Read The Man With the Iron-On Badge Online

Authors: Lee Goldberg

Tags: #Mystery

The Man With the Iron-On Badge (21 page)

Supposedly, if my TV education in private detecting was to be believed, all I had to do was rub my neck a few times and I’d be revived enough to ambush Little Billy and Arlo when they came through the door. The problem was, I couldn’t lift my arm and didn’t have the strength to do any rubbing.

So I resigned myself to the reality of the situation. I rested my head against the couch cushion, in case I’d jarred a chunk of my skull loose, and waited for the Pelz brothers to come back and finish what they’d started.

If, by some miracle, I survived, I was going to write a very nasty letter to the executives at TVLand about the inaccuracies in their detective programming. I was glad I’d learned this lesson from a concussion rather than a gunshot wound in the shoulder, not that it was going to make much of a difference now.

A moment or two later, I heard footsteps on the porch and turned my head to face my executioners. Only one man came in, and it wasn’t who I expected.

Cyril Parkus was wearing one of those Body Glove wet suits that surfers use, and was carrying a pair of flippers and goggles. His hair was soaked and beads of water were dripping from his suit.

He’d been swimming.

“Still with us, Harvey?” he said as he padded past me in his bare, sandy feet and dropped his stuff on the table.

“Where’s Arlo?” I asked, my voice raspy and weak.

“At the bottom of the lake.” Cyril replied and walked into the bedroom.

I knew now that it was Cyril who’d been hiding under the porch, and that I’d made things a lot easier for him by pummeling Arlo and taping him up the way I had. The fact that Cyril was wearing a wet suit meant he’d come here planning to do exactly what he did.

When Cyril came out of the bedroom again, he was toweling his hair dry with one hand, and holding the big, serrated knife with the other.

I said, “In the morning, I suppose they’ll find a boat floating in the middle of the lake without an anchor.”

Cyril sat down in the chair I’d pulled out earlier and looked at me, much the same way I’d looked at Arlo.

“Can you blame me?” he asked.

I don’t think he cared about my opinion, and I didn’t offer it.

I thought of Arlo, his mouth taped shut, his arms and legs pinned behind him, knowing exactly what was going to happen to him as Cyril rowed the boat out into the middle of the lake. And then Cyril stopped, tied the anchor rope tightly around Arlo’s ankles, and pushed him into the water. I could see Arlo wriggling helplessly as the anchor pulled him down into the murky, cold depths.

I shivered for him and for myself.

I suppose you could say Arlo deserved what he got for what he did to Jolene, but I was pretty sure Cyril didn’t know about that and if he had, it wouldn’t have mattered. There was only one thing that did, and that’s what I asked him about.

“When did you find out that Lauren was your sister?”

Cyril stared at me. I wondered if he was going to answer me, or gut me with the Rambo knife. I think he was wondering the same thing.

“I felt it almost immediately. Every time I looked at Lauren, I saw Kelly. She was in her voice, her laugh, her eyes. It haunted me,” Cyril said softly, wiping the knife blade with his towel. “I tried to tell myself I was seeing things that weren’t there, but the more time I spent with her, the more certain I became. If Lauren wasn’t Kelly, then she carried her spirit. I knew I was deluding myself, but I didn’t care. Lauren loved me, and I loved her; it didn’t matter if I imagined she was Kelly or not. Then one night after we made love, she just looked in my eyes and whispered, ‘Yes, it’s me.’ She told me everything. And when she was done, I asked her to marry me.”

I could barely lift my head, what with the pounding pain, the double vision, and waves of nausea, but I did. I stared at him, trying to bring the blur into focus.

The guy finds out that the sister he thought was dead is alive, and that he’s been fucking her for weeks, and what’s his first reaction?

He asks her to marry him
!

It didn’t make sense to me.

I mean, I could think of a lot of reactions to news like that, but a marriage proposal wasn’t one of them.

“I wish I could say we lived happily ever after, but she was tormented by guilt,” Cyril said. “I told her if there was a price to pay, she’d paid it long ago. She’d earned her happiness. She didn’t believe it, so she threw herself into to charity work, thinking that would make the guilt go away. It almost did.”

How could he not understand her guilt? Didn’t he think there was anything wrong, anything unusual, about marrying his own sister?

Apparently, he didn’t feel the least bit uncomfortable with the arrangement.

The only thing I could figure was that the shock of finding out who she was must have turned his brain to Cheese Whiz.

What other explanation could there be for his bizarre reaction?

And then I realized there was another one, and that it explained everything.

My vision was still a blur, but for the first time since I got involved in this case, I saw everything clearly.

“You were sleeping with your sister before,” I said. “Here, at the lake, when you were teenagers.”

Cyril nodded without a trace of shame. “Arlo saw us in the woods. He was going to tell, unless Kelly slept with him, too. That’s why she killed herself. Only she didn’t, did she? Not then, anyway.”

The rest of the story I already knew or could guess. After staging her suicide, she somehow made her way to Seattle and started another life. After the car accident gave her a new face, there was nothing stopping her anymore from searching out her brother and reuniting with him as lovers once more. No one would ever know the truth about who she was.

But once again, Arlo Pelz discovered her secret.

That’s what I meant about fate being cruel and inescapable. Twice Kelly Parkus had killed herself to protect her brother, only this time, she wouldn’t be coming back.

I almost felt sorry for Cyril.

Then I remembered what he did to Arlo and what was probably in store for me, and he lost my sympathy.

That’s when I should probably have instigated my cunning escape plan, only I didn’t have one. But at that point, I couldn’t even stand up on my own, much less wrestle the Rambo knife away from Cyril. There was nothing stopping him from dragging me to a boat and tossing me overboard the same way he did with Arlo.

“I guess you underestimated me, huh?” I said.

He looked up at me as if he’d forgotten I was there. “What do you mean?”

“I wasn’t just the jerk in the guard shack, the clown with the iron-on badge, was I? You paid me to do a job and I did it, and then some. You sure as hell didn’t expect that, not from a guy you thought couldn’t pick his nose without illustrated instructions. But I found Arlo Pelz and I figured out who your wife really was, didn’t I?”

I was reciting my own epitaph and I knew it.

I wanted him to know how wrong he’d been about me, how smart and capable I’d been. I wanted him to acknowledge it, if only with a nod of his head.

“You’re right, Harvey, I made a big mistake hiring you.” Cyril said. “I was afraid a professional detective might find out who Lauren really was. I never thought you would. Then again, a real detective would have stopped working when I fired him and wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”

“So what happens now, Cyril? Are they going to find two boats tomorrow morning drifting without anchors?”

Cyril rose to his feet, clutching the knife and the towel, and looked down at me. “I’m not a murderer, Harvey.”

“Let’s ask Arlo about that.”

“That was justice. He killed my sister and I made him pay for it,” Cyril said. “I’ve got no reason to hurt you.”

“Except to stop me from going to the police and telling them what you’ve done.”

It was only after I said it that I realized how I stupid I was to say anything.

What the hell was I thinking?

Did I want him to kill me?

“I haven’t done anything,” Cyril said. “At least nothing that can be proved. The only person you’d be causing trouble for is yourself.”

“I didn’t push Arlo out of a boat with an anchor tied to his feet.”

I don’t know what was making me say those things, except maybe some deep-rooted death wish I didn’t realize I had. Was I trying to talk him out of sparing my life?

No, I was only saying what Mannix, or Spenser, or even Rockford would in the same situation. They never let the bad guy get away with anything, even if their own lives were at stake. The bad guy had to know that the detective knew what was really going on. Now, more than ever, I felt the need to fulfill the duties of my role.

“Think a moment, Harvey. No one knows I’m here, no one has seen me. And I’ll let you in on a secret: there are no plane tickets, rental car agreements, or gas station receipts proving I was here. I drove up here in my own car, paid cash for gas, and didn’t stop until I got to these woods, where I waited and watched, never encountering a soul,” Cyril said. “You, on the other hand, have left big tracks.”

I didn’t see what he was getting at; then again, I’d just suffered a concussion. I could be forgiven for being a little slow on the uptake.

“I haven’t done anything illegal,” I lied.

“That’s not how it will look, if you are stupid enough to bring the police into this,” Cyril said. “You flew up to Seattle and, masquerading as a detective, interrogated Mona Harper. You rented a car and drove to Deerlick, where you made a spectacle of yourself, going all over town asking questions about Arlo.”

“So what?” I said. “I didn’t kill him.”

“Really? Let’s look at the evidence. You beat up Arlo, his blood is all over your clothes and this cabin. You bound and gagged Arlo, your fingerprints are on the duct tape. As far as the motive, well, I’ll tell them how I hired you to follow my wife and you became obsessed with her. They won’t have to take my word for that; it’s clear from those pictures you took of her and kept for yourself, the ones in your pocket right now. You obviously blamed Arlo for her suicide and tracked him down. To anyone objectively looking at the evidence, you killed Arlo Pelz.”

His scenario was pretty damning, I had to give him that. And he didn’t even know about the Sno-Inn fire, or about Jolene’s murder and how I’d altered the crime scene, or about the highway robber I beat up the same way I did Arlo. If all those events were uncovered, and were looked at in the wrong way, they would only support Cyril’s take on things. Even if I revealed that Lauren was Cyril’s sister, it wouldn’t change things for me. He’d be embarrassed and humiliated, but he wouldn’t be on death row. I would be.

Yeah, he had it all worked out. I should have been happy about it, too, because it meant he didn’t have to kill me. But I wasn’t happy. I felt thoroughly screwed. I wasn’t going to bring anyone to justice, unless I wanted to turn myself in, and I was too selfish to do that.

“That’s all hypothetical, though,” Cyril said. “Because no one besides us knows what happened to Arlo Pelz and nobody cares. No one is ever going to be looking for him anyway.”

Except maybe the Snohomish police, to question him about Jolene’s murder. They’d assume his disappearance was a flight from justice. They’d never suspect he was at the bottom of Big Rock Lake, being nibbled by fishes. And, after a while, they’d just stop looking.

Cyril wiped his prints off the knife with the towel, then tossed the weapon on the table. He gathered up his flippers and goggles and started towards the door. He must have thought we were finished. We weren’t.

“That’s all fine and dandy, Cyril, but don’t walk out that door thinking you’ve fooled me or yourself,” I said. “You’d have killed me if you thought you could get away with it. The only reason I’m still alive is the same reason Arlo is dead. You can’t risk the truth about you and your sister coming out.”

He turned around slowly.

I pulled myself up into a standing position, using all the willpower I had not to fall. I staggered, and I swayed, and had to brace myself against the couch, but at least I was facing him. I didn’t want him looking down on me one second longer.

“You didn’t kill Arlo for justice, you killed him to save yourself,” I said. “If I turned Arlo over to the police, there would have been a trial and the truth about Lauren would have come out. You couldn’t allow that. The only thing stopping you from killing me are those big tracks I left. You can’t risk what an investigation into my disappearance would reveal about you and Lauren. In the end, that’s all that matters to you.”

Cyril shook his head sadly. “You really don’t understand, do you? I don’t care if anyone finds out about Kelly and me. I don’t care about anything now that she’s gone.”

He turned and walked out.

Chapter Twenty-Four

I
was getting pretty good at cleaning up crime scenes.

I changed out of my bloody clothes and, once I felt clear-headed enough to drive, I went up the highway to the next town and stopped at a 7-11. I bought some cleaning supplies and a baseball cap to hide the ugly lump on my head.

I got back to my cabin around dawn and wiped up the blood and anyplace I thought Arlo might have left his prints. At the same time, I was also unwillingly removing any trace of Cyril, too. That made me an accomplice-after-the-fact to two murders.

I wasn’t proud of it.

There wasn’t anything I could do about the slashed blanket on my bed. I figured if I took it, that would call more attention than the tear would. Besides, I had to believe those ratty blankets tore pretty easily, so I turned the tear into a rip and left it.

I put all the dirty paper towels, my bloody clothes, the stabbed pillow, the roll of duct tape, and the Rambo knife into a trash bag and put it the trunk of my rental car, alongside the sledgehammer and the spare tire.

I gave the apartment another quick once-over. Any other trace evidence I left behind I figured would be vacuumed up and washed away by the maid when she cleaned up the cabin for the next guest.

I was about to go, when I remembered one more thing. I went back into the bedroom, took the kitchen chair out of the closet, and returned it to its place at the table.

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