Checkdown - A Battle Red Blog Mystery (Chapter Eleven)

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?

Chapter Five - The Photograph

Chapter Six - I'm Looking For A Girl. Yeah, Aren't We All?

Chapter Seven - Finnegan's Eliot's Wake

Chapter Eight - When You Wish Upon A Star

Chapter Nine - Case No. 158763598220

Chapter Ten - Fear And Loathing In Bayou City


Chapter Eleven - Pop Goes The Winslow

Staring at the blank screen, Scott felt a strange numbness wash over him, as if everything around him were distant, several miles away from him. He had never known what an out-of-body experience felt like, but he assumed it had to be something close to how he felt right then. This made him wonder if it were an out-of-body experience, where did his body go? He hoped it had gone out to strangle Winslow.

It was Winslow who stole them. Of that, Scott was absolutely certain. Only he would be obnoxious enough to use rhyming couplets as a calling card, and only he would screw up the poem's original rhyme structure to do so.

Stealing the post was bad enough, but tolerable. It would have only been a matter of time before the truth about Marcus Sheridan would have been discovered anyway. The notes were a bigger problem. He needed those notes. Without them, Carlyle wouldn't lift a finger to pick his nose, let alone help put away a cold-blooded killer. Scott could hear his voice now.

Nope, nothin' I can do. No notes, no evidence. No evidence, no case.

He could even see Carlyle wave dismissively at him. It was enough to make him scream.

And so he did.

"That son of a bitch," Scott screamed, slamming his fist down on the desk with a thud that rivaled the thunder outside.

"Scott," Claire asked from downstairs, "everything okay up there?"

He looked at the wide open door, scrambling to think of a response.

"Y-yeah. Everything's...fine," Scott said.

It was most definitely not fine. He reached for the knot that had formed on the back of his head. It had gotten to the size of a grapefruit, or at least it felt that way to Scott. Every probe of his fingers brought a new wince of pain to his face, like he had chomped down on a lemon.

He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. Scott remembered the advice of a therapist he had briefly visited when he was new to the firm. To cope with the stress, the therapist told him to think of something that made him happy. At the moment, however, the only thoughts that made him happy involved Winslow, an army of fire ants, and a golf club.

Just as Scott had lifted up the imaginary pick axe, he heard a voice call to him from the office doorway. It was Claire. She caught a glimpse of her husband smiling like a buffoon when she called to him again.

"Scott!"

Scott shuddered back to reality and faced his wife. She returned a look of abject horror in the direction of the grapefruit growing on his head.

"Oh honey," she said, raising a hand to her mouth. "What happened to your head?"

Scott blinked numbly as he tried to reign in the anger he had wallowed in moments ago. "Nash stuff," he said flatly.

The look of horror on Claire's face changed to one of resignation and, Scott thought, annoyance. She didn't say anything, however. She came closer and gingerly placed a couple of fingers on the welt.

"I know," Scott said, reading the look on her face. It was a look he was very familiar with; it usually came after he had done something stupid. "I know."

He stood up out of his seat and put a hand to his left side.

Without saying a word, Claire grabbed the bottom of his shirt and lifted it just above his stomach, revealing angry purple and red splotches around his ribs.

"It's been a really bad day," Scott said with a half-smile.

"I'll bet."

Claire let his shirt fall back down. "You told me you weren't in any danger," she said, the annoyance in her voice growing.

"And when you asked, I wasn't," Scott replied. "Things took a turn and...well..." Scott pointed at the lump on his head, "Someone didn't like that."

"I can see that," Claire said tersely. "I don't like this, Scott."

"Don't like what?"

Claire's eyes were about to bulge out of her skull. "This whole Nash business," she shouted, thrusting her arms at the computer for emphasis.

"It's all being handled," Scott said trying to placate her.

"Handled," she scoffed. "That bowling ball on your head is what you call 'handling it?' "

"It's not as bad as it looks."

"No, it's worse! You've only been knocked out so far, but what next? The cops calling to tell me you're dead in some ditch somewhere? And for what, a goddamn hobby?"

Claire paused as she realized the house had grown quiet around them. The sounds of children at play had come to a distinct stop. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "I'm worried about you, Scott. I don't want to ever get that call, okay?"

Scott looked deep into Claire's eyes which had grown glassy and wet. He wrapped his arms around her as she pressed her face against his shoulder.

"I didn't marry Hercule Poirot," she said, her voice muffled.

Scott stroked her hair tenderly, "I know."

"Please," she continued, looking up at her husband. "Promise me this will stop. It's not worth risking your life over."

She sobbed into his chest; he could feel his shirt getting wet with her tears. Scott looked down at her. He had expected the decision to be a harder choice. But with no expose, no notes, and little hope of retrieving them, it was an easy call to make.

"Okay," he said softly, and kissed the top of her head. "I'll stop. But--"

"But what," Claire sniffled.

"But there's one last thing I need to take care of before I can stop."

Claire opened her mouth to speak, but didn't get a chance to do so.

"It's nothing dangerous, I just have to visit an...old friend."

It won't be dangerous for me, he thought. He wanted to find Gettis, he wanted to even the score with the blogger, but most of all, he wanted his notes back.

The following morning, Scott went into the library and started up the computer. Reluctantly, he typed in the address for "All Things Deep and Steel Blue." He hit the enter key and, at that moment, the computer made a violent whirring noise, as if in protest.

"Sorry," Scott whispered to the machine, as he waited for the blog to appear. When it did, the first post on his blog was not about Sheridan. It was a holdover from the previous day about the Super Bowl point spread. The post speculated what the spread would have been if Eliot Nash were still alive. The line, according to Winslow's post, had the Washington Redskins as a five point favorite to win against a Nashless Texans team.

Scott scrolled down looking for the post he had written about Sheridan. While he couldn't tie Gettis' handiwork to his missing post, it struck him as a hell of a coincidence that they'd both vanish at the same time, and Scott did not believe in coincidences.

There was no mention of Nash or Sheridan or even speculation about murder that Scott could find.

"He hasn't posted the article, yet," Scott murmured quizzically. He could hardly believe it. Winslow was a terrible writer, but he knew a good story when he came across one. Why hadn't he rushed to post it and cause a sensation? A short moment passed until Scott realized why the article hadn't been posted yet: Winslow wasn't near where the action would take place when he dropped the bomb.

In the back of Scott's mind, a plan was beginning to form. Finding Winslow would be a lot easier in the relatively small area surrounding Reliant Stadium than searching the entire city. He would want to be nearby to watch the havoc he would cause. There were only so many places he could hide out in near the stadium.

He clicked on Winslow's avatar, mashing the button down angrily for several seconds before letting go. Winslow's avatar was a picture of him posing excitedly with a very bored Chris Myers. Scott expanded the picture and printed it out. To say the picture was blurry was generous. Winslow bore more of a resemblance to Sasquatch than to any human Scott had ever seen.

As the printer wound down, Scott dashed back to the bedroom and changed into a denim polo shirt and jeans, silently thanking whoever invented the concept of Casual Friday to the office. He would once again be late for work, but it didn't bother Scott as much this time, because he knew it would be the last time it would happen. He expected this to feel better than it did, like a lead weight being taken off. But the leaden feeling inside didn't change. If anything, it actually felt worse.

He bolted down the stairs and out the door, briefly shouting his goodbyes to his family. He couldn't afford to wait for a proper goodbye. Time was ticking down and the odds of getting his notes back went down with it.

The stadium looked like it scraped a blue streak in the cloudy sky. Scott took the Kirby exit off of the freeway. The surrounding neighborhood looked like it had doubled in size overnight. The bars and restaurants nearby sprawled a lot further than he remembered they had. Immediately, he thought about giving it up. Doing a place-to-place search would take all day, if not longer, and he couldn't afford to spend much more time away from work than he already had.

Your Nash Notes, I Took Them All...

A scowl formed as he remembered Winslow's taunt. His ironclad resolve returned almost instantly and his mind went back to how best to use the fire ants on Winslow. He pulled into a small gas station, making sure it wasn't abandoned this time, and went into the mini-mart. It was a compact little structure with dingy white tiled floors and well-stocked shelves and coolers. The clerk behind the counter was a squat balding man with hair graying around the temples and a noticeable paunch.

"Excuse me," Scott said.

The clerk was looking outside checking out a girl who could easily have been his daughter.

"I said, excuse me," Scott repeated louder.

The clerk turned suddenly and blinked stupidly at Scott, "Yeah?"

Scott held up Winslow's picture, "Have you seen this man around?"

The clerk peered carefully at the image, "Is this a joke?"

"No. Have you seen him?"

"What's this s'posed to be, Bigfoot?"

Scott sighed, "No, it's a...man," he said, hesitantly. "His name's Winslow Gettis."

The clerk looked again thoughtfully, "Nope. Haven't seen him."

Scott turned and left the mini-mart. As he went back to his car, he looked at the picture again. It really did look like a Sasquatch. He wanted to laugh but couldn't bring himself to do it. Inside the car, he scanned the immediate vicinity and all the potential hiding places that Winslow could have gotten to. It was going to be a long day.

The next stop he came to was a small Whataburger near the freeway. It seemed like as likely place for Winslow to be as any, Scott thought. It was always open and it offered free wi-fi, so he could upload the article at any time from there. Inside, Scott could smell beef cooking on the griddle and hear onion rings sizzling in the deep fryer. The dining area was cozy with fiberglass booths and tabletops. Behind the counter, Scott could see the a driver waiting at the window for his order and a score of orange-clad employees racing around, desperate to keep up with the breakfast rush. Scott walked up to the counter where he was greeted with a dumpy blonde in her late 50s.

"What'll ya have, hon?" she asked in a raspy tone.

Scott placed an order for some breakfast burritos and a soda, "I was also wondering--"

"Pickup number 54!" the blonde shouted. "Sorry, hon, what was that?"

"I said, I was wondering if you've seen this guy around," he held up Winslow's picture.

"Which one?"

Scott pointed at Winslow.

"Him? Ugh, don't get me started. Comes in here all the time. He'll order enough food to last a week and then try to weasel his way out of paying for it. Says his order was completely wrong and demanding a refund."

"That sounds like him. Has he been in here today?"

"Hell no, and I hope I don't see him again. Little turd damn near got me canned last week."

She continued ranting about Winslow until Scott's order was ready. He took the bag and went back to his car. As he ate, he would stop every so often and go to Winslow's blog and check if the post had come up yet. Each time the result was the same: the point spread post remained at the top of the page. What could he possibly be waiting for?

He threw the garbage into the back seat and resumed the search. Scott spent hours asking people if they had seen the erstwhile blogger and scanning rooms to see if Winslow had made an appearance. As each new bar and restaurant opened their doors for that day's business, Scott was often the first one to come in and grill the staff about Winslow. They all had the same answers: None of them had seen him, and they hoped not to see him again anytime soon.

Scott checked the clock on his dashboard. It was a quarter to two and he had exhausted every possible hiding place he could think of. After about 15 minutes, Scott decided that enough was enough. He knew he'd bump into Winslow again, it would only be a matter of time. In the meantime, Winslow would post "his" story, Sheridan would be arrested for Nash's murder and the seedy world Scott had immersed himself in would be little more than a memory and maybe a couple of broken ribs. Scott ground his teeth, irritated that Winslow would get the credit for his work, but what else could be done?

Scott fired up the Tercel and drove out of the lot until he was stopped at a red light. It wasn't a noteworthy stop in itself. The Whataburger he had been to earlier that day was on one corner and a Starbucks stood on the opposite side of the street. The afternoon sun reflected off the cars in the Starbucks parking lot and shot straight into his eyes. He threw on his cheap sunglasses.

One of the cars in the parking lot caught Scott's attention, it looked vaguely familiar to him. It was a sleek four-door luxury sedan in an obnoxious overly complicated color like "Wicked Merlot Jewel Metallic." Scott looked in the window of the coffee house and there, sitting in front of his laptop, was Winslow Gettis.

Without thinking, Scott cut across two lanes of traffic and turned in a no-turn lane amid the screech of tires and furious honking from the other drivers. He pulled into the parking lot, turned off the car, and sat for a moment, sneering at an oblivious Winslow.

He wanted to throttle him. To take him outside and kick him so hard he'd clear the stadium with room to spare. To use fire ants and golf equipment to...do something unpleasant to him. Sadly, none of these were viable options to him. There had to be something he could do to get Gettis back. But how? Scott looked at the front seat where he would keep his notepad. Had he hired someone to steal those as well?

The bell chimed sweetly as Scott entered the coffeehouse. The room was decked out in muted tones that all resembled various shades of coffee. Fragrant beans were being ground noisily behind the counter and the mechanical "whoosh" of steamed milk broke the tranquil droning of some no-name acoustic guitar player on the stereo; which Scott was grateful for.

One of the black and green-clad baristas moved to the cash register and said in a loud, cheery voice, "Welcome to Starbucks!"

Scott ignored her and blew past the counter toward the far side of the room. Gettis had arranged everything on his table to even the most minute detail. The coffee he had ordered sat at the far left corner of the table, its handle exactly perpendicular to the wall behind him. A slice of lemon sponge cake sat in front of the cup with a bite taken out of the corner, with every single crumb swept off the table and onto the floor. Scott stood over the table and peered down at Winslow, typing aggressively at his laptop.

"Hello, Winslow," Scott said with forced pleasantness. The clickety-clack stopped briefly at the sound of Scott's voice. Winslow was as still as a statue until he resumed typing.

"I think you have something of mine," Scott said, "and I'd like it back now."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Winslow said automatically without looking up from his computer.

Scott dragged out a chair from under the table, its legs screeched against the tile floor. Even that, Scott thought, sounded better than the guitar player on the stereo.

"Bullshit," Scott said plopping down in the chair opposite Winslow. "What's the matter, you can't even do your own legwork for a story anymore? Can't say I'm surprised. You always did need me to do your work for you."

Winslow shot a vicious look at Scott with his beady little weasel eyes, "Oh, you don't mean," he said with a crooked little smile, "You thought this was your story this whole time? That is just precious."

The smile dropped, "Get this straight...Scotty, this was never your story. You might have had the idea, nurtured it, watched as it sprouted and finally bore fruit. But this," he gestured at his laptop, "is my garden. If I want something, I pluck it when it's ripe. If it's worthless, I leave it to die on some anonymous vine in the vast hinterlands of my internet garden.

"And you," he poked Scott in the center of his chest, "are just one of my many, many gardeners; so thank you for a job well done, you are no longer needed here, Scotty."

Scott lunged across the table, grasped Winslow by his collar, and pulled him close. The ceramic cup fell over the side of the table, spilling coffee all over the table and floor. Winslow looked defiantly at Scott. "Well," Winslow said, "what are you waiting for? Go ahead and hit me in front of all these witnesses."

By now, the coffeehouse was dead silent, its patrons spellbound by the scene taking place at the far side of the room.

"Look, you annoying little shit, I'm gonna ask you this once," Scott said, his eyes like daggers aimed at Winslow and holding back a long-overdue punch. "Where. Are. My. Notes. Winslow?"

Winslow said nothing. Scott pulled back his fist. Winslow closed his eyes tightly.

"Wait," Winslow said meekly. Scott was taken aback by his sudden change in demeanor.

"Notes," Scott said tonelessly, "Now."

Winslow simpered, "I don't have them."

Scott reared back his fist again, almost glad for an excuse to hit him.

"Hey! Take it outside! Blood is hard to clean off these floors," the manager demanded. Scott ignored him.

"I-I-I mean I don't h-have them anymore,"

He lowered his fist, "What did you do with them, Winslow. Tell me!"

Winslow shrugged, as if resigned to his fate. "I gave them away."

The death grip Scott held on Winslow's shirt grew slack. "You did what?"

Winslow nodded, straightening the front of his shirt.

"To whom," Scott asked in a sing-song voice. He started to lift his fist up again

"McClanahan," Winslow blurted out, then flopped like down in his seat like LeBron James.

Scott was dumbfounded, "You gave my notes, and my story, to Flapjacks McClanahan?!"

On one hand, it explained why Gettis didn't rush off and post his trophy on his blog. It did not explain why he gave it to Flapjacks. A story like this could have made Winslow's blog an overnight sensation.

"Why? Why Flapjacks?" Scott asked, somehow feeling more dejected about this than Winslow stealing it.

"I-I wanted access to the team. Interviews, field access to the Super Bowl, even the training facility. When I gave him the notes, he said he could make it happen!"

Suddenly, Scott's urge to kill Winslow, witnesses be damned, vanished. He looked at the cowering little creep and smiled broadly.

"What? What's the smile for?" Winslow asked.

"Nothing," Scott lied, "No reason at all."

Scott stood up out of his chair and laughed heartily. "And you bought it?"

Winslow nodded timidly which prompted another round of laughter from Scott, "You really can be dense, you know that," he asked bemusedly."Oh, and I'm sorry about what happened to your car."

Scott walked out of the Starbucks, still laughing uproariously. He got into his car, turned on the ignition, and tossed his phone onto the passenger seat. It had been so long since he had cleaned it, he had almost forgotten the color of the seat's upholstery and what was on the floor guard. When he pulled out, he looked at Winslow's precious little car, now strewn with hot, old garbage and four flattened tires.

As he drove off the lot, he thought about what he had done. He nearly decked Winslow, which was far better than he deserved, paid him back for letting the air out of his tires at the motel, and Flapjacks would screw him over so much more than Scott could possibly achieve. This was not something the old Scott would have done. But having done it, he felt liberated, like justice had finally been served in some small way. But most of all, it felt really damn good.

Going back to the office, Scott spent most of his time on the phone trying to reach Detective Carlyle to break the bad news.

"Carlyle."

"It's me."

"Who the hell is 'me?' "

"It's Sc--I mean Adenauer."

"Goddamn it, Adenauer, I told you to give your notes to me! Not leak it to the press!"

"It wasn't me! Last night, my comp--"

"Ah, save it. Doesn't matter now anyway. Sheridan's name is all over the news. Looks like you'll get your little murder investigation after all."

Scott was mute. His investigation was over, the police could take it from here, and life could finally return to normal.

"Adenauer? You there?"

"Y-Yeah, I'm here."

"Anything else you needed?"

Scott declined and hung up. At last, it was coming to an end. He sat down at his desk and leaned back. The pain in his ribs twinged and shot up his side. But it didn't hurt as much as it had before.

A moment later, there was a knock on the side of Scott's door. It was Diego, sporting a grin that made Scott fear for any canaries in the vicinity.

"Did you get botox again and not tell me?" Scott asked jokingly.

"You've got a visitor, Nob."

Scott shook his head in confusion. "Me? A visitor?"

"Yeah," Diego said. "Why can't I get visitors that look like this one?" Diego faced the unseen visitor and said, "He's in here," poking a thumb in Scott's direction.

"Mr. Brooks," said a light, delicate voice.

Scott's eyes bulged for a fleeting moment at who was standing before him. He attempted to regain his composure...and failed.

"Hello, Julia."

TO BE CONTINUED...

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