CHAPTER FIFTEEN

“How did this happen?” James asked.

“Looks like he killed himself.” Corbin said pointing to a nail on the ground beside his outstretched hand. It was stained with blood.

“Is there anyway we can see what happened?” James asked. “How about surveillance cameras.”

“Yeah Jakes is pulling that up now.” Corbin said. “This is so freaking bizarre.”

“Perhaps he didn’t like the idea of going to jail.” James said watching as CSU examined the scene.

“Where did he get the nail from?” Corbin asked. “It doesn’t look like it was pulled from anywhere in the cell.”

“No it doesn’t.” James mused. “Could have lifted it from a desk outside.”

“Yeah well there goes our big witness against Zas.” Corbin grumbled. “What else are we doing about that?”

“Well it seemed Jeremiah was his only dealer.” James said. “We tried picking up John Heathway, but he too, has disappeared like his mother. We’ll have to just scout the streets now, see if there is any similar products being pushed around.”

“John Heathway disappears right after Jeremiah talks. And not long after his mother went off the grid. That is not a coincidence.” Corbin said.

“Think they are together?” James asked.

“Probably.” Corbin said, turning his head to the right as Alex walked up to them.

“Detectives.” Alex said as he got closer. “I am heading back to headquarters. My case here is done.”

“We haven’t caught Zas yet.” James said. “Doesn’t the FBI care about a drug dealer pushing his product around?”

“Just doing what I am told.” Alex said. “Came here to investigate Moraine Heathway. We have enough evidence to charge her.” He put his right hand in the air and waved. “See you around.” He turned and left.

“Does that seem suspicious to you?” James asked Corbin as they watched him walk away.

Corbin shrugged. “All Feds are weird.”

*                                  *                                       *

“You know, we have spent more time together than when Carla was alive.” Hazel said, as she and Toni drove down the road in her car.

“That’s a totally sensitive insensitive thing to say.” Toni laughed. “But yeah it’s true.”

“So what do you think about what Ben said?” Hazel said as she turned into a street.

Toni shrugged. “Makes sense. Jeremiah was in Newport that weekend. He could have been the person after Carla.”

Hazel shook her head. “But the Jeremiah I know isn’t a killer.”

“Maybe he isn’t the person you knew.” Toni said absent-mindedly as she studied the buildings on the side of the road. Hazel continued talking but Toni wasn’t listening.

“Earth to Toni.” Hazel called out, snapping her fingers at Toni’s face. “You totally spaced out.” She said.

“Sorry I was trying to remember something.” Toni said.

“What?” Hazel asked.

“That day we left for Newport.” Toni said. “That I saw John and Jeremiah in the grocery store?”

“Yeah but we told the cops that remember?” Hazel said.

“Yeah but, I could have sworn I saw John had Jeremiah a roll of cash.” Toni said. “I wasn’t sure at first but now after all that’s happened-”

“You think John hired Jeremiah to kill his sister?” Hazel finished grimly. “Has anyone ever told you have a dark mind?”

“What? You came to the same conclusion too.” Toni said. “Remember Carla’s grandmother? She left a bunch of money to them. What if John-”

“Killed her so all the money would go to him.” Hazel finished again. “There you go again.”

“I don’t know it’s like bad horrible thoughts are coming to my head.” Toni said covering her face with her hands. Then she removed them from her face abruptly. “Where are we?”

Hazel had pulled over to the side of the road. “Okay, don’t get mad but-”

“You brought me here.” Toni said with a stone cold voice.

“Sorry.” Hazel said. “But he made a compelling argument. He says he just wanted to give you something. Then you can go.”

Toni was silent for a minute. “Fine.” She grumbled. “But you owe me big time.”

*                                                      *                                                              *

“We got it” Corbin said, slamming the paper on the table. “The number Carla was using to communicate with Zas.”

“Excellent.” James said rubbing his hands. “Who is the number registered to?”

“To Zas” Corbin said. “It is one of those WiFi calling numbers. Anyway, there is no way of getting his real Identity.”

“So let’s call him.” James said. He picked up his phone and dialed a number. “Sonya, I am about to call out. Trace this call.” He hung up. He dialed the number on the paper. It rang three times. Then someone picked up.

“Zas enterprises.” a deep male voice said at the back ground. James didn’t recognize it.

“Am I speaking to Zas?” James asked.

“Who is this?” Zas asked.

“A fan.” James said. “I sampled your product. Let’s meet so we can talk business.”

“Don’t patronize me Detective Ashwood.” Zas said. “There is only one person who has this number and that person is dead. So you obviously got this number from her phone, which is in custody of the police.”

“Why did you kill Carla?” Jeremiah asked.

“Who says I did?” Zas asked. “How do you know it wasn’t that lowlife you have in your cell.”

“He says it’s you.” James said, signalling to Corbin to check on Sonya.

“Well he is a pathological liar.” Zas said. “Don’t believe everything he says.”

“Okay how about we meet up.” James said. “You can tell me the side of your story.”

“Nah.” Zas said. “I am out of business. I don’t need to tell my side. Besides you are tracing this call right? So we should be having some quality face time very soon.”

James chuckled. “You know all masterminds think they are smart. Until they get caught.”

“Call me whatever you want Detective.” Zas said. “I am just someone trying to provide for my family. I am sure you can understand that.”

“You got a kid?” James asked.

“Yeah something like that.” Zas said. “Aren’t you done? How long does it take to trace a call?”

“Just trying to get an accurate read.” James said. Corbin came back signalling a thumbs up. “But our time is up. Looking forward to seeing you.”

“Oh I’ll be seeing you alright.” Zas chuckled. At the background a door slammed shut. The line abruptly cut. James turned to Corbin.

“He is at Fifth and Holloway street.” Corbin said.

“Let’s go.” James said standing up. “Let’s get this bastard.”

*                                                      *                                                                    *

“Who were you talking to?” Toni asked Hazel as she got back in the car

“No one important.” Hazel said putting her phone back in her pocket. “You didn’t spend long in there.”

“No I didn’t.” Toni said. She pulled out  a book and handed it to Hazel. Hazel flipped through it. It was an album. In it was a young blonde who looked a lot like Toni, holding a baby. There were other pictures in the album featuring those people too.

“He gave it to me.” Toni said, answering Hazel’s unasked question. “That’s my mom and Tom.”

“Yeah I figured.” Hazel said sadly. “So you gonna see him again?”

Toni shrugged. “I don’t know.” She faltered. A man was walking towards the building. Dark hair, muscular, average height. “That guy seems familiar to me.”

“Who?” Hazel looked up squinting. She stared at him for a while. “I don’t know him.” She turned on the engine. “We better get going. Jaz is probably waiting at my house.”

“Sure.” Toni said. “Let’s get going.”

*                                                 *                                                            *

There was a knock on the door. “Come in.” Richard said as he poured himself a drink. The door opened and Alex walked in.

“Isn’t it a little bit early for a drink?” Alex asked.

“I just saw my daughter.” Richard said. “I need this.” He downed the whole glass at once.

Alex shrugged. “Well I got the information you asked for.” he handed over a folder to Richard

“How about her location? Did you find her?” Richard asked as he shuffled through the folder

“No she disappeared.” Alex said. “Her son too. No sign of either of them.”

“It doesn’t matter. I can make her go away with this.” He shook the folder. “By the way heard you went undercover. How did you manage that?”

Alex chuckled. “You don’t to know. Plausible deniability.”

“Come on.” Richard said. “Tell me.”

“I have friends everywhere.” Alex said. “Guy who makes fake badges, another guy who will make fake phone calls. It just takes a network.”

“Well, tip of my hat to you.” Richard said writing in a checkbook. “The world needs more PI’s like you.” He ripped off the check and handed it to him.

“Thanks.” Alex said. “I’ll see you around.”

*                                                      *                                                                          *

“So that was all for nothing?” Corbin asked. as they got back to the station.

“Seems so.” James said walking alongside Corbin. “Bastard cleared out before we got there.”

“Or he wasn’t even there at all.” Corbin said.

“Maybe.” James said. “But that wasn’t for nothing.”

“What do you mean?” Corbin asked.

“I am no expert,” James began, “But I am pretty sure that voice Zas used was digitized. That’s not his real voice.”

“So he was using a voice altering software.” Corbin asked.

“Definitely.” James said. “And another thing, Zas recognized my voice. He knew my name.”

“So you are saying this person knows you?” Corbin asked.

“Yes.” James. “And not just my reputation. This person must have heard me speak a number of times, to be able to recognize my voice. Even over the phone. Which means I have come in contact with this person.”

“Did you record that conversation?” Corbin asked.

“Definitely.” James said.

“They can crack it right?” Corbin asked. “Try and get the real person’s voice?”

“I already presented that to Sonya.” James said. “She was skeptical about that. But she is giving it a try.”

Just then, Jakes came up to Corbin and James. “The footage doesn’t exist.” He said without preamble.

“What are you talking about?” James asked.

“The footage of Jeremiah committing suicide.” Jakes said. “The cameras were out off, so we don’t have that.”

James groaned in frustration. “The coroner will tell us what we need to know.” He said after a while. “So we are back to square one? No leads, nothing?”

“At least we know his name.” Corbin said. “It’s only a mater of time.”

*                                            *                                                    *

“Where is Jasmine?” Hazel asked as they got home.

“Right here.” a voice said from her bedroom. Hazel went into the house and found Jasmine on her bed with her computer in front of her typing something.

“What are you doing.” Hazel asked, getting on the bed and glancing at Jasmine’s computer.

“Homework.” Jasmine said simply. “Where have you guys been?”

“Went on a little field trip.” Toni said. “What have you been up to besides homework?” Toni asked.

“Just homework.” Jasmine said. “Oh, and your dad came by looking for you.” She said to Hazel.

“Wait why is he home? He is never home at this time.” Hazel asked.

Jasmine shrugged, “Beats me.” She closed her laptop. “So have you guys heard about Jeremiah?”

“Oh Ben told you? Yeah we did. He confessed.” Hazel said.

“He confessed to killing Carla?” Jasmine asked with surprise. “Well, that explains it.”

“Yeah, why he was in Newport.” Toni said. “And why are you acting surprised.”

“Because I didn’t hear about that until now.” Jasmine said. “And remind me to ask you why Ben is feeding you information after I tell  you this.”

“Tell us what? What did you hear about Jeremiah?” Hazel asked.

Jasmine took a deep breath. “He is dead. He killed himself this morning.”

*                                                     *                                                           *

It was dark outside. Rain was pouring A woman crawled through the mud. There was nothing but forest around her. She was covered head to toe in dirt, which was normal considering she had climbed out of a shallow grave last night. She was exhausted, dehydrated. She was sure she could not survive another night without medical attention. She could feel her heart pounding weakly and her chest heaving, struggling to breathe. If only she could find the main road.

After crawling for what seemed like centuries, her hand hit the pavement. She saw a vehicle approaching with bright lights down the road. She half-stood up and waved with all her strength. “Help!” She called out weakly. The car didn’t slow down it sped past her. She collapsed to the ground and her eyes began to fade. Before her eyes closed, she saw the car slowing down and then stopping. Then slowly it began to back up. She fell into oblivion.

*                                                    *                                                    *

He was driving that night. Rain was pouring heavily on his windshields. Suddenly a car with bright lights came out of nowhere and slammed into him. Everything went dark for a moment, then suddenly he was back home in his room. The house he grew up in. His parents house. There was some noise in the living room. The lights in the hallway was bright to his sleepy eyes. He heard his father’s voice shouting. It was like a ringing sound in his ears. His mother’s voice pleading quietly. He found them arguing in the living room, his father drunk as hell, his mother cowering under him. For a moment he stood in the doorway. When his parents noticed him, the shouting stopped. His mother went to him and scooped him up. ‘Daddy is just angry’ she said. ‘go back to sleep everything will be fine in the morning.’ As she put him to bed. James woke up with sweat drenched on his body. His phone was ringing loudly. He picked it up.

“Ashwood speaking.” He said.

“Hey James.” Corbin’s voice said. “I got some news.”

“Jeez don’t you sleep?” James complained, wiping his eyes.

“Apparently not.” Corbin chuckled. “A woman fitting Moraine Heathway’s description was just checked into St James hospital.” Corbin said. “And get this, she was covered in dirt.”

“Dirt? As in buried?” James asked.

“Yeah.” Corbin said. “She is fine, just some dehydration, and exhaustion.” Corbin said. “Actually she is in a coma right now. We can’t see her until she comes out of it.”

“Where was she found?” James asked.

“Some good Samaritan found her at the roadside.” Corbin said. “But we can’t do anything right now. Guess we will have to wait till morning.”

“Yeah,” James said. “Everything will be better in the morning.” He mumbled.

“You sound like you need sleep.” Corbin said. “See you later.” He hung up.

‘Everything will be better in the morning.’ James thought bitterly. Those were the last words his mother ever said to him. In the morning, she was found dead.

*                                       *                                        *

“Jasmine you are going to be late.” Martha Green called out.

“Just a second mom.” Jasmine replied as she packed her books into her bag. She slung her bag over her shoulder and opened her bedroom door. Keith was standing there clutching a backpack.

“Great, your dressed can we go now?” He said scowling

“I thought you take the bus.” Jasmine said.

“Well I missed it, so I need a ride.” He said going downstairs.

“You want to be seen with your big sister.” Jasmine laughed. “Wouldn’t that ruin your reputation?”

“No one will actually see me with you.” Keith said. They both got down stairs, took their lunches and headed out the door.

When they were safely outside Keith spoke to his sister in a low voice.

“Actually, I am not going to school.” He said. “I need you to drop me off at the graveyard.”

“Again?” Jasmine said. “Why?”

“Nothing important.” He said. Jasmine looked at him skeptically. “Okay something important, but I promise I’ll make it to school.”

“You are gonna walk from there?” Jasmine asked.

“Someone will drop me off.” Keith said. “Just no questions.”

“Okay.” Jasmine said. “Just make it back to school.”

*                                        *                                                        *

“Where is Hazel?” Toni asked Jasmine as they walked down the hallway.

“I don’t know.” Jasmine said. “I assumed she was with you.”

“Well she isn’t.” Toni said. “She probably stayed home.”

“Right because of Jeremiah.” Jasmine said. “She really shouldn’t beat herself up. I mean she barely knew the guy.”

“The were childhood friends.” Toni scolded. “His parents lived next door to hers before they moved to their new house. Same with the Heathways too.”

“Okay sorry.” Jasmine mumbled. “I gotta get to class.” She walked towards the other direction. Toni watched her go. Her phone buzzed. It was from Hazel. She picked it up.

“Hey Hazel, where are you?” Toni asked.

“I am taking care of some things.” Hazel said. “I’ll be there by fourth period. Just tell Mrs. Glass I went home sick.”

“Okay-” Toni said, but Hazel had already hung up. Weird. Toni thought. She shrugged it off and headed for class.

*                                                     *                                                        *

Hazel got off the phone and entered the graveyard. It was eerily quiet. John Heathway was beside her wearing a hoodie.

“Is this where the kid said you should meet?” John asked.

“Yeah, but he doesn’t know you are here so stay hidden.” Hazel said. “You know I am gambling a lot trusting you.”

“I am gambling a lot trusting you.” John said. “For all I know you are the person who is after me.”

“True.” Hazel said. “But you are sure Jeremiah didn’t kill Carla?”

“Positive.” John said. “Where is the kid.”

“Right here.” A voice said from behind. The turned around and saw Keith Green standing behind them leaning on a tombstone. “Why did you bring him? He is wanted by the police.” He asked.

“Aren’t you a little young to be dealing with this kind of stuff?” Hazel asked.

“I am going to be fifteen next month.” Keith said. “That’s just three years younger than you.”

“Still young.” John said.

“Well I was old enough to figure out what you and Jerry were doing here.” Keith said. “I am always here remember?”

“Yeah I always wondered why you spent so much time here.” John said. Hazel smacked him upside the head. “What?” John demanded.

“My Father is buried here.” Keith explained. “That’s why she hit you for being an insensitive prick.”

“Oh sorry.” John mumbled. Hazel smiled. Keith was so much like his sister.

“So where is it?” Hazel asked. Keith motioned for them to follow him They obliged. They followed him to a small building. Keith ducked under the gate. He entered the building and after a few seconds reemerged with a back pack. He opened it to reveal a silver laptop inside.

“Is that what I think it is?” Hazel gasped.

“Yeah,” Keith said grimly. “That’s Thomas’ Laptop.”

*                                              *                                                     *

James was still going through papers in his office when Sonya walked in. “Detective?” She said tentatively.

“Yeah? what is it?” James said looking up.

“Turns out I was inaccurate yesterday.” Sonya began.

“What do you mean?” James asked.

“The location of the recipient, It turns out it wasn’t at the location I gave you. The recipient simply rerouted it there.” Sonya said.

“So did you find out the real location?” James asked sitting up eagerly.

“Yes.” Sonya said. “It was coming from inside the Stuart Mansion.”

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