Amends for the Dead — Part 5

You can find Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 of Amends for the Dead, with Lonnie Kuhl and Targe Wilkins, hereherehere and here. This is the fifth and final part.

5

A few hours later he and Targe were with Pirelli and Federico. Lonnie’s attempts to persuade the two detectives had brought an unhealthy flush to his cheeks and a somewhat fevered look to his eyes.

“It’s all we have,” he told them, “to draw Bobby Perch out of hiding.”

Federico sighed. He was asking himself why they were listening to this guy who looked like he was about to fall down. His voice grated as he spoke.

“I’m confused,” he said. “If Sandy didn’t have the key and Brenda doesn’t have it, and Bobby didn’t get it from Vonnie, who has the key?”

Lonnie shook his head. “I don’t know,” he told them. “I don’t know what Vonnie did with it. But we can use that.”

“How?” asked Pirelli.

“I tell Brenda I found it in her mailbox. Brenda tells Bobby and tells him to come pick it up,” Lonnie said.

Federico’s voice got louder with each objection. “How do we know she hasn’t checked her mailbox?”

Lonnie dug his hands further into his jacket pockets. “The box is big and deep. She’ll think she missed it.”

Pirelli shifted his body weight, a silent reminder to both of them to ease up. He considered and nodded his approval.

“How hard will it be to convince her to co-operate?” he asked Lonnie.

“With her sister dead and proof that Brent is Bobby Perch?” He had to take a breath. “She’ll do it.”

The detectives were silent. Lonnie took it as consent. They named a time the following evening.

To Targe, who would handle the electronics, he said, “The bug, in the credenza, inside the living room doorway.”

“Credenza?” mouthed Federico. Pirelli shot a look at his partner, and the four men went over the plan again.

Outside police headquarters, Lonnie had further instructions for Targe.

“There’s a perfect spot – a shelf to the left of the fireplace.”

“Got it,” Targe said.

Lonnie broke the news to Brenda on the phone the next morning that Brent Pardue and Bobby Perch were the same man.

She was silent for a moment, protested, refused to believe it. Lonnie was patient but persistent. He pointed out that his plan would exonerate Brent if he wasn’t Bobby Perch. If he was right, there’d be a reward.

“I know you don’t care about the money,” he said, “but you’ll get a share.”

Later they talked again, and she had a sob in her voice as she said, “I told him about the key and he admitted he was Bobby Perch. He said he’ll come tonight.”

Lonnie told her to expect Targe, who would plant a bug in the living room to record everything. He’d be waiting outside.

“What if he brings a gun?” she asked.

“What?”

“I said, what if Bobby brings a gun?”

“We won’t let it get to that,” he told her.

Targe later reported that things had gone smoothly.

“I got thirsty and she stepped into the kitchen to get me a glass of water. Just long enough.”

When the time came, cars lined one side of the narrow street. Most houses were lit within as people settled down for an evening of television.

A hatchback glided to a stop in front of Brenda’s house. The driver waited a moment before getting out. He looked up and down the street before he closed the car door and headed up the sidewalk.

There was a soft light from the living room window. The rest of the house was dark. When the front door opened to his knock, the visitor stepped into a darkened hallway. Lonnie heard a caressing masculine voice say, “Hey, babe,” just before the door closed.

From the ear piece, Lonnie listened, knew Pirelli and Federico were listening too. Imagined the scene. Brenda and Brent whispering together. She playing the part they rehearsed. She had the key. They’d collect the money and go away together, he said.

I’ll get it, she tells him. Silence as she moves to the sideboard and a drawer opens. Here it is, she says. And then her voice again, sharp, Bobby, what are you doing with that gun? Don’t. His voice, Hey. Some grunting as they struggle. No, she says. And two shots, a thump as a body drops to the floor. A scream.

Lonnie removed his ear piece, exited the shadows and followed at a slower pace the detectives who rushed up the stairs and into the house.

In the living room, Brenda was on the couch, her hands covering her face, her shoulders shaking.

Pirelli was checking the body of Bobby Perch on the floor at her feet. Federico was on the phone to headquarters. Lonnie eyed Brenda and waited.

After a minute, her hands dropped, her breath continued to catch in dry sobs.

“You said he wouldn’t try to use gun,” she said, her voice trembling slightly. But no metallic edge, Lonnie noted. She glanced at the detectives, tension in her shoulders. She looked at Lonnie for a response but it was Pirelli who answered.

“Yeah, we didn’t expect that. He didn’t usually carry.”

Lonnie walked to the shelves holding pictures of Brenda and her friends and family. Reaching behind, he pulled out something small and plastic and showed it to her.

“My friend planted a camera, too,” he said.

Brenda stared at him. Her eyes moved to the thing in his hand and back to his face. Her breathing quickened, her eyes widened in fear. No one moved or said anything.

There was a step outside and Targe Wilkins entered. He saw what Lonnie had in his hand and pulled an electronic device the size of a cellphone from his pocket.

“Here,” he said. Hand outstretched to Lonnie who signed with his head to give it to Pirelli.

The detective, his partner looking over his shoulder, watched the recording .

Brent and Brenda enter the room. The detectives know what is said from the recording they have heard. They see her go to the sideboard, take something from it. Her hand isn’t visible to Brent but it is visible to the camera. It holds a gun.

She speaks her lines, Brent grunts in surprise as her hand comes forward and reaches out, grabbing her arm. She fires twice. He slumps to the floor. She quickly wipes her fingerprints from the gun and drops it into his hand. She pulls a key from her pocket and drops that too.

Seconds later, Pirelli and Federico rush into the room. The recording ends.

Pirelli remained staring at the phone. After a moment, he looked up at Brenda. His face was without expression. “The camera caught it all,” he said to her.

“I don’t get it,” said Federico. And to Lonnie, “You knew she was going to do this?”

Lonnie shook his head, shrugged. He turned to Brenda.

“You already knew it all when I called you. Right? You dropped the Brent, just called him Bobby. That wasn’t convincing.”

She looked up at him, her mouth set.

“You found the key before I did,” he said. “You left it in the mailbox because you didn’t have a safer place to put it. No one else thought of looking there, so why move it?”

She drew her tongue over her lips, tried to speak but nothing came out. Tried again, spoke through a constricted throat.

“He told me who he was. Said we needed to find the key.”

Lonnie nodded. “And you realized he had engineered your meeting, lied to you, killed Vonnie.”

She didn’t say anything.

His voice dropped and softened as he said, “You guessed that he wasn’t really interested in you at all.”

She hesitated and gave a little sob. As though she knew that with each admission, he would push her to admit something she would rather keep hidden.

“You saw how you could use my plan to get rid of Bobby, and keep the money for yourself.”

She passed her tongue over her lips, opened her mouth, and closed it without speaking.

“Best of all, there would be no further questions about Sandy’s death. Everyone would assume that Bobby did it.”

Now there was fear in her face. At what she had done? Or at the realization that everyone, including her parents, would have to know? Lonnie wasn’t sure.

Pirelli started. “She killed Sandy?”

Her gaze never left Lonnie.

“How do you figure that?” asked Pirelli.

Lonnie turned to him, relieved not to have to look at her any more. “Sandy would never have let Bobby in, but her apartment wasn’t broken into. There was no sign of a struggle. Once Brenda found the key and decided she was going to keep the money for herself, Sandy had to die.”

He pointed to the gun on the floor. “I bet that was used by the bank robbers. Sandy told her about the key; she could have told her about a gun that Martin gave her to keep, too.”

He turned back to Brenda. “If you wanted Bobby blamed, you should have beat her to death,” he said. “That’s how Bobby would have done it. He liked to use his hands.”

Brenda shuddered and he wondered if she was remembering other ways he had used his hands.

Police vehicles and personnel appeared on the scene and began their rituals. As Lonnie and Targe were ushered out, with an admonition from Pirelli to be at the police headquarters the next day to make statements, Lonnie took Pirelli aside.

“Here,” he said, taking a safety deposit key from his pocket.

Pirelli looked confused. “What’s this?”

“It’s the key,” said Lonnie, a faint smile on his face. He enjoyed confounding Pirelli. He still resented that comment about his father and his ring.

“Where did this come from?”

“It was in the mailbox. Where Vonnie left it. What Brenda retrieved was the one I planted.”

Pirelli had nothing to say. He looked at Lonnie and looked at the key.

His lips had thinned. A few moments thought and his jaw muscles relaxed. He had the last of the bank robbers, he had two killers, even if one of them was dead, and he had the money.

Other than the fact that he would spend the next few hours writing reports, he had nothing to complain about.

Lonnie saw the look of satisfaction on Pirelli’s face, understood, and turned to join Targe Wilkins outside.

The End

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