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Ghost of a Life
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 dived into sorting through the mess of files on her desk. 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. A certain way they walked into a room like they 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 a ID wallet from his inside coat pocket and held it open to Peggy's face. She read 'U.S Deputy Marshal Matthew Petrosian.' 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."
"Answer my questions: What type of case and where is he?"
"Missing persons 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 and Petrosian picked up the phone and dialed. "Hey, Rich, yeah, St. Louis . . . have Rivera start checking the hotel . . . " He placed his hand over the handset, ". . . 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 hangs up.
"You want to tell me what's going on?"
"There is no inheritance, no heir to a fortune. Joe 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 does he as good as dead."
Clayton Belmore, Senior was as spare as the few wheat stalks in his fields, 400 acres spread out south of Enid, Oklahoma. The rain dribbled like sweat down his brown skin and hid his early morning tears. He replaced his dingy John Deere cap on his head and used his handkerchief in his back jeans pocket to wipe away both the tears and the rain.
Every morning, rain or shine, snow or mud he climbed the small hill. Clay's hill Louise had always called it. The hill held the graves of the Belmores that had lived on the family farm. His eyes ran across the names on the headstones of his father and mother, his wife, Louise, his grandfather and grandmother and so on since 1889.
His eyes always stopped on the white marble 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.
He remembered the knock on his door, the shock of being told his son had died, and the army was nominating him for the Medal of Honor. He didn't care; he didn't want a medal; he wanted his son back. He wanted to take back the last words he said to him.
He turned from the graves and swept his eyes across his mostly unploughed fields. This spring he had managed to plant only the plot of land next to Fox Road. He inspected the clearing sky. At least with the early morning rain he wouldn't have worry about watering today. He removed his rain slicker and walked down the slope to his old Dodge truck. He tossed the slicker into the bed of the truck. The chickens could wait until he got back from Enid.
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.
As he waded into the field, he saw a hand laying between the stalks – white hand. He discovered a man laying face down in the wheat. Where'd he come from? No cars, no other people. Nothing out here but the wind and wheat.
Belmore felt the man's wrist for a pulse. Not strong but he 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.
Belmore noticed something 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 bed. He used his discarded rain slicker to cover him. He climbed into the truck cab and raced to St. Mary's Hospital.
Sal Vincenti wasn't comfortable on the wooden park bench. He sat across the street from St. Mary's Hospital. The rain had driven him indoors to the hospital cafeteria for a while. As he left the cafeteria, he grabbed a local newspaper and returned to the bench next to the phone booth to watch the emergency room entrance. He watched the lazy comings and goings of a small town hospital. People coming on shift and people going home. No ambulances with screaming sirens, quiet for a hospital.
He almost missed who he was waiting for. An old yellow pickup truck arrived at the emergency entrance. He watched a colored guy in a dingy green cap get out and enter the emergency entrance. Not more than thirty seconds later a doctor and an orderly with a gurney followed him out of the entrance to his truck. The doctor scambled into the truck bed and examined whoever was laying in there. With the help of the colored guy and the orderly they 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 the emergency room. He would ask about Mannix later. Until then he would stay parked at his front row vantage point. After what happened last night, he needed to keep his distance. Inside of his suit coat, he touched the butt of his gun for reassurance. When Mannix led him to Johnny Russo, then it would be time enough to kill him and Johnny.
Deputy Tim Powers readied for another shift on his Garfield County beat. His light brown Stetson hat keep his unruly mop of sandy brown hair under control. Uniform pressed and Wellington boots shined, he was coming on duty when he was dispatched to the hospital at the request of Doctor Hampton. Someone had been brought into the hospital unconscious and injured. When he arrived he noted Clay Belmore sitting in the waiting room and wondered what he was here for. 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 two sizes too large. He had become a ghost, not at all the man he had been.
Powers looked away and scanned the corridor for Doctor Hampton. A treatment room door opened. The doctor emerged from the room scribbling on a medical chart as he walked toward the deputy.
"Morning, Doc. What's going on?"
"Clay Belmore brought this man in." He motioned toward the black man sitting in the waiting room. "He's got a concussion, a cut on his forehead, bruised ribs and other contusions and cuts. Oh, and a touch of pneumonia. Probably been laying in that wheat field all night in the rain."
"Really? What caused his injuries?"
"Well, if it wasn't for the fact that Clay said there were no cars around where he found him, I would have said he was in a car accident. There were glass bits in his hair and the bruises on his ribs are consistent with impact with a steering wheel. Maybe his head hit the windshield."
"But no car where Clay found him? Is he conscious? Can I talk to him?"
"He's coming around. I don't know how lucid he'll be."
Powers walked 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. Got chores."
"Just relax. I'll be right back."
The deputy left the waiting room and followed the doctor to the treatment room. The patient laying on the treatment table had a slim build, dark brown hair, and looked to be about six feet tall. His clothes laid 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 his forehead. Powers noted the cuts and scrapes on his arms and face and the bruises on his chest Hampton had described. 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 panicking.
"I said, what's your name?"
"I . . . my name," he seemed confused, struggling. "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."
"Running . . ." The patient lost consciousness.
"He'll be out for a while." Hampton pulled a penlight and checked his patient's pupils.
"How long is this amnesia going to 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 and send the prints off."
The deputy returned to the waiting room and pulled out his notebook.
"Okay, Mr. Belmore, you want to tell me what's going on? Doc Hampton says you found this guy laying in your wheat field?"
"You know who he is? There's no identification on him. What was he doing in your wheat field?"
"You the deputy. You tell me."
"Alright, no need to get excited. So you didn't hear anything last night or this morning? No cars?"
"No. Didn't hear anything. 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 . . . here." Belmore pulled from his jeans pocket a crumpled plain white, sealed envelope soiled with mud and blood and handed it to the deputy.
"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 is blank on both sides. "What the hell? Who is he and what's going on?"