Checkdown - A Battle Red Blog Mystery (Chapter Four)

The following is, from start to finish, a work of complete fiction. Any resemblance to persons alive and/or dead are purely coincidental, so please don't sue me (because I own nothing of value); unless, of course, it's a reference to someone here on BRB, in which case REALLY don't sue me.

Chapter One - It's Good To Be The QB

Chapter Two - A Blogger Named Scott Brooks

Chapter Three - The Quarterback Is Dead

Chapter Four: Why Is Housekeeping Never There When You Need It?

Sunlight peeked through the blinds of Scott's bedroom directly at his closed eyes. Scott thrashed and whirled in his bed, wrapping himself in thick blankets to resemble a giant burrito. His eyes opened slowly and blinked mechanically as he let out a groan and sat up, still mostly ensconced within the burrito.

"Ugh, lord, what on earth did I do last night," he asked to an empty bedroom. He squirmed until the upper half of his body came free from the blankets and looked around the frilly bedroom; a concession he made to his wife when they moved in four years ago. He rubbed at his temples gingerly, "My brain feels like Dontari Poe is tap-dancing in it."

Scott shoved the rest of the blankets off of him, taking great care to move as delicately as possible to keep Dontari Poe from doing an encore. He got out of bed and stumbled into the bathroom.

"Aspirin...," he mumbled as he opened the medicine cabinet to find that the bottle was empty. As he searched the cabinets below the sink in the desperate hope for a fresh bottle, he could hear the faint (though not so faint to him) sound of cattle stampeding in the hallway.

He peeked out in the hallway and saw his kids racing around, playing "hot potato" with their very large and extremely unhappy cat.

"You have five minutes to get ready or you're grounded when you get home," bellowed his wife.

He closed the door again and pinched his nose, hoping for the pain to go away and for Poe to take up a less painful hobby, like gardening. Look, he said to himself standing in front of the mirror, you're going to have to go out there, aspirin or not, so let's go and get it over with already.

He nodded to the figure in the mirror, stood up as straight as he could manage, wiped a bit of sleep out of his eyes and walked confidently out of the bathroom.

Matt, Charlie, and Rachel, who was now going by the name Rapunzel, froze in their tracks. The cat, an unfortunate victim in a game of tug-of-war between Matt and Charlie, also stopped yowling. They all glanced at their father and shouted in unison, "Daddy," and raced over to give their father a hug.

His inner Poe danced raucously, this time while operating a jackhammer.

"Hey kids," Scott hugged them right back, "you heard your mother, go and get ready for school."

The kids groaned, but did as their father said. They each went into their room and slammed their doors.

Ow, I think I was better off with the stampeding, he said to himself.

"Scott? That you rambling around up there?" Claire asked.

"Y-yeah. Hi, honey," he said coming down the stairs, clinging to the banister for dear life.

"I was getting worried, you came home so late last night and--" she peered carefully at her husband, "what happened to you? You look like hell," she added helpfully.

He did look like hell. Scott's hair was a spiky mess the color of brown sand. The dress shirt he had on was wrinkled with the buttons misaligned. But his eyes were the big victim of his "late night at the office;" his piercing blue eyes were badly bloodshot. Scott struggled to remember what he said to her last night before arriving at The Alcove.

"How late were you at work until?" Claire asked sympathetically.

"I barely got three hours of sleep last night," Scott said.

Before Claire could respond, Matt, Charlie and Rachel (Rapunzel) charged down the stairs. Scott fought the urge to wince from the clatter. How do such small children make such loud noises, he wondered. The kids lined up next to their mother.

The sympathetic look on Claire's face was replaced by one of grim determination as Rapunzel, always the last one down, finally arrived at the bottom of the stairs. "I'm sorry you didn't get any sleep, sweetheart. There's still coffee in the pot, and try to take it easy at work today, okay? Don't burn yourself out."

Scott cracked a weak smile. "Thank you. I really could use some coffee."

Claire mouthed the words "Love you," to Scott, who returned the phrase in kind, and left the house with the kids in tow.

Scott slumped on the stairs and clutched at his forehead. He got back to his feet and crept down the stairs and into the kitchen. He poured himself a cup of coffee. It was cold and weak, but he drank it down greedily. He couldn't remember the last time coffee had tasted as good as that cup did. Fortified by the magical brown elixir, he grabbed the phone and called the office.

"Greg Anderson's office, this is Gina, how can I help you?"

"Gina, this is Scott Brooks," Scott said.

"Oh, hi, Scott," said the thin, nasal voice on the other end of the line, "Mr. Anderson is in a meeting. Can I take a message?"

"Uh, yeah, let him know that I'm not feeling well and won't be coming in today."

"I'm sorry to hear that," she said, sounding unconvinced. "I do hope you feel better."

"Yeah, thanks. G'bye," he said and hung up the phone.

Scott went back upstairs and changed into a crisp white dress shirt and the last pair of clean trousers he had in the closet. As he walked out of the bedroom, he looked, and, to a much lesser extent, felt like a new man. Dontari Poe was wearing himself out and, Scott hoped, might finally take off his tap shoes before too much longer.

He made a quick right into a small room next to his bedroom. Once upon a time, the walls were painted a pale pink and a wooden crib tucked away in the near right corner, near the doorway. It also had magnificent floor-to-ceiling windows where golden sunlight streamed in to give the nursery an otherworldly feel. As part of the deal Scott struck with Claire, she would get to do what she wanted with the bedroom if he could have the nursery. These days, the walls were, for the most part, a blinding liberty white with streaks of pink still faintly bleeding through. The windows were blocked off with massive bookcases lined with books ranging from football statistics to legal precedents to treasuries of "Pearls Before Swine" comics, and the crib gave way to a beautiful mahogany desk topped with a small laptop computer and a television hung above where the crib once laid. It was his pride and joy, his inner sanctum, and the only place short of the shower where he could count on some degree of peace and quiet.

Scott grabbed a pad of paper he always kept on the desk and started scribbling down what he could still make out on his arm.

Night of Nash's Death:

Jay Orlund:

  • Female voice heard
  • Door busted in
  • Second male voice heard
  • Two male voices arguing
  • Thought he heard a door squeak
  • Nash stopped snoring

He took the pad with him and was about to leave when the phone rang. Scott looked at the phone and decided it would have to wait until he got home, and walked out the door.

After stopping off at Chik-Fil-A for a spicy chicken biscuit, his old stand-by hangover cure, he drove up to the ramshackle motel. The circus that had been surrounding the motel yesterday was noticeably absent today. Only a couple of the bearded ladies could be found although, for all Scott knew, they could have been some of the professional ladies he had seen in the crowd yesterday. The police presence had diminished as well, save for the guards standing in front of Nash's motel room. The two guards Scott had the displeasure of meeting were still there and fixed an angry glare at the blogger. Scott took one final bite of his sandwich, crumpled up the wrapper and put it in his pocket. Detective Carlyle was nowhere to be seen either. Probably for the best, Scott thought. The last thing I need is to give him an excuse to lock me up with some seven-foot hairy ape named 'Betty.'

Scott looked about at all the rooms from what was laughably referred to as the motel's courtyard. The wide expanse of bare, crack-riddled concrete made it look more like a prison yard. On the second floor of the north row of rooms, he spotted a small, decrepit cart loaded with cleaning supplies. Scott, forgetting his hangover, raced up the stairway and to the room the cart was stationed in front of.

The room's door was locked and the cart looked like it had been only recently been left alone. As he stood by the cart, he pondered what kind of poor soul would willingly take a job cleaning rooms that were used by prostitutes and drug zombies and couples looking for an out-of-the-way hovel for their trysts. He imagined that whoever was brave or desperate or stupid enough to do it would spring for their own personal hazmat suit.

"Well, look at what we have here. If it isn't Scott Brooks," said a familiar voice.

Scott froze in place. He let his shoulders slump down and closed his eyes ruefully.

"Oh, no," he whined.

He turned around and confirmed his suspicion.

"Winslow," he said neutrally.

Winslow Gettis had a thin face with thinning hair and narrow, beady little eyes; the kind that made Scott think of his pet ferret when he was growing up. He wore a t-shirt that said "I'm With Stupid" with an arrow pointing at his side and threadbare blue jeans.

"How's the blog," Winslow asked amiably, "what's it called again?"

Scott rolled his eyes so hard he was afraid they'd roll out of his head, "Battle Red Blog," he answered. "And what blog are you writing for again?"

Gettis scoffed at his question, "The only one worth reading, of course: All Things Deep and Steel Blue. In fact, just last week, I got none other than my good buddy Jack McClanahan to recommend my site to his readers."

Scott fought back the urge to laugh. "How thrilling for you," he said tonelessly.

"I know, right," Betts said without acknowledging the sarcasm, "unlike some other people I could name, he knows good writing when he sees it."

The urge he felt to laugh was quickly replaced by one to scream "B.S." at the top of his lungs. A couple of months ago, Davis, one of the mods at Battle Red Blog, dared Scott to go to Winslow's blog and read one of his articles. He did so, and has regretted it ever since. To read one of Winslow's posts, Scott concluded, you would think: A) he knew every journalist within a 1,000 mile radius and B) if crimes against the English language were punishable offenses, then Winslow would be serving roughly 47 consecutive life sentences based on a single post.

"Yep, y'all had a chance to bring in a rising star and blew it. It must sting, huh, Scotty?"

Scott could feel his hand ball up into a fist, hidden by the side of the cart. He glanced down at the not insignificant police presence still hanging about and unclenched his fist.

"So what are you doing here, Winslow?"

"And give away my story to someone who will butcher it? Not a chance."

Yeah, butcher it with facts and stuff, Scott thought.

The two bloggers stood there for several minutes waiting; Scott for the housekeeper, and Winslow for God only knows what. A man wearing navy coveralls and a cap strolled up to the room next door and walked in, whistling a jaunty tune. Scott stepped to the doorway and cracked the door open.

"Excuse me," Scott said, "do you happen to know where I can find the housekeeper?"

The man spun around in surprise. "Sorry?"

"The housekeeper, I saw her cart, so I came up here to ask her some questions. But I've yet to see her, do you know where she went?"

He looked at Scott suspiciously and glanced toward the ceiling. "She's probably gone on her break."

"And where does she go for her break?" asked Gettis, popping his head into the doorway.

"Some coffee shop on McGowan. 'Buster's,' I think it's called."

"Thanks," exclaimed Gettis stepping away from the door.

"I'll be right back, I think I left...um...my lights on," Betts said, rushing toward the stairs.

Scott made as if to chase after him but stopped as soon as his head started throbbing again. He loped down the stairs and across the courtyard to the parking lot. As he neared his car, he could see something was off. The car seemed shorter than it was when he got out of it. He checked the tires and discovered the problem: someone let the air out of all his tires.

"Damn you, Winslow," Scott snarled.

Scott called Houston Automotive Assistance and explained the situation to them.

"We'll be down in about 20 minutes."

"Thanks," Scott said and hung up. While he waited he went back to the courtyard to see if he could glean any other clues from the motel without getting arrested. He glanced again at the cart to see if it had moved while he was in the parking lot.

It hadn't moved, but someone was talking to the man in coveralls, someone carrying a couple of spray bottles. Scott flew back up the stairs, hangover be damned, and found himself face-to-face with a short, heavyset woman in her mid 40s. She had dreadlocks that went down to her waist and, to Scott's surprise, did not wear a hazmat suit.

"Are you...the housekeeper?" Scott asked desperately trying to catch his breath.

"No, I'm a bloody astronaut. This is my second job," the housekeeper said in a thick Caribbean accent, "What you think I am?"

"Right. Sorry. My name is Scott Brooks. Do you have a moment?"

"Hell no, I don't have a moment. I'm done talkin' to reporters. That McClanahan fella talked to me like I was tree years old. Forget that mess."

"I'm not a reporter, I'm a lawyer," Scott said pleasantly.

"Lawyer? What you need to talk to me for, then? Da police already questioned me, ask them."

"I wanted to hear it straight from the source, it's more reliable than someone else's recollections. It would mean a great deal to me, Ms.--"

"Belgreave. Helena Belgreave."

"Ms. Belgreave, tell me what you recall when you came across the Mr. Nash's body."

"There's not much to tell, really. I come in, I didn't hear anything so I thought nobody was there. I saw the man Nash there lying on his side, wearin' only the sheet on the bed."

"What about in the room, do you remember anything unusual?"

"This is a cheap motel, unusual is usual around here. I saw a syringe on the nightstand with small packets of black stuff surrounding it."

"Black stuff? Any idea what this black stuff might be?"

"How the hell am I supposed to know? Do I look like a druggie to you? Some people, I tell you," Belgreave said angrily, "But I would not be surprised if it was. Some of the little packets seemed to be empty and there was a big metal spoon lying next to all of it."

"I see," said Scott, scribbling 'heroin?' into the notepad. "Go on."

"Dat was it. Oh, I did come across a brush."

"A brush," Scott asked in disbelief, "you're sure?"

"I am. There was long blonde hair caught in its tines."

More scribbling.

"This is all very helpful, Ms. Belgreave. Is there anything else that you recall from that morning?"

Belgreave glanced around, "Uh...no..."

"You're sure? Anything would be a help."

"I said no and I mean no. Now get outta here, I have to get dis room ready!"

"One last questio. Why did you have that man in the coveralls say you weren't here?"

"I...I told you already, I was tired of being hounded by dem reporters."

"I see. If there's anything else," he handed her a card, "please let me know."

Scott closed up his notepad and showed himself the door before Belgreave shoved him out. The rest of his afternoon was spent sitting in his car waiting for the HAA to show up and fix his tires. His mind drifted between two different trains of thought. First, he delighted in the idea that Gettis would spend the rest of his day scouring the Third Ward for a coffee shop that doesn't exist. Second, he kept thinking about this mystery woman; the blonde, based on what Belgreave said, who was with Nash that night. But there was something else that didn't seem right. Scott couldn't help thinking that Belgreave was hiding something from him. She got really defensive over what he thought were pretty minor questions.

The HAA arrived just before the start of rush hour and repaired the tires like nothing had happened. Scott got into the car, tossed the chicken biscuit wrapper into the backseat and drove off the lot, hoping he wouldn't have to make another trip.

Claire and the kids arrived at home first. The kids stomped upstairs to go play with their toys and video games. Matt and Charlie argued over who would get to play as the Texans on Madden. Claire put her briefcase down and listened to the messages on their voicemail.

"Hi Scott, this is Greg. I'm sorry to hear you're not doing so well and I'll see you tomorrow."

*BEEP*

At that moment, Scott came bursting through the door, looking nothing like the disheveled wreck that she saw that morning.

"Hi honey," he said, kissing her on the cheek. "How was your day?"

"Fine," she said tentatively. "Where were you today?"

"Where I always am: at work. Where else would I be?"

"It's just that you looked like you were on the brink of death this morning."

"I just battle-fought through it. I feel a lot better now, though."

"You're sure?"

"Yeah. I'll be back in a little. I have to do some reading in the library."

Scott kissed her again on the cheek and bounded up the stairs. Claire watched him carefully as he went.

He briefly gave the kids a hug and watched Matt and Charlie duke it out on Madden. Charlie launched a long bomb from Nash to Andre Johnson for a touchdown. Charlie threw down the controller and did a touchdown dance. Matt remained still, as if frozen in place.

Scott escaped to the library and did a search for images of Eliot Nash, hoping to get lucky and find something useful.

The first image that came up was a grainy picture of Nash's bald head cutting through the crowd like a salmon going upstream. Clutching his hand was a woman in a blue dress, her face surrounded by long, blonde hair.

TO BE CONTINUED...

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