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Authors: Michael Kerr

Tags: #Crime Fiction, #Thrillers, #Vigilante Justice, #Murder, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Crime

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BOOK: Absolution
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CHAPTER SEVEN

It
was seven-thirty the following morning when Roy Darrow unlocked the door to the Madison Bend Courier, entered, switched on the overheads in the gloomy room and then relocked the door behind him.  He did not open for business until eight-thirty, which gave him time to work on the current week’s edition, prior to it being published over in Tucson on Thursday.

Apart from Wallace Pattison, the Courier’s photographer, and Mandi Stevens, a local woman who oversaw subscriptions, advertising, classifieds, obituaries and the like, Roy was the owner and editor and decided what news found its way into the Courier, and wrote it up the way he knew the readers liked it. The townspeople were on the whole a conservative bunch, and Roy catered for the majority in these hard times.  The town council was due to host its annual meeting at town hall that evening, to set out its priorities and give residents the chance to have their say, so Roy would be there with Wallace.  He saw that as being a two page spread with photos of the mayor, other officials and some of the locals.

Sitting at his desk, Roy was booting up his computer when a deep voice said, “You’ve got a big mouth, Mr. Darrow.”

Roy jumped in his swivel chair in surprise, spinning round to be faced by a giant that he had never seen before.  The man looked very similar to a tanned Richard Kiel, the actor who’d played the villain Jaws in a couple of old Bond movies.

“How the hell did you get in here,” Roy said, standing up on trembling legs to face the intruder.

“Sit down,” Martin Keno said as he withdrew a pistol from a shoulder holster and leisurely screwed a silencer to the end of the barrel.  “We need to talk.”

Roy felt his legs turn to Jell-O.  He dropped back into the chair and blinked rapidly as his heart thudded and his bowels threatened to relinquish their contents into his pants.  “Who are you?” he whispered.

“I’m an associate of Zack Slater,” Martin said.  “And Mr. Slater has been informed by a reliable source, as you might say, that you met with a guy by the name of Logan for coffee at the Cochise Café down the street, and that you fed him rumors that you have no proof of.”

“I…I―”

“Don’t deny it, or I’ll gut shoot you, Darrow.  I want to know exactly what you said to Logan, because he has already made a nuisance of himself, and it appears that you are the reason why.”

“We talked about the murders.  I mentioned that some people thought that Zack Slater was a suspect for a while over the murder of the man found tied to a cactus out in Organ Pipe, and that it bore similarities to the body on the railroad track.”

“Was Mr. Slater ever charged with that brutal murder?”

“No.”

“Then your observation was no more than unfounded gossip that you obviously did not print in this no account rag you call a newspaper.  Am I right?”

Roy nodded.

“What did Logan say about it?”

“He said that it was none of his business.”

“He has now had a change of mind and made it his business, Darrow, and that has already caused Mr. Slater some problems.”

“I’m sorry,” Roy said.

“And rightly so.  Did Logan tell you how to contact him?”

“No.”

Martin advanced to within three feet of Roy, reached out and grasped him by the throat and lifted him up out of the chair and pinned him against the wall with his feet dangling over a foot off the floor.  Watched as the fat little newsman’s face turned purple and his eyes bulged like a Leopard frog’s, and held him in place for twenty seconds before letting go, for him to drop heavily to the floor in a wheezing heap.

“Think on this, Mr. Darrow,” Martin said.  “I was never here.  If you make waves, then the next time you see me or one of my…associates will be when your premises are burned down and you get a bullet through your head.  Do you understand?”

As he coughed, massaged his throat and fought to take breaths, Martin nodded vigorously.

“Sensible man.  You’ll be monitored.  And if Logan contacts you, get in touch with us in Ajo.  You’ll find Mr. Slater’s business number in the book.”

That was it.  The giant Indian turned and headed out through the rear door that he had gained entry by earlier.

Pushing up into a sitting position, Roy leaned against his desk and didn’t move for over five minutes. He had thought that the man was going to kill him, and now felt a surge of relief at only suffering a sore throat.  The threat had worked, though.  Roy had absolutely no intention of ever mentioning Zack Slater’s name again to anyone.  It was evident that he had contacts in the Bend, and that loose talk could and would result in catastrophe.  He ran a small weekly paper, not something like the Washington Post.  He wasn’t an investigative journalist, and did not aspire to be one.  Risking life or limb for a story was the chosen path of war correspondents and other gung ho types that courted danger to bring news to the masses, who in the main were not particularly interested.  He had never set his sights on being awarded a Pulitzer Prize for journalism.

Logan got dressed, went downstairs and switched on the coffeemaker, before unlocking the kitchen door and stepping out into a dawn that already held the promise of another red-hot day.  Strolling over the dusty yard to a small saddle-backed barn, he opened one of the large doors and entered the building, to be faced by two vehicles; one being an inexpensive Mazda SUV, the other a Ford pickup that had more rust than paint on the bodywork, was standing on flat tires and appeared to be a seventies model that had probably not moved from where it stood for at least a decade.  Old farm tools hung on older cobwebbed brackets on the walls, and an accumulation of household junk in cardboard boxes and plywood tea chests were piled up in a corner. There was a single, grime-smeared skylight window in the roof, and a weak shaft of early morning sunlight was filled with swirling dust motes that had been disturbed and become airborne when he opened the door and walked across the dirt floor.

Logan found an old screwdriver on top of a lidless can that had two inches of solid orange paint in the bottom, which had dried, cracked and looked like a baked African plain in miniature.  He used the screwdriver to remove the New Mexico license plate from the pickup, returned to the house and cleaned the plate at the sink using detergent and hot water.  Back outside, he took the plate from Andy’s Nissan and replaced it with the one from the pickup.

“Why are you doing that?” Fran said, appearing at the door with a mug of coffee in each hand.

“Because Slater is obviously organized.  He’ll have his goons looking at CCTV footage from any cameras that could show Andy and her car in the vicinity of the motel,” Logan said as he finished up and got to his feet to approach Fran and take the proffered coffee from her.

“That old plate is out of date,” Fran said.

“I’ll change it ASAP,” Logan said.

“I don’t want you to let Andy go with you, Logan,” Fran said.  “You could get her hurt or killed.”

“I’d rather she stay out of it. But you need to remember that Andy was tailing two killers, and was in possession of a gun.  I don’t think she’ll let go of this, with or without me.”

“There’s got to be another way.”

“Can you think of one?  I could just hitch a ride and move on, but Andy would still be in danger, and maybe you would be too.  I don’t think Slater likes loose ends.”

“The law has to take care of it.”

“It won’t happen.  Slater doesn’t do his own dirty work, and no one has any proof to link him to murder or anything else.”

“And how can you make a difference?”

“By closing him down.  I’m always in the wind.  And I have no one that he can use for leverage against me.  He thinks I’m a target, but I’m not, he is.”

Andy appeared behind them. “What am I missing?” she said, looking from Fran to Logan and back again.

“We were just discussing what to do,” Fran said.  “Logan agrees with me that you should back off and put this behind you.”

Andy’s expression hardened.  “I cared an awful lot for Sam,” she said.  “I don’t think we were going to make it together long-term as a couple, but he mattered to me, even if he was working for Slater.  And so I’m not going to walk away from it.  Evil people have to be dealt with; don’t you see that?”

“Yes, but not by you,” Fran said.  “How the hell can you deal with him?  Shoot him dead on sight if you managed to get the chance, and then spend the rest of your life in prison?  Don’t risk your own future over someone like him, it just isn’t worth it.”

Logan said nothing.  He edged past the two women and went inside and over to the sink to wash his hands before pouring himself more coffee.  Decided to make a phone call, and so went back upstairs to the bedroom and took his cell from the rucksack.

The dispatcher at the sheriff’s department in Madison Bend put the call through to Clay Manders.

“I thought you were long gone, Logan,” Clay said.  “What have you got for me now, another body?”

“Some information that you can ignore or act on,” Logan said.  “Your deputy, Lance Deerbolt, is on Zack Slater’s payroll.  When I left town he braced me, and when I hitched a lift to Ajo he followed, and then contacted Slater and told him the motel I’d checked in at.”

The line was silent for a couple of seconds.  “How do you know that?” Clay said.

“Because two of Slater’s paid help broke into my room armed with silenced handguns: Wayne Miller and Gary Foley.”

“And?”

“I had a meaningful conversation with Miller.  He told me that he and Foley were responsible for the murder of Sam Benton, and a lot more besides, including the fact that your deputy was corrupt.”

“And just who exactly is Sam Benton?”

“Wrong tense.  Sam Benton
was
the guy I found on the railroad track.”

“Did you call the sheriff in Ajo?”

“No, I’ve called you instead.  I’m advised that you can’t be bought.”

“What else did the guy tell you?”

“That Benton was ripping Slater off, so was made an example of.”

“And why do you suppose Miller shared this with you?”

“He was under extreme duress, Sheriff.  I got the impression that he felt in fear for his life.”

“At your hands?”

“Yeah.  I tend to get a little pissed at armed strangers breaking into my room.”

“I’ll need to talk to you about―”

“Forget it, Sheriff.  I’ve told you what I know.  What you do with that information is your problem.”

“Where exactly did this go down, Logan?”

“Room nine at the Best Western on the main drag into town.  I’m sure a cleaner will have noticed the forced door, seen the blood on the carpet, and reported it.  If your counterpart in Ajo isn’t on Slater’s payroll, then he could recover DNA from the blood and match it to Miller and Foley.  I’d be surprised if they hadn’t got rap sheets.”

“That it, Logan?”

“Yeah,” Logan said, omitting to mention Andy or anything else, but as an afterthought added, “I left my hat at the hotel.  I’d appreciate you holding on to it, on the off chance that we bump into each other again.”

“I’m sure we will, Logan.  My advice is that you get the hell out of Arizona and don’t come back.  But I think you’re one of those guys that doesn’t take advice.  You’re a loose cannon, and may wind up wearing that hat to your own funeral.”

“Take care, Sheriff,” Logan said before he switched off the phone and removed the SIM card.

Lance Deerbolt was sitting at his desk in the small bullpen making out a report on a burglary that had taken place the evening before at the home of Jeb Russell, a town councilor whom the department needed to keep on side, due to Jeb’s influence, and the fact that he had a lot of clout when it came to appropriation of the funding for public services.

“We need to talk,” Clay said to Lance.  “My office.”

Lance followed Clay back to the office and waited till his boss nodded towards the chair at the other side of his desk.  He didn’t like the expression on Clay’s face.  Thought that he was in for a lecture or worse, but couldn’t think what it might be for.

Once seated, Clay gave his deputy a hard look.  “Wayne Miller a friend of yours, Lance?” he said.

Lance felt his guts tighten.  Warning bells were ringing loud and clear.

“No, boss.  Why?” he said.

“I’ll rephrase that,” Clay said.  “What’s your connection to Miller and Gary Foley?”

“I don’t have a connection to either of them,” Lance said.

“Miller says that you’re on Slater’s payroll.  That you’re a bad cop.”

“It’s a fuckin’ lie,” Lance said, raising his voice.

“He says that you followed Logan to Ajo yesterday, and then contacted Slater to tell him where Logan was staying.  Is that a lie as well?”

“Damn right it is.  Someone’s trying to fit me up, boss.”

“So if I have the GPS on your cruiser checked it’ll prove that you were nowhere near Ajo, right?”

The muscles in Lance’s cheeks bunched as he clenched his teeth and thought up the best lie he could at short notice.  “I don’t trust Logan,” he said.  “I saw him outside town, but he was heading south, not east.  I asked him why he was going in the direction of Ajo, but he brushed me off.  When he got himself a ride with some Mex, I followed.  Saw him get out of the pickup and walk into a Best Western.  That’s it.”

“So who else do you suppose knew where Logan was, to contact Slater, who in turn sent Miller and Foley to put the frighteners on him, or maybe kill him?”

“I don’t know.  But it wasn’t me.”

Clay saw the lie in Lance’s eyes.  “Put your gun and your badge on the desk and leave the building,” he said.  “You’re suspended from duty with immediate effect while I instigate a full investigation.”

“You can’t do that,” Lance said.  “You’ve got no proof that―”

“I have information that links you to Slater in a bad way.  That’s all I need, Lance.”

Lance couldn’t think of anything else to say.  He withdrew his Glock, removed the mag and slammed them down on the desktop.  Ripped the badge from where it was pinned to his shirt above the breast pocket – tearing the material – and tossed it on to the blotter next to Clay’s coffee mug.

BOOK: Absolution
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ads

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