a HARPER mystery: Among The Dirt and Bones - PREVIEW

 
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A few miles out from my apartment lies a shitty, rundown, derelict barn. Nobody really knows where it came from or how long it’s been there, but everybody knows they don’t want to be seen there. Not anyone with sense. The stupid, party-oriented types, however? They spend a lot of stupid, party-oriented time there. Well, the poor ones, anyway. All the rich kids hit the night clubs.
      At any rate, Elizabeth and I certainly weren’t happy to be there, and as we moved around the barn to the edge of the field, we got a lot less happy. A fact Elizabeth quickly saw fit to point out.
      “God, th— there’s… you can still tell where she was.” she stammered, her eyes darting around the tall grass. Most especially the depressed, damaged portions of it.
      “Yeah.” I choked. “If you’d rather go back to the c—”
      “No.” she interrupted. “I— I can handle it.”
      Our cursory glance around the area only served to piss me off, frankly. Robyn didn’t just lie back and accept death. There were clear signs if a heavy impact and thrashing limbs, bits of dried blood… and to top it all off, the scarf was nowhere to be seen. I got lost in a thousand yard stare, fixated on the spot where it was in the photos. I don’t know exactly how long I was staring, but it was long enough for Elizabeth to take note.
      “Where do ya’ think it is?” she asked, snapping me out of it.
      “The way I see it, there are only really two possibilities.” I sighed. “One, it blew away or fell prey to some other environmental factors. Two, her killer came back and took it.”
      “Well, ya’ know where my money is.” she huffed, kicking the grass beneath her feet.
      “Yeah.” I grumbled. “This was a waste of goddamn time.”
      Elizabeth merely nodded, then we went back to my car and started on our way. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for us to arrive in White Center, so we didn’t have to waste much time stewing before talking with Lloyd Quine. We were done with the countryside anyway. We were in the market for something a little more urban. A little more seedy. A little more my speed. A bar to be more precise, and the back parking lot of said bar to be exact. The name of the bar is simply Tim’s Place, and it’s an even bigger shithole than Ramsay’s. One of many in and around White Center.
      For the uninitiated, White Center is part of King County. It’s a place I’ve been to many times over the years for varied, often case-related reasons. I’m in, out of, and around King County and the surrounding areas on a daily basis. Before the Michael Waller case, the last time I worked outside of Seattle proper, I wound up finding a young woman with her throat cut, left in a clearing in the wooded area of Tolt-MacDonald Park. That was a kid I felt terrible for. Her life wasn’t as relentlessly ruthless as Robyn’s, but her death certainly was. Lizzie was with me for that case as well.
      These days, if I think of one case, I'm bound to think of the other.
      There was, however, no park visit on the cards that afternoon. Rat City was all we were getting. It’s… not one of my favorite places. Same goes for Elizabeth. Neither one of us really knows why they call the place “Rat City”, but for Lizzie and I, it’s because of the vast array of shifty, ratty assholes who seem to flock to it.
      In other words, it’s perfect place for a prick like Lloyd Quine to peddle their product.
      “I’m not looking forward to seeing this dickhead again.” Elizabeth grimaced.
      “Agreed.” I said, pulling into a space in front of Tim’s Place and parking. “Be ready to run if things go South.”
      “Ya’ think he’s gonna pull something?” she questioned.
      “Not if he knows what’s good for him.” I growled.
      We got out and cautioned around back. I could see Quine off in his usual corner of the lot. He looked to be playing a handheld video game of some kind. Certainly not paying enough attention to his surroundings. Why, if he wasn’t careful, a guy – and a girl – could get the drop on him. Which we absolutely did.
      But not before I flipped on my recorder.
      “Hello, Mr. Quine.” I began. “Read the news lately?”
      Quine jolted at the sound of my voice, nearly dropping his game on the asphalt.
      “Wh-whaddaya want!?” he stammered. “I ain’t done nothin’!”
      “I believe I told you that if anything happened to Robyn Ackerman, you and I would be having a chat.” I reminded him. As if he needed it. Christ, he looked like he was about to piss himself already and I’d barely opened my goddamn mouth.
      “I haven’t s-seen Robyn in years, man! I SWEAR!” he shuddered, already putting his hands up in defense.
      “You’re lying.” I observed.
      “Ya’ gonna be alright there, champ?” Lizzie goaded, nearly laughing at his borderline hysterics.
      His eyes fell on her and he jumped again as he realized who she was. It was rather amusing, I admit. I could’ve enjoyed it under better circumstances. Not that fucking day, however.
      “L-look… I know Robyn’s dead, but I ain’t got shit t’ do with it, man!” he swore. “I-I seen her a couple times, but I went the other way, dude! I didn’t fuckin’ kill ‘er, man!”
      “I believe you.” I said, moving in just a little closer. “But I still need to ask you some questions.”
      “Sure. Sure! Whatever, man!” he insisted, again throwing his hands up in defense. “Ask away!”
      “I know you know Mouser, so I assume you know Ben Chastain as well, yes?” I began.
      “Yeah. I know Ben.” he confirmed, nodding profusely.
      “Were you at their party the other night?” I asked.
      He was silent for a moment. This told me the answer was a resounding ‘yes’, but you know me… I always prefer to hear the words firsthand.
      So does Elizabeth.
      “It’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question.” she frothed. “Fucking answer it.”
      “Y— yes.” Quine reluctantly stammered.
      “And I assume you know full well Robyn was at that party.” I continued. “That she likely died shortly after leaving.”
      “I— I— I do.” he admitted, jittering all the while. “She was there with an older dude. Gus? Gary? Maybe it was Chuckie… Charlie…”
      “Can ya’ describe Chuckie?” Elizabeth further pressed, pushing past his recall issues.
      “Yeah. He was kinda tall… older, like I said.” he replied. “Elvis Costello glasses…”
      “Do you know anything else about Chuckie?” I asked. “Beyond his looks, I mean.”
      “Uh… he had some kinda accent? M-maybe Southern?” Quine continued, squinting slightly as if it made it easier for him to trudge through the drug-addled marsh land that once was his brain and remember what words are. “He was yellin’ ’bout somethin’, but I couldn’t make it out.”
      “Yelling at Robyn?” Lizzie asked.
      I could see every inch of her tense up at the thought.
      “Yeah, dude was real pissed ’bout somethin’. W-well, maybe not yellin’, but pretty keyed up at least.” he replied, shaking his head. “I… I don’t really know no more than that.”
      Elizabeth pulled out her notebook and flipped through it a bit, stopped, then clicked her pen.
      “How well do ya’ know the strippers at the Velvet Crush?” she asked, staring him down with an icy resolve.
      Quine’s face went white as her words hit him. He quickly, fearfully glanced at me, no doubt recalling the beating I gave him back at the Crush when he used to hang his hat there.
      “I-I don’t kn—”
      “Don’t lie to us, Mr. Quine.” I calmly warned.
      He let out a labored sigh.
      “Which strippers?” he reluctantly asked. “I only know a couple of ’em.”
      “Kandie Kane, Susie Q, and Maxine Marigold are the ones I’m looking for.” Elizabeth said.
      Quine paused a moment. Just glancing at him, you could tell he was being pulled in two different directions as he thought about what to say. That told me at the very least that he clearly knew one or more of the women in question… probably quite well.
      And that told me that he could be a problem.