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Ghost of a Life

Chapter One

Thursday morning Peggy Fair opened the office at 17 Paseo Verde at its regular 9 AM time. She piled a stack of files from the M-R drawer on her desk. While Joe was out of town, she was finally getting the spring file cleaning out of the way. After taking a sip of her tea, she dove into sorting through the mess. Absorbed in the details of deciding what could stay and what could go, she was surprised by a man entering the office.

"May I help you?" She noted the dark blue suit, crisp white shirt and black tie. Being a policeman's widow, she knew when she was talking to a law enforcement officer. The way he walked into a room like he owned it.

"I want to know why you were looking up information on John R. Regan."

"What? How did you know—who are you?"

The man pulled an ID wallet from his inside coat pocket and held it open to Peggy's face. She read 'U.S Deputy Marshal Matthew Petrosian' and saw the badge. He whipped his ID back into his coat pocket.

"Regan? I got a call from my boss asking me to look up some information on him."

"What type of case is he on and where is he?"

"Um, I don't . . . think . . ."

"Don't make me take you down to the federal lockup as an accessory to conspiracy to murder."

"Murder?"

"Answer my questions: What type of case and where is he?"

"Missing person case out of Chicago. He's tracking down an heir to a fortune for a law firm – Morley, Olsen & Blevins. They said the other detectives they hired had no luck finding the heir, so on the recommendation from another law firm, they hired Joe to find Regan."

"Where was he when you last talked to him?"

"Yesterday. He's in St. Louis."

"Damn, can I use your phone?"

Peggy nodded.

Petrosian dialed. "Hey, Rich, yeah, St. Louis . . . have Rivera start checking the hotel . . ." He placed his hand over the receiver ". . . what hotel?"

"Sheraton on Fourteenth Street."

". . . the Sheraton. He may still be there. If not, the airlines and rental car companies . . . he's getting close . . . yeah, we know where he's headed, not where he is . . . might have to move him . . . yeah, okay." He hung up.

"You want to tell me what's going on?"

"There is no inheritance, no heir to a fortune. Mannix got hired by the Mafia to bird dog someone in the Witness Security Program. You'd better hope we find him before he finds our witness, because as soon as he does he's as good as dead."

oO0Oo

Clayton Belmore, Senior was as spare as the few wheat stalks in his fields, a 400 acre farm south of Enid, Oklahoma. The rain dribbled like sweat down his brown face. He replaced his green dingy John Deere cap on his head and used his handkerchief from his back jeans pocket to wipe away the rain.

Every morning, rain or shine, snow or mud he climbed the small hill. The hill was shaded by three oak trees and overlooked his farm. It held the graves of the Belmores who had lived on the family farm since 1889. His eyes ran across the headstones of his grandfather and grandmother, his father and mother, and Louise, his wife.

His eyes always rested on the headstone of the last person to be buried here – Clayton Belmore, Junior, August 4, 1951—April 30, 1972. Every man in the Belmore family had served their country honorably in war, but only Junior had died in combat.

The knock on his door, the shock of being told his son had died never left him. After the funeral, the letter came from the Department of Defense telling him his son was being nominated for the Medal of Honor. He didn't care. He didn't want a medal. He wanted his son. He wanted one more chance to take back the last words he said to him.

He turned from the graves and swept his eyes across his mostly unploughed fields. Last fall he had managed to plant only the plot of land next to Fox Road. He inspected the clearing sky. Because of the rain from last night and this morning, no watering today. He removed his rain slicker, walked down the slope to his old yellow Dodge truck, and tossed it into the bed.

Coming from his driveway onto Fox Road, he detected a depression in his wheat field. Damned kids, he thought, throwing something like a car bumper in the field and crushing his wheat. He pulled to the side of the road to inspect the damage.

The wheat stalks drenched his jeans as he waded into the field. As he parted the plants, he saw the milky white skin of a hand. A man was lying face down with his clothing soaked through.

Where'd he come from? Nothing out here but the wind and wheat.

Belmore felt for a pulse. Not strong but the man was alive. He searched the man's body for other injuries; no broken bones that he could feel, mostly scrapes and bruises, and a small gash on his forehead.

Something was in the man's right hand. He pried the hand open and found a crumpled envelope. After stuffing the envelope into his jeans pocket, he shouldered the man in a fireman's carry to his truck and laid him in the truck bed. He covered the unconscious man with his rain slicker and raced to St. Mary's Hospital.

oO0Oo

Sal Vincenti squirmed on the wooden park bench. He hated small towns, hicks in the sticks. Hanging around out here in the open gave him the willies. He preferred the dark corners of Chicago's Italian restaurants.

He had messed up and Russo would not be happy. Was it his fault that Mannix guy pulled off onto a dirt road in the middle of the night? Vincenti figured the guy knew where he was going, that he was getting close to Johnny. Russo said follow him and he did. Just that Mannix drove into a creek while trying to avoid hitting him. How was he going explain that to Russo? He lost Mannix in a wheat field. A friggin' wheat field.

Vincenti tugged at his tie. Damn hick town! The rain had driven him indoors to the hospital cafeteria for a time. He grabbed a newspaper to sit on so he wouldn't get his suit pants wet when he returned to the bench. He had already ruined one pair of suit pants pulling Mannix out of the creek. He knew that the guy was hurt, so he parked himself across from the emergency room entrance.

He almost missed what he was waiting for. An old yellow pickup truck arrived at the emergency entrance. He watched a black guy in a dirty green cap get out and enter the emergency entrance. Not more than thirty seconds later a doctor with an orderly pushing a gurney followed the driver to his truck. The doctor scrambled into the truck bed and examined whoever was lying in there. The black guy and the orderly lifted a body onto the gurney. Vincenti recognized the dark brown pants and the pale yellow shirt. Somebody had found Mannix.

Vincenti watched as they wheeled the unconscious man in. He would ask about Mannix later. Until then he would stay put. After what happened last night, he needed to keep his distance. Inside of his suit coat, he touched the butt of his pistol for reassurance. When Mannix led him to Johnny Russo, then there would be time enough to kill them both.

oO0Oo

After morning shift briefing concluded, Deputy Tim Powers was dispatched to St. Mary's Hospital. A male victim had been brought in unconscious and injured. Whatever had happened to him was in Powers' patrol area.

When he arrived he noted Clay Belmore sitting in the waiting room. Since his son had been killed in Vietnam, Belmore had been scarce around Enid. He noticed the man's belt tip wrapped around almost to the small of his back and his jeans were a few sizes too large. Belmore had become a ghost, not at all the man he had been.

Powers scanned the corridor for Doctor Hampton. A treatment room door opened and the doctor emerged from the room scribbling on a medical chart.

"Morning, Tim."

"Doc. What's going on?"

"Clay Belmore brought the man in. The patient has a concussion, a cut on his forehead, bruised ribs and other contusions. Oh, and a touch of pneumonia. Probably been lying in that wheat field all night in the rain."

"Really? What caused his injuries?"

"Well, if it wasn't for the fact that Mr. Belmore said there were no cars around where he found him, I would say he had been in a car accident. There were glass bits in his hair and the bruises on his ribs are consistent with an impact with a steering wheel. His head probably hit the windshield."

"But no car where Mr. Belmore found him? Is he conscious? Can I talk to him?"

"He's coming around. I don't know how lucid he'll be."

Powers ambled over to Belmore. "I'd like to get some info from you. Stick around."

"Is he going to be okay?"

"Looks like it."

"Don't have all day to stay around here."

"Relax. I'll be right back."

The deputy followed the doctor to the treatment room. The patient lying on the treatment table had a slim build, dark brown hair, and appeared to be about six feet tall. His clothes lay on the floor in a muddy heap. He was draped to his waist with a hospital sheet. A small gauze bandage and white tape covered the left side of his forehead. The man's eyes fluttered open trying to focus.

"Where . . ."

"You're in St. Mary's Hospital. What's your name, fella?"

The patient stared at Powers, brown eyes searching.

"I said, what's your name?"

"I . . . my name?" The patient struggled. "I . . . don't . . ."

"That concussion may have caused a temporary loss of memory—amnesia," Hampton whispered to Powers.

"Do you remember what happened to you?"

"I . . . was . . . running . . . dirt road."

"Anything else?"

"Running . . ." The patient's head slumped to the side.

"He'll be out for a while." Hampton pulled a penlight and checked his patient's pupils.

"How long is this amnesia gonna last?"

"Can't tell. Next time he regains consciousness he might remember who he is and what happened or maybe not. The brain's a funny thing when it's been hit that hard."

"Okay, Doc. I'll send Barb over here to fingerprint him."

The deputy returned to the waiting room and pulled out his notebook.

"Okay, Mr. Belmore, you want to tell me what happened? Doc Hampton says you found this guy lying in your wheat field?"

"Yeah."

"You know who he is? What was he doing in your wheat field?"

"You the deputy. You tell me."

"Alright, so you didn't hear anything last night or this morning? No cars?"

"No. Didn't hear nothing. Saw this flat spot in the wheat field when I was driving by. Got to thinking that some kids might have thrown something into the field. Saw this white guy laying there. Put him in the truck and brought him here. Never seen him before.

"Almost forgot . . ." Belmore pulled a crumpled white, sealed envelope from his pocket and handed it to the deputy. ". . . here."

"What's this?"

"He had it in his right hand."

"Maybe this will tell us who he is." Powers slit open the envelope with his thumb and pulled out the single folded sheet of white paper. The paper was blank on both sides.

"What the hell? Who is he and what's going on?"