Authors: Jason Deas
Tags: #Mystery: Paranormal - P.I. - Georgia
|Jason Deas - Cameron Caldwell 01 - Private Eye|
|Cameron Caldwell |
|3-Day Ranch Press (2014)|
|Tags:||Mystery: Paranormal - P.I. - Georgia|
Cameron Caldwell swore he would never work for a police department again. He wouldn’t have to worry about that as none would hire him after the DUI. And it wasn’t your ordinary, everyday, ‘oops I had one too many.’ Cam fell out of the car when the police opened the door. He punched a cop when he stumbled back to his feet. Taking it one step further, he ripped his shirt off and pounded his chest before being pinned and cuffed. It was all on video.
Cam moved across state after the inquisition. He got a sweetheart deal to disappear. He moved from south Georgia to north and leased an empty space in a virtually vacant shopping center. The agent who leased the place said a Piggly Wiggly moved out a year earlier and all the other businesses followed. The rent was cheap. A sole sandwich shop remained.
Cam stood on a blue stepladder and applied large gold and black letters to the front window. The arch of letters advertised his newly founded private detective agency.
“Welcome to the ghost town,” a voice said behind him.
He turned to find a petite brunette. The first word that came to his mind was mousey.
“Thanks,” Cam said, stepping down from the ladder. “My name is Cam.” He offered his hand.
“I figured as much,” she said pointing to the lettering he’d just finished, which read “Cameron Investigations.”
“Does it look straight?”
“Are you drunk?” she kidded.
The comment took Cam by surprise and his eyes bulged.
“Your arch is perfect.” She noticed his discomfort. “It shouldn’t be straight.”
“Oh, right,” Cam said recovering quickly. “I didn’t get your name.”
“Like the girl on Scooby Doo?” Cam asked before his brain told his tongue to stop.
“Yeah. I have the pretty girl’s name, but look like Velma.”
Changing the subject, Cam asked, “What are you doing here?”
“I own the sandwich shop. You hungry?”
“The first one’s on me. After that you’ll be hooked and you can pay for the pleasure.”
“Is that why you’re the only business still here?”
“Yep. My sandwiches will kick your butt and leave welts.”
“Kick it,” Cam said, laughing for the first time in weeks.
The sandwich shop echoed that of a classic diner with a modern twist. A counter ran the length of the restaurant accompanied by silver barstools and red cushion tops. The seats didn’t rest on straight silver supports, but curves, swirls, and spirals—all of them different. The usual black and white checkered floor had been created with circles instead of squares. Red booths lined the front window. Each table top had a different mosaic or art piece under glass. Original paintings filled the walls.
“Wow,” was all Cam could say as he took in the room.
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Daphne said, as she steered him to a barstool and walked behind the counter.
“Who made these barstools?”
“My brother. He did the table tops as well.”
“Did he do the paintings?”
Cam looked around the restaurant and seemed to notice for the first time that he was the only customer.
“How do you stay in business without any customers?”
“I do great business.”
“Then where is everybody?”
“I’m closed. I only serve breakfast and lunch. I close at three o’clock. It’s almost four.” Daphne handed him a menu. “It can be overwhelming if you’ve never been here before.”
“I’ll say,” Cam said, looking at the selections.
“Can I make a suggestion?”
“Number twenty-two is a favorite.”
“OK. Sounds delicious.”
Daphne slid him a crisp dollar bill and pointed to a jukebox.
“Pick some tunes while I get your sandwich ready. And what do you want to drink?”
“Ice tea would be great.”
“I don’t serve alcohol, but I’ve got a six pack of Buds in the cooler if you’d prefer one of those instead.”
Cam’s eyes shot open again as they did the first time she’d mentioned alcohol.
“That’d be great,” he said.
Daphne made note of his strange reaction. She walked toward the back as Cam made his way to the jukebox.
The jukebox had an eclectic mix of all musical varieties. Cam slid the dollar bill into the machine and was granted five selections. The jukebox was the old school sort with all of its contents listed on a single board. It wasn’t the type where you could flip through a collection of compact discs. He picked two songs by Willie Nelson, and one by The Doors, Bob Segar, and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.
When he returned to his barstool a Budweiser waited for him and Willie Nelson’s song,
Bloody Mary Morning
filled the diner. Cam took the bottle and pulled it to his lips. He drank until his eyes watered. He shook his head as the alcohol ran through his body. He wished there was another way. Although alcohol was the visible reason that brought him to Miner’s Bluff, the real culprit was a deeper problem. A problem Cam was dying to share with someone.
“You a Willie Nelson fan?” Daphne asked, as she set a plate holding a mammoth sandwich in front of him.
“I am. And the song seems to fit my life.” Cam picked up the sandwich and tried to find a place to sink his teeth. He found one and bit. Cam began chewing and stopped with his mouth full to say, “My God!”
“Told ya.” Daphne picked up his bottle and shook it. The bottle was almost empty. “I’ll get you one more.”
When she came back with the new bottle of beer he was chewing with his eyes closed. The second Willie Nelson song began.
“Do you need a moment?”
Cam opened his eyes. “I’m good,” he said, with a smile.
“I know we just met, but if you need a ride home, I don’t mind. I can even pick you up tomorrow morning or send my brother Claude to get you.”
“Your brother’s name is Claude? Like the artist?”
“Which one?” Daphne asked with a wry grin.
“Monet of course.”
“He prefers Manet.”
“Claude Manet. He thinks, and I agree, that Manet was better than Monet.”
“Never heard of him, but that’s beside the point. Is your family from here?”
“Then how does a kid from Miner’s Bluff, Georgia get the name Claude?”
“Promise not to tell? Even if he ever decides to tell you?”
“His real name is Clyde.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
“Nope. He was six years old when he decided he was going to be a famous artist. My parents found him some cheap coffee table books at a thrift store. The books were full of beautiful glossy prints. He noticed some of the painters had a name similar to his and changed his name.”
“What do you mean he changed it,” Cam said licking his fingers.
“I have napkins.” Daphne handed him one. “He started spelling his name Claude on all his school papers and he wouldn’t respond if you called him Clyde. He was adamant about it and it didn’t take long before everybody called him Claude. Clyde was a distant memory.”
“Interesting. I’ll have to check out Manet on the Internet when I get home.”
“And where would that be?”
“I’m renting a little A-frame up on Nettles Mountain Road.”
“That’s a curvy road. I’d sleep better tonight if you’d let me drive you home.”
“I need to stop by a liquor store. I can’t get enough of those little sausages they sell at the checkout counter.”
Daphne dropped Cam off and headed back toward town. Before he got out of the car, she pulled her square framed glasses off her face to wipe a smudge. As she concentrated on her glasses he studied her. Cam thought her hair was cut a little too short and somehow accentuated her petite stature. With her glasses off he noticed her smooth skin and tried without success to find a flaw. He thought her high cheekbones were cute. When she noticed him staring and looked up, her brown eyes spooked him and he quickly exited the car.
“Call me when you’re ready to come back to town,” she called out the window.
Cam stumbled across the threshold into the A-frame. Boxes filled the room. He hadn’t unpacked any of them. He walked to the first one he saw and ripped the tape holding the cardboard together. Reaching inside, he pulled out a picture frame. It was his first picture from the police department, fifteen years earlier. He still looked basically the same—black fashionably cut hair, angular face, blue eyes, unintentional five o’clock shadow, and the distant look. Always the distant look. No eye contact. It was a practiced look.
He shoved the frame back in the box and pulled the bottle from the brown paper bag. He knew he didn’t need any more to be safe, but it also helped him stop the conversation in his head. He drank. The conversation quickened and eventually stopped. Somehow during the evening the conversation ordered pizza.
Cam woke up on the floor. Before he opened his eyes his nose told him he had company. He opened his eyes to find an unopened pizza box next to his face. He sniffed again. It smelled delicious and although he didn’t remember ordering pizza or paying for it, his right thumb found the tab on the front of the box and lifted. He thought he might still be asleep and dreaming when he saw the contents of the box. One of the most beautifully crafted pizzas he had ever seen lay inside. It wasn’t too thin, too thick, or too anything but perfect. His stomach lurched as he pulled a slice from the pie. Pulling it to his mouth, his eyes found the empty liquor bottle on the floor. He wasn’t surprised.
His stomach allowed him half a piece before protesting. A bottle of Pepto-Bismol rested on the counter next to a supersize container of Tylenol. He popped three pills in his mouth and washed them down with the Pepto.
In the shower, Cam decided not to drink the entire day so he could get a real feel for the town. He hoped for the best.
As Cam dressed he wondered how he would get to town. Daphne had not given him her number and he’d been too buzzed to remember the name of her diner. Looking it up on the Internet would be useless. Cam’s ears perked as he heard an engine roar into the drive.
He peeked out the front window to find an ancient green Dodge pickup stopped in his gravel driveway. He thought it looked as though the driver was singing at the top of his lungs. The man threw the driver’s side door open and jumped out of the vehicle. He tossed his hands into the air dramatically and fluttered his hands back toward his face.
“Mountain air!” he bellowed. “Yummy.”
Cam opened a kitchen cabinet and grabbed his Glock 9mm handgun. He wasn’t sure what kind of crazy was walking up to his front porch.
The doorknob turned without a knock and the stranger walked in, unannounced. Cam planted a foot back and raised his arms, pointing the firearm directly at the intruder’s chest.
“Freeze!” he screamed.
The intruder smiled and shrugged his shoulders as he walked toward Cam.
“That is so cute.”
He walked across the room and wrapped his arms around Cam, giving him a bear hug. “She said you were intense. And she was right. She always is, Cam.”
The stranger let him go. Cam dropped his arms and put the gun on the counter next to him.
“You must be Claude?”
“I see my reputation precedes me.”
“Not really. Consider it a lucky guess.”
“Excuse me for being direct, but this place is dreadful. If you’re going for the Frat house look you’re almost there. Another pizza box or two and a few dozen beer cans might just do it. Maybe a poster or three.”
“I just moved in,” Cam tried.
“Excuse me for being direct again, but have you ever heard of eye contact? It lets the person you’re talking to know that you’re listening and engaged.”
Cam took a deep breath and looked him in the eyes.
It only took a second before time stopped.
Cam’s head jerked violently to the side before it jerked back to connect his eyes. Once connected he saw the darkness. The worst thing Claude had ever done. As simple as that—every time he met someone new, he got a glimpse into the person’s most evil act.