Amends for the Dead — Part 3

You can find Parts 1 and 2 of Amends for the Dead, with Lonnie Kuhl and Targe Wilkins, here and here. There are five parts in all, to be posted more or less weekly.

3

Glen Sharp’s parents didn’t have much to say about their son whose life had been as painful for them as his death. Their daughter’s strongest emotion was anger.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Glen, she said, didn’t steal because he drank. He stole to pay for his drinking. The mother, teary-eyed, said he had been trying to stop. The daughter said that the only time Glen was sober was when he was about to do a job.

Lonnie’s next stop was three blocks away from Vonnie’s. He knocked and a woman opened the door in welcome even before he introduced himself.

“I recognize you,” said Brenda Wasniak. “Vonnie talked about you just after you got back,” she said, and he had been at school with her older sister, Sandy.

Old home week, thought Lonnie.

Brenda, her big eyes on his face, said how sorry she was she had cancelled her date with Vonnie.

“If I hadn’t cancelled, she might not have been home.”

As she spoke, she lead the way into the living room. It was bigger than Vonnie’s and not as tidy, but it was comfortable, a woman who had spare time to organize things the way she liked them.

He asked, just curious, as though he had been told but had forgotten.

“Why did you cancel your date with Vonnie?”

“My boyfriend came to town unexpectedly,” she said. Her voice had risen slightly, a metallic edge to the last words, and he thought that she wasn’t used to talking about a boyfriend.

Framed photos of Brenda with friends and family were dotted about the room.

One photo showed Brenda with Vonnie and other girls, outdoors in the winter. They were bundled up, laughing into the camera; condensed breath haloed their heads. Brenda pointed to another of her with her parents and a woman who resembled her, but was prettier and slimmer. “That’s Sandy,” she said.

He lied, saying, “Yeah, I remember her.”

There was no photo of Brenda with a man, another sign the boyfriend was new, Lonnie thought. A slight smile was still on her lips, and it popped into his head that the two of them had slept together the previous night for the first time.

“When you cancelled, did Vonnie say anything about what she would do instead? She didn’t mention, maybe, that she would invite someone else over?”

“I didn’t talk to her,” said Brenda. Her voice was back to normal. “I left a message on her voice mail.”

“What time was that?”

“About 3:30,” she said. “Brent… he’s my boyfriend, Brent Pardue,” she said, as though she liked saying his name, “I didn’t know he’d be in town until he called.”

“It’s nice to have someone,” he told her, his tone saying he understood.

Her smile widened and the tension in her shoulders eased.

“Did you and Vonnie spend a lot of time together?”

She nodded. “Two or three times a week. She worked at Turner’s,” naming a local real estate company, “and walked to work every day. Sometimes she’d drop by on her way home and we’d eat together.”

He nodded and his silence was intended to convey sympathy for her loss.

“Your boyfriend. Did Vonnie know him?”

Brenda shook her head. “I met Brent on holiday a few weeks ago. He lives out of town. Last night was the first time I’ve seen him since then.”

She had that look again, a little sappy, that came over her face when she spoke of him. She’s so glad to be talking about him, he thought.

“We talk on the phone a lot,” she added.

“Where do young lovers go on a date these days?” he asked.

“I don’t date much,” she said, her skin flushed a little. “Brent asked me to meet him at Crocus.”

He had heard of it, a new restaurant, getting a lot of buzz.

“It’s quite expensive, I think, but Brent insisted,” she said. Her head came up slightly and then tilted a wee bit, as though she couldn’t contain the sense of pride she was feeling.

The phone rang. She excused herself. From her tone of voice as she heard who was calling, Lonnie was sure it wasn’t the boyfriend. Whoever it was, the caller wanted something from her.

“I’ll get it to you,” Lonnie heard, the metallic edge back in Brenda’s voice. Then there was a squawk from the other end of the line, a woman’s voice.

Brenda looked at him. Said, “I can’t talk now, Sandy. I’ll call you back,” and hung up.

“Bad news?” asked Lonnie.

She shook her head, tried for a light note.

“Sisters,” she said. “They’re such a pain sometimes.”

“I know how it goes. I’ve got a sister myself,” he said, ignoring signs she wanted him gone and preparing to ruthlessly slander his affectionate sibling. “She’s older than me. Always wanting me to do favours for her. Likes to boss me around.”

Brenda nodded and smiled, but her eyes didn’t change.

She crossed her arms, licked her lips, swallowed. “I’m not feeling well,” she told him. “Do you mind?” as she gestured him towards the door.

Outside, he returned to his car, started it up and circled the block. He came back in time to see her driving away. He stayed as close as he could without losing her. A minute later she pulled up in front of Vonnie’s house.

Crime scene tape spread across the porch and two officers in a police car were keeping an eye on the place.

Brenda got out and approached them. After a short conversation she returned to her car and drove away.

Lonnie pulled out his cell phone and made a call. A few minutes later, he saw one of the police officers answer his radio.

As Lonnie approached the police car, the driver got out and waited for him. He didn’t need to ask for any identification to know this was the guy Detective Pirelli had told him about. The guy did look like death warmed over.

“What did that girl ask you?” Lonnie asked the officer.

“She said she was a friend of the victim. She asked could she go inside to pick up something she’d left there.”

He hitched up his pants, looking ready to defend himself at any suggestion he had done the wrong thing.

“I told her, she had to get permission from the detective in charge, Frank Pirelli. She said she knew his number and left.”

Lonnie nodded. Cocked his head toward the door.

“Can you let me in?”

The officer retrieved the keys from his car and handed them to Lonnie.

Inside, Lonnie stood in the hallway. Pirelli had told him there was no evidence Sharp had gone upstairs.

He rifled through the chest in the hallway, saw nothing he wouldn’t expect to see. Nothing someone would kill to retrieve.

He wandered into the living room.

At the back door, hidden from his view, there was a creak of floorboards on the porch. Next a key in the lock, the sound of a doorknob turning.

He waited and heard her progress from kitchen to front door. When she reached the chest, her back was to him. She looked in the top right drawer and then in the left drawer. She looked at the key rack on the wall, fingered keys hanging there, let them go. She examined the things in the dish of odds and ends on top of the chest.

As she straightened, he moved to his right until she could see him reflected in the mirror. She whirled to face him.

Her mouth was open. Shock rippled across her face.

“What are you looking for, Brenda?” Lonnie asked. By this time, he was sure he knew what it was, but he wanted to hear her say it. A good interviewer asked questions, and was careful never to supply the answers.

But she didn’t say anything. She turned and ran. By the time she made it to the back door, Lonnie was there blocking her way.

“Tell me or tell the police, Brenda. You don’t have other choices.”

She looked like she was about to cry.

Lonnie talked in his soft voice. About sisters, about secrets, about making mistakes and wanting to put things right. When she was calm, he mentioned the police again, and told her he would take care of everything.

She sat on a kitchen chair and told him.  Sandy had given her a key to keep and Brenda had passed it to Vonnie when she went on holiday.

“If Sandy wanted it back while I was away, I didn’t want her in my house to get it. She snoops,” said Brenda by way of explanation. “So I thought if she asked for it, I’d call Vonnie to give it back to her.”

“Did you tell anyone else about it?”

She made a short sharp shake of her head.

“I don’t believe you,” he said. No threat in his tone, but a clear message she had to give a different answer.

“I told Brent about it,” she admitted, “but please don’t tell Sandy. She told me not to tell anyone.”

“Where’s the key?” he asked her.

She looked back at the hallway. “I don’t know.” That metallic edge again. She was genuinely puzzled. “We were here when I gave it to her…to Vonnie. She put it in the top drawer of the chest. I saw her.”

“When did you tell Vonnie you needed it back?”

“The day before we were supposed to go out. I told her Sandy was pestering me to give it back to her. I wanted to know where it was. Vonnie said, ‘it’s right here in the front hall,’ and I told her not to forget to bring it Friday night. She said she would… but of course,” she looked uncomfortable, “I cancelled our date.”

“And she didn’t leave you any message about it?”

Brenda shook her head. He pressed her for more information about the key.

She mentioned Sandy’s on-again, off-again boyfriend. As far as she knew, he was in jail, but she wondered if Sandy was keeping it for him.

Lonnie was ready to let her go, but first asked a question.

“Martin Kalinski,” said Brenda, relieved that she was about to get out of there.

“I would guess that you four don’t double date,” he said. When she looked confused, he said, “You and Brent, Sandy and Martin.”

She shook her head emphatically.

“Martin’s a criminal,” she said, the look of a woman who is confident that she has found a much better man. “I don’t know why Sandy puts up with him. Brent wouldn’t like him at all,” she said.

Lonnie let her out the back door, reassuring her one last time that he wouldn’t tell Sandy. She was warier of her big sister, Lonnie noted, than she was of the police.

He returned Vonnie’s house keys to the police officer outside and drove away. When he was out of sight, he pulled over to make a call.

“Targe? Some names for you – Brent Pardue, Martin Kalinski and Glen Sharp.” He gave him what details he knew. “Find out what you can for me, will you? As soon as you can? Thanks.”

Lonnie had his own contacts developed through investigation work for insurance companies. But Targe was the best source for information about hard guys like Kalinski.

Sandy Wasniak, he discovered, lived on the other side of the city. He visited the following day, killing time near the end of the workday with a newspaper in a diner near her apartment.

Local politicians were fighting over how to divvy lottery money, city workers were threatening to strike, there were no witnesses to a shoot-out at a local club that killed two, police in a neighbouring province hadn’t been able to get a lead on a team of bank robbers still at large, and the local baseball team was as dismal as ever.

Lonnie looked at the date on the masthead, wondering if he hadn’t picked up a newspaper from a year ago.

At 5:30, the woman in the photograph with Brenda and her parents walked towards the building. He waited to give her time to settle in.

Five minutes later he followed an old woman as she unlocked the front door. He smiled as he held the door for her.

Exiting the elevator on the top floor, he heard a door close. He headed towards the end of the hall, looking for the number he found on the mail box in the lobby. A red Exit sign hung over a far door.

Someone was cooking a curry, he thought, as he approached Sandy’s door, and he swallowed the saliva that flooded his mouth.

He raised his hand to knock, saw that the door wasn’t shut. He detected another odour not associated with cooking, pushed the door open and called Sandy’s name.

He advanced into the living room. A glance and he was in the hallway again, slamming her door against the wall in his hurry to get through the Exit and down the staircase. At the bottom he burst through the door leading to the back lane.

There was no one in sight. He caught the back door before it locked him out, gave one last look around and headed upstairs.

On the top floor, people huddled around Sandy’s door. Someone said, their voice heavy with warning, that they’d called the police. Lonnie nodded and said the police would want to speak to them all. Most hurried back to their apartments. One man remained eyeing him warily.

Lonnie called Pirelli and left a message. He wasn’t sure how long it would take dispatch to make the connection between this death and Vonnie’s.

He waited, hoping he wasn’t forming a habit here. Standing in a doorway to a crime scene, looking at a dead body. He could no longer detect the smell of the gunshot. He wondered if he ever did, or was it just his imagination filling in the blanks when he saw her door wasn’t closed.

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Categories: Short story | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Amends for the Dead — Part 3

  1. Pingback: Amends for the Dead — Part 5 | Lois Browne

  2. Pingback: Amends for the Dead — Part 4 | Lois Browne

  3. Pingback: Amends for the Dead — Part 2 | Lois Browne

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