California Highway

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Back in Benicia

In Benicia, Robert is at work in the morning, checking his email when his phone rings. “Hello, this is Robert?”

“Robert, this is Joe, the manager at Bella Giardino.”

“Oh, hi, Joe.” Robert had met Joe before when Tyler was working there. “What’s up?”

“Robert, I know you are a good friend of Tyler’s.” Joe’s accent is almost too rough for Robert to understand. But he listens intently, trying to figure out what Joe was asking. “So, I would like to invite you to lunch so we can talk about him.”

Robert wanted to make sure he heard correctly. “You want to invite me to lunch to talk about Tyler? Is that what you said?”

“Yes, correct. That is what I wish to do.” Joe continued, “How is twelve-noon for you? Good?”

Robert was confused as to why Joe would want to talk to him about Tyler, but he agreed to meet at noon at his restaurant. He thought this was unusual enough that he should call Tyler to let me know.

Robert dialed Tyler’s cell phone number.

The phone rang a few times and then went to voice message. “Tyler, this is Robert. Dude, you need to make sure your phone is charged up. Hey, wanted to let you know that I got a phone call this morning from Joe, your old boss. He wants to have lunch today to talk about you. I’m not sure what that means or what information he has, but I thought I would let you know. I hope all is going well. I’ll call you again after I have my lunch with Joe.

“Bye.”

* * *

Noontime was here, and Robert still had not heard from Tyler. He showed up at the Bella Giardino as promised to meet Joe for lunch.

Since the restaurant was not usually open at this time of day, Joe met Robert at the front door and unlocked it for him, so he could enter.

“Mr. Robert! Mr. Robert!” Joe said, excited to see him. “Please come inside.”

“Hi, Joe.” Robert entered and followed Joe to the table. “How’s it going?”

Joe shows Robert to the table they would be sitting at. “Would you like something to drink, Mr. Robert? Beer? Glass of wine?” Joe walks behind the bar.

Robert looks over the taps on the wall. “I’ll take a Sam Adams if that’s okay?”

“Of course, of course.” Joe pours a beer for each of them and walks the drinks to the table.

“Thank you, Joe.” Robert raises his glass. “Cheers!”

Joe raises his beer, “Salute! Mr. Robert! Salute!”

They both take a sip of beer and put the glass down on the table—Robert chimes in, “So, Joe. I’m confused about why you asked me here to talk about Tyler? What’s up?”

“Ah, yes. Mr. Tyler is a wonderful man. How is he doing?”

“He’s okay. You know, after losing his job and being arrested, you can only be doing so well. Am I right?” Robert was trying to show some control over his emotion. He knew Joe had fired Tyler the night he was arrested. Now Joe is sitting here telling him that Tyler is a “wonderful man.” He continued to talk, “Joe, if you think Tyler is such a wonderful man, why did you fire him?”

“Mr. Tyler never returned. I did not know he was taken by the police.” Joe said. “If he came back, he would still be working here. When I found out he was arrested, I felt bad. I would have given him his job back. In fact, he still has a job here, as far as I’m concerned.”

Robert was confused. “Then why did you call him to tell him he was fired?”

Joe looked just as confused as Robert did. “What do you mean, Mr. Robert? I never called Tyler. I never told him he was fired from his job.”

“Tyler said he listened to the message from you. He listened that morning when they let him out of jail.”

“Oh, Mr. Tyler is out of jail!?” Joe did not know he had been released and was surprised to find that out. “I did not know he was out. If I had known, I would have called him. I should call him now.” Joe stands from the table and starts to walk to the telephone in the restaurant.

Robert stops Joe. “No, no. He’s out of town right now. I don’t even think he would answer. I tried calling him earlier, and it went to voicemail.”

“Mr. Robert, that night was strange. Tyler not returning was very unusual. And the girl he left with; I saw her later talking to Mr. Josh, from The Old Tavern, down by the water. He gave her money, and they left in different directions.”

“What?” Robert could not believe what he was hearing. “What do you mean you saw the girl. What girl?”

“The girl Tyler left with,” Joe continued. “I was taking a break outside in the back and saw her and Josh talking. Josh handed her some money, and they separated, taking off in different directions.”

Robert wanted to make sure he was hearing what Joe was saying. “The girl that Tyler left with took money from Josh and left. Correct?”

“Yes, correct,” Joe replied. “This happened right after the police took Mr. Tyler away.”

“That’s interesting,” Robert responded. “Why would Josh be doing business with a prostitute.”

Joe chimes in. “Prostitute? No. She works at the high school. I know her because I see her there every day when I pick up my daughter.”

Robert is now starting to realize there is more to this puzzle than meets the eye. He reviews what he knows:

One… Tyler meets a girl while working. Two… Tyler goes outside with her and then gets arrested for solicitation. It was an obvious set up since the police were already there.

Three… The girl and Josh know each other. Josh paid her money for something. But what?

Four… Joe never called and fired Tyler. Then who actually left a message for Tyler?

Five… Josh and Karen used to date. She split with Josh because of his jealousy. Could he still be jealous of Karen and Tyler’s relationship?

Six… Josh said he called Tyler after the headlines came out of his arrest. But he didn’t. He called hours before the paper was released.

Robert looks at Joe. “Joe, you have been more help than you know, and Tyler AND I really appreciate it. I’m going to have to go. I’m going to try and call Tyler again. I’m going to tell him what you told me. Is that okay?”

“Of course, of course.” Joe walks Robert to the main door and lets him out.

As Robert is leaving, he is picking up his cell phone to call Tyler. Because Robert is on the phone, he does not notice the person following him close behind.

Tyler does not answer, and it goes to voice mail. “Dammit, Tyler. This is Robert. Call me back. I just got some info that’s going to blow your mind wide open. Call me!”

Robert heads back to his office with a suspicious person following him. He still does not notice the person.

As Robert is sitting at his desk, he tries to dissect everything he has found out in the last hour. He now thinks this was a setup by Josh to get Karen and Tyler to breakup. Robert sits at his desk and ponders his next move. Should he tell Tyler? Should he tell Karen? Should he confront Josh? Robert’s mind is moving a million miles an hour, trying to figure out what he will do.

Robert picks up his office phone and tries to call Tyler again. He thought if Tyler sees multiple messages from him, he will know how important the call was.

Robert is looking out the window while sitting in his office chair. He did not notice the figure that rushed into his office.

This person presses his finger on the phone base receiver, causing the phone call to end.

Robert turns his chair around and sees Josh standing in front of him. “Robert,” Josh says, “Calling someone?”

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