Christopher, Craig & Co.
Part 131: Exposition.
Tom Marko’s blue SUV had left the parking lot by the time Scott knocked at the back door.
I met him with a kiss. “Evan is out in front changing locks.”
“I was waiting for you, hoping you’d want to go downstairs with me and see what kind of mess is down there.”
Scott smiled a teasing smile. “You didn’t want to go down there by yourself?”
Scott was still smiling as he opened the door and switched on the light. A bulb illuminated the stairs. I followed him down.
At the foot of the stairs I noticed a panel on the wall to the left. There were multiple dials. I turned each of them all the way to the right and lights came on all over the basement.
“Dimmer switches,” Scott said. “Classy.”
With the lights on, the room at least didn’t look like it belonged in a slasher flick. “You know, with enough disinfectant and all new locks this might be a great space to have some fun.”
Scott looked at me with his eyebrows raised. “I’m pretty sure this has been home to multiple crime scenes.”
“Well, I’m going to have everything cleaned first.” I walked around the room counterclockwise. There was a wall outfitted with multiple hooks and cuffs for restraints, a deluxe bondage table that looked like it had tilt controls, assorted cages of varying sizes, the bondage chair I was too familiar with, a couple of suspension bars with fly control, display cases with leather flogging instruments and assorted accoutrements, a leather sling, stocks, and a king-sized bed with a headboard and footboard designed for restraint.
Scott was standing over the stain on the floor where Richard had landed. I looked at it. “I wonder if that cleaning service can get bloodstains out?”
“You’re going to have the service clean down here?”
I frowned. “The first two I called said no. The third company said they’d clean and disinfect the whole place. It’s not going to be cheap though.”
Scott nodded absently. “Probably worth twice the price to not have to do it ourselves.”
“You’re not kidding.” I looked around again. “Do you think this is where Leatherman and the others died?”
“My gut says yes. But it wouldn’t hold up in court.”
I glanced around. “Oh! Any word on the guy I hit with the hammer?”
“He’s fine. You knocked him out, but he didn’t even have a concussion. He’s in custody.”
“Any chance I’ll get my hammer back?”
Scott grinned. “I’ll buy you a new hammer.”
I laughed. “Did you find out anything about the cases against Craig or Richard?”
Scott nodded, his black hair gleaming. “Remember those files we were worried about? The lab has Richard’s computer. There’s nothing on it.”
“Thank God,” I said.
“Yeah, but it’s weird. There’s literally nothing on his computer. Not even an operating system. And the hard drive has been corrupted somehow. The guys seem to think someone deliberately erased the computer.”
“That is weird. There’s no way it was Richard. He had no way of knowing what would happen here.” I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. “Unless he had an accomplice. Could one of the guys he had hypnotized have been instructed to wipe his computer?”
Scott shook his head. “That was my thinking too. But unless it was set up like a contingency plan in case something happened to Richard, how would that work out? After I shot him, Richard didn’t regain consciousness until today. There’s no way he contacted anyone.”
I nodded. “That’s a good point. But we know he had the files on all of us, and that footage of me was transferred to dvd somewhere. I can tell you that was shot on VHS a hundred years ago.”
Scott smiled. “It’s good you can make light of that. But I went over what was logged from Richard’s house. Unless he has copies stored somewhere else, I don’t think any of that will ever see the light of day.”
I ran my tongue over my teeth. “Wait. What did you say?”
“I said I don’t think that stuff will see the light of day.”
“No. Before that. You said stored somewhere. What if Richard rents storage? Or has stuff at his other house? Or in the cloud?”
“The warrant the judge signed gave us access to his house here. I honestly don’t know if anyone is pursuing other locations. Richard didn’t appear to work aside from ostensibly taking over from Leatherman, so there was no office to search.”
“Richard didn’t need to work. He had hypnotized his stock broker years ago.”
“Now you’re teasing me.”
I shook my head. “I’m serious. I never could bring myself to hypnotize guys for cash. That whole cash Master subset of the population was just something I wasn’t comfortable with.”
Scott let out a low whistle. “Sometimes I’m amazed at the things you know about, Chris.”
I didn’t want to pursue that. “We’re getting off track. What about Richard? Without the computer there’s still evidence, right?”
“That’s complex. With our statements there’s plenty to charge him with false imprisonment, assault and attempted murder. But it’s our word against his that he was involved in any of the deaths or even my kidnapping. I didn’t see who hit me and it likely wasn’t Richard anyway.”
“No, he wouldn’t do his own dirty work,” I muttered. “But what about Craig? Craig can testify that Richard forced him to kidnap Wade and to attack him again at Kampas.”
“Unless he has some sort of proof it’s his word against Richard’s. And Craig looks really guilty. Especially after disappearing after he kidnapped Wade.”
I sighed. “Scott, is there anything we can do? Craig isn’t responsible for any of this and doesn’t belong in jail.”
“I requested a meeting with my section chief. I’m going to see if I can convince him that Craig was a victim in this. But, Chris, don’t get your hopes up.”
“There’s something really wrong here if Richard can get away with everything and Craig goes to prison.”
Scott stepped closer to me. “Richard won’t get away with everything. You’re just going to have to trust me.”
I stepped into his arms and looked into his dark eyes. “I trust you more than I ever thought possible, Scott. But we have to fix this. It can’t all end like this.”
Scott kissed me, then smiled. “The police force and the FBI are going over all the physical evidence in each of the found bodies and from this torture chamber.”
“You say the most romantic things,” I said, making a face.
He kissed me again. “It’s not my fault you look incredibly handsome.”
“Uh-huh. I was thinking I could offer a reward for information. Maybe somebody who comes to the Club who knows something would come forward.”
“It’s worth a shot, but usually a reward just pulls in the whackos.”
“I’m going to have to call my lawyer in the morning and see what he can do for Craig.”
“Might be a good idea.”
“I also need to post a sign on the front of this place that we’re closed all week. I think we’ll reopen this weekend.”
“That will give you a few days to get the place ready.”
“I’m going to have to call the employees and see who’s working.”
“Wade and I can both help with that.”
“That’d be a tremendous help actually. I’m the only one of us with no experience working in a bar.”
Scott kissed me again. “We’ll figure it out.”
“I hope so. But you know, there is one thing that’s bothering me. And I don’t even know why I didn’t think of it before.”
“What are you talking about? Marty?”
“No. Actually, with all that’s been going on I completely forgot Marty was missing. But I think I may have another missing person to add to the list.”
“Has anybody seen Bootboy since Friday night?”
Scott furrowed his brow. “What are you talking about?”
“He lived here with Leatherman. He was working Friday night, running the club for Richard. When I got here today there was no sign of him.”
Scott took a deep breath. “Aw hell.”
To be continued in Part 132...
Christopher, Craig & Co.
Part 132: Renovation.
Before Scott and I left the club, I had posted a sign on the door that read Reopening Friday—Sorry For Any Inconvenience. We each had a new set of keys to the club, thanks to Evan, and I left the rest of the keys in the desk in the office before grabbing Leatherman’s laptop and locking up.
When I pulled into the driveway there was a beat-up red pickup truck parked in my usual spot. I parked beside it and got out, reading the hand painted lettering on the passenger’s door: Shannon Construction.
I scrunched my eyes shut. I had forgotten all about calling Del earlier in the week! I climbed out of my car and walked around the truck.
“Eric! I’m so sorry. Have you been waiting long?”
“Hey, Chris. No, I just got here a few minutes ago. I figured you got held up.” Eric opened the truck door and stepped out. He was taller than me with bright ginger hair that always drew my attention. He and Del had been living together for over a decade and, though Del was really my friend, I had always liked Eric.
We shook hands, then Eric reached into the truck and grabbed a clipboard.
“I can’t apologize enough. I have a friend in the hospital who I went to visit and then time got away from me.” That sounded reasonable, and vaguely like the truth.
“Del tells me you have a barn you want to convert. He wanted to come out with me today, but he’s working on a show right now.”
“Ask him to call me so we can get together for dinner soon.” I led the way to the side gate and opened it. Eric followed me around the house and through the yard to the barn.
He looked up at it. “This is bigger than I expected.”
“It’s a great space that’s being wasted. What I’d like to do is turn it into an apartment. I figure a living room, kitchen, bedroom and bath. There is electric run out here, but I’m sure it would need updating.”
“What about heat and water?”
“There is a water line.” I pointed to the side of the barn. That’s a hose spigot over there.”
“Can I see the inside?”
I grinned. “Of course.” I opened the door to the barn and we walked inside.
Eric pulled a laser distance measurer off his belt and wandered around a bit. He made some notes on his clipboard. “You know, this is big enough you could probably do two small bedrooms. That’d open you up more for renters.”
“I’d rather do one larger bedroom. If you think there’s space for a small dining area, that would probably be a better way to go.” I was wandering around the barn, looking at some of the junk that had accumulated out here. I was going to need a dumpster.
“You’re not planning to rent this out, are you?”
I turned to face him. “What makes you say that?”
“Just a feeling.”
“You’re right. I have—a relative—who will be living here.” I turned and looked in the corner behind a lawnmower. There was someone in the shadows. I let out a surprised yelp.
Bootboy leaned forward into the light wearing a miserable expression.
I held a finger to my lips.
“You ok over there?” Eric asked.
I forced a laugh. “Just a spider. Surprised me.”
“These old barns are usually full of them,” Eric said and went back to what he was doing.
Not an hour ago Scott had started the process of trying to locate Bootboy, and he was here in my barn. How do things like this keep happening to me? And, better question, WHY do things like this keep happening to me?
I strode toward Eric, positioning myself between him and where Bootboy was hiding.
“I think I have what I need. Let me make a few sketches and then I’ll email you what I come up with and you can see what you think before I start working up prices.”
“That would be terrific,” I said, steering him out of the barn. “I can’t thank you enough for coming out here today.”
I walked him to his truck, made sure he had the correct email address and waved as he backed out of the driveway. Then I ran back to the barn.
“Mitch?” I called. “Bootboy?”
Bootboy stepped out of the shadows. I wasn’t positive, but I thought he was still wearing the clothes he’d had on at the club on Friday night. His hair was a mess and he had a couple days’ growth of beard.
“Bootboy, what are you doing here?”
He didn’t reply, just stared at me unhappily.
“Bootboy?” Oh, for heaven’s sake. “Polish your boots.”
Mitch slipped under immediately.
“Bootboy, what are you doing in my barn?”
“You told me if I was in trouble I should come to your house.”
“Yes, but I thought you’d knock on the door. How long have you been here?”
“I came here Friday night, but nobody was home. The gate was open, and I came back here. You were never alone so I hid.”
I supposed I should be happy he had the presence of mind for that. “How did you get here?”
“I took a cab.”
I wasn’t sure what else to ask him. “Tell me, are there any instructions or commands you have been given by any other hypnotists or Masters?”
“Master King has instructed me to manage Leatherman’s club while Leatherman is gone.”
I frowned. That was going to be a difficult conversation. Later. “Bootboy, whatever instructions you have been given by anyone other than me are now going to fade from your mind. Those commands and instructions have no effect on you. In fact, anything Master King has commanded you to do will no longer affect you. Do you understand?”
I wondered if it would really be that easy. It didn’t seem to me like Richard had bothered much with Bootboy. Otherwise, I didn’t see how he would have ended up here. “Ok, you will awaken on the count of three feeling completely awake and ready to talk to me. 1...2...3.”
Bootboy blinked a few times and looked around. “I didn’t know where else to go, Sir.”
I patted him on the shoulder. “You did the right thing coming here.” Standing next to him I got a whiff of him. Bootboy needed a shower. “Are your clothes at Leatherman’s?”
“Let’s take you there and get you freshened up.”
“The police are there.”
“Not anymore. Come on.” I pulled my phone out of my pocket and dialed Scott.
He answered the third ring.
“You can call off the search for Bootboy.”
“I found him. I’m taking him to club to get a change of clothes.”
Something in Scott’s tone told me he wasn’t in a position to talk. “I’ll meet you there as soon as I can.”