J. W. Morgan, Author

Mysteries from the North Coast


From Deadhead

          I aimlessly paced the workshop, inspecting the welders - arc and acetylene – and the various equipment for shearing, bending, rolling, heating and melting metals.  I saw the plans for her work in progress, hand drawn on heavy brown paper in thick dark pencil, noted the architectural flair of line, the artful swagger of the lettering - with 'A' s like pyramids, 'N's resembling recurved lazy sideways 'S' shapes. With the crawling of time, I mentally rehearsed what I knew I had to do, depending on which of my predicted characters I would be dealing with.

           I had narrowed the field to three possibilities.  And knowing that two were still actively involved, I had anticipated the actions and reactions and used a combination of sound judgment and plain luck to plan my moves. 

           I walked around behind one of her metal fabrication benches and glanced up at Deb’s wall clock and learned that an hour had passed.  Doubt began to creep into my mind.  Maybe the anonymous call to Coy about meeting at Deb’s was a stall tactic, or maybe it was a blow-off.  It was looking like nobody would show up at all.  It could very well be that the noisy muffler Doc heard last night was the sound of a frustrated murder who knew things were falling apart.  Forget the list and get out while you can. But that would be a hell of a lot of money to leave behind and risk murder for.  Follow the greed, remember?

           I absent-mindedly reached for and examined a large pair of surprisingly lightweight metal shears, when a shaft of light burst from the large garage door and filled the cavernous shop with the dusty light of the evening sun.

           Silhouetted in the light, a thin figure appeared, paused, and strode slowly into the shop; his boot steps echoing a staccato beat as he approached.  A wink of sunlight flashed off the silvery scales of snakeskin boots.

           The faceless figure, silhouetted against the white shaft of light, made an upward motion of the left hand and I heard the unmistakable click of a revolver hammer.  Instinctively, I threw the tin snips toward the silhouette as I dove and rolled behind an upright wall of sheet metal.

           A cry and a shot came together.  I heard the plink from the top of my metal wall, and felt the warm slap of the ricocheted bullet fragment in my outside upper thigh.

           The voice came now in the room as it had through the wire on that blustery Sunday - but the element of surprise was dampened.  "Sam, you sly old dude, you.  I shoulda figured it'd be you that put out the word on my list.  You do have it, don't you Samuel?"

From Handyman

           Will was sitting in his office drinking coffee from a black mug with pink letters that spelled out “PIG.”  His starched white shirt was rolled up at the sleeves, and the heels of his Lugs boots rested on his desk as he sat back in the swivel chair.  The envelope, ring and note I had received lay on the desk blotter. 

           “Okay, let me get this straight.  You say that the envelope appeared on your porch.  You say you didn’t see anyone leave it.  You opened it wearing gloves, dumped the contents, read the note and checked the ring, finding the inscription,” he said in a voice that was bordering boredom.

           I nodded.

           “You are also saying that I should check with neighboring police departments and have them send me all recent missing person reports by a search using the name Claire – corresponding with the inscription.”

           I nodded again.  I was getting good at it.

           “And you think that DNA test of any trace on the ring will match with the hand you found on the beach… if there is any trace.”

           I shrugged.  It’s good to mix it up.

           “Why do you think this envelope fell into your lap,” he said.

           “I have an inkling of an idea.  I’m pretty sure that whoever this is had been watching Towne Hall and saw Doc and me go in when you called about the hands. I think they saw you walk us to the door when we left, put two and two together and decided I was involved. But I’m not biting on the bait.” I held my hands out palms up toward his desk.  “Hey, this is your ballgame.  I’m just letting you in on what I think is the logical thing to do.”

           He sat up in the chair and placed his chunky arms on the desk in front of him.  He raised the volume increasingly as he spoke.

           “As if I wouldn’t have thought of it.  Hell, I’ll contact every goddamn law enforcement office and database in the country if I have to.  I want to get this shit cleared up before the tourists start pouring in for Memorial Day Weekend. But you gotta level with me.  I like you Parker, but I’m not above nailing anyone for obstruction. So whatcha got?”

          I knew that my reaction would be carefully watched.  Will would be reading body language, voice inflection, which direction my eyes looked when I answered and a number of things cops are trained to do to detect lies. Involuntary movements during interrogation told volumes about the person being interrogated.  Even though we were casually sitting in an office, it was an interrogation nonetheless. I decided that a good offense was called for.  I put my feet up on his desk, looked at the space between his eyes and said, “It’s not my line of work anymore.  I don’t need it, don’t want it.”  I swept my hand toward the items on the desk. “Again, it’s all yours, Will.”

           He looked across the desk at me, not saying anything. The cop stare. I waited.  He waited.

           I had seen the best at the waiting game on both sides of the law. Hard-assed cases guilty of any number of crimes trying to out-wait the hard-assed stares of cops that could wait so long they would need a haircut after they left the room. Cops usually win at the waiting game.  I knew that.  I also knew that although I held out the information Doc had found, I had nothing to do with sawing anyone’s hand off. And Doc was counting on me not to reveal what he had learned through his hacking. To go further would only raise questions and implicate Doc. There was no pressing business on my plate. I could wait.

           Our pissing contest was interrupted when the buzzer on Will's intercom squawked.  “Will, Morrison just called in.  He wants you to come to the ShoreView Motor Inn,” Harriet’s voice crackled over the small speaker.

           “Harriet, I’m a little tied up here,” he said.

           “He told me you would say that, and told me to tell you nothing’s this important and he said to bring Doc Egan with you.”

          “Got it.  Parker, I want you to come with me, since you seem to be full of big bright ideas today.”

           “Look,” I said, “What did I just say about this being your gig?”

           “You can ride along, or I can hold you here and we can finish when I get back.  Call it a trade.  You give me some of your time and maybe I just get off your back.”

           “Your car or mine,” I said.