Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Randy was on his way within a few minutes, shaking with anger and half tempted to hunt Joel up at work and beat the living shit out of him, although his better instincts prevailed. He found a nearby Burger King, pulled into the parking lot and pulled out his cell phone.
"I didnít expect to hear from you quite this soon," his father said. "Did you learn anything?"
"All too much," Randy told him. "Sheís being emotionally abused, and badly, physically to a lesser extent. He watches her like a hawk, doesnít trust her with anything, especially her money, which I think he thinks is his but she wonít let him get at it. Heís gone a lot and sheís stuck at home with no chance to get out, no car, no friends, and heís trying to keep her isolated from us. I donít know all that much about all the signs of spouse abuse but what I see makes me think that sheís got to be a classic case of it."
"Sounds like it," his father replied. "Youíre sure about it?"
"As sure as I can be. I always thought Joel was an asshole, but heís even worse than I thought."
"I wonder why this didnít come out when they were here in January?"
"Beats the hell out of me," Randy said into the cell phone. "He may have been watching her too closely too much of the time. She says itís gotten worse since Brentís legacy came down, so I suspect he wants her money real bad. I donít know why Ruth hasnít picked up on it, but Rachel says she hasnít talked to Ruth very much, either. She ran me the hell out of there, too, saying that she didnít want Joel to know that Iíd been there."
"Thatís bad," Ryan replied. "Itís all bad. I guess you were right on your gut feelings. Now, the question I have is what do we do now?"
"Beats the hell out of me," Randy told him. "You get right down to it, thereís not much we can do. I reminded her that she still has family in Spearfish Lake, and she can count on us if she needs the help. Itís going to have to be up to her if she leaves him, but I canít think of much we can do till she makes that decision."
"Damned if I know what to tell you," Ryan sighed. "Maybe I can call her up and say pretty much the same thing, for what good itíll do. I think we need to bring your mother and Ruth in on this, but I think Iíll want to be careful about how we do it. Your mother is going to pitch a shit fit."
"I donít doubt it," Randy agreed. "But maybe she can use some logic we canít. A woman thing, you know. One thing, though. Iím sure Joel wants to get his hands on Rachelís money, and that means the land is going to have to get sold. Could you maybe call up Binky and have her hide that listing in a file drawer or something, and not advertise it?"
"Iíll do it," he replied. "Thatís a little under the table, but weíre good enough friends that I think sheíll go along with it. So what do you plan on doing now?"
"Damned if I know," Randy said. "Maybe I can call the airline and get my flight back changed from Sunday to Saturday. That way I can get home that much quicker. Iím a little worried about being gone from Nicole right now."
"Could be, but the airlines are getting a little sticky about changing reservations. So howís the weather out there?"
"Not bad, maybe about sixty. Short sleeve weather for me for this time of year. I think Iím going to find a big box store and find a short sleeve shirt."
"Well, youíre in one of the more interesting towns in the country," Ryan advised. "Why not do a little sightseeing? Iím sure you can find something to kill a day in San Francisco."
"Iím a little reluctant to do it with Nicole not with me. Iím sure itís something sheíd like to see."
"I can understand that," Ryan sighed. "But how much stuff has Nicole seen that you havenít? Sheís forever trying to push you out the door to do these things, and I know it. Hereís a chance to take advantage of it."
"Yeah, I know, but that doesnít mean I want to do it, especially with this stuff with Rachel on my mind."
"Me either, now that you put it that way. Keep your cell phone on, we may come up with something for you to do. On that subject, do you think thereís any percentage in hiring a detective?"
"I donít know what they could pick up that we donít already know in general. Itíd just be a way to waste money."
"Maybe, but maybe not. You said heís gone a lot. Do you think heís seeing someone on the side? If he is, then maybe that would be a way to convince Rachel to get the hell out of there."
"Not impossible," Randy told his father. "Rachel didnít say anything about that, but I didnít go anywhere near that issue with her. She might not have a hint of it even if he is. I get the feeling Joel is managing her like a mushroom."
"You mean keeping her in the dark and feeding her shit? I wouldnít put that past him, either. I always knew there was some reason I didnít like the guy, and heís turning out to be even worse than I expected. Even if we leave Joelís alleged business ethics out of it, I think it might not be a bad idea just to turn a detective loose on him, just on general principles. I donít have any idea how Iíd find one, other than having you go through the phone book out there. Thatís really taking a stab in the dark."
"You may be right, but . . . hey, I got an idea. How about asking Blake if he could weasel out a lead? He knows the security business a little, and he used to have some contacts out here."
"Thatís a better idea than anything Iíve come up with," Ryan said. "Iíll give him a buzz as soon as Iím off the horn with you. Go see the sights and check out your graders."
"If thereís anything I can do, let me know."
Randy clicked off the cell phone and sat back in the seat of the rental car. Sightseeing really wasnít on his mind, and going to the construction equipment show had only been an excuse in the first place. The real purpose of the trip had been to check on Rachel, and now that heíd done it everything else seemed to take a back seat. But what else could he do? He was tempted to go take a swing by Joelís business just to see if he was there, but realized that was fruitless Ė he knew he couldnít identify Joelís car, and Joel would know who he was if he saw him. Rachel had said that it was best if Joel didnít know that Randy was in town, and being recognized could really screw things up for her. That left just about nothing constructive that he could think of to do.
Well, there was one thing. It was the middle of the day now, so late afternoon back in Spearfish Lake, and he hadnít had anything to eat since a cup of coffee and a doughnut some silly number of hours before. And here he was in the parking lot of a fast food place Ė might as well do something about that, he thought. A Whopper and fries beat airline alleged food any way you cut it.
Randy got out of the car and went inside. It was close to lunchtime, and the line at the counter was long. Now that he was standing upright, he realized that it was a good time to use the bathroom, so he headed around the counter and down a short hall. It only took him a moment before he was heading back out to wait out the line. He glanced around the room on the way back to the counter and saw a sight that brought him to a dead stop: Joel, sitting in a booth across the room!
Come on, Randy thought. This kind of stuff only happens in bad movies. He looked again, and sure enough, it was Joel or his twin brother, sitting and talking to a nicely-turned-out blonde wearing a pencil skirt, frilly blouse, black glasses, hair up in a bun, almost looking like a parody of a business person. Joelís attention was entirely on the woman, and Randy didnít think heíd been seen. One thing was clear, though Ė this wasnít a good place to be standing around in a long line waiting for service. He headed for the door, noticing that the two were picking up the trash from their lunch and were close to getting out of there.
Back out in the car Randyís mind was whirling. It was entirely possible that the two were having an honest business lunch, although Burger King didnít seem like the kind of place that theyíd want to talk stocks or taking someone to the cleaners, whatever it was they were discussing. It would have been nice to be a bug on the wall, or just have a bug on the wall, but there was no way he could have gotten close enough to pick something up without running the risk of being noticed. But what to do now? One sighting of Joel having lunch with a woman could easily be perfectly innocent Ė there were plenty of legitimate reasons it could have happened.
He was still sitting in the parking space, watching the front door in his rear view mirror, when he saw Joel and the blonde come out and head for a car Ė Randy noticed that Joel and the woman were walking hand in hand. That, he thought, doesnít look quite as innocent.
Between the mirror and the corner of his eye Randy watched the two walk across the parking lot to a white BMW. Joel courteously held the right side door for her, then walked around and got in the left side.
Randy knew he was a total amateur at this kind of thing, but there was no way he wasnít going to tail him, at least for a ways, and see what was happening. All of his knowledge of how to tail a vehicle in traffic came from movies and TV and novels, but summarized, it came down to not following too close and trying to avoid being noticed. He watched as the BMW backed out of the parking space, then started his rental car and backed it out to follow.
Son of a bitch, I donít believe Iím doing this, he thought as he made a right turn into traffic, coming out three or four cars behind Joel and the blonde on the busy street. Tailing a car without losing it in heavy traffic proved to not be as easy as heíd thought it might be, but as fortune had it they only went a mile or so, not making any turns until they turned off into a motel parking lot. Randy knew better than to follow, so drove right on by, went around the block, and saw the BMW parked toward one end of the building, a motel where the roomsí doors opened onto the parking lot.
Yep, not very innocent, he thought. Thatís a nooner if ever there was such a thing. Again, he drove right on by and around the block, not that it was likely that heíd been noticed, and wondered what to do next. A couple times he almost reached for his cell phone to report in to his father, but decided to put it off for a bit to see if he could learn a little more. He made up his mind he wasnít going to tail Joel any further Ė luck had already been much better to him than it had any right to be Ė but it would be nice to know how long the two were in there.
This time around the block, he pulled into a Taco Bell next to the motel. He was still hungry, after all, and this would be a good place to sit and watch. Although it seemed unlikely that Joel had noticed him, and the rental was about as anonymous as a car could get, he parked on the far side of the Taco Bell and went inside, glancing up occasionally to check that the BMW was still there. After a few minutes with his order in his hands, he found a table by a window on the motel side of the building to keep watch while he ate.
It seemed very surrealistic to Randy as he sat there eating. They werenít very far from Rachelís home, only a couple miles, he thought. But then, if Joel doesnít let her have a car thereís not much chance sheíd be out and around to see anything out of the ordinary, anyway. It seemed pretty ballsy to him, in any case.
Get real, he thought. That might not be Joel. He hadnít had all that good a look; it could have been someone who looked a lot like him Ė but how many people who looked like Joel drove a white BMW? Randy could remember Joel talking about his Beemer last January, but couldnít remember him mentioning the color. On a hunch, he pulled out his note pad and jotted down the license plate number, for what good it might do.
Randy finished his lunch, which seemed to taste like cardboard and wasnít very satisfying Ė not necessarily because of the food, but because he was worrying about the ramifications of the scene heíd just witnessed. If this was really happening, then there was even more trouble for Rachel than he had been expecting. He sat there sipping at the large drink, occasionally glancing at his watch or at the BMW parked a short ways away, and wondered how to handle what he had just learned.
After about forty minutes, he noticed one of the doors of the motel opening. He watched as Joel and the blonde came back outside. He didnít feel like he could make any honest observation of their expressions, but had the impression that they werenít unhappy. Again, Joel held the door for the blonde, then walked around, got in the car. In a minute they were gone.
Well, thatís about the size of that, Randy said as he gathered up his trash, threw it in a garbage bin, and headed back out to the rental. Now that he was alone again, there was no putting off the phone call that he knew had to be made. He pulled his cell phone out and hit one of the autodial numbers. "Youíre not going to guess what I just saw," he told his father.
"Let me try," his father teased. "You saw Joel heading into a motel with some cheap blonde."
"I wouldnít call her cheap," Randy said. "She was dressed pretty business-like, but they were in there for about three quarters of an hour."
"Huh? I was joking."
"I wasnít," Randy told him, and explained what had happened over the last hour. Finally, he summed up, "So, while I donít exactly have photos of the two of them in the act, it seems pretty clear to me that Joel is running around on Rachel."
"Well, I guess Iíd have to say I wouldnít put it past him," Ryan replied. "So, now what do we do?"
"Damn good question. To be honest, Iím not a hundred percent certain it was Joel. It could have been a look-alike, but I thought Iíd screw around for an hour or so, then take a drive past his office and see if thereís a white BMW with that tag number parked nearby, just to be on the safe side. If there is, I think thereís a real good reason to find an investigator to see if we can come up with some real evidence. Then, maybe you and mom and I could present it to Rachel and see if we can make the chips into waferboard."
"I talked to Blake," his father reported. "He doesnít know of anyone out there off the top of his head, but heís going to bounce the idea off a couple of his buddies. But, I have to think that on something like this you could probably just find someone out of the phone book."
"Thatís kind of what I was thinking. Iím about to go looking for a phone book, but I think after I find some names Iíll take a little while hunting for white BMWs."
"Do it," Ryan said. "Have them bill me on this, but have them get solid, irrefutable evidence. And keep me informed."
* * *
About two hours later Randy was sitting in the office of Scott Brayton at Dunstein, Brayton, and Howell Investigations, which happened to be located not far from Joelís office. From the information in the phone book there was no way to tell the specialties of one from another, but this company got the nod because Randy could get an immediate appointment.
Brayton proved to be in his fifties, and Randy learned that he was a retired police detective. Randy soon found himself explaining what he had found out and what he was trying to find out.
"Well," Brayton said after Randy summed up what had happened, "My guess is that you did the right thing in breaking off when you did. If youíd gone on much further you could have been found out, and that could have led to trouble. But all in all, this doesnít sound like a hard investigation. My only question is whether this was a onetime thing, or whether thereís a regular pattern."
"I sure canít help you on that," Randy said. "Like I said, I just happened to stumble on the whole thing with Joel, but it looks pretty suspicious to me."
"From what you tell me, it sounds pretty suspicious to me, too," Brayton nodded. "And Iím not talking about just the possible affair. It seems pretty clear to me that what you saw was the result of systematic emotional abuse against your sister. Itís more common than you might think, and in this case, heís managed to get her isolated from her support people by more than half the country, and not giving her any chance to build any other kind of support network. Do you think heís after the emotional control, or the money?"
"Good question and I donít have an answer," Randy said, "Other than he wants to get his hands on the money without her having any control of it. Whether thatís to get her more isolated or cast her adrift is something Iíd like to know."
"People like him, when they get their hands on something like that, theyíre not likely to let it go easily," Brayton pointed out. "My guess is that itís just as well that you werenít identified, because the trouble would come back on your sister."
"Right, and thatís one of my concerns. We donít want Joel finding out about this until itís pretty well a done deal. She says he hasnít hit her, but sheís worried about it. If he had, Iíd be tempted to stick around and teach him a lesson or two, and I have the black belts to do it."
"You say heís bigger than you are," Brayton pointed out.
"Yeah, but he doesnít have any fighting skills that I know of," Randy said. "I mean, he has all he needs to beat up on a woman and maybe thatís all he thinks he needs. He always looked down his nose at my martial arts hobby, but then he looks down on anything he isnít directly involved with."
"To tell you the truth, Iíd advise against taking physical action," the detective warned. "Out here, youíre as far away from your support people as your sister is, and you could get into trouble very easily."
"Well, yeah, I can see that. But Iím not sure what I need to do."
"Basically, Iíd tell you to keep out of it until we get the information you need. Now, it could come quickly, or it could take a while. Just be patient and let things take their course, and donít tip him off that youíre on to him. Otherwise, it could be a lot of trouble for your sister, maybe more than any of us want to handle."
"Yeah, I know, but itís going to be hard."
"These things are never easy, but remember that your sister has one big thing going for her. She has a family who, no matter how far away, still cares about her and has the resources to do something about this situation. I see all too many cases that arenít like that, and sometimes the outcome isnít pretty."
"All right, help me out on this, since youíve seen more of this kind of thing than I have. Are we going about this the right way? I mean, get the goods on him, present it to Rachel with several family members present, and be prepared to move her out before she changes her mind?"
"It sounds like a reasonable plan," Brayton nodded. "Just remember that she may have some fears about leaving him, and probably justifiable ones in her mind, so she may not want to drop everything and go running home. If that happens, frankly, youíre screwed and there isnít much else you can do about it. That one is going to have to be up to you and your family, although if you need extra confirmation or security when you bring it up to her, weíll be glad to provide it."
"That probably will be wise, but weíre going to have to wait till the time comes and see what happens," Randy said soberly. "Anyway, like I said earlier, Iím out here to look at graders, but thatís secondary to this. If thereís anything I can do to help you out while Iím still here, you have my cell number."
"There may be some questions," Brayton replied. "Some you may be able to answer, and some not. The first thing Iím going to need to do is talk to your father and get his take on this. We may find ourselves having to talk to your other sister, Ruth, since she still has some line of communication with your oldest sister."
"Iím not too sure how good it is," Randy said. "Rachel told me a lot in a short time that apparently Ruth never found out. Or at least if she did, she never mentioned it."
"Could be either way, but someone is going to have to talk to Ruth before we talk to her to tell her not to spill the beans, and probably your father is the most likely person to do that. Anyway, if we have any questions you can answer youíll get a call. Beyond that, go take a look a graders or whatever it was you were going to do, and donít do anything else that would alert Joel that youíre on to him. That means stay away from him, and donít do anything that would let him know youíve been out here."
"Yeah, I guess itís go look at graders and be a tourist," Randy sighed. "Damn, itís hard to sit back and do nothing on this."
"Youíve already done a great deal and doing more could make things worse. Weíll keep you and your father informed."