Tuesday, May 16, 2017

#FreeDailyThriller - Lust, Money & Murder - Book 10, "Black Widow" - Parts 41 & 42

* * *
It turned out that while the Records Department was just one floor down, and despite Sheridan’s call to grease the skids for her, they could not help her. The time period of interest was so long ago that the records were archived and kept in the prison’s off-site storage facility.
She then received another lesson in Pittsburghese.
“And where is that facility exactly?” Luna asked the clerk, as she pulled out her map of the city.
“In Sliberty.”
“Sliberty,” the clerk repeated.
Luna frowned, searching the map up and down. It sure sounded like he was saying Sliberty. Strange name for a town, she thought. “Is Sliberty a suburb of Pittsburgh or...?”
“Yep, that’s right.”
“Well, where the hell is it?” she said, frustrated, and turned the map his way.
He ran his finger across the paper. “Right there. See? Sliberty.”
“Oh, you mean East Liberty.”
“That’s what I said.”
She should have brought along a translator.

Chapter 53

At six o’clock that evening, Luna was sitting in another cafĂ©, slowly eating a chicken Caesar salad, working on her laptop, which was now logged into the secure Secret Service website. She had retrieved the records from the East Liberty storage facility and was running the names of all the prisoners, who had been housed in Patrick’s pod the night he died, through the criminal databases. There were twenty-three men in the “pod,” not counting Patrick, and she carefully made notes about each of them. Some were still in jail, some were out on parole, and some were deceased.
She had to find the right man to pretend to be investigating when she talked to Thomas Tutter—someone who was still alive, out of prison, and had been involved in something that could be considered a financial crime, which would match her investigative credentials if she chose to disclose them to Tutter.
Finally, she settled on a prisoner by the name of Peter Jarvis. Jarvis had been convicted multiple times of fraud, credit card theft, and passing bad checks. He had apparently either cleaned up his act or improved his methods to the level that he no longer got caught—he had been out of jail for over ten years and now lived in Philadelphia.
It turned out that Thomas Tutter himself was sixty-seven years old and had retired from his lifetime work as a guard at the ACJ six years ago. He lived in a town forty miles south of Pittsburgh which the locals called “Brahnsville.” Translated into normal English, the actual name was Brownsville.
Luna had gotten Thomas Tutter’s current address from Sheridan, who she had called back on the phone. So far, Josh Sheridan was the only one who knew she was investigating Patrick Brogan’s apparent suicide, and to ensure Elaine’s safety, she had to keep it that way. Before Luna got off the phone with Sheridan, she let him know in no uncertain terms that he had to keep his mouth shut.
“No one else can know why I’m in Pittsburgh or what I talked to you about in your office today. Is that clear, Mister Sheridan?”
“Of course.”
She hesitated, and added, “Because if Thomas Tutter were to find out in advance that I’m coming to talk to him, for example, that would be an obstruction of justice, and the Attorney General would prosecute whoever was responsible to the fullest extent of the law.”
“I understand that, too,” Sheridan said.
“I’m glad you do. You’ve been very helpful, sir, and I’d sure hate to see you stuck at ACJ for the next twenty years in one of your own ‘units’.”

* * *
An hour later, Luna was driving down I-79, headed towards, Brownsville. The little town was situated on the “Mon,” as the locals called it, or the Monongahela River. From her map, Luna could see that Tutter’s house was located on a street that ran right alongside the riverbank, called, appropriately enough, Water Street.
When she reached the address, she found that it was a modest, two story wooden structure, and she paused for a second to study the old SUV parked in the driveway. She had gotten Tutter’s license plate number from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and checked to see if the plate on the SUV matched it. It did. This was definitely Thomas Tutter’s house.
She pulled over and parked in front of the house, making sure she didn’t get too far off the road—there were several inches of snow on the ground and she didn’t want to get stuck. Now she could see that smoke was coming out of the chimney on top of the house—he was definitely home, or at least somebody was there.
Before she climbed out of the car, she pulled out her service pistol and checked it, then holstered it again. At this point, as far as she was concerned, if Patrick Brogan had been murdered, there were only two possibilities. Either Thomas Tutter had done it himself, or he had let someone else into the cell to do it. Either way, she had no idea how Tutter might react when she strung him along with questions about Peter Jarvis and then blindsided him with the real reason she was there with questions about Patrick Brogan.
Besides, her years of FBI experience had taught her that when you called on any kind of suspect at their place of residence—be it a house, an apartment, or a mobile home—you had to be prepared for anything and everything. There was just no telling what you might encounter. Once, when she knocked on the door of the sister of a suspected Mexican drug kingpin’s apartment in El Sereno, California—one of L.A.’s worst suburbs— the first rap of her knuckles was answered with a .45 slug blasted point-blank through the wood that, miraculously, only grazed her upper arm.
Tutter’s house actually had a small front porch that was almost completely obscured by two squatty fir trees on either side of the walk. The man obviously valued his privacy. As she walked up the sidewalk, she noticed that it had been freshly shoveled and scattered with some rock salt. When she stepped up onto the porch she could see that the curtains on the windows were closed, but illuminated from behind. And she thought she could hear the sound of a TV inside the house, the roar of a crowd.
Before she actually pushed the doorbell button, she moved to one side of the doorframe—she had never forgotten El Sereno.
After a moment, the door cracked only wide enough to be stopped by a chain.
An eye peered suspiciously out, searching for her. “Yeah?”
She stepped into view. “U.S. Secret Service.” She held her badge up so he could clearly see it. “Are you Thomas Tutter?”
The eye blinked once. “Yeah.” Warm air came through the crack carrying the sharp smell of a wood fire.
“I need to talk to you about a prisoner that was on your block when you worked as a guard at the county jail.”
“Oh.” He pulled his head back from the crack, and she could see that he was a rather short, stocky, balding man. He was wearing dirty-looking running suit bottoms and a Steelers tank-top sweatshirt. He was in excellent shape for a man of his age—his biceps and forearms were muscular, almost sculpted. There was something black smeared across his left wrist—it looked like soot. He glanced off somewhere inside the house and said, “Just a sec, I need to redd-up a little. I wasn’t expectin’ visitors.”
The door clicked shut.
Redd-up, Luna thought. Another Pittsburghese expression—she’d heard Elaine say that at least once.
Luna put her head a little closer to the door, listening—she thought his behavior was already a little suspicious. Was someone in there with him? But she couldn’t hear anything except the sound of the TV being cut off.
Suddenly the door opened again. Tutter stood before her, in his stocking feet. With his chubby cheeks, his face looked a little bit like a baby’s.
When Luna stepped inside the foyer, she towered over the man. He stood no more than five-three. There were no height rules for correctional officers, only weight and health requirements.
Luna was disappointed. Despite his muscles and the fact that he would have been fifteen years younger at the time Patrick Brogan died, she could not imagine this petite man overpowering Patrick Brogan, let alone lifting Patrick’s huge, heavy body high enough off the floor to hang it from the ceiling beam.
“Sorry about that,” Tutter said, motioning to the messy living room—there were clothes and dirty glasses and plates scattered around. A fire was crackling in the fireplace—it looked like he had just thrown on a new log. “Like I said, I wasn’t expectin’ any visitors.” He frowned at her, looking her up and down. Mostly up, since he was so much shorter. “What’s this all about?”
“Is there somewhere we can sit and talk for a few minutes?”
“Well, sure.” He did not seem put off or nervous. He led her through the small living room. She had to step over a pair of sweatpants and a couple of dumbbells, a pile of hunting and fishing magazines, and various other assorted junk.
Luna’s experienced FBI investigator brain was taking in information at a rate that would have rivaled a powerful computer. Her gaze shifting around the inside of the house, checking the tabletops, walls, the fireplace mantle, and other places where there were clues about what kind of man Thomas Tutter was.
By the time they reached the kitchen, Luna knew that he lived alone, probably had no children, and was possibly gay. She could not explain the latter, it was a feeling she had based on the whole.
He turned to Luna and surprised her with a smile. “Wanna pump some airn?”
She was confused. Airn? Was he asking her if she wanted to work out?
Tutter laughed. “I didn’t think yuze from around here, and now I know you’re not.” He opened the refrigerator and pulled out a can of beer and offered it to her.
Iron City Beer.
“Thanks,” she said, chuckling. She popped the top on her can while he took a can for himself.
“You from Worshington?” he said, looking her over.
“I am,” Luna lied.
They seated themselves opposite each other at the small dining table. She felt oddly at ease with him.

Part 42

Luna pulled a piece of paper from the inside of her coat pocket. “The reason I stopped by, Mister Tutter, is that we’re investigating a man by the name of Peter Jarvis who we think may be involved in some serious criminal activity. You remember him? Peter Jarvis?”
“Oh, yeah, sure, Jarvis. Professional con man, was in and out all the time for passin’ bad checks n’at.” Luna had already figured out that n’at was Pittsburghese for “and things like that.” Tutter took a sip of his beer. “What about him?”
“He’s connected to another criminal who we think he met while he was in prison at ACJ during a certain period, but we’re not sure who.” Luna was holding the paper in her hand so that Tutter couldn’t see it. “I have a list of men who were on the same pod with Jarvis at the time, fifteen years ago. I want to read the names to you and see if you remember if Jarvis was tight with any of them.”
Tutter whistled. “Fifteen years ago? That’s a long time.”
“I know, but if you remember anything at all, it would be very helpful.”
“Well, I’ll do my best.” Tutter took another sip of his beer, his biceps bulging as he raised the can to his lip. He looked at her evenly. “Shoot.”
“Johnny Allard?”
Tutter shook his head. “Don’t remember him.”
“Matthew or Matt Wilshire?”
“Don’t remember him, either.”
“Phillip Harmond?”
Tutter frowned. “I don’t remember any of these guys! Most were probably in on some petty charge, one time, or I’d remember ’em. This is Pod Twelve you’re talkin’ about, right?”
“Most of the inmates there were transients, short-term, either ready to get out or waitin’ arraignment or to be transferred n’at.”
Luna had just noticed something interesting about Tutter’s kitchen. There was a locked door just on the other side of the refrigerator, a door that presumably led to a cellar. Even from here, she could see that a heavy-duty deadbolt type lock had been installed on it. The linoleum around the bottom of the door was badly worn and she could see that it was wet right now with a little water, from melted snow, and a few twigs and bits of leaves. But the woodpile was out on the side of the house—she had seen it. What was down in the cellar, and why the heavily locked door?
Luna looked back at the paper, then raised her eyes and watched Tutter’s face and body very closely. “What about Patrick Brogan?”
There it was, the slightest tick under his right eye.
“Patrick Brogan? Yeah, of course I remember him.”
“Why of course?”
“Well, he killed hisself on my watch, that’s why.” Tutter lowered his beer can, looking past Luna, shaking his head. “Terrible thing. Real nice guy. He was in for passing fake money, but I don’t think he done it on purpose.” Tutter looked reflectively back at Luna. “You know, when you work in the field of corrections all your life, you get a sixth sense for who belongs in there and who don’t, and Patrick Brogan was a misfit. If I remember right, it was the first time he was ever in trouble, and he was like thirty-five or somethin’, had a kid, a teenage daughter. That girl of his come to see him one time, in fact—beautiful girl, too, some kinda photo model or somethin’.”
Elaine, Luna thought—she must have been a sight at sixteen.
“So what exactly happened to him?” Luna said.
Tutter frowned. “To Brogan, you mean?”
“I told ya, he killed hisself.”
Luna didn’t respond—she was still studying his face and body language.
Tutter frowned at her. “He wasn’t friends with Peter Jarvis, or nobody else, I can tell you that. He was only in there a week, and he kept to hisself the whole time.”
“You said he committed suicide...?”
“I just told you...” Tutter became still, his hand gripping the beer can tighter—Luna heard the tin make a faint pop. His face turned bright red. “You’re not here about Peter Jarvis.” He said this in an accusing tone.
Luna still didn’t respond.
He suddenly rose from the table. “Get out of my house!”
“Hey, hold on—”
In an instant, he reached behind his jogging pants and pulled out a pistol. He leveled it at her chest.
Luna pushed back in her chair and raised both hands with her palms open, her eyes locked on the gun. “Now you just stay calm, Mr. Tutter.”
“I am calm, I’m just tellin’ you to get your ass out of my house!”
Remaining in her seat with her hands raised, she said, “Pulling a gun on a federal agent isn’t a smart thing to do.”
“Fedral agent? I don’t know who the hell you are—that badge you showed may be fake!”
Luna glanced past him, at the locked cellar door.
“I said get out!”
“Can I stand up, please, and leave peacefully?”
“Sure, lady. You just walk right on out the front door, same way you came in. And if you really are a fedral agent, you can come back with some real cops—local cops—and ask me anything you want. Or search the house if you have a warrant, I don’t give a damn.”
He just stood there in the kitchen, breathing hard, the gun steadily aimed at her.
Luna slowly rose to her feet, keeping her hands in the air. “Look, Mr. Tutter, we got off on the wrong foot. You’re right. I am here to investigate the death of Patrick Brogan. I apologize for not being more upfront—”
“Get out!”
“If you don’t have anything to hide, then why can’t we just talk about it?”
“Because I talked about it already, fifteen years ago! They did an inquest on that and decided it was a suicide, open and shut! I had nothin’ to do with it.”
“I’m not saying you did.” Luna paused—he seemed to have calmed down a little, but he was still breathing hard, the air whistling through his nose. “But what do you think?”
He frowned. “What do I think about what?”
“What happened to Patrick Brogan? I’m asking you personally—do you think it was a suicide?”
“We’re done talkin’,” he said, pressing his lips together. “Get the hell out of my house! You’re tresspassin’. I’m not going to tell you again!”

* * *
A few minutes later, Luna was back in the rental car, parked on a parallel street that afforded her a good view of Tutter’s house.
She reasoned that Tutter might very well have thought she was sent to kill him by whoever had put out the contract on Patrick Brogan. Or maybe he thought that Spyro Leandrou had sent her to put a stop to the blackmailing, if he had been the one who Kathy had said came to Greece and demanded money. But then Luna realized that Tutter didn’t remotely fit the description that Kathy had given of the blackmailer—“Unusually handsome, I would say, like a movie star. Chiseled features, ice-chip blue eyes...and he has this big dimple in his chin, what do they call it—a cleft. That really stood out on him.”
Tutter had no cleft in his chin, and “chiseled features?” Tutter’s face was as round as an infant’s.
Tutter’s words about Patrick Brogan being a nice guy and not fitting the criminal mold were also puzzling to Luna—they had seemed sincere to her. Which told Luna he might not actually be guilty of murdering Patrick...yet he was somehow involved, or had some knowledge about it that he’d been sitting on for years.
And that locked door in his kitchen—what the hell was he hiding down in his cellar?
Luna looked between the two houses at his SUV. Her main concern at this moment was that he might contact Spyro Leandrou, or contact someone else who would contact Spyro, and that could be bad for Elaine. Very bad.
She was considering breaking into his house if she saw him leave. She had brought all the tools she needed with her from France in anticipation of a situation like this...
Luna pushed this from her mind for the time being, and her thoughts turned back to the nagging question of how Patrick Brogan had been killed. She still hadn’t figured that out. If the prison bed was attached to the wall, there was simply no space to tie Patrick down while he was sleeping...
Then she remembered that she’d forgotten to ask Josh Sheridan that question. The cell furniture might very well have been changed in the past fifteen years.
Still keeping an eye on Tutter’s house, she pulled out her phone and dug out Josh Sheridan’s business card. It was long after five o’clock and she assumed the man had gone home, so she called his cell phone.
“Sheridan,” he answered gruffly. There was a lot of noise in the background—it sounded like he was at a party.
“This is Luna Faye again, with the Secret Service. I’m sorry to disturb you after hours—”
“Oh, no problem, just with my buddies watchin’ TV. You a Stillers fan?”
Stillers? she thought. All she could think of were Ben Stiller and Jerry Stiller, the two comedian-actors. Then she heard the sound of a large crowd on the TV in the background. He means Steelers, she thought. The Pittsburgh Steelers football team.
“No, I’m not a Steelers fan, sorry to say. I’m not from Pittsburgh originally.”
“Hell, that don’t matter! We got fans all over the country, all over the world! I went to London last year and saw Stillers T-shirts and hats everywhere.”
Luna chuckled.
“We’re pumpin’ some Airn and watchin’ three of Terry Bradshaw’s best games tonight, back-to-back! Excitin’ stuff!”
“Well of course I know Terry Bradshaw.”
“Well you better!” Sheridan paused and laughed, clearly enjoying himself. “What can I do for you, Agent Faye?”
“I was just wondering—have the cells at ACJ, I mean, the units, in Pod Twelve, always had the type of beds that attach directly to the wall?”
“Let me think...well, no. We remodeled that pod back about ten years ago.”
“What kind of beds were in there before?”
“Pipe frame type, freestanding. Those kind of beds aren’t as good for correctional facilities. You can bolt ’em to the floor, but prisoners can still get ’em up and throw them around and generally raise hell with ’em.”
“So with those type beds, there’s usually a space between the bed and the wall?”
“Can be, yeah. There was with ours, about a two, three-inch space between the bed and the wall. It’s easier to keep the frame and mattress and bed clean that way.” Sheridan paused. “Why are you asking?”
At that second, she was still watching Tutter’s house, and she thought she glimpsed some shadowy movement in his front yard. The interior light of the SUV flashed on and off briefly. Then the headlights came on, and the vehicle slowly backed out of the driveway.
He was leaving.
“I’ve got to go,” Luna told Sheridan over the phone. “You and your buddies enjoy yourselves.”

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