“Dogs are fine for most searches, but they aren’t infallible. Ground-penetrating radar is the most reliable and gives you the biggest bang for the buck. There are too many animal carcasses, and the stream creates problems for the dogs.” Henry is retired now, but he was a deputy when my mother went missing.
Like most of the deputies on the case, Henry maintains the theory that my mother was buried somewhere on the family property, but he never found any proof. Not one shred of physical evidence indicated she was murdered, let alone left on the land to rot.
“Sure, that makes sense. The dogs didn’t find anything before. The way I remember it, they were out there sniffing for days with several teams of dogs. How long would it take to set up that kind of search? I’m here in town for the next few days,” I explained.
“For a legal search, on a cold case, without any new evidence? Hell, that would take months. But let’s say you want to survey the land for building or expansion reasons, and you happen across human remains. The authorities will be coming out on a new case at that point. It would only be a phone call.”
“That’s what I need to do then. Wade all but confessed to burying my mother on the property. He claims she visits him every night. He’s getting crazier every year.”
“You need to have a different kind of reality to do those things to people—to women of all creatures. It makes me sick to this day when I think of it. That first look at the bodies threw me. I never saw that type of crime scene before. I still see that first mangled young girl in the dirt. My memory won’t let go of her. It’s the reason I learned to drink the hard stuff. So where are you off to this time, Jake? Got yourself another movie star that needs his handheld?”
“Nah, it’s a family in the upstate area that needs looking after. A cakewalk gig, really. One of their regular guys is going to be out for a few weeks getting his gallbladder removed. I’ll be taking the rich guy’s wife shopping more than likely.”
“You could make a career for yourself in the department, Jake. Put that military training to good use. You’d be retired by forty-five unless they made you Sheriff,” Henry mused.
“Ha, the local hatchet murders son as Sheriff. I don’t think that will ever happen. I’m fine, the private sector keeps me occupied and well-compensated.” I always suspected Henry had some idea of my illegal dealings, but apparently, he didn’t.
“Hey, don’t knock good old name recognition. Sheriff Wallace has a ring to it. Hell, you could even go by Papadopoulos. That company has been around for decades, that can’t hurt.” Henry and I visited a bit longer. His wife Nina brought out some fresh berry cobbler. By the time my plate was empty, it was threatening to get dark.
Back when everything went sideways, Henry wanted to take me in, but he was a single man with no family to speak of. My aunt decided to leave me with Nick and his wife instead. I can only imagine how different my life might be if I had stayed with Henry. Nick acknowledged my more unique talents and put me to work enforcing his grip on territory he controls.
I’m sure Henry would have meant well, but he would have led me to suppress my killer instincts and conform to society. A gun and a badge with repressed killer tendencies, Lord only knows the devil I would have become.
My upstate babysitting gig was actually a move on my adopted father’s newest rival. The idiot walked on a piece of organized traffic and choked off the heroin coming through Cuba to New York. Somebody was going to kill the stupid bastard. It might as well be me who gets to line his pockets. The problem upset Nick and his partners, so it had to be dealt with quickly.
I don’t have many vices. I like a good drink and a little weed, but I do like my guns. I justify the money I spend on my hardware by claiming they are my work tools. Too bad I can’t write them off on my taxes. The right tool makes any job more manageable. This adage applies to every situation, in my opinion. I suppose women are another area I spend way too much money on, considering I can’t really tell them about my real life. Temporary distractions are the most expensive ones.
I can’t report my earnings or put much of it in a local bank. Nick has a system figured out. We “earn” a salary from his legitimate concrete business, and I have a few investments tied to that. I’m listed as a salesman which is absurd, considering I couldn’t sell ice water in hell. I’m sent out to talk to people as he sees it, so I’m his top salesman. Still, nothing beats an offshore account for stashing away money.
Nick and his family were kind to me when they didn’t have to be. I try to make sure I pay them back as often as I can. I’ll visit before I leave and have a family meal. I take roses to my adopted mother and a case of rum to my aunt, but then I’m right back out taking care of the family business. I know Nick appreciates having me to lean on.
His blood son is away at college now. Joey always wanted to be an artist, and he’s talented. Sculpture, I think, is his new pursuit. It was oil and canvas before and something with mixed media before that, but I find it hard to keep up with his short-lived passions. I don’t think he has the constitution to step into his father’s business and take over. It will end with Nick, or maybe he will pass to me. Either way, I won’t complain.
Rule one you don’t talk business in the house. I guess rule 1A would be that you don’t talk shop on the cell phone. I get my orders in person, or I don’t get them at all. Sometimes, Aunt Sissy is the go-between, but I prefer her not to be involved in any of the more seedy activities I’m linked to. We do have a burner phone system for emergencies, but shit has to be bad before we risk that kind of exposure.
Driving along the back roads towards town, there is nothing but black highway and green fields. Every now and then, a wood beam fence pops out of the green. A sure sign of outsiders moved to town. Otherwise, it’s open and clean. It’s hard to think of life any other way. I love it here, but I can’t take the quiet for more than a few weeks. It’s like a sickness. I start to miss the noisy, dirty city, the chaos of the people, and all the liars and cheaters who want to try their angle on you.
I miss the game and power. It makes me angry when I feel the satisfaction of a kill. Makes me feel like my father’s son. I can see how he got where he is today. He’s a crazy bastard, but I understand how he let the power take him down where he couldn’t get back up. Once I’m in the game, my focus is entirely on the job. Nothing else matters. I don’t sample the products, I don’t steal from the dealers, I won’t lie to my benefactor, and I don’t kill anyone I’m not contracted to kill. If you have a code to stick to and the tools for the job, you can do anything you are asked. I know because that’s what I do.
The first place I stopped was the gas station close to Leipers Fork. Old Pete runs it, but he only stays open till dark— after that, you have to drive out of town. A rental car with a small gas tank makes me miss my truck, but it wasn’t practical to drive it all the way. I live close to my younger brother in Connecticut only to keep an eye on him for my mother, Marie. After losing one son to an accident, she has always been paranoid that she will lose the two of us.
I stopped for flowers and rum before heading home to visit Nick and Marie. Joey hadn’t been back in months, and I knew Marie would want to grill me for information. The dinner was my favorite, cannoli and meat sauce with garden-fresh green beans. The conversation went as well as I hoped for. The despair from my prison visit made it hard to enjoy anything elegant, but it certainly made me appreciate every kindness I was offered.
Nick needed me to head out a few days before schedule. The situation was getting worse. A second delivery route was compromised by the authorities. It seemed the new encroacher didn’t realize he needed to pay for protection from all the police.
The guy was so out of his depths that he was making dealings difficult for everyone. An additional bounty was added to his head. Nick wanted me to squash the problem immediately. With ten hours left before I needed to head back to the Nashville airport, I settled in for the night. With any luck, the issue would be dealt with by the end of the week.