“Let’s take a look,” Johnson said, as Lang and Cain made their way back to their own cabin.
Katy led Virgil and Johnson back to the house, trailed by her father, who kept saying to Virgil, “We really appreciate this, but you don’t have to do it.”
Virgil agreed, but shook his head and said, “It’s okay.”
He asked Katy when she’d last seen the money.
“Day before last. I got ten dollars off the golf course and stuck it in there.”
The Wallers had six children, four girls and two boys. Their house, made of two cabins joined together, had three small bedrooms for the six kids, and one shared bathroom for all six. Virgil guessed those rooms and half of a long living area had been one cabin, while the dining room, kitchen, master bedroom, and another bath had probably originally been in another cabin with a common wall.
On their way to Katy’s bedroom, Jim Waller explained to his wife that Virgil was a cop. To that she started saying, “Oh, geez,” and didn’t stop until Virgil was inside the girls’ room. The bedroom had two beds, a wooden chair, and a chest of drawers, with a window that looked out the back of the cabin toward a line of trees that hid the trout stream.
Virgil, Johnson, Katy, and her parents all crowded into the bedroom and Katy pointed at the bottom drawer of the chest. It contained a couple of flannel nightgowns, winter wear, some shirts, a couple of belts, and a dozen pairs of socks rolled into balls. Three pairs of white athletic socks had been unrolled. Two pair were lying on top of other clothing in the drawer and one pair was lying on the floor.
“I put the money in a pair of white socks. That’s where I always keep it,” Katy said. “It’s gone. It’s mostly in one- and five-dollar bills, so it makes a big lump. I couldn’t believe it when it was gone. I checked all the socks, even the black ones.”
Virgil dug around in the drawer for a moment, then turned and asked Ann Waller, who was watching from the doorway, “Could you get me a little wad of toilet paper?”
“You find something?” Katy asked.
He was kneeling by the chest, and a moment later, Ann Waller reached over and handed him the toilet paper. He touched his tongue to it, then dabbed at the side of the drawer.
He asked Katy, “When you were digging around in here, did you cut yourself? Cut your hands?”
She examined her hands, front and back. “No, I didn’t. Why?”
He held up the toilet paper. “There’re some spots of blood in the drawer, and it’s fairly fresh.” He then approached the window and saw that it was unlocked. “You lock this?”
“All the time, when it’s down. It’s always down, unless it’s a really hot night, but then, we’re always here when it’s up, me’n my sister, Liz. The screen’s always hooked, though, all the time. It should have been locked.”
He pushed the window fully open and checked the nylon screen, which had a hook lock at the bottom. The hook was undone and when he pressed his finger against the screen, he found a slit right along the bottom of it.
“The screen’s been cut, to get at the hook,” he said.
Jim Waller was astonished. “Son of a bitch. Somebody broke in? That doesn’t happen around here.”
Virgil said, “You really need to report this.”
Jim Waller said, “To who? Katy’s right about the deputy. Couldn’t you do something?”
“Out of my jurisdiction by about two states,” he said. “But I’ll tell you what. How about if Jim and Ann come and sit on my porch for a few minutes. And then Katy, separately. To talk. Johnson can wait in the bar.”
Back on the cabin porch, Virgil said to the Wallers, “I don’t want to embarrass anybody, but with this kind of thing the money is usually taken by somebody in the family. Do you think somebody in the family, maybe one of the kids, might have borrowed it?”
The Wallers looked at each other and then Jim Waller blurted, “No way.”
Ann said, “We don’t have much money, but we’ve been harder up than we are now. Katy was saving that money for school clothes and makeup and things. She’s getting to be that age. We wouldn’t take it.” A lean woman with springy blond hair and big eyes, she was nearly a foot shorter than her husband. She looked tough. Tanned, a little weathered, not an ounce of fat on her. She stood in front of him, arms folded under her breasts, faded blue work shirt tucked into equally faded jeans.
“What about one of the other kids?”
They both shook their heads.
“Never,” Ann said. “We go to church and the kids never miss Sunday school. Even little Nate knows his bible.”
Virgil doubted a three-year-old could quote much out of Proverbs or St. Mark, but kept his opinion to himself. He also did not mention that the church might frown on a fifteen-year-old serving alcohol.
He was told that the four daughters were “good girls” and the only one who’d ever given them any trouble was Katy, the oldest. Liz, Ellie, and Lauren were model children, did well in school, obeyed their parents. As to the boys, eight-year-old Jimmy was “a bit of a handful” but Nate, the baby, near perfect. In fact, that boy had slept through the night at two months and to this day rarely cried.
They talked for a few more minutes, but the Wallers were adamant.
Nobody in the family took the money.
Jim and Ann wanted to stay and listen to Virgil talk with Katy, but Virgil insisted that he speak to their daughter alone, and unhappily they shepherded the rest of their brood inside and closed the door. The girl was still angry as she settled into the chair across from him on the porch, one thin leg bouncing in agitation, rain still drizzling from the sky and gurgling in the leaky gutters.
“Here’s where we have the problem, Katy,” Virgil said, leaning forward, elbows on his knees. “Somebody cut the screen, which means he or she probably entered the room from outside the house. But you say the window is always locked, and it’s not broken, which means somebody from the inside had to unlock the window. Why would somebody cut that screen to push the screen hook out, if he or she could open the window from the inside? It doesn’t make any sense. So here’s my question, do you know if somebody was in your bedroom, who might have unlocked the window without your knowing it, and who then might have come back some other time and cut the screen to get in? Maybe while you were tending bar last night?”
Her eyes went sideways, a hand went to her throat. “Oh, no.” She was slowly shaking her head, almost as if she were trying to convince herself.
“That’s probably the person who took it,” Virgil said. “Who was it? A friend?”
She didn’t say anything for a long time, then, “You can’t tell my dad or he’ll kill me. I mean it. Besides, nothing happened. But he won’t believe it.”
She hesitated, then sighed and looked away.
The night before, she said, the rest of the family had gone into town to shop. A boy who lived up the road had come over and they’d sat in her bedroom to talk.
“Like I said, nothing really happened. We were just hanging out.”
She was looking at Virgil directly, nodding, her blond curls bobbing around her face. She seemed earnest.
“I believe you.” But he wasn’t sure. “Do you want to go talk to this kid?”
She nodded again. “Like I said, nothing happened. He’s cute, and we’re friendly, but that’s all.” She must’ve sensed Virgil’s doubts, because she added, “Really. But if he took my money—” Her lips pursed and her eyes narrowed as she considered what she’d do to the thief. “I just want my six hundred dollars back. That’s all.”
The kid’s name was Phillip Weeks, a sixteen-year-old who lived with his father in a mobile home a half mile up the dead-end road that passed the WJ Ranch.
“The place is owned by a rich guy named Drake from Butte, and Phil and his dad are caretakers,” she said. “I don’t go up there because his father creeps me out. Kinda scares me, ya know? I thi
“The old man’s name?”
“Bart Weeks.” She gave a little shudder.
He hoped she wasn’t right, but her instincts were probably dead-on. “Let’s go talk to your dad and tell him what we figured out. See what he wants to do.”
“Don’t mention that Phil was inside. Liz doesn’t even know. No one does. No one can. If Mom and Dad found out, they’d freak. So just say that we figured it out.”
“I got it.”
Inside the house, the older boy was wrapped up with Legos in his bedroom, the baby asleep, and Virgil caught a glimpse of Liz, one of Katy’s younger sisters hovering near the doorway, pretending to read a book, but probably eavesdropping. Ann braced herself against a counter that separated the kitchen from the dining area and Jim sat in a recliner angled to an oversized but bubble-faced TV tuned into a muted baseball game. Virgil and Katy explained what they thought happened. Without admitting that Phillip had ever been in Katy’s room. The parents bought the story without too many questions, so Virgil didn’t have to lie.
“Never liked that guy,” Jim Waller said, flipping down the footrest of the recliner and getting to his feet. He eyed his oldest daughter and shook a finger at her, “If I ever see that kid around here . . .” He let the sentence trail off, but by the looks of it, Katy got the message just about the time Johnson showed up.
What Jim and Ann Waller wanted Virgil and Johnson to do was to go up the road and confront Bart Weeks, the father of Phillip.
Virgil said, “I’m not a cop here in Montana, I’m just a guy. A guy who’s up here to fish.”
“But you’re a police officer,” Ann Waller said, glancing nervously at her husband. “Wouldn’t someone with authority scare him? Make him tell the truth?”
“It’s not like it looks like on TV. People just don’t open up to cops because they flash a badge.”
“Jim and I, we’re not good at confrontation.”
“We aren’t?” her husband asked, perplexed. Scratching at his beard stubble, he glared at his wife, and Virgil noticed their younger daughter, Liz, shrink farther into the shadows.
“We have a business to run,” Ann reminded him. “Neighbors to get along with.”
“Hell, we’re great at confrontation,” Johnson said with a wide grin. “We’ll be glad to do it.”
“We will?” Virgil asked.
“Absolutely. C’mon, it’s raining, we got nothing to do. Don’t be a pussy.” Johnson glanced at Ann and Katy and said, “Sorry about the language there.”
VIRGIL DIDN’T WANT TO DO it. “That’s why I go fishing, so I don’t have to do this shit,” he told Johnson as they trudged back to the cabin to get their rain suits. The drizzle had increased, puddles widening in the sparse gravel yard, the big Montana sky opening up. “I don’t appreciate you signing me up for this shit.”
“But we’re helping out a hardworking girl,” Johnson said. “I don’t understand how you could even think of saying no.”
“Fine.” But Virgil was still burned.
When they got out to Johnson’s Escalade, Katy, now in a rain jacket herself, was leaning against the rear passenger-side door.
“I’m going,” she said.
There was some talk about that, but she went, because she said if they didn’t take her, she’d walk, and making her walk in the rain would be mean.
The Drake place consisted of a two-story log cabin that sat on a high rocky bank over the trout stream. A hundred-yard-long pool backed up into a natural stone dam. There were two outbuildings. A machine shed, in which they could see the back of a BMW truck and an older Jeep, and another square log building that might be a guesthouse. A huge silvery RV was parked on a gravel spur off the house and a wrist-thick black electric cable snaked from the house to the RV.
“Nice place,” Johnson said, nodding his approval.
“Yeah, he’s rich, Drake is,” Katy said. “The Weekses live right at the end of the road, a little farther.”
They drove on and found the Weeks place, a broken-down single-wide mobile home set up on concrete blocks, well back in a notch in the woods. A stream of smoke seeped out of a can-size chimney on top. Virgil pulled in, and they all got out. He led the way up to the front door, climbing the graying stoop while Johnson and Katy waited below, and rapped on the door.
He heard feet cross the floor inside, and then a man yanked the door open, peered out, saw Johnson and Katy behind him, looked back at Virgil and asked, “Who are you?”
Weeks was a tall, thin man, with ropy muscles in his arms and neck, big battered hands, and small suspicious blue eyes.
“I’m with the MBCA,” Virgil said.
“What the hell is that?”
“The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.”
And Virgil gave him a look at his badge.
The man’s eyes narrowed. “Y’re a long way from home.”
He ignored that and said, “Katy Waller here lives and works down at the Wallers’ ranch.” He turned and motioned at Katy. “Somebody stole more than six hundred dollars from her chest of drawers, probably last night. We’re hoping that Phillip Weeks could help us figure out who took it.”
“Can’t help you,” Weeks said. “Little asshole ran off last night, said he ain’t coming back, took his clothes and he’s outta here. And he ain’t coming back. He shows up here again, I’ll kick his ass and throw him right back out. Time he was workin’ on his own anyway.”
At sixteen. Sure.
Weeks started to close the door, but Virgil said, “Do you know if he took the money?”
“Shit. I don’t know about any money,” Weeks said. “I didn’t take it, and I told you, he’s gone. Now get off my fuckin’ porch.”
“Do you know where he might be headed?”
“I don’t know and I don’t give a shit.”
A Montana cop might have had more to say about that, but Virgil didn’t, because he wasn’t one. Weeks slammed the door and Virgil backed down the steps and said to Katy, “I think I believe him. I don’t have any resources here to try to track the kid. If he really took off with that money, he could be on a Greyhound halfway to California or Seattle by now.”
“Goddarnit,” she groaned. “I was gonna buy clothes.”
“On the way out,” Virgil told Johnson, “let’s stop at the Drake place. I’ll ask if anybody talked to Phillip before he left.”
Back down the short road Johnson pulled in behind the RV, gave a low whistle, and said, “A Rosestone recreational vehicle. Never seen one in the flesh, but I thought about buying one of ’em. Those are the Cadillacs of RVs.”
“But you’ve got the Cadillac of Cadillacs, why would you want the Cadillac of something else?”
“Think of where you could go with that thing,” Johnson said, eyeing the big rig, practically salivating.
“No place too far from an interstate highway or a gas station,” Virgil said. “Almost as close to nature as Grand Central Station.”
Virgil and Katy walked up to the door of the cabin, while Johnson made his way slowly around the RV, giving it a closer look, running his fingers over the smooth finish. Virgil knocked, and a minute later, a youngish, soft-faced man opened the door, looked out, and asked politely, “Can I help you?”
“I’m looking for Mr. Drake.”
“I’m Michael Drake.”
He was an inch or so over average height, slender, and older than he looked at first impression. Somewhere around forty-five, he was wearing black slacks with pleats, a black dress shirt, and tasseled black loafers. An expensive-looking watch circled one wrist, a turquoise bracelet on the other.
Virgil told him about the missing money and looking for Phillip Weeks, and halfway through the explanation, Drake started shaking his head. “I haven’t
Drake hitched his chin in the direction of the mobile home.
“Yeah, not a lot of help. He thinks Phillip might be off looking for a job.”
There was a fuss out at the RV. A small, round woman in jeans and a sweater had come to the back door. Her short, dishwater hair was spiked and she wore half glasses. Her eyes, over the lenses,
MatchUp by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on40 votes