A Darker Shade of Day

By – W.S. Holderby

Chapter 1

Sharon jumped when the phone rang. She always developed a slight case of the creepy crawlies when she was alone after dark. Settling herself down, she reached for the receiver.

“Mrs. Muir?” the voice asked.

“Yes, speaking. Can I help you?”

“Yes ma’am. This is Sergeant Taylor from the New Orleans Police Department.”

“Oh? Is this about the report that my husband and I filed yesterday?”

“Yes ma’am. We’ve think we’ve recovered some of your stolen property. But we’d like you or your husband to come down to the station and make a positive identification.”

“Did you catch the people who robbed us?” she asked.

“No, not yet. But at least we have the watch and some other items you reported stolen. The jewelry matches the description you gave us.”

“That’s great,” Sharon replied. “We can come down tomorrow if that’s all right. My husband won’t be home until late tonight.”

“We really only need one of you to identify the property. A quick ID would sure help us follow up on some leads so we can try and get this case closed.

“Well,” Sharon hesitated, “I don’t like to drive at night. But I guess I could make an exception.”

“Ma’am, we’d sure appreciate that. You’ll need to come to the Claiborne station. The officer who recovered your property is still here filling out his report. It would help if you could get here before his shift ends in two hours.”

“Sure, I’ll come down right now. I live on Poydras, so I should be there in about twenty minutes. After all, you found everything so quickly, it’s the least I can do,” Sharon answered.

“Ask for Sergeant Taylor from robbery division when you get to the front desk.”

Sharon hung up the phone and quickly wrote a note to her husband Ron, telling him the good news. He was always so down on the police department. He thought they were as bad as the crooks they investigated. This would show him.

Grabbing her purse and car keys, she was half-way out the door when she suddenly thought of her pistol. Knowing the route she was about to take to the police station was through one of the roughest parts of town, she found her small revolver and slipped it into her coat pocket.

Sharon eased her car out onto the deserted road and turned right at Rampart Street. She was glad there weren’t many on-coming cars with blinding headlights, and thankful that the rain had finally let up.

She managed to make it through every one of the green lights until she reached the intersection at Elysian Fields. “Damn,” she said as the light turned bright red. Stopping her car, she glanced in her rearview mirror and noticed two men walking toward the passenger side of her car.

Drumming the steering wheel nervously, she willed the light to turn green. Come on, she whispered impatiently. The men were closer now, perhaps thirty feet away. Don’t panic, Sharon. Abruptly, the men turned right and disappeared into a doorway just as the light turned green. She gave one more quick backward glance and gunned the accelerator.

Looking forward, Sharon saw a figure suddenly appear in her headlights. She jammed on her brakes, but it was too late. The force of the impact caused the figure to roll up on the hood of her car, up to her windshield. When she stopped, the figure reversed its momentum, rolled back and fell to the ground.

“My God,” Sharon screamed as she opened her door and rushed to aid the man. Reaching the front of the car, she was both startled and relieved to see him sit up.

“Are you hurt? I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you,” Sharon choked out.

Saying nothing, he slowly brushed himself off and extended his hand out to Sharon.

Taking his hand, she helped him get to his feet, relieved that he seemed unhurt. “I’m so sorry I hit you. Do you need an ambulance?”

He still said nothing, just continued holding onto her hand.

“Do you hear me? Are you hurt?”

There was still no response, except for the tightening of his grip on her hand.

“You’re hurting me,” Sharon snapped. Please let go.” She tried to pry his hand loose but his grip slid up to her wrist, tightening even more. Afraid now, Sharon reached into her pocket and pulled out her pistol. “I have a gun. Let me go right now or I’ll shoot you.”

The man smiled then. “You’re too late, lady. I’m already dead.”

“What?!” she exclaimed. Her nose was being assaulted by his smell, like a dead animal in the street. Fighting back fear, Sharon raised her gun and pointed it at his chest, just like Ron had taught her. “I mean it,” she threatened. She fired once, twice and then a third time.

The man continued to stare at her, shaking his head in a slow motion arc. She hadn’t noticed his left arm rising. The blow struck her in the face, sending her crashing back against one of the parked cars.

Sharon screamed and tried to run, but he was too quick. She emptied the last three shots into him but he continued towards her.

“I think you’re out of bullets lady,” he said raising his arm to strike another blow. He hit her again and again until the darkness closed over her.

“Chapter 2”

Police Lieutenant Charlie Dawes was not a happy man. He should have been. It was all because of that stupid car. Here he was, a Lieutenant with the New Orleans Police Department, a man proud of his hard work, happy with his wife, and still in damn good shape physically. Now, going down St. Charles Avenue, on his way to Octavia Street, he had a slight cramp in his left foot and no way to relieve it. In his old unit, he would at least have had some room to slip his shoe off and wiggle his foot. Finally reaching his destination, he parked at the curb and opened the door. Slowly, he uncoiled his rail thin frame from the offending compact car. Straightening up on the sidewalk, he looked back at the ridiculous vehicle.

This was the result of the latest NOPD cost cutting measures. The senior officer standard car was now about half the size of the large LTD’s they previously drove. Although this one didn’t fit his 6 foot 3 inch frame at all, he was told that sacrifices had to be made by everyone to keep the city’s budget in line. “Yeah, right,” he said, to no one in particular. He turned and looked at the stately house, whose owner he had come to visit. The house was located on a side street off St. Charles Ave in the Garden District of New Orleans, a block away from the popular street car tracks and four blocks from both Tulane and Loyola Universities. The house had been built in the mid 1800’s and was immaculate, with none of the falling shingles or rotting fascia boards so common in the less fortunate parts of town.

Charlie Dawes, his foot now feeling better, climbed the stairs of a wide porch edged with gleaming white pillars. The doors, stained mahogany, were designed in the floor to ceiling old style of New Orleans that allowed them to be used to open the house on hot nights, and for balls.

He knocked on the front door and waited for an answer. Sensing movement, he looked and saw the old woman’s head peeking through the glass windows at the side of the door. She smiled and opened the door, an act surprisingly quick considering her advanced years.

“It’s so good to see you again Mr. Dawes, or should I say Lieutenant?” the elderly woman asked.

“Mildred, just call me Charlie, like everyone else. Is Dash in?”

“Yes sir, he’s out in the back yard, in the greenhouse. He’s been working out there all day. From the pounding and cursing, I think he’s rebuilding the plant tables the missus used to start her plants on,” Mildred answered.

Charlie had known Mildred Moore for ten years and she had never yet called him Charlie. Over the years, it had developed into a pleasant contest of wills between them for her to change her ways. Charlie thought it wasn’t likely to happen though. Already in her late seventies, and Irish, she was undoubtedly more stubborn then he. Besides, her cooking was outstanding. Over the years, her Cajun and French cooking had made her a legend among housekeepers, at least on St. Charles Avenue. Lester was a man who definitely had an eye for talent in the kitchen.

She led him through a large well-lit living room with four hanging ceiling fans. The evening was fast approaching and the light from outside was fading. They walked through the house and across the back porch to the greenhouse, a tall narrow structure that sat within a stone’s throw of the swimming pool. The light was on and sounds of hammering echoed out.

Mildred stopped at the back porch and asked, ” Will you be staying for dinner, Lt. Dawes? We’re having Cajun duck and some fresh vegetables from the garden.”

“I wouldn’t pass up one of your meals for a million bucks, Mildred. I appreciate the invitation,” Charlie answered.

As Charlie approached the greenhouse, he could see that the three men were hard at work. Lester, the tallest of the three, was busy giving instructions to the two other men. They were holding a large piece of plywood precariously on the sawhorse until Lester could nail it permanently in place. Every time Lester raised the hammer, the plywood would slip. All three men were sweating profusely. The greenhouse was at least twenty degrees hotter than the 60 degrees outside.

Emilio and Hector tried to hold the wood in place, but it was no use. The two cousins had once built a whole house in Mexico City. They were not about to let one piece of plywood defeat them. “Senor Landeche, por favor,” Hector said. “Please, you and Emilio hold the wood. I do the hammer.” Once more, the wood was wrestled into place. As Hector brought the hammer down, the sawhorse broke.

“Okay, I give up, at least for today,” Lester said wiping the sweat from his beet red face. “Let’s go outside before we melt.”

“Good evening, Dash.”

Lester Landeche stepped out of the greenhouse. “Charlie Dawes, how the hell are you? Congratulations on your promotion, Lieutenant.” He gave a good-humored attempt at a salute. “I’d shake hands, but let’s wait until I clean up.” He turned to the two men still inside the greenhouse and said, “Let’s finish it up tomorrow morning. I’m tired of sweating and you two look worse than I do.”

The two men didn’t argue, but grabbed their tools and left, nodding to the police lieutenant. Charlie watched them leave, thinking that maybe they didn’t want to get too close to the police. “You do vouch that these two have green cards, don’t you Lester?” Charlie asked jokingly.

“Those two have lived here for thirty years, Charlie. I think they’re originally from Houston. They didn’t draft you into the border patrol, did they?” Lester asked.

“That’s one of the few duties they haven’t given me, at least not yet.” Charlie answered.

As soon as they entered the house, the aroma of Mildred’s cooking coming from the kitchen struck them.

“Damn, that smells good. I guess I’ve worked up a greenhouse hunger,” Lester said as they walked back into the living room.

“Fix yourself a drink Charlie, the bar is open. And as long as you’re fixing, I’d like a Jack on the rocks. I’m going to clean up a bit or Mildred won’t let me sit at the table,” Lester said as he disappeared up the stairs.

Charlie fixed two drinks and sunk down into the overstuffed leather couch. The sun was setting, sending a soft yellow glow through the oak trees on the front lawn. His thoughts drifted back to the day he’d met Lester Landeche. That first day, in Air Force boot camp, Lester came into the squadron from somewhere in the Midwest, Pigsknuckle Iowa, or someplace that remote. He had a bad haircut and actually wore a farmer’s straw hat. Charlie figured he was just another hayseed, drafted off the farm and dragged in to the service. They got along all right, but he didn’t think much more about Lester until the night five white recruits jumped him behind the barracks. He had put up a good fight, but there were too many. He had taken care of two of them, but the three still standing were about to use Charlie as a punching bag. That’s when Lester charged in, swinging a piece of railing that he’d broken off the barracks porch steps. The three men quickly scattered and ran, two of them with broken ribs. He then reached down and helped Charlie stand up.

“That’s the fastest I ever seen a white man run. You looked like you were running the fifty-yard dash. Thanks, man,” Charlie said. From that time on, the two men had been friends.

They’re first duty station was in the Philippines as Air Police. Military police duty wasn’t the same as civilian policing. Most of the time you had to watch your back because the others were trying to stick it to you to move up in rank. Seven of the initial fifteen men in their squad had been court marshaled for one reason or another. The majority were legitimate beefs, such as theft or shakedowns. But, Charlie had learned early on to be careful whom he trusted. Lester (Dash, as he was known then) and Charlie were partners. They knew that they could depend only on each other (and did so) the whole time they were stationed in the Philippines and through their tour in Viet Nam.

After their enlistment was up, they both left the service. That’s when Lester moved to New Orleans. He stayed at Charlie’s mother’s place for a few months and then started out installing burglar alarms. Now, he owned one of the finest houses in the city and, up until a few months ago, was president of one of the largest security firms in the state of Louisiana.

Charlie joined the New Orleans Police Department beginning as a foot cop in the Gentilly area of the city. He’d moved his way up through the ranks resulting in his last promotion as a detective Lieutenant. He hadn’t made the money Lester had, but up until a few years ago, he’d been happy doing what he enjoyed most, working with people.

Lester came back into the living room and joined Charlie on the couch. The sun was barely visible now behind the trunk of the Oak tree and cars were turning on their lights. In the distance, they could hear the animals from the Audubon Zoo two blocks away. The lions were roaring and the elephants trumpeting.

“It’s feeding time. They’re always loudest at dusk and dawn. It’s still sort of strange at times, to wake up and hear lions roaring. I almost forget where I am, laying safe in my bed. When there’s fog in the morning, the sound carries farther and they almost sound like they might be in the next room,” Lester said, sipping his whiskey.

“That’s true of the city jail, too,” Charlie added.

“What’s it been, a few months, Charlie? I’m glad to see you. I haven’t been out much. Since Sally died, and since I left the company, I sort of just crawled into a hole. I just now started fixing up the greenhouse. It was Sally’s favorite way to pass the time. She used to grow all her prize-winning flowers and plants in there.”

“The last time I was here was six months ago, at the funeral. You’re losing track of time, boy. I decided that you spent enough time in that black hole. With Mildred here to take care of you, I know you’re eating good. But, to be honest about it, I’ve got another reason,” Charlie said quietly reflecting on the darkening scene in front of them.

“Well, whatever the reason, I’m glad you stopped by” Lester replied.

“I heard you left Atel Security. What happened?” Charlie asked.

Lester took a taste of his drink. “Oh, you’ll enjoy this one. I was forced out by Tony. You remember my son, don’t you? When Sally died, she left her shares of the stock to both of our sons, Tony and your namesake Charles. Tony bought Charles’ stock and, along with some of the other investors, took over the company. They had 51% and voted to retire me as the president. Then, they made Tony the new president.”

“Damn, forced out by your own son. Why did he do that? Charlie asked. “Atel is one of the biggest security outfits in New Orleans.”

“Oh, he was kind enough to offer me the honorary position of Chairman of the Board, but I declined. It seems since the company went public, it wasn’t increasing fast enough in value to suit him. Tony always said it was because we specialized in security systems for the little guy. His point is that the same little guy who built the business has no money. So they’ve decided to address the bigger, more lucrative, markets like banks and those pricey stores,” Lester replied.

“Why didn’t you become Chairman? At least you’d still have a say in running the company.”

“To tell you the truth, since Sally died, I haven’t really had much interest in having a say. Tony must have been right, because I’m worth twice as much now as when I ran the company,” Lester sighed.

“Still, it must have been hard to be put out to pasture by your own son. Were there any hard feelings?” Charlie asked.

“Oh yeah, at first. But, I guess we sort of reconciled. After all, I only have Tony and Charles left now. Charles is in Europe someplace, probably spending his inheritance. That only leaves Tony. So, why stay mad at him? I paid for him to go five years to Tulane to become an accountant. He’s just doing what he thinks best. What the hell, anyway,” Lester replied, again sipping his drink.

After a few minutes time, Charlie cleared his throat. “Dash, I’ve got a problem and I need your help. I came to ask you for a favor. The department’s in a bad spot and I need someone to make a few discreet inquiries for me. Maybe we can help each other. You really need something to work on to get your mind off Sally and I need to produce some results,” Charlie said still staring at the darkened street.

“I don’t know what I can do Charlie. I’m not a cop. At least, not since our Air Force days. They were some good times though, weren’t they?”

“They sucked and we both know it, Dash. No money at all, not to mention the baboons we had to work for. We both hated every minute of the last two years.”

At that moment Mildred called from the kitchen that everything was ready. The two men beat a path to the kitchen table.

The meal was, as always, delicious. The duck was followed by several bottles of excellent wine and finished up with Praline ice cream and thick dark Chicory coffee.

“Damn, if I lived here Dash, I’d explode in a week. It’s a good thing for you that Mildred never remarried.”

“My waist line has been expanding since I’ve been home all the time,” Dash said as they retired to the living room, each with a snifter of Cognac.

“Can we get back to our conversation now?” Charlie asked. He could tell that Dash was distracted, mentally retired, with no sense of urgency any more. But, he knew that state wouldn’t last forever. Dash was almost frantic when he was interested in something and it was Charlie’s goal to interest him.

“You mean you need to find someone that you can trust and is willing to work for the virtually zero fees paid by the department? Isn’t that what you’re asking, Charlie?”

“Well, it won’t be zero. I can cover your expenses. You’ll be an NOPD consultant, but with no legal powers. However, you will have the full cooperation of the department. We will listen to you, I promise.” Charlie was trying to interest Lester without coming on too strong.

“Ok, I guess I might be open to helping you with whatever I can. But, how can I help the NOPD? I’m not a cop, or a private detective. I can’t even provide muscle. And I’m not in very good shape anymore.”

“Yeah, I noticed that part.” Charlie was grinning a little now. “I guess it’s getting time to come up with another nickname for you. How about Molassass?”

“I don’t think that would be acceptable. Besides, I can still move quick enough to save your ass. That is, if I’m still inclined to do that.”

Although Dash’s reply was skeptical, Charlie could tell that he had gotten his attention. It had to be the first new proposition he’d had in the last few months. “I’ll explain exactly how you can help me. There’s a case I’m working on that involves a missing woman and the woman’s husband. His name is Ron Muir. Ron’s wife Sharon has been missing for a little more than a month,” Charlie continued.

“Muir, isn’t that the photographer who’s got a studio in off Poydras?” Dash asked. “I see his sign when I go downtown.”

“Yeah, he’s a photographer. His wife was the receptionist. One day last month she went to deliver some prints and vanished,” Charlie responded.

“Did the customer she delivered the prints to ever get them? Do you have any idea where she went or what happened?” Dash asked.

“The answer is no to both questions. The customer receiving the prints was NOPD. The photos were taken when they had a problem in a local cemetery. We can’t find any trace of her after she left the Muir studio,” Charlie answered.

“Well, was there any motive? Maybe she just decided to leave this Ron by going out and never coming back,” Dash asked puzzled.

“That’s what I need help with. The department looks at Muir as the prime suspect in the disappearance. They both had large insurance policies naming each other as the beneficiary. He may have decided to collect early on the claim. I don’t think so, but I’m in the minority. We have absolutely no evidence. Muir is telling a strange story and just stays holed up in his studio. He’ll only talk to me. When I go over there, he keeps telling me they’re out to get him, now that his wife’s dead.”

“Who are they?” Dash asked?

“I don’t really know. It seems that he, his wife, and some of their friends were mixed up in an attempted robbery at St. Moritz cemetery. Since then, his wife and two of the friends have disappeared, with no trace,” Charlie replied.

“I know the dead here vote, but I didn’t think they were into robbing people” Dash joked, finishing up his Cognac.

“It was some local punk that tried to rob them. But, he was killed under suspicious circumstances. I have the report in the car. I need another pair of eyes that I can trust to look at this without preconceptions. There’s a little more to the story than I’ve told you. But, I think if his wife doesn’t turn up, Ron’ll get railroaded into a murder rap. I sort of like the guy. Besides, I just don’t believe he did it. From all accounts, he was devoted to the woman.”

“What do you think I can do, Charlie?”

“I want you to meet Muir and see what you think about his story. It definitely sounds like a load of shit, but I really think he believes it. Then, there’s the other disappearances. I didn’t mention that the police officer that took the call at the cemetery is also missing. His name is Mahue. A week ago, his squad car was found stopped in the middle of a deserted intersection, lights flashing and the driver’s door open. He was working the night shift, so there were no witnesses. We searched all over the area, but there was no sign of him, just what looked like a bucket of blood all over the front seat. You’d swear that an animal, or something, slit his throat and just drug him out of the car,” Charlie continued.

“I heard about that. In the paper, they’re saying that he may have gotten mixed up in something messy and his marker got called in,” Dash replied. He was thinking that maybe this mess was a little more than he needed right now.

“He’s an honest cop. He’d been suspended for two weeks last year following a shooting. But, he was cleared and put back on the street. I talked to the other officers in the department and they didn’t know of anything he was doing that seemed out of line. I’d like to think that they told me the truth. I have no idea if his disappearance is related or not, but, he was involved in Muir’s case,” Charlie answered.

Dash leaned back on the couch and looked out of the front picture windows. The lawn was totally dark now with the street lights as the only illumination. Several cars passed by, followed by a slow moving police cruiser. Dash noticed that the first car slowed as it drove by Charlie’s car. It stopped two houses down, turned, and drove back past the house. Both men watched from the room as the patrol car passed and stopped within a few yards of the unmarked car. It turned off the lights and the two officers sat in the darkness, facing away from the house.

“Are you sure there isn’t something else you’d like to tell me, Charlie?”

“No, they probably recognized the car and want to know if there’s anything happening. I’m not in trouble with the department, if that’s what you mean. Well, what do you say, will you help me?”

“This is some can of worms you got here. But, it just so happens that you caught me between jobs right now. So, if you can tell me what you expect, I’ll give it my best try. Just remember, you’re hiring a fifty year old fat man, not some trim young scrapper. My best moves probably left a long time ago. In fact, I think they left before I ever used them,” Dash said light-heartedly.

“No, they probably recognized the car and want to know if there’s anything happening. I’m not in trouble with the department, if that’s what you mean. Well, what do you say, will you help me?”

“This is some can of worms you got here. But, it just so happens that you caught me between jobs right now. So, if you can tell me what you expect, I’ll give it my best try. Just remember, you’re hiring a fifty year old fat man, not some trim young scrapper. My best moves probably left a long time ago. In fact, I think they left before I ever used them,” Dash said light-heartedly.

“Make it in the afternoon. I have to finish the greenhouse benches in the morning. After lunch, it’s too hot to work in there. Say about two o’clock, tomorrow afternoon. Is his studio the one on Poydras?”

“That’s the one. The whole building is surrounded by a wrought iron fence. He has an apartment above the studio. I’ll meet you there at two. Don’t knock or walk up to the front door. He’s jumpy and if he sees a stranger he might vapor lock or something. I’ll phone him right now and tell him to expect us,” Charlie replied producing a small cellular phone. He dialed the number, waited for a few rings, hung up and redialed the number.

A voice answered and Charlie seemed satisfied that it was Muir. “I want to stop by tomorrow afternoon and have you meet a good friend of mine. I’ve asked him to help me with your problem. No, no, he’s not a cop. NOPD has him on their payroll as a consultant. What, does he look like? He’s about six foot tall, sandy blond hair, and a little paunchy. Yeah, he’s fifty with a tanned, sort of craggy face. No, I’ll be with him, so don’t open the door to anyone until you see me, Ok?” The man’s answer seemed to satisfy Charlie and he hung up.

“I like that part about being paunchy and craggy. Does he have any other relatives that might be able to stay with him?” Dash asked.

“His brother, but he’s been in and out of a hospital in California. Unfortunately for Muir, right now he’s in no condition to come here.”

“Why did you think of me to help you, Charlie?”

“Oh that’s easy. I have two reasons,” Charlie grinned. “The first is that my supply of funds is really small and I need a guy who’ll work cheap.” He became more serious now. “The second, and real, reason is that you just lost Sally. I know it might be cold of me, but I thought you might be able to relate to him. After all, it looks like his wife Sharon is probably not coming back.”

“I’m cheap and vulnerable. Well, that’s two great qualifications. Speaking of wives, how are you and Rita getting along?” Dash asked.

“Oh, you know how that goes. She gets tired of being a cop’s wife, wishes I’d get a normal job. But, we’re hanging in there,” Charlie replied.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know. The last time we were out together, I mean Sally and me with you two, we had a fine time, remember? You seemed to be getting along pretty well,” Dash’s smile slowly faded as he thought of Sally.

“I’ve got to be getting out of here, Dash. Tomorrow starts around six any more and doesn’t end until,” Charlie looked at his watch, “ten o’clock these days. I want to thank you for helping me out,” Charlie said as he glanced out at the parked patrol car.

The two friends walked out to Charlie’s car. After retrieving the case file from the trunk of his car and handing it to Lester, they shook hands. “It’s gonna be good working with you again. It’s been too long.”

As Charlie rolled himself up and squeezed into the toymobile, Lester couldn’t help himself. “By the way, don’t be putting in a requisition for me for one of these things. I like to drive my car, not wear it.”

As Charlie drove away, Lester watched the patrol car slowly move off in the same direction. I wonder if he’s telling me everything?

“Chapter 3 ”

Poydras traffic was heavy the next day as Lester drove to Muir’s studio. He found one of New Orleans cheaper parking lots, walked six blocks and waited for Charlie Dawes to show up. He was ten minutes early for two reasons. The first was that it was his nature to be early. The second was that he wanted to look around the outside of the studio by himself.

The Muir studio was built in the 1800’s during one of New Orleans boom to bust cycles. Its original occupant was a ship’s store. The building, typical of many in the Central Business District, was three stories high. Any part that wasn’t covered by red brick was badly in need of paint.

The Central Business District, or CBD as the locals call it, is full of such buildings. Many of the once grand structures had spent years sinking into abandonment and decay. In the late 1980’s, shrewd developers discovered that these old relics were really gold mines in disguise. By gutting the buildings and shoring up the leaning walls, an army of upscale people could be convinced to pay big money for the privilege of residing, or doing business, in an area of town that they had spent the last ten years avoiding like the plague. Law offices, restaurants, and luxury apartments had begun to spring up amid the grime, breathing new life into the CBD.

One of the improvements made recently to Muir’s studio was the installation of a six foot wrought iron fence that surrounded the building on three sides. The fence was topped by spear tips, with a heavy wrought iron locking gate being the only apparent entrance to the studio. On the fourth side, an abandoned garage with an ancient “For Sale” sign butted up against the side of the studio.

The studio had balconies on both the second and third floor. The second floor balcony looked as if it had been recently rebuilt, but the balcony on the third floor didn’t appear very sturdy. The supports below the flooring were attached to rotten wood, causing it to sag slightly.

Lester tried the handle on the fence gate and found it locked. He looked up at the darkened windows and could see no one. The studio was now in the shade of several taller buildings but he could see no lights in any of the windows. He wondered if Muir was home.

As he walked around to the back of the building, he saw an alley dotted with dumpsters and several abandoned, wrecked cars, presumably belonging to the now defunct garage. Again, no lights were visible. He noticed that the two balconies continued only partially across the back of the building leaving a gap of about fifteen feet. The old balconies had either fallen in or were in the process of being repaired. Since there were no signs of building or repair equipment, he suspected that they had fallen and been hauled off.

The fence was obviously designed to keep out unwelcome visitors. But, Lester noticed that by climbing a fire escape on the back of the deserted garage, a person could easily reach over and climb onto the neighboring second floor balcony. A simple rope with a rock could be used to pull down the sliding fire escape ladder. His years as a security specialist had taught him to notice things like this. The question was, did Muir think that this was a problem, or did he leave the access route in case of fire? There were no fire escapes from the studio. Maybe there was a rope ladder on the roof or inside the building. Lester mentally noted the discrepancy and walked back to the front gate.

Charlie was right on time. He parked in a no parking zone and placed an NOPD sign on his dashboard. This helped repel the eager meter maids that the city employed to squeeze extra money out of the unwary. Looking around, he spotted Lester and smiled as he walked over to him. “You beat me here.”

“Can I get one of those NOPD signs now that I’m a paid consultant?” Lester asked, returning Charlie’s smile.

“Sure, I’ve got another one in the trunk. Where did you park?” Charlie asked.

“About six blocks away. By the way, is Muir at the studio?” Lester asked. “There’s no light on and the door’s locked.”

“He’s home, all right. I talked to him on the cell phone as I was driving over here. He saw you standing in front and OK’d the meeting,” Charlie answered.

“You mean you had me drive all the way down here and he still hadn’t said he’d meet us? Why did he agree?” Charlie asked, a little put out.

“It was your white, Anglo-Saxon face, plus the fact that he’s never seen you before hanging around this part of town. He said you looked out of place. It’s his rules, Dash. So the guy’s a little psychotic, wouldn’t you be?”

“I suppose so,” Dash answered, shrugging his shoulders.

Charlie dialed a number on his cell phone and announced “We’re here.”

The gate made a metallic click and swung open. As the two men walked inside to the front door, the gate quietly swung shut behind them. The front door was open and, as Lester walked inside, he noticed that it, too, had an electric lock. The studio was large, covering most of the first floor.

It was easy to tell that the first floor studio was designed to appeal to Muir’s customers. Hanging on every wall were either customer portraits or street scenes of New Orleans. In almost all of the street scenes, people were playing instruments or laughing at the antics of street clowns.

Looking at the photos, Lester noticed an attractive blond woman, about thirty, recurring in the street scenes. He guessed that this was probably Sharon Muir. “Is this Sharon, Charlie?”

“That’s her. Let’s go upstairs,” Charlie answered.

“Maybe I’m going blind, but I don’t see any stairs. I only see three walls and one door, the one we just came through,” Lester replied.

“It’s not what you see Dash, it’s what you know has to be there,” Charlie said laughingly. He pushed against one of the panels covered by the street scenes. It swiveled, revealing a staircase leading up into the darkness. They reached the second floor and continued up, toward the third.

At the top of the stairs, Charlie knocked on a large wooden door located on the third floor landing. The door clicked open to reveal an almost totally dark room.

At first, Lester’s eyes couldn’t make out any shapes or distinguish any features in the room. As he walked in, he bumped into Charlie, who was having similar problems.

“Damn, Ron, turn on the damn lights, would you?” Charlie demanded, nervously.

A light to their right turned on and the room became visible. “I wanted to make sure that only two people came through that door, Charlie. Sorry for the poor greeting,” Ron Muir said, quietly.


The room was about 10 by 12 feet, with blankets hung over the windows. Lester noted that the windows and the room were at the back of the house, on the third floor. Muir was sitting behind a large, old oak desk, with his back to the blanketed windows. To his right was a double barreled shotgun and in front of him, on the desk, were two automatic pistols. Also by his right hand was a bottle of Jack Daniels and a glass with ice.

Muir was a man in his mid-thirties, with light wavy hair, a tanned face, and at least a weeks growth of beard. Lester noticed that part of his beard was turning gray. His eyes were dark, but in the limited light of the room, Lester couldn’t tell if they were brown or gray. He looked to be about five feet nine or ten, with a gaunt look. He hasn’t eaten in days, thought Lester, and, from the smell of the place, he hasn’t bathed since the last time he ate.

In front of the desk were two chairs and in front of each chair was a glass with ice, one for each of his visitors. That was the only furniture in the room.

“Ron, I’d like you to meet a very good friend of mine, Lester Landeche. Dash and I go all the way back to Nam together. I’d trust him with my life,” Charlie said convincingly.

“Mr. Landeche, would you and Charlie please have a seat? Since this trouble started, I’ve given up shaking hands. I hope you don’t mind,” Ron said apologetically.

“I guess that’s understandable, given the circumstances,” Lester answered as he took his chair. He noted that he and Charlie were sitting about six feet away from Ron. If either of them tried to make a move, Ron would have ample time to pick up either of his two guns and fire. It was a sobering thought. But then, he might do the same thing given the man’s obvious state of mind.

“Charlie said that NOPD has hired you to look into my case, Mister Landeche. Does that mean that the official department position is that my wife’s case is on the back burner?” Ron asked very quietly.

“No, Ron. I hired Dash to give your case the attention it needs. I don’t want it to become just another statistic on the department’s books. Dash is a good man and he won’t be carrying any baggage into this case. He hasn’t formed any opinions that might be clouded by other people in the police department. That’s all there is to it. Officially, your wife is still listed as a missing person and the investigation into her case is still on-going,” Charlie responded quickly.

“How much has Charlie told you about my wife’s case?” Ron asked, directing his gaze at Lester.

“Only that she and possibly two other people have disappeared mysteriously. He said it might have something to do with a problem you had in a local cemetery.”

“Altogether, there have been four disappearances. My wife was the first one. Our friends Brenda and James Masson were next, and Officer Stanley Mahue was the last one. My wife disappeared five weeks ago. Brenda and Jim vanished from their own home three weeks ago. Officer Mahue was snatched right from his patrol car last week,” Ron continued.

“Now wait a minute. We don’t know yet if these other disappearances are real or if they are in any way related to Sharon,” Charlie interrupted.

“What you mean is that the official NOPD position is presumed missing, but not confirmed. You might tell that to Detective Sergeant Rafferty. He’s been here four times this week and now he’s got a tap on my phone. Rafferty obviously believes that I killed my wife. I don’t know if he suspects me in the other disappearances, or not. Am I right, Charlie?” Ron asked.

“Who is this Rafferty?” Lester asked.

“He’s one of the detectives on the case. He doesn’t report to me. We have a pool of people that take the different cases and see if anyone has missed any points,” Charlie answered.

“Why is he tapping my phone?” Ron asked.

“Tapping your phone is standard policy, in case of a ransom call, Ron. I think you’re misreading Rafferty. He’s as anxious to find Sharon as we are,” Charlie diplomatically ducked the question.

“The answer, in case you missed it, Ron, is yes. Rafferty believes you’re guilty as hell of Sharon’s disappearance, and I don’t even know Rafferty,” Lester interjected.

Charlie glared at Lester, but didn’t deny the statement.

Ron looked at Lester and said “I’m starting to like you, Mr. Landeche. You’re not part of the department, are you?”

“I’m just what Charlie said, a third party who’s been hired to help you. My role is not to prove you innocent or guilty, only to help NOPD find out what is or is not the truth. I have nothing to gain in the outcome, either way. Charlie and I are old friends and he seems to think that I can cajole you, or maybe trick you, into revealing some deep dark secret. As I see it, I’m walking in here completely unbiased,” Lester said convincingly.

“Fair enough, I believe you. Why don’t you two have a drink?” Ron asked. He pushed the bottle of Jack Daniels towards the two men.

Charlie declined. “Unfortunately, I can’t. I’m on duty.”

“I can, though. They don’t pay me enough to buy my own,” Lester said, accepting the bottle and pouring himself three fingers on top of the ice. Lester wondered where Ron got the ice and, for that matter, the whiskey. There were no appliances or even storage cabinets that he’d seen so far.

“If it’s all right with you, Ron, I’m going to leave and check up on some leads. I’d advise you to make the most of this privacy and tell Dash everything you know, OK? You can trust him completely.” Charlie made his way to the door.

“I believe you. Thanks, Charlie,” Ron answered.

“I’ll call you later, to see how everything went,” Charlie said to Dash just before he closed the door.

“Well, Mr. Landeche, where do we start? I don’t know how much Charlie has told you.”

“Why don’t we just start at the beginning. Charlie only told me enough to understand the problem.” Lester didn’t mention that he’d read the NOPD case file that Charlie had given him the night before.

“Well, this all started two months ago. It was early October and we had friends over. Brenda and Jim Masson, who I mentioned earlier, had only just moved into town from Florida. Two more people, Susan and Bill Nadel had come from the Midwest, to visit the four of us. Jim, Bill and I had gone to college together in New Jersey. We always stayed in touch, even after we all got married. I think Bill and Susan have been married for five years, Sharon and I for twelve and Brenda and Jim for about ten years. Anyway, the six of us decided to see the town. Since we lived here the longest, we were nominated as tour guides,” Ron recounted.

“How long have you and Sharon lived here?” Lester asked.

“Eight years this December.” Ron answered and then stopped. He got up, opened the curtain a little and looked out.

“You know, Christmas is coming soon. It will be the first time in twelve years that I’ll be alone,” Ron said, obviously distraught.

“I know the feeling. It’s going to be my first year without my wife Sally. At least Sharon may still be alive,” Lester replied.

“Charlie didn’t mention that your wife was gone. How long ago?” Ron asked.

“Six months. She died from injuries in an automobile accident in April. She was driving up to see her parents and was involved in a big pile-up, north of Baton Rouge. She didn’t even live long enough for me to get to her,” Lester replied.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Ron said as he sat back down.

“You were telling me about the day that you think this all started,” Lester said, trying to get Ron back on the story.

“Yes it was one of those days in your memory that everything was perfect. The temperature was in the low seventies, the day was bright and sunny and we were with people we really enjoyed. It could have a memory I’d treasure as long as I live, but..” Ron continued.

“But what, Ron? Come on, you have to tell me the story if I’m going to be effective in helping you,” Lester chastened.

“Why don’t I just show you the video tape and I’ll comment on what you see,” Ron said, as if the thought had escaped him before.

“Have you shown the tape to the police?” Lester asked.

“Not this tape. We had two cameras with us. This tape was taken on my camera. Bill also had a camera and the police confiscated his tape. I haven’t seen it since. I didn’t tell them about this tape,” Ron answered.

“Ok, where do we see it?” Lester asked.

Ron motioned Lester to follow him into the adjoining room. The door to the room was hidden behind a blanket. This new room was much like the other one, only a different color set of blankets covered the windows. A TV and VCR stood in the corner. Ron pulled a video tape out of a drawer in the TV stand. He read the label and then slipped it into the VCR. Everything Ron did was accomplished with a slow precision. Lester thought he must be on some type of antidepressant drug. But, he didn’t know the man well enough to ask about medication, legal or illegal, just yet.

The tape showed three couples walking through the French Quarter, riding in one of the carriage rides from Jackson Square, having coffee at Café Du Monde. Ron apparently was manning the video camera because he wasn’t in any of the videos.

Ron pointed out each of the people by name. All three couples were in their thirties. Susan and Bill were easy to spot, being the only pasty white couple. Brenda and Jim were tanned and used to the outdoors. As each scene changed, Ron described where they were, as if Lester was from out of town.

Lester didn’t ask questions or make comments. He was listening to the description and watching each of the people. There was no indication of any problem, just six people having a good time. Then the scene switched to a more somber setting. They had become part of a cemetery tour. The video followed a guide showing the tomb of Marie Laveau and other various luminaries of the Saint Louis Cemetery.

After fifteen minutes of following the tour guide through the cemetery, Brenda asked him which cemetery in town was the most haunted. She giggled after the question. But the guide, a short squat black man, looked at her and quietly said the words “St. Moritz”.

Jim, or maybe it was Bill, asked why he thought the St. Moritz was the most haunted. The guide tried to dodge the question, appearing to Lester as if he regretted giving out the information. After being pressed, he said that there was a strong Voodoo cult in New Orleans and that cemetery held the body of a man who came before Marie Laveau. He didn’t elaborate further. In a few minutes, the tape stopped and then restarted, with the three couples exiting a taxi and walking through the gates of the St. Moritz cemetery.

New Orleans has many cemeteries within its city limits. The majority of them are near City Park and attract tourists. The St. Moritz is in the same general area, only east of Canal and about a mile from City Park. Although he had never been there, Lester could see from the video that this cemetery wasn’t a tourist mecca. The first clue was the locked front gate and the No- Trespassers signs. This apparently didn’t phase the six as the film again stopped and restarted, this time showing them all inside the cemetery.

“How did you get in?” Lester asked Ron.

“Off to one side, the walls are decaying and the bricks form a natural stair way up and over. We were stupid, but being half drunk, it seemed like a good idea at the time. This is the part where the trip turns sour for us,” Ron replied darkly.

The three couples meandered among the mausoleums and read some of the names and dates of death. Of the dates shown, all were in either the 1700 or 1800’s, the most recent being 1875. Lester thought it was strange that he had never heard of the St. Moritz cemetery being such an historic spot. In fact, he had never heard of it at all.

“Who’s carrying the camera now, Ron?”

“Sharon, her style was just to turn it on, hang it from her shoulder and let the views flow. That’s what she used to say,” Ron replied.

When the six people stopped to view a particularly impressive mausoleum, a voice could be clearly heard telling them to “Give it up.” A young black man could be seen holding a pistol. One of the male victims spoke and asked what he wanted. He replied “I wan ya money and ya jewelry.” The bandit had not noticed the camera or it would have been on his gimme list as well.

The video showed the men reaching in their pockets. For a minute, the lens was blocked as Sharon slid the camera behind her to avoid it being seen. After she reached into her purse, she positioned the camera between her purse and side. You could see the young man holding out his hat as the six people put their belongings into it.

The kid looked at one of the men and said. “Do ya think I’m stupid? Gimme that watch.” He indicated a watch on one of the men just outside of the camera’s range. “Who held out on the watch, Ron?”

Ron froze the tape on the next scene.

“That was Bill, he had on a Rolex. Susan had just given it to him for their anniversary. They’re pretty well off financially, but he wasn’t going to give that watch up without a fight. You’ll see in the next scene.”

The young man moved closer to the crowd gesturing with his gun. You could see a watch being dropped into the hat. The young man scooped it up and put it on his arm. It was too large and hung down from his wrist, even with the clasp closed.

“This ain’t one of them damn fakes, it is man? If it is, I’ll shoot all of you right here and now. Maybe I need to search the ladies a little more.” He started to move towards the camera when a foot came out of nowhere, hitting him in the stomach. He flew backwards towards the doors of the large marble mausoleum. As the baseball hat full of money and jewelry flew out of his hand, a gunshot could be heard on the tape. Two of the male victims jumped him at that point with the fight occurring out of the view of the camera. The sounds of cursing and punching were audible, but the camera was pointed away from the action.

“Who jumped him, Ron?”

“Bill and I. Bill was the first to kick him and I grabbed his gun hand. He fired once in the air. But, once I got up close I could see it was a starter’s pistol, loaded with blanks. Bill punched him a couple times and shoved him up against the doors of the tomb. The doors just sort of opened and he fell inside. I started to go after him, but he kicked them shut.”

The camera focused again on the tomb and Ron was pushing against the doors, trying to reopen them. The gun could be heard firing again and again. A loud scream came from inside the tomb. Then, silence.

Ron paused the tape. “Brenda had a cell phone. She dialed 911 to get the police out there. I told them the kid only had a blank pistol so he wasn’t going to shoot anybody. Finally, after about five minutes, Bill and I forced open the mausoleum’s doors and found a pool of what looked like water against one wall. You can’t see it too well on the tape. There was a large coffin on one wall. So, we figured he had to be hiding in the casket. As you will see on the tape, though, he wasn’t in there. The tomb was empty,” Ron said.

The scene now changed, with the camera scanning the inside of the tomb. Bill walked over and opened up the heavy casket lid. Someone else took the camera and focused it inside the casket. The only thing inside was a jumble of whitened bones. The camera scanned the remainder of the tomb, but no one was there. The scene then changed from dark to light as they walked back outside. Two police officers were now walking up to the scene.

Ron stopped the film and said “The white cop is Stanley Mahue. The black one is James Robinson.”

“Mahue, that’s the officer that was missing from his patrol car a week ago?” Lester asked.

“That’s him. I don’t what’s become of Robinson. Once they listed me as a suspect, I lost track of the players,” Ron answered.

Ron restarted the video. With a few minutes of the police taking their statements, the camera stopped. It had run out of tape.

“Ok now, let me get this straight. There are two tapes. The police have one that you don’t have a copy of. But, they don’t know about this one? Even Charlie doesn’t know about this tape?” Lester asked.

“That’s right. I want a record of what happened and, if I give this up, I’ll have nothing,” Ron answered defiantly.

“I can understand that. Would it be possible to have a copy of this tape?” Lester asked.

“Take this one. I made three copies and gave one to the other two couples. This copy was the one I made for us, Sharon and I,” Ron answered.

“What do you think happened to the kid that tried to rob you?” Lester asked.

“I don’t have any idea. What we thought was water on the back wall of the tomb was fresh blood. The cops tried to push and prod every wall and floor stone, but they couldn’t find any other way in or out,” Ron answered.

“So, everyone got their belongings back, right?” Lester asked.

“Everybody, but Bill. He lost his gold Rolex. The kid put it on his wrist before he went in the tomb. It hasn’t been seen since,” Ron answered.

“Was there anything special about the watch, besides being expensive of course?”

“It was engraved with some verse saying that the wearer would have health and happiness forever. And it was signed “Love Susan”. I didn’t spend much time reading the inscription,” Ron answered.

Lester thought he detected a hint of jealously between Ron and Bill. “What kind of work does Bill do, Ron?”

“He’s a petroleum engineer. He works all over the world setting up oil wells and refineries. He and Susan are in Pakistan right now, planning a new refinery.”

“The two of them and you are the only ones left of these six people, right?”

“Except maybe that black cop, Robinson,” Ron replied.

“I didn’t see any more of him in your film. What did he do when you told him that you went inside the mausoleum?” Lester asked.

“He got really spooked. He told Mahue that he’d call for backup and wait for them back at the car. Mahue asked him why, but I didn’t hear his answer. So, Mahue just shrugged and walked back to us. The last I saw of Robinson was him going back to their patrol car,” Ron replied.

“After everybody finished looking for the kid who tried to rob you, then what happened?”

“We were all taken down to the police station, on Tulane. A couple of detectives questioned us, one at a time. I think it was after eight that night before we got back home. The experience had spoiled the day, so we didn’t even eat supper. We spent the next day talking and reminiscing. I guess that day spoiled Bill and Susan’s trip so they flew back home on Monday. They had to get ready for their trip to Asia. Jim and Brenda, and Sharon and I had dinner the next night and that was the last time I ever saw them. I don’t mean Sharon, of course. It was three weeks later when she disappeared,” Ron said.

“Why don’t we talk a little bit more about her disappearance?” Lester asked.

“I was busy all day doing portraits, plus I had a wedding party to shoot. It was on a Saturday. Sharon had found a roll of film that we’d shot in the cemetery. She developed it and called the police to tell them that several pictures of the kid who tried to rob us were in the photos. I think the roll was taken by Brenda. But, she never picked the camera back up. Any way, they asked her to drop the prints off at the station. She told me about this when I called in from the wedding party. I’d stayed over to shoot a few more prints and have a couple of glasses to toast the lucky couple. I wish to God now that I’d come straight home. She’d still be here,” Ron said. His voice was choked.

“You don’t know that. Stop torturing yourself. What happened after she talked to you?” Lester asked. Ron seemed to come and go from reality. His voice would wander off and he’d stare into space.

“I told her I’d drop them off on Sunday. But, she said no. They wanted them right away and for her to bring them down. I hated for her to go out after dark but it’s only three miles from here to the station, so I figured she’d be fine,” Ron said.

“Then what, Ron?”

“When I got home, I couldn’t find her. So, I went down to the police station and complained that they had no right to keep my wife down there so late. They didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. I talked to the two detectives who were assigned to the case. But, they said they hadn’t heard from Sharon.” Ron was angry. “I came back home to wait for her. I never saw or heard from her again.

They found our car trashed near Almonaster Boulevard. That’s not a part of town that she would ever drive to, especially not alone or after dark. There was no blood, no engine, no seats and no trace of Sharon, only a burned out shell of a car. Since then, I’ve been waiting for ransom calls or notes, something…. But, no calls or notes have ever come in.

“Did she ever drop them off?”

“What? Oh, you mean the prints. No, nobody knew anything about the prints or even saw her. They told me they’d have to wait for her to be missing for twenty-four hours before they could start to look for her.” From Ron’s story, the police department hadn’t done anything to help this man yet.

“Did the police trace the phone calls from your number to see who she talked to?” Lester asked

“Yeah, the first call was to the duty number. The duty officer acknowledged that he posted a message in the squad room from Sharon. He remembers that the note said something about photographs. That’s all he remembered. The next phone call into the house was from a pay phone in the Greyhound bus terminal. That was it,” Ron replied.

So, she calls the police and says she has some evidence. Someone from the bus terminal calls her back. Then she goes out and bang, she’s gone. It sounds like someone didn’t want those photos to fall into police hands. Lester kept these thoughts to himself.

“What has happened since her disappearance?” Lester asked.

“I was taken down to the police station and grilled by Sergeant Rafferty. He as much as said that I killed Sharon and dumped the body. Then he said it would turn up and I’d be on death row in Angola. He kept me there for five hours, until I called my lawyer. Once he got there and threatened a lawsuit, they let me go. Since then, I’ve had my phone tapped and there’s someone watching the studio,” Ron answered.

The two men walked back to Muir’s office. “Why do you think the phone’s tapped, or you’re being watched?” Lester asked.

Ron reached over and lifted the receiver of his phone. A green light lit on the top of the receiver, then turned to red.

“That’s a phone that detects wiretaps. It’s showing my phone is tapped when there’s a red light. Look, I’m not stupid. They believe I killed Sharon, but they don’t have any evidence. For all I know, you’re carrying a tape recorder and this whole session is being recorded,” Ron said accusingly.

“Take it easy Ron, I understand your paranoia. But, as Charlie said, I’m here to help you, not to pin a murder rap on you. The red light explains the phone tap, but why do you think you’re being watched?” Lester asked.

“Turn off the lights and look out of the windows. You’ll see at least one, maybe two, men standing around on a phone or sitting in a car across the street. I’ve even seen people watching the studio from the bank building across the street,” Ron answered defiantly.

Lester did as Ron requested. Going back to the TV room, he looked out the front and side windows but didn’t see anything too unusual. He only spotted one car that looked as if it might be out of place. But, from the third floor, he couldn’t see if there was anyone in the car or not.

“I only see one car sitting half a block away that might look suspicious,” Lester said when he came back into the room.

“Is it a tan Ford with Mississippi plates? After dark, they’ll move closer. There’ll be two men in it, one of them with binoculars, the other a camera with a zoom lens. What’s next, Mr. Landeche? Are they going to arrest me, or just let me sit here and drink myself to death?” Ron asked.

“That’s the same car, Ron. Here’s a cell phone and this my number.” Lester handed Ron a small portable phone and a business card. “Listen, you must only call me on this phone. I guarantee it’s not tapped. If you trust me, please listen. I’m going to talk to some of the detectives that have been on this case, especially this Rafferty.”

“It isn’t going to do you any good. He’s no closer to finding Sharon than I am. All he wants to do is prove I killed her. What will that accomplish. I didn’t kill her and I can’t get anyone to believe me?” Ron was on the verge of tears.

Lester figured he wouldn’t get much more information from Ron Muir that night. He was pretty much drained. Besides, it was time to start asking questions of Rafferty, to see what he was really after.

Lester left Ron sitting at his desk staring at blanketed windows, his guns and whiskey both within easy reach. There wasn’t anything he could say to ease the man’s pain. But, he could try to find out what happened at the graveyard and why Sharon disappeared. As he walked through the gate and down the street, he heard the click of the electric lock.

Neither the surveillance nor the phone tap was entered in the case file that Charlie had given him last night. Either the file hadn’t been updated or somebody was hiding something. He decided it was time to have another little talk with Charlie.

Chapter Two