”
“I’d like to talk, Mr. Callister.”
“Show up in a clean white shirt, then we’ll talk.”
“Like I told you on the phone, I need a quote for my story, and also I want to do a color piece about you.”
“I don’t want you to do a ‘color piece’ about me.”
“You’d be helping out a fellow reporter, Mr. Callister. I don’t need to tell you what a big story this is. How often do we get a murder here, let alone one involving an island resident who is a former newspaperman turned private eye.”
As Tree opened his car door, Tommy was practically on top of him, his face anxious behind the Ray-Bans. “I’ll be honest with you, Mr. Callister. My editor wanted to pull me off this and put Myron Merrick on it. Myron’s sort of the top dog reporter at the
. He’s totally a jerk. I don’t think you’d like him.”
“I’m not even sure I like you, Tommy.”
“Come on, Mr. Callister. You like me. How can you not like me?”
“So far it’s been pretty easy.”
“Also, I told my editor we had a personal relationship.”
“You should not have told him that.”
“Well, we do sort of have a personal relationship.”
“Tommy, we don’t have any relationship at all. Until a few moments ago, you were a voice on the phone. An irritating voice.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way, Mr. Callister.” Tommy sounded wounded. “Anyway, my editor’s letting me stay on the story, but I gotta come up with something. I’m due to be on Twitter in five minutes.”
“Twitter. I’ve got to tweet our readers. Part of the job.”
“Do you ever take off those dark glasses, Tommy?”
“Because you think it’s cool?”
“I’ve only got one eye.”
“I’m a little self-conscious about it.”
Tree shut the car door and said, “Okay, here’s what I’ll do. I’ll give you a quote.”
Tommy looked relieved. “Thanks, Mr. Callister. You’re saving my ass here, you really are.”
“But hold off on any feature for the time being.”
“I will get that story, though, right?” Even with the obscuring Ray-Bans, Tree could see that Tommy’s face had taken on a more canny expression. Tree wondered if it wasn’t too easy to underestimate Tommy Dobbs. The way you might once have underestimated Tree Callister.
“You want that quote or not?”
Tommy fumbled in his pocket and brought out a metal object the size of a cell phone. He stuck it under Tree’s nose. “Okay, Mr. Callister. Fire away.”
“It’s an Olympus LS-10 voice recorder.”
“You don’t take notes?”
“Notes?” Tommy looked confused. “What are you talking about?”
“Notes. Writing things down in a notebook.”
“Why would you do that when you’ve got a voice recorder? That way you don’t make a mistake with the quote.”