Chapter 13 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 had happened.
Johnny looked nervous, lost, like he was searching for something. 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. He was chewing some kind of blue gum that made his breath smell like popcorn.
“That’s us,” Con said, 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, fingerprints, palm prints, photographs, 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. He furrowed 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, then started to take the gum out of his mouth. “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 highlights.”
“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 it was out in the garage. She doesn’t have any idea how it got there. Possibly, it had been bought by her husband and put in storage.” He looked up to check they were still there and went on. “The subject took said flare gun and discharged it into the refrigerator, accidentally.” He said that last part looking at Con.
“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 it’s 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 quivered from a draft as the door closed. Con could tell something was wrong.
“What is it?”
“Just a feeling.” Her mind was somewhere else.
“Like someone’s moon-walking 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 its 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 every time 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. Even if we find out what happened, I’m afraid 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 a cold feeling, as if it was contagious.
“But it’s as if even they don’t know the whole truth, as if they’ve hidden it even from themselves, every one of them.”
“It shouldn’t take too long to have the tests analyzed, 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 his pockets.
Porter peeled himself off the sticky floor of the motel-slash-meth den. His head was feeling two sizes too big. It hurt to move anything from the waist up. His vision was blurry. Someone must have hit him on 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. His vision started to come back in patches and he saw a set of cowboy boots, jeans and a 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 kid’s torso was obscured by an army cot.
Shooting pains ran up and down Porter’s back as he tried to stand. 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 into his legs.
He crawled over to the second cot, with great effort, pulled his chin over the edge and saw what had happened to Micky. His head was gone. It had been replaced by a Matisse painting, a light misting of blood, in a wide radius, around his shoulders. Chunks of bone and brain were soaking into the carpet. The wall looked like someone had just thrown a bucket of blood against it. It was already starting to smell and turn black.
The pictures were gone.
Porter wondered how long he had he been lying there. Why wasn’t he dead too? What had he gotten himself into?
All these questions and more swirled around his head. His ears were ringing and sounds were muffled. It was dark now. He could tell that much, but there were flashlights: beams of light probed the windows.
Porter slid down the cot and onto the floor.
The flashlight beams shone in his face.
Porter wasn’t worried; he wasn’t there enough to care.
It was cops.
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 sat across from Porter.
He looked up, 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 as the deputy continued. “Now, you said some stuff last night that 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. 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.”
Porter yawned. The deputy went on. “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 Porter’s reaction. “It was a number of years ago. We never made a successful ID.”
Porter looked up and felt a slake of pain go down his back. The deputy continued. “A little girl, about eight or nine, brown hair. We figured she was a runaway. We never had a suspect until now. Micky’s girl confessed to everything. She said her and her old man did it because the girl 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 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. “You can pick your stuff up from the front desk and head on out when you’re ready.”
Porter’s only lead had bled out and he was running out of people from Johnny’s past to talk to.
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 made notes of the make and model and license plate of each one.
He’d also made a habit of following Johnny.
At 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 hollowed-out eyes to match. He was 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 and no makeup on. Her hair was a mess, tied up tall on her head. A few moments later, she went back into the house. Dukes of Hazard waited out front, tapping his hands nervously on the lap of his jeans.
A couple of minutes later, the door opened again and Johnny came out. Dukes of Hazard greeted him and they both got in the car. They started driving north-east, towards the highway.
Porter started the Dodge and began to crawl behind them.
They took a right out of town towards San Marcos. There wasn’t much out there but gas stations and pig farms: lots of open country.
It was pretty easy to follow them. They took the exit and headed left on Roy Richard. It was mostly fast food joints.
He followed a little closer because traffic was speeding up. He didn’t want to lose them to a crowd of people coming out of Chick-fil-a.
They stopped at a Murphy 66 gas station, surrounded by saplings and marked off with white stones. Porter kept on down the street and parked behind a Wal-Mart.
Porter started to get nervous that he had parked too far away, so he swung the truck around, just so he’d have more time if they came out too fast. He caught something in the corner of his eye.
There was someone coming down the street at a hurried jog, trying not to look terrified, not to look out of place. They were controlling their breathing, trying to melt into the crowd, but the only problem was there was no crowd.
There was no doubt it was him. Johnny Bartlett.
Porter’s heart was doing somersaults. Why was he following Johnny anyway? 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 going to do next. The kid was close now, sweat running down his face. The sky was bruised, clouds climbing, darkness swelling.
Porter reached over the cab, cracked open the passenger side door and shouted, “Hey, kid!”