With One Eye Open
A Charles Stubblefield Mystery
by D. H. Reddall


.......When Billy Farrell explained his problem to me, I said “Go to the cops.”

....... “I did. They said there’s nothing they can do unless he threatens her or hurts her, or unless she files for a restraining order."

....... “Tell her to get the restraining order, then.”

....... “She refuses. This guy’s an asshole but she’s reluctant to ‘make trouble’ for him. Seems to think his behavior is partly her fault.”

....... Billy and I grew up on the same block. Cape Cod was a different place then. Drugs were just starting to take hold and drive-by shootings were unknown. But there was often tension between the locals and the day-trippers. When guys from Boston or New Bedford crashed a beach party or moved on the wrong girl it was invariably settled with fists. Neither Billy nor his brother, Frank, were big kids but they knew how to handle themselves and they never ducked a fight. I looked Billy over now: forty-three, fleshy, pale, receding hairline, watery gray eyes. He brought to mind a candle that was slowly melting down. Ten years ago he’d have handled the problem himself, but now his heart was in no shape for that.

....... “What do you want me to do, that won’t jeopardize my license, that is?”

....... “Maybe he hears from a private detective what the penalties are for stalking, he’ll give it up. Especially a guy your size. You can, you know, intimidate him.”

....... “I can have a word with him, but I can’t guarantee it’ll do any good. In the meantime, talk to your daughter. A restraining order isn’t perfect, but it’s a start.”

....... Billy left the boyfriend’s name and address. Jason Klegg, age 22, lived with his stepfather on Winter Street. According to Billy, when Klegg worked at all, it was swinging a hammer for his cousin, a contractor. Mostly, he hung out at Dupree’s Billiard Parlor.

*****

....... Dupree’s is traditional: no fluorescent lights, no orange felts on the tables, no women, lots of cigarettes burning and to hell with the new smoking ban. Turk, the houseman, was rocked back in his chair, perusing a dogeared copy of Hustler.

....... “Jason Klegg around?” I asked. He looked me up and down, shook his head. Turk did a dime at Walpole for beating a guy to death over a dented fender. Cops, municipal or private, aren’t his favorite people. I’d done his boss a favor once, though, and Turk knew the rules.

....... “He’s working today. New house over to Marstons Mills.”

....... “What can you tell me about him?”

....... Turk grunted and rolled his eyes. “He’s hung like Einstein and smart as a horse.” He went back to his magazine and I headed for the street.

....... “Hey,” he called after me. “Watch your back. Klegg’s a mean son of a bitch.”

*****

....... According to Billy, his daughter Edie had dated Klegg for a couple of months. When she tried to get some distance, he closed in. When she stopped seeing him and refused to take his calls, he started calling her at work.

....... Then some items disappeared from her room: a few articles of clothing, some stuffed animals. A little while later they started coming back one at a time in the mail, slashed and shredded. All of this struck me as infantile, but Billy said it was wearing Edie down.

....... Blue Thumb Builders were working in a new subdivision in Marstons Mills. A lone house was going up at the end of a cul-de-sac bearing a street sign that read “Cranberry Lane.” Bulldozers had ensured that cranberries would never grow there again. I found four workmen seated on a pile of lumber, eating their lunch. When I asked for Klegg, one of them nodded toward a white van.

....... Klegg, a big rawboned kid with lots of curly blond hair, was sitting in the vehicle. The radio was pumping out “Cheap Sunglasses” loudly enough to put a new head on the beer he was drinking. Along one side of the van he had painted in bold letters “Loose Women Tightened Here.” The driver’s side door was open.

....... “Jason Klegg?” I shouted.

....... He looked at me and shrugged. I reached across and turned off the radio.

....... "Who the hell are you?”

....... “My name is Stubblefield. I’m a private detective. I’d like to have a word with you about Edie Farrell.”

....... “What about her?” There was an edge to his voice that might have been anger or nerves.

....... “I thought you should be made aware of the penalties for stalking. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts can send you away for up to five years for what you‘re doing. The girl doesn’t want contact. Why don’t you smarten up and knock it off?”

....... “And why don’t you kiss my ass?” He started out of the truck at me. I grabbed his shirt with one hand, put the other none too gently between his legs, and threw him six feet across the drive into a large patch of bullbriar. The other men stayed where they were, looking on with what may have been amusement.

....... Klegg was hollering and trying to claw his way out of the thicket. I helped him, grabbing his arm and hauling him through the heavy thorns. As soon as he was clear he came at me again, arms windmilling. I ducked and folded him up with a short shot to the solar plexus. Then I pushed him into the briars again.

....... Bullbriar was once known as "bull grip" and "devil’s wrapping yarn." When the Pilgrims landed on Cape Cod and attempted to traverse the woods, they reported that “we marched through boughs and bushes which tore our very armor in pieces.”

....... “He owe you money?”

....... The others had come over, encircling me.

....... “No.”

....... “Well, whatever he did, I’ll have to ask you to ease up here. Jason can be a real shitheel, but he’s my cousin. I can’t have him bleeding to death on my watch.”

....... The men went to work trying to extricate Klegg, who was fighting for air and bleeding profusely from scores of cuts. I retrieved my car and got out of there.

*****

....... I was away for several days trying to track down a runaway in Providence. When I got back there was a message on my answering machine. It was from Edie Farrell. Her father was in the hospital. I headed right over.

....... “He’s just been transferred from the ICU,” a nurse informed me. “He’s in room 305. If he’s sleeping, don’t disturb him.”

....... Edie was sitting by her father who was sipping water through a straw. Other than the broken jaw, there was no apparent facial damage. Both legs, however, were in traction and one arm was wrapped in a cast that extended from elbow to fingertips. Edie appeared pale and exhausted.

....... “What happened?”

....... “He was just walking the dog. Someone attacked him.” She started to cry. “And they killed Sarge.”

....... I don’t know how to deal with other people’s emotional distress, so I sat down on the far side of the bed.

....... “You know who it was, Billy?”

....... He shook his head. “Ski mask.” It came out “shki mashk” due to the clenched immobility of his jaw.

....... “Bashtid killed my dog.”

....... “He say anything?”

....... “No.” He closed his eyes for a moment, then shook himself awake. With his good hand he pointed to the cast on his other arm.

....... “Bandagezh.”

....... “No, Billy, it’s a cast.”

....... “Him,” he said. “I shaw bandagezh.” He tapped the cast. Then his eyes closed again and he was asleep.

....... Edie had stopped crying. I asked about Billy's injuries.

....... “A concussion, two broken legs, a fracture to his left arm, and he has two cracked ribs. No internal injuries, thank God, but his heart could have given out."

....... “Robbery?”

....... “His wallet wasn’t touched.” Her face distorted in anguish. “It’s my fault! This is all my fault!”

....... “No,” I said. “It isn’t.”

....... “Yes, it is. If I’d done as he asked and gotten the restraining order, this wouldn’t have happened.”

....... “You believe Jason did this?”

....... “Who else?” she said.

....... “If it’s any consolation, Edie, a restraining order might not have stopped Klegg.”

....... “He's right," said someone from the doorway. A compact man in an immaculate gray suit approached the bed. Edie ran to him and buried her face in his chest.

....... “Uncle Frank!”

....... He folded her in his arms and nodded to me.

....... “Charles.”

....... “Hello, Frankie.”

....... “How’s my brother?”

....... I glanced at Edie. “Fine. He’ll be fine.”

....... “I’ll catch up with you later,” he said.

....... I took the hint and headed back to town.

*****

....... My office smelled like the inside of a Cossack’s boot. I threw open the window, got the coffee brewing, and started in on the mail. A company had been thoughtful enough to send along a law enforcement catalog, just in case I was running low on handcuffs or collapsible riot batons.

....... Frankie Farrell came in so quietly I almost didn’t hear him. He took a seat in the client’s chair and made a minute adjustment to his tie. Frankie had graduated from law school in the mid-Eighties. No one knew exactly what he did now, but there were rumors that he was somehow connected with the Joseph McGonigle gang in Boston. Everyone knew better than to ask too closely.

....... “Edie told me. Now you tell me.”

....... I told him.

....... “This kid Klegg, you think he did it?”

....... “I’m not certain, Frankie, but it sure looks that way.” His cell phone went off and he stepped into the hallway for a brief conversation.

....... “Got to go,” he said, returning. “I’ll be back in two, three days. See what you can find out. I’m paying your fee."

....... He slipped out before I could refuse. I tried to gather my thoughts, but a knock interrupted.

....... A thin brown-haired woman in a business suit stood in the doorway. Her mouth was set in a thin line. She carried a briefcase.

....... “Mr. Stubblefield?”

....... “I am.”

....... She walked briskly to my desk and set her briefcase beside her with a thud.

....... “My name is Nancy Gilroy. I am a senior counselor with the Barnstable Victim Assistance Program. Edie Farrell came to us recently seeking help."

....... “What can I do for you?”

....... She surveyed me as if I’d started speaking in tongues. “You can stay away from Jason Klegg, and from Edie, too, so that what happened to her father doesn’t happen to her."

....... "What are you talking about?"

....... "Yesterday Jason phoned Edie at work. He asked, 'How's your old man?' Then he laughed and hung up."

....... "What's your point?"

....... "Your intervention only provokes him."

....... "Okay, suppose you tell me how best to protect Edie from Klegg?"

....... “Let us handle it. We've applied for a restraining order--”

....... “--about as effective as a bladeless knife. It could provoke Klegg as well.”

....... She started to respond, but I cut her off.

....... “I’ve heard all the psychiatric bafflegab about malignant narcissism and antisocial personality disorder, and all the other ‘attachment disorders.’ I’m aware of the distinctions between dismissive stalkers and fearful stalkers and I’m sure it all makes sense to someone. But I couldn’t care less about what makes a creep like Klegg tick. I care about protecting Edie. Do you have a plan to do that?”

....... She glared at me.

....... “We’re on the same side here, Ms. Gilroy.”

....... She sighed and sat down. “Edie refuses to go to a safe house. She says she’s going to go to work as usual, visit her father at the hospital, and call the police if Klegg harasses her in any way. I can’t force her to enter a shelter. I have instructed her to cut off all contact with Klegg and with anyone who knows him. She’s having deadbolts installed where needed, and she’s to remember to carry her cell phone no matter where she goes.”

....... “She should also vary her routes and, if possible, the times when she travels. Klegg is not someone to take chances with.”

....... She studied me for a moment, then said, “What is it with men, anyway?”

....... “I don’t know,” I said, truthfully.

....... “But you do recognize that the source of most violence is men.”

....... “That seems indisputable, but that doesn’t mean all men, nor does it mean that all violence is illegitimate. We have a right to defend ourselves, and when faced with someone like Klegg, it’s sometimes necessary to do so. That’s an unpleasant truth, but there it is.”

....... “Then I don’t see any hope for us.” She collected her briefcase and headed for the door.

*****

....... The crew of Blue Thumb Builders was framing up a dormer when I got there that afternoon. Nancy Gilroy wanted me to butt out, but my friend was hooked up in a hospital bed and Klegg was still tormenting Edie. I meant to talk to him again. Maybe I could persuade him to tell me where he was when Billy was assaulted. Or maybe I was just hoping that he'd come at me again so I could have the pleasure of putting him in a room just up the hall from Billy.

....... Klegg's van wasn't there. The boss spotted me, climbed down, and came right over. "You're a private cop, right? Not a real cop?"

....... "Right. Not a real cop."

....... "So, like, what I say to you isn't really official. I mean, I'm not going to sign any statement or nothin'."

....... "No statement."

....... "Okay. I'm worried about Jason. He's a hothead, you know?" He glanced at the bullbriars. "Well, yeah, I guess you know that. He's been talking crazy since you laid a beating on him. Said he was going to 'send the bitch a message' and her old man, too."

....... "Where is he?"

*****

....... I drove by Klegg's house several times but he never showed. I spent most of that night parked up the street from the Farrell house. All was quiet. Then late Friday afternoon Nancy Gilroy called.

....... “Edie’s missing.”

....... “As of when?”

....... “Noon today.”

....... “Are you sure about this?”

....... “She’s supposed to call me and check in every day after she gets home,” she said, impatiently. “She works half-days on Thursday and Friday. She didn’t call today, so I notified the police. They found her car in the hospital parking lot an hour ago.”

....... “She’d been in to see her father?”

....... “Yes. According to him, Edie left at about three-thirty. She would have no reason to leave her car. The police said they would check Klegg’s house, but I haven’t heard from them yet. Edie gave me her Uncle Francis’s number if I needed to contact family. I left a message on his answering machine when she didn’t check in.”

....... I told her I’d be in touch. Then I got the Colt out of the safe and headed for my car. I figured the cops would interview Klegg’s stepfather and that eventually they’d get around to the cousin, but that could take a day or more: not good if Klegg had Edie. I could only think of one place he might take her, so I headed west.

*****

....... It was getting dark by the time I reached the entrance to Cranberry Lane. There was no sign of activity at the construction site. I dug out the binoculars and took a closer look. No lights, no sign of movement, but peeking out the front of the attached garage I could just make out the front of a white van.

....... I checked the .38 again and shut off the engine. There was very little cover and I had just decided to wait for full darkness when the black SUV pulled in behind me. Two men got out and approached the car. I held the Colt under my jacket and rolled down the window.

....... “You won’t need that,” said one of them, nodding at the bulge under my coat. “Mr. Farrell wants to talk to you is all.”

....... I got out and followed them back to their car. A tinted window powered down.

....... “You got here in a hurry, Frankie.”

....... He nodded toward the house. “They in there?”

....... “Maybe. There’s a white van in the garage. Klegg drives one. I thought I might find out.”

....... “Figured you’d be a step ahead of the cops. That’s why we followed you.”

....... “What now?”

....... “Now you go on home. You weren’t here tonight. Neither were we.” He gave me a long look. “Do we understand each other?”

....... “Yeah.”

....... “Don’t worry: they’re professionals. She’s there, she’ll be alright.” His companions, now three in number, were checking weapons and donning ski masks.

....... “The cops are looking for him,” I said. “And the van is distinctive.”

....... Frankie smiled. It was not a good thing to see. “Leave it to us, Charles. Go home.”

....... I got in my car and drove away from there.

*****

....... Nancy Gilroy was waiting at my office bright and early Tuesday.

....... “You heard?” she asked.

....... “Yes. I saw Billy yesterday. Good news.”

....... She sat down and looked out the window. Some birds were squabbling in the maples. In the harbor, the Nantucket ferry sounded one long and three short blasts of its horn as it steamed out toward the islands.

....... “Edie says her uncle was at the hospital on Friday, too,” she said. “They went to dinner and a movie. In his car. She called me at about ten, apologetic as could be. I read her the riot act. I mean, I felt like a fool.” She drummed her fingers on my desk. “There is one thing that bothers me, however: the police can’t locate Jason. He didn’t show up for work yesterday and his father hasn’t seen him since Friday morning.” She shot me a sidelong glance. “You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”

....... “No.”

....... “No. Of course you wouldn’t.”

....... We sat without speaking for a bit, then she stood and walked to the door.

....... “Someone once wrote that ‘reason will not decide at last; the sword will decide.’ How do you feel about living in that kind of world?”

....... I shrugged. “I guess that when the sword is deciding, it’s best to be the one holding it.”

....... She shook her head sadly and then she was gone.

....... The mail yielded a check for two thousand dollars from the JLM Corporation. I’d never heard of it, but I knew why it was on my desk. There are some things you can’t take money for. On the other hand, Frankie would be insulted if I refused it. I figured he wouldn’t mind if the Victim Assistance Program were to receive an anonymous donation.

....... I have no idea what happened to Jason Klegg.

....... The truth is, I really don’t care.

Copyright (c) 2006 by D.H. Reddall.


......

This is Dave Reddall's first appearance in Thrilling Detective. Previous Charles Stubblefield stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Dave was nominated for a Shamus award in the short story category. He lives in Wellfleet, MA.

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