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Hard Boiled Christmas (Day Twenty)

Hard Boiled Christmas

A Jack Collier Mystery

By Brett N. Lashuay



Day 20: Sandy Cloose


            A lot of the snow had vanished in the bright sun and was still melting away. I guess it hadn’t snowed as hard as I’d thought last night. There were blades of grass sitting up between the broken dusting of white that still remained, by noon you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that it had snowed at all.


            When I got into the parking lot I saw an interesting sight. There was a large black SUV parked next to the slot I normally took and as I was pulling into my parking space, the door of the SUV opened and Smith got out with a box of doughnuts. Because of the sun, he was still wearing his large sunglasses, but with the doughnuts he almost looked like a gecko that was trying to imitate human behavior. It wasn’t human, it wasn’t even mammalian, but there was a feeling of “Oh look he’s doing cute little human things with his hands” that I found sort of endearing. Also, since he had doughnuts, we could almost be like friends.


            I got out of the car and looked at the agent and his doughnuts, trying not to smile a little. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a peace offering or if he’d planned a long stake out and he was still just holding the box because it had been on his lap in the car.


            “Morning Collier.” He said.


            “Those for me?” I asked,


            “It’s early.” He said looking down at the box. “I haven’t had anything to eat yet, I figured you hadn’t either.”


            “That’s almost civil of you.” I said taking the box from his unresisting hands.


            “Let’s go in, and you can explain why I needed to come down here.” He said as I pulled a vanilla cream from the box.


            “She’s alive.” I said as I turned and started towards the door.


            “What do you mean?” Smith asked at my heels.


            “I mean Christmas isn’t dead.” I said as we went up the stairs.


            He took the box from me and pulled out a piece of fried dough that was as dusted with powered sugar as the lawn outside. He stuffed it in his mouth and began to chew as we went up the stairs. He must have been very hungry, as I’ve gone whole meetings without ever noticing him blink or even breathe. Now he was munching in a way that a living breathing animal might if it was famished, unlike the dead-hearted thing he was.


            “She’s lying low at my place, so it might be good for you to have some people watch my place and make sure no one comes or goes.” I said over my shoulder as we went into my office. “Morning Debbie.”


            “Just barely.” She said as Smith and I crossed to my inner office.


            Smith already had his phone out and was talking to someone as I started taking my coat off. He was telling whoever was on the other end to watch my house but that they shouldn’t actually do anything unless someone besides me tried to get in. As he was speaking I took off my coat and then waved a hand at him to get his attention.


            “See if there is a missing person’s report for a Sandy Cloose.” I said.


            “Spelling?” He asked.


            “I only heard it.”


            “Look for a missing report on a Sandy Cloose.” Smith said and then shook his head. “No idea, it’s probably recent though. We probably don’t need to run a search beyond this month. See if there are any relatives we can talk to or anything.”


            It hadn’t struck me when I told him, but I had a feeling that the report was probably only a few days old as well. I needed another donut. I picked up the box, pulled a jelly doughnut from it and started to chew. It was good, and it fortified my body with the energy I would need for the day. It seemed like I was going to have a very long day today, I could just sort of tell.


            Smith was writing something down on a pad of paper and then hung up his phone and slipped it in his pocket. He looked at the pad of paper for a long time and then his snake like eyes flicked towards me. He sighed, tore the slip from his pad and held it out for me to see. I took it from him and saw a phone number and the name ‘Helen Cloose’ written on it.


            “Her mother filed the report the day after Christmas was attacked.” Smith said. “Which means, I guess, the day after Sandy was attacked.”


            “You’re going to give me this to just run with?” I asked.


            “Right now, you and I are the only people who know Christmas isn’t dead.” Smith said. “At least as far as we know.”


            “And Debbie.” I said. “And of course Christmas knows.”


            “Fine.” Smith said and rolled his eyes. “Four of us that you and I know about know she’s not dead.”


            “So what, you can’t look this up?”


            “I start looking it up, and people start wanting to know why. I’ve got to file reports and things. I’ve got to be accountable.”


            “You sure you work for the government?” I asked.


            “And you said you thought Detective Noonan was in on it, so how do I know no one from my agency isn’t in on it?” Smith asked taking another doughnut. “Whoever has done this has killed at least five people and has tried to kill more. We must protect what little secrets we have.”


            “What do we do about her though? I can’t hide her at my place forever.” I said, realizing that it probably wouldn’t come to that anyway.


            “Tonight, we can take her into custody. We can protect her, keep her in a secure place until she has to perform and then tuck her back until we can figure out who’s doing this and make them stop.”


            “What if there isn’t anyone doing this?” I asked, trying not to feel like a bastard for suspecting the victim. “What if she did it?”


            “Then we can just leave her in the prison after her show.” Smith said setting down his doughnut. “We have her tell everyone that she’s very scared after the attack and she’s only going to come out of hiding each year to do the show.”


            “You’d just keep her in prison and let her do the show every year?”


            “It’s an idea.” Smith said, and I could see the reptile gleam in his eye again. “The world needs Christmas. Or something during the Vague Early Winter Possibly Religious Festival season to let off that last bit of steam before winter really kicks in.”


            “Well, let’s find out who really did it first, shall we?” I asked, disgusted that I’d actually listened to his plan for a moment.


            “We shall indeed.” He said cracking his knuckles. “Frankly, I hope it’s Church. I would enjoy a reason to take him off the street.”


            “I’m sure you would.” I said, masking my annoyance perfectly.


            “You’re going to call the mother?” Smith asked.


            “Yeah.” I nodded at him.


            “I won’t keep you then.” He said standing up. “We’ll have to figure something out about her though.”


            “Yes we will.” I said.


            “I’ll call you later.” He said and turned to go.


            I watched him leave, and wondered if I could just shoot him and place a baseball bat covered in blood in the back seat of his SUV. Probably not, they were probably just from a motor pool and would be checked each night. It wouldn’t be possible that he’d have the bat in the car this many days later. I looked at my office phone and decided that I would have to call Frost and let him know that his precious show might just be able to go on as planned.


            First I decided to call Sandy Cloose’s mother though, and what a tough job that would be. I decided to just gather information if I could. I would try to play it as cool as I could, and certainly try not to let on that her daughter was dead. I picked up the phone and dialed. After a few rings, a woman’s voice answered.


            “Hello?” she said.


            “Mrs. Cloose?” I asked.


            “Yes.” She confirmed.


            “My name is Jack Collier, I’m a private detective.” I said.


            “Is this about my daughter?” She asked.


            “Sort of.” I said, trying not to let the damn burst. “Can you tell me when she disappeared?”


            “The day before Christmas was attacked.” She said. “The police said I had to wait before I could file a report, but she’s never been out more than a day without calling.”


            “What was she doing when you saw her last?” I asked to as not to tell her that her daughter was no more. “What was she supposed to be doing that day?”

            “She was excited because she’d just gotten a new job. She was supposed to start that night. Working with one of the show people. She wouldn’t say which one, but she was supposed to be some kind of stand-in.”


            “She was standing in for Christmas.” I said. What the hell, she had to find out sometime. “I think she might have been attacked instead of Christmas. I’m not certain, but the police are looking into it. If you call a federal agent named Smith, and tell him I told you to call, he can help you find your daughter.”


            “You mean it was her that…” She let it trail off.


            “I think so.” I said, and heard nothing else but sobs for a long time.


            The phone must have fallen from her grasp because I heard it bang once against something. I then heard her shriek with rage and something that sounded like a drying rack full of dishes smashed to the ground and she screamed with anger. Someone else came to the room and there was a half intelligible discussion made up of screams and sobs. Finally a man’s voice came to the phone, he sounded like his heart had been broken, but he also sounded determined.


            “Give me the number of this man.” The voice said. I simply obeyed him. “And this man will be able to tell us what happened to our daughter?”


            “Yes sir.” I said. “I think so.”


            “Give me your name again.” I did so.


            He didn’t say thank you, or give me any sign that the conversation was over. He just hung up on me. I didn’t blame him. I wouldn’t want to talk to some private detective at a time like this either. He probably didn’t really want to talk to a federal agent either, but he was going to have to in order to get his daughter’s remains back.


            I hoped I was right, it wouldn’t be fair to put them through all that to find it wasn’t their little girl. Sadly, I knew that I wasn’t wrong, that family had been destroyed by this affair. I felt like it was raising the death toll from five to seven, since I was fairly sure that the death of their daughter would kill both of them. I also wondered for a moment how Smith would go about keeping the two of them quiet now, particularly since he would have to give them the facts. If he lied to them, I would shoot him myself, and I think he probably knew that.


            I leaned back and looked at the phone, if only to confirm what I knew in my heart I was going to have to call. I knew she’d lied to me though, she hadn’t had that young woman for months, only just a few days. I leaned forward and looked at the phone, knowing that I needed to dial.


This is part twenty of twenty-five, come back tomorrow for part twentry-one and every day this month until we’re done to see what happens next. If you get lost, one of the tags here should help you. The HBC tag will take you to the story while the Jack Tag will take you to Part One of every story we post here.

December 20, 2008 - Posted by | Fiction, Jack |

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