Chapter 45: The BoneFire Smokehouse
There are days when you’re just on. You can picture what you want to accomplish and all the steps it takes to get there. Your measurements are all correct. Your cuts are all precise. And you don’t need a rubber mallet to get your pieces to fit together.
This was not one of those days. This was one of those days when the new doorknob kit would be missing a bolt, and the brand-new key would stick. By the time I had installed all three new doorknobs, which took two or three times as long as it should have, I knew that working in my shop would be pointless. This would have been a perfect day to break up mistakes for scrap, but the intruder had taken that away from me, too. That was just another reason to resent him.
I knew that Detective Slaughter or Joe Cress would be joining me once it got dark, but I didn’t know which one. What I did know was that I didn’t want to talk to anyone important about anything important. If I had had enough time, I’d have driven to Kingsport or Johnson City for dinner. As it was, I had enough time to walk down to BoneFire Smokehouse for a fried green tomato BLT.
Once I was inside and adjusted to the light I was glad to see that it wasn’t busy yet. I ordered my sandwich and a glass of sweet tea and then sat in the back corner hoping to go unnoticed. It was not that kind of day either.
About the same time that I sat down, in walked Bishop Slaughter. He stood at the front and looked around until he saw me and then came directly to my table.
“I was on my way over to see you and noticed you coming in here,” he said as he sat down next to me. A waitress followed him back, but he waved her off. “Your reenactment friend Joe will be on duty with you tonight, but I just got some info I thought you’d be interested in.”
“Do you know who hit my daughter?” I guessed. That information would have improved my day.
“No,” he said in a whiny voice, but his voice went up as he added, “Well, yeah, I think I know who did that. I can’t prove it yet, but I’ve got a pretty good idea who it is.” Then he held up a palm, “I’m not 100 percent sure, so don’t get all excited. But that’s not what I came in to tell you about anyway.”
“Okay, what?” I asked.
“I got the DNA results back on your boy,” he said with a puffed-out chest.
“Do you mean Atreyu?”
He nodded yes. “Of course.”
“He’s not my boy,” I said.
He grinned at me, and the image of me slapping that grin off his face passed through my mind.
“The blood on the revolver we found in your attic . . . ,” he said. Then he paused until I leaned forward. “Billy Hopewell is a match.”
“Wait. What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that the revolver from your attic is the same revolver that knocked Billy out on the night his father was killed.”
“Okay. Does that help?”
“Well, it’s another puzzle piece. It definitely puts Billy there when at least one intruder was still there. That means he may know more than he’s letting on, which is what I’ve been saying all along.”
“And you want me to talk his mother into letting you talk to him again.”
“I hadn’t thought that far ahead yet, but yes, that’s what needs to happen.”
We were quiet as my sandwich was brought to the table. When the waitress was out of earshot again, I said, “You told me you knew who hit my daughter.”
He frowned. “I know I said that. I shouldn’t have said it, though. Like I said, I’m not positive.”
“But you have a good idea.”
“I do, but I can’t tell you that.”
“I understand. Really, I do.” I leaned forward and took a big bite of my sandwich. With my mouth still full I mumbled, “You understand I can’t talk to Atreyu’s mom either, don’t you?”
“Are you serious? Come on, Jake. You know I can’t tell you.”
“Of course,” I said. “Whoever you’re talking about could knock on my front door, and if I knew who he was, then I’d know to call you. I could see why you wouldn’t want that.”
He sat back and studied me for a moment. Then he sighed and said, “I don’t want you to think that I buy your little act here. But I am going to tell you.” He held up a single finger and raised his eyebrows, “And here’s why. I trust you. I trust you to keep this quiet, and I trust you to stay out of the vigilante business. Is that understood?”
“No, Jake, I mean it. Can you agree to that?”
I guess my answer wasn’t convincing enough, so I said, “Of course,” with a deeper, more forceful voice.
Slaughter nodded his head once and began, “It’s Beaumont. He’s gone back to Cleveland now, but he’ll be back. He always comes back. And I’ve confirmed that he wasn’t in Cleveland during the three days the church was broken into.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. I wasn’t entirely sure we were talking about the same person. “Beaumont? Nancy Jane’s son?”
“He’s nothing but a little snot,” I said.
“He is that, but he’s not just that. He’s a cold-blooded little snot with wealthy parents who cover his tracks and clean up his messes.”
“And you’re pretty sure he’s the one who clubbed Kelly.”
“I wasn’t until today when I got confirmation that he wasn’t in Cleveland. Now I can’t prove he was here, yet. But he could have been, and that’s a beginning.” He leaned back and took in a slow breath. “He’s a sneaky little weasel. It’s not like him to have direct contact with his victims. But playing mind games is exactly what he’d do. It’d be just like him to paint taunts on my car.”
That was confusing to me. The messages on our hoods, and especially the tremendous time and effort he put into destroying my Highlands inventory, seemed like a huge risk without a payoff. It was wrong to rob a jewelry store, but at least it made sense. “What does that do for him?” I asked.
Bishop shook his head. “I don’t know. Maybe he’s got something to prove.”
Slaughter shrugged. “He’s never amounted to anything, but he thinks he’s smarter than everyone else. Maybe he wants to win. Maybe he still wants to get even with me. Maybe he just likes stirring up trouble.”
“Hold on a minute,” I said. “Go back. What did you say about him getting even with you?”
“It was a long time ago. He was in high school then. He hid a camera in the girls’ locker room and was blackmailing several classmates with pictures he had taken. He got caught when the janitor found the camera. I don’t know how many girls were blackmailed, but we were able to identify three. The first family left town right away. The second family was paid off and agreed to leave town. The third family only agreed not to press charges if Cash and Nancy Jane agreed to send Beaumont away to boarding school and they took a payout. Part of the agreement with that third family was anonymity, so when Beaumont was sent away, we led him to believe that it was because I wouldn’t let it go. The last thing he had said to me before he left town was that he’d make sure I regretted crossing paths with him.”
“I’m surprised his mother has that kind of clout. She’s obviously opinionated and meddlesome, but I’d have thought she’s so sour nobody would listen to her.”
“You got that right, but there’s more to it than just her. You know who her husband was, don’t you?”
“Cash Howard, right?”
“That’s right. Old Cash owned Federation Insurance Company. I think he was also part owner of a motel, a car dealership, and several restaurants. He was on the board at the bank and arts center. I don’t think he was ever on the town council, but the rumor was that he ran it, too. There was a time when nothing, and I mean nothing, happened in Abingdon without Cash Howard’s approval.”
“He’s been gone a long time, hasn’t he?” I said.
“Yes, he has.”
“Then I don’t understand why she still has so much clout.”
“She doesn’t, but she doesn’t know that. Cash was respected. He got what he wanted because he was convincing and because it was good to have him as an ally. Nancy Jane isn’t convincing or a good ally, but she gets placated to avoid the drama. That’s not the same as clout.”
Slaughter’s eyebrows clenched together as he looked up and away. Then his eyes popped open, and he looked back at me. “Now that you mention it, Jake, Cash has been gone a long time. I don’t know why I never thought of this before, but I think he died just about a month before the Bridgeman robbery-murder. I remember because before I made detective, I was often assigned to some project of his. I was a patrolman in those days. We called it ‘Cashing out’ when we got pulled from our regular duties to tend to something Cash needed.” He shook his head, “It wasn’t like that when his first wife was around, but that changed when Nancy Jane got a hold of him. He and Nancy Jane got together pretty quick after his first wife died. He was quite a bit older than she was, so it was quite a scandal. I think it drove a wedge between him and his two daughters. Apparently, they weren’t ready for a new momma, and they certainly weren’t ready for one just a little older than they were.”
Pointing at me, he said, “Say that reminds me. Do you know how they got together?” He didn’t wait for me to answer. “In those days, Old Cash pretty much ran that church you live in. And guess who the church secretary was?”