Authors: Renee Pawlish
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Amateur Sleuths, #Cozy, #Private Investigators, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Murder, #Crime Fiction, #Noir, #Series
A Reed Ferguson Mystery
First Digital Edition published by Creative Cat Press
copyright 2015 by Renée Pawlish
The author gratefully acknowledges all those who helped in the writing of this book, especially: Beth Treat and Janice Horne. If I've forgotten anyone, please accept my apologies.
To all my beta readers; I am in your debt!
F. D., Al Holley, Lyn Caskey, Tracie Ann Setliff, Joyce Kahaly, Ed Bowling, Sharon Phillips, Chris Godwin, Wally Inman, Kate Dionne, Elisabeth Huhn, Barbara Hackel, Mark Fagenson, Myra Ritch, Suzanne Nordhaus, Ashok L.R., Rick Allemandi, Sharon H. Williams, Marie Severns, Mary Lou Romashko, Mark Hall, Debbie Young, Roger Ridgley, Debbie McNally, Maxine Lauer, Debbie Collins, Gerry Nelson, David King, Terrie Pawlish, Dick Paetzke, Andy Joyner, Ian McLaren, Gwyn Dekker, Rick Crabtree, Lori Martin, Alan Summerfield, Dick Sidbury, Eileen Hill, Steve Burkett, Kate Dionne, Suki Jantzen, Irene David, Lu Wilmont, John Winters, JA Rogow, Jan Carrico, Kay, Dave S., Pam Balog, Stevi Schermond, Wallace Inman, Stevi Schermond, Donna Thompson, Roger Fauble, Harriet Dahlgren, Janice Nowlan, Al Stevens, Alice Tileston, Patrick Lyons, Tracy G., Judi Moore, Fritzi Redgrave, Dan Ianni, Wanda Bryant, Colin Comber, Marlene Van Matre, Shelly Voss, Jo Trowbridge, Penny Harper, Robby Bennett, Marilyn Cassidy, Jody Lee, Becky Serna, Mike Donnelly, Bill Farrell, Linda Yeager, Janet Harbin, Ted Ross, Anna Garcia-Centner, Linda Marchant, JoAnn Ice, Joyce Stumpff, Dian Kaye, Suzanne S. Barnhill, Alicia Lewis, Colin Comber, Lyric McKnight, Stan Tanner, Jonathan Quay, Latonya Stewart, Mary Landon, Donna Kroeger, Cathleen Dungy, Suzi Jantzen, Shep, Sally Helsel, Rajesh Bhuyan, David Shaffer, Rich Foxx, Gia Cantwell, Ann Owen, A. Lewis, G. D., Becky Neilsen, James Williams, Janet Soper
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“I think someone’s trying to kill me.”
That’s not something you hear every day, even if you’re a private investigator, which I, Reed Ferguson, happen to be. I leaned in toward the man who’d spoken those words. “Why do you think that?”
It was a Thursday evening in August and I was at Mickey’s, a seedy bar on Broadway in Englewood, a suburb south of downtown Denver. Mickey’s was a hole-in-the-wall, with a few small, wood-topped tables along one wall, a long bar with stools opposite, and one lone TV hung in the corner behind the bar. Sparse on décor and atmosphere, it was the kind of place where people came to drink their troubles away, not to watch a ballgame or otherwise be entertained. It was not my type of place, and the only good thing I could say about it was they played ’80s music, which is my favorite.
I was sitting at one of the tables, and across from me was Brad Webb, a potential client. As he took a moment to gather his thoughts, I surveyed him. He was tall, but stocky, about my age – late thirties – with neatly trimmed whitish-blond hair, blue eyes, and thin lips. He wore navy pants, an Izod shirt, and black leather shoes, and as he talked, I could feel the nervous tap-tap of his foot shaking the table leg. Everything else about him, however, said he was organized and in control. Which made me wonder why he’d asked me to meet him at a place like Mickey’s.
“I’m getting ahead of myself,” he began. He took a sip of his Coors Light, swallowed hard, then put the beer back on the table. “Let me back up. This all started when my dad passed away a couple of weeks ago.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I murmured as “Sunglasses at Night” by Corey Hart played from the sound system.
“Thank you. His name was Sam. He was a good man.” His face scrunched up. “He sometimes drank too much, and one night he got drunk and fell in the pool. He drowned.”
“That’s too bad,” I said lamely.
His foot tapped the table harder. “Yeah, it is. But this is the weird part. At the time of his death, my dad was looking into
This was getting convoluted. “So, your grandfather,” I clarified.
He nodded. “Dewey Webb. He was a private investigator here in Denver, back in the ’40s and ’50s. He was murdered.”
“A detective, huh? Who killed him?”
“No one knows. It remains an unsolved crime.” He paused as if thinking about it. I nursed my Fat Tire and waited for him to continue. “I never knew him,” he said after a moment. “And my dad barely did. He was only five when Dewey died.”
“What happened to Dewey?”
“He was shot dead in his office. There were no witnesses, and they never found the gun that killed him. There didn’t seem to be any motive and little to go on. My understanding is the police worked the case for a while, and when they didn’t find anything, they moved on to other things.”
“It’s been a cold case ever since?” I asked.
I tipped my beer bottle at him. “You said your dad was looking into your grandfather’s death.”
“Yes. After my dad died, I was surprised to find out he was researching the cases Dewey was working on when he died.”
“Why would that be unusual?”
Brad looked off into space for a moment. “My dad never talked about Dewey, so it surprised me that he’d taken an interest in his father’s life.”
“Any reason why your dad wasn’t interested in Dewey before that?”
His lips formed a tight line. “He was only five when Dewey died, and Dewey’s wife – my grandmother – had remarried, this time to Mr. Hensler, one of her neighbors who had lost his wife a year before. He was more like my dad’s real father. Don’t get me wrong, my dad just didn’t know his birth father very well. When I’d ask him about it, he’d say he didn’t remember much about Dewey. So when I found out he was looking into Dewey’s cases, it was a bit puzzling. I thought maybe it was a ‘getting older’ kind of thing, trying to learn about his roots.”
“How could your dad ‘look into’ the cases? Do you have the files?”
He nodded. “After his murder, Dewey’s office was cleaned out. My grandmother got rid of a lot of stuff, but she saved the old case files, a journal Dewey kept, and a few other things, in boxes in the attic. My dad and I found them after she died. I had no idea my dad held onto the boxes until I found it all in
house after he died, along with some notes that he’d made. He’d also taken a few of the files to work. I found them when I picked up his things from his office after he passed away. And I admit, the fact that my dad was studying all of it made me curious, so I took it all to my house and I’ve been poking around in the notes and Dewey’s journal.”
“So far none of this is suspicious,” I said.
“True. But then someone broke into my house a few days ago.”
I raised my eyebrows.
“And guess what they took?” he asked.
He shook his head slowly. “They took a few valuables, some money in a dresser, and a stack of CDs, but that was it.”
“Did you report it?”
He snorted. “With what little they took? I didn’t bother.”
“I’m waiting for the punchline,” I said.
He ran a hand through his hair. “They searched through all of the boxes. The paperwork was all over the living room.” He leaned forward to be heard over “I Got You” by Split Enz, which was now playing. “The night of the burglary, the case files that Dewey was working on when he was killed and his journal weren’t in the house. I’d gone out of town for a few days, and I took them with me. I think whoever broke in was looking for them, and they took the other stuff to cover their tracks.”
“Why do that? What’s so special about those cases?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“How many cases are we talking about?”
“Three. Those were also the files my dad had at his office.”
“What are they about?”
“A guy who thought his wife was cheating on him, an insurance scam of some sort, and a woman who wanted Dewey to track down a valuable painting.”
I rubbed a hand over my face. “It doesn’t sound like any of them were unusual. What if the thieves took a different file and ran?”
“I thought about that, and it’s possible. But after my house was broken into, I thought they might be following me.”
“What makes you think that?”
“I’ve seen the same guy around my office building and on the light rail.”
“You work downtown?” I asked, since Denver’s light rail system transported commuters mainly in and out of downtown.
“Downtown’s a big place. It could’ve been someone going to work.”
“I think I saw the guy outside my house, too.”
I tried to keep the skepticism from my voice. “You think?”
He nodded. “I’m not sure, but I saw the same car down the street a few times. A black SUV. Last night I went out and started walking toward it. I didn’t get a real good look at the driver, but it was enough to make me think it was the same guy I’d seen around my office building.”
“Did you get a license plate number?”
He frowned. “I didn’t think of it at the time. But I’m sure someone’s been watching me. Maybe not all the time, but they’re around. That’s why I asked you to meet me here instead of the house.”
“Do you come here often?” I asked, glancing around. “If someone’s following you, they’ll know your patterns: where you go and when, things like that.”
He snorted. “I’ve never been here before, I just pass by it sometimes. Trust me, it’s not my cup of tea.”
That answered my initial question about his choice of venue. “How do you know someone didn’t just follow you here?”
“I was cautious.” He gave a short, humorless laugh. “Dewey had a book about detection skills and I read how to avoid being tailed. I used the tricks, and I watched carefully. No one followed me.”
I sighed. “How do I say this delicately? You’re sure it’s not just your imagination?”
His lips formed a hard, angry line. “I’m not making this up,” he said, controlling his emotions. “And I know someone tried to kill me, too.”
I raised an eyebrow. “What happened?”
He lowered his voice and I had to strain to hear him. “Today I was walking across the street near where I work and someone tried to run me over.” I opened my mouth but he held up a hand. “The car was suddenly there and it swerved right at me. And when it missed me, it squealed off. If it was an accident, you’d think the driver would’ve stopped when I leaped out of the way. And this time I did look for a license plate number, but there was no plate at all.” He paused for effect. “It’s not my imagination.”
I put my elbows on the table and thought about his story.
“There’s something in Dewey’s last case files,” he said, trying to convince me. “It’s the only thing that makes sense.”
I pondered everything he’d said for a moment longer. “Okay, I’m intrigued.”
“I hoped you’d say that,” he said, relief in his voice. He reached down into a briefcase he’d stuck underneath the table and pulled out three faded green file folders and an old hardback journal. “This is what Dewey was working on when he was murdered.” He set them on the table. “Maybe you can find something I didn’t.”
“How much have you researched these cases?”
“Not much. My dad had some notes, and he’d written down some initials. He was researching the people in the files, and it looks like he might have been calling relatives, because there was a phone number next to a name. I called a couple of times but no one answered and I didn’t leave a message…” he shrugged. “That would be a weird message, right? I started some Internet searches here and there to see if I could find any more of the people mentioned in the case files, but I didn’t find anything. Then they broke into my house and that car tried to run me over, so I decided to call you.”
I took one of the files and opened it. Inside were pieces of paper with notes scrawled on them, some receipts, and a contract stipulating Dewey’s fees: a lot less than I make. “But nothing in these seemed unusual?”
“Not what I read.” He shrugged again. “To be honest, it’s all kind of boring.”
“A lot of detective work is,” I said.
“So you’ll help me?” he asked. “Find out if this is all my imagination or not?”
I thought for a minute more. He waited. “I guess I can look at his cases, but…”
He held up a hand. “I’ll pay you for a few days of work. If you don’t find anything, if you think I’m crazy, then you can walk away.”
I still hesitated.
“Come on,” he said. “What do you have to lose?”
I tipped my head back and forth, thinking. “Okay,” I finally said. We talked about my fees and then I said, “Tell me about Dewey. What’s the back story?” I couldn’t help but use the movie term about filling in a character’s background.
“He was born in Denver, was a Marine during World War II, and when he got out, he worked as an investigator at a law firm and then he became a detective. He got married, had a son. He was 35 years old when he died.” Brad reached for a newer manila file folder and pulled out a photo. “Here’s what he looked like.”
I took the black-and-white picture from him and studied it. Dewey was sitting in a chair, looking seriously at the camera. He wore a gray suit and fedora. He had the same light hair and eyes as Brad, but he had a fuller face, and within it there was the hint of darkness, as if the war years, or his profession, or both, had taken their toll.
“Did Dewey have an office here in town?” I asked.
“Yes,” Brad said. “He had a little place on Capitol Hill…”