Authors: Steve Hamilton
Tags: #Private Investigators, #Upper Peninsula (Mich.), #Mystery & Detective, #Michigan, #Private Investigators - Michigan - Upper Peninsula, #General, #Mystery Fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #McKnight; Alex (Fictitious Character), #Fiction, #Upper Peninsula
“What? Tell me.”
“I felt like I was seeing something out of a bad dream.”
I waited for him to complete the thought.
“Or…” he said. “A movie.”
“Exactly. That’s the same feeling I had.”
“Now, wait a minute,” he said. “Just because one of those three men we were looking at yesterday happens to be an actor…”
“And a filmmaker.”
“And a filmmaker. But come on, you’re not suggesting this guy is … what, filming these people?”
“No, that would be the sickest thing ever,” I said. “But if you’re the kind of person who’s always thinking about putting things together in just the right way … so it all looks right … I mean, God, okay, I told you this was going to sound crazy.”
“You heard what they said about this guy. He’s been in the studio, or wherever they do it, working on a film. Downstate, right? Doesn’t he live in Bad Axe?”
“So they said.”
“They interviewed him. They eliminated him as a suspect.”
“Again, so they said. That’s what the agents told us. But they’re getting that information secondhand. Which means you and I are getting it thirdhand.”
“So what are you suggesting?”
“When I was a cop,” I said, “I always had this belief. Whether it was strictly true or not, I don’t know, but I always felt that if I could confront somebody face-to-face, I would
if they were lying.”
“You mean if you look them in the eye.”
“Yes. You ask them the question, right to their face. ‘Were you there? Did you do this?’”
“I’ve always felt the same way,” Maven said. “I think any good cop does.”
“It’s a shame we didn’t get the chance to do that here, Chief. That’s all it would take. Go see this Clyde C. Wiley guy. Ask him point blank.”
“We’ve already been down this road before,” Maven said. “Interfering with an active investigation. We can’t do that again.”
can’t do it,” I said, standing up. “But guess what? I’m pretty sure
And we’re rolling …
… All right, you’re gonna have to trust me on this one.
… After that last scene, we’re gonna play this one soft.
… It’ll be amazing, don’t worry. You’ll love the contrast. Just watch.
… That’s right. Just like that. Nice and quiet.
… Like you’re never going to wake up.
… Perfect. I love this.
… Good night, Dina. Sleep tight.
I drove out of Paradise early the next morning. It looked like there was snow on the way again, but it didn’t start falling until I was almost out of the Upper Peninsula. As I climbed the steady incline to the Mackinac Bridge, I looked down at the St. Ignace post, right there on the shoreline.
It was all open highway as I went down the middle of the Lower Peninsula’s mitten. As I got near Indian River, I knew that there was some exact point in the road where Clyde C. Wiley had been arrested all those years ago. Some lonely, empty spot where he finally ran out of gas or gave up, or hell, maybe they even “pitted” him. PIT standing for pursuit immobilization technique, where you clip a vehicle from behind, just enough to make it lose control but not so much that you cause a major rollover. I’d never gotten the chance to do it myself, but then vehicle pursuits in the middle of a crowded city are a whole different animal.
Wherever the spot was where that arrest was made, I sped right by it and kept going, due south, through Gaylord and Grayling, three and a half hours of billboards and snow and just about nothing else until I finally got to Bay City. That’s when I cut east and it was just another hour until I saw the sign welcoming me to Bad Axe, right in the middle of the Lower Peninsula’s thumb. So that told me one thing straightaway. If my crazy gut feeling was right and Clyde C. Wiley was somehow involved in this case, it wouldn’t take him more than four and a half hours or so to be right in the heart of the Upper Peninsula, where everything had happened.
I called Chief Maven on my cell phone as soon as I hit Bad Axe. He had promised me he’d find out everything he could about Wiley, without tipping our hand. God knows what the FBI agents would say if they found out I was down here on my own, snooping around.
“I listened in while Long and Fleury rehashed the interviews with the new guys on the team,” Maven told me. “They talked about all three candidates, of course, but this is what I found out about Wiley. He’s got a film company in Bad Axe called Grindstone Productions. They’ve been working on this movie, I guess it’s like Wiley’s life story or something, which is why he’s supposedly been way too busy every day to even leave the studio. He’s seventy-two years old, remember, so I don’t know.”
“Did you find out where this place is? What is it, Grindstone Productions?”
“Yeah, I looked it up on the Internet. There was a news story about this guy coming back to his hometown and buying the Bad Axe Theater, which is right there in the center of town, on Huron Avenue. That’s the mailing address for his film company, although I’ve got to believe they have other buildings if they’re actually shooting movies.”
“I got it, Chief. I’ll check out the theater and ask around if I have to.”
“Keep a low profile, eh? We don’t need this getting back up here or we’ll have our asses in a sling.”
“Now that you’ve slept on it, do you still think this is worth doing?”
There was a long silence on the line. I started to wonder if I had lost him, but then he finally spoke.
“I still agree with what you said, McKnight. I got the same feeling you did looking at those photos. I wish I was down there to ask him in person. That’s all we’re going to do, right?”
“That’s the idea, yes.”
“Well, be careful, just in case it turns into more than that.”
I told him I’d call him back later when I had any news. Then I ended the call and started looking for the Bad Axe Theater. It was a small city much like any other in Michigan, laid out flat with streets that ran perfectly north–south and east–west. There was snow on the ground but a hell of a lot less than in Paradise. Amazing how much different things can look in this state when you drive a little bit south. I knew that it would be cold when I finally got out of the truck, but it wouldn’t be painful. It wouldn’t be a physical trial with every breath.
As I got closer to the center of town, I saw my omen. It was right there next to the street, and whether it was a good omen or a bad omen, I couldn’t say, but I felt like it meant something. The Bad Axe post of the Michigan State Police.
A few more blocks down, I saw the town hall on one side of the street, the Bad Axe Theater on the other. I parked the truck in the lot next door to the theater and got out. The lower floor was a classic old theater but the top three stories looked like a brick office building, with windows that had been covered over from the inside. It was the middle of a weekday, so the lot didn’t have more than a half dozen cars in it. Nobody was lined up outside, but according to the schedule on the marquee the first matinee didn’t start for another two hours.
I tried the door. It was open. I went inside and there was a kid vacuuming the carpet in the lobby. He had a pair of earphones on, so with whatever music he was listening to added to the sound of the vacuum cleaner there was no chance of him hearing me. I tapped him on the shoulder. The way he jumped, it was probably a good thing he was a teenager because otherwise he would have died of a heart attack.
“Sorry about that,” I said. “I’m looking for Mr. Wiley.”
He was pointing at the door before he could manage to speak. Finally, his breath caught up with him. “Try the studio. Across the street.”
“Where’s that? Which building are we talking about?”
He led me over to the door and pushed it open.
“Right there,” he said. “Next to the town hall. You gotta buzz in at the front.”
I thanked the kid and slapped him on the back. Then I walked across the street. There was a big brick building there and behind it I could see a great water tower rising above everything else in the town. Leon would have been proud of my detective skills, as I quickly figured out that this particular building had once been a Buick dealership. It had the wide front windows that you’d want if you were showing off cars, for one thing. My other clue was the big
BAD AXE BUICK
set in tile across the whole front of the building.
The only light I saw through the windows was a strange blue glow somewhere toward the back of the building. There was a small plate next to the door that read
in Grindstone looked to be a gray, round grindstone, the kind they once made out of sandstone, I think, with a hole in the center. I had some dim memory that this was once grindstone country here in Michigan’s thumb, but whatever. There was a buzzer below the plate, so I pressed it.
I waited for a full minute. Finally, a man answered the door. He couldn’t have been more than twenty years old and he was wearing a black T-shirt and jeans, weather be damned. He had one of those little rings sticking through his left eyebrow.
“I wonder if I can have a word with Mr. Wiley,” I said.
He opened the door for me and I stepped inside. What had once been the Buick showroom was now a great open space filled with cameras and light poles and boxes to pack it all up in. One corner of the room had been walled off floor to ceiling, with a red light over the door that made me think it was probably a space for audio recording. In the other corner was a haphazard cubicle with chest-high walls, and that’s where the blue glow I had seen was coming from. Through the gap in the walls I could just make out the corner of a video screen next to a desktop computer, plus a few other machines I couldn’t have named if you put a gun to my head. There was a man sitting in front of the screen, and he seemed totally absorbed in what he was doing because he didn’t so much as turn to glance in our direction.
“Somebody here to see you,” the young man said.
“What? Who’s that?” The other man kept watching whatever it was he was watching.
“I just need a minute of your time,” I said.
Finally, the man turned around and looked at me. He got up from the blue glow and came to me through the middle band of darkness. As he came into the natural light filtering through the windows, I saw that he was not the man I was expecting to meet. This could not be Clyde C. Wiley.
He couldn’t have been more than fifty years old, for one thing, although he was doing everything he could to look even younger. He was one of those guys who still have the long hair and the little soul patch goatee, a leather vest on over a blue denim shirt with the sleeves rolled up, trying to be half-hippie and half-biker at the same time, and not coming close to either. He was thirty pounds overweight at this point in his life, and he had faded Chinese characters or something equally nonsensical for a middle-aged white man tattooed on both forearms.
“I’m looking for Clyde C. Wiley,” I said.
“And you are?”
“My name’s Alex. I just want to have a word with him.”
“Yeah, now’s not a good time, okay? We’re kinda busy here.”
“It’ll only take a minute. I came a long way today.”
“Then I’m pretty sure you wasted your time. Have a good trip back to wherever you came from.”
He started to turn away from me, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to give up that easily.
“Look,” I said, “I know the FBI was here. Day before yesterday, right?”
That stopped him.
“Who are you again?”
“I told you. My name’s Alex.”
“Yeah, Alex who? What exactly are you doing here?”
“I’m a private investigator. I just came to ask Mr. Wiley a few questions. That’s all, I promise.”
“We already answered all the questions we’re gonna answer. Unless you’ve got a badge or something, I’m pretty sure we don’t have to say shit to you. So why don’t you hit the bricks?”
He put a hand on my shoulder to turn me toward the door. He had to rethink that idea when he saw I wasn’t moving an inch until I was ready.
“You want to make me call the cops? I’m gonna do that in five seconds unless you get the hell out of here.”
“Is Mr. Wiley even here?”
“None of your concern. Now get out.”
I waited a few more seconds. More than five, no matter how slow he could count. It was pretty clear I wasn’t going to get much further with this guy. I did a quick scan around the room to make sure Mr. Wiley wasn’t lurking in a dark corner. Then I turned and went to the door.