April 16, 2012
Murder is not the way I wanted to start my day, but that’s just my luck. But what am I complaining about? I’m not the one lying dead in the middle of my own bar.
Tate—my partner—and I both grew up with Flynn Gallagher. But I could say the same for just about everyone in Crystal Falls. The population is somewhere around twenty thousand—the kind of town where everyone knows everyone.
We went to school together though he was a grade ahead of me. We played on the varsity football team—Flynn was the quarterback, I was the receiver.
He gave me my first beer in an empty field on the tailgate of his 1984 pickup truck. Hell, we even dated the same girl—Lillian McAllister, homecoming queen and head cheerleader. Everyone loved her but I was the lucky SOB that married her. Now Flynn’s dead and counting on me to find out who and why.
The place is a fucking mess. The front window is busted out and the sign that once said Gallagher’s Restaurant & Pub is painted over with graffiti.
Inside, the lights are shattered, slivers of mirrored glass and broken bottles litter the wooden floor. Chairs and tables are smashed. The room reeks of tequila and bourbon. It’s a place for cold pints and wet t-shirt contests. The kind of place that draw’s a younger crowd, I think.
On a shelf behind the counter is a photo of Flynn. The picture proudly sits between a trophy for the towns best cuisine and a dusty old dictionary.
The frame is dirty in my hand—it’s been awhile since anyone has cleaned the place. He’s standing in front of the restaurant on what looks like opening day.
I recognize some of the faces in the group standing behind him—members of the Chamber I suspect.
I pull the photo closer. Flynn looks younger than the man staring up at me now, his face frozen in time. The worn expression against the terror in his eyes shows a man tattered from years of abuse—too much liquor and worry—but worry about what?
Tate squats next to the body. The light in his hand reveals the violent wounds. His arms and legs are broken and unnaturally twisted. His face is bloody from what I assume to be a blunt object that cracked his head open.
“Whoever did this wanted to send a message,” says Tate.
A young man sits at the end of the counter. His fiery crop and red cheeks are the same as the victim. I watch as Ryan Gallagher chugs the beer as if reliving his favorite college drinking game. He and his brother, Shawn, were only boys when I patrolled the neighborhood as a street cop.
I remember seeing them on occasion with their mother, when she'd take them to the park to play. After my rank changed to senior officer, I lost touch with what was going on in the community. My only regret for being promoted.
Police officers are crawling all over the place giving the impression of work ants on assignment for lieutenant Wallace. I watch Dave Rogers—a tall lanky man with a reputable reputation for his thoroughness—as he leads his forensic team into the dark room.
I catch his eye. The acknowledgement is a subtle nod. Tate and I approach Ryan who’s already started on his second mug since I’d walked into the room.
“Hello Ryan, I’m senior officer Payne and this is officer Bedford. We’re the investigating officers for your dads case.” Red rimmed eyes rise to mine. He ignores Tate.
“I’m sorry about your dad,” I say. He swallows the brew in one big gulp. I feel bad for him. I have no idea what it feels like to loose someone close to you but I’ve seen it many times—too many as far as I'm concerned.
“When is the last time you saw your brother?” His eyes are fixed on the mug in thought. He swipes a stubby finger under his nose.
“It was Friday. He needed a part for that stupid hunk of junk he’s been working on for the past year. So, I drove him to Springtown to pick it up,” he says.
“Where did you drop him off at when you got back? Here at the restaurant?”
“Yeah,” he say’s short.
“He’s your twin, isn’t he?” His face is red, sweat is beading on his forehead. “Not identical, but yeah, we’re twins.”
“How long did your dad own the restaurant?” A new sadness washes over him with my question, replacing the growing irritation. He sighs heavy as if the memory is too hard to recall.
“Since mom died,” he manages. “It was their dream to own their own business.” His head drops to the mug.
“Only mom never got to see it.” He lifts his head and moves his gaze toward body that lays covered on the floor. He sucks in the tears.
“He promised her he’d open it no matter what he had to do to get it done.” My brows crease. The idea bounces in my head.
“What do you mean Ryan, get it done?” His head raises in a sudden awareness, his eye twitches.
“I don’t mean nothing,” he spouts. He turns to look at the body. “My dad is dead and my brother is missing,” he screams. “What are you going to do about it? Just ask me stupid questions?” He puts the mug to his mouth and gulps down the last of the beer.
“I’m sorry Ryan, but asking questions is the only way we’re going to figure out what happened to your brother and dad. It’s just part of the process.” He stands to his feet, the mug slams against the counter.
“Process?” he screams.
“Someone murdered my dad and god only knows where the hell my brother is and your worried about fucking process?” He stands a head shorter to me. His green eyes lift, burning into mine. His breath stinks of stale alcohol. His fist lays clenched against my cheek.
“Just find the bastard that did this,” he says. He shoves his shoulder into me as he storms past. There is more to his anger that grief, I think. Something else is driving this boy. I know it in my gut. Tate stands eye level next to me. I see the glint of surprise in his eye at the boys reaction, same as mine.
“Since his mom died?” I say. He knows what I'm thinking. When you work together as long as we have, know each other like the back of your hand.
We’re like Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. Only I’m Sherlock and your Watson I poke—but Tate never appreciated my jokes. He’s that younger kid who tagged along hoping to fit in with the older crowd, and I guess he did since we never ran him off.
“I’ll check it out,” says Tate. He walks away with his tablet to look up Maggie Gallagher. I turn to Dave Rogers.
I've worked with him before on other cases. His four team members that consist of three men and one woman are spread out across the room. Rogers stands next to Flynn. I stick out my hand, taking Rogers in a firm grip giving it a hardy shake.
“Well, I don’t need to tell you what killed him. I think its pretty obvious from that crater in his head. Not to mention someone tortured him before he died.”
“Yeah, but why?” Rogers shrugs.
“That’s your job,” he laughs. His head nods toward the bar.
“What did the kid say?”
“Nothing useful—I think we’re on our own on this one.” Tate returns to stand beside me.
“Maggie Gallagher, age 36, died of breast cancer in 2007—five years ago. Flynn opened the restaurant a year later.”
“Four years—enough time to get established. Did you check the office?”
“Yeah, I did. No records of anything—someone took them.” Rogers hand is firm in mine. “Thanks Dave. Let me know if you find anything else.”
“Sure thing and good luck. Sounds like you’re going to need it.”
Outside, I pull a cigarette from my pocket. I flick the lighter, light the end and suck hard. The smoke runs through my lungs, the nicotine loosens the knot in my stomach.
“What do we do now?” says Tate.
“We put a tail on Ryan Gallagher. That boy knows more than he’s saying.”
April 21, 2012
The cloudy, wet morning is replaced with sunshine and cheer. A perfect day but not an ordinary birthday party.
I feel like I’ve just stepped into the Victorian Era. A modern-day tea party is what Lillian calls it. I don’t care as long as it makes Kati happy.
She picked a spot next to the creek. The calla lilies and a variety of rose bushes make the perfect setting—according to her. Good thing because I don’t know the difference between a Daisy and poison ivy.
She's seated the children around a large round table covered with a white tablecloth. In the center is a vase of pink and yellow roses.
Next to the bouquet is a tea set, complete with tea pot, dainty cups, sugar and cream pitcher. An assortment of goodies lay in tiny plates scattered across the table.
I watch as the other mom’s bustle around the table in long skirts and ruffled tops, a cheerful bonnet sits on each of their heads, some even carry laced parasols.
One by one they fill each child’s plate with a variety of the sweet treats—a cookie, small slice of cake, a scone and crackers with a spoonful of strawberry jam.
The little girls are dressed in their frilliest dresses and big floppy hats. Sadly, the poor boys are forced to wear bow ties on a day other than Sunday, but the sugar filled treats seem to make them forget.
I’m standing next to the table filled with gifts as I watch Lillian pour tea into each little cup. The golden hues of her short cropped hair glisten in the sunshine, hugging the curve of her happy face.
It's in times like these when she shines the brightest, I think. She calls it making memories and she has the pictures to prove it. She has a photo album for every occasion tucked away in her keep sake trunk.
Every birthday, every holiday, every anniversary, it’s all in there.
She did the same thing in high school, keeping track of every football game, fund raiser, homecoming and prom.
Hell, she even took pictures while she was in realtor school and made a special album for me from when I was in the academy.
Today is no exception.
Its time to open the gifts and Kati is bouncing on her knees with eagerness, her blonde ponytail swings with each spring.
My heart leaps to see her excitement.
Tate steps from around the shrubs leading old blue—the horse from his fathers farm. The surprise on Kati's face is priceless.
Asking Tate to be her godfather is the best decision I ever made.
“Here you go lady bug,” he says. “Your very own unicorn.” She hops eager, she loves horses.
“Thank you, Uncle Tate, you’re the best.” She squeezes her arms around his thick neck, kissing his whiskered cheek. She shudders in laughter. Her little hand wipes at her mouth. “That tickles,” she says and kisses him again this time on his forehead.
The way he puckered up, I thought he might cry.
“You’re welcome lady bug.” Tate lifts her, she throws her leg over the saddle and sits ready. I take the reins and walk old blue around the park.
“Please daddy, can I keep riding? I don’t ever want to stop,” she says.
“I’m sorry, but we’ve got to baby. The others are waiting for a turn.” I circle old blue around the path twice before stopping. Kati is disappointed as Tate helps her to the ground.
“But I want to keep riding Uncle Tate.”
“You’ll have more turns.”
“Yes, honey, I promise.”
“Cross your heart and hope to die stick a needle in your eye?” she says. I smile as she takes her finger and draws the cross on her little chest.
“If your promise is true you can’t break your word,” she says warning. She watches his face questioning, waiting for his answer.
“Yes, lady bug, I cross my heart and hope to die, anything for you baby girl.” I don’t know why, but his words are eerie, haunting, I think. A sudden chill runs through me, I shiver cold.