As Jacob picked up the room and tried to sort through his clothes, what few he brought with him, he thought about what Roger Ericsson had told him. For some reason he wanted to believe the pedophile had been telling the truth. And a story that bizarre had to be the truth, no one could or would make up a story like that.
On the day before Haley went missing Roger sat at his computer chatting with someone on the internet, on a chat site known for older men looking for younger girls. Roger talked for hours with a thirteen year old girl named Carmen. He never got her last name just an address in Springfield. He drove nearly four hours to meet Carmen, leaving at five in the morning two hours before Haley’s dad dropped her off at Catalpa Park.
The story, however, became believable when Roger admitted that after arriving at the home at nine a.m. he found there to be no thirteen year old Carmen, only a forty-one year old Michael who later tried to blackmail Roger. Michael soon ended up in jail on a similar charge, and after completing a court records search for the Springfield court system, Jacob found Michael Talley was charged with four counts of extortion and three counts of fraud.
Roger further surprised Jacob by admitting that he had watched Haley’s house several times as he cleaned pools in the neighborhood, not to stalk her but because he noticed something going on. He could see the Murphy home from Lindsey’s pool. It seemed there was a lot of traffic in and out of the Murphy home on the days her father was at work in July and August before she disappeared.
“Who came and went from the house?” he had asked him.
“Seth for one.”
“How do you know it was Seth?”
“Everyone in Pine Bluff knows Seth.”
He figured this much to be true, little towns like this one do have their local celebrities. Seth, Charles Luther, probably more.
“Also her two friends, a skinny acne boy and a kinda’ cute girl, both around her age.”
Jordyn and Graham
“That singer that everyone is crazy about, Charles Luther. He would go in with a couple guitar cases two times a week.”
Now Jacob knew where she took her lessons.
“Did you ever hear any arguments or anything suspicious coming from the home, it seems she was having ‘problems’ with someone, a male, just before she disappeared.”
“Mr. Collins, these homes are built really well. If you aren’t in the same room you don’t ‘hear’ an argument.”
The palms of Rogers hands where leaving moist spots from the perspiration as he griped the arms of the couch. Jacob looked into his eyes and then he shot up and his jaw flew open and an exhale the size of forty mile an hour winds left his lungs.
“What is it Roger?”
“A grey haired man, looked like an Amish dude except he was in a suit and driving a Lexus.”
Professor Dean, Jacob surmised.
The sheets were thrown all about as Jacob climbed out of bed. He arched his back trying to pop it as the crick nearly paralyzed him. He shook his hands as they felt like they were being stabbed with thousands of needles, his mind groggy he headed to the bathroom to splash water in his face.
“I think its time we had a talk Mr. Collins.” the voice came from the dark corner of the room. Startled he reached for his Glock on the nightstand where he normally puts it just before bed each night. But just like after the under-bite Nazi attacked him, the gun was nowhere in sight.
“Looking for this?” Now he recognized the voice. Kelsey.
“How’d you get in?”
“The manager let me in.” She said, “Although not my idea of managerial qualities. Looked more like a Goth kid to me.”
“I met him as well. When I check out, I’ll have to make a formal complaint.”
“Planning on leaving town?”
“After the funeral. Seems like everyone wants me to leave, and I have places to be anyway.”
Kelsey tossed the gun on the bed and stood. “I expect to see you leaving town right after the visitation ceremonies tonight. If I see or hear of you being in town one more time Mr. Collins, and I will arrest you for something, do you understand me?”
“Loud and clear.”
She walks passed him, reaching out and rubbing her hand across his bare chest. Jacob glances down to make sure he slept in something, relieved he had on his black Calvin Klein boxers.
“Your in pretty good shape for a banker, Mr. Collins.”
“The body is a temple, right?”
“Yes,” she looks at him again, up and down. His stomach turns flips and dances in his belly. “But are you a cop or a banker?”
SHIT! What was it last? Damn he hates lies, its much easier to tell the truth.
“Listen Kelsey, I honestly don’t remember what I told you last. And lets face it when we first met I didn’t know you from Eve,” he kind of chuckled, not really at his own joke but more from nerves. “And I thought I was just passing through. The fact is I am Nathan Collins, a Banker from St. Louis. I lived there with my wife and kid until she left taking my baby girl with her. Out of depression I got mixed up in some things that I’m not proud of, made a deal with the cops, and did some forensic accounting for them in exchange for immunity. So I have some detective experience. I found a soft spot for Jerry and Haley. I’m sorry if I stepped on some toes. But like I said, I’m leaving town and leaving the case in your hands.”
“Thank you for your honesty Mr. Collins,” she said as she made her way to the door. She opened it letting the light from the hallway shine into the dark room. “Just know that I have the serial numbers to your ‘registered’ gun and will be running them down today. I’m sure your story will pan out though so no need to worry.”
Inside the comfort of the leather interior he heard a ding for the hundredth time and glanced at the dash panel. The low fuel light blinking off and on, he reads the gauge and the needle is buried. Outside the black Escalade the thirty inch right front chrome wheel slammed into a pothole, spewing black snow and ice sludge all over the front of the SUV. Inside Andre bounces nearly out of the heated seat and into the floor board.
As the SUV begins to sputter he pulls next to the pump of a crowded truck stop, and reads a sign facing the highway. I haven’t had a good biscuit and gravy since Grandma died, he thought.
After paying for the gas, he sat at a booth inside the packed restaurant with his newspaper and opened up, the waitress steps to the table.
“What can I get for you this morning?” she asked.
“I’ll have a small biscuit and gravy.”
“Sure,” she was a large woman and the mole on her left cheek had a black hair that begged Andre to pull it out. “Coffee to drink?”
“Sounds fine, bring me plenty of cream and sugar.”
With a jot of her pen she scooted off to the back and Andre went back to the paper. Skimming through he saw stories about the zoo, the rise in crime in St. Louis, and then a story about the drop in population over the last sixty years.
The large waitress returned with the coffee and sat it down in front of Andre and onto a flyer that sat below the glass covering of the table. Andre hadn’t noticed the flyer before but now something was drawing his attention to it. Four men stood and one man kneeled in front of them. They stood in front of a big pine tree. The men were all tattooed up and as Andre saw them all he could think was ‘white trash’, they styled themselves with cut off t-shirts and long hair with ponytails. They wore tattered blue jeans and work boots. But it was the man in the middle kneeling that caught his eye. He had seen him before.
He poked at the flyer and asked-Gail, he looked at her nametag for the first time- “Who is this?”
“Damned Old Train. It says it right there,” she pointed at the bottom of the flyer that announced the name of the band and the fact that they were having a concert on New Years Eve at Blue’s.
“Not the band, that man.” He pointed to the one in the middle, kneeling.
“Oh, he is the lead singer. Charles Luther. They are really good.”
I doubt it. He recognized Charles from that bar the night before. He also recalled the mans eyes and how they flashed with something that Andre knew well. Lies. Andre could spot a lair a mile away, as they say ‘takes one to know one’. He hadn’t trusted the man and he knew that he possibly knew something.
“He from here?”
“Yep,” she said. “Little Charles has lived here his whole life. Sad bout his family.” She leaned in close to Andre’s ear and cupped her hands around her mouth as if telling a secret. “They died tragically when he was very young and the only family the poor boy had was his good for nothing brother. He is mixed up in drugs and the sort, he runs a gang, prostitution, drugs, protection (from what we don’t know). We don’t like his kind around here.”
Andre couldn’t stand the woman’s breath that close to him so he eased away slightly and spoke softly, to match her turn. “I wouldn’t imagine. We don’t like those kind where I am from either.” He patted the woman on her hand and she scooted off again, Andre hopefully thought for his breakfast. And she returned shortly just as he had hoped with his steaming hot biscuits and gravy.
The last bite of biscuit was moving around the plate on Andre’s fork in an attempt to sop up the last of the gravy when the woman approached the table again. “Oh my,” she says in a shaky nervous voice, “seems you enjoyed it.”
“I did, thank you.”
She pointed down the hallway that led to the gas station portion of the truck stop to the register. “Mr. Luther will be coming to pay for his gas in a moment. I just saw his van pull up to the pump. If you would like to say hello,” she said “he is very approachable. He is still humbled by the fame he has achieved.”
“I may just have to have myself a conversation with Mr. Luther, then.”