Read The Long Way Down Online

Authors: Craig Schaefer

The Long Way Down

THE LONG WAY DOWN

by Craig Schaefer

The Long Way Down
Copyright © 2014 by Craig Schaefer. All rights reserved.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the author or publisher.

Cover design by James T. Egan of Bookfly Design LLC.

One

“I
know what you are,” the old man said. The tremor in his voice told me he wasn’t so sure. He’d introduced himself as Jud, Jud Pankow from Minnesota. He was a long way from home.

We sat in a booth in the back of Tiki Pete’s, a seedy diner four blocks east of the Vegas Strip. I doubted the place would survive a health inspection, but the grimy windows and the backwater street kept the tourist traffic at bay. Besides, I didn’t come here for the food.

“Then you know I’m not a private investigator,” I told him, “not a licensed one, anyway.”

He gripped a coffee-stained manila folder in his thick farmer’s hands and clenched his jaw. I sipped my mai tai.

“He killed my little girl, Mr. Faust. He murdered her and he threw her away like a piece of garbage. I don’t need any private eye to tell me that.”

“The police think otherwise. You want me to prove them wrong?”

“I don’t care what anybody thinks,” Jud said, “and nothing’s going to bring my baby back, proof or no proof. I know that.”

“So what do you want from me?”

His rheumy eyes flooded with a pain I couldn’t imagine. The folder crinkled in his grip as he whispered just loud enough for me to hear, “I want him
punished
.”

I should have sent him away. I didn’t know why, but I felt like a roller coaster ratcheting its way up the first peak, inch by inch, heartbeats from a plunge into bad craziness at a hundred miles an hour. All my instincts screamed at me to drop this one and walk.

Looking at him, though, I didn’t have the heart. He needed some hope. Hell, he just needed someone to give a damn.

“I don’t make promises,” I told him and watched his eyes light up.

He fumbled in his pocket and shoved an envelope into my hands. It was stuffed with green, all small bills, rumpled and faded. This wasn’t fresh-from-the-bank money. It was the kind of cash that sits in a coffee tin in a kitchen cabinet for years, saved up for a rainy day.

“This,” I said, tapping the envelope, “buys you a few days of my time. If I don’t think I can help you, you get it back, minus my expenses. Now, is Stacy your…?”

“Granddaughter. Her pa, he was never in the picture, and her ma’s got…she’s got problems. Don’t think she even noticed when Stacy ran away. I watched over the girl best I could. Even sent her money a few times after she left home, when I had an address to send it to. Then she took up with that…that bastard. She wrote to tell me she’d moved in with him, that he’d gotten her a job, a good-paying job…”

He slid the manila folder across the table. On top of the stack inside was a ragged newspaper clipping, torn from the
Vegas Sun
, and the stark headline told the story.

“Porn Star Drowns in Storm Tunnel.”

I didn’t need to read the article. I’d already seen the story on TV. Even in the middle of the Mojave it rained a few days every year, and we were nestled in a natural basin. There was a network of storm tunnels and drains underneath the city to trap the occasional downpour and keep the water off the streets, which was great for everyone, except the indigents who holed up down there to escape the heat. Sometimes they managed to stumble out ahead of the rain, and sometimes maintenance crews had to fish out the bodies.

Next in the pile was an autopsy report from the Clark County coroner’s office. No photo, just a few pages of medical jargon dense enough to make my eyes water. Cause of death was drowning, no surprise there, but I frowned when I read the bit under that.

“Time of death is difficult to estimate, but given the diminished signs of rigor mortis as well as the subject’s skin condition, coroner estimates TOD sometime on 3/15
.

“The rainstorm was on the seventeenth,” I said, flipping back to double-check the date on the newspaper clipping.

“That’s right,” Jud said.

I looked up at him. “She drowned two days before the storm.”

He nodded.

“Either the doc was dead wrong, or there’s a criminal case here. Why aren’t the cops looking into this?”

“I wasn’t even supposed to know.” Jud stared at his hands. “They told me they could only give that report out to immediate next of kin. Granddad don’t count. On my way out, a young fella pulled me aside and put that copy in my hands. Said I oughta read it real close. Well, I did, and I did some checking. Found out the case was referred to this Detective Holt, so I gave him a call.”

“What’d he tell you?”

“Whole lot of nothing. Told me they were working on it, but he’s got eighty cases on his desk and yadda yadda. Made it clear my little girl was a lower priority than getting his dishes done.”

Her letters home sat under the autopsy report. Longhand on loose-leaf paper, talking about life in the big city. She signed each one “Love, Stacy” and drew the
v
as a tiny heart. I glanced at the dates. The letters came farther and farther apart.

“She never said anything was wrong?”

“I’d have come out to get her myself,” he said, his weathered hands clenching into fists, “if I’d only known what she was really doing, what he was making her do.”

“Tell me about the guy.”

Jud snorted. “Artie Kaufman. Calls himself ‘Daddy Warbucks’ when he’s filming that filth. Turned Stacy into his star performer.”

I sipped my mai tai and shook my head.

“Problem there, Mr. Pankow, is you just took away his motive. If Stacy was making money for this guy, why would he kill her?”

“Have you seen the kinds of movies he makes?”

“No,” I said, “don’t think I have.”

“You’d remember if you had. They aren’t right, Mr. Faust. The things he does…he’s not right.”

I tapped the envelope again and thought about my overdue rent. Whether Artie Kaufman was a killer, Jud looked about a heartbeat away from going to see him with a gun in his hand. I didn’t want to get involved. I also didn’t want the old guy to spend the rest of his life in prison because he did something stupid.

“I have some ground rules.” I picked up the envelope. “Are you staying in town?”

“Got a room at the Value Lodge on East Tropicana. Until Friday, anyway. Can’t afford to stay longer than that.”

“I’d rather you went home tonight, but if you’re going to be here, I want you in that hotel room doing absolutely nothing. You don’t go within a mile of Kaufman. And if I look into this and find out he’s got clean hands, that’s the end of it. I want your word.”

Jud nodded slowly, and I wondered how much I could trust him to hold to that.

“Next,” I said, leaning in and giving him a hard look, “I’ll check into Stacy’s death, but that’s the extent of what I’m offering. If it was murder, and if I find the person responsible, anything that does or does not happen next is at my discretion. You will not be involved. This is for your protection and mine. Understand?”

He chewed that over. Jud was the kind of man who thought out his sentences before he spoke.

“I heard about you. On the computer. Traded mail with a lady named Jenna Rearden. She told me what happened to her ex-husband.”

Jenna. That explained it. I was going to have to tell her to stop tossing my name around. I’d done a job for her, all right. I normally don’t get my hands that dirty, but the ex in question had been paying visits to their six-year-old daughter’s bedroom at night. I took exception to that.

“She said he’s locked up in the nuthouse,” Jud said, eyeing me cautiously. “Said they have to keep him on happy pills or all he does is scream until his throat gives out. Doctors can’t reckon why, neither.”

“I told you, I’ll look into your granddaughter’s death. Past that, I don’t make promises.”

Jud studied me.

“Jenna Rearden thinks you might be the Devil.”

“Yet here you are.” I finished my drink. “Lucky for you, I only take payment in cash.” I folded the envelope into my pocket, rose, and shook his hand. His grip was firm, with calluses like lunar rocks.”I’ll call you,” I said and made my way out into the afternoon sun.

It wasn’t hard to see that Jud Pankow was dying slow. He’d lost the only person he cared about, and I knew he was filling the hours listing every regret, everything he should have said and didn’t, and everything he did say and shouldn’t have. It was a familiar song and I knew every note of it. I had one asset Jud didn’t, though: a clear head.

I figured Stacy’s ending would be the best place to start. I’d have to go where I knew the cops wouldn’t. Underground.

Two

H
ome, when I was there, was a second-floor walk-up just off Bermuda Road. It was a tourist-trap motel before it got converted to apartments sometime in the sixties. A painted concrete cactus and a dusty parking lot welcomed me back under the shade of a dying palm tree. A pale lizard on the railing watched with lazy eyes as I jogged up the stairs and jiggled my key in the door for room 208.

My furniture was mostly vintage, straight from the old motel days, spruced up with the occasional estate sale treasure. The combination lock built into the closet door, though, that was new. I clicked on the desk lamp, leaving my curtains closed, and dialed up the numbers by touch. Half the closet was for dress shirts, ties, and my one nice suit. The other half was for business.

Books with faded covers jostled for space on a pair of built-in shelves, from Eichmann’s
Treatise on Renaissance Alchemy
to a first edition of Balfour’s
Cultes des Goules
. The next three shelves hosted a clutter of pouches, vials, and sticks of chalk—everything for the working sorcerer on the go. Up top, a pair of shoeboxes kept my tools neatly stowed.

I stocked up on a few odds and ends and checked my rummage drawer for a working flashlight. I was in the middle of tugging on a pair of old black jeans, something I wouldn’t mind getting dirty, when my cell phone rang. I held it to my ear with one hand, fumbling at my belt with the other.

“Danny boy!” boomed the voice on the other end, a woman with a Creole accent thick enough to cut with a knife. “Where you been hidin’? Everybody’s asking about you.”

“Mama Margaux, hey. I’m okay, just been a long week. Dealing with some stuff.”

“Goin’ on two weeks, more like.”

I looked over at my rumpled bed and the three empty bottles of Jack Daniels gathering dust in the wastebin.

“Huh, guess it has. Look, I’ll come out and see everybody soon. Just haven’t been feeling real social lately.”

“Tonight,” she said. “You come down to the Garden tonight. Don’t you say no to me, boy. I’ll come and drag you by the ear. Don’t think I won’t.”

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