In the alley behind Black Bettie’s, the thump of the music bled through the brick walls only a little. “Quiet out here,” Hansen said, looking up. “I can see the stars.”
“Well, yeah,” Frank said. “We have fewer resources, so there’s less light pollution. Everything’s relative, Marly.” He sighed. “Tell me about our bomber. Whatever you’ve got. From the beginning.”
“His name is Evan Hand.” She winced at the look of incredulity on Frank’s face. “I know. It can’t be a real name, but it’s what we’ve got. Forensics say he’s got Army training in munitions. He’s thorough and doesn’t leave a lot behind. Gave a warning in Salt Lake before he blew up twelve city blocks, but no one believed he could do it so a thousand people died. In Fargo, he took out seven blocks but only a hundred and twenty-seven died. He targets women and children, families. The warning in Salt Lake was heavy with religious references to the immorality of those he wanted dead.
“He might be tall, blonde and looks about your age, Frank. We’ve got an artists rendition, but nothing else solid.”
“How do you know he’s here?”
“The Feds,” Hansen said. “They called my boss and here I am.”
She handed over a small piece of paper to Frank and looked at the ground. “Frank. About Bettie.”
“Don’t,” he said without taking his eyes off the document in hand. “Just don’t. There’s nothing you can do from Out There that I’m not already doing. You can’t help, and I don’t want you to. Leave it.”
Hansen stepped back and held out her hands defensively. “Sorry. They wanted me to ask. Sorry.”
“Have you considered he might be working for the Feds? It would be convenient for the Wells to be a point of crisis, given the economy.”
“It’s possible, but not my line. I’m here to stop him.”
“What’s the next step? What do they want me to do?”
“Find him. I’m at your disposal,” Hansen said.
“He’ll need resources,” Frank said. “We’ll need to move fast, though. Get me an outside link and some satellite access.”
Tanya was at the bar, sipping seltzer water and pushing some potato chips around the paper plate in front of her. Emma was solo on stage, dancing for a dozen tourists who weren’t drinking. Danny, the bartender, was leaning against the back of the bar. “What’s the matter with you?”
“Not really hungry,” she said. “If I don’t eat now, though, I won’t have a chance later. Probably busy, too.”
“You shake it good enough, help the rubes forget the fire? You’ll be just fine. I’ll feed you if you’re hungry after.” Danny wiped the bar top and walked away leaving Tanya to consider her chips.
“You look forlorn.”
Tanya turned to take in a young man smiling at her. “If that means sad, then yeah, maybe a little,” she said. “But it looks like my day just got a little brighter. Buy a girl a drink?”
“I need to get drinks for my friends over there,” the man said. “We just finished our shift cleaning up the fire scene. Will you be around long?”
“All night, handsome,” she said. She held out her hand. “Tanya.”
“Donovan,” he said. “Pleased to meet you.”
“Who’s the girl?” Hans asked a little sourly.
“Tanya. She seems very nice.” Donovan said, distributing shot glasses around the table. Hans and Bobby had brought along two others: Terry and Dave had been trucking debris in wheelbarrows to various pickup points. The men all raised their glasses. Bobby proposed a toast.
“To Donovan: a fine young man doing good work in a terrible place. Salud.” They drank the shots of whiskey all together and dropped the glasses hard, all then reached for their drinks. “So,” Bobby said. “How’d you end up in a Well, Don?”
Donovan slumped back a little in the booth and twirled the highball of vodka sour in front of him.
“Hey, you don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Dave said.
Frank was pacing the floor of his Spartan apartment, cordless phone to his ear. “Of course I understood you were going to be charging me with something, but murder? Where the hell did that come from, Noah? What about forty-eight hours?” He sat heavily on the couch, looking at the bare desk, the empty walls. He rolled his eyes at what was being said to him, the accusations and implications. Frank held the phone away from his ear and cursed under his breath.
“Jesus Christ. Noah. Noah. Where’s the body, Noah? When did your goons find a body? No, I don’t know where she is. Yes,” Frank said. He put a hand to his forehead. “Yes we had a fight in the club and that’s the last I saw of her. I don’t know where she went, who she’s with or when she’s coming back. Bettie is her own person and she’ll turn up in her own time. You’re way out of line on this one.” He listened to the voice of the chief of police for a long time before simply pushing the talk button and tossing the phone onto the couch.
The apartment wasn’t just empty because Bettie was gone, there was very little to suggest that Frank even still lived there. The fight between the two of them was now legendary among the denizens of the Well. Everyone had a story about it, especially those who couldn’t have been there. When he’d come home later that night, her things were gone.
All those years Out There, working a straight job being a good guy and defending the innocent and weak and he had to come to The Well to find True Love. “Funny old life,” he said out loud. His phone rang and he answered it.
“We can’t find Tanya,” Danny said to Frank. “She’s not in her room, she didn’t check out. No one’s seen her for an hour.” The bartender looked worried. “Cameras didn’t see her go out, either. She’s just gone, Frank. Gone.”
“She have any customers tonight? Anyone you saw with her?”
“There was a guy I’ve never seen in here before, but he was harmless. Sweet to her.”
“What’d he look like? Tall or short? Dark or fair? Young or old?”
“Young guy, kinda tall, sort of dirty blond hair.” Danny’s eyes got wide. “Thin sort of guy, wiry, I’d say. Bought a couple of rounds for his buddies. Hans and Bobby and Dave and Terry were here with him. I can probably find him on the cameras now.”
“Do that,” Frank said. “Any of the other guys still here? Dave’s been around a lot lately.”
“Yeah, he’s up with Caroline now.”
“Check the tape, Danny,” Frank said walking towards the stairs. “Get me a picture of the guy.”
Three quick knocks followed by two long raps announced Frank’s entry into Caroline’s room. He counted five before keying his administrator code into the door lock and entering the room. Dave was dressing frantically, a stark contrast to the languid, sanguine Caroline as she smoked a cigarette, barely covered by the sheets on the little bed. “Hey, Boss,” she said.
“Caroline,” he said. “Sorry to just burst in, but I need a word with Dave here.”
The man was stuffing his shirttail into the back of his pants and trying to slip on his work boots at the same time, embarrassed despite being confined to the Well for his own sexual proclivities. “What --- what can I --- what do you want?” he said. “I mean, sorry. I don’t know what business you and I would have, Frank. Bettie’s is great, Caroline was great. Great place.” His eyes darted toward the door.
“Who’s your new friend in here with you tonight, Dave? The young guy.”
“Don? Dunno,” Dave said. “Just met him on the cleanup at the Miller building. Seems like a nice kid.”
“Don what? What’s his name? Where would he have taken Tanya?”
“I don’t know, Frank. I just met him today.”
Frank growled, waved his hand in futility and left, heading towards Tanya’s room. “She’s been using Selma’s, Frank,” another dancer said as she passed him in the hall. “She wanted to be on the first floor and was waiting for you to decide.”
“Shit, right,” Frank said. “Thanks, Emma.” He went into the room anyway. Inside it was neat but the furniture was dusty. Obvious that it hadn’t been occupied in a couple of weeks. Frank began surveying, his not-yet decrepit detective skills stretching like a lazy cat. Around the far side of the bed, the beige carpet was slightly disturbed, as though something heavy had been slid over it. Frank got down to one knee.
Lifting the bed skirt he smelled almonds. “Please don’t let it be a bomb.” Then he saw wires, lights and the off-white, rectangular blocks of C-4. More than he’d ever seen in his life.
©2010 By Jason Arnett.
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