Now I’m off to read and recharge. Below, a preview:
The hurricane threatened to be one hell of a show, the kind nobody wanted to have a front row seat to. Despite that I’d used every opportunity to tease my best girl and bride-to-be, Audrey Carmen, about the storm having her name. Hurricanes are ripe for that sort of joke given the wind, water, and general destruction they can cause. I’ll leave all that to the imagination. But because of the proximity of the storm to our town and the potential damage, the two of us sat on the couch, staring at the radio. The nearest television stations already gone off the air.
Despite the rain and wind outside, someone started pounding the door downstairs. For a long time now, ever since Audrey’s house exploded due to an intentional gas leak, she’d lived with me — in the apartment above my office. Since she’d inherited her cousin’s truckstop business, the only people who could possibly want to see us in this weather were my potential clients or a shipping emergency.
I sighed and disentangled myself from Audrey, grabbed the revolver off the small coffee table, and made my way down the stairs and into the small mud-room that separated the different sections of the small building. After unlocking the door and opening it just so, I found myself staring at Detective Leiutenant Joe Elmira, and his boss, Chief Coleman. They were soaked to the bone, the brims of their hats sagging like dying flowers.
“Can I help you gentlemen?” I asked.
“Can we come in?” Coleman asked. I stepped aside and opened the door to allow them in.
“I’m going to need that gun,” Elmira said.
“Come on, Ron,” Elmira said. “Let me have it.”
“All right,” I said. “What’s this about?”
“Is Audrey upstairs?” Coleman asked, the moment Elmira had possession of my gun.
“What’s going on here?” I asked.
“Yes or no, Ron,” Coleman said. His voice wasn’t his friendly voice — he wasn’t here as my friend, neither was Elmira. They were here on business. My mind began to work through possibilities. Were they after me or Audrey? Both of us? Did someone find a link between her and Salt Marsh?
“Yes,” I said. But I stepped between them and the stairs up.
“Is she decent?” Coleman asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Now tell me what’s going on, Coleman.”
“Miss Carmen,” Elmira called, up the stairs. He tried to walk past me, and I blocked him — nothing violent, just using my own body as a way to let him know that wouldn’t fly.
“I’m going to need to see a warrant, Joe,” I said.
Elmira looked at me for a long moment. His eyes went from hard, angry cop eyes to — for just a moment — sad, sympathetic. But then the hard look came back.
“Show him, Leiutenant,” Coleman said.
Joe took a folded stack of paper out of his inside jacket pocket, and I began to scan the pages. It was an arrest warrant for Audrey, signed by the county judge.
“What the hell-”
“What’s going on, Ronnie?” Audrey asked. Her voice was a few steps above us. Before I could turn to her, Elmira pushed me out of the way and started up the stairs. “Miss Carmen, you’re under arrest for the murder of Ellen Henry…”
His words, everything around me, seemed to fade away. I knew the name Ellen Henry: she worked for Audrey at the truckstop. But I knew of no reason for Audrey to commit a murder, especially against a young woman working for her. A young woman who, from everything I knew, worked hard and came in on time. Coleman stood between Elmira and me as Elmira cuffed Audrey and led her out of the building, into the rain.
“This is a mistake,” I said.
“We have an eyeball witness, Ron,” Coleman said. “Girl saw Audrey with her, saw them fighting.”
“You know this doesn’t make any damn sense,” I said.
“Murder rarely does. You know that, Cavanaugh.”
“I want to see the crime scene,” I said. “Photos, evidence, I want to see it. I want to talk to the witness.”
“Ron, you know damn well I can’t do any of that,” Coleman said. He put a card into the palm of my hand. “This guy is the best defense attorney on the Gulf Coast. Give him a call, he’s who I’d want.”
I didn’t even look at the card as Coleman left.
I’d call the lawyer, sure. I’d do everything I could, from a legal standpoint, to get Audrey out of this mess. This mess I knew she didn’t cause. But I’d be damned if I wouldn’t work on the case myself, the same way I would for the best paying client — because Audrey meant the world to me. Someone was out to get me, through her. In my head I’d begun to build a list of potential conspirators.
Governor Jeffrey still hated me for my role in bringing down Salt Marsh and nearly bringing him down. Chris Martin probably blamed me for his rotting in prison. The families of the Salt Marsh men might be up to it. Someone connected to the Vance or Harman clans angry over my role in their scandal. One of the White dames. Maybe even Clayton King, a former gun runner for Salt Marsh. The list of people with my name in the crosshairs stretched on.
Motive was only the first step. Opportunity and means were the next. Then, deniability. Who would be the most harmed if they were caught doing this? They’d more likely kill me or Audrey, rather than start a conspiracy that could eventually come back to them. But it was all speculation without evidence. I marched into my office and began to dress, and by dress I mean arm myself to the teeth. Pistols, a pair of heavy slapjacks, a few knives.
Camera, tape recorder in a big suitcase, set gingerly in the back seat of my car. A rifle and shotgun leaning up at the shotgun position. Before I left, I called the lawyer on the card — one Walton Dorter. He wasn’t at the office — nobody was. He worked out of New Orleans and had, in all likelihood, fled before the storm made landfall.
That put me on my own: that was where I worked best.
I didn’t know much yet, but I did know Audrey had Ellen’s address on file at the truckstop. It wasn’t much but it was a start.