The next day, I checked with Stretch to verify the story given to me by the kid; sure enough, Stretch hired the little squirt to work for him and cover some of the more tedious, less involved tasks during the day to day business. I left it at that; Stretch had work to do, and I had leads to find.
After speaking to Fairbanks I felt I might have an idea about where to go, and who I might want to see, but time was running short and I needed to prioritize. It was clear our victim had also suffered at the hands of guys like Flynn and Chris Martin. That somehow got her mixed up with Fairbanks’ strange club, but I didn’t really have anything tying the two together in a visible way. If I wanted the cops off Audrey’s case for good, I needed a suspect wrapped up with a bow on top.
Before I got back to my car someone came up behind me and held a cloth to my mouth and nose. It stank of gasoline, not ether, so I struggled to get it off my face as two pair of arms wrapped me up and tossed me in the backseat of a car. The rag fell away in the process, but a burly Schaeffer sat on either side of me before I could react, and a third started driving.
“Don’t even think of going for a gun,” the driver said.
“What the hell are you doing? You don’t use gas for that!”
“I thought it would knock you out, like the dentist,” the one to my right said.
“… That’s a different sort of gas,” I said. My eyes burned from the fumes, and I wrenched one arm free to wipe my face. “Where are we going?”
“To meet with Hiram,” the driver said.
They didn’t drive me to Schaefferville, but rather, they took me to a small, abandoned lot near the truck stop. It had once been Boyd Boatman’s auto-dealership. Since his fortunate demise a few years ago the place languished before shutting down. Now the only cars on the lot were the dump I’d been dragged here in, and junkers left behind because they weren’t even worth scrap.
A tall, ugly Schaeffer smoked a cigarette near the front entrance. The goons took me to him, though at this point they didn’t need to use force: I was genuinely curious. The Schaeffer clan didn’t do anything outside of their corner of the world.
“My name is Hiram,” the tall fellow said. He finished the cigarette and immediately lit another, as though they were going to expire. “I want to hire you.”
“I don’t want your money,” I said.
“I’m not paying money,” Hiram said.
“Then what am I getting out of this conversation?”
Hiram puffed his cigarette a few rapid times. “I’m paying in witnesses to murders.”
Now he had my attention. “Paying for what?”
“My pa was supposed to be in charge,” Hiram said. Another cigarette came to hand as quickly as the first dropped away. “But that bitch snaked her way into taking over everything. I want her gone, and me and my cousins will sweep in and take over.”
“So I’m to somehow sneak into Schaefferville, kill your family matron, sneak back out, and then you… bring me a Schaeffer? Why wouldn’t I just sneak in and get her myself?”
“Because I know where everyone will be, and I’m hiding the one you want, until you kill the one I want. See how what each of us wants matters?”
“How do I know you’ll deliver?” I asked.
“My word,” Hiram said. “I’ll have my men drop you a map and a time tonight. Don’t fuck this up.”
The four of them walked back to the car, all getting in at once as though they’d coordinated it that way. I watched as they drove off, leaving me alone in the empty car lot.
Nothing in the world could make me believe this idiot Hiram. Even if I did take out his rivals — not just one person, but her entire support structure — the rest of the clan would sweep him out on his ass if they knew what he was planning. Bringing in an outsider was pretty much the only forbidden way to handle a dispute in Schaefferville.
But that didn’t mean I couldn’t use him.
Anderson watched Hiram driving away from the meet with Ron Cavanaugh. He hadn’t planned on spying on the detective much today, but when he saw Hiram out and about town… Anderson shook his head. The problem he kept running into with these woods-billies was always the same. Stupid power struggles, stupid short-sightedness.
Salt Marsh functioned on a higher level, until men like Chris Martin and Boyd Boatman gained access to the organization. Again, their stupid desires for power and short-sighted behavior cost everyone involved. The constant bickering between the Vances and Harman’s ran about the same, until their stupidity presented opportunity. Anderson intervened then, as he had not with Salt Marsh, and it benefited everyone.
He decided the time had arrived to intervene in Schaefferville. He knew damn well Hiram’s plan — whatever it was — would blow up. Nobody but the Schaeffers profited from their cultish family goings-on, but if they suddenly started working their grimy hands into the rest of the county…
Nature abhors a vacuum, but magnets also repel one another. If the Schaeffer clan got involved in outside dealings, someone would get upset. The delicate balance Anderson kept attempting to install would be disrupted. People would be hurt.
Anderson would have less time to himself.
He got back into his car and drove toward Ron, who would need a ride. Hiram already left an opening to be exploited by not taking Ron back where he’d found him. Anderson pulled over a few dozen paces from Cavanaugh and waited.
The private eye walked up to the passenger side door and peered into the rolled-down window. Anderson smiled at him, attempting to put the man at ease.
“Do I know you?” Ron asked.
“Not yet, but we have a few acquaintances in common,” Anderson said. “Sorry — I do know you, you’ve been in the paper. My name is Anderson; I’m a friend of Roseanna’s.” He extended a hand, but shaking it would require Ron to open the door.
Ron did, taking his hand briefly. “I guess you’re going my way?”
“Close enough, I suppose,” Anderson said. “Where you headed?”
“Just back into town…” Ron said.
“I imagined, there’s not a whole lot out here worth seeing anymore.”
“Was there ever?” Ron got in and closed the door.
“Fascinating things once,” Anderson said. He turned on the radio. “Do you like jazz?”