'Red Right Hand'
Johnny was being held in Bexar county sheriff’s department in the centre of town. Con and Nancy were watching him through two way glass as he sat in an interrogation room. They were waiting for someone to brief them on what happened.
Johnny looked nervous, lost. Like he was searching for something, lost in his own head and he didn’t know where to start. He was pale with white bandages over portions of his face.
A sheriff’s deputy breezed in with a report in his hand, he was a short man with a beer gut and greying beard.
“Are you the fbi people?” He said without a hint of irony, chewing some kind of blue gum that made his breath smell like popcorn.
“That’s us” Con said, standing with hands in his pockets.
Nancy was still watching the kid, transfixed, her arms folded.
“Well I’ve got the report here signed by his mother. We’ve got her in a separate room waiting for the warrant to come through on the blood samples. But we should have that soon. We already have the boy’s DNA, fingerprint, palm print, photophraghed, the whole shebang”
“That’s great, forward it to our office and we’ll put it through our database and send it on over to Interpol.” Con said without removing his hands from his pockets, furrowing his all too handsome brow.
“Interpol, wow, this is some serious stuff huh?” The man smiled and swapped glances with Con and the back of Nancy’s head. He almost bowed and started to take the gum out which he now realised he’d been chewing loud. “Oh sorry, trying to quit smoking. I can leave the incident report here for you take a look at or I can give you the hightlights.”
“Highlights are good” Con said forcing a smile.
“Well alright then” The man said as he straightened up. “Well this is all from his mother and the boy doesn’t contest it. The subject, that is the young man, found what we’ve determined to be a flare gun. His mother said was out in the garage, she doesn’t have any idea how it got there. Possibly bought by her husband and put in storage”. He looked up for minute to check they were still there and he went on. “The subject took said flare gun and discharged it into the refrigerator, accidentally.” He said that last part looking at Con.
Nancy sneered as she kept looking through the glass. “What about his face?”
“He did that himself, the mother says it was an accident too. Boys will be boys and all that and she doesn’t want to press charges. After we’ve executed the search warrants we have no cause to hold them any longer”
“Is that everything?” Con said.
“Pretty much, I’ll leave you folks to it. We’ll keep you informed on the state of the warrant and forward any samples to your office.”
“Kline, good to meet you folks, I heard you were from out of town, I hope its treating you well, you two have a good one ok.” The deputy closed the door behind him and left them alone in the cold darkened room. Watching Johnny squirm.
Nancy seemed to quiver from a draft as the door closed. She’d been standing with her arms folded facing the glass. Now she started to rub her arms as an almost nervous reaction. Con could tell something was wrong, he walked a few steps closer.
“What is it?”
“Just a feeling” Her mind was somewhere else.
“Like someone’s moonwalking on my grave” She was looking at her reflection in the glass now.
“The kid’s got you spooked?”
“It’s not just the kid, it’s the whole family, and the kid. I knew there was something off about him the minute I saw him.”
“Selection bias at it’s finest, you’re just remembering it that way to make sense of how you feel now”. He smiled knowing that would rile her in the right way.
She scowled at him and chupsed.
“There’s something wrong, it’s like he doesn’t exist. Like everything he does is out of time, out of rhythm. I can look at someone usually and see what they’re gonna do, or what they’re thinking. When I look at him it’s like static, cold white static.”
“What about the family”.
“They’re hiding something, but everytime I think I know what it is it just falls away. It’s not just that I feel like we’re taking one step forward and two steps back. It’s like we’re not moving at all or even if we find out what happened we’ll never quite know the whole truth.”
“That’s always how it is, only an idiot convinces themselves they ever have the whole truth of anything.” He was getting maudlin for a change. As soon as he said it he got that cold feeling like it was contagious.
“But it’s like even they don’t know the whole truth, like they’ve hidden it even from themselves, every one of them.”
“It shouldn’t take too long to have the test’s analysed, and once we send them on to Interpol we can put this to bed.” Part of him wanted to pat her shoulder but he knew how that would go so he kept his hands in pockets.
Porter peeled himself off the sticky floor of the motel slash methden. His head feeling two sizes too big with a couple of golf balls loose inside there. It hurt to move anything from the waist up. His vision was blurry, someone must have hit him in the head hard, he didn’t remember. What was he doing here?
He cricked his neck and put his legs out in front of him so he was in an open leg indian style sitting position. His vision started to come back in patches and he saw a set of cowboy boots laying out flat.
He traced the feet up to a set of jeans and blood soaked plaid shirt.
“Did I do that?” He said to himself, the shirt was a mess, someone had beaten the kid bad. He didn’t remember, the rest of the kids torso was obscured by the farthest army cot.
Shooting pains ran up and down his back as he tried to stand and he fell right back down like a baby on his bottom. Another attempt landed him face first on the closest army cot. He dragged himself across it trying to get some feeling back in his legs.
He crawled over to the second cot, the one furthest away. With some great effort he pulled his chin over the edge of the cot and saw what had happened to Micky. If that was even him, his head was gone. Replaced by a matiz painting, light misting of blood in a wide radius around his shoulders. Chunks of bone and brain soaking deep into the carpet. The wall looked like someone had just thrown a bucket of blood against it. Thick and it was already starting to smell and turn black.
The pictures were gone.
How long had he been lying there? Why wasn’t he dead too? What had he gotten himself into?
All these questions and more swirling around his head. His ears were ringing and sounds came in muffled if at all. It was dark now he could tell that much but there were flashlights. Beams of light probed the windows and through the doors.
Porter slid down the cot and onto the floor, his feet still not quite there yet.
They came through the door hard, the flashlight beams shining in his face, probing the dank of the room.
Porter wasn’t worried, he wasn’t there enough to care.
It was cops, or something close to that.
They yanked him off the floor and threw him in the back of a squad car.
The next day he’d had some time to come together in a holding cell. He was sitting in an interrogation room in Bexar county’s sheriff’s department.
A deputy with a greying beard and a pot belly walked in looking down at a piece of paper and sat across from Porter.
He looked up and tipped his hat back and smiled “So you’re a private investigator, that’s really cool man.”
Porter couldn’t think of anything clever to say.
“Now you don’t have to worry, we caught his girl. She admits to fighting with him before the incident. She was intoxicated on a mix of booze and illegal drugs. We didn’t find any weapons but it seems likely that she killed him in a rage and disposed of the weapon somehow.” He took a look at his notes and continued without leaving Porter room to say anything. “We had someone look you over and it looks like someone whacked you pretty good. On the back of the head.” He took an idiot second and motioned to the back of his own head. “But you should be ok if you take it easy for a couple of days. We figure she came in and didn’t expect there to be two guys there. Hit you on the head and took care of her boyfriend before going on a bender.”
Porter made a sucking sound with his lips.
“Now you said some stuff last night we just wanted you to corroborate. You said they killed a kid and threw him in the reservoir by the old steel mill is that right?”
“That’s what he told me.”
“Can I ask what you were doing there before this happened, are you working a case?”
“I came down there to work a case and I was just doing some follow up for a client.”
“I pulled your record and there’s no history of drugs or anything like that. So I have no reason to believe you went there to get high, so I can only assume you’re telling the truth. Can you tell me anything about the case you’re working on?” He smiled like he was thinking about a movie he liked and said. “I know you guys don’t like to talk about that sort of thing but it would help me out a lot”.
“Ok that’s fair enough, client privilege and all that stuff, I get it. Well you might like to know we did in fact find a body in that reservoir” He stopped to gauge his reaction. “It was a number of years ago, we never made a successful ID”.
Porter looked up and it felt a slake of pain go down his back.
“A little girl, about eight or nine, brown hair, we figured she was a runaway. We never had a suspect until now, the girl confessed to everything. She said her and her old man did it because she saw too much of their drug business. Or something along those lines.” He watched Porter’s face but there was no change. “M.E said it was drowning but there were burns on the body and she was decapitated post mortem”.
Deputy Kline looked him over and rolled his tongue in his mouth a few times before standing.
“Well I’ve taken up enough of your time. We have no real reason to hold you, the case is open and shut so you’re free to go, just stay out of trouble ok bud.” Kline patted Porter on the shoulder which hurt more than it should have. “You can pick your stuff up from the front desk and head on out when you’re ready.”
They had to let Johnny go as soon as they got the samples. They held him another day and then let him go back home and wait out the test results.
Porter got in a cab and picked his truck back up, obviously the cops missed it otherwise it would be in an impound lock up. No one looks twice at an old pick up stashed behind a furniture store in an empty lot in the bad part of town.
He took the highway back into to Austin. He figured he needed his own bed for a night just to sleep off the last couple of days. Then he’d get a fresh start on it when he was new.
A couple of days breezed by, staring out the window, before he went down to the dodge and headed back down to san Antonio.
His only lead had bled out and he was running out of people from Johnny’s past to talk to. He’d already spoken to most of his neighbours and any one with a passing interest. The only thing remaining was to find his brother Jack but his address wasn’t public. Which either meant that he was homeless or he just moved around a lot.
Porter’s only option was to watch and wait. He set up down the street from the Carson house on valhalla so he could watch cars coming and going. He’d watch everyone that came to see them, making note of the make and model and license plate of the car.
He’d made a habit of following Johnny and today was no different.
Around four in the afternoon a dirty looking yellow mustang pulled up onto the sidewalk. A man got out, he was average height, lean and stringy with puke yellow hair past his ears. He had the pained gait of a junky and the hollowed out eyes to match. Dressed like he was going to a dukes of hazard convention, blue jeans and a red polo.
He hopped out of the car and knocked on the door. Peggy came out with her arms folded, her face taut without make up on, her hair was a mess tied up tall on her head. A few moments later of her listening to him saying the odd word here and there she went back into the house. He waited out front tapping his hands nervously on the lap of his jeans. Then going into his polo shirt pocket for a pack of cigarrettes.
A couple of minutes and a lot of cigarrets went by until the door opened again and Johnny came out. The man greeted him and they both got in the car and started driving north east towards the highway. Porter had parked the other way and was watching in his rear view mirror. So he didn’t have to duck down or do anything cliché’ like that.
He just watched them pass and started counting.
“One mississipi, two mississipi, three mississipi”
He got to ten before they started around the bend bleeding onto the 35 state hightway. He started the dodge and began to crawl behind them.
He went around the park and as he got to the edge he could see them taking a right out of town towards San Marcos. That was the way Porter had come in and out of San antone from Austin so he knew it well. There wasn’t much out there but gas station and pig farms, lots of open country and breaches of water.
They went a couple miles up the highway, it was pretty easy to follow them, just staying a few cars behind. They took the exit and headed left on Roy Richard. It was mostly fast food joints all the way down, they took a right at a Whataburger onto four oaks near the plaza.
He followed a little closer because traffic was speeding up. He didn’t want to lose them around a corner to a crowd of people coming out of chick-fil-a.
When he got around the corner he caught sight of them stopped at a murphy 66 gas station. It was surrounded by saplings marked off with white stones. He kept on down the street and started counting again, watching as he passed. He went down the street and parked behind a wallmart watching for that mustang to take off again. This street was a dead end so he’d probably turn around to go back on the highway or turn off onto the back roads.
Porter waited for a minute, he’d parked too far away and he couldn’t see directly onto the lot. But he figured he couldn’t miss the yellow mustang coming out and he could turn quick without being noticed.
He was parked on a long stretch of road running parrarel with the back of the wall mart. It was an empty dead end so there was no sidewalk on one side and just an open lot full of light brown crab grass. Nothing but sky and power cables behind it.
He’d got used to that by now, San Antonio seemed to be a busy town populated by bubbles of absolute nothingness. You’d take a wrong turn down a street and find yourself greeted with nothing but a big empty sky box staring at you.
Porter started to get nervous that he parked too far away so he started to swing the truck around. Just so he’d have more time if they came out too fast. He started to swing it around when he caught something in the corner of his eye. He straightened the dodge up and pulled up onto the bank of the empty lot and yanked the handbrake hard.
There was someone coming down the dead end street at a hurried jog. Trying not to look terrified, not to look out of place. Control their breath, melt into the crowd, only problem was there was no crowd.
The kids heart burned as he kicked against the pavement with flat feet. He was running in the road now and there was no doubt it was him. Johnny Bartlett.
Porter’s heart was doing sommersaults but he swallowed it, why was following him? Was he trying to save the kid or was he trying to put him down?
He had about ten seconds to think about what he was gonna do next. The kid must have seen the truck but didn’t think much of it. He’d only met him once before so it was unlikely he’d recognise him or the truck. He was close now, sweat running down his face. The sky was bruised, clouds climbing, darkness swelling.
Porter reached over the cab and cracked open the passenger side door and shouted “Hey kid!”