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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic
Jason McDonald failed to return from a business trip. Now,Blake Tanner has been hired to find out why.

Submitted: September 08, 2009

A A A | A A A

Submitted: September 08, 2009



I always like going to a baseball game, especially when someone else buys the tickets. I handed the attendant the tickets as I followed Mandy Parker through the turnstile.

“Enjoy the game,” said the attendant, handing me back my half of the ticket stubs.

I have a fondness for Stallions’ Stadium. I guess it goes back to the days when I used to patrol center field here. I was the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year when I stepped on that loose drain cover on the warning track chasing down a fly ball in the gap. That freak accident trashed my knee, quickly ending my season. I could never chase ‘em down the same after that and a couple of seasons later, I hung up my spikes.

After I got done feeling sorry for myself, I decided to become a cop, which is what I wanted to do before I found out I could have just as much fun and make a hell of a lot more money chasing fly balls. But, after a couple of years of “You can’t do it this way” or “You can’t do it that way”, I said hell with it and got my PI ticket. Now I do it my way. I ain’t getting rich, but it’s a living. Oh, by the way, my name is Blake Tanner.

I bought a scorecard and we walked down the concourse past the concession stands and souvenir stands, circling the long lines at the beer stands. Taking a look at the ticket stubs, I led Mandy up the stairs. As we came to the top of the stairs, I had to smile at Mandy’s child like fascination with her new surroundings.

“Down here,” I said, leading Mandy carefully down the steps to the second row of box seats behind the Stallions’ dugout.

“You used to play here?” asked Mandy, not moving her eyes from the brightly lit field as she sat down in her seat.

“Center field,” I said, pointing to my old position in Death Valley, as the spacious outfield was affectionately dubbed.

As the first pitch of the game was thrown and we settled into our seats, I couldn’t help wondering who had sent me the tickets. We were to enjoy the game and they would be in touch was all that was said.

 During the middle of the fifth inning, a big hulking guy in dark glasses came down the steps. “You Tanner?” he said, stopping next to our seats.

“Maybe, who wants to know?” I said, looking up from my seat.

“Look, pal, we ain’t playin’ twenty questions. Now, are you Tanner or not?”

I guess I wasn’t going to find out who sent me the tickets unless I play along. “Yeah, I’m Tanner.”

“Good, follow me.” He turned, heading back up the steps.

 I grabbed a reluctant Mandy by the hand and we followed the big guy up to the second level of the stadium to the door of one of the Sky Boxes. Our escort knocked twice and opened the door.

“Blake Tanner, I presume,” said a gray haired gentleman in an Armani suit, as he put down his drink on the glass topped table in front of him and rose from his seat.  He oozed money, because who goes to a ball game in an Armani suit.

“Yes, sir,” I said, engaging our host in a surprisingly firm handshake.

“And who might this be?” he said, turning his attention to Mandy.

“Mandy Parker,” said Mandy, as Armani took her hand in his.

“A pleasure, my dear,” he said, kissing Mandy’s hand.

 This guy was real smooth. Had a real way with the women. And Mandy was soaking it all in.

“I’m Malcolm McDonald, I’m glad you decided to come. Sit down, please.” He motioned to a nearby glass top table, but I took a seat at the bar instead.

 The roar of the crowd drew Mandy to the window of the Sky Box as the batter launched a long fly ball to left field. The low groan of the crowd told me it was just a long, loud out. Mandy sat down in a chair at the window.

“It’s her first game,” I informed Malcolm.

“Baseball does bring out the child in all of us, doesn’t it? Would you like a drink, Mister Tanner?”

“Beer would be fine.” McDonald motioned with his head and our escort at the door moved behind the bar, setting a brown bottle of beer in front of me.

“Now, let’s cut to the chase. I would like to hire you, Mister Tanner, to find the murderer of my son, Jason.”

Jason McDonald, a prominent lawyer, disappeared a few years ago. He’d gone on a business trip and was never seen again.

“What makes you think it was murder?”

“My son called me to tell me he was stopping in a town called Hadley. He was going to stay the night and he would see me the next day. He never showed up. I went to Hadley, but nobody remembered seeing Jason. The only motel in town had no record of him being there. What would you call it, Mister Tanner?”

McDonald reached into his suit coat and pulled out a banded stack of fifty-dollar bills, tossing them in front of me on the bar.

“Five thousand dollars, Mister Tanner, your retainer with ten thousand more to follow when you give me the name or names of my son’s killer.”

I looked at the stack of fifties in front of me. This old guy was serious and was willing to pay for what he wanted. I reached for the stack of fifties and he slapped his hand on top of mine.

“The names come to me and only me, I’ll deal with them myself.” The look in the old man’s eyes told me he was not a man to be crossed.

  “Whatever you say, Mister McDonald.”  He removed his hand from mine and I slid the banded bills into my inside jacket pocket. McDonald seemed to relax.

“Since we have working agreement, I think we can dispense with the formalities, Blake,” said McDonald.

“It’s going to get rough when I start pulling skeletons from their closets,” I replied. Malcolm McDonald finished mixing his martini and took a sip.

“Is that a problem?”

I shook my head. “That’s the way I like it.”

Mandy was already in the office when I got there the next morning, the souvenir Stallions’ cap sitting in a visible spot on her desk.

“Could you get Pete Neely on the phone for me?” I said as I walked past Mandy into my office.

“Well, good morning to you too, MISTER Tanner,” she replied sarcastically, picking up the phone. A couple of minutes later, my line lit up and buzzed.
“Pete, Good morning.”

“Blake, my man, what’s happening?”

Pete Neely and I go back to my Stallion days. He was a newshawk for The LAKE CITY HERALD and we’d been known to down a few brewskis on occasion. Pete has always been a willing and reliable source of information.

“What do you remember about Jason McDonald?”

“Old man McDonald finally makin’ good on his threats? He told the police if they didn’t investigate what happen to his son, he’d hire his own investigator. I guess you’re it.”

“I guess so. Can you meet me at Jimmy’s about noon with a little info on McDonald?”

“It’ll cost you lunch.”

“Doesn’t it always?”

“See you at noon.”

I parked my heap in front of the green neon shamrock marking IRISH JIMMY’S SHAMROCK LOUNGE. Jimmy became a boxing legend when he almost pulled off the biggest upset in boxing history, knocking down the champion twice before losing in a split decision.
Life-size cutouts of Jimmy O’Donnell in boxing attire, always drawing a smile from Mandy, greeted us as we came through the double doors.  The inside of the lounge was decorated with memories of Jimmy’s career. Above the cash register behind the bar hung a framed picture of Jimmy, gloved hands raised above his head, standing over the felled champion. The gloves he wore that night draped the picture. Jimmy was in an animated conversation at the far end of the bar when we slid onto the barstools.

“Hey, can we get some service here?” I shouted, pounding on the bar. Jimmy looked over his shoulder at us, his face breaking into a big grin as he walked down the bar toward us.

“Hiya, gorgeous,” he said to Mandy as he put green shamrock coasters on the bar in front of us, “you still hanging around with this palooka?” 

Jimmy always gave you the impression he’d stayed in the ring one punch too long.

“I have to because nobody else will,” said Mandy, smiling back at Jimmy.

“You got a winner here, Blake. You better hang on to her,” said Jimmy, drawing two mugs of draft beer, putting them on our coasters.

The door opened again and in walked Pete Neely carrying a manila envelope. He slid the envelope in front of me as he stepped up on the barstool.

“I’ll have a draft, Champ, put it on Blake’s tab.”
Removing the contents of the manila envelope, I looked at the top sheet of paper which was the news article describing what Hadley police knew or didn’t know, which sounded more like it, about the disappearance of Jason McDonald.

“Remember, I get first cracks at anything new,” said Pete.

“After Malcolm McDonald,” I reminded him.

Scanning the first sheet quickly, it said that McDonald never returned after a business trip. He’d supposedly stopped in Hadley on his return trip and the Hadley Sheriff’s Department was investigating. The rest of the article was about the accomplishments of Jason McDonald. I slid the article back in the envelope.

“Uh, Blake, I believe you owe me lunch, too.”

I left the next morning, reaching Hadley late that afternoon, checking into the motel on the edge of town.

“Gonna be here long, Mister Tanner?” said the desk clerk., sliding the room key toward me.

“Maybe, I’m here looking for a friend.”

“Well, I know just about everybody in town. Who are you looking for?”

I guessed this was as good a time as any to stir the pot a little. I pulled Jason McDonald’s picture from an inside jacket pocket.

“His name is Jason McDonald,” I said, handing the picture to the desk clerk. Scratching his head, he looked at the picture and handed it back to me shaking his head.

“No sir, can’t say that I’ve seen him around.”

“Thanks anyway,” I said, taking the room key and putting McDonald’s picture back into my pocket. “Is there a restaurant in town?”

“Josie’s Diner right across from the Sheriff’s Office. You can’t miss it. Sorry, I couldn’t help you,” he said as I turned from the counter, “maybe Sheriff Decker could be a little more help.”
I held up my hand in acknowledgement as I walked out the door.  I had a funny feeling Sheriff Decker would find out in a matter of minutes that I was looking for Jason McDonald.

I parked my heap in front of the big red and green neon sign marking Josie’s Diner. It was too late for supper and too early for the drunk crowd, so the place was pretty empty when I took a stool at the counter, making sure I could see the front door. Spotting me, the waitress waited to see where I was going to settle and walked toward me grabbing a pot of coffee on her way.

“Howdy, Sugar. Coffee?” she asked and I turned over the chipped white mug in front of me. She slopped coffee into the mug, leaving a trail of the strong hot liquid when she set the pot on the counter.

“What can I getcha?” The attractive redhead set her order pad on the counter, leaning over it to give me a view of her best asset and her best smile.

“Burger and fries.”

“Works on the burger?” she asked, scribbling my order on her pad.
I nodded and she tore the sheet from the pad, taking it to the cook reading the sports page at the far end of the counter. He read it for a second and disappeared into the kitchen. Ten minutes later, she slid the burger plate in front of me and slopped more coffee into my mug.

  “Never seen ya here before,” she said, popping her gum as she sat down on a wooden stool on the other side of the counter.

  “Never been here before, came looking for a friend of mine,” I said between bites of my burger.

  “Oh yeah, who ya here to see?”  I reached into my pocket for the picture, handing it to the redhead.

“Josie, stop botherin’ the customer,” shouted the cook from the far end of the counter.

“Shut up, Harold, I ain’t botherin’ the customer,” Josie shouted back, throwing her gum in the trashcan under the counter. “Am I botherin’ ya, mister?”

I shook my head and said, “No, baby, you ain’t bothering me.

“He said I ain’t botherin’ him, Harold, so just read your paper,” she shouted back at the cook. Finally she looked down at the picture in her hand. The look in her eyes told me she recognized McDonald.

“Nah, mister, I ain’t seen him around here,” she said, composing herself, “let me show it to Harold, maybe he seen him.”

She went to the far end of the counter, showing the picture to Harold. He peeked around Josie to look at me, handing the picture back to her. After whispering something to her, Josie came back and handed me the picture.

“Harold said he ain’t seen him neither.”

I put the picture in my pocket, satisfied to know the pot was bubbling. Wiping my mouth with a napkin, I rose from the stool. Peeling off a fin from the bills in my pocket, I dropped it on the counter next to the dirty dishes.

  “Thanks for the company, baby, the pleasure’s been all mine,” I said, getting a nervous smile back from Josie. Harold went through the swinging doors into the kitchen when I turned to leave. Grabbing a toothpick from a holder on a table I passed, I left Josie’s Diner.

I stood on the sidewalk in front of the diner and shook out a butt, pulling it from the deck with my lips and lit it with my Zippo. I looked down the street toward the sound of Hank Williams singing about a cheating heart that blared from the open door of the watering hole on the next corner.

Glancing through the diner window as I turned toward the corner bar, I caught Josie staring back at me. She quickly returned to cleaning up the dishes I’d left when Harold came back through the kitchen doors. She definitely knew something about Jason McDonald.

I shouldered my way into the overflowing barroom of LEO’S and squeezed into a spot at the bar. Ordering a draft, I watched four women do an animated line dance in front of the jukebox on the small dance floor. A mug of beer appeared in front of me as the music stopped and a rousing cheer went up around the barroom.

“It always like this in here?” I asked the bartender as Eddie Arnold changed the mood on the dance floor.

“Every Friday and Saturday,” he said above the music, putting four bottles of beer on the tray of the waitress. Paying the bartender and getting back her change, she winked at me as she disappeared into the crowd.

  “You live around here?” he asked. I shook my head.

“I’m in town to see a friend, but nobody seems to know him,” I replied, dragging the picture from my jacket and handing it to him.

He stepped back to the dim light above the cash register and looked at the picture. I couldn’t tell if he recognized him or not. He came back to the bar, handing me the picture.

“Sorry, can’t help you?”

“Neither could anyone else.”

I finished my beer, stuffed a George Washington in the tip glass on the bar, and then left LEO’S. I’d done all I could today, but tomorrow was another day. I walked back down the street to my car.

Stepping off the curb in front of the diner, I noticed my front tire was flat.

“Dammit,” I said, walking to the trunk of the car. 

I looked around me as I pulled the jack from the trunk and then looked into the diner. Harold looked at me as he slid a plate of food onto the counter and rang for Josie. When Josie picked up the food, he turned back into the kitchen. The pot had started to boil over.

After changing the tire, I returned the jack and the flat tire to the trunk of my car and drove back to the motel.

Three men in ski masks were waiting for me in my room when I returned. Punches rained on me, finally knocking me to the floor. Pain exploded in my side as steel-toed boots continued the assault. Finally, the beating stopped and I was rolled over onto my back. A hand reached inside my jacket relieving me of my heater. He handed it to one of his goons and squatted over me.

“Get out of Hadley while you’re still able. Next time we bury you here.”

When I opened my eyes, dawn was breaking. Rolling on my side, I slowly got to my feet, the pain in my side stabbing at me like a knife blade. Blinking my eyes a couple of times to focus my surroundings, I slid out of my jacket, letting it fall to the floor and went into the bathroom. Splashing water on my face, I looked up into the mirror. I looked as bad as I felt.

Knowing what I had to do, I went outside to the payphone, dropped a couple of coins in the slot and dialed the office. The answering machine kicked on and I left my message.

“Mandy, this is Blake. Listen to me, call TJ and tell him where I am. I’ve run into a problem and I need his help. I’m in room six in the only motel in town. And tell him to bring me a change of clothes and a heater. I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.” 

I don’t know how long I’d slept, but a knock on the door woke me.
“Hey, Mijo,’ said TJ Mathis, when I opened the door, “I hear you need help.”
My old friend was a welcome sight. He was a retired cop who still had a lot of friends in the department. When he came in, he handed me a rolled up bundle of clothes, then reached under his jacket.

“I heard you was in need of this,” he said, handing me a .45. “You’ll find the ammo for it rolled up in your care package. I found this stuck in your door.”

He handed me a small white envelope. I asked him to read it while I changed clothes.

“Says your answers are in a shed on an abandoned farm four miles north of town.”

“Who signed it?” TJ turned the note over.
“None on it.” I had a sneaky suspicion Josie sent it. I filled TJ in on the happenings of my last twenty-four hours.

“I guess it’s time we got some answers and maybe a little payback while we’re at it,” said TJ, getting up from the chair by the window.

I put a freshly loaded clip in the .45 and chambered a round, putting the heater in the waistband of my pants and an extra clip in each pocket. I wasn’t taking any chances. They weren’t going to make a punching bag out of me anymore.

“You ready?” I asked.

“Let’s rock and roll,” said TJ. We still had about four or five hours of daylight, so we got in my car and took a ride to see if we could find the farm.

After about fifteen minutes, TJ pointed at a silo back off the road. We turned off the main drag onto a dirt road and a mile later we pulled into the barnyard of an old abandoned farm. The buildings were broken down and nature was well on its way to reclaiming the land.

We found the shed next to the barn. The double doors, one of them hanging by only one hinge, were pad locked together. We went around to the side door to find it locked too.

Getting a tire iron from my trunk, I went back to the shed. A light tug on the hasp broke it away from the old wood of the side door. Swinging the old door inward, we stepped into the shed. A dusty, tarp covered car occupied the inside of the old shed.

“Well, well, what do we have here?” said TJ. We each grabbed a corner of the tarp and walked it the length of the car, dropping it on the ground at the front bumper of the blue Chevy.

“Let’s see who this belongs to,” said TJ, taking a handkerchief from his pocket.

He opened the passenger side door, while I went to the back of the car. The tag had been removed from the bumper, but TJ found a briefcase under the front seat. Putting it on the hood of the Chevy, TJ pointed out the obvious. J. MCDONALD was engraved in gold across the front of it.

“I guess Malcolm McDonald was right,” I said. TJ tucked the briefcase under his arm and closed the car door. We replaced the tarp on the Chevy and left the shed, closing the door behind us.

“Sorry you boys had to find that.”

Two men in overalls stood in front my car, the older, gray haired one, held a double barrel shotgun on us. “Throw your shooters over here.”

When neither one of us moved, the old man hammered back the shotgun, so we figured we’d do the sensible thing and threw our guns at his feet.
“Lonnie, you go get Sheriff Decker, tell ‘im we got a problem out at the farm,” he said to the younger man standing next to him.

Lonnie jogged into the old barn and a couple of minutes later an old Ford pickup was heading down the dirt road.

“The sheriff figured you was gonna be trouble when you started showin’ that photograph of that McDonald guy around town. He sent me and Lonnie out here to watch the place and sure enough, here you come.”
He picked up our guns and motioned with the shotgun toward the barn. “Let’s go make ourselves comfortable while we wait for Sheriff Decker.”

“What happened to McDonald?” I asked, as TJ and I walked to the barn ahead of our captor.

“That high falutin’ city boy come here one night throwin’ his money around with the thoughts of getting’ him a bed partner. Found him in an alley with his head bashed in.”

We walked into the barn and the old man took a short length of rope off a peg beside the door.
“Tie up your buddy there,” he said, tossing the rope to TJ. “Make sure it’s good and tight.”

“Who killed McDonald?” I asked as TJ tied my hands behind me.

“Well, I can’t rightly say, they sorta ganged up on ‘im when he wouldn’t leave the women folk alone.”

“What did Decker do?” asked TJ. The old guy shrugged his shoulders.

“He said he didn’t see no one killed. Said as far he was concerned McDonald never been in Hadley. That was fine with us.”

“Ethan, you talk too much.” Sheriff Decker, his wide brim hat tilted over his mirrored sunglasses, stood behind Ethan. “One of these days that loose tongue will be the death of you.”

I recognized that voice. Decker was the one that lifted my heater last night. He walked into the barn, taking the shotgun from Ethan.

“Tie up the other one,” he said to the old man, watching until TJ was securely bound.

“What are we going to do with ‘em, Sheriff?” asked Ethan.

“Not sure, their nosin’ around has caused us a little problem,” said Decker, handing the shotgun back to Ethan. “Take ‘em up to the house and stay with ‘em until you hear from me.”

Ethan herded us to the old, boarded up farmhouse while Decker and Lonnie put my car in the shed alongside McDonald’s.

“You boys make yourselves ta home, we may be here awhile,” said Ethan, motioning with the shotgun toward an old, dusty sofa in the living room. He put our heaters on the mantel and sat in a chair next to the fireplace.

“You with the group that beat McDonald to death?” I asked Ethan. Darkness had started to settle into the house and I had tired of the game of sitting and staring at each other. Ethan lit the oil lamp on the mantel of the fireplace and returned to the chair.

“Nah, that was mostly Harold and Leo. McDonald tried to work his charms on Josie first, then he tried to lure Madge, over at Leo’s, into his trap. Boys said they wasn’t gonna stand for it no more. Found him late that night in the alley behind Leo’s.”

Suddenly, a door creaked at the back of the house.
“Lonnie, is that you?” yelled Ethan. When he didn’t get an answer, he rose from his chair and slowly went from the living room to the back of the house.

“Lonnie?” repeated Ethan.

A loud metallic clang, then a thud and the clatter of the shotgun on the floor told us someone had ambushed Ethan. Much to our surprise, Josie appeared around the corner carrying the shotgun.

“I didn’t mean for this to happen when I sent you out here, you have to get out of here,” said Josie, as she came to the sofa and untied my hands. “An awful thing happened here and I aim to see it don’t happen to you, too.”

After I untied TJ, she handed me the shotgun. “Get out of here while you still can," she pleaded.

I went around the corner where Ethan lay face down on the floor in the doorway of the kitchen. Josie had cold cocked him a good one and he wasn’t going anywhere for a while. I dragged Ethan through the kitchen, stuffing him in the pantry, blocking the door with an old kitchen chair under the doorknob.

“That ought to hold him,” I said, dusting my hands.

TJ and Josie were peeking through the living room curtain when I returned.

“Coast is still clear,” said TJ. I took our guns from the fireplace mantel and handed TJ his.

“You have to go now,” said Josie.

“What about you?” I asked. Josie shook her head.

“Don’t worry about me, no one knows I’m here, just go.”

TJ and I started to leave, but I went back and planted a big kiss on Josie’s lips. “Take care of yourself,” I said and followed TJ out the door leaving Josie standing in the living room.

Running to the shed, we found it unlocked and the keys in the ignition of my car.

I drove back to Hadley, parking around the corner from the sheriff’s office. We hugged the shadows of the building until we came to a window of the sheriff’s office.

Decker was sitting at his desk, the phone to his ear. He threw the phone down and bolted from the desk when we walked through the front door. I caught him as he reached the back door, slamming him face first up against it.

“I think you’ve got something that belongs to me,” I said, pulling his gun from its holster. I hammered it back, holding it to the side of his head.

“Where’s the piece you took from me?”

“Bottom drawer of the desk,” he said. TJ went to the desk, pulled my nickel plated .45 from the drawer and held it up for me to see.

Without another word, I hit Decker in the back of the head with his gun and he crumbled to the floor. I took Decker’s gun with me when we left the office and returned to my car.


We returned to Bay City to give Malcolm McDonald the information I was paid to get. I met with McDonald the day after we returned, telling him Ethan’s story. I gave him the names of Harold, Leo and Decker, and then told him where he could find his son’s car.

I collected my 10Gs, putting half of it on the desk in front of Malcolm McDonald. I scratched a note on a pad of paper on McDonald’s desk, tore it from the pad, folded it in half and laid it on top of the money.

“When you get to Hadley, give this to Josie at the diner.” I split the rest of the money into the pockets of my jacket and left Malcolm McDonald’s office.

A month later, Mandy threw a folded newspaper on my desk. “Thought you might like to read this,” she said, “it came in the mail.”

On the front page of the HADLEY HERALD, dated two weeks after I’d been there, was a story about Harold and Leo being found beaten and hanging in the barn on the abandoned farm. Sheriff Decker was fished out of a nearby lake in his car. He’d been shot, execution style, and a brick was found on the gas pedal. Old Malcolm McDonald must have unleashed his goon squad.

“This came with it.” She threw an opened envelope on top of the paper. It was an invitation to the grand opening of Josie’s remodeled restaurant.

Copyright 2009 by Larry Payne 

© Copyright 2020 doclarry. All rights reserved.

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