Predators, Part 2 Caught In A Trap
Having dealt with former pedophile Jim Bender, the bum shuffled out of the park and down the street, singing his song, coughing his cough. He walked three blocks south then two blocks east before entering a narrow alley between a couple of abandoned stores. When he came out on the other side he had changed into a pair of Levis, a Land's End sweatshirt and Timberland boots. His bum's outfit was in a plastic bag that he carried over his shoulder.
A black primed 1970 Chevrolet El Camino was parked on the curb and the bum got the key out of a magnetized box under the fender. He unlocked the car, dropped the bag behind the seat, and slid behind the wheel. Back at his motel he showered, shaved and then wiped down every surface in the grungy room.
At a Waffle House ten minutes from the interstate, he sat alone. The waitress took his order without any small talk. He was thankful.
Twenty minutes later he was on the interstate, eight hours after that he pulled into the parking lot of Sunset Investigations in North Myrtle Beach. He stepped out of the car, stretched and walked over to the wooden pick nick table before lighting his first Camel of the new day. He never smoked in the car.
He had started a second cigarette from the ashes of the first when the private investigator he had hired on the phone pulled into the service station that had been remodeled into an office.
"Mr. Justice, good morning." The bum extended his hand and J. J. Justice shook it then unlocked the door. He lead the man into his office, directed him to the client chair, and excused himself to start a pot of coffee.
"We have a problem," Justice said when he returned to his desk.
"It can't be your fee, Paypal is reasonably fool proof."
"I know you're not William Smith," Justice said. He waited for a response and watched the man who sat in front of him. He seemed unconcerned and somewhat amused.
"And you care about that because....."
Justice ignored the question, studied the man over his steaming cup, and then pulled a file folder out of his desk drawer.
"Marion Jesse Valentine, US Army retired," Justice said staring at Valentine. "Grenada, Iraq, Afghanistan twice then back to Iraq. You left the service and dropped off the grid after personal leave two years ago."
"I don't think I hired you to investigate me, Mr. Justice," Valentine stood.
"Call me JJ."
"I won't be here that long," Valentine stood, started for the door then began coughing. It was bad this time, worse than usual and he grabbed the door frame. Finally he got it under control and returned to his seat to rest. His eyes watered, he struggled to get control of his breathing.
Justice shoved a box of tissue across his desk and Valentine pulled out several, wiped at his eyes and then coughed into them. Justice saw some pink discoloration as Valentine wadded up the tissues and looked around for a trash can.
"Bathroom's just past the coffee pot," Justice said. "Make yourself at home, soldier."
In the bathroom Valentine splashed cold water on his face and glanced at his reflection in the mirror. He was paler than he thought he'd be, his eyes darker underneath than he'd have guessed. He shrugged and his reflection shrugged in agreement. He helped himself to coffee and found Justice sitting at the table outside. He had the folder with him.
"How much do you know?" Valentine asked as he lit a Camel.
"Not enough," Justice said. "I know the people you wanted me to find, found me. I know they are powerful, they have sophisticated technology. My office was bugged, my computer files have been copied but left intact."
Valentine smiled and sat at the table. "What's in the file?"
Justice slid it over and Valentine opened it to the title page. The words "MultiJurisdictional Task Force Investigation" we're centered in bold black type. Valentine sipped the coffee and found it a bit weak for his taste. He flipped slowly through the first seven pages of information. He looked up at Justice and nodded.
" I was working at the PD when I first heard the rumor about a group of men, rich men who were into some extremely rough stuff," Justice said. "I never put much stock in it, just street jive ... thats what I believed."
"And then prostitutes began to turn up dead." Valentine said.
"In eight months we had nine working girls killed," Justice said. "One of them was a sixteen year old runaway from Washington."
"The senator's daughter," Valentine said. "And then everything changed."
"Important parents always bring pressure, that's just the way things work. I was part of the task force, most of us from coastal cities all the way from Wilmington, North Carolina to Savanna, Georgia."
"Your task force concluded that these men didn't exist and that these were just random murders, right?"
"Officially, that's right." Justice stood up, stretched and pulled the folder back in front of him. "The murders stopped, the pressure let up, the money for overtime dwindled and the task force was disbanded."
"But years later you still have a file." Valentine pointed at the folder.
"I believe they moved to greener pastures, someplace where the heat was not on them. These guys don't quit, I'm not sure they can."
"Got anything new for me?" Valentine puffed on the Camel, coughed and then dropped the but in his half empty coffee cup.
"Not a lot. My associate is very talented. She located hundreds of possible cases on the net scattered throughout the country, cases where young girls disappeared or were found murdered. I used your criteria to sift through the cases and narrowed the number down to eighty-seven."
"Eighty-seven." Valentine sighed.
"Eighty-seven in the last five years within easy driving distance of some military installation," Justice said. "Fifty-one bodies out of the eighty-seven cases. That leaves thirty-six little girls, are they all dead?"
"Only the lucky ones." Valentine stood.
"Tell me what you know, Mr. Valentine."
Valentine ran his hand through his hair, hitched up his jeans and turned his back to the wind. He fired up another cigarette. He drew smoke deep into his damaged lungs, coughed until Justice thought he would fall and then sat back down at the table.
"Those things are going to kill you," Justice said.
"No," Valentine said. "No, they're not."
The two men stared at each other until finally Justice nodded and stood.
"What I know, I can't prove," Valentine said and the two men shook hands. Valentine got behind the wheel of his car, fired it up and pulled out onto Highway 17.
Justice went inside and to the first bay where Steve Eaglefeather sat in his Avalanche.
"You got him?" Justice asked.
Steve nodded at his dash where a red dot glowed on the GPs map as it moved south on Highway 17.
"Piece of cake," he said.
Valentine watched as she walked into the Myrtle Beach Barnes and Noble.
He was sitting in the Starbucks having a sandwich and a strong black coffee when she came through the front door wearing jeans and a pale yellow long sleeve tee. Valentine was long past lusting after young razor thin women, or any women really, but this lady radiated sexuality.
He watched her until she disappeared into the store and then went to the counter for a refill. When he got back to his table she was sitting one table away reading a Cosmopolitan.
He nodded as he sat down and she smiled at him.
"How're you doing, sugar." She said. It wasn't really a question and he shrugged then opened the latest Robert Crais novel in front of him and continued reading.
A couple of pages later a card slipped out of the magazine the woman was holding and she bent over to pick it up off the floor. Valentine watched her and looked up just in time to get caught looking down.
"Enjoying the show?" she asked but she smiled when she said it and he smiled back
"No problem, I'm Jasmine."
"Well, hello Jasmine," Valentine said. "Join me?"
"I know a trap when I see one." He thought.
The words to an old song came to mind as Valentine walked with Jasmine out to his car: "The talk was small, when they talked at all." He opened the passenger door and she slid in.
Valentine checked for a tail but saw nothing suspicious as he followed her directions out through the country, down a two lane road several miles and then they turned onto a gravel road. Soon she directed him to turn onto a second then a third progressively worse pig path that ended at a double wide trailer that was in dire need of some landscaping.
Her hands shook as she tried to unlock the front door, and Valentine took the keys unlocked the door and waited for her to go in. The second he cleared the door, it was slammed shut from behind and he felt the barrel of a gun press against the back of his head.
First in the series:
- The Predators, Carolina Requiem
Third and final episode in The Predators series of short stories finds our "bum" captured by the very animals he's been hunting. Parts 1 and 2 are linked at the bottom.
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