Authors: Nancy Hogue
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery, #Retail
“Yes, I know about it. Do you have an interest in being a pilot or more of a position on the management side of aviation?”
“Dr. Jacob, I think I’d love to learn to fly and be a commercial pilot. But is it something, I could make a career of? Do you think, well, are my grades good enough in the right subjects? I mean, Am I smart enough to pass the test and learn it and everything?”
“I tell you what, why don’t I get the curriculum, make a call or two for you and see what we can find out. Is that what you want?”
“Yes ma’am, thank you so much. I need to know what to take for my senior year. I’m thinking I’ll need more math and science. I might be able to get some summer help to get me into an advanced class, if that’s what it takes.”
“JJ, I’m very happy you’re taking charge of your education. Have you talked to your Dad about this?”
“Well, not exactly. I think he’ll be very happy if I go to a local school. I think I’ll qualify for the Hope Grant, if I can maintain my average, even with the advanced classes. I will, won’t I?”
“I’ll have to pull your file and review your record, but we’ll have time to work with that. There’s probably other scholarship money out there for you as well.”
“Dr. Jacob, thank you for listening to me and not just brushing me off. I know I’ve not always been the best student, but some subjects are just really boring to me, and I have a hard time paying attention to them.”
“Don’t we all, my dear? You’ve taken a big step, a giant step today. Give me a few days to make the calls and gather up the information. Now don’t be late for your class. Math is very important to that field, you know!”
“Yes ma’am, thank you.”
JJ hurried on down the hall and turned into Room 105 just in time to take her seat before the bell rang. She looked over toward her best friend, Sara, with a big smile and a nod that meant, I did it, Sara, I really did it!
Mr. Grumman and Dr. Early walked into Dr. Jacob’s office and asked if JJ was in trouble again. Dr. Jacob simply said, “She wanted some college and career advice.”
Mr. Grumman stared at her with a surprised look. “JJ?”
The crime scene investigation was still ongoing at eight that morning and was not near finished. After Jasper found a gun hidden behind a Bible with a bloody fingerprint, investigators removed everything from Blake’s office. Item by item his personal property was placed in bags or plastic containers.
One bookshelf held a row of books mounted together as camouflage to reveal a hidden room. Eight books cut in two and mounted together onto a metal frame. At a glance, the bookshelf held Presidential biographies. But as one officer tried to remove President Theodore Roosevelt’s biography off the shelf, fifth from the right, the entire four by eight shelving section swung forward.
The investigators had never seen something this high tech before except in the movies and on the TV crime shows. Behind the shelving unit was more shelves and file cabinets and a pull down staircase to the attic. In the attic, investigators discovered another hidden room. Banker’s boxes labeled with names, the month dating back fifteen years were stacked from floor to ceiling—hundreds of Banker’s boxes—thousands of files.
Each file cabinet, each file item that Blake Brockton wanted hidden would now be exposed to Bibb County investigators, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and probably the FBI. The murder investigation attracted numerous cable news stations, and their cameras captured it all for the world to watch as a moving van pulled into view.
* * *
Cain stayed in the office all night pouring through the comic sections of the newspaper. The comic was not a daily just ran Wednesdays and Saturdays. So he ordered up back issues for the last three months but only one month was available evidently being a new product.
The author’s name was obviously a pen name, Skinmore. Gumdrop appeared to be the name of a dog, the Heinz 57 type who just couldn’t get a command right by his master. If the master said sit, he’d roll over. If the master said stay, Gumdrop would fetch a stick. Gumdrop was quite the neighborhood pet though. He visited everyone’s garbage cans on a daily basis and seemed to know all the other dogs in the neighborhood very intimately.
Gumdrop also interacted with a turtle and a cat. The turtle mostly hid in his shell while the cat just continually stared at Gumdrop.
Cain rubbed his eyes and ran his fingers through his hair, wondering if this comic strip had anything, anything at all to do with who stole his file. He knew more research was required and he knew he had to find the origin of that comic strip.
He finally went home at eight thirty to shower and shave.
* * *
At ten, on Friday morning, Sammi stood in front of Judge Janice Simmons and entered a plea of not guilty. Judge Simmons placed her bond at $25,000. The District Attorney had not objected to such a low amount. Wilson Lopez was not surprised since Blake Brockton’s money put her on the bench, and they were all good friends. They were close friends with every jurist in the county and many throughout the state.
Wilson fastened his briefcase and escorted Sammi through a rear door and down through an alleyway into a waiting car.
The female driver nodded to Mr. Lopez, and he went back inside the courtroom as the car drove to an apartment building just a few miles from the courthouse. Not one car followed them. No cameras snapped photos. As far as anyone knew, she was still inside the courtroom as reporters waited at the main entrance of the Bibb County Courthouse.
Sammi thought it all cloak and dagger, but she was very happy to be breathing fresh air again. She had no idea what Wilson was charging her, but felt it was already worth it. They drove about ten minutes due to traffic lights and tourists in town for the annual Cherry Blossom festival.
The driver turned into an alley and used a remote control to open the garage door. She eased the vehicle in, and neither spoke until the garage door closed behind them. They walked up a long flight of stairs to a quaint one-bedroom apartment. It was at that point the driver introduced herself as Maria Lopez, Wilson’s wife.
“Oh, thank you so much, I just don’t know what I would do without your husband’s help!”
“Si, senora, I speak little English,” as she pinched her thumb and forefinger together. “I go to school. I help you, si?”
Maria smiled and opened the refrigerator. It was stocked with diet colas, bottled water, diet green tea, fresh vegetables, cheeses, and even a bottle of white wine. The freezer was just as full with frozen entrees and ice cream. The pleasant look of surprise on Sammi’s face made Maria smile even more.
Maria, thank you, gracias! Although the rented furniture had seen some abuse, it looked wonderful. The living room had a small loveseat, wingback chair, a coffee table and end tables, and numerous lamps for ample lighting.
Maria motioned for Sammi to follow her into the bedroom. The bed was made with yellow linens, a soft, cushiony white comforter. There was a small lounge chair and a few personal items on the dresser. Maria opened the closet and Sammi saw it filled with many of her own clothes, shoes, and handbags.
In the tiny bathroom was her overnight bag with her cosmetics, various perfumes and jewelry. The artificial scent of gardenias filled the small apartment.
“Maria, Maria, muchas gracias, thank you so much!”
“I help you, Senora Brockton. You help me family, I help you!”
“Maria, Mitch worked very hard for us. He made the grounds beautiful. Do you understand?”
“We, Blake and I, always trusted him, and he treated us with respect. But, I never would have expected this.”
“Si, Senora, I go now. Wilson call you.” Maria pulled a cell phone and charger from her coat pocket and handed it to Sammi. “He call you on cell.”
Sammi took the items from Maria, placed them on the table and said good-by. As she closed the door, Sammi once again eyed the small apartment. Her blue eyes glanced over every piece of furniture, every art print on the wall. She was comfortable, and more importantly, she was safe.
Sammi emerged from a long, hot shower and slipped into a pale blue pantsuit. She styled her hair, applied fresh makeup, retrieved a bottled water and eyed the comforter. She found it as luxurious as it looked.
Blake stood at her bed. He was so handsome. More than six feet tall, he had a commanding presence. He called her name, Samantha, Sammi. Listen to me. Are you okay? Samantha, Samantha.
She sat up in bed as if a bullet had pierced her heart realizing someone knocking at the door. Peering through the peephole, she saw Wilson who was calling her name.
“River Town, Georgia, Jonas Attaway, on Sweet Gum Lane, please.”
“Checking River Town and surrounding cities, I find no Jonas Attaway.”
“Hmmm. Well, okay. Any last name Attaway?”
“No. No Attaway in my area.”
“Okay, thank you.”
necessarily think it odd since many people use cell phones and cable Internet. Just saves another bill.
She decided to drive over to ask him to go over the events again.
If not convenient, guess I’ll go back another time. As she drove down Sweet Gum Lane, she watched for 2555. She saw the 1000 block, which took her down a wooded drive across a lake into the 2000 section. 21, 22, 23, 24 and finally the 2500 section. There was a house number of 2540, two empty lots, 2570, another empty lot and next was 2590. There was no house at 2555; there wasn’t even an odd numbered house on the street. She called the emergency services administrative telephone number and asked if they would listen to the tape and get the correct house number. She told the assistant she would hold. In fact, play it loud enough for me to hear it, she asked.
Hilda heard Mr. Attaway clearly speak 2555 Sweet Gum Lane. She drove down the street one more time. 2570, two empty lots, 2540. All the houses were on one side of the street. A swampy area and railroad tracks lay across the opposite of the narrow winding road, which reached a dead end at the river. Her mind filled with questions about Jonas Attaway. Why did he give a non-existent address? Who is he? What does he have to hide?
She knew better than to call Jasper. He never answered his phone. She just drove straight to the TV station to see what the tape captured.
She rounded the bend just after crossing the lake and saw a man and a woman walking two large dogs or more correctly, two large dogs walking this man and woman. She pulled the car over and yelled a loud, “Hi there!”
They waved back and paused to see what this woman wanted. Hilda identified herself and asked if this was Sweet Gum Lane. Yes. You ever see a man walking his basset hound. No one they knew or had seen before—been here eight years. No one of that description. No, doesn’t sound familiar. Hilda thanked them and continued in her rush to see what the camera had seen. She pushed five six, her speed dial code for Jasper.
“Jasper, I can’t believe you answered. You never answer!”
“Well, I knew if you was calling, something’s up! So what’s up?”
“Jasper, there is no Jonas Attaway. There is no 2555 Sweet Gum Lane. Meet me at the TV station, Channel 7. We have to get that tape and see what we can figure out. Okay? Where are you anyway?”
“I went up to that place in Forsyth that magazine place. You remember us talking about that?”
Hilda and Jasper talked on top of one another’s answer.
“Yeah, hey give me ‘bout fifteen minutes and I’ll be there.”
“Yeah, Jaz, okay? See you there!”
* * *
In a small town, forty-five miles north of River Town, an average looking, slender man driving a blue late model Ford SUV pulled into the driveway and around to the back of a small brick house. He knew the homeowners were visiting relatives in Florida. He opened the cargo door and out jumped Stan, a male basset hound. He opened a wrought-iron gate, unbuckled the leash and returned the happy hound dog to his backyard.
The man backed out of the driveway, drove to north Macon and returned the SUV to the parking lot of a local shuttle business. He got in his own luxury car and drove home to his residence at 2535 Sleepy Meadows Lane.
He retrieved a light green and brown plaid jacket, polyester trousers, a pale yellow golf shirt, a pair of riding gloves, and a red paisley bowtie from the trunk of his car and placed them in a black garbage bag with the fake padding, facemask, sideburns and mustache, a brownish grey bowler hat, and some other items. He tossed the bag and its contents into a toolbox mounted to his truck he drove occasionally.
changed clothes to avoid any dog hair. He lit newly purchased candles and the aroma of freedom permeated the room.
:40 p.m., he prepared a light lunch for his wife who would be home shortly. He sliced ham, pepperoni, salami and cheeses and arranged them on a platter with an assortment of crackers.
He looked at the antique grandfather clock as it chimed the hour and opened the bottle of wine. He was in an extremely good mood now that the task was done.
He smiled as he heard
his wife’s sports car pull into the driveway. He poured two glasses of the Hourglass Cab and savored the aroma. His soul had been reclaimed!