Heroes, p.17
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       Heroes, p.17

           Leigh Barker
 
The bank staff were the only people in the bar now the booze was off the menu. They’d naturally split up into gender groups and Elmore sat at the table in the middle of the female grouping. They stopped talking and watched him raise his marshal’s badge and let them take a peek. Then he took out a notebook and a pencil. As one they looked at it then back up at him like he was an alien.

  Elmore touched the pencil to his tongue and suppressed a smile. “Which one of you is the manager?”

  They looked past him, but he just waited, his eyebrows raised in question.

  “I am the manager.” The speaker walked around the table and stood over his staff protectively, or threateningly. It was hard to tell. The man was tall and slightly bent, had practically no skin on his bones, and spoke through his hooked nose.

  Elmore didn’t make any judgement or comparison. Except in his head. Calling someone a vulture could be offensive in some cultures.

  “Thought you were,” he said, and stood up.

  He was a good three inches shorter than the bent guy.

  “Let’s take a seat over there.” He pointed at a table next to the bar.

  The bartender was a man who liked his own product and had trouble leaning on the bar in what he supposed was a casual way.

  Elmore sat and waited for the manager to wind his body into the polished wooden chair, then looked hard at the bartender until he got the hint and went off to polish glasses with a dirty towel.

  The manager watched Elmore open his spiral notebook and touch the pencil stub to his tongue again.

  “Are you really going to take notes with a…pencil?”

  Elmore lifted the pencil to eye level and examined it. “Could use a tape recorder.”

  “A tape recorder?” The manager squeezed his eyes shut for a second. “You do know they’ve invented digital recorders?”

  Elmore shrugged. “Read about them. Electronics go wrong. Information gets erased. Or changed.” He wrote the date and time in his notebook. “That bit of information will be there for ever.”

  The manager sighed a long tired sigh. “Can we get this over with? I want to get home to my wife.”

  “You took your staff out for dinner. Your wife is expecting you home early?”

  The manager licked his lips. “No. Of course not. It’s just been a terrible shock for me.”

  “Not as much as it was for the guard.”

  “Poor man. Is he going to be okay?”

  “If he isn’t, then this arson just became a murder investigation.”

  The manager gave a little start and took a quick breath. “My god, is he dead?”

  “He wasn’t last time I asked.”

  “Then what are you talking about?”

  “Just saying how it would be if it wasn’t how it is,” Elmore said, and returned to writing in his book.

  The manager watched the pencil and tried to read the scribble upside down. He wouldn’t have been able to read it right way up.

  “Who’d want to burn your bank?” Elmore said, and looked the man in the eyes.

  “How would I know?” He sounded a bit irritable. “Isn’t that what you’re supposed to find out?”

  “Oh,” Elmore said, “I forgot to ask your name.” He gave him a quick smile. “For the notebook.”

  “Trenton P. Russell.”

  “What’s the P for?”

  “Why? What possible importance can that have?”

  “Well, if I write P in my book, guess what’s the first thing my boss is going to say when he sees it.”

  “Oh, for heaven’s sake. Percival. My name is Trenton Percival Russell.”

  Elmore wrote it in his book.

  Russell drummed his long thin fingers on the round table.

  “Disgruntled employee?” Elmore said, looking up at last.

  “Who is?”

  “You tell me.”

  “Tell you? You think this is the work of a disgruntled employee?”

  “I don’t know what I think. Yet. I bet you have disgruntled employees. You strike me as a man who is capable of disgruntling employees.”

  “What are you implying?” He started to stand.

  Elmore waved him back down. “I think we might have gotten off on the wrong foot.” He smiled. “Let’s do over.” He touched his pencil to his tongue. “Now, Trenton.” He raised his eyebrows. “I can call you Trenton, can’t I?”

  “What? Yes. Of course. Call me whatever you like.”

  Elmore smiled again. They were bonding.

  “Thank you, Trenton. Now let’s get back to the fire. Have you had cause to discipline anyone recently? Fire somebody?” He raised a hand. “Excuse the pun there.”

  “No, nobody. I run a very happy bank.”

  Elmore let that go. “Nobody caught with his or her hand in the till?”

  Russell sat back as if he’d been slapped. “What are you saying? You think one of my people started the fire to cover up a theft?”

  Elmore gave him a moment. “Or to cover up a bit of creative bookkeeping.”

  “How dare you.”

  “Been known.”

  “Not in my bank, it hasn’t. Don’t you think you’d be better doing your proper job? Instead of sitting here insinuating that one of my people is an embezzler and an arsonist.”

  “So who did you let go?”

  “What? I told you, I haven’t let anyone go.”

  “Yes, you did. And I wrote it down.” He looked the man in the eyes, all hint of a smile gone now. “So I’ll be able to remind you of it later.”

  Russell’s tongue tip worked its way around his lips, top to bottom.

  “I could cross it out,” Elmore said. “Now. Can’t be done later.”

  Russell looked back over his shoulder, either to see if he was overheard or for help. “Well, there was one instance.”

  “Easy to overlook one instance.” Elmore crossed out a line on his notebook.

  “It’s delicate.”

  “I’m the epitome of discretion.”

  “We had to ask Derek to find another position.” He looked around. “Nobody knows this, of course.”

  “Of course.”

  “He is the CEO’s son.” He looked around again. “Gambling problem, I’m afraid.”

  “What, his pops?”

  “No, not the CEO. His son. Derek Hamilton.” The long sigh came out again. “Isn’t there someone else who could conduct these interviews? You seem—”

  “Not really,” Elmore said. “They’re all out there. Doing a proper job.” He wrote in his notebook. “Derek Hamilton? What about his pop?”

  “It was his idea.”

  “Boy’s going to be a bit pissed, then.”

  “Not enough to blow up the bank.”

  “You’d be surprised what people do. Anybody else?” He pointed his pencil at the rest of the staff in their little tribal groups. “Think now, because I’m going to ask each of them the same question.”

  “No, no one. Just Derek.”

  “You got an assistant manager?”

  “Yes, of course.”

  “Send him over.”

  “He’s a she.”

  Elmore shrugged. It was going to be a long night.

  A middle-aged woman in a thick suit strode across the barroom and stood over him. She looked angry, although he guessed that was her regular look. She also looked like she was chewing a wasp. Asking her for a date probably wasn’t on the cards.

  “Sit down, please, miss,” Elmore said.

  “It’s Mrs.”

  He knew that.

  “Mrs. Ingrid Chappell, if you must know.”

  Elmore wrote it in his notebook. “Only for my notes.” He looked up and tried not to flinch as her eyes beat him up. “In case it’s needed in the trial.”

  She gasped. He’d always wondered if people actually gasped, and now he knew. Inflated people do when the air is knocked out of them.

  “A trial?” She put her hand on the back of the chair she was supposed to be sitting in. “W
hy should there be a trial?”

  “Somebody blew up the bank,” Elmore said. “Sit down and I’ll tell you all about it.”

  She looked at the chair as if it were an instrument of torture.

  Elmore’s cell buzzed in his pocket and he realized he was mightily relieved. Facing down a nut with a twelve-gauge was easier than this.

  He put the cell to his ear without speaking, listened for a moment, then dropped it back in his pocket.

  “You’re going?” Mrs. Ingrid Chappell said, sounding like his fifth-grade teacher asking where his gym kit was.

  “It’s my mom, I’m late for dinner.” Elmore pushed the chair back and left before the fierce woman could think of a cutting comment.

  “What about the rest of us?” the manager said as Elmore increased his pace towards the door.

  “You were having a party. Party on.” He skipped the dude part, but it was in his head.

  Riley got up from the man-group table and caught up with him as he left the bar.

  “FSU have finished their sweep,” she said, matching his stride towards the SUV.

  “I know, I got a call from the lab.”

  “Already?”

  “It’s midnight. I can call Lindsey and tell her to stall until morning if you like.”

  “Who’s Lindsey?” She raised a hand. “No, don’t bother. Some dumb blonde with the hots for you, no doubt.”

  Elmore didn’t answer.

  “I’ll drive,” he said.

  “No, you won’t,” Riley said quickly. “I’ve heard about your driving.”

  Elmore was already in the passenger seat, where he’d intended sitting all along.

  Riley slid in behind the wheel and fastened her seatbelt. A sensible move the way she drove. “We going to talk to the CEO’s boy?”

  “You got that too?”

  “Of course, everybody knows about it.”

  “I figured. Waste of time, but yeah, tomorrow.”

  “Why is it a waste of time? He’s a prime suspect.”

  “You’re the CEO’s son and you’ll get everything when he goes to the great vault in the sky. Are you gonna blow it up? Even if you are a bit pissed?” He shook his head. “Money trumps malice every time.”

  “He’ll have to be eliminated.”

  “I’m betting his pop would pay you to do that.”

  “That’s not what I mean.” She started the motor and looked to her left so he wouldn’t see her smile.

 
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