Marka joined them. Her hair was in a ponytail, her makeup neatened. She sat on the arm of Frank’s chair. His arm snaked around her protectively.
“It took awhile to get a team down there and longer to get him back up,” James said. “Looks like he’d broken in and was leaving when he fell.”
“Local?” Frank leaned forward, interested despite not wanting to be.
“No. His prints set off a bunch of bells, whistles, red lights and stop signs when we ran them.”
“Meaning, what the hell have you walked into, boy?” James asked.
“I have no idea,” Frank replied honestly. “Monday, Penwarren shows up and starts harassing people. A day later, he’s lying in a heap at the bottom of a long fall. Next day, my life is chaos on a half shell with a side order of dead guy. I don’t know, James! I’m completely in the dark.”
“Cool it, kid,” James replied.
Frank almost laughed. James wasn’t any older than he was. They used to play football together. Kenny was a couple years older and played on the same team, giving up his position as team captain to Frank when he graduated. There was trust between them. The three of them had been friends a long time.
“What I think is you need to call in a few favors from those folks you know in Washington. This guy’s got spook written all over him.”
“Just because of the red flag? Could be anything.”
“Don’t be coy, Frankie,” James chided. “If I ran you through the system, I’d get a similar reaction. The computer takes on a rapid case of constipation where guys like you are concerned.”
“I’m not a guy like that, James. I did a job.”
“You did a job that’s so secret, you can’t tell anyone. Not even your best friends know what you did. And you changed, man. You’re not who you were when you left.”
“If you’d seen half the hell I’ve seen. . . . You’d be a different man too, Jimmy. I’ll make a couple calls, but I can’t guarantee a thing. I’ve been out almost four years. That’s a lifetime in those circles.”
“See what you can find out. Why the hell would someone like that be coming after you?”
“How the hell would I know? I’m not in that life anymore. I didn’t want it in the first place, but I was too damn good at it. Tell me what else. I know that’s not all of it. This could have waited until morning.”
His hand ran up Marka’s back, lingering at her waist. The other men didn’t miss the gesture. James took a deep breath.
“Your house was searched. Completely trashed, like your office. Your computer’s missing, your movies, CD’s, anything electronic that could possibly be used to hold electronic data. I hope there wasn’t anything incriminating in your e-mail.”
“Nothing. I use Gmail anyway and the password isn’t saved. I use a ten character alphanumeric code. If they actually hack it, they won’t find anything more interesting than Facebook updates.”
“Did Penwarren give you anything the other night?”
“Not a thing. He couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. I didn’t get too close. I didn’t want to hurt him by accident and there was all that blood. I talked to him and kept my distance. Maybe the ambulance drivers know something? All I know is he was hot to get in his mom’s apartment.”
“Jerry made arrangements to do that tomorrow,” James told him. “It took time to get a judge to allow it and for Mabel’s surrogate to be there. She’s been out of town.”
“Does Mabel know?”
“Yes, I talked to her today. She gave her permission, but there were some other legalities, so we had to ask a judge. Jeff’s on top of it.”
Frank looked away, trying not to make a rude noise. “That’ll be the day,” he mumbled.
“Mabel wants you there. Tomorrow morning, ten o’clock.”
“I’ll be there. Did you run a check on Penwarren?”
“Yeah. Boring guy. Owns a small business, makes a comfortable living, has a few conservative investments. Makes about sixty thousand a year.”
“He told me he made eighty-five thousand last year,” Frank said.
“Man’s a liar,” James replied, checking his notes.
“Or he’s hiding something. He was very specific. I know he was trying to one up me, so I figure a little padding. But sixty thousand does not eighty thousand make.”
“So he pads it some.”
“But twenty-five thousand in padding? Please. He might pad by five, maybe ten. . . .”
“So, you think he had more going?” James asked.
“I’m saying, he’s hiding something from us. Shit, I told Mabel I’d go see him.”
“Go tomorrow. I called. He was having tests today. He’s a jigsaw puzzle. They want to make sure they got the pieces back in the right spots.”
“How did my life get here?”
Frank rubbed his face, fighting tears of frustration. He rarely ever cried. Even when Clay died in his arms. . . . Images of the tattered body that used to be a man haunted him. Overwhelmed by the memory, he gasped, holding himself as the pain lanced his chest.
© Dellani Oakes