All the way back, p.1
All The Way Back, p.1David Kearns
All The Way Back
Copyright 2017 by David Kearns
Discover other titles by David Kearns:
All the Way Down
All the Way Under
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This is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons living or dead is purely coincidental. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction which have been used without permission. The publication and use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
For My Heroes
Eric Fullmeyer and I were on the deck of the small house I rented in Oceanside, Oregon. The wood on the deck and railing was a funky blue color and needed re-painting, but the rhododendrons on the street side of the deck were in full bloom, with purple and pink star-shaped flowers serving as an optimistic counterpoint to the fading evening light. I had Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue album on the turntable in the living room, and strains of jazz carried through the sliding screen door onto the deck.
“Check it out,” I said. “The sun’s about to set.” The house was two hundred feet up the side of the hill that fronted onto Oceanside Beach, and even if the house was small, old, and somewhat run-down, the views from the living room and the deck were glorious. There was a ribbon of sand at the bottom of the hill, and the Pacific Ocean stretched to the horizon beneath a sparse collection of clouds the color of molten glass. The sun glowed blood red as it touched the horizon before swelling in the curved lens of the earth’s atmosphere.
“Nice,” Eric said. “I can see why you like it here.”
“It’s unspoiled, isn’t it?”
Eric wore a thin black leather coat, a pale yellow dress shirt, blue jeans, and black dress shoes. He was a grey haired man with a short beard, a thin waist, and shoulders a yard wide. The knuckles on his hands were huge, and the muscles in his neck stood out against the skin like a diagram in an anatomy textbook. I’m not sure why he carries a gun. I think that he could probably tear someone’s arms off if he wanted to.
It was very quiet on the deck. The surf is almost always audible there, but at times the sound is much more noticeable. That evening was one of those times when the slap of the waves hitting the beach was noticeably absent. The air was still, and I heard the voices of children waiting by a minivan in the parking lot at the bottom of the hill. The kids sounded like they were negotiating with their mother about what kind of dinner they wanted.
In terms of topography, Oceanside has the Pacific Ocean to the west, a large hill to the east, and an enormous promontory to the north. The population of Oceanside consists of a few hundred people who live in homes sprinkled on the hillside that faces the beach, the parking lot, and the downtown area. The downtown contains one restaurant, one bar, and a tiny self-serve post office. Most of the activity in the town consists of day tourists using the parking lot as a staging area to get onto the beach to search for agates and sand dollars. It was late in the day, and most of the tourists had collected their sand dollars and agates and departed.
“Have you heard anything from Bonnie?” I asked. Eric works for the Federal Marshal’s service and the witness protection program. I’m not in the witness protection program, but I know people who are. Bonnie is now one of them.
Eric looked away. He shifted his position as if he was uncomfortable, and then he fidgeted with the zipper on his coat. “You know I can’t talk about that,” he said.
“I just need to know that she’s okay,” I said.
“She’s fine, Delorean. She’s adjusted to her new circumstances as well as can be expected.”
“Any more problems with the cartel?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Not so far.”
“I guess that going into the program was worth it, then,” I said. “If that’s what it took to keep her safe.”
“Have you had any contact with the cartel?” he asked.
“Not since the bombing, but I wouldn’t tell you if I did, Eric.”
“Why the hell not?” Eric asked. He furrowed his eyebrows, and I felt the weight of his irritation with me.
“If I thought that you, Bonnie, or Sandy were in danger, I’d tell you. Otherwise, I’m not involving you in my problems any more. People who come into my orbit wind up fired, on the run, or dead.”
“The world doesn’t work that way, Delorean. None of what’s happened is your fault.”
“Really?” I said. “I don’t think that’s true. I’ve made choices I didn’t have to make. I’ve done things that brought pain to people I care about, and worse.”
“I’m still your friend,” Eric said. “If you need help, you gotta tell me.”
“I appreciate you saying that,” I said.
Eric looked a little sad. It was early summer, and in the fading evening light a cool breeze passed over the deck. He popped the collar on his leather coat and zipped it up. I heard the doors slam on the minivan in the parking lot. Headlights for several cars came on, and I watched a small convoy of cars leave the parking lot and head back towards the highway, or Tillamook, or possibly Portland.
“I’m getting another beer,” I said. “You want one?”
“No. I’m fine, thanks.”
I went inside, flipped the vinyl on the turntable, and got another India Pale Ale from the refrigerator. The worn oak flooring in the kitchen reflected a mellow glow from the low-wattage bulbs in the faux hurricane lamps. Royal Blue wall paint left behind by a previous tenant contrasted nicely against the beige Formica countertop, and the threadbare sofa seemed welcoming in the dim light. All in all, it was a pretty good place to be. I looked through the picture window that formed the south wall of the living room and saw the running lights on a fishing boat making his way south towards Pacific City or Neskowin. The outline of Three Arch Rocks was faintly visible as a grouping of darker shapes on the horizon. I had the feeling that the world had been put right again.
I flipped the light switch by the sliding glass door, illuminating the small white Christmas lights I’d strung between the roof and the posts at the perimeter of the deck. I stepped outside and closed the screen behind me. Eric slid his phone into his coat pocket and steepled his fingers like someone who was about to pray. He waited until I sat down at the picnic table before he started talking.
“I need you to do something for me,” he said.
“There’s someone I want your help with.”
“What do you have in mind?”
Eric let out a long sigh. “I’ve got someone in WITSEC who thinks they’re being watched. My team looked into it more than once and didn’t find anything, but this lady is convinced that something’s not right and that we’re not taking her seriously. I’ve offered to move her to a new location, but at this point she’s put down roots and refuses to move.”
“Okay. I think I understand, but where would I fit in?”
Eric rubbed at his beard, deep in thought. “I think she’s starting to become unstable, Delorean. It happens with some people who enter the program, especially people who enter alone. They become paranoid from looking over their shoulders every day, and I think this might be one of those cases. She
“You can’t force her to stay in the program, Eric. If she leaves and something happens to her, isn’t that her fault?”
Eric pulled his eyebrows together and frowned. “Delorean, sometimes things are bad for everybody involved. This isn’t about trying to assign responsibility. I’m trying to keep this lady safe, whatever her problems are. Whether she’s actually in danger, I don’t know yet. She certainly thinks she is. This week she adopted a Doberman from the animal shelter, and I just found out that she’s gotten a firearms carry permit.”
I laughed. “Let me just recap. She thinks she’s in danger but you think she isn’t. You offer to move her anyway. She refuses. She’s mad that you’re not taking her seriously, and now she has a guard dog, a gun, and an attitude. Maybe we’re soul mates.”
Eric’s frown turned into a scowl. If we were in a cartoon, I think that smoke would have been coming out of his ears.
“It’s a little different for you, Delorean,” Eric said. “You have a track record of being able to deal with threats. She’s new to being on her own, and I’m not sure she’s going to make it.”
“My track record wasn’t so good with Bonnie, was it?”
Eric didn’t say anything.
“If she hadn’t used the remote start on the car, she’d have been killed when the bomb went off,” I said.
“You had no way of knowing that they were still looking for you,” Eric said.
“And still are, I hope.”
“Is that the plan?” Eric said. “Wait for them to come after you again? Go out in a blaze of glory?”
“I’m not suicidal, Eric. I’m practical. It’s inevitable that they’ll try again. I’ll settle the score with them when they do.”
“All by yourself? I hope it works out the way that you want it to,” Eric said.
“Me too, Eric. Look, what do you want me to do about your lady with emotional problems?”
“She lives ten miles from here, in Tillamook. I told her I would hire an independent contractor to watch her for a while. I want you to form your own opinion about whether something isn’t right. If you see something that my team didn’t, tell me and I’ll do something about it. If you don’t find anything tell me that, too.”
“Just to clarify, did you tell her I was going to follow her around? I don’t want to get shot by her by mistake.”
“I told her. She’ll be expecting you.”
“And what will she be expecting?”
“I told her that you’re smart, observant, fearless, and apparently un-killable.”
“All of that and more,” I said.
“She needed to be sold on you,” Eric said. “Do you think I laid it on too thick?”
“I take a licking and keep on ticking,” I said.
“Like a Timex watch,” Eric said.
“Tough as nails,” I said.
“Battle tested,” Eric said. “To be sure.”
“Did you tell her that I have a mask and cape?” I asked. “Yes. I think you laid it on pretty thick. And suppose I do find someone following her?”
“What if there isn’t time for that?”
Eric’s eyes narrowed, and I sensed the tension in him. “Intervene,” he growled. “Then call me after you’ve sorted things out.”
“I can do that,” I said.
He unzipped his coat, pulled a 3 by 5 inch color picture from his shirt pocket, and slid it across the picnic table top.
“This is her,” Eric said. “Emily French. She works at the Cascade Gold Creamery Cafe in the ice cream line.”
The image was of an hourglass-figured blonde in a lemon yellow summer dress. She wore round, mirrored sunglasses and crimson lipstick. In the picture, she reclined on a large green beach towel with sand and water behind her, and was talking to whoever held the camera. Three Arch Rocks was visible in the distant background. The wind had caught her honey blonde hair and pulled it away from her face revealing perfect skin, a soft chin, and a pert nose. Bright smile, straight white teeth. There was a small mole on her left cheek. She looked like Marilyn Monroe’s twin sister.
“I hope they make her wear an apron and a hair net at her job, Eric. She’s pretty memorable. If you’re trying to keep her out of sight, working at a tourist trap isn’t the best choice. Also, I hate to ask this, but has it not occurred to you that she might have attracted a stalker?”
“She took the job at Creamery Cafe over my objections. I wanted her to work in the back room of the post office. And yes, it occurred to me that someone could be following her because of her looks.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll try. Can you tell me any details about why she went into WITSEC? What about her work schedule? Any specific places where she feels like she’s being watched?”
“You know that I can’t tell you why she went into the program. In terms of her schedule, she works the day shift at the creamery, and there really isn’t any one place she feels more like she’s being watched than others. That’s part of the problem. She feels uneasy at home sometimes, in her car sometimes, at work sometimes. The feeling of being watched seems to come and go.”
“Sounds like free-floating anxiety,” I said. “There’s this scary thing out there that you constantly need to be vigilant about.”
“There’s an element of that,” Eric said. “But she doesn’t just feel nervous all the time, she also feels like someone is following her and watching her. That’s different.”
“Paranoia, maybe? What about boyfriends past and present?” I asked. “Anyone she’s broken up with who’s holding a grudge?”
“She says that in the six months she’s been here, she’s only been on a few dates, and didn’t go out on second dates with any of ‘em. A few guys coming through the ice cream line have asked her out or tried to get her to go for coffee, but she turned them down politely. She’s been hit on at the grocery store a few times, but not aggressively. She said that when guys try to chat her up in public she’s been telling them that she’s married, and they’ve accepted it.”
“No. She just says that so they’ll leave her alone.”
“Okay. Do you have her address?”
“On the back of the picture.”
I flipped the picture over and noted the address in Tillamook.
We watched the afterglow of the sunset over the Pacific. I sipped at my beer. Stars appeared and then brightened against the night sky, shining like silver against black velvet. The evening air had cooled and smelled of moss, saltwater, and wood smoke. There was a small fire burning down on the beach. A few people were circled around the campfire, talking and laughing in the darkness.
Eric took a deep breath and then let it out. “Listen,” he said. “There’s something else I wanted to ask you about.”
“I need to talk to you about your parents,” he said.
I felt as if I were on a roller coaster that had just made a sharp turn. My stomach tried to force itself into my throat.
“Why are you bringing that up?” I said.
“You never talk about what happened. I know that you lost them when you were pretty young.”
“That’s true, Eric, but why are you asking about it now?” I said. “We’ve known each other for quite a while.”
“Because I was notified that the Oklahoma City Police are looking for you. Apparently someone doing maintenance on an oil well found a body not far from where your parents were killed.”
I swallowed hard. “And?” I said.
“A credit card found with the body points to someone who was an enforcer for a loan shark at about the same time your parents had the home invasion.”
“Do the police think he was involved?”
“It’s like this, Delorean: they found two pistols in a shallow grave. One was a chrome
I didn’t say anything.
“Any theories about why this guy would be buried in your backyard?” Eric asked.
“No. I don’t have any theories.”
“Right,” Eric said. “It doesn’t make sense to me, either. Based on what little I know, I’m assuming that there were two or more guys in the home invasion crew. Seems like the bad guy and his partners finished at your parent’s house, left with your father’s gun, wandered over to the oil well and had a disagreement, and the leg breaker, who was six and a half feet tall, gets put in the ground. I can’t think of a good reason why it would it happen like that.”
I shrugged. “Who was the leg breaker running with at the time he was killed?”
“Well, Delorean, that’s part of the reason I came to see you,” he said. “Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation says the leg breaker’s boss has since become a big deal in real estate development.”
“Are you going to give me a name?”
“Anthony Peck,” Eric said.
“The guy building the casino?”
“Right. The money behind the new casino going in at Newport.”
“It really is a small world, isn’t it?”
“Seems that way,” Eric said.
“To think that I might actually get closure after all this time.”
“Somebody got partial closure for you a long time ago, Delorean. One of the creeps who hurt your parents ended up in a shallow grave.”
“I guess that’s something,” I said.
“You don’t seem shocked or surprised by what I’m telling you.”
“It was so long ago that it feels like a different lifetime.”
“You know anything about it?” Eric said.
“Like I said, I’m not involving you in my problems any more, Eric, including what happened to my parents. I’ll deal with it.”
The album was between songs. You could hear the whisper of the surf against the shore.
Fullmeyer shook his head and sighed.
“If that’s how you want it, fine. From what I’ve heard, you should stay away from Peck. He’s into a lot of legitimate businesses, but he still has Mafia ties and may be laundering money for them, too. This guy is dangerous and well-connected. You should also know that the detective working the case in Oklahoma City has a reputation for being a very smart guy and a bulldog, too. He wants to interview you about your parents.”
“He wants to interview me before or after I talk to Peck?”
“I just told you to stay away from Peck. Were you not listening?”
“I’ve always liked a challenge, Eric. And you knew before you told me about Peck that I’d want to run him down. Right?”
“I hoped that if I talked to you about it first I could keep you from going off half cocked. Peck isn’t a small town crook anymore, Delorean. He’s an influential guy with senators and congressmen in his back pocket, and he can make trouble for you like you’ve never seen. You’ll probably hear all this from the detective, anyway. His name is Eccles and he’s flying into Portland tonight. He’ll be here in the morning to talk to you.”
“Can’t wait,” I said. “I assume he’ll be talking to Anthony Peck, too.”
Eric shrugged his big shoulders. “I assume so,” he said.
“Eccles better be as good as you say he is,” I said.
“We can only hope,” Eric said.
The moon and the pinpoints of stars lit the ocean with a silver-blue shine. The rhododendron blossoms looked grey in the dim light provided by the Christmas lights hanging over the deck.
Neither of us said anything for a minute or more. The people gathered around the campfire on the beach sang, laughed, and sang some more. Their chorus sounded like a drunken version of Bob Marley’s Jamming.
“Okay,” I said. “What do you want me to do?”
“Let Eccles run this down. If Peck’s connected to what happened to your parents, Eccles will get him.”
“If Peck’s guilty, and Eccles can’t make it stick, I’ll bury Peck on my own.”
“I hear you,” Eric said. “I’m on your side, remember? But you need to keep your head and give Eccles the chance to do his job. In the meantime, help me with the lady, okay? Do something constructive.”
All The Way Back by David Kearns / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 3.8 out of 5 / Based on15 votes