April at the Antique Alley (10 page)

 

It all just seemed so sad.

 

I cleared the memory chips for both of our cameras. For this trip we would take my car so we loaded the four boxes of Lola’s leftovers into the trunk. Actually three boxes fit into the trunk and one was left to ride in my back seat, still my trunk was much more spacious than that of Jill’s bug. Jill packed up her laptop computer and made sure to include both the spare battery as well as the little connection thing that plugs into the car’s cigarette lighter. We headed off for an afternoon filled with errands.

Our first stop was the funeral home. It was a mission that I didn’t want to do by myself so that is why I did it while Jill was with me but right away Jill and I started arguing about details. My pragmatic views were to take the cheapest things available whereas Jill wanted to spend a good deal more money. I was thinking that if we found a distant relative to inherit Lola’s estate they would want the estate to be as valuable as possible so I felt like I had to be prudent spending Lola’s money. Jill kept reminding me that if we did not find a next of kin the county and the state would get the money and it was Lola’s money to begin with so she should have the best her money could buy. She also felt that if we found a distant relative they would feel better about the windfall if we had treated Lola with a good deal of respect and dignity. The funeral director, of course, was on Jill’s side so I was out-voted all along the way. Therefore, we picked out a plot in the local Christian cemetery rather than sticking the public with the responsibility of burying Lola in the county cemetery. We picked out a nice casket. And most important of all we scheduled the actual funeral for the following Monday which was four days away, if you didn’t count today.

I purposefully scheduled it for a Monday because I expected the only mourners to be the shopkeepers of the Antique Alley and they would all be closed for business on Monday. Scheduling the funeral though had two specific effects.

The first simply was that I had another reason to visit the merchants of Antique Alley who were, for now, my only suspects for Lola’s murder which was not my case to work, but I was sure Samuels would appreciate any help I might be able to give him. The second effect though was that it gave me a deadline for finding her next of kin. I mean whoever the next of kin is, they should decide where Lola is buried so as long as I found them by this Sunday they could stop what Jill and I had just put into motion. Once Lola was put in the ground it would be considerably more difficult to change one’s mind.

 

It was time for a meal. We hopped into my Taurus and found a local spot that featured barbecue. I went for the sausage. It was delicious. There is just something about hot spicy meat and cold potato salad. Of course it would convert

 

me into a highly efficient methane producer for the rest of the afternoon so I would have to try to remember to stand down wind from others in my immediate area.

 

It was time to communicate with my cop friend, Eric Samuels. Lately I have done most of my communication with him over the phone, and I certainly could have done so this time, but we were just about a mile from his office so Jill and I drove over for a surprise face to face with the detective. The surprise ended up being on us though because he was not in his office and it turned out to be pretty hard to get him a message wherever he was, so sitting in his empty office I called his desk phone and left a message.

 

Finally we could move on to the biggest and most time consuming of this afternoons errands. Jill and I would go to Lola’s house, return the four boxes we had with us, and go through the rest of the boxes. We expected to find mostly the same stuff we had found in the first four boxes. There would be no reason to carry all the boxes to my home/office just to find more junk so we planned on doing the work right there in Lola’s house. Jill would plug in her laptop, and I would first label each box with a number, and then we would open each box and record the contents with either a paragraph on Jill’s spreadsheet, or a couple of digital pictures, or both.

Our plans did not work out at all though because when we got to Lola’s house we found that someone had visited in the last couple of hours. The front door was still locked and did work with the key but when we walked through the door we found the roll top desk torn to pieces. It looked like someone had attacked it with a sledge hammer or perhaps a heavy ax. They had not bothered anything else in the house but had completely busted up the desk. Immediately I knew they were looking for the drugs we had pulled out of the desk I had bought from Lola.

Whoever did this would have known that the drugs were in a desk that was dropped off at Lola’s store. They had already broken into Lola’s store to find them, but I had inadvertently bought the desk. However, the bad guy wouldn’t have known that. We had found the drugs but the bad guy would still expect them to be available. Having not found the desk at Lola’s store and not having any knowledge of where the desk had gotten to, he would have then looked at the card file he had lifted from Lola’s store and used it to look for the drugs. He had already interrogated and killed the last two customers Lola had seen that day. He had found the next two customers on the list under police protection. He had already searched my home for the desk. In desperation he had now also searched Lola’s house on the outside chance that she had brought the desk home with her. He would have found a roll top desk at Lola’s house and not believing his good luck he would

 

have immediately tried to recover the drugs from the desk. I imagined he was quite ticked off to not find the drugs in the desk. By now he would be desperate.

The timing though really bothered me. He had broken into Lola’s store the night she bought the desk expecting to easily collect the drugs. He had not found the desk there and stolen the card inventory and immediately gone to work on the customers from that day including me. He had then taken a couple of days off and right after Jill and I visited Lola’s house he had then attacked her house.

I did not think he had taken a couple of days off because he was overworked. I expected rather that he had either heard where Lola lived through one of the people Jill or I had communicated with or perhaps he was simply following us. In either case we were in danger and here, isolated in Lola’s house, might be the perfect place for him to show up and again use Satan’s Path to try to find his stash of illegal narcotics. I have a permit to carry a side arm, and I own six pistols, but usually I do not carry a weapon with me. Jill and I hopped into my trusty Taurus and scampered back to Irving where, in the comfort and safety of my home, we loaded up my guns and each picked one to keep with us at all times until this mystery completed.

I dialed Detective Samuels’ number and by this time he was actually back at his desk. I reported to him what we had just found. I was actually on the phone with him several minutes. He agreed that having someone break into her house and do only damage to the desk, and a desk that happened to look a lot like another desk Lola had owned that we found stuffed with white powder, could not have been a chance coincidence. We also talked about the timing. If the perpetrator had known Lola’s address or been able to easily find it, he would have searched Lola’s house long before Jill and I had gotten to it the first time. Therefore it only made sense that he had followed us or heard from someone we had talked to about it.

Samuels did let me know that preliminary testing had been completed on the drugs we had found in my desk and it turned out to be Mexican Heroine which is a low grade but quite powerful street poison. The estimated street value was close to a hundred-thousand dollars per kilo, and we had collected ten kilos which would represent a million dollars of some drug dealer’s investment. What we had found was the pure heroine which would be cut approximately seven to one before it reached the street. That meant that we had the most important raw material in a manufacturing process that would yield almost two-hundred pounds of a powder that would be sold by the tiniest portion of a teaspoonful.

One other thing Eric Samuels was able to report to me at this time was that he had completed the preliminary background checks on all the store owners and workers of the Antique Alley. There were an array of small peccadilloes spread amongst them, but the one thing that stuck out was that Rubert Glaston from Buy It Bare had a couple of drug possession convictions. We would have to have a talk

 

with him about his whereabouts of the past couple of days, but Samuels said he would personally handle that interview.

While I was on the phone with Eric I flipped through the AT&T phone book white pages and did not find Lola listed. I hung up right after Samuels told me to stay out of the house for at least twenty-four hours and that he would send a uniform over to secure the scene.

It had not been a good day.

 

CHAPTER-10.

 

The thing about north Texas is that no matter how bad a day is the next might just start out beautiful. I woke up and took a cup of coffee out to sit in the wicker chair on the front porch of my house. The sun was just starting to rise to the far right of my view above the old Texas Stadium which would be the home field of the Dallas Cowboys for a couple of more years now. Vaguely I thought about trying to see a few games before the Cowboys fled Irving for the new stadium currently under construction in near-by Arlington.

For April it was still a bit cool, but I was sure it would warm up quickly with the sun’s energy working hard on us all day long. It was a Thursday which happened to be April 24th but that had some significance for me. My thirty-first birthday was tomorrow, so this was the very last day I would be thirty. I can do math, so I clearly understand that on your first birthday you are actually celebrating the first day of your second year of life, but I had allowed myself this entire past year to believe that thirty was the last year you were a young person in your twenties. Officially, tomorrow then, I would be in my thirties and no longer permitted to claim the youthfulness I had enjoyed so much to this point in my life.

Rather than dwell on it though I decided to attack the day with vim and vigor. Just a few more minutes sitting here thinking about it ought to do the trick.

 

Irving is like a lot of small towns in America. The downtown area had been, at one time, a long time ago, a bustling important part of the town. Then progress had done its duty. They built the new mall away from the downtown area because there was not a big enough portion of land available downtown. They built the new apartment complexes away from the downtown area because land downtown was too expensive. They built the Wal-Mart out near the new apartment complexes because land was too expensive near the downtown area and besides they wanted it to be near the people who all lived in the new apartments. More apartments were built away from the downtown area so other discount stores followed. They built the two new high-schools away from the downtown area because there were not any students left who lived in the downtown area. They built the new municipal

 

center which contained a huge seven story parking lot that serviced the new police station, the new court house, and the new library, but they built it on land they had appropriated just west of the old downtown area. One by one then the businesses downtown closed because there were so few customers who passed through the downtown area. A few businesses hung on and they became the historical legacies.

Buildings sat vacant for a decade or so until an owner here or there would die and his kids would then rent the building at a discounted rate to some business that would never have before been able to afford space downtown. That new business would rejuvenate the few historical legacies that were still open.

It would continue to evolve, but today downtown Irving now had a dozen or so legacy businesses and the rest tend to serve the automotive industry. For instance there are several tire dealers, there are a couple of auto repair shops. There are three new car dealers, there were two muffler shops that also did breaks, and there are many used car lots.

Jill had begged me for a day off and I really didn’t need her for this step, so by myself armed with a photocopy of the five diamond shaped tread pattern, I explored downtown Irving. It was my intention to find out which manufacturer had made the tire so that would help me figure out who had parked at two of our crime scenes. I was really hoping that I found not only the specific tire tread but I would also happen to find someone who remembered putting that type of tires on a vehicle owned by one of our suspects. Of course I also hoped it would be the first business I walked into. Fat chance.

I had eleven automotive businesses in the downtown area to investigate. I wanted to do them in some pattern that would eliminate any backtracking, and I also wanted to prioritize them in such a way that my chances of hitting pay dirt came early in the rotation rather than later.

The three new car dealerships are near the outside of what would be called the downtown area. If I could get them out of the way I could then park the car in the center of the downtown area and walk the rest of the businesses, so I started with the new car dealerships.

The Mitsubishi dealer would be first. I was in the building a lot longer than I needed to be. You see what happened was that as soon as I walked onto the lot a salesman attached himself to me and I was his for the duration of my stay. No matter what I said to him about not wanting to buy a car but wanting to talk rather about tires, he just didn’t get it. By body language and gesturing he made it clear that we would not get inside the office until I had looked over his sparkling expensive inventory. After thirty minutes of saying “Ooh, ah, what a nice color, how much is this one?” we were finally inside the building.

He took me first to the finance manager. I have no idea why the finance manager would have any knowledge of tire tread patterns but my salesman insisted

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