Read The Man With the Iron-On Badge Online

Authors: Lee Goldberg

Tags: #Mystery

The Man With the Iron-On Badge (20 page)

BOOK: The Man With the Iron-On Badge
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I got up, strolled over to the Big Rock Lake Resort Store, and walked around the porch into the restaurant.

The day’s heat was trapped inside. The electric bug trap snapped and crackled, sending off tiny sparks as one insect after another got zapped. It was almost festive.

I took another look at the photos on the wall. One day, Esme and Kelly Parkus were there, grinning in front of the store, and then they weren’t. Time at Big Rock Lake just kept marching on, measured only by all the big fish that didn’t get away.

I took a seat at the counter and ordered another Big Rock Burger from Tom Wade.

“Sorry again about breaking the plate,” I said.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said, absently wiping the counter in front of me with a rag.

“Why do you suppose Esme drowned herself?” I asked.

He smiled at me. “Can’t get it out of your mind, can you?”

I didn’t answer.

“Once you’ve heard the story, it’s hard not to think about it,” Wade said. “It’s the kind of tragedy that becomes legend. What is it about the lake that draws beautiful young women into its cold depths?”

“But it wasn’t the lake, was it?”

“Not entirely.”

Wade went back into the kitchen and came back with my burger, setting it in front of me. “Josiah Parkus and his father cut down the trees, cleared the land, and built this store, the docks, and the cabins themselves. They didn’t build this place, they birthed it. It wasn’t a business to them, it was a life. Everything else came second. You follow what I’m saying?”

“The resort was his priority; his wife and kids came later,” I said between bites, just to prove I was paying attention.

“And that was the crux of their problem. Esme fell in love with Josiah, not with the lake. But, see, it was a package deal. He’d never leave, so neither could she,” Wade said. “Josiah didn’t make it easy on her. He expected Esme and his kids to be as devoted to the lake as he was. Wasn’t gonna happen. Esme hated the lake but she loved him. Something had to give, and it sure as hell wasn’t gonna be Josiah Parkus.”

Wade shrugged.

“So she sacrificed herself to the thing he loved most,” I said.

Wade nodded.

I’m not usually so poetic, but something about the stillness of the night, the dark romance of the story, and the crackle of electrified insects brought it out in me.

“I didn’t know Esme,” Wade said, “but I’ve heard enough about it from folks who did to believe that’s the way it happened. But I knew the kids, I saw the way Josiah worked them, the way he tried to force them to love this place the way he did. He was especially hard on Kelly, maybe because of what happened to Esme. After she died, all those two kids really had was each other. They knew there was no way off this lake for them.”

“Kelly found one,” I said.

“She didn’t really leave, though, did she?” Wade said, inadvertently glancing at the lake below, then catching himself at it. “But she broke the hold Josiah had on Cyril. The boy left, didn’t even come back for his father’s funeral.”

I finished up my burger and pushed the plate towards Wade. “So, are you as hung up on this place as Josiah Parkus was?”

Wade picked up the plate and wiped away the crumbs I’d left on the counter.

“I didn’t build it with my bare hands,” he said. “I just bought it.”

I had another slice of pie, thought about what Wade had told me, then went back to my cabin for the night to wait for Arlo Pelz.

The cabin was laid out a lot like my apartment, a combination kitchen and living room in front, and the bedroom and small bath in back.

The walls were covered with sheets of wood paneling, the floors were linoleum. It was furnished with a vinyl couch and a Formica-topped table with some plastic chairs around it. There was a bad painting of a duck on the wall.

Just what you’d expect for forty-five dollars a night.

Considering how Arlo botched things at the Sno-Inn, I was reasonably certain he wouldn’t go the fire-bomb route again. This time he’d want to be sure that he’d gotten the job done, and there was only one way to do that.

I messed up the bed and used the pillows to create the vague outline of a person under the blankets. It’s an old trick that’s been used a thousand times on television, so I figured it must work.

I turned off all the lights, dragged one of the kitchen chairs into the bedroom closet, and sat down, the roll of duct tape on the floor and my gun on my lap. I drew the closet curtain closed in front of me and waited.

I wasn’t worried about falling asleep this time. One of the reasons I drank so many Cokes during the afternoon was to tank myself up on caffeine. But when I did start to feel a bit drowsy, I just reminded myself what Jolene looked like the last time I saw her. That sharpened me up real quick.

As I sat there in the closet of that cabin, feeling the night chill seeping through the old boards, smelling the pine of the surrounding forest, I thought about my guard shack. It wasn’t a whole lot bigger than that closet, but it seemed a world, and a lifetime, away.

It had been a little over a week since I’d been hired to follow Lauren Parkus. Before that, I’d never been the victim or inflictor of violence. I’d never seen a person die. And I’d never been in love.

But it seemed to me that all those years, all those nights, of sitting alone in that guard shack was training for this moment. I had no problem sitting in a closet like a suit of clothes waiting to be worn or a box waiting to be opened. I’d learned to sit in a cramped space and wait for something to happen, even if most of the time nothing ever did. I’d become an expert at passivity, at waiting for life to happen rather than going after it myself.

Not anymore.

I thought about Esme, Kelly, and Cyril Parkus, about how it was them against their father and the lake, and what life must have been like for them after Esme died.

It made me think about my mother, my sister Becky, and me, and about my father, who loved to gamble and sacrificed everything for it. I remembered how things changed after my mother ran off, how Becky stepped up and ragged on my dad the same way mom used to, and just as ineffectively.

When I was a kid, I thought we had a uniquely fucked-up family, that nobody else could possibly understand what it was like being abandoned by your mother and left with a father who lived for something he thought was more important than you.

Well, it turned out I was wrong. We weren’t uniquely fucked-up, we were just as fucked-up as lots of other families. Cyril Parkus may have been a rich guy in a big house with the stone lions, and I was just the loser in the stucco shack on the other side of the gate, but we were more alike than either of us would have thought.

I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about that.

Sitting in that closet, alone with my memories, I was surprised how fast the hours slipped past. It seemed like only a few minutes had gone by when, at two
, I heard the soft footfalls in the living room.

Arlo slunk into the room and up to the bed, holding one of those big, serrated Rambo knives in his fist. Knives seemed to be the weapon of choice with criminals in Washington State. He raised the knife over his head, then brought it down with a vengeance, plunging it deep into the covered pillows.

While he was bent over like that, slightly off-balance, I leaped out of the closet behind him, slammed his head into the wall, then smashed his face down on the night stand for good measure, his nose bursting like a water balloon. I let him drop to the floor.

“You aren’t much of a criminal mastermind, are you?” I said.

I stomped on Arlo’s back, keeping him down while I looked for the Rambo knife. It was still sticking out of the bed. He’d been fooled by the pillow trick. Who says you can’t learn anything watching cop shows?

I went to the closet, snatched up my gun and the roll of duct tape, and turned around to see Arlo trying to get up. I noticed he was wearing the same tennis shoes he used on me in Santa Monica. That pissed me off all over again.

I stomped him down, then gave him a swift kick in the side.

“That’s for what you did to me in Santa Monica,” I said. I gave him another kick and thought I felt something give against my shoe. “That’s for Lauren.”

Then I grabbed him by the hair, lifting his blood-splattered face off the floor so he could see me. I looked right into his dazed, watery eyes.

“And this is for Jolene,” I hissed into his ear, right before I slammed his face into the floor a couple of times. “The rest of your punishment I’ll leave up to the law.”

I straddled his back, pulled his arms behind him, and bound his wrists with duct tape. Then I taped up his ankles together, grabbed him under the arms, and dragged him into the living room. I propped him up against the couch, set my gun on the table, then pulled out a chair and sat down so I could take a good look at him.

I was momentarily repulsed, not so much by the man in front of me, but by what I’d done to him. Before that guy tried to rob me on the Interstate, I’d never beat up anybody before. I didn’t think I could do it. I certainly never thought I’d enjoy it. But I’d never imagined I’d be in a place like Deerlick, stuck in a cabin alone with a murderer.

It wasn’t even a fair fight. If it had been, I had no doubt I’d have been the loser. I prevailed because I ambushed Arlo, then kicked the shit out of him when he was down and couldn’t defend himself.

It didn’t say much about me as a man.

Travis McGee and Spenser would be ashamed of me. More importantly, I suspected Carol would be, too.

Not that it mattered, but Arlo wasn’t going to give me a chance to defend myself either, stabbing me to death as I slept. And what I did to Arlo was far less brutal than what he’d done to Jolene or Lauren. Violence was an inherent part of his character; it wasn’t in mine.

Maybe it would be now.

Arlo’s head lolled on his chest and he drooled blood and mucus onto himself. After a few minutes, he began to groan. He lifted his head up slowly, spat out a big glob of blood and teeth, then tried to focus his eyes on me.

When he spoke, it wasn’t easy to understand him, what with his smashed nose and mouthful of teeth.

“You’re the guy who pissed on my money,” he slobbered.

I’d hunted him down, uncovered his scheme, foiled his attempts to kill me, and ultimately captured him, and that was all he had to say. He’d murdered his wife and drove Lauren to suicide and this was how it was going to end.

So much for my evil adversary. My Moriarty.

I looked at him and found it hard to believe that someone so stupid and pathetic could cause so much misery and death. It didn’t say much for me, if this guy had met his match.

I thought about terrorizing some answers out of him, like I’d originally planned, but the idea had lost all of its allure. I’d captured him and given him a beating. That was enough. Suddenly, I was tired of the whole damn thing and just wanted to go home.

“I’m going to go and call the police now,” I said. “But first I want to know if Little Billy is out there waiting for you.”

Arlo didn’t say anything.

“You better tell me if he is,” I said. “Because if I see him, I’ll shoot him dead and say it was self-defense.”

I picked up my gun and aimed it at him, so he’d get the point.

“With a BB gun?” Arlo slobbered.

I could have hit him again and felt good about it.

Instead, I taped his mouth shut, tipped him over on his stomach, and hog-tied his arms and legs together. I didn’t want him slithering back to his Rambo knife or finding some other way to cut his bonds while I went up to the phone booth.

I looked at my handiwork. It was a good thing I’d had that highway robber to practice on. The police might not be so impressed, but I couldn’t see how they could call me anything but a hero.

I wished I’d felt more excited about capturing Arlo, but I figured that would come later, once I’d put some time between me and everything that had happened, once it didn’t seem so ugly and it became just a story I told.

I eased open the front door and peered out into the darkness. If Little Billy was out there, he was doing a good job of blending into the surroundings.

My gun held at my side, I closed the door behind me and cautiously stepped off the porch, careful to peer around the edge of the cabin first.

Then something grabbed me by the ankles and the ground came rushing up to my face. I instinctively reached out my hands to break my fall and my gun flew out of my grasp.

I slapped against the ground hard, my arms taking most of the impact. I was about to scramble for my gun when my head exploded and I died.

Chapter Twenty-Three

ou don’t dream when you’re unconscious. It’s not like sleep. And when you wake up, you wish you hadn’t.

It was still dark.

At first that was all I was aware of, beyond the pulsating pain in my head. Then I was aware of being alive, which confused me and gave me an incentive to get past the agony and focus my eyes.

After a minute or two, I was able to sharpen the blur enough to tell I was lying on my back on the cabin floor. I was afraid to lift my head up, because it felt like the floor was the only thing holding my brain inside my skull.

I turned my head a tiny bit and saw my gun on the table, beside the roll of duct tape. Neither Arlo nor Little Billy seemed to be around.

So I lay there, waiting for some sensation besides pain to return, pondering my predicament.

The last thing I remembered was going outside to call the police. Someone was hiding under the porch, knocked me down, and hit me on the head with something.

My guess was a large baseball bat.

What I couldn’t figure out was why I was still alive. Arlo came to kill me, and I’d given him a beating and trussed him up with duct tape. If anything, he had more reason to kill me now than he had before.

So why didn’t he finish the job?

Maybe he was getting ready to. Maybe this was the only chance I’d have to escape.

I lifted my head up. My brains didn’t spill out, but the pain made my eyes blur again, almost into unconsciousness. Using my feet and my elbows, I slid across the floor and propped myself up against the couch, roughly in the same spot Arlo had been in before. I know that because I was sitting on the glob of blood he’d coughed up.

BOOK: The Man With the Iron-On Badge
4.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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