When Dick Hardesty is hired to look into threats against former priest Dan Stabile, possibly from someone whose confession Dan heard while still in the priesthood, it’s just another case. Then, on a stormy Sunday, on a rain-slick road, Dan is killed, Dick’s partner Jonathan is severely injured, and suddenly, it’s personal. Was the accident really an accident...or murder? Dick learns Dan’s secret could involve a child murderer, and now it seems the man is stalking their son Joshua and tormenting Jonathan. The objectivity so vital to Dick’s role as a private investigator goes out the window as he pursues one lead after another, and it begins to look like Dan wasn’t the target after all.
Greenspan had agreed to leave work early and meet me at his home at three thirty. I arrived, as usual, a couple minutes early. His house was in a formerly suburban post-WWII subdivision of well-kept, basically similar homes. All had originally been built with attached garages, but a few, Greenspan’s included, had been remodeled to make it another room in the house.
I drove around the block to verify there was an alley at the rear. There was only one garage on his side, so I assumed it was his. Most of the yards on either side of the alley were fenced, making it difficult to see into.
I found a place to park not too far from the house. As I approached the door, I noticed a man hurrying up the sidewalk toward me.
“Mr. Hardesty?” he called as I was about to ring the bell. Coming up to me reaching into his pocket for his keys, he said, “Sorry, the bus was twenty minutes late.”
Opening the door, he led me into the house, which gave the impression of being what I always liked to refer to as “comfortably lived-in.” A large painting on one wall caught my attention—Greenspan with a nice-looking guy about the same age.
“Curtis,” he said as if reading my mind. “He died three years ago.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
He gave me a small smile.
“Me, too,” he replied. “Please, have a seat.”
After we’d both sat down, he said, “Mr. O’Banyon said he’d be contacting you, and that I should help you in any way I can. What can I do for you?”
“Let’s start by you telling me exactly what happened on your end. Glen sketched out the general situation but didn’t go into the details.”
“The police came to my door at around seven o’clock Friday night with an arrest warrant for a fatal hit-and-run accident at around four thirty that afternoon. I explained that was impossible, that I hadn’t used my car in three days. I take the bus to and from work, and I’d left work early on Friday, around three thirty, for a dental appointment then took the bus home.
“They claimed my front license plate was found at the scene and wanted to see my car. My garage is always locked, but when I took them to it and opened the door, they walked around the car and found that not only was my front plate missing but that there were two large dents in the hood directly above where the plate should have been.
“I have no idea how any of that could have happened. I always pull into the garage front-first and don’t remember the last time I actually walked in front of it. As I said, the garage is always locked, and I have the only key. The car’s brand new—an eighty-six Trans Am. I’ve had it less than two weeks, and it just turned two hundred fifty miles the last time I drove it. With a new car, you notice little milestones like that.
“They immediately impounded the car and arrested me. Thank goodness Mr. O’Banyon was able to arrange bail.”
Stealing a car from a locked garage was one thing, but returning it and relocking the door was another. Either someone had put a lot of effort into pinning the accident on Greenspan or Greenspan was lying. Neither option made much sense, and that, in turn, raised the question of whether the hit-and-run had been an accident.
“Do you have any enemies? Someone willing to go to an awful lot of trouble to frame you for something like this?”
“I run a collection agency—everybody we try to get money from hates me. It goes with the territory, though this goes far beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. I’m very careful not to make myself a target for some disgruntled individual I’m only trying to get to pay his or her legitimate debt. My home phone number’s unlisted, and I never give out my address.”
“Any problems at work?”
“None. I’m in the process of buying out my business partner, but it’s all amicable.”
“No troubles with an employee?”
He shook his head.
“No. I have six employees, and they’ve all been with me for at least four years.”
“Interesting. I’d have thought the collection business would have a high turnover rate.”
He shrugged. “It does, but all my employees are pros, and I pay them considerably more than they could get elsewhere.”
“How about in your personal life?”
“Not that I can think of. I’m not seeing anyone seriously, and I haven’t had a relationship since Curtis died.”
“I’d like to take a look at the garage,” I said.
I followed him out the front door, and he led the way down the steps to a small sidewalk that ran around the side of the house. As we entered the backyard, I noted that the car-and-a-half garage was almost hidden by a high hedge along its back wall. I imagined it would be difficult to see from the house.
“Curtis and I had this garage built when we converted the original attached garage to a den.”
There were no windows on the side closest to us, only an entrance door with a small viewport. He unlocked it and went in. I checked, as I followed him, to see if there were any signs of forced entry. There weren’t.
The far wall had a standard-sized window for light with a workbench under it with the usual assortment of tools and lawn equipment on and underneath. Crossing to it, I saw the window was open a couple of inches at the bottom.
“Do you always leave the window open?”
“Yes. It gets so hot in here in the summer it’s like an oven. I close it in the winter. I suppose I should do it now before I forget.”
Leaning slightly across the workbench to reach it, he closed it with relatively little effort.
Surveying the tools on, under, and over the workbench, I spotted a small wood-handled sledge hung on brackets on a large pegboard, and taking my handkerchief from my pocket, picked it up. I examined it closely and saw a couple flecks of blue paint.
“What color is your car?”
Laying the hammer down carefully on the bench, I said, “Well, I think we’ve solved one mystery.”
And, although I didn’t say so aloud, opened another.
I knew the license plate on a Trans Am was located in the center of the front bumper, and he’d said the police had found a large dent directly over where the plate should have been. This all but came with a flashing arrow telling them the plate had come off during the accident, and that it would have been next to impossible for a driver to hit something or someone with that much force and not be aware of it.
“Whoever was responsible for the hit-and-run probably got in through the window, removed the front plate from your car then used the sledgehammer to make it look as though it had hit someone—which pretty much indicates that whoever did it intended to hit someone and leave the plate specifically to set you up.”
Greenspan looked at me questioningly.
“I’d say that somebody really has it in for you, and I suggest you do some serious thinking as to who it might be.