Sunday, April 16, 2017

Death's Honesty (27)

A strong, sharp gust greeted them when they stepped out the front door of Luigi's. Blow's bare head was first to feel the wind's shocking chill as it rushed to his scalp through the mat of pale orange curls. Homer's Price Hardware cap tried to fly but he grabbed the bill in time, holding it down while they crabbed toward the parking lot, shoulders hunched inside their lightweight jackets against the penetrating cold. 
“You were right!” The wind snapped Blow's shouted words away, but Homer heard enough to answer with what sounded like “Huh?”
“Storm coming!” Blow swung his arm up and pointed at the prematurely darkening sky. 
Homer raised his arm, too, extending his middle finger at the encroaching behemoth cloud bank. He climbed into his van and gave Blow a two-finger salute before driving off. The rain came suddenly, sweeping across Blow's pickup in deafening torrents. He'd just managed to get in and shut the door before the deluge, and he sat now shivering in his storm-pummeled cab, thankful to be dry, trying to decide what next to do.
Most pressing was the return from Europe sometime tomorrow of Chip Morowitz's parents. They were key to his client's release on bond. Blow needed Chip's help, needed to question him in an environment he trusted. The parents needed assurance their son was in good hands, that Blow was making progress toward proving the boy's innocence. It wouldn't do to remind them it had been less than three days since his arrest. He could tell them about Rev. Curtis and the guy who looked like Maj. Callahan, but unless those cases were solved they'd merely be coincidental. And Commonwealth's Attorney Fred Gobble could plant seeds with the jury Chip Morowitz was part of a conspiracy. Proving motive would be tricky, but Gobble was a capable enough prosecutor. Capable of a plausible theory. He had a smoking gun, after all. One of the better pieces of evidence in any murder trial. 
It likely would be a couple more days before ballistic comparisons of bullets from Chip's gun and those that killed his friends were available. That could go one of three ways: a match would virtually guarantee Chip's conviction; distinct differences could point to innocence if not rule out guilt; and the advantage with inconclusive findings would go to the prosecution. Chip was still pulling the trigger when the first-responders arrived.
Finding the other gun was vital to Blow's case. He couldn't share with Chip's parents what he'd learned about the missing gun. Not without betraying Mundaign. Unless he could prove Mundaign didn't use the gun on Chip's friends—but first the gun had to be found. Homer would be stopping at the Sheriff's Office to poke around there. Blow knew he had to spend more time with Mundaign. He'd sensed there was something unsaid going on between Moriarty and the strange, repugnant man. Her pretext for accompanying him was to introduce them and ostensibly to assure Mundaign he could trust Blow. Some undefined doubt had begun creeping into Blow's thoughts. He wanted to talk with Mundaign alone. The rain was letting up by the time he'd worked his way through these questions. He cranked up the truck with the intention of heading back to the island.
He got as far as the junction of Misenti Boulevard, the cinder feeder road that served Luigi's Spaghetti House and Luigi's cousin's nearby auto body shop, with US 14. He was surprised at how quickly and deeply the relentless highway traffic bothered him, how susceptible to a change in daily rhythms. Rush hour on a weekday he managed easily—a minor irritation if he was in a hurry; if not, a perverse gratitude for the few moments completely to himself, to his thoughts. None of that applied right now. He'd done his thinking during the downpour, he had a destination and a sense of urgency. It was a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon. Where in hell were they coming from and heading to, this endless convoy of giant spitshined pickups and vans and SUVs and little cars with aftermarket turbo pipes that amplified the sound of the tiny engines to racetrack roars, cars invariably driven by boys with gleaming eyes, cap bills perfectly askew and no inkling of the homicidal reactions they were tempting?
FUCK YOU!” Shouting within the seclusion of his own cab at nothing in particular, Blow immediately felt relief from his dilating vexation, release enough to accept with a quiet chuckle the small alarm his allowing taut nerves to twang always registered. And then, as if a cosmic traffic cop waved its baton in the interest of pity or averting catastrophe, a gap appeared in the rolling wall of glass and steel that blocked him. He caught a glimpse of fingers raised in friendly salute behind the wheel of the small pickup truck that had slowed to let him in. He waved back. Hurrah for the community of similars.

The rain had stopped by the time Blow arrived at Jay Mundaign's bungalow, and vengeful blades of light were spearing the thinning tail clouds through the western tree tops. His rearview mirror flashed some sun, blinding his glance and breaking the inertia that held him immobile in the truck after he parked. He pushed the door open and climbed out.
The temperature surprised him. He'd had a notion the cold would have passed with the storm, yet it seemed colder than before. The gusts were gentler but they emphasized the chill. At least his clothes were dry, he thought. An instant later rain-drenched Johnson grass in the sandy frontyard soil was soaking his shoes and ankles as he made his way to the modest house. Seeing no mud mat by the door, he wanted to stomp on the wooden porch to get as much of the water and sand off his shoes as possible before entering the house, but politeness dictated he rap on the door or ring the bell to announce his presence more conventionally. Finding no bell button or doorknocker, he tapped his knuckles several times and called out.
“Hello! Mr. Mundaign? It's your attorney Joe Stone. Hello!” He cupped his hand around an ear turned to the door, but heard no sound through the wood panels. Several arguing crows in a nearby tree, and a distant dog's sporadic barking comprised the outside audibles, but nothing from inside the house. Waiting to be certain before trying again, it occurred to him there were no other cars on the short lane leading to the turnaround circle in front where Mundaign had parked. This might mean Mundaign hadn't gotten home yet, as there didn't appear to be anywhere else nearby where he'd be apt to park. The yard wrapped around the rear of the house, but Blow saw no tire tracks in the soggy soil. He decided to wait awhile in his truck. He was starting to turn around when the door rattled open. 
The face looking out at him had a disembodied effect. This was partly a result of the series of shocking recognitions the face instilled in him, starting with the certainty it did not belong to the man he'd come to see. Next were the darknesses. The room behind the face was dark, and darkness seemed to surround it, leaving only the face to reflect expiring sunlight. Most unsettling was the darkness in the eyes. Carbon irises joined with their pupils promising a nonrefusable respite from the surrounding aggressive globes of white. The contrast created a tension that both taunted and assured: escape from the glare via dual passages to oblivion. The eyes were cunning and treacherous. They held deeply rooted violence in check with a predator's amusement. Transfixed, Blow felt the hairs on the back of his neck flare in alarm and cold drops of sweat trickle from his armpits. He feared his throat had gone dry, but he had to speak. It came out a barely audible rasp. 
The deputy stepped aside and gestured with an arm. “Come in, Counselor. Come in.” The voice had a nasal shallowness that belied the dark visage, but it was relaxed and confident, implying some of the insolence of the eyes. 
Blow hesitated. “I'm here to see Jasper Mundaign,” he said, trying to keep his voice level, but feeling at a disadvantage, and foolish. 
Teach's grin under the thick brush of mustache was cruel, as was his sneering tone. “Well, whattaya know. So am I. Come on in. Have a beer. We might as well wait together.” 
“Thanks, but I can come back. I have another appointment.” Locked in a staring duel he felt too stunned to break, he knew his voice had come out weak. He'd no doubt Teach's anger could be lethal. Homer had overheard a couple of deputies talking about it, that Teach bragged of killing someone with his hands when he was a Marine. Blow felt it coming an instant before it happened, felt paralyzed from doing anything, anything at all. Quick as a snake the hand that had welcomed him was at his throat, fingers gripping his collar. Terrible pain then. Head exploding. Terrible pain.
The pain moving now, spreading, leaving a swirling in his head as it crept down his neck and back. The swirling eased enough that he could see he was on his back, that Teach was looming over him. When Teach spoke, though, his voice seemed distant. Blow heard the words “resisting arrest” and “self defense.” A complete sentence, “So you have a piece, you smirking little pissant. I won't have to plant one on you.” Blow realized his hand was in his pocket. He knew the stakes had just gone up. 
A change then. As if a switch had tripped in his brain. The pain was gone, his fear had become an abstraction. He knew only one thing, he wanted to live. He shifted his focus to offense. Time slowed down as his mind searched for practical options. One quickly became obvious. He'd learned it by accident in football when it happened to Homer. His back was still against the doorjamb, giving him a fulcrum. Teach had moved in, pistol now in hand. He was near enough. Blow lashed out with a leg, planting it squarely on Teach's knee. He heard something snap, then a terrible cry. The thump when Teach landed shook the porch. His groans were gut-wrenching. 
Blow knew the fight was over, and his strength was returning. He rolled onto his knees and peered at the heap next to him. Teach was in a fetal curl, hugging his knee and rocking back and forth. His face had turned chalk white. He managed to choke out some words when he saw Blow looking at him.
Assaulting...police officer...felony...pissant...”
Blow crawled over and stared into Teach's face. He held up a little digital recorder. “This is the piece you thought I had in my pocket, Teach. It's the recorder I brought for my interview. I can see by the red button light it's been on all the while we've had our little conversation. I'd play it for you, but I'd rather leave it running awhile longer. It already has enough evidence to convict you of attempted murder, but you know what? I don't much care about that, at least not now. Know what I want? You don't have to speak. Just nod your head when I've finished. What I want is that pistol, the one Mundaign gave you Friday night. I want you to turn it over to Maj. Callahan. Do that and we'll be straight. Okay?
Teach continued groaning.
Do I need to repeat what I've just told you?”
Teach, still groaning, shook his head. He turned his face to Blow. “Okay,” he said.

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