ThreeMature

I just sat there, dumbfounded, holding the photo.
I shook my head.
    “That’s not possible,” I said.
    “Believe me,” he said. "I have better things to do with my time than travel twenty miles to play practical jokes."
I looked at Stryker.
He shrugged.
I focused on the picture in my hand.
She was young, fifteen, maybe sixteen. She had long red hair, green eyes, and the kind of teenage smile that showed all was right with the world.
She wore a white softball uniform that had Laredo Falls emblazoned, in blue, on the front.
Try as I might, I couldn’t see myself in the beautiful face that stared back at me.
I started to hand back the picture.
    “Keep it,” he said.
I sat there and shook my head slowly back and forth.
    “I still don’t understand,” I said.
We were quiet for a time.
I took in a deep breath and slowly let it out.
    “I take it you have proof?” I asked, skepticism crept into my tone.
He nodded.
    “But, I’m not at liberty to discuss it.”
    “Then who is?”
    “That’d be my wife,” he said.
I threw up my hands.
    “Wait a minute. I didn’t even know where Laredo Falls was until I talked to you.”
He nodded.
    “My wife’s name is Janice. You knew her when she was a Velazquez.”
I tried thinking, but it hurt too much.
I shook my head.
    “The name doesn’t sound familiar.”
He grinned.
    “She’d be glad to her that. Christ, you slept with her.”
I let that slide.
    “What’s the kid’s name?”
    “Stephanie.”
    “How old is she?”
    “Sixteen.”
I quickly calculated the years, but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember where or for that matter, who I was with.
    “You believe your wife?” I said.
    “Why wouldn’t I?”
I shrugged.
    “Okay. So tell me, why did you come down? Why not Janice?”
    “I wanted to check you out for myself. To see what kind of person you are.”
    “I thought you already did that?”
He nodded.
    "Yep. But that was officially. This is an unofficial visit."
    “Okay,” I said. “So, am I going to see Stephanie and Janice and sort all of this out?”
    “You’ll be seeing them tomorrow. I won’t be there, but from what I see here today, I won't need to be.” He grinned and nodded. “You’re alright.”
    “Gee,” I said. “I’m flattered.”
He sighed.
    “Be that as it may,” he said. “I still have that problem.”
He pointed to the materials on the desk.
    “Yeah,” I said. “That’s a big problem.”
He nodded.
    “A problem I was hoping you could solve for me.”
I stared at him.
    “Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you a cop? A chief of police, no less?”
He nodded.
    “That I am. But I have a small police force and they have no experience when it comes to a murder investigation.”
    “How many?” I asked.
    “Ten,” he said. “Plus me and my assistant.”
I thought it over.
    “Why me and not the state police?”
    “I thought that would be obvious?”
    “My daughter?” I said.
    “Your daughter,” he said.
I rubbed my imaginary goatee, thinking.
    “Remember, I did a background check on you. I was also in the military. As a matter of fact, I was thinking about becoming a general.”
I stopped in mid-stroke.
    “Now that is the funniest thing I’ve heard all night.”
    “General Mills,” Stryker said and chuckled.
Jesus. Once Stryker talks you can’t get him to shut up.
I lit a cigarette.
    “Okay. I’ll do it.”
He breathed a sigh of relief and leaned forward.
    “Based on the evidence, we believe it was a professional hit.”
    “Sniper?” I asked.
It was an obvious question, but I had to ask.
    “Yeah,” he said. “There’s a building across the street and from the angle of the shot, the third floor was the likeliest place.”
    “Did you find anything?”
    “Actually we did.”
I waited.
    “There was writing on the wall and in big block letter’s, it said, ‘we reap what we sow’ and a picture of Mr. Brandow.”
I thought about it.
    “I didn’t see that with the other things.”
He looked genuinely embarrassed.
    “I know. And believe me, I reamed my guys a new asshole. That’s what I meant by inexperience. They didn’t photograph it and by the time I found out it was too late. Somebody ever so kindly cleaned the wall.”
    “Anyway,” I said. “That’s an odd phrase.”
He nodded.
    “I know. Plus, there were a half dozen or so videocassettes we found in his house. God only knows what Albany is going to find on his laptop. If you ask me, the sick sonofabitch got what he deserved.”
I nodded at the videotape on the desk.
    “Do I dare ask what’s on that?”
    “Let’s put it this way,” he said. “It’s relatively clean compared to the others.”
I thought about that.
    “Where does Stephanie fit into this?” I asked.
He shrugged.
    “Good question,” he said. “It’s obvious she wasn’t the target. It was too good and too clean of a shot. She only suffered a dislocated shoulder and some nerve damage; she’s expected to make a full recovery. Not bad, considering the alternative. But you want to know what is really troubling me?”
I waited, while he finally lit his cold cigar stub.
    "Stephanie said she received a text message from him. That's why she happened to be there. Trouble is, we couldn't find his cell phone."
I cocked my head.
    "We can't find her's either," he said.

The End

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