Linus sipped water from a bottle as he sat in his car, a gray Nissan Maxima, in a Burger King parking lot. Even though the GPS monitor on the passenger seat would beep when Roger’s car began to move, he periodically looked at it to make sure there hadn’t been any movement. While he’d been running the night before, trying to figure out a better way to get to Terry without causing harm to Roger, he’d come up with the idea of following Roger. If he pressured Roger, there was always the chance he would tip off Terry and Linus would never get to him. At some point, Roger was going to need a new supply from Terry. All Linus had to do was watch and wait. During the night, he’d attached a GPS tracking device to Roger’s car.
Linus picked up his phone and called Jenny. “Tell me you have some good news,” he said before she could say anything.
“Not today. My source claims to know nothing about a steroids dealer named Terry.”
“Are you sure your source would tell you?”
“He’s never led me astray before.”
“He say anything about possible suspects dealing steroids to high school students?”
“Nothing there either.”
“So Terry is either a low level dealer or really good at keeping himself off the radar.”
“It would help to have a last name. Terry might be a nickname.”
“It’s all I’ve got at the moment.”
“What’s your next step?” she asked.
“Watch and wait.”
“Sounds exciting. Since you’ve got some free time, why don’t we talk?”
“I don’t know. Maybe that other case.”
“What other case?” He knew what case she wanted to discuss, because she kept bringing it up, the one that led him to leaving the police department. He wasn’t sure if she referred him clients because she liked him or if she thought he might reciprocate by telling her what had happened.
“Stop playing hard to get. Tell me the story and set the record straight.”
“Everything that needs to be said has been said.”
“Except your version.”
“What if their version is my version?”
“And what if I don’t believe you?”
“Then I guess you don’t believe me. It’s a free country after all.”
The elevator doors opened and Jefferson walked across the marble floor to the receptionist’s desk. “Good morning, Libby,” he said.
“Hello, Mr. Beale. Mr. Bonner asked for you to wait for him in the conference room. He’ll be with you as soon as he finishes with his conference call.”
“Thank you,” he said as he continued past her desk to the conference room. Jefferson knew the way. Whenever Gil wanted to meet, he told Jefferson to come to his office rather than Gil coming to The Foundation. And when Jefferson arrived, Gil always made him wait in the conference room.
“I’m almost forgot,” Libby said, “Can I get you something to drink?”
“I’m fine. Thank you.”
Jefferson set his briefcase on the mahogany wood conference table and stood next to the windows overlooking downtown Fort Worth. Gil’s company, Bonner Ventures, a real estate development and management firm, owned this building and a couple more in downtown, although Jefferson could never remember which ones. While Bonner Ventures was situated in one of the nicer buildings in downtown Fort Worth, Gil had chosen to house his Foundation in a two-story building in south Arlington. Although Gil never said so, Jefferson suspected he hadn’t been able to find a buyer for the building and the land so he’d donated it to The Foundation as a tax write-off.
The conference room door opened and Jefferson turned around.
“Mr. Bonner asked me to tell you it’ll be a few more minutes. He had to take another call.”
Jefferson nodded his head. Mr. Bonner always had to take another call.
Linus listened to music on his phone, We Are All Where We Belong by Quiet Company, while he flipped through the pages of the magazines he’d brought along, Running, Runner’s World, and Endurance Running. Throughout the day, he moved from the parking lot of one fast food restaurant to another.
He read a race report about a one hundred mile run in the mountains of Colorado. Even though the pictures of the trails looked alluring, the participants claimed the race had been one of the toughest of the year. All of them blamed the altitude. How could running at altitude be that much harder than a hundred degree day in Texas? Pain was pain, wasn’t it? Maybe after the Horner case, he’d pack up and take an extended vacation to run in the Colorado mountains. Just to see what it was like. Maybe he’d even sign up for one of those races.
The GPS tracker beeped and Linus glanced at the screen. The moving blip on the screen was headed towards him. Linus looked up and saw Roger’s dented red Hyundai exit the neighborhood. He turned off the music and followed Roger, staying three cars behind.
Roger drove north, past the mall and a movie theater. As they neared the University, the number of cars between them dropped to one. Linus drifted further back. With the GPS tracker, he didn’t need to stay so close. The traffic light ahead turned red. Linus grabbed a baseball cap from the passenger seat and put it on. When the light turned green, Roger continued straight for a few blocks before turning left on Keller Road. Half a block later he turned left into a shopping center parking lot. Linus turned right and parked in a lot across the street. Roger got out of his car and went into Bell’s Burgers.
They’d passed ten other burger places on the way, so why stop here? Linus had never been here himself, but from what he’d heard, the burgers were average at best and the restaurant’s popularity was due more to cost than quality. The nearby college students loved an inexpensive burger. The windows of Bell’s were tinted, which prevented Linus from seeing what Roger was doing or if he was meeting anyone.
Five minutes later, Roger exited the restaurant accompanied by a young man who looked just as fit and muscular as Roger, although five or six inches shorter. The other guy had olive skin, closely cropped black hair, and wore a tight-fitting t-shirt. They got into a blue Honda Accord with Roger sitting on the passenger side. Linus grabbed his binoculars. Roger handed the guy an envelope and the guy handed Roger a plastic bag. The two of them sat in the car and talked for a few more minutes.
Linus smiled. If it looks like a drug deal and it smells like a drug deal…
Was it really going to be this easy to find Terry? When the two exited the car Linus tried taking a picture of the dealer but he couldn’t get a clear shot of his face. The dealer went back inside Bell’s while Roger got back in his car.
Linus called Jenny. “I need you to run the license plate on a car.”
“The numbers look good,” Gil said. After keeping Jefferson waiting for twenty minutes, taking phone calls and attending to other business, Gil had entered the conference room. Before The Foundation’s Executive Board convened for its quarterly meeting, Jefferson and Gil met to review the agenda as well as the financial reports. Gil pushed the financial reports aside and picked up one of the brochures. “Are we sure about these?”
How many times had they been over this? The decision had been made, the materials ordered, printed, and delivered, yet Gil still wanted to reconsider.
“Yes,” Jefferson answered, “In a market competitive for people’s donations, we need to present our brand as clearly as possible. People need to know who we are and what we do. They need to believe their dollars are going to make a difference.”
Gil tossed the first brochure aside and picked up the second. “I expect you’ll monitor the effectiveness of these brochures. I’ll want to see if the expense of these brochures has any impact on our income. We can’t afford to be wasting money. In case you haven’t heard, we’re in the midst of a real estate market crash.”
Jefferson nodded his head. Money was always tight, except when Gil wanted to buy another car or take a vacation or invest in a deal. When Gil wanted something, he managed to find the money. If somebody else wanted money from Gil, the market was tight, the deals weren’t there, and he was cash poor.
The Foundation existed primarily for Gil. His business partners had started their own Foundations, so Gil had done so as well. Also, he’d made a ton of money off the Barnett Shale, windmills, flipping a few properties, and leasing other properties for cellphone towers, so he’d needed a tax write-off. He’d learned he could start a Foundation, make the contributions, get the tax benefit, and still maintain control of his money. As long as The Foundation didn’t cause Gil any problems, meaning it didn’t require constant capital infusions, and as long as it allowed Gil to be seen as a philanthropist, all would be well.
“I don’t like the idea of these trips,” Gil said.
“The trips are our way of demonstrating our involvement in the problem we’re seeking to alleviate. Philanthropy is more than writing a check. These trips are key to establishing our brand. Yes, we’ll make a little money on the trips, but the people who go will come back emotionally invested in our mission. Once they’re emotionally invested, they’re more likely to be financially invested and tell their friends.”
“It’s too much of a risk. Negative publicity. The last thing we need is some teenage girl going on a trip and getting sick and dying or getting caught in the middle of a civil war in one of these third world countries.”
Jefferson wondered where Gil got his ideas or if he spouted the first thing that came to mind when he didn’t like an idea.
“I believe these trips are vital to our future.”
“Jefferson, we’ve known each other since college. One of the reasons I hired you as the Executive Director is because of our friendship. But this Foundation has my name on it and my money makes it run. I’m not going to have my name dragged through the mud when some tragedy occurs. We’ll make a difference, but we’ll do it my way. No trips.”
Colin pushed a shopping cart through the aisles of Home Depot. He was doing his best to blend in with the other contractors, wearing faded and torn blue jeans, a plain dark t-shirt, a baseball cap, and scuffed Doc Marten boots. He filled the cart with plastic sheets, duct tape, work gloves, cleaning solvents, and some rags. When he got to the check out line, he grabbed a couple of energy drinks as well.
After pulling the sheets back over Terry, Colin had turned the air conditioner down low and sat on the couch with the TV on. He’d stared at the screen, not paying attention to what was on, more wanting the noise to fill the silence of the house.
Sometime after midnight, he got up from the couch and returned to the bedroom. He opened the door to the room and stared at the mass under the sheets.
He and Terry had met when they were ten years old and playing football at the YMCA. They’d discovered a mutual interest in BMX bikes and video games so they’d started hanging out together. They later attended the same junior high and high school. Colin was the first person Terry called when his Dad left his Mom and Terry was the first person Colin called when his Aunt passed away. When she died, she’d left Colin the house. Colin needed a way to make ends meet and he found that way by dealing steroids at the gym where he lifted weights. When the business had increased beyond a one-man job, he’d hired Terry.
Colin sat on the floor with his back against the wall and his eyes fixed on the bed. He couldn’t believe Terry was dead. It didn’t seem real. Colin stayed there until the morning sun peeked through the blinds. He got up, took one last look at the bed, and shut the bedroom door behind him.
The past was the past and the future was the future. The two people closest to him were gone and there was nothing he could do to change it.
But he could make amends.
“I’ve got a name,” Jenny said.
Linus waited for her to divulge the information, but there was nothing but silence on Jenny’s end. “And?”
“What have you got for me?” she asked.
“I’ve given you everything I’ve got which is the license plate. Of course, if you’re interested in knowing about the comings and goings of Moms and their kids at Burger King, I can talk all day. That might be a fascinating article. Maybe even a book. Based on my investigation, it appears that the average visit to Burger King is approximately thirty-five minutes. However, if a mother is meeting another mother, the visit tends to last an hour and ten minutes. I think this says something about our society.”
“You know what I’m talking about it.”
“My word is good. I’ll tell you what I know when I know something. Can I have the name?”
“The car is registered to Max Rollins.”
“I take it you’ve already done a background check on Max Rollins. Does he happen to use ‘Terry’ as an alias?”
“Nada,” she answered.
“Does he have a record?”
“Only traffic violations, parking and speeding.”
“How about an address?”
She gave him Max’s address, which was near the University and Bell’s Burgers.
Who was Max Rollins? Was the person he’d seen with Roger even Max? Could Terry have borrowed Max’s car? Was Terry Max or Max Terry? Was Max a new dealer or a different dealer? He was operating under the assumption Roger was buying steroids. Maybe he’d been buying some other drugs.
“I need another favor.”
“Thanks for the ride,” Colin said.
“No problem. Whatever you need. Where to?” Max asked.
“Drop me off at the mall.”
“You sure? I thought you’d want me to take you home or to an auto parts store.”
“I’ll mess with fixing my truck later. I’ve got to make a delivery. Business first.” His truck hadn’t broken down. He’d needed to get to the mall without his truck and he didn’t want to inform Max about his plans.
“Absolutely,” Max answered, exiting the Starbucks parking lot. “Do you need me to take you home after that?”
“No, I’ve got that covered. I’m meeting up with a girl after the client.”
“I see, I’m just your taxi service.”
“It’s not like that. Precautions. I can’t have her see me make a delivery to the client. She’ll start asking questions.”
Max nodded his head. “You’re right. Always be careful. Speaking of being careful, have you heard from Terry? He’s not returning any of my calls or texts.”
“Not a word,” Colin said.
“This isn’t like him. I’m worried something’s happened.”
“That kid’s suicide hit him pretty hard. He probably needs some time and space to deal with it. He’ll be fine.”
“I don’t know. It seems like he’d tell one of us.”
“I’ve know Terry a long time. I’d know if something were wrong. Besides, what are we going to do? Go to the police? Our friend who sold steroids to that rich kid who killed himself has gone missing? That’ll be the end of us.”
“Trust me, he’ll turn up when he’s ready,” Colin said.
“Have you given any thought to my other idea?”
“About expanding our product selection?”
“We’re not doing it.”
“I have people asking me all the time for other stuff, E and Oxy? We could make a lot of money.”
“I don’t want any part of those drugs. They screw people up.”
“I’m only passing along my what I hear from my clients.”
“They can get their junk somewhere else. Besides, most of the time the cops don’t care about steroids, but E and Oxy, they’re all over that stuff. Too much heat.”
“I hear you.”
“Turn in here and drop me off at that entrance,” Colin said.
Max stopped the car where Colin had pointed, the mall’s south entrance. Colin got out of the car and looked back at Max. “Everything’s gonna be alright. Trust me.”
“Are we going to sit here all day or are we going to knock on the door?” Jenny asked.
Linus ignored her question, never taking his eyes away from the front door at 102 Belfry Drive. When Jenny had opened the passenger door and gotten in his car, Linus hadn’t even turned his head to look at her. She wasn’t even sure if he’d seen her park her car behind his.
With Max’s name, Jenny had sent a Facebook friend request to Max using one of her fake accounts. According to her profile, her name was Lynn and she attended Tarrant County Community College. To complete the profile, she’d used the photograph of a blond college-aged girl. The friend request was accepted within minutes. Jenny had trolled Max’s friend’s list looking for every Terry she could find. There were two. The first she eliminated because he was stationed in Afghanistan. The second belonged to Terry Larson. As she scanned Max’s Facebook wall, she saw Max and Terry Larson were active on one another’s walls, posting comments and pictures. She downloaded a photo of Terry Larson from Max’s wall and sent it to Linus. He showed the photo to Roger, who confirmed Terry Larson as being the same Terry who’d sold Taylor steroids. With a last name, Jenny located an address for Terry, 102 Belfry Drive, where he supposedly lived with his mother.
“How long have you been watching the house?” she asked.
“About an hour,” he said.
“Only the Mom come home.”
Terry’s Mom had arrived home an hour earlier and parked her burgundy van in the driveway. As soon as she’d entered the house, she opened the blinds and windows and turned on the lights. He’d watched her move from room to room, yet he never saw any sign of Terry or anyone else in the house.
“So what do we do next?”
Linus turned and looked at Jenny. “Follow me and don’t say a word.”
“What’s the plan?” Jenny asked as they got out of the car and walked across the street.
“Just let me do the talking.”
Linus knocked on the front door. The mother opened the door a slight crack, enough for her eyes to meet Linus’.
“Yes?” she said.
“Is Terry home?” Linus asked.
She leaned her head against the doorframe and began to cry.
Jefferson adjourned the meeting of The Foundation’s Executive Board. The meeting proceeded as Gil had wanted, a review of the finances, an update on the operations, and a presentation of the one marketing piece. The other brochure, the one promoting humanitarian trips, remained in a box in the corner of Jefferson’s office. The board meeting, like the others, passed with no questions. As soon as the meeting ended, Gil and the other board members departed so they wouldn’t get stuck in rush hour traffic.
“Off to another meeting myself, so I’ll see you tomorrow,” Jefferson said to Liz. He had no other meetings scheduled, but he didn’t have anything else to do at the office. He couldn’t stand the idea of sitting at his desk and staring at the walls.
Jefferson stopped at a convenience store and bought a cup of coffee and a newspaper. He put the coffee cup on the dashboard and turned to the local news section. There’d yet to be any mention of the accident in the news, which didn’t make any sense to him. There should have been something about it by now. Even if he’d struck a homeless man it ought to have been a newsworthy item. If the person had been homeless, maybe the police had chalked up his injuries to something other than vehicular manslaughter. Or perhaps the person hadn’t been hurt so bad after all, just a few bruises and scratches. Or he could’ve hit an illegal alien on his way to work. If an illegal reported the accident, he risked being deported back to Mexico.
Jefferson tossed the paper into the dumpster before he drove off. He’d resisted the urge to google for any mention of the accident on his computer at home or work. The less there was to link him to the accident the better.
His cellphone rang and Tabitha’s name showed on the caller id. “I’m on my way home as we speak,” he answered.
“I was afraid you’d forgotten about our dinner date.”
“Since you’re out, would you mind picking up my dry cleaning?”
Colin stood outside the closed door of the guest bedroom. He’d changed from a short sleeve shirt to a long sleeve shirt and put on a pair of rubber gloves, the ends of which he’d taped to the sleeves of his shirt. Before sliding a surgical mask over his baseball cap and face, he’d applied a generous amount of Vaseline to the area underneath his nostrils to help block the decomposing smell. He took one last deep breath, exhaled, and opened the door.
On the floor, Colin spread out a plastic sheet at the end of the bed. He lifted the covers and took one more look at Terry. He wanted to say something, “I’m sorry” or something along those lines, but the words felt empty and he couldn’t think of anything to say. Colin placed the covers back over Terry and rolled him up inside the sheets and covers. He then lifted Terry, the sheets, and the covers onto the plastic sheet, wrapped him inside the plastic, and taped the ends and sides together with duct tape. Colin spread out another sheet of plastic and rolled and taped Terry again. He spread out a third sheet, which he used to wrap up Terry’s empty backpack. Colin had already moved the money from the backpack to his safe in the attic. The bike he’d tossed in a dumpster on his way to Home Depot. Terry’s wallet and identification he’d shoved into the bottom of a different dumpster. The only thing Colin kept was Terry’s phone.
Colin surveyed the room to make sure he’d left no evidence behind. He carried Terry to the garage, where he placed his body and his backpack inside the trunk of a Kia he’d stolen at the mall.
“I promise you I’m going to make it all right,” he said before shutting the trunk.
Somehow Jefferson had either forgotten or misunderstood that his dinner date with Tabitha involved attending a dinner reception where Tabitha was receiving an award. They sat at the front table facing the rest of the dinner’s attendees. The group, the name of which Jefferson couldn’t remember, or even cared to know, had chosen to honor Tabitha for her work, for being an inspiration to other women. Or something like that. Before Tabitha gave her speech, the emcee listed Tabitha’s books and accomplishments and lauded her for her battle against cancer.
Jefferson turned his head towards the podium and reminded himself to smile even though he’d heard her give this speech on twenty or so other occasions. After she finished speaking, he remained seated at the front table while a line of women waited to have their picture taken with Tabitha. The line snaked along the front and down the side all the way to back of the room.
He was the one who should be having his picture taken with people and she should be sitting up here basking in the glow of his success, remembering to smile. She ought to be the one picking up his dry cleaning.
When she’d been ill with cancer, all anyone wanted to know about was Tabitha. How was she doing? How was she holding up? Were the treatments proving effective? Nobody ever asked about him, how was he dealing with the crisis.
What about him?
What about Jefferson Beale?
Before Linus could get out another word, Terry’s Mom had flung open the door and fallen onto his chest crying. He guided her back into the house and set her on the couch while the tears continued to fall. He stood across from her and watched. Jenny sat down next to Terry’s Mom and put her arms around her. Linus looked away from the crying to the pictures on the wall, photos documenting Terry’s life from the day he was born to the young man he was today.
Linus never knew what to do when a person started crying. As a detective, he’d hated delivering bad news. Not sure of what to do, he did what he was doing now and just stood there. Linus knew enough to resist the urge to tell the person everything was going to be okay, because everything was not going to be okay. Life had fundamentally, irrevocably changed and not for the better. A loved one or a friend was gone, dead, and they were never coming back. Of course, in the case of Terry’s Mom, he had no idea why she was crying.
Linus handed the mother a box of tissues he’d gotten from the bathroom. She leaned back against the couch and wiped away her tears. Jenny stayed next to her on the couch.
“It’s so unlike him,” she said.
“What do you mean?” Linus asked.
“I haven’t heard from my Terry in a couple of days. I’ve called and texted him, but nothing. He always calls me back. Always.”
“Has he ever done anything like this before?”
“Never! My Terry always lets me know what he’s up to and where he’s going to be. He’s a good boy.”
Linus nodded his head. He’d heard this story before. The son was an angel, would never hurt anyone or be involved in any illegal activities.
“When was the last time you saw or heard from him?” Linus asked.
“A couple of nights ago. We ate dinner together and then I went to work. I work the late night shift at a call center. After work, I come home and go straight to bed. When I get up, if he’s not home, I’ll call or text him and he always answers me right away.”
“Have you checked with any of his friends?” he asked.
She looked at the floor. “I’ve met them and I know their first names, but I don’t know where they live or how to contact them. I know it sounds bad, but I’ve always been able to trust Terry and he’s never been in any kind of trouble. I don’t know what to do.”
“Maybe we can help,” Jenny said.
Jefferson looked at his watch and then at the line of women still waiting to have a picture taken with Tabitha. He figured they’d be here at least another hour. More than a picture, these women wanted a moment to talk with Tabitha, to tell her something or to ask her a question, and Tabitha was more than willing to oblige.
“More coffee, sir?” the waiter asked.
Even though he’d been to many of these functions with Tabitha, he still wasn’t used to being the guest. For years, he was the one being asked to do or say something. Now, he just sat in a chair, sipped his coffee, and hoped to avoid small talk with the event’s organizers. Whenever they wanted to talk to him, it wasn’t to learn about Jefferson Beale, but about her.
Jefferson looked around the room at the women who were gathered. Most, if not all, of those in attendance were women. It was at a function similar to this, a luncheon for a woman’s shelter in Tampa, where he’d met Marilyn.
The doctors had grown optimistic at Tabitha’s chances of beating her cancer. All the tests were trending in the right direction. Yet, every time Jefferson came home, a group of her friends were there. One might be fixing a meal, another might be preparing her medicines, and someone else might be typing whatever blog post Tabitha was dictating.
He was an intruder in his own home.
Like most of the men who came to his office for counseling, Jefferson later might’ve said the same thing. He never intended to cheat on his wife, but…
Someone had asked Jefferson to give the invocation at a charity luncheon for a woman’s shelter. He’d been seated at the front table, next to a very attractive woman he guessed was in her forties. Jefferson noticed she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. He introduced himself and asked, “How are you connected to this group?” He expected to hear how she was invested in the charity because either herself or someone she knew had been abused.
“Volunteering gets me out of the house and keeps from dwelling on my recent divorce.”
The story was one he’d heard a dozen or so times before in his office. Husband worked long hours, wife raised the kids, kids went to college, husband met a younger woman at work, and one day the marriage was over. Jefferson talked with Marilyn throughout the meal and when the luncheon was over, she joked about how she didn’t even know how to do the simplest repairs around the house.
“I’d be glad to help you,” Jefferson heard himself saying.
Marilyn sent him notes, which he burned, and text messages, which he deleted. He figured he was safe until she showed up at his church and began to volunteer there as well. What if someone from the church discovered their relationship, if they saw the way she looked at him? What if Tabitha found out? He couldn’t afford to lose everything.
One afternoon, he returned to the church office and found an ambulance outside the building. A group of women, Marilyn included, had been meeting, planning some conference or retreat or something, when Marilyn had collapsed. Jefferson followed the ambulance to the hospital and called her children. The doctors said there was nothing they could do. She was born with a birth defect, a time bomb the doctors called it, and the blood vessel in her brain could’ve erupted at any point in her life. Even if she’d been standing in the ER when it happened, the doctors told him they would’ve been powerless to save her life. For the moment, she was on life support. When her children arrived, Jefferson spoke with them for a few minutes before excusing himself and allowing them to have their time with her.
He drove to Marilyn’s house and entered it with the key she’d previously given him. He searched the entire house as well as her computer, destroying every note and deleting every email, so there’d be no evidence of their relationship.
She died the following morning, hours after being removed from life support. The children asked Jefferson to speak at her funeral. Tabitha attended the service with him and complimented him on the funeral sermon.
Jefferson had learned his lesson. Next time, he’d need to be more careful.
This week, I’ll be posting 10 chapters from my mystery novel, Secrets To Keep. Tomorrow, chapter 10.
To read the rest of the book, you can purchase the e-book for $2.99 (or the paperback for $11.95) at the following: