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Checkdown - A Battle Red Blog Mystery (Chapter Eighteen)

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.

Also, if you want to read Checkdown from the very beginning, there is a new section heading on Battle Red Blog called, oddly enough, "Checkdown." It can be found under the sections tab on the upper left hand side of the main page. Enjoy!

Chapter Eighteen - Answers

For the better part of an hour, Scott could not stop shaking. He had a gun pointed at his head by a lunatic who wouldn't have thought twice about splattering his little gray cells across Hermann Park. But the gunman was in handcuffs, in the back of what Scott hoped was the worst-smelling of squad cars, on his way to a short and miserable life in prison.

But still, the shakes persisted. At the bridge, it was like being the lone victim of a massive earthquake. By this point, the ground had ceased movement and instead felt more like a really bad case of hypothermia.

He wanted sleep, and laid his head down on the backrest of the squad car. He felt more comfortable in a squad car than he had even 24 hours earlier. Whether this was a good thing or not, Scott couldn't be entirely sure.

As his eyes closed, his mind wandered to Corpus Christi and how he would get Claire and the kids to come back home.

The car stopped with a jerk, which flung Scott headfirst into the steel grating.

Scott groaned as he rubbed his head delicately. "How about a little warning next time, huh?"

"We've stopped," the driver said, unhelpfully.

Scott got his wits about him, albeit slowly, and looked around at his surroundings. The car was behind the station, again. It felt surreal, he thought, as he watched yet another man clapped in irons escorted unceremoniously into the station.

Carlos moved at a glacial pace, up the concrete stairs. His eyes darted from side to side and his lips parted slightly, showing his stained, grinding teeth. Carlyle jabbed at his back and muttered something inaudibly to the prisoner. In response, Carlos sped up for maybe half a second before slowing back down again.

"I said move," Carlyle shouted, pushing Carlos harder. As he crossed the threshold, Carlos flashed a small, devious smile which Scott could see.

"Could y'all let me out? I want to see him get processed."

The cops laughed like he had just told a very funny joke and drove away from the station, the lock still firmly on.

He opened the door. The biting January wind took his breath away as Scott raced for the station to get warm and to see Carlos in the orange jumpsuit he so rightly deserved.

Despite his best efforts, the two cops wouldn't let Scott out of their sights, and guided him to the chair at Carlyle's desk. He plopped down on the vinyl seat and glowered at the dry erase board. Yesterday, the board was littered with pictures of Carlos and Podolski and other figures involved in Nash's murder all connected with badly drawn arrows and incomprehensible notations. This time, the board was mostly blank. Podolski's picture had been taken down off the board and replaced with one of him on a steel slab, his eyes, thankfully, closed. Carlos' picture had been circled repeatedly in red ink, resembling a poorly drawn target.

He stared at the board, at Carlos' picture, and fumed as he waited to hear from Detective Carlyle. He didn't know what to expect, but he was ready and waiting. The waiting proved to be the hardest part. Time dragged to an ultra-slow trickle, like being at a Barry Manilow concert. Where the hell was Carlyle, anyway?

Claire popped back into mind again as the interminable wait dragged on. Scott hoped it was finally over so he could do what he did best: patch things up.

"You Brooks?" asked a lugubrious officer in his dress blues.

Scott jumped out of his chair and stood bolt upright in front of the cop. "I am."

"Got a message for you from Ol' Yell--I mean Detective Carlyle. Says you should head down to the chatterbox."

Scott looked at him confused.

" 'Chatterbox?' "

"The media room. Jesus, I gotta explain everythin' to you?"

Scott's eyes lit up. He was finally going to get the answers he'd been looking for...even if he wouldn't be asking the questions himself.

He threw open the door to the "chatterbox" and Bob looked up in surprise, saw that it was only Scott, then grumbled and returned to watching the screens. Scott pulled up a chair and knew immediately which screen to turn his attention to. It was the only one with someone wearing an orange jumpsuit.

Carlos sat motionless in the room. The only movement came from the rhythmic tapping of his index finger against the table. It was like watching a lion at the zoo waiting for feeding time.

Carlyle breezed into the room carrying a thick manila file folder in his arm. He held the folder over the table and let it fall, landing with a dull thunk.

"You've been a busy man, Mr. Guerrero," Carlyle said in a genial voice that Scott instantly recognized as fake.

Carlos remained perfectly still, his eyes fixed on the door behind Carlyle. The tapping grew louder without missing a beat, like a leaky faucet dripping into an empty sink.

Carlyle threw open the file. The stacks of paper on either side looked like they had to be easily two inches thick.

"We got you on that little drug party from a couple years ago, fraud, extortion, aggravated assault. You know, it'd be easier just to list the charges you haven't faced, and that's not including the murder charges you're up on now."

Carlos let out a derisive snort.

"This is no time for games, Guerrero. You're gonna rot in Huntsville unless you decide to cooperate."


"You know what? Don't talk. That's okay too. We have a mountain of evidence tying you to that housekeeper. We don't need you to tell us a damn thing. But if you ever want to see the outside world without adult diapers, you better start talking."

"Man, I ain't tellin' you shit until my lawyer gets here. And I ain't tellin' you shit then either," Carlos said.

"He's not gonna talk, is he?" Scott asked Bob, who simply shrugged his shoulders and nodded grimly.

Scott looked at Carlyle, whose expression said that he felt the same way. Once the lawyer came into the room, any hope of Carlos' cooperation would all but evaporate. Carlos would go to jail, that much was certain, but somehow it didn't feel right. It felt a bit anticlimactic, like getting caught up in Super Bowl hype, only to have the game turn into a 40 point rout. There was a hollow feeling in Scott's stomach. He'd risked his job, his marriage, even his own life to solve Eliot Nash's murder. Was it really worth all that just to see it all end in Carlos' silence?

Scott shook his head. It wasn't enough, not by a long shot. Carlos would talk, he had to talk. He reached over and grabbed the microphone off the desk.

"It's Scott. I have an idea."

He watched the screen to see if Carlyle would do as he asked. Surprisingly enough, he stood up.

"We're not done here, Guerrero," Carlyle said gruffly, then left the room.

Before he could get to Carlyle's desk, there was a bellowing shout coming from the hallway.

"What the hell are you doing interfering with my interrogation?"

"What interrogation? He's said all of maybe a dozen words since y'all hauled him in."

"Don't get smart with me, lawyer boy."

For once, he didn't bristle at Carlyle's nickname for him.

"Listen, Ol' Yeller, he's not going to rat himself out. He's crazy, but he ain't stupid."

Carlyle stared daggers at Scott. "I know that."

"Something's been bothering me about Carlos ever since we found Helena's body."

"I don't have time for this," Carlyle said in a huff.

"What else are you going to do? Sit and wait for his lawyer to arrive?"

Carlyle's hand balled into a fist. "No," he said sharply. "I'm going to think of a way to break him."

"Then let me help," Scott said, almost pleadingly.


"Why has Carlos been looking for the money he left for Nash?"


"Why has--"

"I heard what you said, lawyer boy. Probably with Nash dead, Hector Spinoza wanted his money back."

"Right. And with only a handful of people who would have known about the money, Carlos and Nate didn't have a lot to work with to get it back. Belgreave was the only one who they knew about."

"So they go and threaten her for the money," Carlyle added.

"But she doesn't have it. She had already spent it at the Good Stuff."

"And Spinoza ain't exactly the patient type..." Carlyle said, his voice trailing off. "That's it. That's how we get him talking. And I know just how to do it."

Scott returned to the Chatterbox a little while later and watched the monitor. Carlyle went into the interview room with a fellow officer pushing an old boxy TV on a small cart, the kind Scott remembered from high school.

"You deaf or something, Pops? I said I ain't talkin' to nobody," Carlos said.

Carlyle turned to Carlos with a curious look on his face.

"Oh, I know, lawyer and all that happy hogwash. I thought that since you weren't about to say anything that we would watch a bit of TV together. Until your lawyer arrives, that is. Thank you, sergeant," Carlyle said as the policeman left the room.

Carlyle examined Carlos' still expressionless face. "You strike me as a 'Downton Abbey' type, am I right?"

"Screw you," Carlos said.

"Suit yourself. Me? I love watching the news. I can't stand it if I don't know what's going on around me."

Carlyle turned on the television. The screen came to life and showed a balding man with wispy gray hair in his late 50's in front of a podium with the crest of the Houston Police Department. He wore a shabby tan suit, thick glasses, and was shuffling unseen papers in front of him.

The television was at an angle that allowed Scott to see what was being broadcast.

"L-ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming on such sh-short notice," the old man said, his voice tremulous and a little squeaky. "I would like to open with some preliminary remarks; after that, I'll take your questions."

The old man hacked and cleared his throat noisily. "We are pleased to report that we have made a major breakthrough in the Eliot Nash/Helena Belgreave murders. This afternoon, Houston police apprehended a person of interest who we believe is deeply involved in both of these senseless deaths. While lead detective Leland Carlyle has declined to provide this individual's name--"

"Your name is Leland," Scott asked Carlyle bemusedly through the microphone.

Carlyle said nothing and directed a quick, irritated glare at the camera intended for Scott.

"--he did say this individual is believed to have strong connections to crime boss Hector Spinoza and is cooperating fully with the police in their investigation. Now onto your questions."

"This is a joke, right?" Carlos asked, believing it was no such thing.

Now it was Carlyle's turn to show no expression,."Nope. I told you this was no time for games, Mr. Guerrero."

"You tryin' to get me killed, cabron? They gonna know who you're talkin' about!"

"Then start talking!"

There was a knock on the door. Carlyle said they could enter. The man who entered wore a suit that probably would've cost Scott an entire month's wages and carried a leather briefcase. He had a tightly-pinched face, a sharply-angled nose and an expression that said he carried a world of problems on his broad shoulders.

"Don't say another word," the man said, thrusting a finger at Carlos.

Carlos' eyes were wide with panic.

"Arthur Cray," the lawyer said. "My client insisted that someone be present here for Mr. Guerrero."

"He hasn't said that mu--"

Carlos interrupted, "I-I-I-I--"

Cray and Carlyle stared at the prisoner in turn. Carlyle said, "Is there a problem, Mr. Guerrero?"

"I-I waive my right to-to counsel."

Cray watched him suspiciously. "Think about what you're saying very carefully, Mr. Guerrero. Because you know as well as I do that--"

"Get out!" Carlos shouted at Cray.

"Sounds like he doesn't want you here, Mr. Cray. I'll have someone escort you out."

The lawyer picked up his briefcase and stormed out.

"They gonna kill me. You know that donchu?"

"What makes you say that, Mr. Guerrero?" Carlyle asked innocently.

Carlos glared at Carlyle. "You just put a target on my back, man. Spinoza's got eyes and ears everywhere. Don't matter where I go now, they gonna find me and shut my ass up. For snitchin'. An' I ain't even snitched!"

"We can offer you protection," Carlyle said in a conciliatory manner.

"Ain't enough protection in the world. Shit, even prison can't protect me." Carlos leaned over the table, put his head in his hands, and groaned.

"There are certain protections we can offer for witnesses to crimes."

Carlos looked up through a gap between his fingers. "Witnesses?"

"You heard me."

He leaned back in his chair. "What you offering?"

"Confess to the murder charges against you," Carlyle said without missing a beat.

"That it?"

"No. You do not hold anything back; if I ask a question, you answer it. No screwing around, no bullshit. If I so much as wrinkle my nose at one of your answers, the deal is off. Understood?"

Carlos opened his mouth to speak, but quickly closed it and nodded solemnly.

"If everything you say is on the up and up, I'll put in a good word for you with Witsec. I'm sure the Feds would love to hear what you have to say about Hector Spinoza's operation. Do we have a deal?"

"What the hell are you doing?" Scott shouted to nobody in particular. Carlos in witness protection? How the hell was that justice?

There was a slight pause before Carlos nodded his assent.

"Good. We'll start with Helena Belgreave. Did you kill her?" Carlyle asked, getting out a pen and notepad.

"No, that was all Nate's doing."

Carlyle closed up the notepad and turned. "Not even five seconds and I already smell bullshit. Your DNA was on the body, Mr. Guerrero."


Carlyle turned his bloodhound eyes on Carlos, "What?"

"I did it, okay? I killed that bitch."

Scott grinned sadly. He wanted to enjoy being right about Carlos, but couldn't. All he could think of was Carlos hiding behind a new identity in Frog's Balls, Oklahoma or some other no-name town, courtesy of Witness Protection.

"Better. How did you do it?"

"Nate and I beat the shit out of her."


"I thought she had some money that belonged to the boss and she wouldn't give it over to us."

"Why kill her for it? Dead people don't pay their debts."

"It got kinda outta control. We were just gonna knock her around a little until she tol' us where the cash was. After a while, I went off the deep end and then she just stopped movin'. Nate had to pull me away after the punches started sounding squishy."

He described it in such a cold, clinical way, as if he were describing his responsibilities at a previous job to an interviewer. It gave Scott the shivers.

Carlyle was unphased by Carlos' story; he'd probably heard stories like those a thousand times before. "Why'd you go 'off the deep end?' "

"The boss been breathin' down my neck about gettin' his money back. Once that quarterback was dead, he didn't think it had no use bein' where it was."

"You mean Eliot Nash?"

"There any other dead quarterbacks you seen lately?"

"Don't get smart with me, Guerrero. How much money was there?"

"About 75 grand."

"What was the money for?"

"The boss wanted to bribe Nash."

"Bribe him to lose the AFC Championship Game?"

Carlos shook his head. "No. To win, but not cover the spread."

"When you gave him the money, what happened then?"

"He bitched me out about how cheap the boss was bein'. Said if the boss wanted results, he'd have to pay more than that and if he didn't get more cash he couldn't be sure if he could stay quiet about the 'arrangement.' "

"Is that why you killed him? Spinoza didn't want him to squeal about paying off players?"

For the first time, Carlos looked legitimately confused at the accusation. " think I killed him?" He let out a loud, almost demented-sounding belly laugh. "That's hilarious."

Carlyle stared at him, still as a statue.

"You're bein' serious? Hell no, I didn't kill Nash!"

In the Chatterbox, Scott's jaw would've hit the floor had the chair not gotten in the way. Carlos had to be lying. He's the only guy who had any reason to kill him. Right?

"Enjoy your stay in general population, Mr. Guerrero. Your deal just went bye-bye."

"I'm not lying, goddamnit! The boss ain't had no reason to kill him!"

"Sounds to me like he had a damn good reason. He wasn't about to let some schmuck quarterback extort him for more money."

"Except, he wasn't," Carlos said urgently, "The 75 grand was a down payment. If the Texans didn't cover, he'd get ten times that after the game ended."

It didn't make sense, Scott thought. Why would Hector Spinoza care about point spreads? Gambling on sports was illegal in Texas, and wasn't about to change anytime soon; unless he had action in Nevada, point shaving wouldn't do him the least bit of good. A sudden thought struck Scott and he held the arms of his swivel chair, trying to remain still, as if the slightest movement would make the idea vanish.

Scott reached for the microphone and pressed the button at its base. "Ask him why Spinoza wanted Nash to throw the game."

Carlyle put his fingers up to his ear, then asked the question.

"You don' get it? Damn, you're clueless. The boss has a gamblin' racket here. You go to a mini-mart and buy some candy, whatever you spend to buy the candy is the wager and the color says which team you're bettin' on. If Nash was alive, everybody'd be bettin' on the Texans to win the Super Bowl, man."

Scott thought about the receipt he found on Belgreave's body and realized that she had, in a sense, given Spinoza his money back, only neither of them knew it.

"And Nash would be told to lose the game," Carlyle jumped in. "Spinoza cleans up, and nobody's the wiser because it'll all look like Nash crapped his pants on the field. But why would he do it?"

"Nash? He had to. He was in so deep in the hole, he coulda dug straight to China. The boss gave him a way out."

"An offer he couldn't refuse?"

Carlos rolled his eyes. "He owed the boss a shit-ton of money from previous bets he'd lost. It was the only way he could pay us back. If he lost the Super Bowl, the boss woulda paid him millions for it."

"If he was so deep in the hole, why was Spinoza going to pay him off? Couldn't he have just forgiven his debts?"

"Do I look like a goddamn accountant to you? I dunno, maybe he needed the money for something and couldn't afford to wait."

Scott wanted to turn off the screen. He'd seen enough. Not only was Nash a blackmailer and an ass, he was going to throw the biggest game in Houston sports history because of his own gambling debts. The screens seemed to lack a power button to press which was just as well; Bob looked as though all he were missing was popcorn and 3-D glasses.

"Did anyone else know about Nash's gambling issues?"

"Mighta been one kid who saw me payin' him for a bet he'd won a few months back. But I ain't got a good look at 'im. Nash seemed to know him and said he'd 'take care of him.' "

"I've only got one more question for you, Mr. Guerrero. You were arrested a couple of years back for possession with intent to distribute a batch of black tar heroin. We found some of that same batch on the nightstand at the crime scene. Any idea how it got there?"

Carlos shook his head. "Shit, no man. I didn't even know there was drugs there until I heard Nash was dead."

Carlyle got up from his chair. "I'm going to check out your story. I'll have someone escort you to holding."

Carlos nearly went white. "Holding?! I thought you were going to protect me!"

"Protect you from what?"

Carlos gestured at the TV. "Spinoza's prolly put the word out on me already after that shit, man."

Carlyle looked at him with some confusion before saying, "Oh that. You didn't think I'd really spill all that to the media, did you? None of that was real. But when you dismissed that lawyer, that's gonna get back to Spinoza soon enough. However, nobody in holding's gonna know about that until you're long gone. Take care, Mr. Guerrero."

Scott bounded out of his chair and left the media room for Carlyle's desk. When he arrived there, he saw the detective shaking hands with the old man who had given the press conference earlier.

"Damn fine job you did there, Stiggins. Very convincing."

"You didn't think I was too nervous, did you?"

"It got the job d--"

"Witsec?! You mean he's gonna get to walk out with a new life after all this?" Scott shouted at Carlyle.

"Settle down, Brooks," he said, his head turned toward a cop on the other side of the room. "Jasper! Go into Nash's financial history. Guerrero said he was dead broke. Let's see if that story holds water."

Jasper nodded and went away.

"I will not settle down! He killed that housekeeper, he should face prison for it!"

"Brooks, not right now," Carlyle said in a sharp staccato. "Witsec will nev--"

Scott was having none of it. "Witsec is too good for the likes of him," Scott said, his voice rising still higher. "And you're just going to sit there with your thumb up your ass whi--"

"I'll warn you one last time, Brooks. Calm. Down."

"I worked too goddamn hard on this just to let you give this scum a free pass!"

Carlyle gestured for a pair of officers to come to his desk. "Gentlemen, call a cab and see this man out."

The officers gave a quick salute and shuttled Scott out, but not before he bellowed out, "It's not right!"

Scott sat on the stoop and looked out on the clear blue sky, which now had a faint tinge of orange along the horizon. This wasn't how it was supposed to end. Scott believed he, with Carlyle, would finally unravel Nash's murder. Instead, the man they caught, the man who had been the center of both murders, would effectively skate on Belgreave's murder and had nothing to do with Nash's death.

Worse still, there was nobody that looked good for the crime. The only possibility was the unnamed figure that Carlos thought he had seen, which was as close to useless as it could be. His fist balled up and he made like he would punch the steel rail leading up the stairs, but stopped just short.

At the same time, Scott realized, he had prevented the Texans from losing their first Super Bowl in such a way that would provoke a new crop of bleach-drinking jokes. It was cold comfort, and he knew it, but what else did he have to show for all his efforts aside from a bruised and battered body? He looked down at his arm. The cut somehow looked worse than it did when it was still fresh.

There wasn't much time to contemplate it though, as a green and white van pulled in front of the station with a big red comet decked out on its front door. Scott clambered in the back and slid the door shut.

"Where you headed?" asked the cabbie in a flat Midwestern accent.

Scott looked in the rearview mirror blankly. There were too many painful thoughts still to be had at home, and he couldn't call and tell Diego to meet him at the Alcove, as he would probably still be treading lightly around Mr. Anderson. He then remembered how distraught Orlund had been about Belgreave's death, and felt like the least he could do was give him the latest details.

"Take me to the West Wind Motel," Scott said dully.

The cabbie gave him a confused look, shrugged his shoulders, and drove to the dumpy little motel.


With each successive trip he made to the motel, Scott grew less and less worried about the local criminal element that lounged about. Whether this was because they were getting used to him, or he was getting used to them, he couldn't be sure, but that didn't stop him from walking briskly to Orlund's room on the far side of the motel.

"Who's there?" asked Orlund through the door.

"It's Scott, let me in, will you?"

The door opened to show the old trucker, who appeared as though he never changed clothes.

"C'mon, c'mon already."

Scott entered the room and immediately pinched his nose shut. The rotten cabbage and socks smell hadn't gone away since the last time he'd been there. If anything, it had only gotten worse.

"Whatcha needin', son?"

Scott paused for a moment, thinking about how to answer him. "I've got news about Helena's murder."

Orlund sat down on the edge of his bed and gestured for Scott to sit in the chair next to the TV. Scott politely declined.

"What's the word?" he asked with a trace of hope in his voice.

"They--They found her killer," Scott said blandly.

A wide toothy grin formed on Orlund's face. He had never realized just how white his teeth were.

"He confessed to it shortly after they arrested him," Scott said.

"That's wonderful. Glad to see the innocent receive justice."

Scott held back a bitter laugh, which came out as a cough instead.

"But he says he didn't kill Nash. Said he had nothing to do with it."

"And the cops are buyin' this horsecrap?"

Scott nodded glumly.

"But what about the money?"

"It was a down payment for future results. The funny part was she did what her killer had been trying to do in the first place: return the money."

"And the heroin?"

There was a long pause before Scott answered slowly. "Knew nothing about it."

"I...see," Orlund said. "Is everything okay, Brooks?"

Scott wasn't listening, he was staring with his head tilted through Orlund as if something intensely interesting were on the far wall. "Did I say it was heroin they found at the scene?"

It was Orlund's turn to be confused, "O-of course you did. It was even in the paper, remember?"

Scott smiled weakly. "Right. That must be it."

"Excuse me a moment, call of nature and all that," Orlund said and turned for the bathroom before Scott could say anything.

Something was definitely wrong. How did Orlund know there was heroin at the scene? There had been drugs at the scene, but he wasn't specific about what was found there. He pulled out his phone and called up Flapjacks' article about Nash's death. It was one of the favorite pages listed on his phone, something which struck Scott as incredibly ironic.

He perused the article carefully, looking for any reference to heroin. There were none to be found.

There was only one way Orlund could possibly know about the heroin, Scott figured. He closed the browser and dialed Carlyle's number. If he knew about the heroin, he must have planted it there. If he planted it there, then he was trying to frame Sheridan.

"Dispatch," the impassive officer said on the other end of the line.

"This is Scott Brooks, I need to speak with Detective Carlyle. It's an emer--"

An unknown force knocked the phone out of his hand and across the room where it hit the wall with a loud clack. Scott's throat felt tight like he was being pulled away by his neck. Instictively, his hands went up to his neck to free himself. He felt a thick cord wrapped around his neck, pulling tighter and tighter. Desperately, he pulled at it, but it was no use. It was simply too tight, he couldn't even get a finger underneath the cord. The air grew thin and his face grew hot as he forced himself to gasp.

"I didn't want to do this, Brooks," Orlund said sadly, through gritted teeth. "I don't like seeing innocents die needlessly. But I don't have no choice now."

Scott was past caring. He tried getting his feet down on the ground which was no small task. The room began to spin and he grew weaker.

"I'm sorry, Scott," Orlund said, sounding like he really meant it.

At last he got his feet down, and Scott pushed Orlund back against the dresser with all the power of a Danieal Manning hit, and shattered the mirror into dozens of silvery fragments. The two men fell to the ground, forcing Orlund to lose his grip on the cord, which Scott saw was a white extension cord. He also saw that one of the shards of glass embedded itself deep in Orlund's back.

Scott didn't know much about severe trauma, in fact he knew nothing about it, but even he knew that Orlund wouldn't have much longer to live.

He stood up, picked Orlund up off the ground, and pulled him close. "Why? Why'd you do it? What'd Nash do to you?" Scott demanded hoarsely.

"I...don't client'," Orlund choked out.

"Who hired you. Tell me!"

Blood pooled in Orlund's mouth as he smiled defiantly, shook his head, then quickly darted his eyes toward the closet.


Orlund's body grew limp, his eyes closed, and his breathing finally stopped. Scott laid the dead man on the bed, shard-side up.

Before he died, Orlund looked at the closet next to the dresser, Scott wondered what was so important in there.

The cabbage and sock stink grew exponentially worse with every inch the door opened. In the closet were no clothes, not even a single coat hanger. Instead, Scott found several black lights shining on a bed of dirt from which sprang several long green stalks topped with dozens of tiny white flowers. Scott recognized them instantly after having spent weeks removing them from his yard long ago.

"Hemlock," he said, still wheezing.

Orlund really did kill Eliot Nash. Not because Nash had wronged him in any way, but because someone paid him to do it. The question was, who paid him?

Taped to the side wall was a fabric pouch which contained several long syringes. Behind the soil bed was a folded sheet of paper. Scott took it out and unfolded it carefully, making sure only to hand the very edges of the page. He read it intently, which didn't take very long, as there was very little written on it, including the letterhead in the top right corner of the page. It read "Sharpstown Medical Clinic."

When he finished reading, the world around him shifted, as if someone had thrown a jigsaw puzzle up in the air and landed with the pieces all put together.

He went over to the other side of the room and picked his phone back up. The phone was still, surprisingly, intact. He redialed Carlyle's number.

"Carlyle, it's Scott. Come down to the West Wind Motel. There's something here that you need to see.