Desert Rains Chapter 2



  The detective across the desk had introduced himself as Detective Perry, but I could see from one of the papers on his desk that his full name was Periwinkle.              &nbs...


The detective across the desk had introduced himself as Detective Perry, but I could see from one of the papers on his desk that his full name was Periwinkle. 

                Normally I would have said something, but my life these days had strayed far from what I may ever had considered the “norm.”  That was the Old Me.  That was Gerard.  This was the New Me.  This was Harper.  It was quite schizophrenic having the memories and life of one person but having to affect the personality and history of another.  It’s not that I had any issue with lying to authority figures to get the information that I needed or wanted, it was that I now had to keep the story consistent with a persona I had only partially created, and I could not improvise.  To that end, I found myself sweating  almost as much as Detective Perry.

                He was a balding, rotund type, pasty white (relatively speaking) and with an accent that betrayed his Midwest origins.  Despite being as out-of-water as I was,  his cold-blue eyes had all the authoritative piercingness of no-nonsense efficacy.  I had mixed feelings about this…

                “How did you come across this information?” He was referring to the modus operandi I had identified.  Blunt-force trauma, 9mm shots to the spine.

                “I can’t really say.  Call it a hunch.  Just something I had seen before.”

                “That’s two different excuses.”

                “Yes it is,” I said.

                “You realize this may make you a person of interest.”

                “I have an alibi, backed up by several others.”

                “Maybe.  Maybe I could toss you in the cooler for forty-eight hours until we’re happy with that.”

                Wouldn’t be the first time.   “You would be well within your rights.  The trick here is, I think I know the guilty parties, and if I’m right, you’re not only going to not get your arrest, your suspects will taunt you and haunt you until way past retirement.”

                Cold steel narrowed underneath a sweaty brow.  “That’s pretty big talk for a skinny man.  How do you know all this?”

                “I can’t say.  Legally, I can say nothing further.  I’m only warning you, you’re following clues to a dead end.  They are going to make it look amateur, and may even have a fall guy set up.  More than likely, some patsy who has no alibi and still no idea what he’s looking for, but the circumstantial evidence of tire tracks and ballistics will suggest him to be a person of interest.”

                “Alright, son,” tone matched the eyes.  “You’ve made your point.  You can leave now.”

                Not, I thought, the reaction I was looking for, but I could work with this.  What else, after all, should I have expected? 

                But now with two separate sets of eyes on my back, I felt much more confident about walking into places my nose was leading me. And after leaving the police station, my nose was leading me towards a well-sheltered, well-secured construction site that was just across the street from the theatre where Gayla had put on her many productions. 

                The difference between the two was night and day.  On the east side, a classy, old-style thatre with a box office, lights, and charming oft-watered plants funneling patrons inside.  On the other, plaster-covered two-by sixes, chain link fence, dusty support beams and mud-caked equipment, none of which seemed to have been moved in the past couple of weeks.

                The owners of the land next door had long sought to buy up as much of the tourist-heavy neighborhood as they could.  This much I was aware of with very little digging.  I had a sneaking suspicion I wouldn’t be too welcome if I were to begin with metaphorical pick and shovel at this junction….but again, I’ve never been one to worry about being welcomed.  Any bids or offers put down on this plot of land would have been a matter of public record, but I didn’t feel like holing myself up in the library just yet.  I had to get a peek at the vehicles and the company names of the contractors, and would save my library card for a little bit later that evening.

                Not so long ago I had been at another, very dissimilar construction site in a very dissimilar town.  It was those very events that led to my being here.  That was on the east coast.  That was a hockey arena.  That had been under contract by a mob-backed crew of Russian tradesmen who just happened to be also operating a distribution center for human trafficking right underneath the noses of the entire city.  And it just so happened that a few pictures I had taken had “leaked out” and put me in the crosshairs of a murderous kingpin who since fled to Cuba under an assumed name…which, in turn, resulted in my having to hide out west under a similarly assumed name. 

                With that in mind, one may imagine my trepidation at examining the construction site.  The chances anyone would recognize me were slim, granted, but they were still there and very very much at the forefront of my mind. 

                The workers that I saw—the two of them, standing under the shade of a backhoe that did not look like it had operated under its own power for the better part of the past week—were typical of the general labor force in this part of the world.  Dark skin, dark hair, Mexican accents.  It seemed to me from their posture that they had been tasked with ensuring the backhoe itself remained onsite, telling me the odds were in the favor of keeping the keys in the ignition.  As they were the only two I saw on the site, and we were long past siesta time, this hinted that there may well be a glitch in the operation.

                I debated whistling and asking them questions, only for a moment, before I was so rudely interrupted by an “ahem” at my side.

                I dropped from my perch on the fence to face Agent Carlson giving me a disapproving look.

                “What are you doing?”

                “Just checking progress,” I said.  “I don’t think that backhoe has moved in the past month.”

                “Looking for a job in the general labor force, are we?”

                “Maybe middle-management.”

                “I told you to lay off this thing and keep your nose out.  What were you doing in the police station this afternoon?”

                I began to walk as Carlson kept talking.  He lit a cigarette as he tried to keep pace.

                “Just giving a statement,” I replied.

                “Of what?  Everything you didn’t witness?”

                “You could say that.”

                “If I were to walk in there right now and flash my badge and demand to see the statement, would it include anything involving a particular murder weapon that was not part of the original broadcast?”

                “I don’t know.  I didn’t catch all of the original broadcast.”

                “Sure you didn’t.”  Carlson put a hand out to stop me; I figured best not to antagonize him much further.  “Leave this to the Law.  We have procedures to follow.  Last time you went with your gut you wound up here.  No one wants that to happen again.  Witness Protection has a damn near spotless record and it’s expensive to move you guys.  Just keep clean.”  Carlson turned around and headed back to his parked car.

                “What, you’re not going to keep spying on me?”

                “No, I’m going to have a chat with the local law enforcement.  Maybe they’ll dredge up a trespassing charge.”

                I could almost believe him.

                So I had a construction site with no visible signs of activity this past week, two workers on a presumed guard duty, and a police official who had all but confirmed with body language that my reading of the murderer’s MO was bang on. 

                Two 9mm rounds put into a man’s back.  Fired in such a way as to leave no exit wounds.  Hollow point, as to obscure ballistics, and likely shot through a heavy material of some kind, leaving scarring on the bullets to further obscure any markings.  The two rounds will have been pumped through the upper spine, to cause maximum damage to the heart and lungs as well as spine. 

                Some may ask, why bother?  Why all this trouble and not just summarily execute the man in the back of the head, assassin style?  Well, Dear Readers, this is because it all goes much deeper than that.

                One of the reasons the Russian mob was able to operate for so long in my hometown was simply that there were higher-ups with their fingers in the pie.  Hence Yours Truly and his closest witness had to hide out across country.  Their elaborate MO was a signal to those around, “This is one of ours.  Back off.”  Either Detective “Perry” Periwinkle was part of a potential-yet-likely-to-be-blocked solution, or part of the problem-makers.  It was way too early to tell…

                My musings had taken me to the very edge of the construction project.  The poorly-erected fence turned the corner and followed the block around, disappearing at the border of a golf course.  A chain-link gate marked the halfway point, and I thought an innocent-enough saunter in that direction was warranted.

                No trucks.  No equipment.  Nothing.  Except—

                 I glanced down.  Tire tracks.  Mudded and fresh.  Too close together to be an industry truck.  And based upon the time of the rain, much too late to be at a time when any decent laborer would be caught working.  Besides…there were no other tracks aroundthe site.  Just one set out.

                I glanced up at the sky.  Clouds from the Pacific were starting to roll in over the peaks.  In a matter of hours, all this evidence would be clogging up the sewer drains.

                I snapped a couple pictures, careful of the timestamp, sure to get an angle which included the shadows and the street address.  I didn’t know how much this would be worth, I knew it wasn’t hard and fast, and it was certainly in no way legally acquired.  But I am an avid note-taker and every little bit should help…

                Okay genius, now what?

                Well, should I ever encounter a truck with a similar treadmark—

                In this state?  In the motor vehicle capital of the planet?  Where people would rather drive a block to get a pack of cigarettes and a case of beer than walk a little?

                Speaking of which, it was another twenty minutes of walking in the heat before I found out that Lacey had decided to drive home early from work, which wound up putting me a full hour in the SoCal sun.


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