Grey Man snippet…

Another stream of consciousness chapter…

Comments and recommendations appreciated. Showing the old man doesn’t always win…

Cold Cases

Aaron walked back into the house, shaking the rain from his hat as he walked down the hall. Passing the office, he saw the old man still sitting at his desk mumbling over a file. He turned and stepped in, “What’s got your interest, John?”

The old man spun the chair around and sighed. “Cold case. Or maybe I should say cases, I’ve got a few that I’m still working on.” He waved his hand at the file spread out on the desk. “This one…I’ve been working on this one for over thirty years.”

“Wow. Does the sheriff know you’ve got it?”

“This is…hell, all of them are copies I made before I retired. They’re in the bottom drawer of your safe.” The old man rolled his shoulders and groaned. “I need some coffee.”

Aaron’s curiosity was up, and as they walked to the kitchen, he asked, “Which one are you looking at?”

The old man poured two cups of coffee and handed one to Aaron. “Lupe Rojas. Sixteen when she was raped and murdered in nineteen eighty-three.” He set his cup on the kitchen table. “I’ll be right back,” he said as he headed back to the office. A minute or two later, he was back with a 2 inch thick file.

Sitting down, he scrubbed his face and said softly, “I knew her and the families involved. I had taken Amy and Jack down to Pensacola to see Amy’s cousin graduate from flight training down there.”

“Were you the investigator?”

“Nah, I was just a sergeant.” He chuckled. “Matter of fact, I’d just finished signing off on Jose as safe to patrol by himself.”

“Jose?”

“Your boss. I was his training officer.”

Aaron laughed. “Oh, so that’s why the sheriff still defers to you.”

“Maybe…anyway, we were down there a week, so by the time we got back, Captain Burnside was the investigator. He was a holdover that Sheriff Carson hadn’t gotten around to firing. Burnside figured the boyfriend, Raoul Garza had done it since he disappeared, and Burnside never did any actual investigation beyond that.”

Aaron winced. “I take it that wasn’t the right call?”

The old man took a couple of sheets out of the folder, pushing them across to Aaron. “Not even close. This was the sum total of his investigation…I talked to both the Rojas and Garza families, neither of them thought Raoul had done it. Apparently she and Raoul argued the night before, then he got in an argument with his dad over a job. Raoul, now we didn’t find this out for about four months, had hitched to El Paso, joined the Army, and was flown out to Fort Jackson, South Carolina the next day. The day Lupe was raped and murdered. The autopsy showed she’d eaten lunch in the school cafeteria, so her time of death was pegged to that afternoon, or early evening.”

Aaron mumbled, “Found by Deputy Sears at twenty-three thirty, back side of train station on routine patrol. Partially clothed, missing one shoe, skull fracture/blunt force trauma to the head.”

“There are pictures in the file if you want to see them.”

Aaron shook his head. “Seen enough dead bodies.”

“Autopsy turned up the rape, blood and the fact that she was a virgin until that day. Raoul came back four months later on leave from the Army, and Burnside promptly arrested him at the dinner the family was having for him.”

“Damn.”

“Yeah. And tuned him up before he took him to jail. Knocked a couple of teeth out, and broke his ribs. Claimed Raoul confessed to it in the car.”

“Motherfucker. That ain’t right.”

“No, it wasn’t. Both families asked me to help, so I went down to El Paso and talked to the recruiters. They still had his paperwork, and his recruiter gave me a signed statement about Raoul being at the door at zero eight hundred when he showed up to unlock the door. He said he ran Raoul through the ASVAB[1] and other tests, took his high school and welding certifications, and got him his MEPS[2] physical before noon. He did the fingerprints and security checks, got him a welder MOS and Raoul signed on the dotted line that afternoon. The recruiter put him on an airplane to South Carolina at ten that night.”

The old man took a sip of coffee before continuing, “The reason he didn’t let his family know was his dad thought he was just screwing around with the welding, rather than looking for a good job. Raoul was waiting on one of the oil companies to get back to him, and decided since his world had gone in the shitter, it was time to make a major change. He told me he’d vowed to not come back until he had a real job that his dad could appreciate, hence the no contact for four months.”

Aaron flipped the page over, looked at it, and replied, “So Burnside didn’t even bother to check?”

“Nope. He figured it was just another Mex, so nobody would care since he had a body for it. Carson didn’t think that way, and he fired Burnside the day after I got back from El Paso. Carson handed the investigation to me, released Raoul that day, and had his dental work paid for by the county.”

“So what did you do?”

The old man scrubbed his face again. “Went back to square one. Found out she’d decided to go see her mother at work, so she didn’t go home. She had to cross the railroad tracks to get to her mother’s place of work. Her girlfriends went the other direction, and they were the last people to see her alive.” He got up and brought the coffee pot back, poured a cup for himself and another for Aaron. “They were building the I-Ten bypass, so I had to go find the construction workers that had been in town. I went out on the TTY to see if anybody had anything similar, and there were two. One almost a year earlier in El Paso and another six months before Lupe in Katy, Texas. It took me almost six months to track down all the workers, but they all came up clear. That put me back at square one again. Looking for a vagrant or a ghost.”

“Rangers didn’t find anything?”

The old man shook his head. “Burnside never even called them in. I did, and they helped with the construction workers and truckers, but that was four months later.”

Aaron flipped through the file. “What about trains?”

“Trains don’t stop in Fort Stockton, they didn’t stop here then, either.”

“What about the ones that sit on the siding downtown?”

“There weren’t any that day. I checked on that.”

Aaron shook his head, “I’ll bet that roadwork was a mess. I know when they were working on I-Five up by Pendleton, the sheer volume of trucks that were everywhere was amazing. They actually set up a portable concrete plant right up the road from the main gate, and we had to open the little side gate at Carmalo Drive every time the train cars delivered more steel or bags concrete. That shi—”

The old man slapped the table. “Sumbitch.”

“What?”

The old man riffled through the file, cussing. “I don’t know if that was checked or not.” He finally found the piece of paper he was looking for and shook his head. “Nope, all the railroad said was there were no trains that used the siding that day.”

Aaron was looking through some of the construction people’s statements and whistled. “Apparently there was a supply train, if this guy is to be believed. He says they were unloading the boxcars and flatcars from four in the afternoon until midnight.”

The old man snatched the paper. “How the hell did I miss that?” He read through the statement and sighed. “Marchand was the construction foreman, so he would have known. Dammit… And he was questioned by the Rangers. Damn, I just flat missed this.” He scrubbed his face again and looked at the ceiling, mumbling, “What are the odds.”

***

Three days later, Aaron came in with a pile of papers and a smile, “John, I found out Sante Fe railroad was the one that serviced the building of the interstate. It was merged with BNSF back in the nineties, and the main office is in Fort Worth. I’m going up there next Monday for an FBI class in Dallas, so I’ll go nose around while I’m there.”

The old man took the papers, glanced at them and sighed. “Nice find, but no names.”

“I know. Maybe somebody in Pearland remembers something.”

“I wouldn’t count on it.”

Aaron replied, “Won’t know if I don’t try.” Jace tackled him at the knees, and Aaron almost went down. “Hey! Gentle, son.”

He picked Jace up and swung him over his shoulder, as Jace crowed, “Daddy home!” Boo Boo started jumping and barking as Kaya toddled down the hall, and Aaron’s hands were suddenly full of kids. He turned to the old man, “I’ll be back.”

After supper, the old man and Aaron closeted themselves in the office and got Billy on the phone to work out how and what questions to ask. Billy argued against taking a search warrant, reminding them that one gets more bees with honey than with vinegar. While the old man grumbled at that, Aaron said, “Understood. I’ll go in quietly since we don’t really have anything concrete.”

A week later, Aaron walked into the main offices of BNSF in Fort Worth, and waited while the receptionist dealt with a couple of men ahead of him. She finally said, “Can I help you…Deputy?”

Aaron smiled at her, “Yes, Ma’am. I’m researching some things that went on back in the 1980s when I-Ten was being built. I found out that the Santa Fe railroad was the supplier for a lot of the equipment, concrete, and steel used on the road. Specifically, I’m looking for information about supplies provided to Fort Stockton.”

The receptionist thought for a minute, “You’ll want Mr. Wayne. He’s the accounting manager, third floor, room twelve. He was with Santa Fe before the merger, and might remember something. Sign in, if you would, and I’ll give you an unescorted badge.”

Aaron signed in, and she gave him a badge, along with a sticky with the name and room number on it.  Aaron got on the elevator, went to the third floor and found the right room. As he entered, a young man asked, “Can I help you?”

“I’m supposed to see a Mr. Wayne.”

“Oh? Come with me.” He led Aaron to an office against the outside wall and knocked. “Mr. Wayne, there is a deputy here to see you?”

A gruff voice answered testily, “Well, send him in, Leland.”

The young man motioned for Aaron to go on in, and retreated to his desk. Aaron walked in and unconsciously stopped at parade rest in front of the desk. The burly old man behind the desk had a ring of iron grey hair surrounding a nasty scar on his head, but was well dressed and Aaron noted that his desk was very ordered.

“What can I do for you, Deputy?”

Aaron’s attention was caught by a plaque behind Mr. Wayne on the credenza, “Former Marine,” he asked.

Wayne said, “Echo, first of the twenty-sixth, why?”

Aaron looked down at him and asked softly, “Khe Sanh?”

“Yeah. I was one of the lucky ones, I came home. You in the Corps?”

“First Marine Raiders, scout/sniper, Sir.”

“Don’t sir me, I was a gahdamn lance corporal. Sit. Sandbox?”

Aaron sat in one of the chairs, “Yes, sir. Falluja and Afghanistan. Medically retired a couple of years ago.”

“You don’t look that bad.”

Aaron knocked on his prosthetic, “Got a lower leg blown off.”

“Ah…” Wayne rubbed his scalp, “Steel plate. They put me out on a medical too. I was mortars. So, what can I do for you?”

Aaron explained the cold case, and his hopes that someone might remember something about trains pulling into Fort Stockton.

Wayne punched his phone, when it was answered, he said, “Leland, come to my office, please.” He reached in his pocket and took out a keyring, as Leland walked in, he handed the ring to him, one key sticking up. “In the storeroom, my file cabinet in the back corner, third drawer, fourth file folio from the back. Lock it after you retrieve the file.”

“Yes, sir!” Leland scurried out and Wayne shook his head sadly.

“Kids. Book smarts but no common sense. Scared bunch of rabbits.”

Aaron asked, “If you don’t mind, I really have a hard time equating lance corporal with senior accountant.”

Wayne laughed. “I was always good with numbers. Laying mortars was easy math for me. When I got out, I used the GI bill to go back to school. Accounting was easy, and I was still having some physical issues. The railroad was hiring, and I figured it was a good bet for long term employment. And here I am, forty-five years later.”

Leland returned with a manila folio and the keys, which he handed to Mr. Wayne. “Thank you Leland, that will be all.”

“Yes, sir.” Leland disappeared again, prompting a shake of the head from Wayne.

Wayne untied the folio and asked, “You have dates?

Aaron pulled out his wheel book. “The main date is seven April, nineteen eighty-three.”

Wayne flipped through the file, then pulled out a sheet of paper. “Unit nine seven eight. Twelve cars, five box, seven flats. Concrete, steel, rebar, and one flat of miscellaneous. Out at zero six hundred, on the siding at Fort Stockton at fifteen thirty, off at zero one hundred on eight April nineteen eighty-three.”

Aaron scribbled in his wheel book, and asked hopefully, “You don’t happen to have the train crew, do you?”

Wayne replied, “Of course. Engineer Smith, Joseph. Conductor Schultz, Arne. He was a good one.”

“Good one?”

“Always had his paperwork in order. Always got signed receipts, good a keeping track of things during offloads. Too bad about him.”

Aaron looked up questioningly, and Wayne continued, “Got hit by a drunk driver running from the cops that turned into our parking lot at Pearland in ninety-five. Crushed his pelvis, Santa Fe paid for everything and put him out to pasture on full retirement.”

Aaron winced. “Ouch. I can’t imagine that. What about Smith?”

Wayne shrugged. “No idea. Never did like him. They called him the ragman. Always had a dirty rag in his back pocket. Real high strung.”

Aaron pointed to the file, “Just curious, why keep something that goes back that far?”

Wayne grinned nastily, “Ever hear the term Pearl Harbor files?”

Aaron nodded with a smile. “Had a master guns that had one.”

Wayne slapped the file, “There were certain irregularities with certain shipments to Katy, Fort Stockton and El Paso. Let’s just say I wasn’t going down alone, after I put memos up the chain.”

“Ah, understood. Can you check two more dates for me?”

“Sure. When?”

“El Paso, ten May nineteen eighty-two.”

“That’s not ours. That was probably Southern Pacific that serviced them. Is the other one in Texas?”

“Yes, sir. Katy, fifteen December nineteen eighty-two.”

Wayne flipped through the file again. “You want engineer and conductor, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Same two.”

“Do you know how I could find their addresses?”

Wayne leaned back in his chair and steepled his hands. A minute later, he said, “Go see Missy in HR. They’re on the second floor, room three. She handles annuitants. If anyone would have it, it would be her. Tell her I said to come see her. Anything else?”

Aaron got up. “No, sir. Thank you for your time and trouble.”

“No problem. Do me a favor,” Wayne slipped a card across his desk, “Let me know what you find or don’t find. Semper Fi, Marine.”

Aaron picked up the card, “Will do, Semper Fi.” Aaron walked down the stairs, around to room three, and walked up to the counter. A petite older lady came to the desk, and Aaron asked, “Missy?”

“Yes, Deputy. Mr. Wayne called down. Whom did you need?” She turned to a computer on the counter facing her and started typing.

“Schultz, Arne. Left in nineteen ninety-five.”

She typed it in, nodded, pulled a card out, and started writing on the card. Then an overweight woman in a glassed in office looked up and saw them. The woman came charging out of the office, and yelled, “What chu want?” as she waddled across to the counter.

Aaron said politely, “I’m looking for the contact information for a former employee.”

The fat woman sniffed loudly, “Well, we don’t give out that information. You want it, Deputy, you come back with a warrant. That be privacy act information. Not for the likes of you.”

Aaron replied, “This is involving—”

“D’on care. You ain’t gettin’ it without a warrant, you hear? Missy, you get back to your desk.” She turned around and started waddling back to her desk.

Missy smiled and said loudly, “I’m sorry I can’t help you, Deputy. You heard what Mrs. Penny said,” as she slid a 3×5 card around the other side of the terminal.

Aaron palmed the card and said as loudly, “Thank you, ma’am. At least some people around here respect law enforcement. You have a nice day.”

The fat woman spun around as Aaron slid the card in his pocket and left the office smiling at the pettiness he’d just seen overcome with a smile.

He walked down the stairs to the receptionist’s desk and returned the badge. She hung up the phone and looked up at him, smiling. “Did you really piss off the fat lady?”

Aaron put his hand on his chest. “Little ol’ me? She outweighs me by at least sixty pounds. No way I would do that!”

The receptionist laughed, “Thank you, you just made my day. You come back, you hear?”

“Thank you, ma’am.

 

[1] Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery

[2] Military Entrance Processing Station

Cold Cases

Aaron walked back into the house, shaking the rain from his hat as he walked down the hall. Passing the office, he saw the old man still sitting at his desk mumbling over a file. He turned and stepped in, “What’s got your interest, John?”

The old man spun the chair around and sighed. “Cold case. Or maybe I should say cases, I’ve got a few that I’m still working on.” He waved his hand at the file spread out on the desk. “This one…I’ve been working on this one for over thirty years.”

“Wow. Does the sheriff know you’ve got it?”

“This is…hell, all of them are copies I made before I retired. They’re in the bottom drawer of your safe.” The old man rolled his shoulders and groaned. “I need some coffee.”

Aaron’s curiosity was up, and as they walked to the kitchen, he asked, “Which one are you looking at?”

The old man poured two cups of coffee and handed one to Aaron. “Lupe Rojas. Sixteen when she was raped and murdered in nineteen eighty-three.” He set his cup on the kitchen table. “I’ll be right back,” he said as he headed back to the office. A minute or two later, he was back with a 2 inch thick file.

Sitting down, he scrubbed his face and said softly, “I knew her and the families involved. I had taken Amy and Jack down to Pensacola to see Amy’s cousin graduate from flight training down there.”

“Were you the investigator?”

“Nah, I was just a sergeant.” He chuckled. “Matter of fact, I’d just finished signing off on Jose as safe to patrol by himself.”

“Jose?”

“Your boss. I was his training officer.”

Aaron laughed. “Oh, so that’s why the sheriff still defers to you.”

“Maybe…anyway, we were down there a week, so by the time we got back, Captain Burnside was the investigator. He was a holdover that Sheriff Carson hadn’t gotten around to firing. Burnside figured the boyfriend, Raoul Garza had done it since he disappeared, and Burnside never did any actual investigation beyond that.”

Aaron winced. “I take it that wasn’t the right call?”

The old man took a couple of sheets out of the folder, pushing them across to Aaron. “Not even close. This was the sum total of his investigation…I talked to both the Rojas and Garza families, neither of them thought Raoul had done it. Apparently she and Raoul argued the night before, then he got in an argument with his dad over a job. Raoul, now we didn’t find this out for about four months, had hitched to El Paso, joined the Army, and was flown out to Fort Jackson, South Carolina the next day. The day Lupe was raped and murdered. The autopsy showed she’d eaten lunch in the school cafeteria, so her time of death was pegged to that afternoon, or early evening.”

Aaron mumbled, “Found by Deputy Sears at twenty-three thirty, back side of train station on routine patrol. Partially clothed, missing one shoe, skull fracture/blunt force trauma to the head.”

“There are pictures in the file if you want to see them.”

Aaron shook his head. “Seen enough dead bodies.”

“Autopsy turned up the rape, blood and the fact that she was a virgin until that day. Raoul came back four months later on leave from the Army, and Burnside promptly arrested him at the dinner the family was having for him.”

“Damn.”

“Yeah. And tuned him up before he took him to jail. Knocked a couple of teeth out, and broke his ribs. Claimed Raoul confessed to it in the car.”

“Motherfucker. That ain’t right.”

“No, it wasn’t. Both families asked me to help, so I went down to El Paso and talked to the recruiters. They still had his paperwork, and his recruiter gave me a signed statement about Raoul being at the door at zero eight hundred when he showed up to unlock the door. He said he ran Raoul through the ASVAB[1] and other tests, took his high school and welding certifications, and got him his MEPS[2] physical before noon. He did the fingerprints and security checks, got him a welder MOS and Raoul signed on the dotted line that afternoon. The recruiter put him on an airplane to South Carolina at ten that night.”

The old man took a sip of coffee before continuing, “The reason he didn’t let his family know was his dad thought he was just screwing around with the welding, rather than looking for a good job. Raoul was waiting on one of the oil companies to get back to him, and decided since his world had gone in the shitter, it was time to make a major change. He told me he’d vowed to not come back until he had a real job that his dad could appreciate, hence the no contact for four months.”

Aaron flipped the page over, looked at it, and replied, “So Burnside didn’t even bother to check?”

“Nope. He figured it was just another Mex, so nobody would care since he had a body for it. Carson didn’t think that way, and he fired Burnside the day after I got back from El Paso. Carson handed the investigation to me, released Raoul that day, and had his dental work paid for by the county.”

“So what did you do?”

The old man scrubbed his face again. “Went back to square one. Found out she’d decided to go see her mother at work, so she didn’t go home. She had to cross the railroad tracks to get to her mother’s place of work. Her girlfriends went the other direction, and they were the last people to see her alive.” He got up and brought the coffee pot back, poured a cup for himself and another for Aaron. “They were building the I-Ten bypass, so I had to go find the construction workers that had been in town. I went out on the TTY to see if anybody had anything similar, and there were two. One almost a year earlier in El Paso and another six months before Lupe in Katy, Texas. It took me almost six months to track down all the workers, but they all came up clear. That put me back at square one again. Looking for a vagrant or a ghost.”

“Rangers didn’t find anything?”

The old man shook his head. “Burnside never even called them in. I did, and they helped with the construction workers and truckers, but that was four months later.”

Aaron flipped through the file. “What about trains?”

“Trains don’t stop in Fort Stockton, they didn’t stop here then, either.”

“What about the ones that sit on the siding downtown?”

“There weren’t any that day. I checked on that.”

Aaron shook his head, “I’ll bet that roadwork was a mess. I know when they were working on I-Five up by Pendleton, the sheer volume of trucks that were everywhere was amazing. They actually set up a portable concrete plant right up the road from the main gate, and we had to open the little side gate at Carmalo Drive every time the train cars delivered more steel or bags concrete. That shi—”

The old man slapped the table. “Sumbitch.”

“What?”

The old man riffled through the file, cussing. “I don’t know if that was checked or not.” He finally found the piece of paper he was looking for and shook his head. “Nope, all the railroad said was there were no trains that used the siding that day.”

Aaron was looking through some of the construction people’s statements and whistled. “Apparently there was a supply train, if this guy is to be believed. He says they were unloading the boxcars and flatcars from four in the afternoon until midnight.”

The old man snatched the paper. “How the hell did I miss that?” He read through the statement and sighed. “Marchand was the construction foreman, so he would have known. Dammit… And he was questioned by the Rangers. Damn, I just flat missed this.” He scrubbed his face again and looked at the ceiling, mumbling, “What are the odds.”

***

Three days later, Aaron came in with a pile of papers and a smile, “John, I found out Sante Fe railroad was the one that serviced the building of the interstate. It was merged with BNSF back in the nineties, and the main office is in Fort Worth. I’m going up there next Monday for an FBI class in Dallas, so I’ll go nose around while I’m there.”

The old man took the papers, glanced at them and sighed. “Nice find, but no names.”

“I know. Maybe somebody in Pearland remembers something.”

“I wouldn’t count on it.”

Aaron replied, “Won’t know if I don’t try.” Jace tackled him at the knees, and Aaron almost went down. “Hey! Gentle, son.”

He picked Jace up and swung him over his shoulder, as Jace crowed, “Daddy home!” Boo Boo started jumping and barking as Kaya toddled down the hall, and Aaron’s hands were suddenly full of kids. He turned to the old man, “I’ll be back.”

After supper, the old man and Aaron closeted themselves in the office and got Billy on the phone to work out how and what questions to ask. Billy argued against taking a search warrant, reminding them that one gets more bees with honey than with vinegar. While the old man grumbled at that, Aaron said, “Understood. I’ll go in quietly since we don’t really have anything concrete.”

A week later, Aaron walked into the main offices of BNSF in Fort Worth, and waited while the receptionist dealt with a couple of men ahead of him. She finally said, “Can I help you…Deputy?”

Aaron smiled at her, “Yes, Ma’am. I’m researching some things that went on back in the 1980s when I-Ten was being built. I found out that the Santa Fe railroad was the supplier for a lot of the equipment, concrete, and steel used on the road. Specifically, I’m looking for information about supplies provided to Fort Stockton.”

The receptionist thought for a minute, “You’ll want Mr. Wayne. He’s the accounting manager, third floor, room twelve. He was with Santa Fe before the merger, and might remember something. Sign in, if you would, and I’ll give you an unescorted badge.”

Aaron signed in, and she gave him a badge, along with a sticky with the name and room number on it.  Aaron got on the elevator, went to the third floor and found the right room. As he entered, a young man asked, “Can I help you?”

“I’m supposed to see a Mr. Wayne.”

“Oh? Come with me.” He led Aaron to an office against the outside wall and knocked. “Mr. Wayne, there is a deputy here to see you?”

A gruff voice answered testily, “Well, send him in, Leland.”

The young man motioned for Aaron to go on in, and retreated to his desk. Aaron walked in and unconsciously stopped at parade rest in front of the desk. The burly old man behind the desk had a ring of iron grey hair surrounding a nasty scar on his head, but was well dressed and Aaron noted that his desk was very ordered.

“What can I do for you, Deputy?”

Aaron’s attention was caught by a plaque behind Mr. Wayne on the credenza, “Former Marine,” he asked.

Wayne said, “Echo, first of the twenty-sixth, why?”

Aaron looked down at him and asked softly, “Khe Sanh?”

“Yeah. I was one of the lucky ones, I came home. You in the Corps?”

“First Marine Raiders, scout/sniper, Sir.”

“Don’t sir me, I was a gahdamn lance corporal. Sit. Sandbox?”

Aaron sat in one of the chairs, “Yes, sir. Falluja and Afghanistan. Medically retired a couple of years ago.”

“You don’t look that bad.”

Aaron knocked on his prosthetic, “Got a lower leg blown off.”

“Ah…” Wayne rubbed his scalp, “Steel plate. They put me out on a medical too. I was mortars. So, what can I do for you?”

Aaron explained the cold case, and his hopes that someone might remember something about trains pulling into Fort Stockton.

Wayne punched his phone, when it was answered, he said, “Leland, come to my office, please.” He reached in his pocket and took out a keyring, as Leland walked in, he handed the ring to him, one key sticking up. “In the storeroom, my file cabinet in the back corner, third drawer, fourth file folio from the back. Lock it after you retrieve the file.”

“Yes, sir!” Leland scurried out and Wayne shook his head sadly.

“Kids. Book smarts but no common sense. Scared bunch of rabbits.”

Aaron asked, “If you don’t mind, I really have a hard time equating lance corporal with senior accountant.”

Wayne laughed. “I was always good with numbers. Laying mortars was easy math for me. When I got out, I used the GI bill to go back to school. Accounting was easy, and I was still having some physical issues. The railroad was hiring, and I figured it was a good bet for long term employment. And here I am, forty-five years later.”

Leland returned with a manila folio and the keys, which he handed to Mr. Wayne. “Thank you Leland, that will be all.”

“Yes, sir.” Leland disappeared again, prompting a shake of the head from Wayne.

Wayne untied the folio and asked, “You have dates?

Aaron pulled out his wheel book. “The main date is seven April, nineteen eighty-three.”

Wayne flipped through the file, then pulled out a sheet of paper. “Unit nine seven eight. Twelve cars, five box, seven flats. Concrete, steel, rebar, and one flat of miscellaneous. Out at zero six hundred, on the siding at Fort Stockton at fifteen thirty, off at zero one hundred on eight April nineteen eighty-three.”

Aaron scribbled in his wheel book, and asked hopefully, “You don’t happen to have the train crew, do you?”

Wayne replied, “Of course. Engineer Smith, Joseph. Conductor Schultz, Arne. He was a good one.”

“Good one?”

“Always had his paperwork in order. Always got signed receipts, good a keeping track of things during offloads. Too bad about him.”

Aaron looked up questioningly, and Wayne continued, “Got hit by a drunk driver running from the cops that turned into our parking lot at Pearland in ninety-five. Crushed his pelvis, Santa Fe paid for everything and put him out to pasture on full retirement.”

Aaron winced. “Ouch. I can’t imagine that. What about Smith?”

Wayne shrugged. “No idea. Never did like him. They called him the ragman. Always had a dirty rag in his back pocket. Real high strung.”

Aaron pointed to the file, “Just curious, why keep something that goes back that far?”

Wayne grinned nastily, “Ever hear the term Pearl Harbor files?”

Aaron nodded with a smile. “Had a master guns that had one.”

Wayne slapped the file, “There were certain irregularities with certain shipments to Katy, Fort Stockton and El Paso. Let’s just say I wasn’t going down alone, after I put memos up the chain.”

“Ah, understood. Can you check two more dates for me?”

“Sure. When?”

“El Paso, ten May nineteen eighty-two.”

“That’s not ours. That was probably Southern Pacific that serviced them. Is the other one in Texas?”

“Yes, sir. Katy, fifteen December nineteen eighty-two.”

Wayne flipped through the file again. “You want engineer and conductor, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Same two.”

“Do you know how I could find their addresses?”

Wayne leaned back in his chair and steepled his hands. A minute later, he said, “Go see Missy in HR. They’re on the second floor, room three. She handles annuitants. If anyone would have it, it would be her. Tell her I said to come see her. Anything else?”

Aaron got up. “No, sir. Thank you for your time and trouble.”

“No problem. Do me a favor,” Wayne slipped a card across his desk, “Let me know what you find or don’t find. Semper Fi, Marine.”

Aaron picked up the card, “Will do, Semper Fi.” Aaron walked down the stairs, around to room three, and walked up to the counter. A petite older lady came to the desk, and Aaron asked, “Missy?”

“Yes, Deputy. Mr. Wayne called down. Whom did you need?” She turned to a computer on the counter facing her and started typing.

“Schultz, Arne. Left in nineteen ninety-five.”

She typed it in, nodded, pulled a card out, and started writing on the card. Then an overweight woman in a glassed in office looked up and saw them. The woman came charging out of the office, and yelled, “What chu want?” as she waddled across to the counter.

Aaron said politely, “I’m looking for the contact information for a former employee.”

The fat woman sniffed loudly, “Well, we don’t give out that information. You want it, Deputy, you come back with a warrant. That be privacy act information. Not for the likes of you.”

Aaron replied, “This is involving—”

“D’on care. You ain’t gettin’ it without a warrant, you hear? Missy, you get back to your desk.” She turned around and started waddling back to her desk.

Missy smiled and said loudly, “I’m sorry I can’t help you, Deputy. You heard what Mrs. Penny said,” as she slid a 3×5 card around the other side of the terminal.

Aaron palmed the card and said as loudly, “Thank you, ma’am. At least some people around here respect law enforcement. You have a nice day.”

The fat woman spun around as Aaron slid the card in his pocket and left the office smiling at the pettiness he’d just seen overcome with a smile.

He walked down the stairs to the receptionist’s desk and returned the badge. She hung up the phone and looked up at him, smiling. “Did you really piss off the fat lady?”

Aaron put his hand on his chest. “Little ol’ me? She outweighs me by at least sixty pounds. No way I would do that!”

The receptionist laughed, “Thank you, you just made my day. You come back, you hear?”

“Thank you, ma’am.

 

[1] Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery

[2] Military Entrance Processing Station


Comments

Grey Man snippet… — 26 Comments

  1. Thank you for that. Some good twists and turns. I can only imagine that some cases can ‘gnaw on a man’s conscious’, and finding the culprit must be satisfying indeed, even if justice is delayed.

  2. First, I really enjoy your writ ing and have read all your books with great pleasure. But … as a former fat lady myself I find using the fat lady cariacature taking the easy way and more than a little hurtful Just sayin

  3. RE – the above:

    Fat people DO exist. If you include them in your story, you’ll get comments like the one above. If you don’t include them, you’ll be accused of trying to marginalize them by not being inclusive. You can’t win, you can’t break even, and you can’t get out of the game.

    Leave the character in the story. Leave her as an angry b**ch. Maybe add an “I want to speak to the manager” haircut to the description. Don’t let the passive aggressive trolls get you down.

    I’m not even sure the post above this one was generated by a human….or at least not by one that actually paid attention in school OR looks at the screen while they type. Writ ing, cariacature and sayin are all flagged by the spellcheck function. The lack of punctuation is also a hint.

    As to the snippet, the only thing that stood out to me was the phrase “former Marine”. All of the retired Marines I know refer to themselves that way: retired.

  4. “hell all” needs a comma

    “his head, I’ll bet” missing the ” in front of I’ll

    “around her respect” around Penny or around here?

  5. “She typed it in, nodded, and pulled a card out, writing on it, until an overweight woman in a glassed in office looked up and saw them. She came charging out of the office, and yelled, “What chu want?” as she waddled across to the counter.”

    Maybe,
    She typed it in, nodded, pulled a card out, and started writing on the card. Then an overweight woman in a glassed in office looked up and saw them. The woman came charging out of the office, and yelled, “What chu want?” as she waddled across to the counter.”

    I usually call all Marines “jarheads” and after they react I point a thumb at myself and say, “I was a squid for a very long time.” Then we talk about the military.

    I also noticed that when an soldier asks another soldier what they did in the Army, the answer is almost always their MOS.
    An Infantry soldier would say, “I was an 11 Bravo.”

    When I am asked what I did in the Navy, I tell sailors, “I was an engineroom MM.” And I tell others, “I worked in the enginerooms of ships.”

    To keep it simple, maybe Aaron looks at the plaque and says, “When were you in the Corps?” or asks, “Where did you serve when you were in the Corps?”

    Good writing, and I want to see the person that killed that young woman get a reckoning.

  6. Believe me, buster, I’m definitely human! Concentrating on picayuan spelling and spacing errors rather than the argument is a definite sign of the weakness of your argument. What I was saying was that using the fat lady stereotype was taking the easy way out rather than doing a little more work and creating a memorable minor character

    • Poodlehorde – Stereotypes exist for a reason. The rest of the world doesn’t care about your personal issues. Get over yourself.

      I can’t recall how many of this woman I’ve met in real life. 90% of them are black, and 100% of them are awful human beings. The caricature is spot on.

  7. jrg/Ian- Thanks

    Tweell- Fixed, thanks!

    Poodle- That’s not a caricature, that character is based on three different women I had to work with/endure in my career. They were all HR ‘managers’ promoted to their positions by the Peter Principal. All of them were power hungry/controlling women who lorded their positions over their staff and any who were forced to deal with them, unless the people were directors/VPs. Those they sucked up to routinely.

    Len- That’s not necessary. She has the right to raise the issue.

    Grog/Rev- Fixed, thanks!

    John- Thanks!

    Poodle- See my comment above. I understand your sensitivity, but those people DO exist, sadly…

  8. I can’t think of any corrections or additions,not already addressed. I am loving this family, and keep the FAT lady as you wrote her. I’ve worked for a few just like her, and the only way I survived was to pull a Missy every so often.

  9. I am guessing the characters are based on folks you have personally interacted with over the years. Maybe you stewed some together, but you knew these people.
    They are too real to be caricatures ghosted up from your imagination.

  10. For a stream of consciousness, that’s darned good. Scratch that. I wouldn’t bat an eye if you told me that was final draft.

  11. The Santa Fe merged with the Burlington Northern to create the BNSF.

    Like the LCpl, I was a big fan of hard copy records for the same reason, and also locked carefully. No one ever expects their original idiot memo, with (ignored) rational alternative, to appear on their boss’ desk.

    Very nice piece of investigative work by 2 generations, and several familiar head-slap moments. If they can’t track down their man,it’s probably because he lost the case in front of Higher Authority,and is serving an eternal sentence.

    • Not to appear rude, PK, but that’s actually the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, which was purchased by BN in 1996, and the merger that created the BN was consolidating four railroads – the Great Northern, the Spokane, Portland and Seattle, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy, and the Northern Pacific, and the merger was in 1970.

  12. All- Thanks for the comments, Grog- You’re right, but I didn’t want to go ‘quite’ that deep… 🙂 My grandfather was actually an engineer for ATSF in the early 1900s!

    Posted from my iPhone.

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