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Authors: Falafel Jones

Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Computer Forensic Examiner - Florida

Falafel Jones - Max Fried 02 - Payback's a Beach (26 page)

BOOK: Falafel Jones - Max Fried 02 - Payback's a Beach
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“Yeah.”

I pulled my cup closer and said, “Look, I don’t want to pry or get you in trouble but I’d like to do a follow up on my carnival story… such as it was. If there’s anything you can tell me. Anything. It’ll help.”

Robby looked into his coffee and then smiled up at me, “Yeah. I’ve got something you can use, not much, but something.”

“Is it OK for me to print it?”

“Yeah, sure. We’ve notified next of kin. Wasn’t easy though.”

“What do you mean?”

“Guy lived alone, widower. Found a stub from a complimentary carnival ticket in his pocket. Tried to find out if he came with anyone but couldn’t find anyone that noticed him. Cavanaugh tried checking the ticket number with the carny but they don’t keep those kind of records. Plus, the carny told him the book that ticket came from disappeared about a year ago. Anyway, we got his name from his wallet and checked around. He’s supposed to have a son, Bruce, but we couldn’t find the kid. We did find a sister, Emily, in Massachusetts. She made the ID.”

“So, who was he?”

“Morgan Finley… of Finley Farms. He probably grew your Christmas tree. Probably grew half the city’s. He was drunk, peed in a gully, slipped in the dark and hit his head on the rocks. They’re ruling it an accident.”

“His Kewpie Doll was a farmer.”

“What? Oh, yeah. I guess it fell and broke on the rocks when he did.”

“How did somebody that drunk win a Kewpie Doll?”

“Dunno. Maybe he won it before he got drunk?”

“Anything else?”

“Well, maybe.” Robby slid a photo across the table. It was a picture of a tiny gold tractor.

“What’s this?”

“Don’t know. When daylight came, we found it near the body. Looks like a piece from a board game.”

“No, look at the top of the tractor. There’s a small opening, like one you could put a chain through.”

“Oh, you mean it’s like something you’d hang from a necklace.”

“Could be. Did it belong to the dead farmer?”

“We don’t know.”

I heard some laughter from a group at another table so I turned to look. Some of the senior reporters sat together eating and drinking. A copy of the Chronicle lay open on the table. When I looked, I caught the eye of the one of the guys facing my direction. He nudged the man next to him and said something. Then they both laughed. I don’t know why this made me self conscious, but it did.

Robby seemed to notice because he said, “Raquel, what’s up?”

“Nothing, it’s just the Bulldogs.”

“Bulldogs?”

“The bulldog edition is a newspaper’s early edition. Since my Dad hired most of those guys when he first started the paper that’s what they call themselves.”

“Oh.”

“It’s just a little weird being the boss’s daughter. It’s tough enough being the new kid and needing to prove your worth, but when your family owns the place, it’s that much harder. Sometimes, I’m not sure that working here is a good idea. I feel like everyone is always judging me.”

“Nah, if anyone can handle it, it’s you.”

“Thank’s, but I don’t —”

“Remember how shy I used to be, awkward, no self-confidence? You helped me, Well that and carrying a gun everywhere I go. If you could help me, you can help yourself.”

“Well, I love to write, but reporting may not be my thing. Last night, I couldn’t even get the name of the deceased or a look at where the body was found.”

“Nobody got the name till now when I just gave it to you. Only a jerk would publish it before notifying the family. I’d like to think that if you did have it last night, you would have waited to announce it.”

I nodded towards the table of reporters. “I’ll bet that if one of those guys was there, he would have gotten past the barricade.”

Robby looked over at the other table, then back at me. “Some of those guys have been around since Detective Cavanaugh was on patrol. They’ve built relationships over the years. You’re new. Give yourself some time. You’ll develop contacts too – and quickly.” He pointed with his coffee cup at the other table. “You’re a lot prettier than they are. Especially that guy with the hair sticking out of his ears. Yeech!”

He made me laugh. Maybe Robby was right. Maybe I just needed to take it easy on myself. “Thanks. You’re a good friend.” I leaned across the table and kissed him on his cheek.

I asked him, “You remember Kara Gross?”

“Oh yeah, she was in my math class.” Robby leaned forward. “We had a sub and he called on her. She didn’t know the answer so he asked her, “What’s your last name?” She said, “It’s Gross,” and he said, “C’mon, it can’t be that bad.” We both laughed again.

“Well, she’s going to have a new problem now. She’s marrying Tommy Vanguard.”

“Kara Vanguard. Sounds like a security job for a trucking firm. Poor kid.”

“Poor me. I’ve been using her apartment and she needs it back in two weeks. Know anyplace good?”

He smiled and then a squawking voice came from the police radio on his belt. Robby listened for a moment and then said, “Ah, sorry. Raquel. Gotta go. I’ll call you.”

“Sure.” We had a quick hug and Robby left me to drink my coffee and think about losing my, well, Kara’s apartment. I pulled my Chronicle and cell phone from my bag.

Today’s classified listed some apartments in my price range so I circled four to call. When I phoned the first one, a man answered, “Hello?”

“Hi, I’m calling about the apartment for rent.”

“Oh, you want the super. I’m just the exterminator.”

“The apartment has a full time exterminator?”

“No.” He chuckled. “I’m only here three or four times a week.”

“Can I speak with the super?”

“Sure, call back in a couple of hours. He’s out fixing toilets.”

“Oh, er. Thanks.” Fixing toilets? As in more than one? A bug guy who feels enough at home to answer the phone? Now, there was one less to look at.

The next ad claimed low rent, an eat in kitchen, reserved parking and a bedroom with a window seat but didn’t list any address, just a phone number. I dialed it.

“Yes?” A woman answered. I could hear sirens in the background.

“Hi. I’m calling about the apartment. Can you tell me the address?”

She said a familiar street name. It appeared each week in our Police Blotter. I thanked her and hung up.

The third ad advertised Brookview Gardens at an address in a nice neighborhood. Even the name sounded inviting. The rent was pricey but just within my limit. I called for an appointment and a woman told me to come by whenever I wanted.

I dialed the fourth number and left my name and number on an answering machine. Everything else was either in a bad neighborhood, too expensive or too far out of town.

I finished my coffee and lined up at the register behind a tall blonde man who held a brown paper take out bag. After he paid and turned to leave, he faced me. He was Leonardo from the carnival. We smiled at each other. He might have remembered me but I kept quiet in case he didn’t. He brightened my disposition a little when he said, “Raquel? Right?”

I nodded.

“I read your story. I have to thank you for keeping the show’s name out of it. We don’t need that kind of publicity. We’re just starting our annual eight-week run here and bad press could really hurt us.”

“Oh, sure.” His comment gave me pause. A good-looking man just commended me for a poor performance. Before my brain could process that, he hit me with that smile of his and my eyes followed him out the door.

“Miss? Miss? You’re next.” At the register, a weary looking counterman held his hand out to me. I paid and shuffled back to the office.

When I got to my desk, I saw someone left a white box on my blotter. Clear cellophane tape sealed the top and black block letters read, “RAQUEL”.

Excerpt from The Kewpie Killer: Chapter Two

This box could be a prank but a glance around the office revealed nothing but people going about their business. If someone were playing a joke, someone would be watching to enjoy their fun. Sharon, the receptionist walked by with a coffee cup in her hand. Right behind her, Lucy from Sales, sipped from a mug that read, “I’M ENGAGED!”. Somebody must have just made a fresh pot. Armies may march on their stomachs, but offices march on coffee.

I asked them, “Did you see who left this?”

Sharon stopped and leaned over my desk. “Looks like a bakery box. Did you get pastries? Something sweet would go so good with my coffee.”

Sharon wasn’t any help and Lucy just stared at the box. It was time to just open the damn thing. The tape gave way to my fingernails and the lid lifted to reveal a Kewpie Doll wearing a fedora and holding a camera. In the hatband was a press pass. It was a newspaper photographer Kewpie Doll and black tape covered the eyes and mouth.

Sharon said, “Oh,” and left my desk, away apparently disappointed by the lack of baked goods.

If the doll was a gift, there should be a card. I searched the box but didn’t find one.

Lucy said, “Take off the tape. They probably put it on to protect the paint.”

I sat down with the doll in my hand.

“Go ahead, she said. Yours is much nicer than mine. Here.” She put down her mug and pulled a small plastic Kewpie Doll wearing a bridal veil from her shoulder bag. “My Stanley won this for me at the carnival. I love it. I mean it’s from Stan, but yours is much nicer. What is that? Ceramic? Take off the tape. Let’s see the face.”

I pulled a piece of tape from the doll and uncovered blue eyes.

Lucy laughed. “Hah, look at that. Blue eyes and black hair. Just like you. How cute.” She picked up her mug and walked away.

It took me a moment to realize what Lucy said and it creeped me out. Her doll from the carnival was plastic but mine was ceramic… like the dead Farmer’s. It made no sense for someone to murder him and leave a doll by his body. Killers make great efforts to remove evidence. They don’t generally bring something just to leave it behind.

Too busy for games, I put the tape back on the doll, stuck it in my desk drawer, and got to work. Robby gave me enough new information for a follow up to my poor excuse for a story. Now, here was a chance to do it right and additional facts could make the difference. It was time to do some research.

I grabbed my bag and took the two-block walk to the County Office Building. Dad made a good choice when he selected a downtown location for the Chronicle offices. Everything was close by.

In the building lobby, I stopped in one of Waalbroeks few remaining phone booths. An antique, it boasted a windowed, folding door made of wood, a working phone and an intact phone book. I attributed this unusual condition to the continual presence of a County Police officer seated nearby.

I copied Morgan Finley’s address from the phone book and then took the marble stairs up to the Records Office. When I got to the counter, Marilyn Adams, from High School rose from a desk to greet me.

“Raquel Flanagan. I didn’t know you were back in town. Geez, it’s been years. I haven’t seen you since the school paper picnic, graduation weekend.”

“Yeah, just got home last week. How you been?”

She raised then lowered a shoulder. “Eh, not exactly doing what I expected, but it’s a living. You?”

“Umm, I just started a new job.”

“Good for you. Where?”

“Here in town.”

“Doing what?”

“Working for Mom.”

Her left eyebrow went up. “At the Chronicle?”

“Umm, yes.”

“Go-fer?”

“Reporter.”

“Oh… well, I guess contacts help. What can I do for you?”

I told her and she gave me copies of the documents she had on Finley. I thought she might ask why I wanted them but she just dropped the pile abruptly on the counter, excused herself and left the room.

The only place Finley owned was his farm and the deed showed he bought the place from Ethan Maupin’s estate about 20 years ago on May 20. Nothing of use there.

Records also confirmed he married Mildred Finley. Her death certificate was on file but viewing was restricted, so all it did was confirm poor Millie passed many years ago. Nothing new here either but at least the effort verified my facts about his home and marital status. Hardly worth seeing Marilyn again.

The Chronicle has a faithful readership with long memories. It wouldn’t be good to embarrass myself by not knowing what we already printed about the Kelly Carnival. It was time to look them up too, so I went back to the Chronicle Building.

On my way to my desk, I saw Walt Grimley, one of the Bulldogs. He stopped in front of me and blocked my way. Then, he dipped his tea bag in his cup and asked, “Have fun at the circus, Kid?”

I didn’t know how to take his question, so I stopped, stared at him and waited.

He grinned at me with a perfect set of dentures. “You know ‘Breaker’ Burke?”

I shook my head.

“A local bookie slash loan shark. Did a story on him ‘bout a year ago. Cops found him in a field near the carnival grounds. Fatal head wound. Considered the death an ‘occupational hazard’ but couldn’t figure which deadbeat client beat him dead.”

Then he paused and smiled at me with what seemed to be anticipation so I said, “What?”

“Next to him, with the head snapped off and dressed like a riverboat gambler – a Kewpie Doll.”

I gaped at him with my mouth open.

He toasted me with his teacup, but before he walked away, he said, “Your Dad gave me a break when no one else would.”

BOOK: Falafel Jones - Max Fried 02 - Payback's a Beach
6.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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