Chapter 19. Sunday was delightfully, wonderfully, gloriously normal

Sunday was delightfully, wonderfully, gloriously normal. With an absolute minimum of guilt, Fargo and I left Pewter in the middle of my bed, looking like a furious Sitting Bull, and headed for the bayside beach. We walked along on the wet sand as the tide finished its ebb and were joined, as usual, by Toby the Terrible. He raced from his hiding spot under the deck of the Old Dockside Inn and attacked Fargo with gusto.

Toby needed all the gusto he could get to leap for Fargos ears and tail. He rarely connected but got in an occasional nip, which would result in Fargos bowling him over and literally rubbing his nose in the sand. This morning they contented themselves with chasing outgoing wavelets. Fargo would playfully prance out of the way of incoming waves while Toby ran in desperate arcs to keep from being inundated. Eventually he trotted home, swinging his little round bottom like a fin de siecle Parisian tart, headedno doubtfor a well-deserved nap.

Fargo and I continued to the store, where we picked up the New York Times, some melt-in-your-mouth French crullers and Fargos weekly rawhide, augmented today by kitty treats. On our return Pewter decided sweetness might be the best way to get some of the pastry and curled back and forth between my legs until I was ready to boot her through the goalposts. Finally, I got settled with food, my special Sunday Blue Mountain coffee and the crossword puzzle and was brilliant in the solving of it.

I did a couple of chores and then rewarded myself by settling on the sofa with cigarettes, a beer and the Titans-Steelers game. The Titans were somehow keeping the Steelers out of sync, and the score was a surprising and gratifying 213, Titans. I wondered briefly if Sonny and Paula might be in the stadium, and then decided Nashville was nowhere near Gatlinburg.

I hoped Sonny was having a good vacation. He rarely got much consecutive time off and I hoped he was having fun. I wasnt too sure, though. Hed sounded a little tense on the phone. And Mom said shed gotten a postcard with the picture of some mountain called Clingmans Dome and the cryptic message: You and Aunt Mae would love it here, Sonny. He didnt sound especially thrilled. I yawned and felt my hand slide off the couch onto furI wasnt sure whose.

Thats the last I remember until the phone rang. I picked it up and a mans pleasant voice said, Hi. Alex? This is Larry Bartles. Gee whiz, we were getting chummy! Somethings come up. Ive handled it, but I just thought you ought to know. Another letter and some money arrived. Ive given it to Detective Mitchell.

I sat up, now wide awake. How much? What did it say? How was it delivered?

It was there when I went into the chapel this morning, slipped through the slot like the other one. Looks like the same type of paper and says make this clean thru God. Its made of pasted letters like the last one. And there was fifty-seven dollars in it.

An odd amount of money. I deliberated. But maybe not, Ben Fratoss wallet and watch were taken, of course, to raiseat least theoreticallythe question of robbery. And that amount would probably be about what the average person carries. You know, enough to cover most immediate needs, but not enough to ruin you if you lost it.

Yes, that sounds right. Maybe his wife could tell you more.

He was divorced, lived alone. Speaking of wives, what about yours?

Right here, he answered. I could hear a smile in his voice.

Great! Ill say no more. Were the cops pleased with your good citizenship?

Not so youd notice. The detective turned to a lady officer and said, Damn! They couldnt have done this one. Whatever that means.

I laughed. It means the two men they have under arrest just took a giant step toward freedom! Huzzah! They were the wrong ones anyway. Well, I wont keep you from your reunion. Stay in touch, ah, Larry.

We hung up. Larry Bartles grew on you, and I could see why my Aunt Mae liked him. I still didnt like his brand of religion, but maybejust maybeI had opened a tiny window in his mind yesterday. He seemed intelligent and there was always hope. Of course there was always the possibility he was a charming killer, too.

Which made me unhappy at the train of thought still chugging through my mind. Suppose Bartles was the worlds most accomplished liar and all this religion was just a hoax. Say the kitchen table components had been spread out in the backyard for assembly. Suppose something triggered a fight between Bartles and Lewis. Bartles picked up a leg and hit Lewis. Maybe Lewis managed to get up and try to run, and Bartles downed him in the sawdust of the garden. Then he either lost it and kept beating him, or beat him on purpose to make it look like a crime of passion. I wished Mitch could have forensics examine Bartless van and that sawdust mulching his garden.

Now, suppose Fratos saw something. He decides to approach Bartles. If there is no money to be had for blackmail, he can still have Bartles under his thumb, which would be almost as rewarding to slime like him. Fratos has a few at the Rat to work up his courage. When he walks out, he sees Harmons old truck with the keys in it and decides he can double his fun. Hell drive over and park it at the mission, where Harmon would never look for it in a million years, and have a nice threatening scene with Bartles. Only Bartles panics and kills him.

The only thing I couldnt account for was Wolfs handkerchief. Maybe Harmon had done some work for Wolf, needed a handkerchief and just picked it up, or Wolf gave it to him. Or maybe he simply found it somewhere. It could have been in the back of his truck forever with other junk and just used on the tire iron because it came to hand.

Bartles had all the time in the world to make up those letters, while his wife was gone, and then fake their delivery. Well, it was a reasonable theory. And with the case against Peter and the Wolf getting weaker, maybe Mitch would finally look into it. I almost hated to call him. Mitch and I really seemed to be at cross-purposes these days, and I hated finding us in an adversarial position. Id considered us friends and wished we could get back on good terms.

I knew at least some of his problems. Sonny and the Chief were both away. Anders hadnt had an original thought since first grade. Mitch probably felt as if he were a lone sergeant who had suddenly been left in charge of D-Day. This was the first murder case under his responsibility. I remembered Sonny with his first homicide. He had a theory he was determined was correct, and he would have sworn the moon was blue cheese if it had reinforced that theory. Of course, he just happened to be right.

Im sure Mitch felt I had been no help and was working against him. And now John Frost had been added to the equation. Well, perhaps if I was very tactful we could bring this mess to an accurate conclusion that would preserve Mitchs self-esteem. I would try. I called and asked him over for a drink, and he accepted, although I sensed reluctance in his voice.

When he arrived I mixed us a highball. I lifted mine, saying, To friends.

He smiled and clicked his glass against mine. Absolutely, Alex. To friends.

We kicked the case around, from first report to last, but made little progress. Neither of us could explain Harmons ongoing peripheral involvement, nor could we believe he was seriously implicated. Peter and Wolf could not have sent the second letter to Bartles, since they were in jail.

Of course, they could have gotten someone else to send it for them, Mitch said.

Not unless they had considerable help from someone in your department, I retorted. Nobody else would know what it looked like.

Oh, I dont know, he said with a smile, theres always Bartles... or you.

Oh, go check the garbage for cut-up magazinesand while youre there, get your head stuck in the can!

Well, whoever it was, they meant it to be long-lasting. Forensics tried to get the letters loose, to see what magazineor what kind of magazinethey came from. No go. The paper will have to grow old and rot around it before those letters fall off.

Strange, I agreed. Maybe it was all they had handy.

Maybe. Its some kind of real strong stuff, Im told. Something you might find at Woods Woods, although I doubt Wood is involved. He looked at me impishly over the rim of his glass. And youll be happy to know, we found nothing like it at Peter and the Wolfs.

You went back?

Yeah, I figured the warrant was still good. Look, Alex, Im just trying to wrap this up, one way or another.

Mitch, if you could just bear with me for a moment. If it is not Peter and/or the Wolf, and if it is not a vagrant robber... who is it?

Could be the Governor, for all I know. I have no idea. Do you?

Not really. What about Bartles? I recounted my scenario. And he has no alibi for last Saturday night or for Fratos. He told me his wife was shopping with a girlfriend down at the mall Saturday night. Then they had a fight over the money in the envelope on Sunday, and she trotted home to Mums.

Mitch covered a yawn. If I hadnt known his lost sleep was mainly due to pursuing Peter and the Wolf, I would have felt sorry for him. I know, he said. She didnt get home till this morning late. Bartles told me about the shopping and the fight. He was aware it put him alone at the time of both murders, but it didnt seem to bother him. His fingerprints are on letter number one and its envelope, along with smaller prints, probably his wifes. Were going to check that.

I got up and made him a refill as he continued. The money has prints galore. His, the ones we think are the wifes, Wolfs, Peters and enough unidentified ones to start a whole new file. And dont tell meI know Peter and Wolf usually paid Lewis in cash.

Well, at least that pretty well confirms it was Lewiss money. And I dont see Lewis dropping it off at the church on his way to Race Point to get himself killed. Its got to be from the murderer, Mitch. You know, Bartles could have done the letters and faked the delivery. That would give him a logical way to explain to his wife how he got the money.

Mitch looked stubborn, as if he didnt want to admit ministers had been known to kill. But I went on. Look, he knew Lewis, and I still think its a bit strange Lewis visited Bartles. There could have been something between them... sex, drugs. Bartles had what could be the weapon. And theres the sawdust. And his van. Come on, Mitch, its more than you have against Peter and the Wolf.

Maybe. He sounded part amused, part aggravated. Well, I still say its weak, but Ill see about a warrant to look at the sawdust and the van. Happy now?

I grinned. Yeh. And if it isnt Bartles, what about a hate crime? Lewis was openly gay, openly for rent and a wise-ass to boot.

He fought off another yawn. Thought about that. But for one thing, a hate crime is usually committed by more than one person. Usually, one of the group gets drunk and has to brag, or somebody knows something and talks. And, more often than not, they take some sort of credit. Maybe a piece of paper pinned to the body. Queers Beware. The Committee for a Pure Town. You know what I mean, the usual high-blown crap.

Yes. Youre right. No rumors? No tips?

Nada. Nil. Nothing, Alex. Nary a word. Theres still Quinn. Thus far hes known at the Harbor Bar, but not where any of the gay guys hang out. On the other hand, his ex-sergeant tells me he was on report twice for roughing up suspectsboth gay. They werent sorry to get rid of him. We havent written him off.

Damn! I was out of ideas. Have you talked to Sonny, other than that once? Did he give you his number?

No. He didnt and I dont think its necessary. I dont want to start W-W-Three, Alex, but nobody fits as well as Wolf and Peter.

What about letter number two and the fifty-seven bucks?

A misguided friend.

Was he still thinking of me? It seemed so. Before I got good and mad, I shrugged and said, Well, I suppose so. What about prints? I bet they belong to Ben Fratos.

Bartless are on the envelope. Not the letter. He says he remembered not to open it until he put on a pair of his wifes gloves, if you can imagine! Lots of unknown prints on the moneynot Peter, or Wolf, or Bartles. I imagine youll be right about Fratos.

Fratos! I slapped my forehead. I forgot to tell you. The other evening he came into the Wharf Rat, started to sit with Chief Mather, but Mather gave him a dirty look and he moved on. Later, he cornered Mather up by the street. Fratos was talking and Mather looked disgusted... angry. Maybe Fratos was bragging about some dirt hed uncovered somewhere. Hed love to know something foul about a man like Bartles. Maybe you should ask Mather. Im sorry I didnt tell you sooner. Ive been sort of...

Preoccupied lately? Laughing, Mitch finished for me. With the Curse of the Ptown Witch?

Shit. Is that going around now?

Mitch drained his drink and smiled. Oh, lots of people know. Joe has kept us all up to date. But I dont have to ask Mather. He mentioned it himself. It seems Fratos has been trying to get an increase in his pension but Chief Franks kiboshed it. Fratos was trying to exert some pressure through Anders and the selectmen and anybody else who might lean on Franks. He begged Mather to put his oar in the water. Mather was disgusted, said there was nothing wrong with his leg in the first place.

I looked at him quizzically. You going steady with Mather these days?

He had the grace to blush. Ah... well... hes been kind of nice to me. He said he knew with Sonny and Chief Franks away, I might feel a little uneasy and hed be glad to help any way he couldeven if I just wanted someone to talk to. Hes really a stand-up guy, Alex, though I can understand why you dont care for him.

Hes okay in his own way. I set my glass down. Has he been helpful?

Some. Youll be glad to know hes not at all sure about Peter and the Wolf. He thinks maybe Lewis came on to some skinhead-type tourist who got mad and killed him, maybe having seen he had a lot of money on him. Then the killer posed him at the amphitheater just for kicks.

What does he think was the weapon?

He didnt have anything specific. He thought there might have been more than oneand maybe more than one person. Like maybe somebody hit him with a block of wood or a hockey stick, and the other wounds came from the handle of a jack, or even somebody wearing a large ring and hitting him with his fist.

Mitch stood. Well, we havent come up with anything really new. I will check into Bartles, and we havent crossed off Quinn or the skinhead theory. I am really sorry, Alex, but I still think its going to end up Peter and the Wolf.

I wanted to stamp my foot and scream, Is not, not, not! But that would not convince Mitch of anything but my lunacy. We said a muted but cordial farewell.

I let Fargo and Pewter out and stood in the doorway as they went on final patrol. Something was nibbling around the edge of my thoughts but wouldnt take hold. Maybe tomorrow.


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