Xenocide, part 7
“Yeah. He nearly killed the pickup driver.” Good thing we arrived on the scene when we did — Tenesha got the guy stabilized long before the ambulance arrived, but he probably wouldn’t have lived if she hadn’t been there. I did what I could to help, but she was nearly worn out by the ordeal. It was a long time before we wrapped up, and I ended up dropping her off at her place, leaving her car at Ruth’s. She refused both taxi fare and an offer to drive her back there myself for the next morning. I did get a hug, though, and she felt exactly like I thought she would: almost athletic-firm under all the curves.
“You know what that means, right?” The sheriff took a big drag on his cig. “There’s gonna be personal injury lawsuits, and we’ll get a lot of negative publicity if we go easy on the idiot. And we’d deserve it.” He ground his butt against the brick siding and slapped it into the receptacle. “Pah. You make any headway on the alien?”
“I made a list of auto detailers in the county. Maybe we’ll get lucky. I’m gonna check ‘em out this afternoon if nothing else comes up.”
“I’ll make sure nothing else comes up.”
I wish you could have done that last night. “Not that I expect it to pan out,” I said. “If the perp had two brain cells, he’d have used a self-service car wash.”
“If he had one brain cell, he wouldn’t have dumped a body in my county,” said Carmichael. “Go check things out — like you said, you might get lucky.”
Northside Detailing, the establishment owned by Randolph Moss Sr. (Randolph Jr. went by his middle name, Jacob), was my first stop. I’d left my cellphone at my desk back at the office so the Fibs couldn’t trace my movements. Nobody had brought Moss a car that smelled like worms and burnt coffee, though. Nor did the second detailing place. But the third place, I hit paydirt.
Glisten Auto Detail was near a freeway exit, which made it a likely place for someone a long way from home to get an emergency cleanup. It was also the closest detailer to the crime scene. As with most low-paying jobs these days, the staff was mostly Hispanic immigrants. Tomas Alvarado’s English improved rapidly when he realized I spoke passable Spanish, but took pains to make sure I saw the line of pictures on the wall with everyone’s documentation.
“Yeah, I remember that smell: worms and bad coffee,” he said. “Nobody else could stand it, so I handled it myself. They just wanted the cargo area cleaned out, but ended up having a full detail done because that smell was all through their vehicle. It cost over two hundred dollars.”
“There was more than one, then? Do you remember anything about them? Names, descriptions? Anything?”
“Oh yeah. There were two of them. White guys, not much older than us. Both of them looked — trim, is that the word? They paid by credit card, so I’ve got all that on file. We can pull it up. What happened? Did they kill somebody?”
“They’re persons of interest in a case.” The sheriff was right: these guys didn’t have a single functioning brain cell between them. Not only did they leave a trail of witnesses, they left directions to one of their houses. “Great,” I said, following him into the office. “What kind of vehicle was it, anyway?”
“A big SUV. Ford Expedition, I think. But we’ve got that on file too.” He clicked his mouse and tapped his keyboard. “Aha. Here it is. Oh, I was wrong. Ford Excursion. He said it was a bag of compost that leaked. It sort of made sense.”
I had a notepad and pen at the ready, and leaned over his shoulder to get the details. This Danny Freeman was going to get roasted and toasted.
“Oh, one more thing,” I said. “Have you had anyone else come in asking about this? FBI?” Alvarado shook his head. “Good. If they do show up, none of the local deputies have been here. Okay?”
“Mi ingles no es bueno, señor.” He grinned. “If they have a warrant, they’ll find this record though.”
“That’s fine. The important thing is they don’t know we’re still working this case. You’ve been a big help, Tomas. I don’t have any ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ cards on me, but I owe you a favor if you need it. Hope you never do.” I wrote my new number on a blank card. “If you think of anything else, or the Feds come around, call my personal cell. You’ll get voicemail because I usually leave it turned off, but if it’s something urgent you should call 911 anyway.”
“Right.” A grimy-looking Honda, pulling into the lot, caught his attention. “Gotta get back to work. Hope you catch those guys.”
Back at the office, I texted Tenesha from my “on the books” cellphone: Bummed about last night, but what’s important is the guy’s gonna live.
Five minutes later, I got a reply: Glad you see it that way. Me too. Maybe we’ll be luckier next time.
Hope so! I added a smiley face that reflected my real one.
She responded with a winky face. Life was good.
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