Steve Hodge ~ Curiosities

hfh43GEOFF FIELD GREW up in the small northern Michigan town of Glasgow.  When he moved to Ann Arbor to attend the University of Michigan, he fully intended to return to his hometown after graduation.  After living in A2 for a few months he realized that he was there to stay; the city, the university, the culture, the diversity, the women were just too much to pass up.  He loved it.

Everything went his way all through his college years.  He got his B.A. in Music and things continued to happen for him.  He played classical guitar in concert halls, wine bars, cigar bars and coffee shops, released two self-produced CDs of classical music that sold pretty well, had a few relationships with women; the world was his oyster.  Then the economy collapsed and things seemed to turn around overnight.

The wine bars and cigar bars closed.  Coffee shops had to cut back, meaning no budget for live entertainment.  People stopped buying classical music on iTunes even after he lowered his price to eighty-nine cents per piece.  Geoff had to switch to playing jazz in some of the hipper bars in town.

Nobody goes to bars to listen to the music.  Even at the hip places, people were there to drink too much and hope to get laid.  Nobody looked at him as he played and few bothered to applaud his performances.  Drunks didn’t see it, but they talked too loud and laughed at the least provocation; especially the college-aged ogres that seemed unaware of the fact that he was laying down some of the best solo jazz they were ever likely to hear, if they only bothered to listen.  But they didn’t.

Pearls before swine, he thought one night after finishing a particularly complicated swing version of Runnin’ Wild.  He was just getting ready to inject a little pathos into the evening with his new arrangement of Someone to Watch Over Me when somebody belched loudly and got a bigger round of applause than he’d had in weeks.  The topper came later that evening as he was playing a poignant arrangement of Stardust and somebody vomited.  Everybody in the place burst out laughing.  He finished the set but doubted that anyone heard a note.

He eventually had to pawn his beloved vintage Gypsy jazz guitar.  He still had his Gibson arch top, which was a great guitar, but it just didn’t have the gravitas of the French classic.  On the upside, he was able to both pay his rent and eat that month.  Definitely a plus.  Especially since Amy was doing so well.

He didn’t know what to call Amy.  Both girlfriend and fiancé seemed inappropriate.  They’d been dating for a little over a year when she asked, “Why don’t we get married?”  Out of the blue; just like that.

“I’d love to,” he answered honestly.  “But now’s not the time.”

“Why not?”

“Money.  I barely make enough to pay my rent every month and…”

“So what?  If we get married we can move in together.  Half the rent.”

“My place is a dump.  No way you’d be comfortable there.  And half the rent at your place is more than all the rent at mine.”

“I don’t care.  We can pool our money and…”

“No.”  He smiled and kissed her.  “I appreciate it, but I’m not going to be a ‘kept’ man.”

“Geoff, I’m making plenty of money.  You can just contribute what you can until things turn around.”

She was right.  She was making plenty of money.  She and Liz, her business partner, opened a photography studio two years before she met Geoff.  Amy was the photographer and Liz booked jobs, balanced the books and even acted as receptionist at the studio.  They’d grown the business to the point where Amy rarely had to do portraiture anymore, focusing instead on commercial work; fashion and product shots for magazine ads mostly.  Where the real money is.  Amy had earned a reputation as the go-to shooter in town and, increasingly, around the country.  And she never disappointed.  Her work was always excellent and her clients loved her.

“I want to get married,” Geoff said as they lay on her couch together.  “I’ve been wanting to bring it up.  But not now.  The timing just isn’t right.”

She gave him a theatrical pout.

“I love you,” he said, moving in for another kiss.  “Let’s just say we’re engaged for now and hope we can set a date soon.”

She was disappointed but she could see that it was an ego thing for him and decided to let it go.  “Deal,” she said.

They made love on her couch and he ended up spending the night.

* * *

After proposing a gig at a coffee shop and being shot down, Geoff stepped out of the shop and saw that a new store had opened across the street.  Curiosities, the sign read.  It appeared to be a second-hand shop.  He hoped it would be in his price range as he made his way toward it, hoping to find something for Amy’s birthday the following week.

He almost gasped when he stepped inside.  The place was full of stuff.  Shelf after shelf of used items crammed together.  Baseball gloves piled next to kitchen blenders.  Christmas decorations stacked on top of table saws.  Shoes and ink pens and skeleton keys and hula-hoops and radios and tire irons and on and on.  He even saw a shelf full of shelves.  He took a quick glance around for guitars (there were about a dozen but nothing worth a second look) and thought vaguely that he should see if they had any wedding rings.

“Hello, my friend,” he heard someone say with an accent he couldn’t place.  It took him a few seconds to find the kid behind the counter even though he was only about twelve feet away and in plain sight.

“Hello,” Geoff answered.

“You are looking for something particular?”  The kid was about fifteen and improbably thin.  Geoff still couldn’t place the accent and wondered about the young man’s nationality.  Dark skin, hair and eyes.  He could have been from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, south Asia, Egypt.

“I’m looking for a birthday present for my girlfriend, but I don’t know what I want to get her.”

“We have a wide selection for choosing.  Please say to me if you have any questions.”

“I will.  Thanks.”

Geoff looked around the shop for a few minutes and was continually amazed at the variety of items he found.  He saw a fountain pen he might have wanted to buy for himself but when he turned the box over he found no price.  He checked a few more items and found that none of them had price tags.  Then he rounded a corner and found what he wanted; an antique tarnished silver picture frame with what looked like nineteenth century wavy glass, complete with several tiny bubbles.

Perfect, he thought.  And it was.  Amy had a large selection of antique cameras on shelves in the front lobby at her photography studio.  Interspersed among the cameras she’d recently begun to add nineteenth century black and white photographic portraits.  She loved the way black and white photos looked in silver frames and was always on the lookout for appropriate frames.  Geoff checked the frame for a price and found none, so he made his way back to the young man at the counter.

“How much for this old frame?”

The kid took the frame from him and held it to a small opening in the wall behind the counter.  A hand with bent arthritic fingers grasped the frame and it disappeared.  Geoff heard a weak voice, almost a whisper, speak in a foreign language.

“This is not for you,” the young man said.

“Right.  I told you it’s for my girlfriend for her birthday.”

“No,” the kid corrected him.  “This frame is not made for you.  Is for someone else.  You must find a different thing for your lady friend.”

Geoff was taken aback.  “No.  I want the frame.  Just tell me how much it costs.”

“There is no price for you.  Is impossible for you to buy.”

Flabbergasted, Geoff didn’t know how to react.  “Fine.  If you don’t want my money there’re plenty of other stores in the city.”  He turned and stepped toward the door as he heard the whisper-voice through the pass-through in the wall behind the counter.

“Wait,” the young man said.

This is the weirdest bargaining technique I’ve ever heard of, Geoff thought as he turned back to the kid.  “Wait for what?”

The young man said nothing but looked at the pass-through behind him.  Geoff looked at the pass-through and saw an old woman’s face appear in the opening.  Her eyes were closed and she seemed to be smelling the air as if she were trying to read it with her nose.  Finally, she opened her eyes, which were both veiled with thick cataracts, and whispered something to the young man.  The face disappeared and the arthritic hand returned a moment later holding a green leather bound book.  The young man took the book and held it out to Geoff.

“This is your item,” he said, matter-of-factly.

Geoff looked at the book but didn’t take it.  “I don’t want a book.  I want the frame.  Are you going to sell me the frame or not?”

“Look at book,” the kid said, extending it toward Geoff.

“No.”

The young man sighed.  “You will get frame and book both but you must look at book.”

“How much?”

Another sigh from the young man.  “When is lady’s birthday?”

“Tuesday.”

“You take book and frame.  No money.  Return Wednesday, we discuss price.”

“I don’t want the book.  I mean, it looks like a nice enough book, but…”

“Examine book now.  Pay nothing.  Leave with book and frame.  Return Wednesday.”

Geoff grabbed the book from the kid and paged through it.  The pages were all blank.  “I’m not the kind of guy who keeps a diary.”

“I wrap book and frame for you,” the young man said as he took the book from Geoff.  “One minute.”  He turned and started wrapping the book in brown paper.  The arthritic hand appeared in the pass-through, handing the kid the silver frame, then reappeared a moment later with a wooden box.  The young man took the box and opened it for Geoff.

“This is how to write in book,” he said.

Geoff looked in the box and saw a white feather quill pen and tan ceramic inkwell.

“Regular pen or pencil not work in book.  Only this ink.”

Geoff was tired of arguing and didn’t want to continue with whatever game the kid was playing.  “Just wrap the stuff up and I’ll leave you alone.”

The young man smiled slightly as he turned to finish wrapping the book, the box and the frame.

* * *

Geoff unwrapped the items when he got back to his apartment.  He looked at the frame and made a mental note to buy some wrapping paper for Amy’s present then turned his attention to the book.  He noticed that it had a stylized eye on the cover that he hadn’t noticed when he was in the shop.  Looks Egyptian, he thought vaguely.  Kind of creepy.  He opened the book to see if it had a manufacturer’s name or copyright information.  Nothing.  He paged through the book to see if anything was written on any of the pages.  Nothing again.  His cell phone rang.

“LAGQ’s playing at Rackham Auditorium next month,” his friend Scott, a fellow guitarist, said.  “I’m going to the box office to get a ticket.  Want one?”

How much are they? Geoff almost asked, then realized it’s the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet for Chrissake.  “Hell yes!  You leaving now?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ll meet you there.  We can get lunch after.”

“Sounds good.”

They disconnected and Geoff left the items from the shop on his kitchen table as he made his way to the door.

* * *

Geoff woke the next morning with an uneasy feeling.  He remembered having had an unusual dream, but he couldn’t remember what the dream had been about.  He thought it might have had something to do with a sound.  Yes.  A scratching sound.  The sound a small animal might make trying to scratch through a wall.  Weird, he thought as he made his way to the bathroom.

Standing in his kitchen a couple of minutes later, trying to decide what to make for breakfast, he noticed that the frame he’d bought for Amy had been moved.  It was still on the kitchen table, but it had been stacked on top of the book when he went to bed the night before.  Now it was lying beside the book.  He stepped to the table and saw that the wooden box that contained the quill pen and inkwell was open.  He picked up the pen and saw that there was black ink on the tip.  What the hell? he thought.  He was sure there had been no ink on the quill when he’d seen it in the shop.  He returned the quill to the box and closed the lid.

As he was placing the silver frame on top of the book, he saw something he was sure had not been on its cover the day before; the word Journal was embossed on the cover of the book.  Below it, the name Geoff Field was embossed in the same typeface.  He touched his name and felt the raised letters.  “What the hell is this?” he asked himself.

He checked the entry door to his apartment and found that it was locked.  No signs of tampering.  It had been raining when he went to bed the night before and the street outside was still wet.  He felt the tile in his vestibule and found that it was dry.  This doesn’t make sense, he thought as he returned to the kitchen table.

He picked up the book, opened it and nearly dropped it when he saw handwriting on the first page.  “Jesus!”  He stared in disbelief when he realized that the handwriting was his.  No doubt about it.  He read the entry:

Friday, October 12, 4:00 p.m.

Went downtown to buy wrapping paper for Amy’s frame and found a woman’s purse in a shopping cart.  Nobody around.  Took the purse.  More than $5,400 dollars in cash.  Woman’s driver’s license and credit cards.  Considered contacting her.  Didn’t.

Geoff read the entry two more times.  He checked the calendar on his refrigerator.  Today’s date, he thought.  He examined the handwriting more carefully and concluded that it was definitely his.  This makes no sense.

He had always been scrupulously honest. He’d never stolen anything in his life.  If a cashier accidentally gave him too much money in change, he always handed the money back to him or her.  Always.  A friend chided him about it once and Geoff told him, “It’s not worth it.  I mean, I don’t want to have to carry the knowledge around with me the rest of my life that I took something that wasn’t mine.”  He read the journal entry a fourth time and shook his head.  “This just isn’t like me,” he said aloud.

As he sat down to eat a few minutes later, he wondered if he had been sleepwalking the night before and written the journal entry in his sleep.  Though he’d never sleepwalked before as far as he knew, he had to admit that it was a possibility.  But even if he had been sleepwalking, it didn’t explain how the word Journal and his name had been embossed on the cover of the book.  He’d never embossed anything before; wouldn’t know how even if he had the necessary equipment, which he didn’t.  He didn’t even know what kind of equipment would be required to emboss leather.

* * *

All that morning, Geoff kept thinking about how having $5,400 would impact his life.  It was a compelling thought.  It wouldn’t be enough to make him feel comfortable about marrying Amy right away, but it would be just enough to get his Gypsy guitar out of hock.

Around eleven o’clock he decided to drive downtown to get wrapping paper for Amy’s gift.

* * *

There were no parking spaces on the street near the shop where Geoff planned to get wrapping paper, so he drove to a parking structure on the next block over.  On the structure’s second level he saw a shopping cart between two cars.  He slowed to a stop and froze when he saw a woman’s purse in the cart.  You gotta be kiddin’ me, he thought.

He sat in his car with the engine running for a long moment, staring at the purse.  Finally, he put the transmission in park, opened the door and stepped out of the car, checking the parking structure’s walls and ceiling for security cameras.  There didn’t seem to be any.  He looked around to see if anyone was walking on his level or sitting in any of the parked cars.  Nobody around.  So he stepped quickly to the shopping cart, grabbed the purse and went back to his car, throwing the purse on the floor in front of the passenger seat.  His heart pounded as he drove through the parking structure then out onto the street.

* * *

After parking in front of his apartment building, Geoff got out of his car, removed his jacket and wrapped it around the purse before climbing the stairs to his place.

Once he was safely inside his living room, he unwrapped the purse and emptied its contents on the coffee table.  There was a woman’s wallet among the makeup, checkbook and other items from the purse.  He opened the wallet and found a thick wad of cash.  “This can’t be happening,” he said to himself as he counted the money.  There was $5,437 dollars in the wallet, not including the change in the coin pocket.

Geoff stared at the money for a long moment as it lay before him on the coffee table, his mind blank.  He finally decided to check the wallet for identification, half hoping he wouldn’t find any.  The name Pamela Rood was on a driver’s license, library card and several credit cards in the wallet.  The address on the driver’s license indicated that Pamela Rood lived in Chelsea, a small town maybe thirty miles from Ann Arbor.  He also found photos of three children; a boy and two girls.

Okay, he thought.  This is the moment of decision.  If I take the purse to the police, I come out of this a hero; maybe receive a handsome reward from a grateful Ms. Rood for my honesty.  If I keep the money, I’m a thief.  A criminal.  If I get caught, I could do jail time.  The court would demand that I return the fifty-four hundred and I’d have who knows how much more in legal fees.  I’d have a criminal record that would follow me around for I-don’t-know how long; maybe the rest of my life.  My name and photo might be posted on the web or in the newspapers.  If my parents found out, it would kill them.

But if I didn’t get caught…

His mind raced as he thought about the things he could do with the money.  He rejected getting his guitar out of hock.  Amy would want to know how he could afford it.  Putting the money in his savings account might attract unwanted attention from the bank and it would create a paper trail for the police to find if they checked.  It would be a relief to not have to worry about paying his rent and expenses for a few months.

He became aware of an odd sort of pressure in his head.  It wasn’t a headache; more a feeling that there was some invisible force exerting pressure on his brain.  He’d never felt anything like it; slightly painful but at the same time euphoric.

He sat on his couch for nearly an hour thinking about the potential consequences of keeping the money; both positive and negative. In the end, the temptation to keep it was too much.  He put the money in the bottom of the box of garbage bags under his kitchen sink and drove back downtown to get Amy’s wrapping paper.

* * *

“You seem distracted tonight,” Amy said as they ate dinner at their favorite deli.

“I was going to say the same to you,” he said.  “Something bothering you?”

“Not really.  No.  Just work.  Not worth talking about.”

He finished the last of his sandwich as she fiddled with her salad.

“I was thinking,” he said.  “Now that we’re engaged we should think about getting a place together.  Something nicer than my apartment but less expensive than yours.  What do you think?”

She stopped pushing her lettuce around her plate but didn’t look at him.  An awkward silence seemed to fill the space between them.  “I’m way too busy at work,” she finally said.  “I won’t have time to pack and move for at least a couple of months.”

“I can do it for you.  I’ll get some boxes and pack everything up.  We’ll rent a truck and Scott can help me move your stuff.”

“I don’t think so.  Let’s wait until after the holidays.  Business is always slow in January.”

“There’ll be snow on the ground in January.  It’d be easier to do it now.”

“No.  Sorry.  I need to focus on work right now.  Moving would be an unnecessary distraction.”

“Okay.”  He noticed that she still hadn’t looked at him.  He knew that she often obsessed about work when she had a big project going.  It was one of the reasons she was so successful.  Thinking creatively while paying attention to practical details was a difficult juggling act.  Let it go, he thought.

“Well, I promised my father I’d drop by his place tonight,” she said.  “I better get going.”

“Want to stop and get a drink first?”

“No time.”  She stood and put her coat on, grabbed her purse and walked out of the deli without saying another word.

* * *

That night, Geoff looked through Pamela Rood’s purse again, making sure he hadn’t missed anything the first time.  The only things he found that he hadn’t seen before were a nickel, four pennies, a paperclip and a short length of graphite from a mechanical pencil.  He wondered what he should do with the purse.  He knew he was going to keep the cash, but he had no need for any of the other stuff.  Using the credit cards would be foolish.  He scooped the change out of the bottom of the purse and dropped it in his change jar beside the dresser in the bedroom.

In the kitchen, he put the purse in a garbage bag and wrapped it tightly.  Then he put it in a second garbage bag and did the same.  He took a roll of duct tape from a drawer and wrapped the double-bagged purse until it looked like a sticky gray soccer ball.  He dropped it on the floor and stepped on it with his full weight so that it became a misshapen blob.  Don’t want some kid pulling it out of the trash to play with, he thought.

A little after midnight, he dropped the wadded purse into the Dumpster behind his apartment building.  That aughtta do it, he thought, knowing that the Dumpster would be emptied in the morning.  It should be in a landfill by noon tomorrow.

* * *

He woke the following morning with another vague memory of having heard a scratching sound in a dream; half wondered if he should buy some mousetraps, load them with peanut butter and wait for the deadly SNAPS!

He heard the garbage truck while making tea a few minutes later and looked out the kitchen window in time to see the truck lift the Dumpster over its cab and empty the contents into the back of the truck.  He smiled as he saw the tape- and plastic-swaddled purse drop into the truck with the rest of the trash.  Good-bye Pamela Rood, he thought.

Taking his tea to the kitchen table, Geoff saw that the wooden box that held the feather quill and inkwell had been moved again.  He felt an odd coldness in his stomach as he opened the journal and read the new entry in his handwriting:

Saturday, October 13, 7:15 p.m.

Detroit.  Chambers Avenue at Craigman.  Saw a guy hide a case.  $2.7 million.  Cash.  Bank robbery?  Mine now.

He wasn’t sure how long he sat looking at the entry.  How many times he reread it.  How many times he wondered if he was losing his mind.  When he finally remembered his tea and took a sip, it had gone cold.  He vaguely wondered how he might go about finding a psychiatrist.  The handwriting was his; no doubt about it, but he had no memory of having written it.

He picked up the quill pen and dipped it into the inkwell.  As he pulled the tip of the quill out of the well, he gently scraped it along the lip of the well to wipe off any excess ink, but there was no fresh ink on the quill.  Only the dried black ink he’d found on it the morning before.  He tried looking into the inkwell but couldn’t see into the darkness through the small opening.  He picked up the inkwell and tried to judge its weight, but couldn’t tell if it contained any ink.

At the kitchen sink, Geoff slowly tilted the inkwell over the drain, expecting to see ink pour out, but none did.  He held the well upside-down and shook it.  Nothing.  The well was dry.  Then he noticed that the lip of the well was perfectly clean.  Like new.  If anyone had ever dipped a quill into it, they would have scraped the excess ink off the quill on the lip of the well, as he had a minute before.  There would be smudges of dried ink on the lip.  But there weren’t.  He held the well to his nose to see if it smelled of ink.  All he got was a hint of… what?  Cinnamon?  What the fuck?

He went back to the table and set the well down, picked up the quill and tried scribbling a wavy line in the journal.  He cried out as he dropped the quill and backed away from the table, knocking over a kitchen chair.  The quill left no mark, but the scratching sound the quill made as he tried to scribble with it scared the hell out of him.  Like my dreams, he thought, remembering the sounds he’d heard in his sleep both the pervious two nights.  His heart pounded as he righted the chair and stood looking at the journal, the quill and the inkwell.

Okay.  Proof.  How do I prove this is happening?  What concrete evidence can I put my hands on that will…

            The money!

He opened the cupboard door beneath the kitchen sink, grabbed the box of garbage bags and reached around the folded bags to the bottom of the box.  The fifty-four hundred dollars was there.  It was real.  He could feel it in his hands.  Okay.

Taking a screwdriver from a drawer, Geoff unscrewed the four screws that held the dishwasher in place and pulled the washer out of the cabinet.  He put the money against the wall in the back of the space where the dishwasher had been and stepped to the kitchen table but stopped as he reached for the journal, the quill and the inkwell.  He was afraid to touch them.  He put on the rubber gloves he kept beneath the sink, picked up the journal, quill and inkwell and stuffed them against the wall beside the fifty-four hundred dollars.  The dishwasher fit perfectly when he pushed it back beneath the counter and drove the screws back in place.

“Now,” he said to himself as he removed the gloves, “there’s the matter of two point seven million dollars.”

* * *

It took Geoff less than an hour to drive to the corner of Chambers and Craigman in Detroit.  Most of the surrounding buildings appeared to be abandoned.  Broken windows.  Gang tags.  Trash in the street.  Nobody around.  Detroit was the only big city he’d ever been to where he could drive for blocks without seeing any people.  He pulled his car to the curb and turned off the engine.  Now what? he wondered.

Twenty minutes later he reluctantly got out of the car, locked the door and stepped to an alley.  There was a pile of car tires, what appeared to be an oxygen tank and an ancient smashed jukebox in the alley.  No people.  This is stupid, he thought as he turned and started back toward his car.

A man nearly collided with Geoff as they both rounded the corner at the end of the alley.  The guy had been running at full speed and stumbled when he changed course in order to avoid running into Geoff.  The man lost his footing and fell down on the concrete but he never let go of the large black suitcase in his hands.

“Fuck!” the guy said as he slid the suitcase behind and into the jukebox.  He stood, looked at Geoff intensely, pointed his finger at him and said, “Don’t!  I never forget a face!”  He opened his jacket to reveal a pistol in a shoulder holster.  “I’ve already killed one man today.”

Geoff raised his hands over his head and whispered, “Okay.  Okay.”

The guy looked over his shoulder then started running down the alley.

A second later, a car pulled up and two men jumped out.  “Federal agents!  Keep your hands over your head and drop to your knees!  Now!”  They suddenly had guns in their hands and were looking at Geoff as though they might be insane.  Geoff dropped to his knees as another car roared to a stop behind him.

“Down there!” one of the agents yelled at the car, which then sped past them down the alley in pursuit of the guy Geoff had almost collided with just seconds earlier.

“Who the fuck’re you?” one of the agents yelled as he grabbed Geoff’s hands and handcuffed them behind his back.

“Nobody.  I was just…”

“What’d that guy say to you?”

“Nothing.  I mean, he said, ‘Get out of my way.’  Then he looked behind him and saw your car and he started running.”

They all heard several shots of gunfire at the end of the alley.

“Put him in back,” one of the agents said.  A few seconds later they were all in the car, speeding down the alley in the direction of the gunshots.

* * *

They took Geoff to the Federal Building downtown, fingerprinted him and interrogated him for over an hour, asking him again and again what had happened in the alley and what the guy said.  Geoff had read somewhere that the police often asked the same questions over and over as a method of trying to break down their suspect; trying to find inconsistencies in their story.  Each time, he told them exactly the same thing; that he was walking out of the alley when the guy almost ran into him and said, “Get out of my way.”

“You sure that’s all he said, ‘Get out of my way,’ just like that?”

“Yes.  I’m sure.  It was a single statement.”

“He didn’t say, ‘Get the fuck out of my way,’ or ‘Get out of my way, asshole,’ anything like that?”

“No.  I’m sure.  Just ‘Get out of my way.’”

“What were you doing in that alley?  You’re pretty far from Ann Arbor.”

“My fiancé’s a photographer.  She does fashion shoots at all sorts of unusual locations.  I was scouting potential locations for her to use for a future shoot.”  He’d invented the story while they were driving to the Federal Building.  It was plausible, short and easy to remember.  The only problem he saw with it was that they might get to Amy before he could.  He wasn’t sure what she’d tell them if they got to her before he filled her in.

“What’s your fiancé’s name and how do we contact her?”

A third agent opened the door to the interrogation room and said, “Got the warrant,” at which point the agents all left, leaving Geoff alone in the room for another three hours.

They didn’t offer to drive him back to his car when they finally released him and he didn’t ask them to.  Including the tip, the cab ride cost him twenty dollars, but if things worked out the way he hoped, it wouldn’t matter.

* * *

Geoff found that his apartment had been trashed when he got home.  The agents had emptied everything from his closets, drawers, cupboards and cabinets, gone through whatever they found and left it all scattered on the floor.  Great.  But it didn’t really matter.  Not after Geoff went back to the alley and retrieved the bag from the jukebox.  Two point seven million dollars.  Mine now, the journal entry had said.  And it was right.

Considering the fact that they’d released him, he assumed they hadn’t contacted Amy to check his story about him scouting locations for her.  That, or she’d been sharp enough to corroborate his story.  Either way, he didn’t want to chance calling her on his cell phone.  Maybe it was paranoia, but he couldn’t be sure they weren’t bugging his phone.

It didn’t look as though the agents had disturbed the dishwasher.  If they’d found the journal and the fifty-four hundred dollars, they wouldn’t have replaced the dishwasher afterward.  And they wouldn’t have released him from custody. Then he remembered that he hadn’t told the agents Amy’s name.  They asked, but the third agent interrupted the interrogation before Geoff could answer.

He drove to Amy’s apartment with the $2.7 million still in the suitcase in the trunk of his car.  If the agents decided to look further into Geoff’s life, it might be a day or two before they worked out who Amy was.  With nearly three million dollars travel money, he thought, we can make it to wherever we want to go before they know we’re gone.

As he parked his car at Amy’s apartment building, he realized that the odd pressure feeling he’d felt that morning was back.  And it was more intense this time.

* * *

“Geoff!” Amy practically screamed when she answered his knock on her door.  “You have to go.”

“What?  Why?”

“Liz and I are preparing a bid for a huge client.  We can’t be disturbed.  You can’t be here.”

“I have to talk to you just for a minute,” he said as he stepped toward the door.  Amy pushed him back into the hall and pushed the door nearly shut.

“What the hell, Amy?  You don’t have thirty seconds to talk to…”

“No.”  She tried closing the door but he stopped her with this shoulder.

“Have you been contacted by the police or federal agents?”

She stopped pushing the door toward him.  “Why would the police contact me?  What’s this about?”

“Let me in.”

“Look, pal,” a man’s voice said from behind Amy, “we’ll call the police ourselves if you don’t get the fuck out of here.”  Geoff pushed Amy away from the door and pushed the door open to find a guy with grey hair standing behind her in his boxer shorts, still half aroused.  Geoff looked at Amy but she couldn’t look at him.

“Hello, Liz,” Geoff said to the man venomously.

“I don’t know who the fuck you are,” the guy said, “but the lady doesn’t want you here.”

“The lady’s my fiancé, asshole.  At least she was.”

Amy finally looked at Geoff.  “I’m sorry.”

“Fuck you.  Or has Liz here already taken care of that?”

“He’s a client, Geoff.  We were just…”

“I can see what you were just.”  He turned and stepped away from the door, adding, “This place will be swarming with cops and federal agents in about two minutes.  Hate to put a damper on your sordid little tryst, but you better get out of here now if you want to avoid becoming the top story on the news tonight.”  He turned back and looked at Amy.  “Wouldn’t be good for business if people found out you like to fuck senior citizens.”

He could see the guy trying to get into his pants behind Amy.  “The news?  Cops?  What the fuck’ve you gotten me into, Amy?  I can’t afford to be…”

Geoff actually laughed when he saw the guy put his shirt on inside-out.

“Why would the police want to talk to me?” Amy asked.

“You’ll find out when they get here.  Shouldn’t be long now.”

The guy pushed passed Amy and Geoff and trotted down the hall, his unbuttoned shirt still inside-out.

“She told you she has AIDS, right?” Geoff called after him.

Fuck!”  And with that grandiloquent exclamation, the guy stumbled down the stairs.

“Guess he wouldn’t have a reason to care if you hadn’t already fucked him.”  Geoff looked at her coldly.

“What’s this about, Geoff?  Why do the police want to talk to me?”

He shook his head and sighed.  “I don’t know if it was real for you, but I actually loved you and wanted to spend the rest of my life with you.”  Then he turned and walked out of her life forever.

* * *

Back at his apartment, he got the money from behind the dishwasher and looked around for items he might want to take with him, knowing he wouldn’t ever be back.  He realized that the journal and box with the quill and inkwell hadn’t been with the money behind the dishwasher at the same moment he saw them on the kitchen table.  The journal was open.  He read the entry:

Saturday, October 13, 11:21 p.m.

Tim Sanford.  1260 Parkdale.  Front door key taped to top of porch light.  Alarm code 7649.  Gun in unlocked top-right drawer of desk in office, front-right corner, ground floor.  Divorced.  Lives alone.  Will be there in an hour.  $90,000-plus cash in safe behind painting behind desk.  Combination 11-4-32-11.  He still smells of Amy’s love.

Geoff checked his watch; 11:21 p.m.  Plenty of time to make it to Parkdale, let himself into the house, get the money and get out before Sanford got home.

Why not? Geoff thought.  The journal’s never been wrong.  I don’t need the money, but I’d love to take the asshole’s savings from him.

He left the journal, quill and inkwell on the kitchen table and walked out the door, not bothering to lock it when he left.  The feeling of pressure in his head was getting stronger; like a low-grade headache.  His mind kept playing the last line in the journal entry; He still smells of Amy’s love.

* * *

It took him less than twenty minutes to find the house, which was dark except for a light in an upstairs window.  For security, Geoff thought.  The key was taped to the top of the porch light, just as the journal had said, and the alarm code worked: DISARMED, the display panel read.  He stepped quickly to the office and removed the painting behind the desk.  The safe was right where the journal said it would be.  He had just started turning the combination dial when the overhead light came on.

“You,” he heard a man’s voice say behind him.

Startled, Geoff turned to see Sanford, the guy from Amy’s apartment, standing in the doorway, again in his boxer shorts.

“So this is what this is all about?  A robbery?” Sanford asked.  “She keeps me busy upstairs screwing while you loot my safe?”

“Amy’s here?  Now?”

“Like you don’t know she is.”

Sanford ran toward Geoff and threw himself across the top of the desk, reaching for the drawer with the gun.  Geoff knocked his hand away from the drawer and opened the drawer himself, taking the handgun from the drawer. Sanford rolled onto his back and pivoted his legs around, kicking Geoff’s chest hard with both feet.  Geoff hit the wall behind him and dropped the gun.

They both lunged for the gun at the same moment. Sanford got to it first but Geoff grabbed his hand and wrapped his own hand around it and the gun.  They both jumped when they heard the gun go off.  Geoff smashed the heel of his free hand into Sanford’s nose, saw blood splatter across his face as his nose broke.  He pulled his free hand back to hit Sanford a second time, felt the pressure in his head increase; as if his head were being crushed.   The gun fired again and Sanford dropped to the floor.  Geoff saw blood gushing from a fresh wound in Sanford’s chest.  He bent down, took the gun from Sanford’s hand and considered shooting him in the head.

If he lives he can identify me, Geoff thought.  No choice.  He aimed the gun at Sanford’s head, closed his eyes and started to squeeze the trigger.

“Don’t!” Amy’s voice yelled.

Geoff looked up to see her standing in the doorway in Sanford’s bathrobe.  Incredibly, the pressure in his head increased.  Darkness was beginning to creep into the periphery of his vision as the pressure steadily took over his mind.

“This is all because of you,” he screamed at her, his mind filling with rage.

“Geoff, please don’t do this.  I didn’t mean to hurt you,” she pleaded.  “He’s a good man.”

Geoff cried out as he felt the pressure in his head become unbearable pain.  Without being aware that he was thinking it, he realized that the only way he could stop the pain would be to kill Sanford.  He pulled the trigger, splattering Sanford’s brains across the rug.

“He isn’t a good man anymore,” Geoff laughed, then cried out as the pain in his head became a living, breathing thing.

She turned and started to run as he fired, shooting her twice in the back.  Two satisfying bloodstains blossomed on the back of Sanford’s robe as Geoff stepped over her and ran out the front door, not bothering to take the money from Sanford’s safe.  He didn’t even realize he still had the gun in his hand.

* * *

He drove around aimlessly for nearly an hour trying to calm himself.  He didn’t know if the federal agents who had detained him earlier had put him on a no-fly list of some sort in an attempt to make sure he didn’t leave the country.  He could cross into Canada by car from either Detroit or Port Huron, but again he wasn’t sure if they might be looking for him at the border.  He considered going back to Glasgow, his hometown in northern Michigan, but the agents would eventually find out where his parents lived and he didn’t want to bring armed agents to their house.

Tears stained his face as he realized that he’d probably never see his parents again.  They were good people who had worked hard and sacrificed a lot in order to assure that he was raised properly.  How could everything have gone so wrong?  He’d gone to Amy’s apartment an hour earlier to run off with her.  He’d loved her.

How could I have killed her and Sanford? he thought.  I’ve never hurt anyone in my life.  Never even been in a fight.  He had no logical reason to think it, but he felt sure that the journal was somehow to blame for his murderous behavior.  Then he remembered that he’d left the journal on the kitchen table back in his apartment.  Too risky to go back for it now, he thought.

FLINT NEXT TWO EXITS, the sign read as he drove beneath it.  He decided to drive another twenty minutes to Frankenmuth, rent a hotel room, get some sleep and come up with a plan in the morning, not noticing that the painful pressure in his head was gone.

* * *

After carefully parking his car with the license plate facing the building, he checked into the hotel, paying cash. He signed the register under an assumed name.  The clerk asked if he’d like help with his luggage, which, in Geoff’s case, was an oversized suitcase containing $2.7 million.

“No thanks.  I’ve got it.”

He stepped into his room, locked the door and placed the suitcase beside the bed closest to the bathroom, where he’d be sleeping if sleep would come.  He sat on the bed for several minutes.  Though his mind had been racing since he left Sanford’s house, it seemed to go numb now.

He thought about Amy laying on the floor with blood soaking into Sanford’s robe.  He thought about Sanford’s brains splattering across the rug when he was shot.  He tried to feel something but found that he couldn’t.  Wondered vaguely if the feeling, or lack of feeling, was some sort of coping mechanism.  A defensive condition meant to keep him from losing his mind.  He turned on the television, lay back on the bed and closed his eyes, knowing that he would be unable to sleep.

* * *

Geoff woke several hours later when he heard dramatic music on the television.  He looked at the TV and saw the words BREAKING NEWS ALERT as the Detroit studio anchorman spoke:

“Federal agents continue to search for Brian Farver, a Drug Enforcement Agent who DEA spokesmen say shot and killed his partner during a failed drug sting operation on Detroit’s East Side yesterday.”

A photo of the man Geoff saw in the alley the day before appeared on the screen.

“The spokesman said that Farver made off with nearly three million dollars in cash which the agents were to use to buy a large quantity of methamphetamine from a Chicago supplier.  According to the spokesman, Farver killed his partner and made off with the cash minutes before the sting was to take place.  Farver, seen here, is still at large and is considered to be armed and extremely dangerous.  If you see him, or know of his whereabouts, do not approach him but call the DEA at the number on your screen.”

Geoff looked at the suitcase full of cash beside his bed, remembered the last thing Farver said to him in the alley the day before, I’ve already killed one man today.

“In an unrelated story, Pamela Rood’s body was found in a shallow storm drain on an abandoned farm outside of Ann Arbor early this morning.  The Chelsea mother of three was reported missing yesterday after she failed to return from a shopping trip to Ann Arbor.  Rood’s body was found nude, with her hands and feet bound with rope.  She had apparently been sexually assaulted before she was killed.”

Geoff gasped when he saw Pamela Rood’s photo dissolve into a grainy still photo of him carrying her purse from the shopping cart in the parking structure.

“Police are trying to locate this man, who they term a person of interest, for questioning in Rood’s disappearance.  If you recognize this man, or know of his whereabouts, the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s office has asked that you call them at the number on the bottom of your screen.  Sources close to the investigation say they are attempting to enhance this image of the person of interest in order make it clearer.  We will, of course, bring that enhanced image to you as soon as it becomes available to us.”

The anchor went on to describe the make and model of Geoff’s car, adding that the police were hopeful that photo enhancement of the car from surveillance video might reveal the license plate number.

It was too much for him to take in.  He’d stolen $2.7 million from a rogue DEA agent who’d killed his own partner for the money.  The money was meant to be used in a sting operation, so the bills could be marked or there could be a tracking devise in the suitcase.  Police were working at that moment to enhance the surveillance video of him and his car in the parking structure where he’d taken Pamela Rood’s purse with the $5,400 in it.  Hell, he thought, they might already have my license plate number and photo and have issued an APB for my arrest.

And all of that didn’t even include the two people he’d murdered the night before; one of them his fiancé.  The police would certainly find out from Liz at Amy’s studio that Amy had been engaged to Geoff.  They’d just as certainly go to his apartment to question him, find that it had been tossed by the DEA and read the journal entries in his handwriting, leading them straight back to Sanford’s house.  The fact that he would be missing would automatically make Geoff the prime suspect in the Pamela Rood case and the murders of Sanford and Amy.  As he’d been booked and fingerprinted by the DEA the day before, it was likely that the police would discover his involvement in the missing $2.7 million dollars and the dead DEA agent as well.

He opened the suitcase and gasped when he saw the DEA money for the first time.  The entire suitcase was filled with bills; mostly thousand dollar bills with plenty of hundreds and a few fifties mixed in.  All of the bills looked as if they’d been in circulation, but he had no way of knowing if they’d been marked somehow.  He knew he should empty the suitcase and examine it and the money to see if he could find a tracking device, but he just sat looking at the money, unable to move.

Hopeless, his mind repeated over and over.  Hopeless.  Hopeless.  Hopeless.

He screamed when he heard the scratching sound from his dreams behind him and turned to see the feather quill writing in the journal on the table against the window.  The scratching stopped and the quill dropped a second later.  He was absolutely sure he hadn’t taken the journal from his apartment, and equally sure he hadn’t brought it into this hotel room.  He swallowed hard and waited for his heart to quiet before stepping to the journal.

“Farver is coming for you.  Now,” it said.

He lunged for the suitcase, overturned it and spilled the money onto the bed.  A small red light blinked beneath one of the stacks of thousand dollar bills.  He pushed the money aside and picked up the black tracking device.  Fuck!

Two minutes later, Geoff put the suitcase full of money in the trunk of his car and closed the lid.  Next, he threw the tracking device beneath some thick shrubbery near his car.  He took a quarter from his pocket, stepped to a nearby car and unscrewed the license plate from its rear bumper, did the same with his license plate then screwed the plates on their irrespective cars.

A few minutes later, he was driving north on the Interstate.

* * *

When he stopped for gas an hour later, he went into the station and bought a donut, coffee and a baseball cap with Pure Michigan! stitched across the front.  He put the cap on before he left the station and kept it on the rest of the day.  He wondered how risky it would be for him to stop at a Walmart or a pharmacy to buy electric barber’s clippers to cut off his hair.  He remembered having seen surveillance cameras in Walmart lobbies in the past and guessed that pharmacies would have them as well.  The baseball cap would have to do as his only disguise.

He’d formulated a plan that might help him escape the country before the police, the DEA or Farver found him.  It was an imperfect plan, to be sure, but it was the best he could come up with.

If I had a choice, he thought as he drove east toward Port Huron, I’d want Farver to find me first.  Better to be gunned down and get it over with than spend the rest of my life in prison.

* * *

Geoff sat in his car at a McDonald’s in Port Huron, eating his grilled chicken sandwich and looking at the Blue Water Bridge, which joined Michigan to Canada.  The St. Claire River is less than a mile wide at that point, but taking the bridge would be too much of a risk.  Crossing the border required identification and he wasn’t sure if the DEA or the police had notified border agents to be on the lookout for him.

He’d driven along the river on M 29, the highway south of Port Huron, during his freshman year when a friend invited him to have Thanksgiving dinner with she and her parents, who lived in a house on the river.  He remembered her father saying that some of the neighboring houses near him were cottages that were usually only occupied during the summer months.  Each house he saw that day had a dock over the water.  There had been no boats tied to the docks, but it had been late-November then; after boating season had ended, whereas it was now mid-October.  He felt certain there would be at least a few boats still in the water.  He finished his sandwich and made his way south on Highway 29.

He found what he wanted a half an hour later when he pulled into a public access boat launch, parked his car and walkout out onto the dock.  Just about every house he saw along the river had at least one boat tied to their docks.  There was no way of telling which of the houses were occupied during the day, but it would be easy to see which houses were dark after nightfall.  All he had to do was wait until it got dark, find a house with no lights and help himself to their boat.  The trip across the St. Claire River wouldn’t take long even if he had to use a rowboat.  The shore on the Canadian side was mostly wetlands with a few houses here and there.  Under the shroud of darkness, he guessed he’d be able to make the crossing undetected.

Geoff had no idea how he was going to launder 2.7 million U.S. dollars once he got to Canada, but Canada was his best bet.  He doubted the Ontario police, the U.S. police or the DEA would be looking for him in Canada.  He could pay cash for food, hotel rooms and a train ticket to Toronto, where he might be able to pay someone to help him out.  He’d been to a few bars and strip clubs along Younge Street in Toronto and was fairly certain a bartender there might be able to steer him to the right people for a hundred dollar tip.

* * *

After spending the day in Algonac State Park waiting for darkness to fall, Geoff made his way back to the boat launch, parked his car and walked out to the end of the dock.  Two of the three houses he’d found there earlier were dark, boats still tied to their docks.  He walked to the nearest dock, found a pontoon boat with the key in the ignition and lifted the gasoline tank to judge its weight.  More than enough gas, he thought.

He went back to his car and took the suitcase with the money in it out of the trunk, then started the car, turned it to face the river, put the transmission in Neutral and stepped out.  He grabbed the tree limb he’d fashioned at the park and jammed it between the steering column and the accelerator.  The engine roared.  He reached in, shifted the transmission to Drive and watched as the car sped across the parking lot, down one of the boat launch ramps and hydroplaned about forty feet from shore before it started to sink.  The car was still moving forward as it disappeared below the surface of the water at least fifty feet from shore, just as he’d hoped.  The river bottom wouldn’t be dredged beyond the boat launch until at least spring, by which time Geoff would be settled in his new life in Australia or New Zealand.  He turned to where he’d put the suitcase down thirty seconds earlier and saw that it was gone.

“You didn’t think you’d get away with it, did you?”

Geoff turned to see Farver standing about twenty feet away, the suitcase at his feet and a pistol with a huge silencer in his hand.

“How did you find me?”

“Does it matter?”

“I want to know.”

“The tracking device you found mixed in with the money in the suitcase was a decoy, meant to make you think you’d outsmarted us.  That’s the one you left in the bushes in the hotel parking lot this morning.  The one sewn into the suitcase itself was the one that got you.”

Geoff’s shoulders dropped.  “Shit.”

“Don’t feel bad,” Farver chuckled.  “Drug dealers fall for it all the time.”

“What happens now?”

Farver laughed.  “Now you have a choice.  A headshot will kill you instantly; no pain.  But it’ll require a closed casket funeral.  A chest shot allows for an open casket, but it takes at least a few seconds for you to die; a lot of pain.”

“You don’t have to kill me.  I mean, the DEA already knows you shot your partner and took the money.  It’s not like I have anything on you that I could tell them.”

“That’s not the point.  You’ve caused us a lot of heartache.  I should be in Rio by now.  Instead I’ve been chasing you all over the state.  You’re gonna pay for inconveniencing us.”

“But you gain nothing by killing me.  If anything, they’ll figure out that the bullet that killed me was from your gun.  You’ll be wanted for two murders then.”

Farver laughed.  “First, they’re never going to find your body.  Second, with an agent dead and millions of dollars taken from them, the DEA would never give you a second thought even if they did find you dead.  You just wouldn’t matter to them.

“So, which is it?  Head or chest?” he asked, raising his gun again.

“Please, no.  Please.  I don’t want to die.  You can just let me go.”

“Okay.  Chest it is.”

Farver lowered his head to take aim just as Geoff heard a pffffft! sound to his right and saw something pass through Farver’s head.  Farver fell to the tarmac, obviously dead.  Geoff lunged for Farver’s gun, spun around toward where he’d heard the sound and saw a short dark-skinned man standing at the edge of the parking lot, a small crossbow in his hand.

“We will take money,” the man said calmly.  He had a thick accent that Geoff couldn’t place.

“I don’t think so,” Geoff countered, seeing that the man had not loaded another bolt into the crossbow.  “You have no ammunition.  I have a gun.”  He pointed the gun at the man’s chest.

“But I have more ammunition than I need,” the man smiled.

A car’s headlights suddenly lit the scene from Geoff’s left.

“My friends have guns,” the man said.  “But they will not need them unless you continue to point your gun at me.”

Geoff lowered his gun and tried to see how many people were in the car, but the headlights blinded him to anything beyond them.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Field.  We are not going to kill you unless you make it necessary.”

“You know my name?  You’re DEA?”

“No, no.  We are merchants.  We sell things for to gain money.”

Geoff realized that the man’s accent was the same as the one the young man had spoken with at the Ann Arbor shop where he’d gotten the journal and the silver frame for Amy’s birthday.

“Curiosities?” he asked.  “You’re from the second-hand shop?”

The man smiled as all four of the doors on the car opened simultaneously.  Four men stepped into the headlight beams.  Geoff could see that two of the men were holding handguns.  Another was holding a book.  Geoff realized the one with the book was the kid from the shop.

“I would put down the gun on ground now,” the kid said.

Geoff put the gun on the tarmac and raised his hands.  One of the men holding a pistol stepped in front of him and took the suitcase, then got into the car with the suitcase.

“My son has your journal,” the man with the crossbow said.  Geoff squinted at the young man and saw the book with his name embossed on the cover, wrapped in a large plastic bag.  “We were careful to not disturb your fingerprints on book,” the man said.  “And purse.”  One of the men held up another large plastic bag containing Pamela Rood’s purse.  Geoff saw traces of grey duct tape on the strap of the purse.

“How did you get those things?” Geoff asked.  He’d seen the purse being put into the garbage truck at his apartment building and was positive the journal had been in the trunk of his car when he ran it into the river.

“Is interesting book,” said the man.  “It say what we want it to say.  Only it say in your way of writing.  The police find great interest in what you write in book if they see.”

“So this is blackmail?  To keep me from going to the police?”

“You are smart man.”

“But nothing in the journal links me directly to any crimes.  It would be circumstantial at best.”

“As I say; book say what we want it to say, only in your way of writing.”

The kid stepped in front of Geoff and opened the book.  He leafed through the pages, all of which were now covered with long journal entries in Geoff’s handwriting.  Journal entries that Geoff had never seen.

“You plan all of crimes in book.  With many detail,” the man said.  “You murder Pamela Rood for money, rape her, leave in ditch.  You take money from DEA man.  You murder fiancé and her lover.  You write all details in book before all crimes.  You were… what is the word… meticulous?”

These are the men who abducted, raped and murdered Pamela Rood, Goeff thought.  To set me up as the guy who did itWhy haven’t they killed me?

“We not kill you now,” the man said, as if he’d read Geoff’s mind.  “We maybe need you do things in future.  We keep book and purse.  You say ‘yes’ in future to do things for us.”

“Then I’m free to go?”

“Go home to mother and father.  No place other for you to go.  Police will not come.”

“How do you know?”

“Same as with book.  We read sky, wind, clouds.  They say to us.”

Geoff turned and started to walk away, then stopped.  “Is the sky ever wrong?”

The man smiled.  “Not too much.  A little.  Maybe.  Not too much.”

Geoff walked into the darkness as the men climbed into their car and drove away.

* * *

He made it to his parents’ house in Glasgow the next day. After all he’d been through, and after thinking he’d never see his parents again, he felt overwhelmed when his mother opened the door.

“Geoff!”  Her smile beamed.  “What a wonderful surprise!  Come in.”

“Thanks, Mom,” he said, fighting back tears as he hugged her.  “Can I stay here for a few days?”

“You know you’re always welcome here, sweetheart.”

* * *

Seven weeks later, Geoff had rented a small storefront near Glasgow High School and stenciled the words Guitar Lessons on the window.  Eleven students signed up for lessons the first week.  Eight of them rented guitars from Geoff for thirty-five dollars a month with the understanding that once they’d paid $210, they’d own the guitars outright.  He figured that most of the kids wouldn’t quit taking lessons from him if they had the goal of owning the guitars after six months and by that time they’d be playing well enough to want to continue.

He used most of the rest of Pamela Rood’s $5,400 to buy furniture for the apartment above his storefront.  The money had still been in his jacket pockets the night he lost everything else.  Since most of his students attended school on weekdays, he found himself working mostly after school let out, through the evenings and on weekends.  He didn’t mind.  He’d grown used to working at night playing bars in Ann Arbor and liked to sleep late in the mornings.  He’d earned enough through lessons to buy a couple of Martin acoustics to sell with the aim in mind to eventually establish his business as a guitar store that also offered lessons.

Brian Waverly ran an article about Geoff and his music store in the Glasgow Gazette, resulting in more students than Geoff could handle.  He hated to turn students away, but he also knew that some of his current students would give up on lessons, so he asked the ones he turned away to leave their email addresses and promised to contact them if anything opened up.

He kept thinking of his conversation with Farver just before he’d been killed.  “The tracking device you found mixed in with the money was a decoy, meant to make you think you fooled us,” he’d said.  Us.  Plural.  Not me, singular.  And he’d said that he was going to kill Geoff for having inconvenienced “us,” not “me.”  Farver didn’t seem like the kind of guy who would use the royal ‘we,’ or, in this case, the royal ‘us.’

Geoff also wondered why it had taken Farver some eighteen hours to track him down after he’d left the hotel parking lot the morning before.  Farver obviously had the tracking receiver for the device Geoff found in the suitcase.  But he must not have had the receiver for the one sewn into the suitcase full of money.  Geoff had parked his car with the tracking device in the trunk in Algonac State Park that last day.  If Farver had had the receiver, he would have found and killed Geoff there.  But if Farver’s partner or someone else at the DEA had the second receiver, it would probably take a third man at the DEA… an inside man working with Farver… the extra day to get his hands on the second receiver and use it to supply Farver with Geoff’s location.

Was there an accomplice working with Farver from inside the DEA? Geoff wondered.  And if so, will he come looking for me someday?

“Police will not come,” the man with the crossbow had told Geoff.  He hoped the man had been right.  And he hoped ‘police’ included the DEA.

* * *

Geoff was updating his business Facebook page on the computer in his living room when he heard his apartment doorbell ring at about noon on the Friday before Christmas.  He pushed the TALK button on the intercom.  “Hello.  This is Geoff.”

“Hi,” a man’s voice said.  “My son’s looking to take guitar lessons.  You the guy I need to talk to?”

“I’m the guy.  I’ll be right down.”

He used the interior stairway to get into the storefront and saw a man of about forty waiting at the glass door.  He unlocked the door and smiled.  “Come on in.”

“Thanks,” the man said, looking around the store as he entered.  “How much you charge for lessons?”

Geoff told him his rate and asked if the man’s son would need to rent a guitar.

“He’ll need a guitar, but I want to buy him one as a Christmas present.  Do you sell them here?”

“Right this way.”

Geoff and the man stepped to the back storeroom where Geoff picked up a Martin D-1 and tried to hand it to the man.  When he did, he saw that the guy was holding a gun with a silencer pointed at his chest.

“What’s this?” Geoff asked, thinking he was being robbed.

“This is about the $2.7 million you stole from Brian Farver before you killed him.”

“You’re DEA?”  The inside man, Geoff thought.  Farver’s accomplice.

“Where’s the money?”

“I don’t have it.  And I didn’t kill your friend.  I swear.”

The man sighed.  “Okay.  We’re gonna do this the hard way.”

* * *

Cameron Handel found Geoff’s body in the storeroom a little after three o’clock that afternoon.  The ninth-grader had come to the store for a guitar lesson and found Geoff with bullet holes through both his feet, both knees and the center of his forehead.  The police guessed correctly that whoever had shot him through the feet and knees was looking for information.  When they got what they wanted, or realized they wouldn’t get it, they killed Geoff with the headshot to keep him from identifying the shooter or shooters.

* * *

The young man stood at his accustomed place behind the counter at Curiosities in Ann Arbor.  It had been a slow afternoon, so he was relieved when his grandmother handed the book to him through the pass-through in the wall behind him.

He ran his fingers over the cover of the book and found that there was no trace of the embossed words Journal and Geoff Field, though he’d seen them there a few hours earlier.  He opened the book to make sure the pages were blank again and smiled when he found that they were.  The journal entries in Geoff’s handwriting were completely gone.

The kid stepped to a row of shelves near the back of the store and placed the book between a hand-painted porcelain cookie jar in the shape of a clown’s head and an antique tarnished silver picture frame complete with nineteenth-century wavy glass with several tiny bubbles in it.

He smiled again as he wondered who would be the next person to take the book home.

 

Steve Hodge writes from Michigan.
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2 comments

  1. Many thanks for the good read, Steve! Not quite haiku ( :)’s ) but a fun and intense dramatic story line that I enjoyed for the details of places and the characters involved.

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