Read [To Die For 01] - A View to Die For (2012) Online

Authors: Richard Houston

Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Adventure - Missouri

[To Die For 01] - A View to Die For (2012)

Chapter 1
Truman, Missouri. May 16, 2011.

LOCAL COUPLE FOUND DEAD

The bodies of a prominent coin dealer and his wife were found at their lakeside home today. John and Margot Fergusons, owners of the Show Me Gold and Pawn in Liberty, Missouri, had recently retired to the lake after Margot had been diagnosed with lymphoma.

In a statement, Sergeant Bennet of the Fremont County Sheriff’s Department said he believes John took his own life after finding his wife had committed suicide. There was, as of this time, no evidence of a break-in.

The envelope was postmarked Truman, Missouri. I would never have bothered to read it had I not been arranging the clutter on my desk. Arranging my clutter and pencil sharpening was my way of getting back to work on my novel. I had thrown the envelope on my desk with the intent of tossing it out with the other junk mail.

I only knew a handful of people in Missouri, and they were all family. They would never send me something like this without a note of some kind and surely, I would think, not without a signature. Whoever sent this didn’t want me to know who they were, but why?

I reread it for the tenth time hoping to unravel some clue as to who sent it. It was a copy of an article from the Truman Lake Sentinel. Because of a line running diagonally across the paper, the copy was hard to read. I had seen similar lines caused by defective laser printers.

The mystery of the anonymous letter soon faded when the phone began to ring. I let the answering machine pick it up; maybe I was old school, but I preferred the outdated device over voice mail. This way I could hear who was calling. This time, it was my neighbor, Bonnie Jones. “Jake, Sweetheart, I hope you don’t mind me calling you so late on a Sunday. It’s my toilet again. Would you be a dear and stop by in the morning to take a look?”

Bonnie is a widow and also one of my best customers. I should have called her back; it really wasn’t that late – seven-thirty according to my kitchen clock – but I knew I would never be able to write another word if I did. She was the kind who could talk for hours about nothing. Then the phone rang again.

“Damn, Fred,” I said to my Golden Retriever. “Doesn’t that woman ever give up?” But this time it was a telemarketing recording, telling me I had won an all-expense paid three-day cruise. All I had to do was call them back and give them a small deposit with my credit card. Well at least, I thought, it wasn’t my mortgage company asking when I was going to catch up my payments.

Ever since being laid off by one of Denver’s largest database development firms several years ago, unplugging toilets and dodging creditors had become an art with me. My software engineering job had been shipped to Bangalore right after the dot-com bust, and a year after that, my wife sent me packing. Natalie kept the big house in Castle Rock; Fred and I moved to our little weekend cabin in Evergreen. Being over forty, I didn’t have a chance of finding another job in my field, so I went into the handyman business. I’m okay with it. Natalie is doing a great job raising our daughter with her new husband, and I finally had the chance to pursue my dream of writing the Great American Novel. Fred, on the other hand, couldn’t care less.

* * *

It was two o’clock in the morning. Just as Bonnie was kissing me on the neck, the phone woke me. The call even woke Fred up. “Damn, don’t they have laws about being harassed in the middle of a dream?” I asked. Fred looked at me with his big brown eyes, the way he always does when I say his name, then started wagging his tail. I let the phone ring the mandatory six times before the answering machine picked up.

“Jacob, where are you when I need you?” My mother was frantic. “Please call me. Your father had another attack, and Megan has been arrested for killing Mike. I don’t have anyone else who can help. I need you here, Jake. Please call.”

Talk about a wakeup call. I pushed the recall button and noticed Mom had called me from her cell phone. She hardly used that phone; she was paranoid of getting brain cancer from it. “Sorry, Mom,” I said when she picked up. “I thought it was another telemarketer. Is Dad okay?”

“His lung collapsed again.” Her voice sounded a lot weaker than it had on my machine. “They flew him to the hospital in Columbia, and I’m on the way there now. They’ll probably stick that tube in his chest this time, and knowing your father, he’ll be back on the lake by the end of the week. It’s your sister I’m worried about. She’ll go crazy in that jail if I don’t get her out soon.”

“Well that explains the cell phone,” I said. “But what is this about Megan killing Mike?”

“Your sister had nothing to do with it,” Mom answered in a much louder voice. “He committed suicide.”

“Killed himself?” I asked. “It wasn’t another overdose was it?”

This time she even woke up Fred, who had gone back to sleep. “You’re as bad as that awful deputy. Everyone assumes she did it just because her last two husbands died. Megan wasn’t anywhere near him when he killed himself.”

“Sorry, Mom. I didn’t mean it that way. I know Megan wouldn’t hurt a cockroach. I meant to ask how Mike died, but let’s change the subject. Who’s driving you to the hospital?” My mother never drove after dark; she had the night vision of an earthworm. “Kevin’s not driving? Is he?”

“No, he’s still out and isn’t answering his phone, and I don’t know how to text him. Why these kids don’t ever want to talk to anyone is beyond me. Why bother having a phone if you can only text with it? Seems to me it’s all going backwards. And for your information, Mister Doubting Thomas, Mike killed himself by driving into Truman Lake; he drowned.”

“So who’s driving you, Mom?”

“Hal. He’s such a dear man. When Amy heard about Megan being arrested, she called to ask if there was anything she could do to help. I wish Megan could have met someone as nice as Hal, instead of Mike. Not that I mean to speak badly of the dead, but her life has been horrible since she married him.”

“Hal? Amy?” I asked. “Who are they, Mom?”

“Megan’s neighbors of course. You met them last time you were here. Didn’t you?” Then she said something to Hal I couldn’t quite hear.

“I guess I must be getting old-timers. Hal said he doesn’t remember meeting you either. In any case, you could learn a lot from Hal. Maybe he could get you on with that pharmaceutical company he works for.”

Lately, my mother’s thoughts could get sidetracked and never return to the main spur if I let her go on. I didn’t bother to remind her about my chances of getting a programming job at my age when all the good jobs had been shipped overseas. “What about Mike, Mom? I can see why they think Megan killed him, but why suicide? How do they know it wasn’t an accident?”

“There you go again. How can you say that about your own sister, Jacob?”

It was obvious that Mother wasn’t going to tell me how Mike met his maker without dragging out dirty laundry in front of a near stranger, so I needed to cut the conversation short and call someone who could fill me in on the enigma. “Sorry, Mom, take care of Dad, and I’ll get there as soon as I can. In the meantime, I can make a few calls. Do you have the number of the sheriff’s office by chance?”

“I need you to put up bail for your sister. I told you, Megan will go crazy in that jail. You could fly out first thing in the morning, and Kevin will pick you up at the airport in Kansas City and take you back to Truman.”

“I can’t fly, Mom; I have to bring Fred. I’ll make some calls in the morning then head on out. I should be there by Tuesday morning.” I was already talking to a dead phone. Either my mother had hung up without waiting for a reply or she was out of range of a cell tower. Knowing her, she had cut it short before the phone gave her a brain tumor. Not that it really mattered. I knew she would want to know why I couldn’t leave at dawn, so I could be there by tomorrow afternoon.

I slept in until after eight the next morning. I could have got up sooner, but I knew, without at least six hours sleep, I would be too tired to drive twelve hours straight. Besides, the trip would cost at least two hundred dollars in my gas guzzling van, and I only had one credit card left that wasn’t at its limit. Before Fred and I could leave, I needed to stop by the bank and cash-out my last CD. Megan would have to wait another day as it would be past midnight by the time I got to Truman. I loved my sister, but I knew another day in jail wouldn’t drive her crazy. If anything, it was the jailers who would need the shrink. The trip to Missouri would have to wait until the bank opened. In the meantime, I decided to take care of my neighbor’s toilet.

“Well aren’t you an early-bird,” Bonnie said when she came to the door. Her revealing robe didn’t catch me off guard this time. I swore she put it on whenever she thought there was an eligible man in the vicinity.

“Morning, Bonnie. Fred and I have to make a trip to Missouri, so I thought I’d better take care of business before I leave.”

“Well then, you better let that big boy out of your van. That’s a long drive you have ahead of you,” she said. I could see the disappointment in her eyes. “When you’re ready, just come on in. I’ll put on some coffee and get decent. You know where the bathroom is.” I went back to my van, and while I searched for my plunger, I let Fred out to do his thing.

Watching Fred run free made me realize I didn’t have it so bad after all. If I still lived in town, my neighbors would be on their phone to animal control before Fred could finish watering their lawns. But Bonnie’s nearest neighbor was half a mile away and out of sight. I wondered if Fred would have this kind of freedom in Missouri.

When I returned to the house, the smell of fried bacon had filled the air. I glimpsed Bonnie in the kitchen as I passed on my way to the bathroom. She was at her stove and either didn’t hear me or was too busy cooking to look up. I quickly went through the ritual of unplugging a toilet that wasn’t stopped up and returned to the kitchen. “Whatever it was must have worked its way through the plumbing already,” I said.

She smiled at me, and then went back to her cooking. “Grab yourself a cup of coffee, Jake. The bacon’s almost done and then I’ll start on the eggs. I’m cooking it just the way you like it. Not too crispy.”

I should have known I couldn’t escape from Bonnie in less than an hour. And by the time I left the bank, the traffic on Interstate Seventy was bumper-to-bumper. It was past noon before I stopped for gas in Limon and made the call, despite the sign at the pump warning not to use any electronic device while operating the pumps, to the Fremont County sheriff’s office,. It was another ten minutes before I got the sheriff on the line. My cell phone started flashing the dreaded low-battery warning when he answered.

I had to wonder just how small of a town Truman was for me to talk directly to the main man. “Your sister will be arraigned this afternoon,” he said after I had explained who I was and why I was calling. “I don’t advise her meeting Judge Simons without a lawyer. He probably won’t set bail unless she has counsel. You also need to call the funeral home. They need to know what to do with the ashes.” Then my phone went dead at the same time the pump quit.

It was one of those gas stations that required cash up front before you could start pumping. I had reached the limit of my sixty dollar deposit. I returned the nozzle to the pump and got back in my van. Fred acted like I’d been gone all day. His tail wagging was shaking the entire van. I was afraid he’d break his tail or slobber all over me as I leaned over to plug my cell into the charger.

We were well past the Colorado-Kansas state line when I tried the cell phone again. I could have used it sooner, but Fred might have objected to the charger’s cord. It was plugged in right by the air-conditioner vent where he had chosen to lay his head. The phone refused to connect. Evidently, I was too far from a cell tower.

I was now beginning to doubt my wisdom of leaving so soon. I could have been more effective from my cabin in Colorado than in a dead-zone stretch of Interstate Seventy. So much for new millennium technology, I thought. The task of finding Meg a lawyer so she wouldn’t have to face the judge alone would have to wait until I got closer to Hays. Fred, in the meantime, started in with his “I’ve got to go now” whimper. Maybe the rest area up ahead had a real phone.

When I drove into the parking lot in front of the restrooms, there was an old pickup truck, with a still older camper, sitting there; its hood was open. When they saw me pull in, a young couple turned their attention from the truck toward me. He had been putting water in the radiator, and the girl, who couldn’t have been more than sixteen, held a baby in her arms. She started toward me before I was even out of my van.

Fred ran for the nearest tree, and he had his leg raised by the time the girl reached the van. “Could you spare a couple dollars for gas, Mister?” she asked.

It was probably another setup. I read somewhere that more and more people found it easier to panhandle than to work. The article said they could make several hundred dollars a day. But then in this economy, who knows. What if the couple really were down on their luck?

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