April at the Antique Alley (11 page)

 

he would be able to help. Honestly it took only about ten minutes to establish that he could not help me but he did make it quite clear that at my age and financial level he could make me an auto loan that was “practically” interest free.

I asked my salesman if we could talk next to the service manager and he told me we could but then he told me that the parts manager would probably be more help about a specific type of tire. Fool that I am, I allowed the salesman to take me into the office of the parts manager. Immediately there was a problem though because the parts manager is the guy they take you to so that they can load up expensive options onto the car they are trying to sell you but since I was not buying a car they really did not know how to follow their well practiced sales routines. I admit I got sidetracked a bit when we started talking about a navigation system that would allow me to talk to my car and it would give me step by step directions. He assured me he could fit it into any car that there was but as it turned out he was not familiar with any car that was not manufactured by Mitsubishi.

When my salesman escorted me out of the parts managers office I told him I needed to use the ladies room. I did take advantage of the plumbing but I waited a full seven minutes after I was done and hoped to sneak out but my salesman was still patiently waiting when I opened the door. After seeing a couple of more people whose entire job was to get me to buy a car and make sure the price of the car got jacked up as high as they could get it, I was finally in the service department which was very busy but at least looked like the end of the automotive industry where they might have a tire or two I could look at.

I had to wait in line behind two other people who had legitimate business with the service department and finally I was face to face with the service manager who looked like he was probably still in high-school and this being a Thursday I decided I would call the truant officer if he gave me too much trouble.

When I told him that I did not own a Mitsubishi and did not want to buy one but all I wanted was to see if he sold a tire with a particular tread pattern it was something he just had no training to be able to handle. A girl my age stopped typing long enough to shove him aside and hand me a couple of tire catalogs. I thanked her and took the books to a chair in the waiting area.

Once I had the catalogs in hand it took only seven or eight minutes to flip through the catalogs and find that they did not sell any tire with that particular pattern.

When I got back into the Taurus I checked the time and I had wasted almost two hours at the Mitsubishi dealership.

I cut a lot of time off the other two new car dealerships by driving my car directly to the service entrance. At both of these dealerships I was able to get the tire catalogs and one even allowed me to go into the warehouse and look through

 

the actual stacks of tires there. The end of the third dealership though proved that I still had no lead on the actual tire manufacturer.

As I had predicted it turned out to be a lovely day and the temperature was already starting to climb so I left my jacket in the car once I had parked it in the downtown area. With a bit of luck I had found a street parking spot right in the center of town. The parking meter told me that I could get seven and a half minutes of parking for a nickel. I loaded it with nickels and dimes until I had topped out the little time thing at two hours.

There were a couple of businesses that dealt only with tires and I really should have started there to begin with. My friend, Tony Tornado, lived in a small house he rented just a few blocks away, and just a month ago he had put a new set of rubber on my Taurus, and I had no idea where he would have bought the tires, but it was probably from one of these businesses.

They each had a big sign outside that advertised tires for as low as ten dollars each but when you questioned them about these ten dollar tires they pointed out that the ten dollar price was for the used tires they were trying to get rid of.

They would all be happy to show you a slightly more expensive set of used tires or preferably an expensive set of new tires. At each of these businesses I was able to get their tire catalogs. They each had all the catalogs I had looked through at the auto dealerships but they each also had many more. At the first of these businesses I spent a lot of time going through the catalogs eliminating one after the other without much success.

The next couple went a little quicker because they had many of the same catalogs I had already been through. I had seen just a few nights ago on television an episode of one of those shows where they use science and high tech labs to solve the cases. On this particular episode they took a tire tread cast early in the day then brought the cast back to the lab. The cute Hispanic lab tech then made a regular photocopy of the cast and fed it into the scanner on his computer. Next he kicked off some comparison software that linked all tire manufactures in the world.

They switched to another scene on the television show and when they switched back we saw the computer screen positively identify the tire. Simply by the tire tread cast they were able to tell who had manufactured the tire, how old it was, what car it was mounted on, where they had driven in the past month or so, and the social security number of the person who had been driving at the time the crime was committed. I believe they had it all wrapped up in one hour and had plenty of time left over to feed in sixteen minutes worth of commercials.

I did not have a lab like that, so I had to sit in these uncomfortable chairs drinking bad coffee and flipping through page after page of catalogs. At least the coffee was free.

 

At one of the tire stores I did find one friendly tire jockey and between flat fixes he was bored enough to offer his help. He did not recognize the tread pattern, but he did clue me in on one thing. So far I had only been investigating tires for cars. In his opinion the tread looked a little like what he would expect a tire for an ATV to look. They are usually considerably smaller in diameter but wider than auto tires and not manufactured by the same companies. He pointed out that the tread would be specifically good for driving through mud. That is why he suggested I look at vehicles made for off-road use. Another idea he had was that it was possible that it was a motorcycle tire. I dismissed both of his ideas though because the person who broke into those places and committed the crimes would want a fast get away vehicle so the ATV was out, and who would bring a motorcycle when you were hoping to steal a desk?

I made a note to myself though to look into the possibility that our tire was from a sports vehicle.

Only one thing lucky happened that entire afternoon. I got back to my parked car well after my metered time had been used up but before a meter maid came by. I shoved one more dime in the slot just to give me some time to sit and make notes before driving off.

 

When I finished the notes I went to stick the note book in the little door pocket meant to hold maps and found in the pocket the four prescription bottles I had taken from Lola’s house. I had a little spare time so I called 411 and found the doctor’s phone number and address. He was in Dallas not too far from the Antique Alley, and I had business there next so I figured I would give it a shot.

It turned out to be one of those older doctor’s offices. The block it was on had several big old houses that had been converted to commercial buildings long ago. Some of them had, by now, been torn down and replaced with cheaply constructed square buildings made from aluminum and glass that were specifically designed and built for store fronts. The new store fronts mixed in with the old Victorian houses gave the neighborhood a strange flavor that was amplified by the large blacktop parking areas instead of lawns.

The doctor still had one of the old houses and, although I did not confirm this, it was a pretty good bet that the doctor did business here on the first floor and lived upstairs on the second. The floor plan, or at least what I saw of it, was quite similar to my own house/office. A wall had been removed to convert the old living room and old dining room into a large waiting room. The nurse/receptionist was a cute little blond girl about my age. She went through the motions of checking the doctor’s schedule but by the completely empty waiting room I was sure I would be able to get a few minutes of the Doctor’s time.

 

The doctor himself was a little hard to place age wise. He appeared fit as a fiddle but his shock of fine hair so white that it gave him an ancient quality. I expect he was somewhere between fifty and retired, but probably nearing seventy.

For some reason I noticed what I assumed was a family type resemblance between the nurse and the doctor so wondered if they might be father and daughter.

I really did not have much extra time here so I just let it go and got onto business.

I showed the good doctor the four pill bottles and explained what I was there for. He appeared genuinely upset to hear that Lola had been murdered. He knew her and had been treating her for about the last fifteen years. He used a little intercom device to instruct the nurse to pull Lola’s file and bring it in to us. While we were awaiting the records he looked at the prescription bottles and we found nothing at all remarkable about them for a woman of Lola’s age.

One of the pills was a blood thinner to keep blood clots from forming. One was to lower bad cholesterol. One was to help her sleep if she had trouble dosing off. The fourth was an antibiotic he had probably given her for a flu and was a full two years past its expiration date.

The thick file the nurse delivered proved that Lola had indeed been seeing the doctor for the last decade and a half. She had visited at least twice a year but almost always just for a check-up. During that time she had never been hospitalized or suffered any injuries. She had no medical insurance that he knew about and she paid for each visit with a check from her business checking account.

The emergency contact listed on her original information sheet listed her father’s name and had the phone number and the address of Lola’s Attic.

I thanked the doctor for his time and retreated to my Taurus.

 

By now it was getting late on Thursday afternoon and I had scheduled the funeral for Monday morning so I figured it was time to see the Antique Alley store owners again and let them know the information I had so far about the final arrangements. They had all asked me to give them the details of the funeral arrangements so that they could pay their last respects, and it gave me another opportunity to interview each of them. I wondered if Jill might want to accompany me so I dialed my office number but got the answering machine, and I got the same response out of Jill’s cell phone number so I drove the four miles all by my lonesome self.

Just to change my luck, instead of working the block east to west I started at the other end to spread the news about the funeral. I found Steven Crowley at Texas Treasuretrove but Wanda was not there. Steven was kind enough to write down the funeral details but suggested that they might not be able to attend. I got no new information from him and he offered no explanation about where his wife might be at the time. Remembering that I had not checked the tires on his car I

 

checked them out as I was leaving. His tires were not the diamond pattern I was looking for, so his car was in the clear but he caught me looking at his tires. When he asked what I was doing I tried to make up a lie but before I could think of anything he asked me flat out if he was a suspect. I had to tell him that everyone was a suspect and what I was doing by checking his tires was eliminating him from the list of potential suspects. I am pretty sure he bought it, but he would be very careful around me now, and he hadn’t exactly been the easiest person to work with so far.

Jana was with a customer at her store and it was sort of fun watching her in her profession. I mean I had seen her with her hair down as it were but I had never really observed her in her business environment. She acknowledged my presence but kept on with the customer and soon sold a bed and dresser set. I waited as Jana wrote up the order and helped the customer load the furniture into a van. It fit but it was tight.

When we were alone Jana offered to lock the door and do lots of fun and nasty things with me but I took a rain-check explaining that I had business to do.

She giggled and thanked me then wrote down the funeral details and promised to be there. She also asked if I was doing anything Friday night. It was my birthday but I was sure she did not know that and it was way to early in the relationship to dump milestone baggage on her so I told her I wasn’t sure what plans Jill might have and promised to call her later that evening.

I was sort of surprised when I walked into Buy It Bare. I had, of course, expected to find Shelly up in front and Rubert working with dangerous chemicals in the rear room. Instead I found Rubert cleaned up pretty well and stationed in the front of the store. He was alone and he quickly told me that Shelly was away doing some household errands. When I passed along the information about the funeral he took out a note book and wrote it all down. He promised they would be there but somehow I sort of figured the notebook would never find its way into Shelly’s hands until it was too late. I had to resist questioning him about his past drug convictions but silently reminded myself that Detective Samuels would be handling that. Once again though I left Rubert feeling my boobs had endured a close inspection.

There is a nice old wooden picnic table in front of Antiques of Dallas and there sharing Cokes and burgers I found the gorgeous Donald Smith and my hard to find partner Jill. What could I say, she did ask for the day off. Donald was again in his riding leathers and I noticed that Jill was covered from shoulders to toes in shiny black cow skin as well. The temperature was near ninety and they must have been dripping in perspiration but for some reason there was a very musky smell in the air. Go figure.

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