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Authors: Dana Donovan

Tags: #paranormal, #supernatural, #detective, #witchcraft, #witch, #detective mystery, #paranormal detective

Witch House (9 page)

BOOK: Witch House
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“That’s right. We were hoping you could tell
us something we don’t already know.”

He walked the drinks back and set them down
in front of us. This time Carlos merely positioned his at the
ready, pending his decision regarding the rest of the peanuts, I
supposed. “Cops were here already,” said Pete. “I gave them a full
statement.”

“I know, but we’ve been out making the
rounds, talking to a couple of people. We have just a few new
questions that maybe no one thought of asking. I hope you don’t
mind.”

He looked back over his shoulder at the old
man sipping suds. We had time. “Sure, what do you want to
know?”

“The man killed last night; his name was René
Landau. Did you know him?”

He shook his head. “Not before he walked into
this place. I did talk to him a bit, though.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, it wasn’t real busy then. He came in
around ten. Sat right there where you are. I asked if he was new in
town, and he told me he had just gotten out of the pen.”

“He volunteered that?”

“Yeah, you’d be surprised what people tell
their bartenders, especially when they’re in the mood to talk, and
this guy was in the mood.”

“Did he seem troubled to you?”

“Troubled? Detective, a guy walks into a bar
and starts slamming down drinks, I gotta believe he’s got something
on his mind. Sometimes they want to keep it to themselves;
sometimes they don’t. If they got troubles, though, you can bet I
don’t want to hear them. I’ll talk if it keeps them drinking, but I
keep the subject light, you know, sports, weather, cars,
movies—anything that ain’t what they’re trying to forget.

“I see.” I turned to Carlos and gave him the
look. He understood that meant it was his turn to fish.

“Pete,” said Carlos, “did you say René Landau
came here alone?”

“I didn’t, but yeah, he came alone.”

“Did he talk to anyone else while he was
here, meet with anyone?”

Pete laughed. “You know it’s funny you should
ask. For a guy fresh outta prison, he sure seemed popular.”

“How so?”

“Well, about an hour after he got here,
business began picking up some. We often get a wave like that after
the movie theater lets out. I hadn’t noticed at first, but at some
point,” Pete directed our attention to the corner of the bar by the
jukebox, “your man picked up his drink and moved to that table over
there. Then these two guys followed him to the table, although I
don’t think they were invited.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because it looked like he was trying to get
away from them.”

“What did they look like?”

“Hispanic, I think. Big, like bouncers. I
couldn’t hear what they were saying, but their voices were loud.
Then one of them grabbed your boy by the collar and dragged him
outside. The other followed.”

“There you have it,” said Carlos. “They
killed him.”

Pete shook his head. “No, they didn’t kill
him. He came back. He looked roughed up some, and a lot pissed, but
he wasn’t dead.”

“Did you think of calling the cops?” I
asked.

“Didn’t need to. He returned alone. I figured
the three amigos went adios.”

“Did they come back later?”

“Not that I know, but about an hour after
that, another man came in looking for him.”

“Another Hispanic?”

“No, this guy was White, late-middle-aged,
tall, military looking crew-cut; he seemed to know right where to
look for your boy. He came in, scanned the room and made a beeline
straight for his table. Right away they start in arguing, and I
thought to myself, oh boy, not again. Then old crew cut slams his
fist on the table, stands up and storms out of the bar. I never saw
him again.”

“Wow,” said Carlos. “Sounds like Landau
couldn’t catch a break from the minute he walked out of
prison.”

“That’s what I thought,” said Pete, smiling
and nodding, “until your boy got lucky and hooked up with some
hottie with an ass like a snare drum.”

“Wide?”

“Tight.”

Carlos and I both turned to look at the
table, as though her residue image might still be lingering. “Did
you recognize her?” I asked.

Pete shook his head. “I wish; a beauty like
that.”

Carlos pulled out his phone, thumbed up the
photo ID he had of Stephanie Stiles and showed it to Pete. “Is that
her?”

“Hardly,” he scoffed. “I said hot, as in
beautiful. I mean it. This babe was half his age.”

“A hooker?”

He gave that more serious consideration.
“Maybe, but…I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“She gave him her phone number.”

“You sure?”

That brought on another shrug. “Reasonably. I
mean I was standing right here when your boy came to me asking for
a pen and a napkin to write on. His exact words were, ‘You got a
pen and something I can write a phone number on’. I remember clear
as day, because I watched him return to the girl with the pen and
write the number down.”

I looked to Carlos. “What do you make of
that?”

He looked at Pete. “You say the movie house
just got out about an hour before?”

“Yes.”

“That’s it, then. She must work at the movie
house. You remember Dominic told us that’s where the number on the
napkin rang.”

“I guess we shouldn’t have written that clue
off so quickly,” I said.

“Yeah, but it could be just an innocent
association, the last contact a doomed man had with a pretty
girl.”

“Or the last contact a doomed man had with
the pretty girlfriend of a jealous man.”

Carlos’ eyes lit up. “Right.” His head began
bobbing like a dashboard Chihuahua. “I see what you mean. It looks
like our list of suspects is growing.”

“It always is, Carlos. The sad thing is that
the killer is probably still not anyone on the list.”

“But probably right out your back door,” Pete
added.

I looked at him curiously. “How’s that?”

He jacked his thumb up over his shoulder. “It
happens now and then. The restrooms are in the back there.
Sometimes when we’re busy and the men’s room is occupied, a guy
will step outside and use the back alley to relieve himself.”

“That’s disgusting,” said Carlos.

Pete agreed, adding, “Yeah, but when you
gotta go, you gotta go.”

I asked, “What does that have to do with
it?”

“Maybe nothing,” he said, “though I should
point out that I share my parking lot with the manufacturing
warehouse behind me. The warehouse backs up to the liquor store on
Madison, where almost every night a small troop of winos gathers
and drinks all night long.”

“You think a wino may have killed
Landau?”

“I’m saying it’s possible. I have seen
instances where these winos have accosted some of my male patrons
out back and robbed them.”

“Have they ever shot anyone before?”

“Not before now.”

I looked to Carlos. He seemed agreeable to a
working theory along those lines. “Might just be a crime of
opportunity,” he said, “wrong place, wrong time.”

“He wasn’t robbed,” I said.

“A botched robbery then, victim accosted,
victim stands his ground, suspect panics, shoots, runs. It’s a
classic tragedy.”

“I didn’t see anyone out there this
morning.”

“Of course not, with all the heat we had out
there this morning, would you stick around if you knew
something?”

“Good point.” I reached into my pocket,
grabbed a five spot and laid it on the bar. “Pete, it was good
seeing you again. Thanks for your help.”

“Again?” said Pete, and I knew right away the
mistake I had made.

“No, I mean, it’s good meeting you.” I looked
to Carlos and saw him grinning like a fool. “Wasn’t it, Carlos?
Good, because I just met Pete and he never…we never—”

“Whatever.” He grabbed a handful of peanuts
and spilled them into the pocket of his overcoat. “Thanks, Pete.
We’ll catch you later.”

Outside, I told Carlos I wanted to slip
around back to see if any of the winos had taken up residence under
the overhang of the warehouse loading docks. The rain that had been
sometimes torrential in the morning and intermittent at best in the
early afternoon, spared us for the moment. We walked across the
parking lot of the two businesses, stopping at a chain linked fence
bordering the warehouse loading docks. As near as we could tell,
workers were in the building, but nothing was moving on or off the
platform. Carlos elbowed me gently and nodded toward the docket hut
by the main gates. “Look there,” he said.

The hut, barely a shack with windows on three
sides, normally posts a shipping supervisor monitoring truck
traffic on and off the property. At first glance, the hut appeared
empty, not surprising since the closed gates eliminated the need
for a shipping supervisor. Carlos, however, has a keen eye for
visual details. He sees things that others see as so common that
they inevitably go unnoticed. It’s a forest for the trees thing, I
suppose.

After observing the hut and seeing nothing
unusual, I said to him, “Look at what?”

“The docket hut.”

“Yes, I see the docket hut. What about
it?”

“There is someone inside.”

I looked again. Still I saw no one, but this
time I did see what Carlos saw. A slight haze fogged the glass
along the bottoms of the windows, with the steamy build-up
dissipating gradually higher up on the glass. “I see it,” I said.
“Come on, let’s check it out.”

We came up alongside the hut and peeked
inside. There on the floor with his knees to his chest, sat an old
man sheltered from the cold; his clothes ragged and disheveled, his
unkempt hair and beard gray and matted, making him look more beast
than man. His hands, streaked with road tar and caked in mud,
clutched a bottle in a paper sack between his knees. Carlos thought
he was dead; I thought he was sleeping, but neither expected to
jump as high as we did when the man, perhaps startled by the scuff
of my shoe on some gravel, sprang to life in a howling fit. Good
God, you would have thought someone let the dogs out on his ass,
the way he kicked and screamed, especially after seeing us flanking
the doorway, preventing his escape.

“Easy there!” said Carlos, his hands out,
fingers splayed to show the old timer he posed no threat. I did the
same with my left hand, as I fished my badge out with my right.

“We’re not here to hurt you,” I said.
“Please, calm down.”

The excitement died almost as quickly as it
began, as the old man seemed to realize that the nightmare he awoke
from was not the reality to which he returned. He dropped his
bottle and clasped his hands together below his chin. I believe he
thought we were there to drag him out and evict him from the
premises. The look on his face told me they had done it to him
before, and maybe not so gently.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

He blinked. “Eh?”

“We’re not here to throw you out. We don’t
work for the warehouse. You can stay here, as far as we’re
concerned.”

That seemed to calm him greatly. Carlos
reached into his pocket and pulled out a fistful of salted peanuts.
“You want these? They’re good.”

The old man cupped his hands and Carlos
spilled the peanuts into his dirty palms. He looked at them in
wonder. I am sure he knew what they were, yet he seemed not to know
what to do with them. I waited until he looked up at us again and I
said, “It’s okay.”

That is when he smiled at us, a toothless
grin so wide it damn near melted my heart. I reached down, grabbed
the brown paper bag from the booze bottle and held it out before
him. He looked at the bag and then at me. “Go on,” I said. “Dump`em
in there. You can suck on them later.”

The look Carlos gave me then made me sorry I
said anything. “Listen, we want to ask you a few questions. If you
tell us the truth, there’s a hot meal in it for you down at the
Perc. You know where that is, don’t you: the Percolator?”

He grimaced as though he had just swallowed a
sour grape. “`Course I know where it is,” he said. “I was livin` in
this town since `fore you was born.”

I started to dispute that, but then
remembered how old I looked to him. “Okay, I am not going to ask
your name. I don’t need—”

“Bart,” he said.

“Excuse me?”

“That’s my name, Bart.”

Carlos smiled at that. I positioned myself
more in front of the door and squatted down on one knee. “Nice to
meet you, Bart. I’m Tony, and this here is Carlos. We’re here
because of something that happened in the parking lot early this
morning. Do you know what I’m talking about?”

He shook his head. “No, I can’t think of
nothing`, less you mean that skinny fella that got popped behind
Pete’s Place.”

“Yes, Bart. That’s what I’m talking about.
Did you see it happen?”

“Nah, I didn’t see it. Word is that it
happened late, around two in the morning. I was out by then. I
can’t stay up no longer like them young guys. Once me and Captain
Morgan hook up, it’s lights out for me.”

“Captain Morgan?”

Carlos cleared his throat to gain my
attention. I looked up to see him looking down, his foot toeing the
empty bottle of rum on the floor. I smiled back, feeling stupid. To
Bart I said, “So, you didn’t see anything suspicious all
night?”

“No,” he said, coarsely. “I didn’t say
that.”

“What did you see?”

“I saw old skinny getting` roughed up by a
couple of serious thugs.”

That got my attention, and Carlos’, too.
“What did they look like? Where they Hispanic?”

“Hard to say, could a been. Was too dark. A
third man stood by and watched. Looked to me like a shakedown.”

“Could you hear what they were talking
about?”

“I heard the word, money.”

“Money?”

“Yeah, the big guys were askin` `bout it.
Skinny said he didn’t have it. That’s when the one fella that was
watchin` told him he better get it, and then he punched Skinny in
the gut.”

BOOK: Witch House
12.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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