Wall knew from his conversation with Max that the 911 call from Timex was wrong. The victim had not been shot. So, why did that little guy Gaither think he heard gunfire?
On his way back to the Timex plant, Wall’s exit off of Interstate 30 reminded him of his first trip down that offramp. As a teenager, he had just left a Robert Plant concert and was pretty sure he would not make the 60 miles home on an empty tank. Instead of risking it, he had found the nearest gas station. A Little Rock cop pulled up beside him as he pumped the gas.
“Son, you really should not be here after dark. Where are you headed?” the cop asked.
“I’m just stopping here for gas, and then I’m on my way.”
“Make sure you don’t stop anywhere else.”
Now, as he headed down 9th street, he again understood the cop’s concern. All the homes and businesses, except the occasional gleaming convenience store, could be described best with a word he didn’t use often: ramshackle. Most needed structural help, and all could have used a fresh coat of paint. Gang graffiti did not discriminate between the old and the older, nor the vacant and the occupied. It looked as if violence could erupt from any street corner, and that it was not particularly concerned about the sun’s presence.
Wall was not afraid of it now as he had been years ago, but he knew to keep to himself unless he was working a case.
Back at Timex, the plant manager, an attractive woman Wall placed in her late 40’s, started him off with a tour. He guessed it was to stall while the corporate bigwigs from Middlebury, Connecticut made their way to the site. Although he wanted to get to the investigation, he enjoyed the tour. It was like discovering a whole new world.
Rivers of various shimmering, molten metals ran in three-inch wide canals, converging in large vats to form alloys. When Wall leaned in for a closer look at a river of zinc, the manager said, “Watch where you put your hands. You would end up with fewer fingers, not really neat zinc-plated fingers you could use to battle Spiderman.”
Racks of countless molds were lowered into shiny aluminum lakes for filling, then lifted and allowed to cool, she explained. After some tool work and a good buffing, the newly-formed watch bezels were loaded onto racks and sent along a track for a succession of metal dips and hot baths to form the plating.
“So, how could someone hang a dead man over one of these vats without anybody noticing?” Wall asked.
“Well, it was early, Detective, so most office workers were not here yet. As you can see, this area is completely automated. Workers handle the racks only during loading and unloading. Periodic checks ensure everything is operating within parameters.”
God, this sounds scripted. I might not get a thing out of her.
“And the lucky winner was a lady,” Wall said as he played back her scream in his head.
Then, his mind wandered as he re-ran the events from three days before.
After leaving Gaither the Sweepover and taking the stairs in three downward leaps, Wall bolted to his left toward a second scream. He almost dropped his mobile phone as he pulled it from its holster and dialed headquarters. Between ragged breaths, he muttered to himself, “Damn it. Why did this have to get so complicated? I don’t need complicated right now.”
“Lt. Wilson,” the voice on the other end said.
“Hey, Wilson. It’s Wall. We need all units near the Timex plant to respond immediately and secure the area.”
Another scream made its way down the halls. Now Wall had a better fix on it, and turned down a hallway toward a set of large, windowed double-doors.
“What the Hell was that?” Wilson said.
“The perp may still be on premises. When I got here, the body was gone. I just heard a scream and I’m trying to find the source right now. Get me some damn black-and-whites.”
“I’ll put an APB out right now. Shit. Do you have a description of the suspect?”
“Not a clue. Bye.” He slowed down to a fast walk. He hadn’t run that much in quite a while.
His hands busy fumbling to put his phone away, he kicked the doors and immediately saw the body.
“Oh my God,” he said.
“Excuse me, who are you?” asked the man comforting a frantic woman as he tried to direct her gaze away from the corpse.
“Detective Wallace Davies. Did you see anybody else in here?”
“No, sir. I just heard her scream so I ran in here to see what was the matter.”
Wall looked at the man’s face. He had sandy blond hair, probably late 20’s — a guy Wendy would have called good-looking. He couldn’t quite place the color of his eyes.
“They’re hazel,” the man said.
“I’m sorry. What was that?” Wall asked, angry with himself for staring too long.
“My eyes. Not green. Not brown. Hazel.”
“Sure, right. You two go to the nearest office, and lock yourselves in. Do not leave the premises. Mr. — “
“Stivins. Jeff Stivins. I’m supervisor for this section.” Then, to his co-worker as they walked toward the door, “Don’t worry, Kay, we’ll get you to a safer, more pleasant place.”
(continue to Part 5)