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Authors: JM Gulvin

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BOOK: The Long Count
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Sliding down the ladder he dropped to the floor then beckoned the doctor to follow. For a moment Beale seemed to hesitate, then he too climbed down to the passage.

Underground, he followed Isaac through the storm shelter to the second passage. He followed him to where the door was closed and Isaac indicated the wooden panel.

‘See what I mean?’ he said. ‘That’s the back side of the oak Dad used to line his study.’ Placing his palm on the wall he worked his fingers down the right-hand side and stopped when he found the switch.

‘Isaac,’ Beale said as the panel clicked open, ‘that’s really intricate. I don’t think anyone who didn’t know how to do that would be able to open it, really – do you?’ Through the half-dark he offered a smile. ‘Look, I know it’s tough and you don’t want to believe it but perhaps the sheriff is right.’

When he left the bank in Fairview Quarrie drove back to the station house in Winfield, where he found the chief in his office wading through a pile of papers with the air conditioner barely working and perspiration lacing his brow.

‘You’re back then,’ Billings said.

Quarrie perched on the arm of the ratty chair. ‘I got as far as Fairview and that shotgun barrel before the trail ran cold. It’s almost certain our boy crossed the state line so we ought to get onto the Feds.’

‘Already taken care of.’

Sitting back in the chair Billings laid down his pen. ‘You know, since you found that cruiser so quick I’ve been asking a couple of questions about you.’ He indicated Quarrie’s holstered guns. ‘From what I hear you’re pretty special with that pair of irons. More than special: they say there ain’t a cop in Texas can beat you when it comes to combat examination. They told me how you can draw and kill a man before he can pull the trigger even if he’s holding?’

Quarrie nodded. ‘I can do that.’

The chief arched both eyebrows. ‘Throwback to the old days, huh? Old-school Ranger like your Uncle Frank.’

‘They say prevention’s better than cure, Chief – ask any hospital Doc.’

With a smile then Billings gestured. ‘So, if I had a piece pointed at you right now – my old Model 10, say – all cocked and ready to go, you could draw and fire, kill me before I had time to get a round off?’

Evenly Quarrie looked back. ‘Chief, I could put a pair in you and holster again before you could get the message from your brain to
your trigger finger.’ His eyes were a little dull. ‘Frank Hamer took a bullet seventeen times and on four occasions he was left for dead. It was him taught me to take care of myself, and if you’ve been checking you’ll know I got a son to bring up on my own. Right before she died, I promised his momma I’d take care of him so making sure nothing happens to me is something I study on.’

Billings puffed the air from his cheeks. ‘Seventeen times, eh? Is that a fact?’

‘And four times left for dead.’

‘You know, I think I read somewhere how old Hamer wrote the king of England during the war, something about a bodyguard of retired Rangers going over there in case the Germans made it as far as London.’

Quarrie nodded. ‘Yes sir, that’s what he did.’

‘Big letter writers then, your family.’ Billings seemed to be musing now. ‘I hear how your best friend is a black guy and you wrote President Truman about him. Something about a court-martial in Korea?’

Quarrie held his eye. ‘His name is Pious Noon, Chief. They said he was a coward, but he risked his life to drag me off a hill after I was gut shot and bleeding out.’

Eyes bright Billings nodded. ‘That’s what I heard. It’s what you told the president in the letter they published in the
New York Times
. From what I read, on account of it that boy’s sentence was commuted to life in prison but he ended up with just five in the federal pen.’

‘What’s your point, Chief?’ Quarrie said.

Adjusting his jacket, the chief got to his feet. ‘I don’t have a point. Just like to know who it is I’m working with whenever I’m partnering up.’

They drove back to Mary-Beth Gavin’s place only this time in Quarrie’s car. Parking outside the darkened windows of the rundown house, he looked up and down the street.

‘Must’ve been a hell of a racket going on in there and nobody heard a thing?’

The chief shook his head.

‘That’s the neighborhood for you I guess.’

Getting out of the car they walked the path to where Billings unlocked the front door.

Inside the house everything was just as it had been before. Nothing had been touched only Mary-Beth’s outline was fading a little where it had been chalked on the floor. Quarrie stood in the hallway with his thumbs hooked in his belt. Head to one side he considered that mark and the way the furniture had been knocked about. He was talking as if to himself. ‘He comes here because he knows who she is and she has something he wants.’

‘Quarrie, that’s your supposition, not mine.’

Quarrie looked sideways at him. ‘You got another idea?’

Billings shrugged. ‘B&E gone wrong; intended rape victim – maybe he couldn’t get a hard on.’ He threw out a hand. ‘I don’t know, Sergeant. I’m just playing devil’s advocate here like one of us is supposed to.’

With a smile Quarrie stepped into the room. He stared at the floor, the rug and walls where the spots of spattered blood had dried. Picking his way between the drawers, the broken mirror and smashed leaves of the table, he paused where the room opened into the kitchen.

‘Probably you’re right,’ Billings said from behind him. ‘He wanted something from her. We just have to figure out what it was.’

Quarrie took a few moments to look over the kitchen. Compared to the rest of the house it seemed relatively untouched. Opening the refrigerator he found milk and butter, a package of bacon wrapped in waxed paper as well as an unopened bottle of wine.

The cupboards yielded nothing but crockery and some cookware; a few cans of food and a sack of ground coffee. Mary-Beth had kept a little cork noticeboard pinned to the wall, though nothing
was pinned to it and it hung askew. Nothing stood out. Nothing spoke to him and he eased his hat a little higher on his brow.

‘Chief,’ he said, ‘did you come across an address book or anything like that? Something with phone numbers in it?’

‘No sir, we did not.’

Quarrie looked back at him. ‘Doesn’t that strike you as odd?’

‘Not really. Not everybody keeps an address book. She was new to town and according to the neighbor that found her, nobody ever seemed to come visit.’

The neighbor’s name was Jane Perkins and she actually lived three blocks down the street, and wasn’t a neighbor so much as a woman who also worked for MacIntyre’s Farm Machinery. Opening the door when they knocked, she showed them into an identical one-bedroomed house, only it was neat and clean. About Mary-Beth’s age, she told Quarrie that her husband had died of cancer and she’d been on her own the last five years.

‘I been working for Mr McIntyre almost ten,’ she added. ‘He owns these houses and I don’t know if you knew that, Mr Billings?’ She glanced at the chief. ‘They come as part of the job and that’s why Mary-Beth was so keen to get it. It’s why she worked that first week without any pay and I had her staying here with me because she didn’t have money for a motel.’

Quarrie squinted at her. ‘She roomed here?’

‘Yes, she did, but only for a week.’

‘Where did she come from?’

‘I don’t know, sir. She never told me.’

Quarrie raised an eyebrow. ‘A couple of girls rooming together and the two of you didn’t talk?’

‘Oh, we talked plenty, but Mary-Beth never really said where she was from or what she’d been doing before. I asked all right, but when she didn’t tell me right off I didn’t figure it polite to be asking again.’

‘Did anybody ever visit with her?’

‘Not that I know of,’ Mrs Perkins said. ‘At least nobody she ever talked about anyway. I don’t recall seeing any cars parked at her place, other than hers I mean. But then she was only here six weeks. She was nice enough, I guess. But she was quiet. She kept herself to herself.’

Sitting back in the chair, Quarrie crossed his ankle on his knee. ‘While she was staying here did she call anybody on the phone?’

‘I don’t think so.’ Mrs Perkins twisted her lips. ‘She certainly didn’t when I was home and she never asked to use the phone. But then I wasn’t home all the time. Sometimes she was here on her own.’

‘Do you still have the bill from back then? When she was staying with you, I mean.’

‘From the phone company? It might be around somewhere but I don’t hang on to them as a rule.’

‘But you read them though, right? The numbers I mean, check for any mistakes?’

Mrs Perkins made a face. ‘I don’t know as I do so much actually. Not especially now you mention it, no.’

‘But you have long-distance?’

‘Yes sir, but only if I call the operator.’

Quarrie looked closely at her then. ‘Mrs Perkins,’ he said, ‘if it’s all right with you I’m going to need to sequester your records from the phone company.’

Billings looked sideways at him.

‘What do you need those for?’ Mrs Perkins seemed a little puzzled.

Quarrie indicated the window. ‘You found Mary-Beth’s body. You saw how badly she’d been beaten up?’

With a shiver Mrs Perkins nodded.

‘Me and the chief here,’ Quarrie glanced at Billings, ‘we believe that whoever did that to her wanted something. We don’t think they got it and that’s why they beat her up. We think that was
done out of frustration, and if she had something they wanted then it’s possible she knew them from somewhere. It’s possible they might’ve spoken to her on the phone.’ He looked at the chief once more where he was sitting across the room. ‘The police department’s already asked for Ms Gavin’s records, isn’t that right, Chief?’

Billings colored a little before he nodded.

Where she sat on the couch Mrs Perkins tucked her legs underneath her and looked from one of them to the other.

‘Right now we know nothing about her.’ Quarrie’s tone was gentle but firm. ‘We have no idea who she was or if she had any family or where she lived before. You say she didn’t really talk?’

Mrs Perkins shook her head. ‘Like I said just now, she kept pretty much to herself. I asked of course, made conversation, but she wasn’t one for giving much away. She wasn’t married – I know that much – because she was on her own of course, and she had no ring on her finger. Whether she’d ever been married I can’t say. She only stayed with me that one week and it wasn’t even a full week now I come to think on it. It was only four days before Mr MacIntyre told her she had the job permanent. After that she moved into the house down on the corner and I only ever saw her at work.’

Dr Beale spent the night in a motel in Bonham a few miles west of the Bowen house. Fetching some food from the local diner he ate in his room and when he’d finished he got up and went to the window. Easing the drape aside he gazed across the darkened parking lot. Nothing moved; nobody out there. Even so, he checked the dead bolt to make sure the door was secure just the same. The tape recorder was on the bed and he unhooked the microphone.

‘May thirty-first, 1967. Dr Mason Beale in a motel room in Bonham – that’s Fannin County, Texas.’ He paused for a moment looking down where the spool still turned. Clearing his throat he sat straighter. ‘Icarus Bowen is dead. According to the sheriff’s department he shot himself, but his son is at the house right now and he believes it was murder.’

*

Isaac woke in his father’s house. He lay in bed gazing at the white-painted ceiling then got up and took a shower. Combing his hair back from his forehead, he dressed in his uniform and went to the garage where the keys were still in the pickup. Climbing behind the wheel he drove the short distance to the town of Bonham.

The sheriff’s department was a modern, flat-roofed building built across the street from the courthouse. A couple of cruisers in the parking lot, Isaac went in through the glass-panelled doors and found a young woman seated in front of a telephone switchboard.

‘My name is Isaac Bowen,’ he told her.

‘Yes, sir.’ She offered a shallow smile. ‘I thought it might be, on
account of your uniform. We’re all so sorry for your loss.’

‘Thank you, mam. That’s kind of you.’ Isaac rested a palm on the counter. ‘I want to talk to the deputy who came by my house yesterday.’

‘All right, sir. I’ll see if he’s around.’ Plugging a lead into the switchboard the woman asked if Collins was back there and then she looked up at Isaac. ‘He’ll be right out,’ she said and indicated a pair of plastic chairs set next to a fake orange tree. ‘Why don’t you take a seat?’

Isaac did that. Tunic buttoned, he straightened the flaps and sat with his head bowed and hands clasped together. A couple of minutes later the deputy with the pock-marked face appeared from behind the counter.

‘Mr Bowen,’ he said. ‘You asked to see me, sir. What can do for you?’

Isaac was on his feet. ‘The detective you told me about – the one who said my dad shot himself. I don’t think that’s what happened and I’d like to talk to him if that’s OK?’

The deputy looked at him with his brows knit. Briefly he glanced over his shoulder at the switchboard girl and then he looked back.

‘Lieutenant Crowley you’re talking about. He ain’t here right now, I’m afraid. They got him giving evidence in a trial down in Houston.’

Pushing open the glass doors he led Isaac outside. The sun climbing a cobalt sky, the heat shifted tar macadam into mush so it stuck to the soles of their shoes.

‘Look,’ Collins said, ‘I know how this is for you. I lost my own father when I was fourteen and I understand, I promise you.’

Isaac stared at him. ‘Did somebody shoot him?’ he asked.

‘No, sir.’

‘Did anybody tell you that he killed himself?’

‘No, he died of liver cancer.’

‘Then I’m sorry, but you don’t know how it is. I want to see him. My dad – where is he?’

The deputy drove him across town to the hospital off Rayburn Drive. Parking the cruiser he led the way through a side door where a coroner’s ambulance was parked. They went down a flight of steps into a short corridor where a set of fire doors faced them. Collins opened those and beyond them they found a clerk in a white coat sitting at a metal desk. A white-tiled anteroom, he listened to the request the deputy made, took a swig from the coffee cup perched at his elbow, then led them into a smaller room at the back where a rack of metal drawers were fixed in vertical rows. Studying the names on the drawers he pulled out a gurney from the row at the bottom.

Isaac stared at his father’s face. Colorless and empty, a tick started up at the corner of his mouth; he ground his jaws so the teeth scraped across one another audibly. At his sides his hands had knotted into fists. His father’s eyes were closed; the skin on the right eye purple and puffy. Pacing around the gurney Isaac bent to study the hole at his temple where a hint of soot lay scattered in all but invisible pinpricks.

With a sigh the deputy folded his arms. ‘The Ranger told me how that wasn’t a contact wound, but the lieutenant said it didn’t matter. Your dad had a lot of guns, Mr Bowen; he knew how to use them and it didn’t matter that the barrel wasn’t pressed right up to the skin.’

Isaac was still inspecting the wound. ‘My dad was 82nd Airborne. He fought in Africa and took a bayonet in the stomach.’ He was shaking his head, looking from the deputy to the clerk and back again to his father’s body. ‘There’s no way he would’ve shot himself. I don’t care what your lieutenant said.’

They drove back to the sheriff’s department and Isaac sat with the window rolled down and his tie loose at the collar. He had his top button undone and sweat scrolled from his temple.

‘Deputy Collins,’ he said. ‘I can’t talk to your lieutenant right now because he’s not here.’ He looked sideways at him. ‘That Texas Ranger you told me about – how do I get a-hold of him?’

*

When Beale drove back to the Bowen house he found the pickup gone and there was no answer when he rang the bell. He rang a second time but still nobody came to the door so he walked round to the back of the house and peered through the kitchen window. No sign of anybody inside. Walking back to his car, he seemed to ponder before he got in.

Back in Shreveport a few hours later he showed his pass to the guard at the hospital gates. Collecting the tape recorder and his briefcase from the trunk of the car, he walked the length of the road to the main entrance, glancing at the patients who were stable enough to work in the garden.

Inside the building it was cool as he crossed the polished parquet floor to the elevator where an orderly ensured no patient made it up to the suite of offices. He nodded to the doctor and Beale nodded back, and when he got to the third floor he spoke to his secretary.

‘How are things, Alice? Has anyone been in touch?’

A middle-aged woman wearing pearl-white cat-eye spectacles, she looked up from behind the weight of her typewriter. ‘Nothing that was urgent, Doctor: everything here is fine. There’s nothing to report, though don’t forget the meeting with the trustees later.’ She paused briefly before she added. ‘Unless you want me to cancel that, of course: I did tell them you’d gone away and that you might not be back.’

Beale had his office door open. ‘Do that, Alice, would you? Tell them I am back, but I’m busy as hell right now so if it could be rescheduled I’d appreciate it.’

Inside his office he closed the door then placed the tape recorder
on the coffee table and unhooked the reel of tape. Sliding that into a cardboard case he marked the label then locked it in the safe with the others. Behind him the phone buzzed on his desk.

‘Yes, Alice?’ he said as he pressed the speaker.

‘Orderly Briers is asking to see you.’

Beale seemed to think about that. ‘Is he out there now?’

‘No sir, he just called from downstairs. Said he saw your car in the parking lot and that he needs to have a quick word.’

Beale made a face. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘Have him come up.’

A few minutes later the orderly was standing before Beale’s desk and seemed to regard the doctor a little cautiously.

‘Dr Beale,’ he said, ‘Alice told me you were away for a day or two but she didn’t say where you’d gone.’

Beale looked up. ‘That’s because I didn’t tell her.’

Briers colored slightly, hovering on the balls of his feet. ‘I spoke to Nancy. We talked, the two of us. What’s happening, Doc? What’s going on?’

Beale looked at him for a moment longer then his expression softened. Allowing a little trapped air to escape his lips he sat back in the chair and gazed beyond Briers to the photo of Freud.

‘I went to Texas,’ he said. ‘I went to see Ike Bowen.’

‘Did you?’ Briers’s brow was furrowed. ‘And what did he have to say?’

‘Nothing,’ Beale shifted his attention back to the orderly. ‘He’s dead, Charlie. He blew his brains out.’

BOOK: The Long Count
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