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Opis ebooka Angels & Imperfections - Daniel Roland Banks

When private detective John Wesley Tucker is hired to do a routine background check for an aspiring politician, he finds himself stalked by evil. East Texas is not the center of the known universe, and Tyler isn’t a major metropolis, but people are people wherever you find them. In his service to others, Tucker follows the strange clues of a deranged man while seeking to find kidnapped children, and bring home a teenage girl lost to the mean streets of Dallas. The target of a professional assassin, he and those around him are drawn into a trap from which few will walk away.Who will live and who will die?John Wesley Tucker is neither an ordinary detective nor an ordinary man. There is more about Tucker than meets the eye, but is he even human?Angels & Imperfections is a detective mystery, a thriller, and an exploration of current conflicting ideas and beliefs. A book filled with action, intrigue and a distinctly spiritual twist, offering a unique cultural point of view rarely depicted.

Opinie o ebooku Angels & Imperfections - Daniel Roland Banks

Fragment ebooka Angels & Imperfections - Daniel Roland Banks

ANGELS & IMPERFECTIONS

Daniel Roland Banks

PRONOUN

Thank you for reading. If you enjoy this book, please leave a review or connect with the author.

All rights reserved. Aside from brief quotations for media coverage and reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced or distributed in any form without the author’s permission. Thank you for supporting authors and a diverse, creative culture by purchasing this book and complying with copyright laws.

Copyright © 2017 by Daniel Roland Banks

Interior design by Pronoun

Distribution by Pronoun

ISBN: 9781311939210

TABLE OF CONTENTS

ANGELS & IMPERFECTIONS

Foreword

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Epilogue

Acknowledgements

SPECIAL AGENT

NON-FICTION

About the Author

A note from the author

ANGELS & IMPERFECTIONS

Book One

By Daniel Roland Banks

This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are a work of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance or reference to any actual locales, events or persons, living or dead is entirely fictional.

COPYRIGHT © 2012

DANIEL ROLAND BANKS

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

No portion of this book may be reproduced in any manner without the author’s written consent.

Cover design by Dan Arnold

Photo credit © Dan Arnold

This book is dedicated to Lenora Clyde, My faithful friend, fan, and the best mother-in-law in the world. I miss you so. And to Jake Arnold, Bart Arnold, Kelsey and Brett Collar, Rachel Tullos, Ellenor and Mike Welch, Kathleen and Dave Golden, Bill Clyde (who has no use for books and never read a page), and Al and Andrea Kennemer, who have loved and encouraged me in the process.

And Lora,

my seldom complaining wife and travelling companion, as I’ve been exploring this literary road in an unreliable vehicle without a compass or GPS. She pretends not to notice me trying to draw the map, only after I’ve made all the wrong turns

www.danielbanks-books.com.

FOREWORD

“All we like sheep have gone astray.”

SHEEP ARE AMONG THE most naturally helpless inhabitants of this planet. Sheep are poorly equipped for either self-defence or rapid flight. When they are attacked, startled or frightened they tend to scatter. Predators love helpless and harmless prey.

The most dangerous predators seek the lost sheep, not to harm them physically, but to herd them into darkness. Once in the darkness, the sheep are blind. Because lost sheep are blind, they will follow the whispered and gentle direction of any voice they feel comfortable with. The wolves entice them with pleasant and reasonable voices.

A smart predator gives the sheep just enough light, to follow the only path they can see, but not enough light to see the end of that path, or to see the traps and pitfalls along the way. Other wolves will suggest the sheep are evolving into more enlightened beings; becoming more intelligent, perfect and godlike. Some will persuade the sheep there is no God, telling them that life is random and has no meaning whatsoever.

Since the dawn of time, the wolves have been determined to slaughter as many sheep as possible.

The Shepherds are appointed to stand between the sheep and the wolves.

CHAPTER 1

WHEN I FINALLY STUMBLED home at midnight, my next door neighbour, Molly McGovern’s lights were on. After the day I’d just lived through, I was in no mood to put up with a lot of loud music, raucous laughter or any other form of inconsiderate behavior.

Like all people everywhere, Molly, was a flawed human being. That was no reason to abuse her. She was a drunk, sure, but that didn’t mean her boyfriend had a license to use her as a punching bag.

As I climbed into bed I was only vaguely aware of my neighbors. I was awakened from a sound sleep by the noise of the beating. Through the wall of my apartment, I could hear the violence escalating.

I pulled on some pants and a T-shirt and went out on the landing, barefooted.

I hesitated a moment before knocking.

Maybe I should just call the police again. They would show up in ten or twenty minutes. They might arrest Alphonsio Patterson again, but Molly probably wouldn’t press charges, and he’d just go free…again. We’d all play the same scenario out again and again, just like we’d been doing for the last seven and a half months. Eventually, he would either kill her, leave her for another punching bag, or maybe Molly would kill him in his sleep. The restraining order wasn’t doing anybody any good.

I pounded on the door.

A moment later, Alphonsio jerked it open. From the surprised look on his face I could tell he had been expecting the cops. When he recognized me, he went from startled to belligerent.

“What the F*** you want?”

“I was just wondering if I could borrow a cup of sugar.”

“What? Hey, get the F*** outta here,” he said, as I brushed past him into the living room.

“Can Molly come out and play?” I asked.

“You one crazy mothaf*****! I’m gonna **** you up.”

I was aware Alphonsio had limited communication skills. Evidently this was due to a language barrier, based on his inability to express himself in words he had learned in school.

I ignored him and went into the bedroom. The door was open.

Molly was slumped in the corner, behind the bed. She was wearing green plaid pajama bottoms and a white tank top. The white tank top was slowly turning crimson, from the blood flowing out of Molly’s broken nose and split lips. I went to her and found her semi-conscious and breathing. The once beautiful blonde woman was drunk and badly beaten.

“Get the f*** away from my girlfriend, mothaf*****!”

I stood up. “No, Al, my name is Tucker. I’m John Wesley Tucker.”

Alphonsio was about my size, maybe a little taller. He was very fit, I could tell because he had no shirt on. He had several tattoos. Judging by the subject matter, poor quality of most of the artwork and my familiarity with his history, some of them were undoubtedly prison tats. He was wearing oversized blue jean cargo pants that were sagging down, exposing his boxer shorts. He had on a ball cap, sideways-one of those with a flat brim. I knew he was in his late twenties. Molly was thirty two. They were both a bit younger than me, but then again, almost everyone is a bit younger than me.

I walked back into Molly’s living room, in the apartment she paid the rent on.

“Alphonsio, I guess I’m going to have to call the police and an ambulance…again. Let me use your cell phone.”

“What you say? Hell no. Get the F*** outta here.”

I hit him, very hard and very fast. I hit him with the open heel of my right hand. I don’t like to use my knuckles. The strike shattered his nose. I kicked him in the crotch, and followed it up with a left elbow strike, knocking him to the floor. He started to collect himself immediately, so I kicked him again. His head bounced off the corner of the breakfast bar and laid him out, stone cold. He looked to still be alive, and since he was lying face down, I knew he wouldn’t drown in his own blood, from the broken nose.

I went over to a lamp that was lying on the floor, where it had been knocked over in his previous assault on Molly, and stripped the cord off. I used the cord to tie his hands behind his back.

Now I had a little time to think about what I should do next.

Molly needed medical attention. I would call for an ambulance, shortly.

First, I had to determine what to do with old Al.

The only thing I knew for sure was I didn’t want him to ever touch Molly again.

It was nearly two in the morning, and nobody was moving outside. My apartment was second to the last, on the second story of the building. Molly’s apartment was the last one, on the end, at the top of a staircase. I wanted to throw Alphonsio over the railing, and see if he survived the landing in the parking lot.

Maybe he would bounce.

I reminded myself he was some mother’s little boy, her pride and joy. He was probably somebody’s father. Maybe there was more than one child who could call him daddy. Above any other consideration, he was made in the image of God.

It only took me a couple of minutes of searching to find his dope stash. I knew he would have hidden it pretty quickly, when he thought the cops were at the door. I put it in his back pants pocket, sort of hanging out, where it could be seen, like his underwear. Then, I pulled out my cell phone and dialed 911.

I had just given the address to the dispatcher, when Alphonsio woke up, so I hung up the phone. He and I needed to chat before the police and the ambulance arrived on the scene.

I ducked into the kitchen and procured Molly’s biggest cast iron frying pan.

Alphonsio had managed to sit up with his back against the breakfast bar, his legs bent in front of him.

He started to strain against the lamp cord, and tried to get up.

“Stop it,” I said, brandishing the frying pan.

He quit squirming and glared at me. He looked kind of foolish, with the lower half of his face all bloody, like Molly’s. I picked his cap off the floor, and put it back on his head, sideways, the way he liked to wear it.

“Alphonsio, I want you to listen to me for a second. The police are on the way here. I want you to promise me you will never come back to this apartment, and you will never see Molly again. OK?”

“F*** you,” He responded.

I hit him in the right knee with the frying pan. I hit him about as hard as I could. He nearly fainted, and crumpled over. I untied the lamp cord from around his wrists, and threw it back over in the corner, with the broken lamp. He was writhing on the floor, whimpering.

“Let’s try this again, Alphonsio. I want you to promise me neither Molly, nor I, will ever see you again. OK?”

“You broke my knee, you motha…”

I broke his other knee.

He screamed this time, and then resumed writhing and whimpering in pain. I waited until he seemed to regain his wits.

“Well then, Al, since you appear to be unable to express yourself, utilizing a normal vocabulary, let me put it to you another way. If I ever see you again, anytime, anywhere, I’ll end you and send you, to your final judgment. Nod your head if you understand.”

He nodded vigorously, his whimpers punctuating the motion.

I carried the frying pan into the bedroom, where I handed it to Molly. She needed a little help getting a good grip on it. She was pretty much unaware she was holding it.

On my way out of the apartment, I checked on Alphonsio. He was still whimpering. He appeared somewhat paled and disheartened by the tribulation he had suffered.

I could hear sirens coming.

I left the apartment door open.

Yeah… I’m flawed, too.

CHAPTER 2

SPRING TIME IN EAST Texas, is often spectacular. This was one of those years, with the last of the redbuds just beginning to fade as the dogwoods came into full bloom. The air was fragrant, with azaleas and wisteria bursting with brightly colored blossoms. I decided to eat lunch outside.

The phone rang.

“Tucker Investigation, John speaking,”

“Mr. Tucker, please.”

“Speaking

“Are you John Wesley Tucker, the detective?”

“I am. May I ask who I’m speaking to?”

“I’m Walter Farley, Mr. Simpson’s personal assistant. Please hold.”

That was odd.

“Tucker, are you there?” a demanding voice boomed.

“Yes, sir, how may I help you?”

“I’m Ted Simpson, Simpson Oil and Gas, maybe you’ve heard of us.”

“Yes, sir, I believe your offices are downtown, on the square. How may I help you, Mr. Simpson?”

“Can you come down here? I need to talk to you, privately. I’ll buy you lunch.”

“Let me check with my secretary to see if I have any conflicts. Please hold.”

I punched the “hold” button.

Tucker Investigations didn’t have a secretary, yet, and I didn’t have another appointment until three o’clock that afternoon. I just thought it would be fun to pretend. After all, turnabout is fair play.

I took him off hold.

“Mr. Simpson. It appears I can meet you for lunch. Where would you like to meet?”

“Come on down here, to the Simpson building. We’ll talk first and then we’ll eat.”

He hung up.

The Simpson building was twelve stories of dark tinted glass, on the west side of the square, in downtown Tyler. Usually, it would only take me about ten minutes to get there. At lunch time, that driving time could nearly double. The lunch hour always causes a great migration. The downtown square is a popular destination for the hungry herd. There are some very good watering holes and grazing establishments on the square.

*

Because every parking space anywhere near the square was occupied, I had to park in the Episcopal Church parking lot, three blocks away.

I figured Mr. Simpson’s office would be on the top floor of the Simpson Building, and so it was. I stepped off the elevator directly into a richly appointed reception area. A stunningly beautiful receptionist with flaming red hair was seated behind a massive lacquered walnut desk. She smiled as I approached.

“I’m John Wesley Tucker. I’m here to see Mr. Simpson.”

“I believe he’s expecting you, Mr. Tucker. Please have a seat.”

She stood up from behind the desk and headed down the hall. I watched her go.

I barely had a minute to grab a business card off her desk, appreciate the tasteful décor and scan the covers of the glossy oil and gas industry magazines, before she returned.

“He’ll see you in just a moment.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” I said, with a smile.

I sat down in a giant arm chair, upholstered in black and white speckled cowhide, with big brass nail head trim. After a moment, a man appeared at the end of the hall. He looked to be in his early thirties. He stood about five nine and weighed about a buck eighty. He was wearing black pants below an open neck, black polo shirt. He was in no big hurry, and stopped to speak to someone in another office as he approached.

“Mr. Tucker, I’m Walter Farley. I’m Mr. Simpson’s personal assistant. We spoke on the phone.”

We shook hands.

“I’ll show you to his office.”

Ted Simpson’s personal workspace was a corner office with a spectacular view of Tyler. I was reminded immediately of why I love this city so much. The view suggested a forest with the occasional church steeple rising through it. In some places though, the bank buildings were taller than the steeples.

As we came in, Mr. Simpson was coming around his desk to meet us. He was about six feet tall, a little on the heavy side, with salt and pepper hair, neatly trimmed. He wore an expensive dark grey suit, over a pale blue shirt with a white collar and a tie of deep blue silk. He had on black tasseled loafers. He looked ready to pose for Forbes or Gentleman’s Quarterly.

“Ted, this is John Wesley Tucker. Mr. Tucker this is Ted Simpson.” Walter introduced me, as if he knew me personally. I shook hands with Mr. Simpson and he directed me to have a seat in front of his desk.

Walter asked if I would like coffee, which I declined.

“I know you’re wondering why I wanted to meet with you,” Mr. Simpson started.

Actually, I was wondering if Walter was going to stay for the “private” meeting.

He was.

“I have a situation that requires some delicacy. I understand you can be trusted, and you get the job done.” Mr. Simpson said.

“May I ask who recommended me, to you?”

He looked at Walter.

“Let’s just say that you have a reputation,” Walter said.

“I would prefer to think I have references or referrals.”

“Whatever, let’s get down to brass tacks,” Mr. Simpson said.

The upshot of it all was Ted Simpson was planning to run for state office. He wanted me to do a simple investigation, to see if I could find any dirt, or potentially embarrassing incident from his past, which his enemies could use against him. It didn’t mean there actually was dirt, but it did mean they wanted an independent investigator to take a look. This was a fairly routine and sensible practice. It was certain his opponents would conduct their own investigations.

“My fee structure is simple, Mr. Simpson. I charge $450.00 per day, plus expenses. My day rate does not imply that I will spend all day, every day, on your case. I have other clients. I will provide you with a written account of my efforts and findings. I will also invoice you and provide receipts for the expenses.”

“No, I don’t need any written records. Walter will give you $5,000.00 as a retainer. That should cover one week’s worth of work and expenses. I probably won’t see you again, after today. Walter will check in with you from time to time, you can let him know your progress. Do we have a deal?”

I hesitated. Aside from his aggressive approach, there was something about all of this that rubbed me the wrong way.

“Mr. Simpson, how should I say this…there might be something that comes up, which you and I need to discuss. That discussion might not need to include your personal assistant. No offense, Walter.”

Walter looked sort of surprised.

I saw the wheels turning in Mr. Simpson’s head.

“Yeah, well I don’t anticipate that happening. But in case it does, Walter will give you my private number. Don’t call me unless it’s damned important. Now then, is it a deal or no deal?” He held out his hand.

I shook it.

“Good. Let’s get some lunch,” Mr. Simpson said.

To my surprise, we walked right across the hall, to another corner room with a spectacular view of the city. This space was appointed as a banquet area. There were buffet tables with a variety of delicacies from breads to meats, side dishes, even desserts. The dining table had a sparkling white table cloth with an elaborate, low, arrangement of fresh flowers. There were crystal goblets, wine glasses, and silverware, even linen napkins.

“Grab you a plate, Mr. Tucker. James will be here in a moment to get your drink order. I’d try that blackened prime rib, if I was you.”

We enjoyed a delightful lunch. We were joined by a couple of other Simpson Oil and Gas employees, to whom I was introduced simply as, Mr. Tucker. I was pretty much ignored, as the conversation shifted from business trivialities to current NFL football highlights. Evidently, Mr. Simpson was a Dallas Cowboys fan.

After lunch, Walter took me to his office, where he handed me a large manila envelope, with $5,000.00 in cash in it. It held fifty, one hundred dollar bills, bundled into five stacks, with ten bills in each stack, the very definition of a tidy sum. He also handed me a business card for Simpson Oil and Gas, with no personalized name on it. Two phone numbers were hand printed on the back.

“The top number is my personal cell phone. The bottom number is Mr. Simpson’s private line. Don’t call him, unless I tell you that you can.”

I figured I would make my own decisions about who I called and when.

He walked me to the elevator.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Tucker, keep me informed. I’ll be seeing you.” He walked away.

As the elevator doors were closing, I looked over at the receptionist.

She gave me a dazzling smile.

CHAPTER 3

MY THREE O’CLOCK APPOINTMENT was going to be unpleasant, at best. I would rather have had an appointment for a root canal, or even a colonoscopy. This meeting was likely to be more painful and uncomfortable than either of those, on several levels.

Mr. and Mrs. Robert Winslow, ‘Bob and Sandy’, wanted me to investigate the disappearance of their 10 year old daughter, Victoria.

I’d seen the story on the news.

Mrs. Winslow left her daughter in the car, doing her homework, while she went into the supermarket. When she came out with the groceries, Victoria was gone. At first Sandy figured Victoria (she hated to be called Vicky) had just followed her into the store, so she went looking for her. She had the store manager page her. The store manager sent employees searching for her. Sandy started to come unglued and became hysterical. The manager called the police.

The police determined Victoria was not in the store, her mother’s car, or the parking lot. They reviewed the video tape from the surveillance cameras.

The parking lot cameras had recorded an average-sized man, in a hoodie sweatshirt with the hood pulled up, wandering through the parking lot, kind of looking under cars near Sandy’s vehicle. He was seen approaching Sandy’s car and engaging Victoria in conversation.

Victoria got out of the car and went with the man to look under other cars. They disappeared from view. Neither Sandy nor Bob (who had been called in from work), had any idea who the man in the video images might be.

After the search of the surrounding neighborhoods by the police, friends, and volunteers, after all the usual investigation and interviews of known offenders, after grilling members of the family and all the friends of the family, even after the video tape was shown on the local and national news channels, the police had nothing.

My friend, Detective Sergeant Tony Escalante of the Tyler PD, had told the family, I might be able to help.

It had been nearly a week since the little girl went missing.

“I know Tony Escalante recommended me to you, but the police have done a very thorough investigation. I don’t want to take y’all’s money and end up telling you the same thing they did. I’m so sorry, but in a case like this, there is seldom a happy ending. We just don’t have any real leads to follow,” I said.

“I don’t care what it costs. We’ll mortgage the house. We have to know what has happened to our little girl,” Bob said.

Sandy just sat there, crying.

“I understand completely, but I don’t want to benefit from your tragedy. I’ll do what I can. I’ll do some investigating and I’ll pray for you, and for her. I can’t make any promises beyond that. In the meantime, it would probably be best, if you just concentrate on remembering Victoria as happy and healthy. I’ll give you the name of my pastor; he’s excellent at counseling folks in a crisis.”

“We want you to help us find our daughter, please help us,” Sandy Winslow sobbed.

“We’ll pay you a retainer,” Bob added.

I held up my hands.

“Please, Mr. Winslow, I don’t want your money. I told you, I’ll do what I can, but I can’t promise you anything.”

“Business is business.” Bob said, as he wrote out a check. “This is to secure your services, not as payment for anything certain. Maybe having to earn the money will provide additional motivation.”

He handed me the check. It was made out to me, for one thousand dollars.

I said thank you, and put it in my pocket. I had no intention of ever cashing it.

The next morning, Tony called me.

“Did you take that job for Mr. and Mrs. Winslow?”

“Not exactly, Tony. I told them I would look into it, but there is very little chance I can help.”

“Can you shoot this evening?”

I knew by “shoot,” he meant meet him at the shooting range, where we practiced.

“OK. I’ll meet you there.”

When I entered the indoor range, Tony was already set up in a shooting lane. He had reserved the next station for me. There was no one else there.

When I arrived at Tony’s shooting station, he looked grim.

“Hey, J.W., how’s it going?”

“Super, how are you?”

“I have good days and bad days.”

I nodded, and then I asked him.

“Have you made any progress on the missing child case?”

He shook his head.

“Not really, but now we have this.”

He reached into a pocket inside his jacket and removed a plastic sleeve, with a Polaroid photo in it.

“This morning we got a call from a citizen at the supermarket where the Winslow girl disappeared. We sent a uniform over there, and this is what the person found lying in the parking lot.”

He passed me the plastic sleeve.

“We checked out the citizen and she’s clean. We ran the photo for prints and did a battery of tests. The lady who found the photo has her prints on it, and there are other partials.”

I looked at the picture. Then I started studying it.

“Were any of the partials enough to get a match?”

“Apparently not, we thought maybe so, but not one of them was complete enough. We didn’t get a hit from any of the data bases.”

“I didn’t know you could still get Polaroid film. How old is it? How long do you think it may have been lying out there?”

“The techs say the picture is only a couple of days old. It wasn’t out in the elements for long. It hadn’t been run over, and it wasn’t blown into the parking lot by the wind. It hasn’t been faded by the sun. They think it was probably dropped there last night or this morning.”

“…Nothing on the surveillance cameras?” I asked.

He shook his head, as his only response.

“Why are you showing this to me?”

“We’ve done everything we can do with it. It’s just information, another dead end.”

I took a long slow breath. I wished he hadn’t phrased it that way.

“Have you tried to get a match on the car’s make, model and year?”

He nodded and said, “We haven’t been able to get anything firm. It’s probably American, maybe a nineties vintage, maybe newer, maybe not-like I said, nothing for sure. I’ll ask the FBI if they can identify it from the photograph.” He shrugged.

“Have you shown this to the Winslow’s yet?”

“I don’t want to, but I’m supposed to. You know, to get a positive ID. Matches the description and the other photos they provided us exactly, though.”

“What do you know about the other one?”

“Hard to tell from the photo, we might have a lead, but I can’t discuss it with you, yet.”

“As disturbing as this is, it’s kind of encouraging at the same time.”

“How’s that, J.W.?”

“Victoria was taken nearly a week ago. The picture was probably dropped here deliberately. The perp may still be in the area.”

He nodded.

“Yeah, but only you could see something positive in that.”

“There’s something else even more significant.”

“What’s that?”

I handed the Polaroid back to Tony

“These kids were both alive when this picture was taken.”

The photo showed two children lying in the trunk of a car. They were bound and had been gagged with duct tape.

From the pictures I had seen and the video of the abduction, I could see the girl was clearly Victoria Winslow. The boy was younger and smaller than Victoria. She was lying in front of him, partly obscuring him. The duct tape over his mouth covered most of the whole lower half of his face.

I felt the old anger at the evil permeating and perverting humanity and poisoning this world. It helped me focus on my shooting. I chose my favourite .45 and set the target at fifteen yards. Tony was shooting his service Sig .40. He started at fifteen yards also.

We both fired fifty rounds. We both shot well.

Out in the parking lot, I looked at Tony and said, “We both know that’s Victoria Winslow in the photo, right?”

He nodded silently in response.

“Do you really have to show the picture to the Winslow family?”

Tony opened the trunk of his car to put his gun bag into it. We both stood there, looking into the empty trunk.

“No,” he said. “I don’t believe I will.”

CHAPTER 4

TED SIMPSON’S INTEREST IN Simpson Oil and Gas was an inheritance from his father, Gus Simpson. Ted’s father had likewise inherited his father’s oil and gas interests. All three generations had managed the business with ruthless precision, making Simpson Oil and Gas the leading independent producer in North America.

Simpson Oil and Gas, Ted in particular, had recognized the value of emerging technologies, and they led the way in the most innovative and effective horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing, completions and production techniques.

At one point, by acquiring millions of acres of leasehold in several states, they managed to corner the market on nearly every major natural gas play in North America.

Unfortunately, Ted had over-extended his credit and his investor’s money in the process. He had almost singlehandedly eliminated the formerly normal cyclic supply shortages. Now there was a glut of available natural gas. The storage facilities were flooded, but because demand had not increased, the market price of natural gas had plummeted.

Ted was forced to sell off much of their land holdings in leases, in several states. He had to sell some of the corporate stock as well. His timing was excellent and he saved the company, putting it back on secure and profitable footing.

Many of the assets were sold to foreign investors, most notably investors from China and Saudi Arabia. This made him unpopular with some folks, but probably would not be a deal killer for his election dreams.

I could find nothing in his business life that would be seen as scandalous.

Personally, he had an unpleasant reputation for putting money ahead of the people in his life. For him, turning a tidy profit came before any other consideration. At worst he appeared to be greedy to a fault. He lived for the profit. Usually, his shareholders benefitted from this mind set. His family and employees did not. Still, it was nothing that would pose a serious threat to an election campaign.

Politically, he had contributed money to candidates running in both parties. He was said to be a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. He could afford to finance his own campaign, but he had long standing connections with powerful people he could use for fund raising. He was very good at using people. If an election could be bought, he would buy it.

I was thinking about these things, when the phone rang.

“Mr. Tucker, this is Walter Farley. I was wondering if you’ve made any progress in your enquiries.”

“I’ve done some research into Mr. Simpson’s business history and practices.”

“I see. I’d like to hear your thoughts on what you’ve found. May I come by your office?”

“Certainly, Mr. Farley, when would you like to make an appointment?”

“Well…now-right now. In fact, I’ll be there in a minute.”

I didn’t like it.

“No, wait, that…” He had hung up.

That did it. I realized it was time to get a secretary. I needed somebody to protect me from free-roaming jackasses.

“…So, to sum up, there is nothing scandalous or clearly egregious in his business history or practices. I’d say he is going to have a hard time selling the idea he is both a social progressive and a fiscal conservative. You can’t be supportive of liberal social programs, and at the same time, deny them funding.” I concluded.

“We really aren’t interested in your political opinion, Mr. Tucker. We hired you to investigate whether or not there’s anything Mr. Simpson’s enemies might be able to use against him.”

“I had to start somewhere. I chose to explore his business life, first. I’ll get into other areas as I go along. You are aware Mr. Simpson represents ‘Big Oil’ in the minds of many average Texas voters? If there was something Simpson Oil and Gas had done and covered up, I needed to find out. Even a serious environmental issue could kill his political aspirations.”

“I see your point. Are you confident you have eliminated those concerns?”

I nodded and replied, “Yep, there’s nothing there that could be used to do any serious harm to him or his campaign. Y’all are already addressing the environmental issues and concerns associated with hydraulic fracturing. I’m aware certain celebrities have protested and chained themselves to trees, but the Texas Railroad Commission has no beef with Simpson Oil and Gas, and the EPA hasn’t been able to prove any of the claims about contaminated well water. There are numerous studies showing methane contamination has occurred often throughout history, and continues to occur naturally, drilling or no drilling. It appears the incidents that actually have been directly linked to drilling are about casing issues in the vertical bores, unrelated to hydraulic fracturing. The stories do get a lot of media attention though, don’t they?”

He shook his head.

“Again, that’s not your concern. Move on. What will your investigative skills be applied to next?”

Now, I found his attitude…unacceptable.

Opening my desk drawer, I took out the big manila envelope full of money.

Walter appeared to have a smirk on his face.

I opened the envelope and looked inside.

“Ok. It’s all still here.” I observed.

Looking over at Walter, I tossed the whole thing in his lap.

Evidently my unexpected move made Walter angry. His face turned beet-red.

“There’s your money, Walter. Since I haven’t performed to your exacting standards, you can get someone else to handle the job.”

I stood up, to show Walter to the door.

“Now hold on, Mr. Tucker. We seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot. There’s no need for you to be petty about this.”

“Be careful, Walter. I don’t like to be insulted, especially while I’m standing in my own office.”

He nodded, but stayed seated.

“Very well, I apologize. I didn’t intend any insult. Can we start over? I fear I’ve managed this badly.” He said.

“That’s exactly the point, Walter. If you want to manage my work, you’ll have to give better directions. No, on second thought, I don’t care to have you manage my work, at all. Take the money back to Mr. Simpson, and tell him that for me.”

Walter was not happy. I could see he was working hard at trying to maintain his temper, his composure and his dignity.

I really didn’t care about any of those things.

“Again, Mr. Tucker, I apologize. You are quite correct. It’s not my place to criticize your efforts. The work you have done so far has been quite thorough. Please excuse my error.”

Wow, I hadn’t expected this response. He had to swallow a big chunk of his personal pride, to say all that.

I took a deep breath.

“OK, we did get off on the wrong foot. That’s partly my fault. I didn’t ask Mr. Simpson for any direction. Is there something specific you want me to look for?”

“No, no. I appreciate that you must employ your own methods. I wouldn’t be able to direct the efforts of the opposition, either. Please proceed as you think best.”

As he stood up, he put the envelope back on my desk.

“I trust I can tell Mr. Simpson you are continuing with your investigations?”

“Sure. I’m on the case.” I smiled.

He didn’t return the smile. He moved very stiffly to the door. I could tell I had offended him.

I almost felt bad about that.

After he left, I wondered why he hadn’t just gone to another agency. Other agencies had more man-power and could gather information more quickly.

It was odd. I had offended Walter, yet he still wanted me to investigate.

Why?

Evidently, Walter was a small part of a bigger picture, but I had no idea what it was. At this point, his involvement was like a single piece to a jigsaw puzzle. Other pieces were missing, and there was no image on the box lid.

CHAPTER 5

“…NO, I THINK YOUR deposition and the video you provided will be all that’s required. It went very well and covered all the bases. I doubt we’ll even have to put you on the stand. I think it’s a slam dunk, John. He’ll do time, for sure. Thanks for all your hard work. Send us your invoice.”

This was apparently the satisfactory end of an insurance fraud case I had worked.

“You bet. Thank you, Gwen. Call if you need me.”

In this case, the guy had almost managed to swindle a personal fortune out of the insurance company, which you and I would have had to pay for in higher premiums. Instead, he would soon be on his way to prison.

I drove back to the scene where Victoria Winslow had been taken. On a previous visit, I’d started by observing the supermarket from a distance, at the same time of day Victoria had disappeared, watching the traffic patterns and the ebb and flow of customers. Standing where Sandy Winslow had parked her car, I headed off on foot in the same direction Victoria and the perp had gone, as they disappeared from the store’s video image. I hadn’t learned anything very useful on that first visit except investigating the location convinced me the kidnapper must have had a car somewhere nearby.

Today, I was trying to figure where the kidnapper had parked his car. It had to be somewhere fairly close, but not so exposed someone would have noticed him taking the girl. If he had put the girl into his car in the parking lot, someone would have seen it, and it would have appeared in the surveillance video.

The supermarket was located on south Broadway, the busiest street in Tyler, at one of the busiest intersections. It was a commercial hub, with big box stores and restaurants all around, only half a block from the Broadway Square shopping mall to the north and a strip mall to the south.