I awoke in the tiny studio apartment over Jen’s Garage. It was more comfortable than a motel would have been, but of course it still wasn’t home. I had brought my very small laptop computer, so I marked the day off the calendar as if I were a prisoner in some dungeon. I even hummed ‘Nobody knows the trouble I seen’ as I brushed my teeth.
After I showered and dressed, I slipped down the back stairs and out of my best friend’s house, I had no idea whether Jen would have cooked for her husband or not, but I knew she would’t be cooking for me.
I managed to make it to Helen’s without coffee. I didn’t run into any pedestrians while sleeping behind the wheel and I didn’t lose my cool and run into any cars belonging to rude drivers either. Without my morning coffee they had no idea how dangerous their actions were that particular morning.
I was totally into the experience of morning coffee and pretty much ignoring the world, when Lucas walked up to me. “I wanted to make sure that you and I were alright,” he said quietly.
“Why wouldn’t we be?” I asked
“Well, I did snap at you the other day,” he said.
“Oh I just marked that down to PMS and ignored it,” I said coolly.
“Okay, well take care,” he said as he turned to the door. I almost told him that he needed to watch Marge, but decided not to get involved.”
From the Sit Down, I went to the mall. I got there before Tiny Dancer, so it was me and a bunch of old men. That was okay as well. Some of them were kind of cute. I could keep up with most of them, but there was one ramrod straight older man who could out walk me. He could have even before I lost a chunk of my leg. I didn’t even try to keep up that mornin. I made myself content with smiling each time he passed me.
After the third time he passed me from the opposite direction he stopped and said, “Good morning I haven’t seen you here before. They call me Danny or Chief,” he said.
“I usually come in a little later. I’m having some renovations done on my house and I had to get out early.” It was the abbreviated version of the story. “My name is Maxine, but most folks call me Max.”
“Nice to meet you Max. Do you work?” he asked.
“Just a little, I’m sort of trouble shooter,” I said.
“Sounds interesting, I’m retired Navy. Still looking for something interesting to occupy my time.” he informed me.
“So what was your job in the navy?” I asked.
“Master Machinist, for the last few years I ran the machine shop on a destroyer.” He seemed to be rightly proud of that accomplishment.
“Very nice, you could always find a job doing that. I know there are way too few qualified machinist in the world.” I said.
“Well something will come along I’m sure.” he replied.
“I am as well. Chief, it was nice to have met you, but unfortunately I have a meeting this morning.” I said. With that I walked away and felt stupid for it. He was definitely my kind of man, but I had learned not to rush into things.
Jennifer had arranged the first meeting with Mike the older of the two cops. Along with Jen. I was going to be a participant in the interview. It was my formal introduction to Mike and it took place on his home turf. I drove to Jen’s office where we got into her car and then drove to the Tryon Police Department.
After the hellos were all passed back and forth we got down to business. “Do I need a lawyer?” Mike asked.
“Everyone needs a lawyer,” Jennifer said. “If you like we can reschedule this for a time you have your lawyer present.
“Tell you what, let’s see where this is going, then I might invoke my need for council,” he said
“So, when you entered the house did you see the pile of money on the coffee table?” I asked. Figured I would just start with a shock and get it going.
“Don’t you believe in foreplay?” he was speaking to Jen, but it was for me.
“This is Maxine Stone, she is my investigator,” Jennifer informed him.
“I heard you were involved in this mess. Let me tell you what I told the investigators at the time. When we broke in, there was a pile of cash on the table. When we got ready to take it into evidence it had disappeared. I have no idea who took it, but I can tell you that we were all busy and never out of each other’s sight.”
“So let me get this straight. You are telling me the money somehow disappeared, but the only people in the house at the time had nothing to do with it?” I asked smiling.
“That’s exactly what I’m telling you.” he said.
“Could someone else have come into the house and taken the money. A gang member or a cop?” I asked.
“I don’t see how we were scattered all over the house. One of us would have seen something,” he said.
“I agree, one of you should have seen something. Can you give me a list of all the people on the scene that night?” I asked.
“All or just those before the money turned up missing,” he asked.
“Those on site before the money turned up missing,” I suggested.
“Me, Roy, and that new officer Jamie for the good guys, and the two drug dealers we took down.” he said.
“How about the lab people? Were they there before the money went missing?” I asked.
“No we went back right after we cuffed the two dealers to secure the money, but it was gone. Roy and I searched the house to be sure there weren’t any other dopers there. We didn’t find any more dealer or junkies in the house.”
“So you are telling me, the money just flew away by itself,” I suggested.
“Oh course not, what I am telling you is that I have no idea what happened to it,” he said.
“Okay, thanks for coming in,” I said. After he had gone I turned to Jen. He is the one who was out of Jamie’s sight, when the money went missing. Roy was with her controlling the dealers. So where was Mike?” I asked.
“He said he was searching the house for stragglers,” Jen said.
“Yeah, so he says. One thing Mike doesn’t need the money, unless it’s not about just money.”
“What do you mean,” Jen asked.
“What if Mike is building a little escape fund?” I asked. Some guys, whose wife have all the money, keep a wad of cash around just in case.”
“Why?” Jen asked.
“It makes them feel more macho, I guess. Gives them their own identity.” I said
“That could be it, it’s about the only thing that makes any sense,” Jen said.
“Unless Roy has the same kind of issues somehow,” I suggested. “I’m going to keep looking.”
I talked to Jamie after her shift ended at 3PM. We sat in the snack bar which was more or less empty. “What it looks like is that you are going to be under a cloud, but they can’t prove anything.”
“I wanted you to clear me,” she said.
“I know but there is just no way to prove one of the others did it. The only way to clear you is to find the money, and there is just no way at the moment. Right now only the person who took the money knows they have it. Without that knowledge we can do nothing. that’s the bad news. The good news is that internal affairs can’t prove anything either.”
“So what will they do?” she asked.
“Jen thinks it will just disappear. I’m inclined to agree. I have a new computer genius coming in the next week or so. I might be able to come up with something then. No matter how much I wish this were like a movie, it’s real life. Things don’t always have satisfactory endings. Sometimes the endings are very unsatisfying.
“Yes, I suppose that is true. At least I met you and Jen. If anything happens I know who to call now,” she said.
“Absolutely, if this comes back to bite you later, just pick up the phone. One or both of us will be here to help.” It wasn’t really all that much of an inconvenience, since i didn’t expect to ever hear from her again.
I found a message from Jen on my phone. “Give me a call when you get back in town. We need to plan a party for this weekend, since you are going to be my house guest anyway. I knew Jen, so I didn’t find it strange that she had left a message, even though she would see me in a couple of hours.
“I am going to the lake to have a late lunch and try and forget all about cops and missing money,” I said it into her message machine. “If you want a party, go ahead and set it up. You don’t need me for that. You know I will go along with almost anything. I do draw the line at midgets. oh yeah and clowns in costume. I find both of those just a little too creepy.
I was sitting on the veranda of the clubhouse at the city lake eating a fancy grilled cheese sandwich, when a voice behind me startled me. “We need to talk.” I thought I recognized the voice.
“So talk, you had a chance earlier to talk on the record, so what is this?” I asked.
“This is me and you talking. One hard ass to another,” he said.
“Okay Mike, what is it?” I asked.
“I know your girl friend thinks it was me that took that money, but it wasn’t.” he said quietly. He was serious but not angry.
“Okay, I accept that since I wasn’t there. So tell me who did take it.” I demanded.
“Truth is I don’t know. It honest to god did just disappear.” He looked as though he was dead serious. He at least believed that the money disappeared.
“Two hundred and fifty bills makes a pretty big stack,” I said.
“See there was a big chunk of money when we went in, and nothing when we left,” he said.
“Are the dopers smart, or are they just street thugs?” I asked.
“I guess they are smarter than your average thug. Why?”
“You didn’t count the money?” I asked.
“No there was just a bunch. When they said 25K, I had to agree that it looked like that amount. It could have been more or less.”
“Or it could have been four one hundred dollar bills on stacks of toilet paper.” I said.
“Sure I guess so, but why?” he asked.
“You got the dope, but you don’t have the money, so what happens to the dealers?” I asked.
“This is all such a mess that they will probably kick them loose,” he said.
“So you get to keep a little dope, but the bad guys live to sell again,” I suggested.
“That’s right, and three good cops get a black eye,” he admitted.
“If they work it right they can undermine the whole dope squad. I think that is the why of it.” I suggested. “I know it’s pretty far fetched but who knows.”
“Who knows indeed. I guarantee that I will know before long.” he said.
“I don’t want to know about this.” I said.
“The hell you don’t. I bet you would love to grab up an off the books drug thug and sweat him.” Mike was grinning ear to ear.
“Once maybe, not anymore, I’m too recognizable these days.” I said.
“That’s why they make ski masks,” he said. I was tempted, but I refused with enough conviction that he finally believed me.
“We didn’t have this conversation,” I said before he left.
“What conversation,” he replied.