Rewrite — Chapter 3

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Chet’s Truck Stop turned out to be the kind of place Ron didn’t want to be. The main office was the only area easily accessible. Tall chain link fences surounded the back area, where the trucks had to stop for a wrought iron gate to be opened. Scattered around the property were dogs on heavy chains that erupted into a cacaphony of angry barking the moment he pulled into the parking lot. They were big, thick-necked beasts that had no fear of Ron and less love of him. Through the fence he could see Chet looking at him. Age was the only change Ron noticed from the last time he saw Chet. His expression upon seeing Ron was blank, emotionless. After a moment Chet looked back to the men unloading the truck and started making notes on a clipboard.
The office inside was the polar opposite of Kate’s. It was tidy. There were no loose papers scattered around the floor. Audrey Carmen sat at a desk off to the side of the door, her eyes pouring over some paperwork. Without looking up at Ron she indicated she would help him in just a moment as a rote response to the bell positioned above the entrance. Chet’s desk was behind a half-wall in the back that Ron could see over. It was as blank as the expression Chet gave him earlier. Ron made his way over to Audrey’s desk, looking for any sign of another person in the small room. Chet didn’t have much use for extra office personnel and it showed.
Audrey looked just as good sitting at her desk as she had on the stool in the diner. She wrote something down on the paper she was so intently studying and looked up at Ron. “Well that was fast,” Audrey said.
“Business,” Ron said. “It’s just a coincidence you work here.”
“Shipping something big?” Audrey asked. She leaned back in her chair.
“No. I’m here to talk to Chet about Kate Nass’s murder.”
“You’re a cop?” Audrey asked.
“Nope. It’s personal. Kate was a good friend of mine, and I’m asking questions since the cops aren’t.”
Audrey looked him over and leaned forward, touching her mouth just so with the edge of her finger. “You’ve met Chet Mason, then?” He nodded. “Then you know he’s not likely to be helpful… and if he did know anything…”
“I know. I just don’t have much to go on.”
The sound of a door shutting behind them caused Ron to take a step away from Audrey and half turn. Chet stood at the back door, clipboard in hand. His face remained blank. It was like watching a master poker player, only Chet didn’t have any other expression. Ron tried to talk to him, tried to figure out if he knew anything, but Chet just got aggravated. An aggravated Chet was a difficult Chet, so Ron just backed off and excused himself. He sat on his motorcycle for a long while, staring at the barking dogs. Chet was always a little paranoid, even before being knocked in the head. But this new set up was a bit much and he wondered if the impatience was caused by some rabid theft. Chet hated to be stolen from. The lilting jingle of the bell told him someone had come out, and he looked up to see Audrey approaching him. The wind pushed her hair out to the side and into her face. She stopped about ten feet from Ron, adjusting her hair and holding it in a makeshift ponytail until the wind died down. Ron looked her up and down again, enjoying every last inch of her. She would know about any thefts.
“We should get dinner,” Ron said.
“Maybe. Listen, Ron. I don’t want to overstep, but Kate was murdered. Are you sure that you should be digging into this?”
“He wouldn’t have rested if I had been murdered, Audrey. I can’t very well let this go without at least trying,” Ron said. “I’ll be careful. So, dinner tomorrow night?”
She shook her head, but grinned at him. “Some other time, Flyboy. Good luck.”
On his way back to town Ron found himself being pulled over by a particulalry smarmy cop. The guy was about his age, clean shaven, and wearing a nice uniform. But something in his face screamed at Ron and the word was toadie. Ron waited in silence as the cop approached and stood next to him. He wouldn’t be the first to speak, he wouldn’t give the officer that courtesy. Ron didn’t ask why he was pulled over.
“You Cavanaugh?”
“I am, Officer… ?”
“Walker. Chief wants to see you.”
“Lead the way,” Ron said.
Chief of Police Phil Brousard had a nice office. A clean office, too, with a few items he’d been given for meritorious service hanging on the wall or taking up room on the desk. Phil Brousard was dressed nice. A hat rack in the corner held his hat, a jacket, and a shoulder holster that was empty. Walker stood by his desk when Ron walked in, and remained standing once Ron sat in one of the two empty chairs. Brousard was bent over some papers, studying them through his thick glasses. They sat there like that in silence for more than a few minutes as Brousard shuffled papers and attempted to look too busy for Ron. Given that he’d had Ron brought in, that seemed kind of stupid. But Brousard wasn’t known for his intelligence.
“You’ve spent a lot of time in Kate Nass’s place,” Brousard said.
“A bit. I’ve been cleaning it up.”
“I saw that the sign indicated the office was open. You aren’t a private investigator, Ronald.”
“Ron. And there’s no law that says I can’t do the same job Kate did. I don’t need permission. Besides, for now, I’m just trying to ask questions and figure out what happened to Kate Nass.” Ron wanted to tread carefully but he wasn’t going to back down and he knew the laws in the state. When it came to being a private detective there weren’t many.
Brousard set aside his papers. “Well, that may be. But I’m asking you a favor. Drop it?”
“No,” Ron said. “It’s been months. Where is your investigation?”
“We’re working on it,” Walker said.
Ron stood up. “Am I under arrest?” Both men shook their heads. “All right then. Officers. Good luck with your investigation. If I find anything out you’ll be the first to know.”
Neither man spoke as he stepped outside. His initial instincts were right. Officer Walker was a toadie. Unfortunately, the king toadie in this case was also the Chief of Police. There was something there, in the way the man looked at Ron, that made him feel Brousard knew more than he was letting on. Maybe even knew who killed Kate Nass and had just decided to clam up about it. Maybe it was someone important, or maybe it was him. Perhaps Mrs. Brousard hired Kate to see if the Chief of Police was putting his gun in any other holsters.
On his way out Ron noticed that a younger Detective in a light grey suit was watching him. The man was thin but had a rounder face and a soft nose. In his right hand he held a coffee mug not far from his mouth. A slightly older detective in a navy suit sat at a desk next to him and also had his eyes fixed on Ron. The name plate at the desk said “Det. Franklin” at the top and “Internal Affairs” at the bottom. That would be a man Ron might have to talk to at some point in the future. He nodded his head slightly to both of them and walked out into the street.
With police harrassment apparently in his future Ron decided to take stock of what he had. Kate’s car, which was a junker and had to be replaced, along with Kate’s office and the few case notes Ron kept out of the dumpster. There were a collection of pictures of people in various states of undress or sexual activity taken for cases, and a healthy number of pictures just showing people out together. His guns and Kate’s together were something of an arsenal but he could only shoot a maximum of two of them at a time. Kate had an old camera and Ron would need to learn to use it and remember how to work the dark room.
He would need some sort of tape recording device. The clunker buried in the desk wasn’t portable unless Ron hired a crew of moving men to go around with him at all times, and that wasn’t in his budget. But the real thing he needed, the one item that Ron needed most to help him, was to know who was who in town now, and who might want Kate dead. Based on the notes Ron found there weren’t many people left that liked Kate. But killing him was a step most wouldn’t take. Sane people didn’t often commit murder.
The motorcycle barely fit in the garage with Kate’s land boat of a car. Ron adjusted a few of the empty oil cans that Kate apparently collected before heading inside and looking around the office. On the wall something caught his eye. The bulletin board didn’t sit flat on against the wall any longer, and he hadn’t noticed before. Ron went to adjust it and the thing fell to the ground. But that wasn’t the surprising part from Ron’s point of view — it was what lay hidden behind it. Stuck to the wall behind the bulletin board were pictures.
They were taped together in a sort of tree shape, implying a heirarchy, and each featured a different person. The top picture was a man in a nice suit with a fedora pulled down over his face. It was a distant shot and from the side, concealing enough of the man’s face to keep him from being readily identifiable. Written on the bottom of the picture, in Kate’s handwriting, was the name “Puppetmaster.” Beneath him there were three more photographs in a row, each of men in suits, each as distant and bad angle as the others.
“The Boss,” one said. More of his face was visible than any other but Ron couldn’t place him. The middle picture was labeled “Runner.” A tall, thin gentleman in a light colored suit, leaning as he stood. The final label was “Captain” and it was a man that bore more than a little resemblance to Phil Brousard. The naming system was odd, and it fit the kind of thing Kate would come up with himself. A fourth picture, off to the side, contained the only woman in the set. She wore a women’s fedora and a well fitting dress over a pair of boots. Ron almost fell over at her label. “Boots.”
Scribbled beneath that it said, “The boots are red.”
“Only you, Kate,” Ron said.
At the bottom there were pictures of some of the local idiots: The Davis boys, Officer Walker, a few other individuals that Ron recognized as neighborhood punks. Written beneath that row of infamy was the line, “Idiots, Fall Guys, and Patsies.” But other than those brief descriptions Kate hadn’t left any clue as to what this all meant, or who these people were in relation to Kate. Ron replaced the bulletin board and sat down. His grief and anger were now being replaced by pure determination.
No matter how long it took he wanted to bring the person or persons responsible for Kate’s death to the justice they deserved. Those pictures had to be some sort of clue. Kate kept them hidden, out of the way of prying eyes. Had Ron not seen the way the bulletin board sat on the wall he never would have noticed it, never would have found it. Now he knew. There was something going on in town that Kate was looking into, something not tied to any of the notes he kept in the office.
Something that probably got him killed.
Ron looked at the wall clock. He had a dinner date with Lynn and Stretch, the first time he would have seen them both at the same time in a decade. He wasn’t sure what to expect, or what would be coming. The mere idea of it made him uncomfortable deep in his bones. He wanted to keep working, to keep trying to find out what happened to Kate. To get the revenge he craved so heavily. But maybe Stretch could offer some clues and make it worth his while. Maybe Stretch would have been another addition to Kate’s wall, or maybe Lynn was Boots. He hated to think of his old friends that way.
But at this point everyone was a suspect.