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 Thirteen - It's Like Deja Vu All Over Again
Driving down the freeway, Scott couldn't help feeling...odd. On one hand, he was thrilled that he had been right all along; that Eliot Nash had been murdered. At the same time, he felt sick to his stomach that he had been wrong; wrong about the suspect, wrong about the motive, wrong about everything.
He had gone over the night of the murder a million times in his head: An insanely jealous Marcus Sheridan had broken down the door and caught his fiancee and his quarterback together in a cheap motel room. Sheridan and Nash argued while Julia hid in the bathroom. After she left and Nash fell asleep, Sheridan crept into the room and used the drugs that were on the nightstand to inject a fatal dose and cause Nash's heart to fail.
He had the means. He had the opportunity. And between his jealousy and Nash's blackmail attempts hanging over his head, he had more than ample motive to kill him. It all fit.
But the drugs had been planted. The man who burst in on them wasn't Sheridan, but some mysterious black-clad crook named Carlos instead. And that wasn't even including the bombshell about an envelope with God-only-knew what inside of it which disappeared during the course of the night. He felt like he had just completed a massive jigsaw puzzle only to learn that the puzzle itself was wrong.
Traffic on the Southwest Freeway had been fairly light, but that didn't stop Scott from screaming, honking his horn at the other cars for "driving like a herd of turtles on Xanax," and rubbing the bottom of his hand after making a dent in his dashboard.
After about 10 minutes of driving, Scott pulled off the freeway and into a mini-mart, knowing that if he didn't get something to drink and/or a snack, he'd probably end up killing somebody in a fit of rage.
The mini-mart he pulled up to was crammed between a Pizza Shack and a dry cleaner. The entire complex glowed from the glittering lights of the strip club next door. Scott looked at the logo above the mart. The store was called "Great Stuff To Go," and the sign was a perky shade of lime green with each "g" sporting a pair of eyes above the crook of the letter.
Inside, the floors were gleaming white tile, the aisles well-stocked with snacks in brightly colored packaging, and a slushy machine that actually worked. Scott wandered the aisles in search of something to tide him over until dinner. He came to a pair of boxes at the end of the aisle furthest from the door. In each box were small identical bags of candy, with blue bags in one and red bags in the other. The red box was virtually empty save for a single bag, while the blue box was nearly full. Scott plucked a blue bag from the box and made his way to the cashier.
The line for the counter stretched to the back of the store. Scott sighed and trudged to the back of the line. As he did, he noticed that at least half a dozen people in line were clutching the same bag of candy he had. Most were holding red bags dotted occasionally with someone holding a blue bag. More customers fell in line behind him, three of whom were also carrying, in order, blue, red, and blue candy. After what felt like an ice age had passed, Scott finally shuffled up to the front of the line and placed his candy on the counter.
The clerk looked at it then up at Scott, dubiously, "You sure about that?"
Scott raised an eyebrow, "...Yeah. Why wouldn't I?"
The clerk shrugged his shoulders. "It's your money. $1.95."
Scott fished out his wallet and found a lone $10 inside. He flipped it smartly out of his wallet and placed it on the counter. The clerk slid it into the register and handed Scott his candy and a receipt.
"Have a good evening," the clerk said, clearly not meaning a word of it.
"Hang on," Scott said after taking a step toward the door,."Where's my change?"
The clerk looked at him puzzled, "Change?"
"Yeah, I gave you a $10 for a two dollar bag of candy. There should be change."
The clerk stared at him with dull, lifeless eyes. Half a second later, a chorus of angry shouting directed at Scott coming from the other customers in line.
Scott flung his hand in their general direction, swung open the door, and stomped out.
In the car, Scott looked at the receipt, the silly lime green "g" at the top, and quickly scanned the rest, glowering at the missing "change" at the bottom.
He started up the Tercel, got onto the freeway, and resumed the drive home.
The next morning, Scott awoke to blissful silence. He didn't hear a single giggle, any Saturday morning cartoons blasting on TV, or the tromp, tromp, tromp of heavy feet in the hallway. He bolted out of bed, careful not to wake Claire, snoring peacefully, and peaked carefully from a crack in the door. The kids were nowhere to be found.
He threw on a pair of pants that laid on the floor and stalked down the stairs. He still couldn't hear them. They should be deafening by now, he thought.
He approached the den, each footfall as quiet as a Jaguars game. Slowly, he turned the doorknob and eased the door open. Sitting in the middle of the room, gawping up at the TV was Rachel with a spoonful of Tasty-Os hovering near her half-open mouth. Scott could see the milk dripping onto the carpet. The boys sat on opposite ends of the couch conspicuously ignoring each other and focusing their attention on the widescreen. They were re-watching "Little Giants" since they had missed most of it during movie night.
Scott threw the door open.
"G'mornin' Dad," the boys said, nearly in unison, then traded baleful stares and returned to watching the movie.
Rachel didn't even notice him.
"Morning boys," Scott replied.
Rachel's spoon had almost no milk left in it.
"Morning, puddin'," Scott said, moving closer to Rachel.
He tried to take her spoon out of her hand and was rewarded with a sudden jerk by Rachel which tipped over the entire bowl in front of her.
Rachel drooped her head below her shoulders. "Sorry," she said quietly.
Scott dashed into the kitchen and grabbed a roll of paper towels in an all-too-hopeful attempt to sop up the milk from the carpet.
Matt gasped in horror. Charlie pointed excitedly at the floor and shouted "Clean it up! Hurry!"
Scott looked at the boys. They looked entirely too distraught over spilled milk.
"Would you two pipe down," he said sternly.
The two boys froze in silent panic. Scott dabbed at the carpet with the paper towels. Rachel looked like she would start sobbing at any minute.
When he finished wiping up the worst of it, he asked, "What's wrong, Rach?"
And that threw the floodgates wide open. Rachel wailed loudly, and Scott did his best to quiet her down.
"W-we-we won't get to go to the football thing," she bellowed.
The boys looked as though they were about to start crying themselves.
"The NFL thing at the convention center," Matt said.
Scott blinked rapidly and nodded his head in comprehension. He knew why they were upset. He also knew why they had been so quiet today.
"You mean the NFL Experience?"
The three of them nodded their heads in unison, Rachel wiped stray tears from her eyes.
"You thought we weren't going to go?"
"Aw, guys, it was only an accident," he said indicating the milk and the soiled paper towels.
"But, but you said if we weren't on our best behavior today..." Charlie said, his voice trailing off like he couldn't bear to finish the thought.
"I know that, and you've been very well behaved today." He thought briefly about other Saturday mornings where he'd have to wake up before dawn to break up fights in the hallway. "We're still going."
Their faces lit up. "Really?"
"Of course. Now go on up, and get ready."
They screamed in delight.
"Quietly," Scott hissed. "Your mom is still sleeping upstairs."
They all went upstairs; the kids to go and prepare for the day's activities, and Scott to go wake Claire, which was no small task itself.
Scott and Claire got dressed and tromped down the stairs where they were greeted by three smiling and mostly well-dressed kids standing at the door.
"Why can't you be like this the rest of the week?" Claire asked bemusedly.
They piled into Claire's minvan and half an hour later found themselves snaking through a long line to get into the George R. Brown Convention Center. In line with them were fans adorned with jerseys from all NFL teams. After what felt like an ice age, Scott and his family burst through the doors of the convention center and stared in amazement at the vast expanse of football bliss.
The convention center seemed to stretch into the horizon. The floor was covered in a thin green covering that was supposed to resemble the green of a football field, but felt more like a cheap alternative to Astroturf. The air was filled with the sounds of classic NFL games blasting above the din of chattering fans.
Scott looked down at his kids and asked, "So what are we doing first?"
Matt and Charlie indicated the "punt, pass, and kick" venue just ahead of them. Had Claire not held a death grip on their collars, they would have been off like a shot.
Rachel clung to Scott's leg, watching the swirling crowd dubiously.
Scott pointed at the two boys and indicated the practice field nearby while sending Claire an inquisitive glance.
She nodded and prodded the boys toward where they wanted to go.
Scott knelt down to be at eye level with Rachel. "What do you want to do?"
Rachel said and did nothing.
At that moment, there was a booming voice over the public address that could only be Marc Vandermeer announcing the Texans' autograph session was opening in five minutes. Rachel huddled closer to her father as the voice finally cut out.
"Did you want to go get an autograph?" Scott asked.
Rachel had a blank stare which was common among six-year-olds who didn't know what they wanted to do.
"You could finally get to meet Andre Johnson," he cajoled.
Rachel suddenly perked up and nodded her head energetically.
"You want to meet Andre?"
Scott let out a quiet chuckle. He never really understood her fascination with Andre. She had only seen bits and pieces of Texans games in her life, the most of which came during his infamous brawl with well-known dweeb Cortland Finnegan. It didn't make much sense to him, but he wasn't about to say anything. It's a start, he thought.
Scott picked up his daughter, propped her up on top of his shoulders and trudged through the knot of fans that had descended on the autograph table. He put Rachel back down on the ground.
She pointed frantically at the far left line and they raced over before it got any longer. As the line grew longer behind them, Scott couldn't shake the sense of deja vu creeping over him. He scowled briefly, thinking about the ten bucks he lost at the mini-mart, remembering the angry crowd and cursing them silently.
Ahead of them, the line dwindled as fans got their autographs and talked excitedly to. But as the line thinned out, Scott saw that Andre had not been signing autographs. In fact, he wasn't even sitting at the table. Instead, a very young man with shaggy, shoulder-length, dirty blonde hair wearing Texans sweats and a broad smile handed back a commemorative football to an eager fan ahead of them.
Uh oh, Scott thought.
Finally, they reached the end of the line. Rachel saw the unfamiliar face and clung like a tick to Scott's leg. The blonde-haired man smiled warmly at her.
"Did you want an autograph, little girl?"
She hid her face from him, which made the young man chuckle softly.
"Honey," Scott said. "Didn't you want to get an autograph?"
"He's not Andre," Rachel sulked.
"Sorry about that, Mr. Yount," Scott said slightly embarrassed. "She gets a little nervous around new people."
Yount nodded, still with a big grin on his face. "No prob. I remember I wanted his autograph first time I went into the locker room. My uncle told me it was unprofessional."
Scott nudged his daughter toward the table, but she refused to budge. He watched the sea of impatient fans waiting behind them. He took off his battle red Texans cap and handed it to the quarterback.
"Who do I make it out to?" Yount asked.
"Scott and Rachel."
Yount held the cap steady under his hand and uncapped the pen. He stopped. The pen fell out of his hand and onto the floor. Yount, who had been all smiles and excitement not five minutes earlier, now looked like he had seen a ghost standing behind Scott.
"Hank!" Yount shouted, jerking his head toward the table.
A man in a dark blue three piece suit ambled over and leaned his head down to Yount. The two of them exchanged sharp whispered comments for several minutes before Hank rushed over to Coach Verdieri for another whispered conversation. He returned to Yount's line and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm sorry, but Mr. Yount will not be signing any more autographs today."
A chorus of disappointed groans swept through the crowd.
"Sorry, folks," Yount said, trying to sound upbeat. "M-my throwing arm needs to rest."
Yount got up and walked away with Henry, his arms hung like limp dishrags.
The line dissolved almost as quick as a Connor Barwin sack. Scott picked his hat up off the table and watched the two of them walk away, wondering what had made Yount want to leave so suddenly.
Rachel tugged on Scott's arm. He dropped to one knee and turned his ear to her.
"I wanna go home," she whispered.
"We just got here."
"I wanna go home," she whined again, stomping her foot.
"Let's go see what your brothers are doing."
He took her by the hand and let her, still pouting, to the Punt, Pass, and Kick booth, where Matt was putting on a clinic for the other fans. They arrived just in time to see Matt throw a 40-yard bomb. The ball landed with a dull fump in the distance, but nobody noticed, least of all Scott. He was too absorbed in watching his son, whose sum football experience amounted to annihilating his little brother at Madden on a daily basis. He started imagining his son's name emblazoned on the back of a deep steel blue jersey, leading the Texans to countless victories.
And that's when his phone rang.
He shook out of his reverie, pulled out his phone, and noticed the number was unlisted.
Shit, what now, he thought. He looked over at Claire, who was just as mesmerized by her son's prowess as he had been. Scott tapped on her shoulder, pointed at his phone, and mouthed "It's the office" to her. She nodded and waved him away with the back of her hand. He walked to an empty patch of turf.
"This better be good, Jay."
There was a long pause at the other end of the line, punctuated by a short, sharp sigh.
"Is everything alright?"
"Jay, what's going on?"
"You're going--" he paused. "You'll wanna see this."
"You're freaking me out. What is it?"
Orlund let out a loud sigh. "It's Belgreave. She's dead."
Scott's heart skipped a beat. "Dead?"
"Deader than a Saturday night in Salt Lake City."
He looked over at Claire and the kids, who seemed to be having the time of their lives watching Matt. "Did you call the cops?"
"Not yet. Thought you should get a look at it--her--first."
"I found her in Nash's room."
The symbolism was not lost on him, "I'll be down as soon as I can," he said and hung up the phone. He felt the nausea rising in his stomach with each step he took toward Claire and the kids.
"Everything okay?" she asked.
"'Fraid not. I have to go into the office. Someone dropped the ball and I've gotta go clean it up."
Rachel's face lit up while Charlie and a very sweaty Matt looked as if someone had just shot their puppy.
"And you need the keys," Claire said, fishing in her purse.
"No. I'll take a taxi. Y'all go ahead and stick around. Just call if you're about to head home, okay?"
She nodded and leaned over for a quick peck. The kids groaned in disgust.
He dashed for the exit waving and pulling the phone back to his ear.
It took far longer for the cab to get to the motel than Scott had expected. He suspected, but couldn't prove, that the cabbie had taken the scenic route that included a detour through San Antonio. When they did finally arrive, some 25 minutes later, Scott slammed the door and the driver took off like a shot out of the parking lot. Scott understood why. He didn't want to spend a second longer here than he had to.
Scott stood in the parking lot and surveyed his surroundings. The lowlifes and hookers who usually stood around the motel were nowhere to be found. The motel was as quiet and devoid of life as a tomb. The silence was suddenly broken by the blast of a car stereo pulsating down the road. It was a monstrous black SUV with tinted windows. The car passed the motel slowly and its driver stared down Scott. The driver looked strangely familiar to him, right down to the fauxhawk he sported. After what felt like several minutes, the driver turned and gunned his car down the road.
Scott then rushed to Nash's room. Orlund leaned against the wall to the right of the door, which he saw was cracked open.
"I got here as quick as I could," Scott said, panting.
Orlund nodded silently and turned to open the door. Scott grew closer as the door swung open with an unsettling creak.
As he stepped through the threshold, Scott saw the floor was striped in deep crimson which led inside. When his eyes fell on Helena Belgreave's body, he wanted to throw up on the cheap shag carpet. Had Orlund not said who it was, Scott would never have recognized her. Her strong face was a bloody mess and her long dreadlocks were caked in dried blood. Her housekeeper's uniform was almost soaked through. But what really got to Scott were her eyes. Her eyes were still wide with terror, even after death, with dried blood which made her look as though she had cried blood.
Scott stumbled backward until he hit the wall and put a hand to his sore ribs. His eyes remained frozen on Belgreave.
Orlund stepped through the doorway, taking his trucker's cap off, holding it over his chest, and shaking his head.
"Wh-who...who could've..." Scott's voice trailed off.
"I don't know. But God help 'em if I ever meet up with them."
Scott turned to Orlund, trying to keep the broken body out of his sight. "You said you...um...found her here. Wh-what else did you see exactly?"
Orlund closed his eyes. "Two men. One wore mostly black, the other, I didn't get a good look at. I was on the other side of the motel. One of 'em was dragging something in here and the other followed. I guess he was keeping watch."
"Can you describe either of them? At all?"
"The guy in black was kinda round with really short hair. The other, all I saw was this ugly mohawk-like thing."
"Like a fauxhawk?"
"I guess that's what they're called."
Belgreave had mentioned something about the two men who had given her the shiner. Why kill her, though? What could she have done? Then, Scott remembered Julia's account of that night at Trample.
"...Stocky with a buzz cut..."
"The round guy, was he Hispanic?" Scott asked.
"Mexican? Could have been. Sure looked it, anyway."
It had to be Carlos. But why would he make a point of bringing her to Nash's room? She found his body, and told the cops what she saw. It hardly seemed worth killing over. There had to be something else. Was she killed to cover something up about Nash's murder? Why? Scott pored over his last conversation with Belgreave.
"...I know what you done..."
What had she done? As he thought about this, Scott spotted a small white piece of paper sticking out of one of her pockets. He leaned down, lost his balance, and fell to the ground, breaking his fall by placing his hand on Belgreave's arm.
"Sorry about that," he said quietly to the body.
Gently, he tugged the piece of paper out and unfolded it. He had seen it several times before. The familiar lime green "g" with the eyes above the crook of the letter, the no-nonsense block type of her purchase: a small bag of red candy. It was all very familiar. It was a receipt from "Great Stuff To Go." There were two things on this receipt that were different from any receipt he'd seen before. The first was a large "(+7)" in bold, black print. The other was the amount she had paid for her candy: $75,000.00.
Scott's eyes widened as he re-read the amount she'd spent. Then took out the receipt he had in his pocket. Like Belgreave's receipt, his had a $10 but his receipt had "(-7)" marked next to it.
"...I know what you did, and you're going to pay for it..."
"You're going to pay," Scott said dumbstruck.
" 'You're going to pay,' remember when she said that? The two guys who gave her that black eye. They said 'she would pay.' They weren't trying to keep her quiet. They wanted their money back!"
"The money they gave Eliot Nash the night he was murdered."
Orlund looked puzzled.
"The night he was killed, someone busted through the door and gave him a large bulky envelope. When the news covered Nash's death, there wasn't a single mention of any envelope, which meant that it had to have disappeared sometime before the body was discovered. I think Belgreave saw the envelope, took the cash, and..."
"Took it to a convenience store?"
"No," Scott said, pointing at the (+7) on the receipt. "This isn't just any old receipt. I think it's a betting slip. And that's why she couldn't give them their money back. She no longer had it to give. As a result..." he gestured at the supine figure on the floor.
"Couldn't she have just given them the ticket?"
"Possibly. I don't know. Maybe she thought they wouldn't accept it; they'd think it was bogus or something."
"But why kill her for it? Now that she's dead, they ain't got a snowball's chance of gettin' it back now."
He made a good point. It didn't make sense for them to kill her. There was a lot that Scott couldn't make heads or tails of about Belgreave's murder. Why kill her if they wanted their money back? Why bring her body to Nash's room? Was Belgreave's killer involved in Nash's murder as well? He let out a frustrated sigh. There were no two ways about it now. He'd been looking at this murder the wrong way around. The more evidence that came up, the less he liked Marcus Sheridan for Nash's murder. Even so, there were still scores of questions yet unanswered.
But there was one question that stood out in his mind: Why had Eliot Nash been given $75,000 in cash?
TO BE CONTINUED...