John Wads rides again
This book started in a cave
Actually, it started with a name.
Marge and I were in Branson last spring, and we met a man named Monte Chrisco. "Like the vegetable oil," said he, "only there's an 'h' in it."
I joked with him, asking, "Are you the Count?" . . . as in The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas' adventure story.
Like he'd never heard that one before.
Nonetheless, I scratched his name down on the back of a gas receipt with the note that Monte Chrisco would be a great name for a character in a book.
A few days later, we were touring Fantastic Caverns, the only cave in the country you can drive through. Well, back in its history, the cavern at one time had a speakeasy in it and later a stage for country music shows.
A speakeasy, Monte Chrisco . . . throw in a couple unsolved 80-year-old murders, and I had it.
Here are chapters 1 and 2 of Rubbed Out, the second book in my John Wads Crime Novellas series.
“Hey, fella,” a voice called out.
Wads kept at his recording of numbers, this most routine of his night manager chores.
“Hey, you, Mister Kwik Trip.”
Wads swivelled around.
There a stranger at the store’s second line of pumps held the nozzle in his truck’s filler pipe, his truck a gleaming black Lincoln pickup. “You wouldn’t happen to know this area, would you?”
Wads tapped the lead point of his pencil on his inventory sheet. “Grew up here.”
“I’m thinking of buying the Pedersen farm. You know the place?”
A woman in leathers at the next island screwed down the gas cap on her Harley and motored away into the night. The stranger watched her. “She’s slim, not the Harley type. Sure wouldn’t mind rubbing up against her chassis.” After the rumble of the hog faded, he glanced back to Wads. “The Pedersen farm, is it any good?”
“A question first, why are you asking?”
“I’m not from around here you may have guessed.” The man squeezed the trigger, pumping another nickel of high test into his truck’s tank, to bring his purchase up to an even twenty-five dollars.
He had an easy look about him, a Tom Selleck mustache, gray slacks, a tan zip-up jacket, and tan cowboy boots with walking heels. Wads leaned around to check the heels. He aimed his pencil at the man’s ball cap, a Cubs cap. “Illinois?”
“Mundelein.” The stranger closed the flapper door on his truck’s filler pipe. “I fly for Southwest Airlines. Got me some spare bucks, so I’m looking for a getaway place.”
“To get away from Chicago?”
“The Pedersen farm could be it, but let me warn you, it’s not much of a farm.”
“Too many hills and a gawd-awful lot of woods.”
“Hey, I’m a deer hunter. That works for me.” He sidled along to the back of his truck, his mitt out to shake hands. “Name’s Chrisco, Monte Chrisco.”
“Some people call me that. I wish they wouldn’t.”
“John Wadkowski. Most people call me Wads, and I don’t mind it.”
“Wads, huh? Maybe I could buy you a beer when you get off. Maybe we can talk some more.”
“No beer. Muscle Milk’s my drink.”
“Strange drink in the state where Leinenkugel’s king, but that’s all right. Where?”
Chrisco tilted his head.
Wads caught the look of puzzlement. “That’s a bar downtown.”
“I’ll find it then. What time?”
“I check outta here at midnight. Make it five after if you’ve really got a thirst.”
“Twelve-oh-five it is.”
Chrisco got in his truck. As he closed the door, Wads hiked off for the front door of the convenience store that he had run on the nightshift for the past year, the store at the edge of Jamestown.
Wads reached for the grab bar, to pull the door open. Behind him tires screeched, then came the sound of metal striking metal. He whipped around in time to see a light pole arcing down over the hood and roof of a black Lincoln pickup.
A dazed Monte Chrisco laid there in the seat, his head hard against the headrest, blood dribbling from his nose. He shifted an eye toward Wads. “Wha happen?”
Wads grubbed out a handkerchief. He packed it around Chrisco’s nose. “Looks like you busted your beak. You all right?”
“This the way you treat people from Illinois, throw light poles in front of them?”
“We’ve got an ordinance against light-pole throwing.”
Chrisco put his hand on the handkerchief. He pulled it away and squinted at the bloody cloth before he tamped it back under and around his nose. “Musta sprung a leak.”
“Sure did, pard. If you think you can stand, I’ll help you get out.”
The sound of sirens moving at a high speed came up the street, a fire department crash truck the first to wheel into the Kwik Trip, all its emergency lights flashing, followed by an ambulance and a city patrol car. The JFD’s second bailed out of the fire truck’s shotgun seat. He grabbed his tool kit and trotted over to Wads. “How’s the driver? He hurt bad?”
“Broken nose I’d say. Other than that, the damage is all to the truck and the pole.”
“That’s certain.” The fireman took out a small flashlight. He pushed in to Chrisco, Chrisco still in the truck, but now with his legs over the side of the seat, his feet resting on the running board. “Sir, if you don’t mind, I’m going to check you over.”
“Do whad you have da do.”
The fireman lifted Chrisco’s right eyelid. He shot the beam of his light in. “You lose control here, blackout maybe?”
“Nod that I can ’member.”
He moved the light to Chrisco’s other eye. “What do you think happened?”
“Steering wheel jerked in my han’, then blam.”
“My paramedic’s here. I’m going to give you over to him. He’ll take you up to the ER and have the docs do a stem to stern exam, just to be on the safe side. That all right with you?”
The fireman stepped aside where he conferred with the paramedic from the ambulance.
The paramedic then stepped in. “Mister, they call me Shots. I’m gonna take your blood pressure.”
The patrolman left his cruiser with clipboard in hand and came to Wads. “Looks like we’ve got us an accident here. That the way you see it?”
“It’s on your driveway and not on the street or city property, so I don’t see any reason to write this guy up for what happened, do you?”
“Of course, he did cream that light pole, but that belongs to Alliant, not us.”
“He’ll probably want an accident report for his insurance company, don’tcha think?”
“I suppose. Okay, here’s what I’ll do. I’ll sketch the scene and do the measurements, but, Wads, then I’m outta here. I’m on overtime as it is, and I wanna get the hell home. Oh, I called Dot to get out here with her tow truck.”
Wags slapped the patrolman on the back. “You’re a good man, Charlie. Get a coffee on the house before you leave.”
The patrolman touched an index finger to his eyebrow in salute as he walked away.
Another set of flashing lights rolled into the Kwik Trip and up to Wads, a rollback hauler with the name Dot’s You-Wreck-It-We-Tow-It Service painted on the door.
Dorothy ‘Dot’ Kranz leaned her elbow out the window and blew a ring of cigar smoke over Wads’s head. “My man, I thank you for the bidness. My first tow job in three days.”
Wads gave a nod toward the Lincoln. “The hood and roof are bashed in, but the truck may drive.”
“Hey, don’t you tell the owner. I want my fee.” Kranz swung her door open and slid down, her coveralls pressed and her work boots shined. “Any idea why the truck ended up the way it did?”
Wads shook his head.
“I didn’t smell any alcohol, and he says he didn’t black out. I see a front tire’s flat. Maybe it blew and that did it.”
Kranz and Wads watched the paramedic, Eddie Shotzheimer, walk Chrisco to the ambulance, she flicking ashes from her Swisher Sweet. “I’d say this fella looks like he can afford anything I wanna put on his bill.”
“He’s probably got Triple-A.”
“That would be a crimper if Triple-A had called me, but Charlie did, so I can charge any diddle-darn thing I want. Called out at night like this, that’s gonna be at least double overtime, triple if I can stretch it to past midnight.”
“Dot, you are a robber.”
“Hey, don’t tell my sister the insurance adjuster.”
Wads made a pulling-the-zipper motion across his lips.
She gave a wave to the patrolman reading a measurement off his steel tape. “Charlie, is it all right for me to get that crippled beast outta here?”
“You gonna lift that light pole off the truck?”
“Then you’ll have to wait on Alliant.”
“You call them?”
A fifth vehicle rolled in and stopped to the street side of Wads and Kranz, an Alliant Power Company truck and trailer with the truck’s emergency lights flashing. “Wads,” the driver called through his rolled-down passenger window, “got room for one more at your party?”
“Sure, it’s your light pole.”
“I’ll tape off the busted wires so you won’t get lit up if you touch one, how’s that?”
Wads waved an okay.
“Dot, gimme a hand gettin’ that big stick outta your way?”
Kranz chewed on her cigar as she jacked up an eyebrow. “I’m a pro-fessional. You gonna pay me?”
“Now, Punky, don’t be an old crab.”
She blasted smoke from her nostrils. “No pay, no play.”
“Well, I’m lucky tonight. I’ve got The Claw.” The utility man eased his truck and trailer up beside the Lincoln. He swung out of the cab like a Simian and up on the back of his truck’s bed. There he settled at a control pedestal where he worked a joy stick and a speed controller that lifted an articulated grabber up and over the light pole. He lowered the grabber–the claw–around the pole at its midpoint, clamped the claw tight, and lifted the pole away from the Lincoln and over onto the power company’s trailer. He waved to Kranz. “Okay, Punky, the wreck’s yours.”
After the utility man locked down The Claw, he hopped off and went over to the concrete pad to which the pole had been bolted, to tape off the electrical wires. While he worked, Kranz wheeled her hauler around and backed it in toward the Lincoln.
She left the cab for a panel of controls on the side of her rollback. There she rolled the hauler’s bed back and the tail down to the pavement, then spooled out her winch cable. She looped the cable around the tow hooks under the rear of the Lincoln, and, when she had the hook-up secure, began winching the Lincoln back toward her hauler’s bed.
The front of the Lincoln swung.
Kranz saw it and let off on her winch. She snorted cigar smoke in Wads’s direction. “Need a little help here, buddy boy.”
Wads parked his knuckles on his hips. “I’m a pro-fessional. You gonna pay me?”
“Fun-ney. Next winter when you skid your truck in a ditch, I’m not gonna pull you out.”
“All right, what do you want?”
“Get in that Lincoln. Straighten the front wheels and hold them straight while I winch this sucker up on the bed. You think you can do that?”
Wads shot a thumb in the air.
He climbed into the cab, did as he was instructed, and Kranz winched the Lincoln back and up onto the rollback. She raised the rear of the bed until she could roll the bed back in place against the cab and lock it down.
Wads came around, and there stood Kranz by the front of the Lincoln, running a hand over the flat tire. She beckoned to him. “Come take a look at this.”
He did, then cast a sideward stare at Kranz.
She put the beam of her Mag-Lite on the sidewall, on a puncture hole. “Look to you like a bullet did that?”