(note: If you are just now finding this story, then please see the other chapters here)
Wall did not have time to think about Stivins’ intentions toward his leg. This guy could bleed out, and then I’ve got nothing. He punched in 911 on his mobile phone. That service was rough around the edges for cellular phone users, but he didn’t need anybody to locate him; he was coming to them.
“911, what is the nature of your emergency?”
“This is Detective Wallace Davies, third precinct, Little Rock Police. I’m bringing in a man with multiple wounds. One is a laceration to the leg, and the other is a gunshot to the shoulder.”
“Okay, Detective. Where are you taking him?”
“UAMS,” he said. “I’ll need security waiting at the emergency room.” He knew that the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences had an excellent police force. It had to, given its surroundings. It also happened to feature the only level one trauma center in the state, so he figured it was his best shot at keeping his suspect alive.
Stivins perked up. “Detective. Really, now. You have no reason to think me a threat.”
Wall glanced over at the bleeding eccentric in his passenger’s seat. Again he got the feeling something was not right about him, and that he must have cut himself on purpose. Cutting down wild grape vines in the middle of the night sounded a little far-fetched, even for Stivins.
“Yeah, two guys will be fine. Thanks.” He ended the call.
“Detective Davies. You act as though I am a suspect. A search warrant and a security detail. It appears that some undeserved reputation precedes me.”
“Let’s just say that a few things point to you as a potential suspect. Enough to get that warrant.”
Wall thought of Wendy, at home with the boys, wondering when or if he was coming home. It was not fair to her. They both worked hard, and even though she worked flex hours, she at least kept a fairly regular schedule. He was lucky to tell her what time he would be home on any given day. There was too much crime for a city that size, which made for too few police to fight it.
Did he want to go on being one of those? He had heard of an opening in Hot Springs, a town with enough crime to need a force, but not so much that the cops were running ragged. Maybe he wouldn’t have to quit police work. If he started working on it now, he could shift enough of the workload onto Wilson that he and Wendy could hang on until the boys graduated high school. Then he could step into a plumb job at Hot Springs. It was worth mentioning to her.
“Where did you grow up? Nebraska?” Wall asked. Stivins had mentioned their childhoods, and Wall figured it might be a good way to get him talking.
“Yes. That’s right. Omaha. It was a city of hills among land as flat as you will ever see.”
“Still is. I’ve been there,” Wall said.
“What was your impression?”
“Clean town. Glad I was never there in winter, though. So many of the roads were marked ‘Emergency Snow Route’ that I figured it would be a pain in the ass.”
“Navigating in winter can be tricky,” Stivins said. “The natives all know how to drive in it.”
“So, what did you like to do back in Omaha?”
“I lived there until I was 12, before we moved to Arkansas, so there was very little I could do on my own. I mostly rode my bicycle around, played in the corn fields. Acquaintances in my peer group enjoyed primitive activities such as cow tipping. There, I have covered everything about Omaha. Corn and beef. Where did you grow up?”
“Arkansas. Born and raised. But let’s not talk about me.”
“As I suspected. You are merely trying to extract information from me to build your precious case. I thought the police were charged with being fair. Frankly, just for that, I want a refund of my tax dollars. I am not a criminal, but if I were, I would not fall into your trap.”
“Stivins. Put a sock in it.” He was tired and in no mood for a blowhard.
“I am feeling a bit out of breath. I think that shot from your partner did not help me much.”
They rolled up to the emergency room patient loading and unloading area. “Hold on. I’ll come help you,” Wall said as he got out and walked around the car. A few people sitting on the smoking area benches gasped as Stivins emerged; usually someone that bloody was not brought in the front doors.
Back at Stivins’ house, Max had no luck finding the source of all that fresh blood.
“Why is all this blood on the floor, and then here is a large smear on the counter and down the cabinets?” he asked Wilson.
“When I got here, the guy was swinging a machete at Wall, so I opened fire.” Wilson said.
“Glad somebody can appreciate it.”
Max rarely got called out after hours. Usually the crime scene guys collected evidence and avoided disturbing anything on the body before somebody from Max’s office bagged it up and hauled it off. Sometimes on a big case, Wall called him to ensure everything was done right.
Without a body, however, there was not much for him to do. He overheard Wilson talking to someone on his phone.
“Well, what do you know so far?” Wilson squatted to sit on a chair in the living room.
“Don’t sit on –” Max began. It was too late. Rookies.
“You’re sure it’s Gaither’s? Shit. Okay. Thanks.” He put his phone back on his belt clip.
“What’s up?” Max asked.
“A Park Ranger out at Pinnacle was cruising around the perimeter and found an abandoned vehicle, registered to Jim Gaither.”
“The other suspect in this case?”
“Exactly. A nearby Sheriff’s deputy reported to the site and has been helping them look for about an hour, but there’s no sign of Gaither. Wall’s gonna shit when he hears this.”
Max saw another body in his future. Abandoned cars of people suspected of murder did not usually mean good news. Either somebody had gone vigilante, or the guy was trying to disappear.
“I have to go, Doc. As long as Wall’s taking care of Stivins, I can’t let this Gaither thing sit. Can you handle things here?”
“Yes, Detective, I’ll be fine.”
That meant getting home later. He knew he better call Dana. How does Wall do this all the time? I’m glad I’m not a coroner’s grunt any more. Probably ought to call Wendy, too. She’ll be wondering what’s taking Wall so long to ‘toss’ a house. He laughed again at Wall’s anachronistic terminology. Or was it just stuff made up by mystery writers?
While the doctors worked on Stivins, Wall reiterated to the guards how important it was to keep an eye on him, and then went for a stroll. In the first room, a body-length sheet of white paper lay over a boy about 10 years old. There was a single hole in it, right above the boy’s left eye. A doctor holding what looked like an extra-long Q-tip leaned over the hole. The swabbed end disappeared through the hole and the doctor’s hand moved around as if searching. Wall knew exactly what it meant.
A man about 40 years old stood outside the room, watching.
“So, what happened?” Wall asked.
“He got something in his eye. He’s always getting things in his eyes.”
“One of my boys used to have that problem. He’ll be all right.”
“Yeah, but will he grow out of it?”
“Oh, you mean the eye thing? Sure. At least, my boy did.”
Wall thought of Darren’s obsession with seemingly phantom dust specks and eyelashes. He was pretty sure he had outgrown it. Hadn’t he?
He thought of the boys, and Wendy. There he was again, a search that already took him out of the house, turned into an all-nighter. That Hot Springs gig was looking better all the time.
His phone rang. One of the doctors gave him a glaring look. The caller ID said it was Wilson.
“Yeah, Wilson, did you find something at Stivins’ place?”
“Wall, I’m not there right now.”
“Dammit, Wilson, I –”
“It’s about Jim Gaither. Are you inside the hospital, or outside?”
“Why, is this gonna make me get loud?”
(continue to The End)