Signs of Struggle

Signs of Struggle by John Carenen Page B

Book: Signs of Struggle by John Carenen Read Free Book Online
Authors: John Carenen
18-wheeler heading south on I-95 must have dozed, drifted left, onto and over the abandoned Mazda Miata on the shoulder. I left out the part from the eyewitnesses, how the truck had come down in the northbound lane. On top of my wife and daughters, exploding everyone into a crushing fireball. I left that out. No point. Just the facts.
     
    He nodded. “I’m sorry,” he said. He sounded sincere. “I hope you can regroup here in Rockbluff. It’s a good place to live.”
     
    “Thank you,” I said, remembering Mulehoff’s identical sentiment. “I’m looking forward to settling into the fatal farm accident capital of the western hemisphere. I have a question for you. With Hugh being dead, might there be some financial benefit to Larry?”
     
    Payne stopped stirring the three packs of sugar he had just dumped into his coffee and looked at me. “You sure don’t tiptoe around the tulips, do you?”
     
    “Not my style. See, I don’t think Larry’s a stellar guy, and people who aren’t stellar do horrible things, especially when enough money is involved.”
     
    Payne went back to stirring his coffee, studying the light brown liquid, as if he expected a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model to rise from below the surface. A battered white Ford F150 pickup truck passed, driven by an old man whose hair matched the paint job. Two kids, a boy and a girl high school age, drove by going the other direction in a red Mustang convertible. Top down. Ah, youth . The Sheriff finally looked up from his coffee, started to speak, stopped when he saw someone approaching our booth.
     
    Bernice, a platter of food in each hand. Fast service. Probably big bins of sustenance under red lamps in the back. She left our food and disappeared.
     
    Payne picked up his utensils, set them down again. “You’ve almost put me off my feed, sir, and I was so looking forward to a friendly chat. Helps digestion. So, you think Larry murdered his brother for money?”
     
    “Yep. More bucks for the lifestyle. It’s logical the parents would have set up the estate like that: One son dies, it all goes to the other, just to keep it in the family.”
     
    “Actually, I think it might be something like that, me being a professional information-gatherer in a small town, but so far, there’s no evidence to support your theory.”
     
    “Maybe not, but some interesting coincidences. So, since I have nothing but time on my hands and you’re busy, I’ll check it out. My hunch is, if you look at the estate plan and the will closely, you’ll see that I’m right. The surviving brother gets the bulk of the estate. That would guarantee Soderstrom Farms remains Soderstrom Farms. And Shazam! Up jumps a motive. Nothing new under the sun.”
     
    “How do you know so much about estate planning and distribution of assets?”
     
    “I read a lot,” I said.
     
    Payne cut off a piece of chicken, stabbed it with his fork, and put the morsel in his mouth.
     
    “Another thing,” I said, “when Larry was leaving the church just now I spoke to him. I said, ‘I know’ and I thought he was going to spit.”
     
    The Sheriff looked like he was in pain. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
     
    “Whatever Larry wants it to. I could have meant that I know what he’s going through, or, if he has a guilty conscience, he could take it to mean that I know what he did. Judging from his reaction, I’d have to say he didn’t take comfort from my remark, which beckons me down the path of suspicion.”
     
    The Sheriff chewed his food and shook his head, clearly a coordinated guy. Point guard in high school? He said, “Do you want me to arrest him now, or may I finish my lunch first?”
     
    “Be as cautious as you want to be, but when I get an insight like this, it’s almost always accurate. Course we can’t arrest him now—we’ve got to get some evidence first.”
     
    Payne’s eyes brightened. “I never thought of that! You do read a lot!”
     
    “Touché,”

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