“Alright,” Huft finally broke the silence, “let’s work this shit out so we can all get the hell out of here.”
“Agreed,” the words were quieter than Cheeks intended, slowed by a throat full of phlegm.
“Anybody who could tell us anything is dead. That doesn’t help us much,” Huft shrugged. Then he sipped his coffee and continued, “There is nothing we can do about that. It’s a pain in the ass, but it is what it is. Let’s focus on what we’ve got.”
“All the guys with I.D. on them must have been with Vinny,” Pat interjected. “The other two were probably pros. One of them must have been a cleaner and…”
“Yeah,” Huft interrupted him. “Thanks for that assessment, Brookfield. That’s some real fucking police work right there. I’m going to keep you in mind if I ever need somebody to come out to a crime scene and point out all the obvious shit to me.”
“Come on, Huft,” Cheeks dropped his hand on the table. It wasn’t quite a punch, but hard enough to make the utensils jingle. “Take it easy. We wouldn’t even fucking be here if it wasn’t for Pat. Everything we have on this case so far we got from him. Cut him some fucking slack, hey?”
Huft’s teeth clenched as he sucked a noisy breath in through his lips. He blew the breath out hard and said, “Yeah, you’re right. I’m sorry, Pat. Go ahead. What else have you got?”
Pat chuckled as he shook his head and turned the corners of his lips down, “No thanks, Huft. I’m good. Why don’t you take it? Go ahead and show us backward, suburban idiots how a real, big city detective from New York works.”
Huft’s reply was mostly whispered, slipping along the top of another slow sigh, “Oh, give me a fucking break. You sound like my fucking wife.” He shook his head and then continued in a slightly louder tone, “Look, I’m sorry that I didn’t jump for fucking joy when you threw down those solid observations, but I’m looking for steak here, brother, and you’re throwing meatloaf down on the table.”
“Well it is fucking meatloaf,” Cheeks jumped in. “They didn’t leave much behind that wasn’t fucking obvious. Two crews; the one we happen to be looking for, all dead, the other, two down and the rest are at large. None of it helps us much.”
Huft’s head was already shaking before Cheeks even finished. “No, there’s more to it than that. You’re right about two crews working here, and about the four kids with I.D. being the ones that we are looking for. You’re wrong about the other crew though, only one of them is dead. The guy with the scissors jammed in his eye, he must have been surprised by the kid upstairs who wasn’t killed clean. That cleaner wasn’t part of the second crew though. He was just hired by them.”
Pat’s tone lost some of its edge as he nodded and said, “Okay. I can see that. What about the kid in the basement though? He was shot in the shoulder and obviously bled out. Who did him?”
Cheeks shrugged and added, “Yeah, genius, give us your fucking theory.”
Huft ignored Cheeks and broke it down, “I think we all agree that killing Ramsey wasn’t part of Vinny’s original plan. He and his boys were just supposed to grab the kids.”
“Talk about fucking obvious,” Cheeks scoffed.
Pat put his hand on Cheeks’ shoulder and said, “Let it go, man. It’s no big deal.”
At the same time, Huft looked at Cheeks and said, “Look, I said I was fucking sorry, and Pat seemed to accept that. Do you want to work through this shit, or am I on my own?”
Cheeks sighed, turned his head, and replied, “Yeah, go ahead.”
“Fine,” Huft started again. “So, Ramsey’s death was an accident. They got the kids and were supposed to hold them here to be picked up by whoever hired them, or – more than likely – an associate of that individual. The kid downstairs was shot by one of his own before the other crew showed up. There was furniture tossed around and blood all over the place. There had to be some kind of disagreement. Anyway, that kid wasn’t done by a pro. The kid in the van and the kid face down in the kitchen were both done execution style. Those were the only kills that went off as planned. The guy with the scissors in his eye was surprised by the kid in the hallway. After he was stabbed in the eye, he shot him once in the chest and then twice in the back when the kid turned to run. He went down just after he got the shots off. The crew that guy belonged to left the place a mess because they knew they had a cleaner coming. The cleaner was interrupted by someone completely unrelated to the other two crews…”
“Ramsey’s wife,” Pat’s wide eyes echoed his shock at the realization as the words left his lips.
Cheeks’ face twisted up as he turned toward his old friend and said, “The soccer mom in the minivan? No fucking way.”
Pat raised his hands in the air, as his head shook slowly back and forth, “I’m telling you. There was something off about that woman. I couldn’t place it at the time, but afterwards it all started coming together. She said a black car ran her off the road. That had to be Vinny. It just seems like too much of a coincidence.” His coffee had cooled enough that it didn’t burn his lips when it touched them. He gave it a quick chug and then added, “I know it sounds crazy, but I feel it my gut.”
Cheeks’ smirked, “You feel it in your gut or your pants, old man?”
“Piss off,” Pat fired back quickly. “I’m serious. If she’s not involved somehow, why can’t you guys find her? Where did she go?”
“That’s a good question,” Huft conceded. “I’m not sold on your theory though. The guy that did the cleaner in was a pro. He cuffed that poor bastard to that chair and obviously interrogated him. Did you notice the cut on his pinky? He was probably threatening to cut it off. In any event, I can’t say who the guy was or what his angle is on this, but I’m sure he isn’t a thirty something soccer mom with a couple of kids that drives a minivan.” He scratched his head, hit his coffee again, and added, “Maybe whoever hired Vinny and his boys got their hands on her too.”
“Why?” Cheeks piped up. “Vinny was hired by pros. That much is obvious. What isn’t obvious is what they wanted with the Ramsey family in the first place.”
“Exactly,” Pat’s tone earned a triumphant ring. “Mark Ramsey is squeaky clean, drunk and disorderly when he was nineteen years old and that’s it. There is nothing after that. Shelia Ramsey, on the other hand, might as well not even exist. Doesn’t that strike either of you as somewhat odd? There is no record of her at all prior to nineteen-ninety. Then she magically exists. How do you explain that?”
“She kept her nose clean,” Cheeks shrugged.
Huft chuckled, “Come on, Cheeks. I’m with Pat on this one. There should be something somewhere; dental records, immunization records, high school transcripts,” he paused and looked out the window, “something.”
“That’s what I’m saying,” Pat pointed at Huft. “She’s like a ghost that just appeared one day, her and a brand, new baby. I’m telling you, there’s more to Shelia Ramsey than a couple of kids and a minivan.”
Huft raised his hand toward Pat and said, “Yeah, all of that being said, I’m still not convinced that Shelia Ramsey is the one who did our cleaner. She’s definitely a person of interest, but I’m still having trouble making the connection between a minivan driving soccer mom and a cold-blooded killer that could slit somebody’s throat from ear to ear.”
“So where do we go from here?” Cheeks asked.
“Yeah,” Pat added, “no matter how Shelia Ramsey fits into this case, we’ve got nothing until we can I.D. the two John Does.”
Huft sat silently stroking his chin for a few moments. Then he cleared his throat, finished off his coffee with a big gulp, and said, “We definitely need to find out who our pros are. Unfortunately, we can’t be the ones to find the crime scene. Pat, I’ve thought more about your story, and it’s too weak. Not to mention the fact that you’ll have to explain to the Valentinos what you were doing at their place. I know that you don’t winterize it for them. That could cause us trouble down the road. You’re not going to hang around. None of us are. We need to get somebody on this quick though. Even the state patrol shouldn’t have any trouble identifying Vinny and his crew. They have their I.D.s lying on top of them for Christ’s sake. We should get word about it within a few hours. Then we can get our people on it. Nobody can know we were here though.”
“Anonymous tip?” Cheeks asked.
“It’s going to have to be,” Huft replied. Then he looked back at Pat and added, “I saw a pay phone in front of the Hardware Hank’s about a mile up the road. Use it to call 9-1-1, Pat. Tell them you heard gunshots or something, but don’t tell them who you are. Get off the phone quickly, and then get the fuck out of town.”
“Got it,” Pat nodded. “Where are you guys going to be?”
“We’ll be in touch,” Huft replied as he threw a twenty down on the table and slid out of the booth. “Meanwhile, if you hear anything or get any more leads, call me first. Are we clear?”
“Yeah, we’re clear,” Pat replied. Then he drained his coffee, slid out of the booth, and stood opposite Huft.
Cheeks followed Pat out and added, “We should know something by this afternoon.”
“Alright, Cheeks,” Huft said, “let’s get the fuck out of here.” Then he looked back at Pat, “Remember, call and then you get the fuck out of here too, and quickly.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Pat nodded. “I have to piss. Then I’ll call.”
Huft and Cheeks walked away as Pat headed for the men’s room. Just before he made the door, his phone rang. The number showed up as restricted. Restricted numbers were usually cops. He took a deep breath, let the phone ring two more times, and then answered, “Hello?”
The voice on the other end was somewhat thin, but it had a soothing quality, “Hi there, Pat. You don’t know me, but I know you. I have some information for you, information about two kidnapped children, a dead man, and a woman who has been calling herself Shelia Ramsey. Are you interested in that information, Pat?”
Pat glanced out the window, Huft’s navy blue Caprice was just pulling out of the parking lot. Then he glanced back at the long, dingy bar that Josie was leaning over to talk with the old fellow in the Peterbilt hat. Nobody seemed to notice he was there. Good. “Who is this?” he asked.
“Not just yet, Pat,” the soothing voice replied. “We’ll get to that, but right now time is of the essence. You’ve actually come pretty far on your own. I think you and your friends from West Allis are dead in the water without my help though.”
“Well, you’ve got that much right,” Pat agreed. “We are dead in the water until we get another lead. Hopefully we’ll have something by this afternoon.”
“Yes,” the voice agreed. “The state patrol should definitely inform West Allis that their killers have been found. However, it is going to take them some time to find out who the other two are. We don’t have time for that, Pat.”
Pat’s tone remained quiet, but he allowed a hint of irritation to slip into it, “Alright, who the hell is this? You have obviously been watching me.” Pat looked around, casting his gaze out every window in the joint, and then added, “Are you watching me now? I don’t like this game. Why don’t you come out and talk to me face to face?”
“Relax,” the voice remained calm and eerily soothing. “I am a friend, Pat. I can’t tell you who I am just yet. That will be a long conversation. I can tell you quite a bit that will help you find who are looking for, and I can tell you that the feeling you have in your gut about Shelia Ramsey is not something that you should ignore. Go have your piss, call 9-1-1, and then get of town like Detective Huft suggested. I will call you back in exactly thirty minutes. That should give you plenty of time to get on the road. Good-bye, Pat.”
Before Pat could respond, the soothing voice was gone. He stared at his phone with a dumb look upon his face long enough that he felt awkward about it once he realized that he was doing it. Then he shot another glance back at the bar. Josie and the only customer she would have until lunch time were still chatting it up, and the greasy cook was nowhere to be found. Good, he didn’t need any extra attention. He slipped into the men’s room, eager to get back on the road and learn what his new and mysterious friend had to offer.