Authors, Writers, Publishers, and Book Readers
The plot thickens. Here is the latest in Crossed Wires.
Carl and Sandy Meet Their Mystery Man
Sandy drove them from Roanoke at a high rate of speed, hitting the I-81. Carl was wishing that he could have been behind the wheel, because he wanted to go faster. His brain itched, his back itched and just about everything else itched too. He was having a very itchy kind of day.
About an hour and a half out, Sandy finally said something. Carl was drowsing, having gotten bored with checking his service piece and his side revolver over and over again with an almost OCD regularity.
“Do what?” he asked, working himself back into wakefulness, reaching for his service piece.
“Down, Boss,” she said. “We need to stop. I gotta go something fierce and I think we could both use a strong cup of something. We should fill the tank, too.”
“Where are we?” he asked.
“Just a couple of miles south out of Staunton. I was figuring we’d pull off and hit the Sheetz there. If these f****** trucks would obey the law, I could make s*** easier.”
Carl thought about the map in his head, the one that this Joe guy had put into it. His shook his head like a big old dog that was trying to ward off bugs.
“Fine with me,” he said. “I could use a beer and dog right about now.”
“I could use a shot of Cuervo and a brain enema, me.”
They finally reached the off ramp that led them to the 250 and went up the hill toward the food and fuel stop. Sandy eased them into a fueling spot and turned off the ignition. They both got out of the government issued Lexus, stood and stretched.
Carl flopped his arms over the vehicle’s canopy, plopped his chin down and stared, unblinking, at Sandy. She was filching around in her wallet, looking almost frantic as she searched for a credit card and then noticed his attention.
“What?!” she snapped. She turned her head toward him with an almost defiant look on her face, her sharp green eyes staring back at his.
“You know, you’re the best partner I’ve ever had,” he said simply. He didn’t know if she was blushing or simply stressed out.
“You are an impossible old goat, Boss,” she said and went back to digging through her stuff.
Carl lifted himself upright—he stood at about six-one when he wasn’t hunching over his belly—and drew his coat over his service piece. Best not disturb the natives, he thought.
Sandy had slid her government Visa, filled the tank, and did like Carl; she pulled a light coat from the back seat, put it on and covered her weapon. No one seemed to notice either one of them.
“I’m going for a beer,” Carl said. “Screw regs. You?”
They walked casually toward the front entrance of the giant fast food/fast gas place.
Sandy looked across the 250 longingly at a Chile’s restaurant. “I wanna go there. Screw regs,” she said, pointing.
Carl chuckled. “Okay; fine by me.”
They turned around, headed back to the car, got in and made the short trek across the road to the Mexican concept.
Once inside, they both made a bee-line to the bar. The clientele noticed nothing unusual about them, other than they seemed an odd pair and better dressed than the average. The bartender, thinking to himself that they must be in sales, greeted them immediately.
Sandy was a very good looking woman, red haired, green eyed and with a strong, taught body that was evident even under her coat. The bartender was all over her.
This didn’t go unnoticed by Carl, but he let it slide.
“Cuervo Gold, double, neat, no fruit,” she said to him, matter-of-factly. Carl almost laughed, thinking about what Sandy would do with this poor kid if he got sideways with her.
“Sir?” he asked, refocusing his attention. Carl noted that something had instinctively told him to throttle down.
“Guinness draft, please. Biggest mug you got. Got any good single malts?”
The bartender was getting edgy and hesitated. Carl thought that was good. He would leave them alone after he served them.
“Scotch, son,” he said, filling in the gap.
“Oh! Yes sir,” he said. “What’s your pleasure?”
“Glenlivet. You got that?”
The kid doesn’t even know what I’m asking for, he figured.
Sandy had done her tequila in one quick toss and was watching her partner torture the poor kid behind the bar out of the corner of her eye.
Finally, the bartender found the bottle and poured two fingers into a snifter for Carl. He set down another shot for Sandy and then backed away and went to tend to other customers, as anticipated.
“We can’t stay here and get f***** up all day, Boss,” said Sandy, finishing her second shot in one gulp.
“Roger that.” He downed his scotch and got up from the bar stool.
“Potty break and hit the road, partner.”
The bartender noticed that when Carl reached for his wallet there were the tell-tales of a weapon holster. Oh,s***, he thought. He’d watched way too many crime shows on television.
Both Carl and Sandy noticed him twitching, looking like he was going to bolt. Both of them then, at nearly the same time, pulled out their I.D’s and Badges and put them flat on the bar; they were acting casually, as if they were paying their tab. Sandy put a finger to her lips, staring the kid down. They scooped them back up and left cash and huge tip.
The bartender would have a story to tell that no one would believe that night, after shift.
Back in the car, Sandy looked over at Carl and started doing her little-girl giggle, which didn’t happen often in Carl’s memory. Carl caught the infection and both of them giggled for a while, as they careened back onto the I-81, heading North at high speed, dodging the endless stream of commercial trucks and cell-phone occupied idiots.
Less than an hour and half later, they saw the sign for Strasburg, even saw the sign for the motel that was flagged indelibly in Carl’s head.
As she pulled onto the off-ramp, Sandy realized her buzz had worn off, as had Carl’s, and this was to both of them either the end-game, the funny farm, or the beginning of something that was beyond anything either of them really wanted to think about.
“Next right,” Carl said.
Sandy complied. She settled into a parking space, just blind-side of the main office, and shut the car down.
Both Sandy and Carl heard him at the same time then.
Hey guys! Glad you could make it!
Sandy leaned toward the steering column and gently banged her head on the wheel a couple of times. Carl fingered his service piece.
C’mon up. I’m in 405. Say hey to Sissy at the front desk. She will be very happy to see that I’m not hallucinating. She might freak when you call her Sissy,though, but she’ll get it.
Carl and Sandy looked at each other hard. Carl took his hand away from his holster.
“Okay,” he said. “Let’s go find out.”
They walked together, as they usually did, side by side. When they got into the lobby of the place, they noted that there was a fairly good looking young lady behind the front desk who looked like her world had suddenly evaporated on her.
Sandy took point. “Sissy?” she asked.
“Oh s***, oh s***, oh s***!” said the young woman, jumping away from her terminal and raising her hands.
Carl came on board, fatherly. “No worries, young miss. We’re FBI.” He carefully extracted his badge and I.D. and showed them to her.
“We’re here to meet somebody who is expecting us,” Sandy said. This is it, she thought.
“He’s a nice guy, really,” she squeaked. “I helped him get cleaned up. Please don’t arrest me!”
Carl smiled. “Nobody’s getting arrested today, sweetheart. We’re here to help your nice guy.”
This seemed to make Sissy a little less hysterical. “He’s in room 405,” she said. “Just take the elevator to the fourth floor and count left.”
“We know,” Sandy said.
They turned away and walked to the elevator. Carl pressed the “up” button and then gave Sandy a look. She was smoothing her jacket and running her hands through her hair, staring at the elevator door. Carl straightened his tie and followed Sandy’s lead, stared at the door.
“Do we know what he even looks like?” Sandy asked, as the door slid open and they stepped in.
“Not a clue,” said Carl, punching the number four button.
“I guess we’re about to find out, yeah?”
The elevator chimed and the door slid open. They were on the fourth floor. Carl stepped out first, Sandy right behind, and looked at the plastic sign that showed the room numbers and to which direction one would have to travel to get to them. As Sissy had said, they had to go left. They did.
The room numbers were in descending order, even numbers to their right, odd numbers to their left. The rooms started descending from 410. Three doors down, on their left, was room 405.
Carl said, “Here we go.” He rapped on the door with one beefy hand and stepped back, instinctively wanting to reach for his weapon but suppressing the urge. Sandy had stepped off to one side of him, again a function of training, and was also fighting the desire to draw.
When the door opened, both Carl and Sandy were taken by complete surprise. The man standing before them was totally unanticipated.
“Man, am I glad you guys are here,” Joe said simply, stepping back and gesturing that they come into the room.
Joe was now clean shaven, with the exception of a wirey, untrimmed mustache. His eyes were blue and, to Carl and Sandy anyway, slightly red and glassy. He wore an obviously well tailored suit, blue-gray with very faint pinstripes, and a baby blue shirt with a perfectly knotted red and blue striped tie. His demeanor suggested that he was very tired—or half drunk, thought Sandy. His light brown hair was somewhat disheveled and perhaps too long for his current attire.
Joe extended his hand to Sandy first. “Joe Allen.”
Sandy reached out and took it. “Special Agent Sandra Brookes,” she said. He shook her hand gently. His palm was sweaty, she noted.
“And you must be Carl,” Joe said, extending his hand to him.
“That’d be me, Joe,” Carl said. For the first time in a very long time, Carl was uncertain on how to proceed. Joe fixed that for him.
“Come on over and sit down. I know I have a lot explaining to do,” he said, almost sheepishly. He gestured to the room’s little common table. Three chairs were arranged around it and on it were three “motel” glasses, two thirds of a bottle of Cuervo Gold and a six pack of Guinness, split between two house ice buckets. Also, there was a cut lemon and a shaker of salt.
“Take off your coats, stay a while,” Joe said. “We’ve got a problem and as I told you, I need your help. More accurately, they need your help.” He made a gesture with his head toward the outside of the motel.
Sandy was flipping out. Carl just stood and stared, his mind gone blank all of sudden.
“C’mon,” Joe said, taking off his jacket and throwing it on the room’s only queen-sized bed. It was made, but it was obvious to Sandy that it hadn’t been made by the house staff.
Joe sat at one of the three chairs, reached over and grabbed the bottle of tequila. He poured to fingers into his cup and two fingers into the cup across from him. He then grabbed a beer, popped it open, and set it in front of the seat that was between him and the other shot of tequila.
“C’mon. Sit. Drink.” He made a fist, licked the top of it and poured salt on it. He licked the salt, doffed the shot, and proceeded to grab a slice of lemon, put it in his mouth. He then poured himself another.
After he removed the lemon wedge from his mouth, he said, “We don’t have a hell of a lot time.”
Sandy got with the program for only one reason, then: the tequila. She shucked her jacket and sat down in front of the shot, picked it up and downed it. She was very hasty in grabbing the bottle and pouring another.
Carl too took off his coat and sat down in front of the proffered beer. He wanted to gulp it down, but instead just took two big swallows. It was just the right temperature and that scared him a little.
“So what’s the rub, Joe? Really.” asked Sandy, downing her second shot and pouring yet another.
Joe reluctantly did her, then. Probably just to show her how sincere he was. There’s this creepy f*** who is killing girls all over the state. That’s the rub, Special Agent Sandy. He wasn’t very gentle with the mind-bang.
Sandy just closed her eyes, feeling like she had just been hit in the head by a t-bar, confused by how strong the mental voice had been.
Carl had caught it too. But since it was focused on Sandy, he wasn’t nearly as disoriented. He said, “Okay, Joe. How about let’s speak out loud for a while. We get it. You have a gift. No issue there. Please.”
Joe hunched over and looked down at his feet. “I’m sorry, Sandy,” he said. “It’s just that what I’ve seen scares the living s*** out of me and I don’t know how to stop it. I called you guys because I need help. It’s gotta stop!”
He started crying then, silent sobs, tears flowing onto his new slacks. “I h-have t-to show you,” he hitched, “but I don’t want y-you to f-feel it. It’s hor-horible.”
Carl then drained his beer in two giant swallows. He reached over and patted Joe on the back. Sandy had recovered somewhat, and reached for the tequila.
They both knew this was going to be a very long day. Week, month, whatever, thought Sandy.
As Joe began to pull himself back together, they all heard the same voice, looked at each other in awe and fear.
You have to get that bad fish out of the pond, children. Be strong. I will help. There are wheels are in motion now.
For the first time in Joe’s life, he was beyond afraid. He had never, ever heard that voice before.