Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 1
Title: Redemption or Bust - Truth Doesn’t Make a Noise
I don't know what made Sheriff Jones angrier; Evangeline and Santo doing what they did or her outright refusal to waste time denying it.
“Did you think my talents were limited to punching face and folding sheets, Jake?”
I hadn't said a thing, not a single word since Sheriff Jones and I got back to the cabin, and tried to illustrate the point by blending into the woodwork behind the sheriff's kitchen table.
That's how it went.
First, Sheriff Jones would holler something accusatory. Then Evangeline would turn and throw it back in my face.
“I told you two to sit tight,” he growled. “Here.”
“You think I like sitting here waiting on you two cowboys while my motel sits closed? The sooner we got what was in that cabin the sooner I go home.”
“Season's over, Evangeline. There's no one there.”
“And your point is, Orion?”
She rolled right over the sheriff's next argument.
“Besides, I had the best B & E man in the county right here with me. You ever know me to sit on my ass and do nothing when the solution to the problem is right there in front of me?”
The best B & E man in the county, resplendent in another of his seemingly unending collection of bowling shirts, nursed a cup of coffee and kept his trap shut. He found a spot on the wall, dead between Evangeline and Sheriff Jones and stared a hole in it while the two of them went at it.
“B & E man?” I asked. If I was taking fire anyway I may as well get into the fight.
“You thought working corners in unsanctioned boxing matches was gonna set him up for retirement?”
Santo didn't even blink. You had to admire that kind of focus.
Sheriff Jones glowered and paced. His fists opened and closed as he ground his teeth.
A small black book sat in the middle of the kitchen table. It was thin, a little bit warped, and still had plenty of dust on its cover.
Santo pointed at it and shook his head.
“If y'all don't want this I can go and put it right back where I found it.”
The three of us stared at him with mouths agape. He stared right back.
“Seems to me you might wanna think on what you got instead of how you got it.”
He put it back down and resumed drinking his coffee.
Sheriff Jones took a seat at the table and picked up the book, careful to hold it by the edges.
“It's an address book,” he said as he flipped through it. “An old, mostly empty address book.”
Beneath the dust, the cover was wrinkled and discolored. Anything that might have been printed on it was long gone.
The sheriff put the book down, open to a page bearing a large, “M”, in the top left corner, so we could all see it.
Someone with very neat handwriting wrote four digits on the top line in blue ball point.
“1386,” I read out loud.
I took a quick trip through the rest of the book. The rest of the pages were blank and nothing interesting fell out of it when I turned it on its side and gave it a good shake.
“1386,” repeated Evangeline. “Could mean anything.”
Sheriff Jones took Marisa's note out of his pocket and compared the handwriting.
It wasn't even close.
He sighed and eyeballed Santo. “I send this in to be checked for prints am I gonna find yours messing up the works?”
Santo rolled his eyes. His only reply was a derisive snort.
I got up out of my chair and went to the bedroom. When I came back I had the file folder I took from Vern's SUV with me.
I put it down in front of Sheriff Jones and sat down without acknowledging his death stare.
“A wise man just said we should concentrate on what we've got, not how we got it,” I said.
The death stare did not abate.
“Vern had it with him,” I explained. “He let me read it while he drove. I took it with me after he got shot and I forgot about it what with everything that's happened since, okey? So why don't you use those keen police peepers of yours to see if there's something useful my tired private investigator's eyes missed.”
The sheriff grumbled but opened the file and began to read.
I sat back in my chair and watched Evangeline fiddle around with the four digits on a pad of scrap paper. She switched up the sequence and even compared the digits to the corresponding numbers on the telephone.
“Could mean anything,” she muttered again.
“Do we have any reason to think the numbers are out of order?” I asked her.
She raised an eyebrow at me and dropped her pencil.
“Hey. Just asking.”
It didn't buy me any good will. She stopped working the numbers and started making a list.
Motel room? Locker? Apartment? Address? Self-storage? Account number?
Sheriff slammed the file folder shut.
“This thing is useless,” he said.
“Could've told you that,” I murmured.
Sheriff Jones' eyes blazed but the fire went right out. The man was worn down.
“Could it be an account number?” asked Evangeline. “Too short, isn't it?”
“Not for a safe deposit box,” I said. “How many banks you got around here, Sheriff?”
“In the county proper? Seven. And there's one of those private secure facilities. You know, the kind the high rollers use when the local bank just isn't secure enough to suit them.”
He thought about it for a second and reached for his phone.
It rang before he could get it open.
“Mitch,” he said, “I was just going to call you. I-- Mitch. Mitch. Mitch. Stop apologizing, man. Whatever it is I'm sure it's not your fault. Just tell me.”
He stood up and walked towards the door. Mitch was talking fast.
“It's all right, Mitch. You did exactly what you should. Go ahead and put him through.”
His voice faded as he turned to go into his office.
I smiled at Evangeline.
“I should have known you'd pull something like that.”
She smiled back. “Yes. You should have.”
“You went right into the lion's den.”
“You're damned right she did,” added Santo.
Evangeline nodded her head but didn't say anything else. She fought the shudder away. Almost.
“That Jed Reubens, he's a mad dog, man,” said Santo.
“Sounds like he and brother Marko have a lot in common.”
Our heads all turned when we heard the sheriff in the living room.
“No,” he hollered, “what you're doing is covering your own ass. You know it. I know it.”
The floorboards creaked under his heavy duty pacing.
“You want to talk to the shamus? Find him yourself. It's your case now, remember?”
The yelling on the other end of the phone was audible from where we sat. Good set of lungs on that one.
“That so, Nate? I'd like to see you try it. I truly would.”
He stormed back into the kitchen.
“Take that any way you like, Detective!”
He snapped the phone shut. Even with all his anger behind it, ending a cell phone call lacks the dramatic flair of slamming down a receiver. There's something cleansing about the act that closing a cell phone just can't supply.
The three of us at the table turned away and let Sheriff Jones seethe by the sink and after a while he came over and took his seat.
“I was wondering how long it'd take 'em, Sheriff.”
“Yeah. State boys are taking over the case. It involves one of their own. I can't say I wouldn't do the same.”
“Also has a possible federal connection.”
He shrugged. “It's not my problem anymore.”
“That's right. And you know what, Sheriff? Fuck 'em. Let 'em have it. Let 'em take the case. And all the headaches that come with it. Besides, you and I have a missing persons case to solve.”
“You're talking about the girl. The one Marko Reubens said he killed.”
“I'm not convinced she's dead, Sheriff. And I get the feeling you're not either.”
He sighed. “All right. Tell me why you don't think she's dead?”
“I think he needs her to get what he's after.”
“Why wouldn't he just torture it out of her and then get rid of her?”
“'Cause in his mind she's still his brother's wife. He said when you marry a Reubens it's forever.” My eyes found his. “Why don't you think she's dead?”
“Rosario. I know there was some strain on her relationship with Marisa but I don't see her playing along if Marko murdered her. I don't know what her involvement is yet but I do not believe it included getting her twin sister killed.”
“What is it he's after?” asked Evangeline. It was the first thing she'd said since my crack about her going to Reubens' cabin.
“Don't know,” I said. “But the answer's gotta be in those four numbers.”
She started to ask something else but the sheriff's phone cut her off.
“Doctor Kamarasane,” he said, “what can I do for you?”
The medical examiner talked even faster than Mitch but there was no trace of the deputy's panic in the bits of babble that bled out of the phone.
Sheriff Jones listened and drummed his fingertips on the table while she talked.
When she was done-- or just out of breath-- he responded.
“That's fine. Let them take whatever they want. It's their mess now.”
The doctor, with fresh wind, started up again, this time with anger to burn.
“They're just doing their job. It's all right. I mean it.”
Dr. Kamarasane wasn't buying it.
“Thank you, Molly. You're an angel.”
I heard laughter and a little more talk.
“It's just a figure of speech, Molly, And I'm gonna let you tell him yourself, if it's all the same to you.”
He chuckled and glanced in my direction.
“The woman's a piece of work,” he said as he put his phone away.
“So what was all that about?” asked Evangeline. She had a little smile on her face I couldn't make anything out of.
Sheriff Jones leaned back in his chair. He took off his hat and tossed it onto the counter.
“Dr. Kamarasane said she had a couple of suits from the state police in her office demanding Vern's and Rosario's bodies, along with any material having to do with the investigation. She told them to, 'suck her left', as she put it, and called me. You heard my reply. May as well let the state boys take it from here. Like you said, Jake. It's a great big headache and when the feds get involved it's better them than me. Finding Marisa Reubens takes priority.”
“These investigations are gonna dovetail at some point, Sheriff.”
He thought about it for a second and then smiled and said, “I'll burn that bridge when I get to it, Jake.”
“And how about that other business? What are you gonna let her tell me herself?”
He didn't say anything.
“Oh come on. The odds of me seeing her again, alive anyhow, are pretty slim. Tell me.”
The sheriff hesitated a little more and then cracked a grin.
“She said to tell you she wears size fives and that she's not doing anything Friday night.”
Evangeline turned her face away to keep from laughing.
Santo chucked me on the shoulder and cackled.
“That's my boy.”
Ninety minutes later Sheriff Jones and I were in his cruiser doing mach-ten towards Danforth.
“Buckle up,” he'd said as he fired up the cruiser and tore down the lane.
We spent that hour and a half knocking our heads together over the significance of 1386 and come up with too much of not enough.
While I worked the local self-storage facilities on the office phone-- and came up snake eyes-- the sheriff spoke with managers of all seven area financial institutions and found out none of them had boxes numbered anything close to the sequence.
He was ready to fold when the bank manager at the seventh place, the posh one he'd mentioned, Stanton Security Trust, dealt him a gutshot straight in the form of seven words, “Didn't Deputy Riggs report to you, Sheriff?”
We found out that Riggs showed up, in uniform, at Stanton Security and demanded access to the box engaged by one Jedediah Reubens. Mr. McNulty told him to go scratch and refused to so much as confirm that Reubens had a box there without a court order.
I was impressed.
Sheriff Jones turned on the charm, by which I mean he both threatened and flattered McNulty into telling him that Jed Reubens did have a box with Stanton Security.
Stanton Security was in Danforth. The mention of the town's name shook something loose. Jed Reubens had a warehouse property in Danforth.
I told him about Vern's stop in Danforth.
“You couldn't have mentioned this before?” he demanded.
“Look, I was having a day, all right? I'm telling you now.”
“And you didn't find out who Vern was on the phone with?”
“He got his head blown off before I could ask him.”
Sheriff Jones was begrudging in his acceptance of my excuse and seemed even less impressed with my investigative skills regarding the Reubens warehouse in Danforth Vern told me he'd checked out while I slept in his passenger seat.
Between Mitch back at the station house and Stanton Security Trust manager Ward McNulty we got the location of and the particulars on the warehouse and bounded out of the cabin like a couple of guys with somewhere to be.
The warehouse in question was an ordinary-looking brown brick building set deep in an industrial district full of ordinary-looking brown brick buildings.
About half of the buildings were open for business. Trucks of every size and description came and went, leaving open loading dock bays where husky men labored in the end of summer late day heat.
Reubens' warehouse occupied a corner lot and was not one of those that appeared active. The bays were all shut tight and no traces of industrial debris littered the grounds.
Like many of the properties there the warehouse was surrounded by a chain link fence topped with barbed wire. There were no trucks parked behind the fence and no cars we could see. A forlorn metal dumpster was all that broke up the emptiness of the lot.
Even with all that empty space Reubens' lot had bad feng shui.
Sheriff Jones and I sat in the car, two lots away, and watched the place.
He had a tiny pair of binoculars, shiny and black, which looked ridiculous in his big hands next to his big head.
After a while he grunted and handed me the binoculars.
“Look at the gate,” he said.
It took me a minute to get focused and oriented but once I did I scanned the fence and found the gate. A simple padlock was all that secured the gate and that padlock hung unlocked from a link off to the side.
“What are you thinking here, Sheriff?”
“Well, that lock tells me two things. One, there's somebody in there.”
I nodded. “And two, that barbed wire isn't the only security measure in place. Electrified fence?”
“Almost certainly. Very popular here. Video surveillance too.”
I handed him back the binoculars.
“How do you want to do this?” I took the Browning out of my shoulder holster and checked it over.
“I can't just go in there,” he said. “No probable cause. All I've got is an unlocked gate.”
I slid my gun back into the holster and opened my door.
“Luckily for me I don't have that problem.”
“Where do you think you're going?”
“You can't go in, but me? I can trespass to my heart's content.”
He looked at me the way drunks look at escalators.
“Just hear me out. I'm a private citizen here. I can trespass onto Reubens' lot. I can even break and enter if I need to. All you have to do is catch me at it and you can follow me right inside. In fact, you'd be remiss not to.”
“Just what the hell kind of cop do you think I am, Jake?”
His eyes blazed but there wasn't much fire in his voice. He was looking for a reason not to go with my plan and getting pissed that he couldn't find one.
I turned and ducked my head back inside the cruiser.
“The kind that wants to find Marisa Reubens and close this thing out before it turns into a pissing contest you can't win.”
I heard the pop of the muscles in his face as he clenched his jaw and glowered at me and I was pretty sure he said a dirty word under his breath.
“What if they're in there watching as you walk up?”
Game. Set. Match.
“Only one way to find out,” I said.
“And if that fence is live?”
“Then this'll be the shortest trespass on record.”
He turned his head to face forward and let his breath out through his teeth. Then he cracked his knuckles and waved me out of his sight.
I covered the ground between the car and the lot without any attempt at stealth. I walked right up to the gate and took a look around. The lock, a big, gold Masterlock, was indeed hanging open from a chain link next to the gate.
I scanned the area from left to right and went for the gusto.
I ran a finger along the fence just to make sure and didn't get zapped.
Up close, the warehouse appeared just as soulless as it had at a distance. Long summers of sun bleached a lot of the brown out of those brown bricks. I could see the small fractures in them from the fence.
None of the bay doors opened while I paced back and forth in front of the fence. There was a set of metal double doors directly behind the gate and that didn't open either.
I didn't have to worry about getting picked off on approach from the windows because there weren't any. If they had snipers on the roof all I could do was tip my hat to them for being ready.
I took no fire as I opened the gate and entered the lot. I was now an official trespasser.
The blacktop of the lot was gray with dust and sand and enough of it to make the tire tracks easy to spot.
They ran from the gate right up to and on to the ramp of the first loading bay next to the double doors.
I stopped to listen for anything interesting but other than the noise of trucks in the distance all I heard was a persistent, generalized industrial hum.
I noticed footprints in front of the double doors. A lot of footprints.
“What the hell were you into, Vern?” I muttered as approached the doors.
I don't remember pulling the Browning but it appeared in my right hand as I reached for the door handle with my left.
The sound of tires crunching to a stop by the fence made me smile. I wondered how much trespassing Sheriff Jones was going to let me get away with.
I opened the door and slipped inside the warehouse before he was out of the car.
It took awhile for my eyes to adjust to the dim light in the warehouse. What I saw once they did was not worth the wait.
The place was empty. No work stations. No equipment. From floor to rafters all I saw in front of me was empty space. And dust. Lots of dust, floating in the air in the places where the sunlight bled through the ceiling and the loading bay doors.
A dark sedan sat parked just inside the first bay door on my right.
A hallway led off to the left. A thin row of emergency lights in the ceiling allowed me to see that there were rooms on the right side of the hall.
I pressed my back into the right hand wall and started down the hallway.
The rooms turned out to be storage closets. All of them contained cheap, empty metal racks and shelving units.
I passed by four such closets and stopped well ahead of the fifth room. It was the only one of the five that had a door.
That door, just an ordinary office door, was closed. A dim, flickering light showed underneath it.
I reached for the knob and tried it, turning it just enough to confirm that it was unlocked.
I pressed my ear to the door but didn't hear anything useful so I went for it.
Roundboy spun around in a swivel chair as I burst in the door.
He leaped up and took a step forward but stopped when he got a look at the Browning.
He had swapped the aloha shirt I saw him in last for a denim button-down job, tucked into a pair of ill-fitting dungarees.
“You don't know when to quit, do you?” he said. He put his hands up where I could see them without waiting for the order.
The room was bigger than I thought it would be. It was divided into two sections. The left side was large and empty. The far wall was taken up by a bank of lockers. The right side was set up as an office. There was a straight-from-Ikea desk in front of the chair Roundboy vacated with a flat-panel monitor on it.
The flickering image on that monitor grabbed my attention.
It showed a woman lying in bed with the sheet pulled up to her chest. The room she was in was lit up with bright light coming in through an uncurtained window.
The woman was Marisa.
The time and date stamp along the bottom of the screen indicated that what was on screen was happening in real time.
Marisa was not moving though her eyes were open.
“Why isn't she moving?” I demanded.
Roundboy played dumb.
I moved in. He didn't move back.
“Where is she?”
“You don't think I'm just gonna tell you, do you, pal?”
I put a round into the floor, right between his feet.
He flinched. A little.
“Nice shot,” he said.
“All right. I'm not playing anymore.”
I raised the gun and pointed it right at his face.
“She's not dead, if that's what you're thinking.”
“You better hope she's not.” I feinted with my gun hand.
I brought my left hand in hard and high, catching him in the temple.
He staggered back against the desk and bounced forward, right into another left. His nose shattered under my fist.
“Where is she, Wayne?”
He slumped to into the chair but kept his mouth shut.
“All right,” I said. “I'll ask you something else. Whose idea was it to torch my car?”
He touched his broken nose and winced. “I was supposed to shoot you in the head before putting you in the trunk,” he said, “but I wanted you alive in there.”
I fed him another left.
“You killed Roger, pal. In the cornfield. He was my friend.”
“He didn't give me a choice!”
“Tell that to his kids.”
I hit him again. Blood sprayed from his already broken nose.
“What do you want me to tell yours?” I growled.
I held the gun right in his face.
“I'm gonna ask you again. Where is Marisa?” I drew my arm back.
“Stand down, Jake!” bellowed Sheriff Jones.
I didn't have to look to know he was standing in the doorway with his arms folded in front of him.
“I've got backup on the way. We're going to secure the site and then he will talk to us.”
He walked into the room and stood behind me.
“Won't you?” he asked Roundboy.
Wayne didn't say yes but he didn't say no either. He just sat there and bled.
I holstered my gun and took a step back.
Sheriff Jones stepped all the way into the room and handcuffed Wayne to the desk.
While he was doing that I went to check out the far end of the room.
The bank of lockers took up an entire wall. There were twenty-four of them in six rows.
At one time they were painted blue but rust had set in and what paint remained was flaking off.
The number plates, though, were still quite readable.
“Sheriff,” I called out, “you're gonna want to see this.”
“What've you got, Jake?”
I pointed as he stepped up beside me.
Right in the center of the wall of lockers was locker number 1386.
Jeff Tsuruoka is an author in search of a writing career. He has found a home in the Flash Fiction circuit and is grateful to the blog hosts that give him the opportunity to get his work out there. You can follow him on Twitter @JTsuruoka and be sure to keep tabs on his weekly contributions to Daily Picspiration.