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Starting Late book cover

Starting Late
A Tale from Spearfish Lake
Wes Boyd
©2011, ©2013

Chapter 15

After some discussion, and considering the fact Becca didn’t have softball practice Friday evening, it was decided to leave as soon as possible after school in the motor home, in hopes of getting down to Henry’s at least a little before midnight. That would give them all day Saturday to clean out the apartment, and all day Sunday to drive back, which would leave them a little time to unload and rest up before Monday rolled around again.

None of the adults were crazy about the idea of making the trip back down to Decatur, although all of them agreed it had to be done. After all, it was a long trip they’d done only a couple weeks before, and it hadn’t been a fun trip. Becca wasn’t at all thrilled with the idea, either, but at least she conceded that getting the furniture would finally give her the shot at her own room she’d wanted; even the issue of what color to paint it had fallen by the wayside, to Mark and Jackie’s relief.

On the other hand, Bree seemed ecstatic, as if her subconscious was telling her the bad days were over with and things were going to go back to being what they were, even if she knew that wasn’t the case.

Mark still had to get the keys for the motor home, so early on Friday afternoon, he walked up the street from Marlin Computer to Spearfish Lake Furniture and Appliance, where he knew Gil Evachevski was watching the store for his son, Danny. From a discussion earlier in the week, Mark knew Danny was off on a buying trip at an industry trade show, something he had to do about once a quarter. Although Gil had been technically retired for several years, he managed to spend ten to twenty hours a week in the store; he claimed it gave him something to do, although he spent much of his spare time in the summer out at the West Turtle Lake Club.

Gil was an old friend, and one of Mark’s closest. Back in 1970, Henry Toivo, one of Mark’s high school friends, had gone missing in Vietnam; he’d been Kirsten’s fiancé at the time, and her son, born ten years later, was named after him. A year or so after Toivo disappeared, Gil, a retired Special Forces sergeant, had promised Toivo’s father he’d go and see if his body could be found, at least if the Vietnamese government ever allowed it.

It took until 1990 before permission came along. Gil led a party consisting of Mark, Harold Hekkinan, and a few other Spearfish Lake Vietnam veterans to Vietnam, accompanied by Mike and the Vietnamese wife of one of the veterans. By several pieces of good luck that seemed to be bordering on miracles, they found Toivo’s remains and brought them back home. That made the small circle of vets extra special friends, and they tended to be particularly close. Now seventy-five, Gil was far and away the oldest of the group and was the only one technically retired, although after talking with him a few days before it seemed like Harold was getting close to hanging it up. It still seemed a ways off for the rest of them, which included Mark.

Mark found Gil piddling with some dishwasher part in the repair shop in the back of the store. “So, how’s it going with the girls?” Gil asked.

“Could be better,” Mark replied obliquely. “It could be worse, too. The younger one is having a little trouble getting used to it, so it’s taking some time.”

“Consider yourself lucky,” Gil advised. “It could be a hell of a lot worse. Everything else going pretty well in your life?”

“More or less,” Mark replied. “I don’t know if the rumor mill made it around to you yet, but I’m going to be selling Marlin.com the first of July.”

“Selling it?” Gil said, a little surprised. “You put a lot of work into that.”

“A hell of a lot of work, going back over the years. But the industry is changing and there’s not much room for the little guy anymore, so when an offer too good to refuse came along, I decided to not refuse it.”

“So does that mean you’re going to hang it up and retire?”

“No,” Mark shrugged. “I don’t think I’m quite ready to retire yet. I’m going to be keeping Marlin Computer, but it’s already clear I’m going to have to do something else, too. What that might be, I haven’t figured out yet. I’ve kicked around a couple ideas, but nothing has seemed to stick yet. It’s not like I’m in a big hurry, but there has to be something out there.”

“You sure don’t want to sit around on your dead ass, not at your age,” Gil shook his head. “Hell, I tried that when I retired from the Army, and the kids just about drove me nuts. That’s how I got into the appliance business, after all. If Danny hadn’t been available to take over from me, I probably would still be working. As far as that goes, Carrie isn’t all that happy about being retired, either. She would be just about going nuts if she didn’t have Danny and Debbie’s kids to look after and Jennifer’s kids to spoil once in a while.”

“Yeah, I think that’s what scares me the most,” Mark admitted. “I’m not putting any more work into Marlin.com than I have to, since I’m a short-timer there, and I know the new people are going to be putting in a huge overhaul. I’ll tell you though, I’m looking for ideas. I’ll be able to afford to invest some money, it’s just I don’t want to get into anything that’s going to kill me for time, and I need something I’ll be able to get out of when the time comes.”

“Boy, I sure don’t have any ideas on that one,” Gil nodded. “But you mostly have to be ready to go when the right thing comes along. I’ll keep my ear to the ground, and let you know if I hear anything.”

“Thanks, Gil. I’d appreciate it.”

Since Mark wasn’t in any particular hurry just then, they stood and gossiped for a few minutes before they got down to the subject of the motor home. Gil said it was fine to use it again, so long as they returned it full of gas, but he asked they not put any more miles on it than they needed to since it was getting close to needing an oil change. Mark was happy to agree; with the way it burned gas, he wasn’t anxious to drive it any further than necessary. Like the last trip, this one was going to cost a ton, but there didn’t seem to be any better way to do it and only take one vehicle, especially with having to tow a rental trailer back. He agreed to pick it up from Gil’s driveway later and leave his truck there for the weekend. Gil said that would be fine; other than picking up some stuff, he expected to be out at the West Turtle Lake Club all weekend anyway, and nothing was likely to happen to the truck.

Later on that afternoon, Mark picked the girls up from school and took them with him to pick up the motor home, then drove out to the house to pick up Jackie, Mike and Kirsten. Before long, they were on the road.

The trip went slower than the last one to Decatur, at least partly because they stopped twice for the fast food the girls had been missing, and a few more times to just stretch their legs and get out of the motor home for a bit. Thus it was that it was well after midnight when they rolled to a stop at Henry and Cindy’s house in Decatur.

Both Henry and Cindy were up; they’d been waiting for them. Cindy was obviously grumpy about having been kept up so late, although she didn’t say much out of line.

“I was over at the apartment earlier in the week,” Henry reported. “Seymour let me walk through it so I could get an idea of how big a job it’s going to be. There’s some furniture and stuff, but I don’t think there was the amount of stuff there that’s accumulated around here. I made arrangements to pick up a trailer in the morning.”

“Good,” Mark said, really wanting to ask if Henry had found out anything from Seymour, but realizing it wouldn’t be a good idea with the girls still up. “With any kind of luck we ought to be able to do it in one day.”

“Should be easy,” Henry said. “But I talked with that neighbor woman, Florence Engstrom, and I think you should spend some time with her.”

“No problem,” Mark said. “The girls wanted to see her, anyway.”

As before, the girls stayed in the spare bedroom while Mark, Jackie, Mike and Kirsten stayed in the motor home. They woke the next morning to Henry pounding on the door. “We ought to get up and get moving,” he said. “We need to get that trailer picked up.”

There was some grumping and groaning around; it had been a short night. After a little discussion, it was worked out that the men would take the motor home to go get the trailer, while the women stayed at the house and got ready and had some breakfast before meeting at the apartment.

Mark had barely pulled the motor home away from the curb before it was revealed that Henry had an ulterior motive in doing things the way he’d suggested. “I didn’t know when I’d be able to get the two of you alone,” he said, sitting on the engine hump between the two front seats, his back up against the dashboard, “but we need to talk, just the three of us.”

“I take that to mean you found out something you didn’t want the girls hearing about,” Mark said.

“Well, yes,” Henry admitted. “Look, Mark. Dad has always taught me there can be a big difference between what you know and what you can print. Cops sort of work the same way. There’s a big difference between what they may know and having enough information to do something about it. Most of what I have is stuff that I know or Seymour knows, and they don’t always match. Put it all together, and there’s still nothing much that could be printed or acted on.”

“So,” Mike said. “Does that mean Shannon was killed, or what?”

“That’s a big ‘don’t know,’” Henry said. “The official cause of death was drowning, but it’s clear she was unconscious when she went into the water. Seymour seems to think she was killed, but he can’t put his finger on how, although he has an idea or two about why. I don’t know if they hold water or not. I’m leaning toward no, that it was something natural like maybe some sort of seizure the coroner couldn’t pick up, but I don’t know what it would have been and wouldn’t want to bet I was right.”

“So you wouldn’t have any idea about why, because there is no why,” Mark nodded.

“Yeah, but it’s more complicated than that. Like I said, Seymour has his ideas, and they may hold some water, or they may not. But that’s almost beside the point. Look, do either of you have any idea what Shannon was really doing?”

“No,” Mark replied. “And the girls apparently don’t, either. At least if they do they haven’t said anything about it.”

“It may well be they don’t know,” Henry told them. “To make a long story short, Shannon was involved with running an escort agency.”

“You mean hookers?” Mike replied incredulously.

“Well, sort of. These are high-end girls, not streetwalkers. I’m talking big-money stuff, mostly with guys from out of town, very elite, and pretty hush-hush. Nobody has come right out and said it, but it looks to me like she had more than a little practical experience in the business before she went into management.”

“That might fit,” Mark nodded thoughtfully. “It might account for why the girls have two different fathers, and don’t have any idea who they were. Shannon might not have known, either.”

“Exactly,” Henry replied. “And from what little I can find out, the timing could be right. Anyway, there’s no doubt she was involved with the business, although she did it very quietly. But there the evidence comes to an end. Seymour had someone from the department go through both her computer and the girls’ computer with a fine-tooth comb, along with the rest of the apartment. The only thing they can come up with that looks like evidence are two files that are obviously lists, but they’re in some sort of code they can’t make heads or tails out of.”

“A code? They couldn’t break it?” Mark raised his eyebrows.

“Well, they’re not exactly the National Security Agency,” Henry smiled. “I’ve seen the files, and it looks to me like it was something Shannon set up so she would know what it meant, and no one else. Actually, code probably isn’t the proper word. It’s probably something more like memory aids, like X meant the guy likes blow jobs, Y means he likes cowboy, and so forth. For that matter, it could have been talking about the girls and what they specialize in, not guys at all. No names or phone numbers, although I’ll bet Shannon had some way of figuring it out. I can’t see what it is, and neither can Seymour.”

“Yeah,” Mike nodded. “Something like that could be hard to break.”

“Exactly,” Henry said. “The thing that has both Seymour and me hung up is that there isn’t any evidence about how guys got in touch with her to set up appointments. I mean, no e-mails, and you heard the girls tell Seymour that when Shannon took phone calls at home they were pretty rare and pretty cryptic, too.”

“At least they didn’t know what they meant,” Mark agreed.

“Could be,” Henry said. “Actually, I’m not sure how far to bet on it. They may have had more of an inkling there than they’ll talk about, but it’s anybody’s guess how much they actually know, but parts of it might be pieces they can’t put together. Mark, you might find out from them some day, and you might not.”

“Honestly, they haven’t said anything,” Mark said. “I mean, unless they talked it over between themselves. But, nothing I’ve heard. To be honest, they don’t even talk about their mother very much, although Bree does more than Becca.”

“If we take them at face value, Seymour seems to think there must have been someone else involved,” Henry explained. “Someone like a call center that actually took the calls, or a person who acted as a call center, but if so, the cops haven’t found a trace of who or where it could be. I mean, that part of it was really underground. He seems to think maybe Shannon ran the girls, and this call center person took care of putting them together with the guys, but that’s only an educated guess on his part.”

Mark shook his head, trying to assimilate the information. “From what little I know of the whole business, I suppose it could be true,” he said finally. “But why does Seymour think she was killed?”

“Well, he doesn’t know it for sure,” Henry replied. “Maybe he’s being a little over-suspicious, but I can’t tell. There’s still a pretty good case in my mind that it was accidental, or natural causes, or whatever. I mean, if she had a seizure and lost control of her car, it would be accidental, but really not suspicious, right?”

“Right,” Mike agreed.

“Well, Seymour has a couple hairs up his butt, but he’s just guessing. The first scenario is that whoever Shannon was working with, who ran the call center, wanted her out of the business, but he can’t explain how the death could have looked as natural as it was.”

“That makes sense,” Mark agreed. “I’m no expert, but I’ve watched a few crime shows on TV, and I know killing someone and leaving no trace of how it was done doesn’t come easily.”

“It doesn’t, and you wouldn’t believe how well stuff like that can be pinned down,” Henry agreed. “That leads to Seymour’s second scenario, and I have to say it makes a little more sense. Not a lot more, but a little more. He thinks maybe the Russian mob was trying to muscle in on her business. Maybe scare whoever the call center person she was working with was, or, alternatively, the call center person was working with them.”

“Why does he think Russian mob?” Mike asked.

“Again, he’s guessing, although there’s some of it around here and it’s a bigger problem than the police like to admit. Some of those guys are really bad actors and don’t let anything stand in their way. My guess is that he thinks a lot of those guys used to be KGB, and they had some pretty creative ways to off somebody and not get caught.”

“Sounds like something out of a bad spy novel,” Mark shook his head.

“Well, I think so, too,” Henry shrugged. “Like I said, I think it was natural causes, but only because I’m a big believer in Occam’s Razor: when presented with a lot of possible solutions, the simplest one is probably correct. He obviously doesn’t think that way, but then, that’s what he’s paid to do.”

“But he doesn’t have a thing to go on?” Mike asked.

“Not a damn thing, unless he has something he didn’t tell me about,” Henry replied. “And I don’t think he’s a good enough an actor to peddle a whole line of bullshit to me. Besides, I have a couple pieces to the story I didn’t get from him, but they pretty much fit.”

“What might they be?”

“Well, the big thing is that from what I can see, Shannon couldn’t have been running things. She must have just been a cog in the machine.”

“What makes you say that?”

“You look around that apartment, and you can see she wasn’t making much money out of it. She made enough money to live on, but there isn’t any fancy furniture or like that, and it wasn’t an expensive apartment in the first place. She has nice clothes, good looking, but nothing real expensive. I mean, we’re talking Walmart, not Saks. You’ll see what I mean when we get there. There’s big money floating around in the escort business, but my guess is that Shannon wasn’t seeing it. She sure wasn’t for living like she did, and Seymour didn’t seem to be able to turn up any hidden accounts or anything. It looks to me like she was making a living at it, but that was about all.”

“So, he’s stumped,” Mike nodded.

“Pretty much,” Henry confirmed. “And there’s another problem. He’s of the opinion any leads he turns up are going to take him into this escort business, and maybe something will fall out from that, but he’s not getting any traction. I talked to a vice detective I know, and they’re not real interested in the whole thing. They don’t seem to think he has much of a case.”

“Why aren’t they interested?” Mark wanted to know.

“Well, it gets political,” Henry shrugged. “Both cop political and city political. Mark, high-end escort businesses like that rarely get busted unless they get too blatant. Then about all the perps get is a slap on the wrist and a warning to keep it under the table. It would upset too many apple carts. I mean, having escorts available is good for some big businesses and brings money to town, if you know what I mean. Besides, cracking a ring like that is hard. Busting streetwalkers is easy. Which ones do you think the vice cops are going to give their attention to?”

“Well, yeah,” Mark nodded. “I don’t know if you’d call it corruption or laziness, but either way, there it is.”

“That’s kind of the way things work around here. Hell, it’s how they work almost anywhere. I never really looked, but I’d be willing to bet good money that there’s some gal or two in Spearfish Lake that puts out for pay, just because the opportunity is there. I’d also be willing to bet the cops know about her, or them, or whatever, and don’t do anything mostly because it would cause more trouble to shut it down than it would to tolerate it if it’s kept well under the table.”

“You’re probably right,” Mike nodded. “I’ve heard the odd story or two along those lines over the years, but I can’t tell you the last time someone was busted for it. I certainly can’t remember anything in the police reports, and I did them for a long time and still always check them over. I might not be remembering clearly, but I don’t think so.”

“You’d know more about it than I would,” Mark agreed. “I guess I never thought about it that way. So, Henry: you’re saying the investigation is going nowhere.”

“Pretty much,” Henry replied. “There may be somewhere for it to go, but even if it does, I don’t think it’s going to contribute to finding out if Shannon was killed, or what, and that’s assuming it wasn’t natural causes in the first place. Seymour would have to have more cooperation from the vice cops than he’s likely to get, and that came from a vice cop, not from Seymour.”

“Well,” Mark said slowly. “I guess there’s not much we can do about it anyway, whatever actually happened.”

“That’s about the size of it,” Henry agreed. “But it leaves open the question of what you’re going to tell the girls.”

“Not a damn thing,” Mark replied instantly. “It’s nothing they need to know, especially at their age and maybe not ever. I think I’d be just as happy if Jackie and Kirsten don’t know about it, either. The fewer who know, the less likely it is that someone’s going to slip up. I think about all we’d better be letting on to anyone but us is what the coroner said – she had some kind of a seizure or fainting spell or something and her car went into the water. Let it go at that.”

“I agree,” Mike said. “The girls may have some unanswered questions as they grow up, based on things they know and aren’t talking about, but it’s probably best if those questions stay unanswered. Henry, you didn’t tell Cindy anything about this, did you?”

“Oh, hell no,” Henry snorted. “I know better than that. She doesn’t even know I’ve been snooping around the question a bit. She’d go apeshit if she knew some of the things I had to poke my nose into on the job.”

“Well, good,” Mark said. “You might want to keep an ear on this from time to time in case something new pops up, but I think I already know more than I really wanted to.”

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