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A Family Feud Texas Style: Denny McConnell PI, #1

A Family Feud Texas Style: Denny McConnell PI, #1

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A Family Feud Texas Style: Denny McConnell PI, #1

Length:
419 pages
6 hours
Released:
Sep 14, 2020
ISBN:
9781622538409
Format:
Book

Description

Valuable land, oil, and murder make strange bedfellows.

  • WINNER: Pinnacle Book Achievement Award, Summer 2021 – Best Crime Fiction

Denny McConnell, Private Investigator, is hired to research the deeds, land swaps, and old lawsuits regarding Texas ranchland and oil, the rights to which are now disputed by Wendy Axtell Shearer. Obstacles develop, in part, because of Wendy's charming but flawed character.

Denny puts to good use his engineering skills, and becomes entangled in the bitter family feud that includes murder, mayhem, and lies. Now, he has to stay alive long enough to untangle this deadly mess.

EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS an entertaining, intriguing romp by one private investigator through some deadly wheeling and dealing in the Great State of Texas. [DRM-Free]

BOOKS BY KENT SWARTS:

  • Denny McConnell PI – Book 1: A Family Feud Texas Style
  • Denny McConnell PI – Book 2: A Savvy Way to Kill
  • Denny McConnell PI – Book 3: The Texas Medicine Murders
  • ...and Books 4-5 are works in progress, so stay tuned.

MORE GREAT CRIME/MYSTERY FICTION FROM EVOLVED PUBLISHING:

  • The "PI Kowalski" Series by Chris Krupa
  • "10-30" and "Dormir" by Michael Golvach
  • "The Oz Files" Series by Barry Metcalf
  • The "Duncan Cochrane" Series by David Hagerty
  • "The Syndicate-Born Trilogy" Series by K.M. Hodge

 

Released:
Sep 14, 2020
ISBN:
9781622538409
Format:
Book

About the author

Kent Swarts was an aerospace engineer for 46 years, and is now an astronomer. He has edited the Central Texas Astronomical Society’s newsletter for 15 years. He’s published in six sci-fi and dystopian anthologies. Now retired, he finds retirement more demanding than any job he’s had. He lives in Waco, Texas with his wife and dog, and when not writing, he reads or goes golfing. Engineering has influenced his writing, particularly pertaining to characters and to penning sci-fi.


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A Family Feud Texas Style - Kent Swarts

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A FAMILY FEUD TEXAS STYLE

Denny McConnell PI – Book 1

Copyright © 2020 Kent Swarts

~~~

ISBN (EPUB Version): 1622538404

ISBN-13 (EPUB Version): 978-1-62253-840-9

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Editor: Katherine McIntyre

Cover Artist: Kabir Shah

Interior Designer: Lane Diamond

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PUBLISHER’S NOTE:

At the end of this novel of approximately 99,697 words, you will find two Special Sneak Previews: 1) A SAVVY WAY TO KILL by Kent Swarts, the second book in this Denny McConnell PI series, and; 2) INLET BOYS by Chris Krupa, the first book in the PI Kowalski series of detective mysteries set Down Under in Australia. We think you’ll enjoy these books, too, and provide these previews as a FREE extra service, which you should in no way consider a part of the price you paid for this book. We hope you will both appreciate and enjoy the opportunity. Thank you.

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eBook License Notes:

You may not use, reproduce or transmit in any manner, any part of this book without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations used in critical articles and reviews, or in accordance with federal Fair Use laws. All rights are reserved.

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only; it may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, please return to your eBook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

~~~

Disclaimer:

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or the author has used them fictitiously.

Books by Kent Swarts

DENNY McCONNELL PI

Book 1: A Family Feud Texas Style

Book 2: A Savvy Way to Kill

Book 3: The Texas Medicine Murders

~~~

www.EvolvedPub.com/KSwarts

BONUS CONTENT

We’re pleased to offer you not one, but two Special Sneak Previews at the end of this book.

~~~

In the first preview, you’ll enjoy the First 2 Chapters of A SAVVY WAY TO KILL by Kent Swarts, the second book in this exciting Denny McConnell PI series of detective murder mysteries.

~~~

~~~

OR GRAB THE FULL EBOOK TODAY!

FIND LINKS TO YOUR FAVORITE RETAILER HERE:

The DENNY McCONNELL PI Series at Evolved Publishing

In the second preview, you’ll enjoy the Prologue and First 3 Chapters of the private detective murder mystery from Down Under, INLET BOYS (PI Kowalski – Book 1) by Chris Krupa.

~~~

InletBoys

~~~

OR GRAB THE FULL EBOOK TODAY!

YOU’LL FIND LINKS TO YOUR FAVORITE RETAILER HERE:

The PI KOWALSKI Series at Evolved Publishing

Table of Contents

Copyright

Books by Kent Swarts

BONUS CONTENT

Table of Contents

Dedication

A FAMILY FEUD TEXAS STYLE

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Special Sneak Preview: A SAVVY WAY TO KILL by Kent Swarts

About the Author

More from Evolved Publishing

Special Sneak Preview: INLET BOYS by Chris Krupa

Dedication

For ReNay, my wife and best friend, who supports me every step I take.

Chapter 1

I lay in a hospital bed with my mind cloudy. Thoughts oozed like blood from wounds, and I hurt all over. A thought struck like an earthquake.

Could I be here because of the trip I made to Central Texas?

A voice whispered, Is that you, Denny?

I tried to concentrate on that voice, but couldn’t keep my mind from what had brought me here.

Central Texas... her prairies spread in green, brown, and golden pastures, dotted with islands of mesquite, cedar, and various native oak. Quiet rivers carved valleys between hills in this eternal landscape. Cattle, sheep, goats, emu, and a herd of horses grazed along the farm-to-market roads that crisscrossed the prairie. In spring, the prairie would smell of cedar and of rain on black dirt—musty, ferrous, and old. It’d spray pollen onto the landscape as if thousands of shotgun shells had gone off. In summer, the smell of mowed fields pervaded the land, and in fall and winter, the stink of cattle, feedlots, and rotting crops returned to the soil permeated the air. The enormity of the land, the visual and olfactory sensations, and the feel of the earth had enamored the cowboy and frontiersman for more than a century and a half and brought nearly four million families to this vast region, including Mrs. Wendy Axtell-Shearer, the woman suing her husband’s ranching family.

During these one hundred and fifty years, three principal cities had matured on the plains. In the north lay Dallas-Ft. Worth, in the south, San Antonio, and in the middle, Austin. Interstate Highway 35, better known as I-35 or the NAFTA superhighway, connected the cities. Bumper to bumper traffic, including tractor-trailer trucks, cruised along this ribbon that divided Texas roughly in two. Since half the population of Texas lived along the I-35 corridor, this major artery was constantly under repair.

One significant construction project was underway south of Dallas in Desoto where I-35 was being widened. As part of the project, new overpasses were built to raise the elevation of the highway anywhere from twenty to thirty feet. The overpass over South Loop Twelve was at least twenty-five feet above the street. Low concrete buttresses set end to end along the side of the highway protected the cars and trucks from flying into the canyon below.

At half past midnight, I was traveling back to Dallas from Austin and Waco where I had been investigating land transfers for the law firm that recurrently contracted my services. The speed limit was fifty mph in the construction zone. The radar activated speed sign blinked 70. I looked in the rearview mirror for a highway patrolman. Instead, I saw a widely spaced pair of headlights closing the gap between us at an extremely fast rate.

As I neared the Loop Twelve overpass, the vehicle caught up, turned off its headlights, and pulled alongside on the left. A guy wearing a baseball cap leaned partway out the window with a pistol and fired two shots. In the second before he fired, the glint of light off the barrel warned me I was his target.

The first bullet shattered the driver’s window, and I hit the brakes. The second bullet took out the windshield, exploding the rearview mirror into shrapnel. The Hummer swerved into my car, and I veered toward the piers bordering the highway to avoid outright collision.

My Miata convertible hit the concrete barricade, and the front right collapsed. The rear end catapulted over the barrier while sparks as prolific as a Fourth of July fireworks display filled the cab with an eerie glow. Once the car cleared the buttress and descended, time slowed to a trickle. Dark, light, dark, light flashed in front of me, as if an airport beacon shone through the night. My car flipped end over end.

When it happened, a loud shriek filled the air as the car plowed into a pile of dirt. The car and I sailed back into the night. I could see nothing in the blackness. The next sound was the tearing of metal and the shattering of glass. The noises reverberated through my mind for what seemed like eternity. I heard a wheel bouncing along the pavement.

Then nothing.

My thoughts about why I was here scampered like rabbits. In a fuzzy way, I became aware of a ribbon of sunlight that stretched along the bland wall across from where I lay in the hospital bed. I was not well. My body ached, my head felt as if somebody was jumping up and down on it, and my neck wouldn’t budge. I moved several fingers, toes, an arm, and felt bandages around my head.

The voice whispered again, more persistent this time. Is that you, Denny?

Yes, still me. Maybe she hoped I had changed. The only woman I knew who had a compelling reason for me to be different was Sabrina.

The doctor said you have a nasty bump, a concussion, and lacerations, but maybe she’s an intern, the familiar voice said. How—

Everything hurts. Where am I?

Who did this to you?

Where are my clothes?

Room five eighty-three, fifth floor, South wing, men’s ward, general medicine, Parkland Hospital.

God, Sabrina. My dry, choked voice came out barely audible, How are you? Ah, we? Well, that was what came out. Four months had passed since I last saw her and two since I called.

Her answer seemed harsh. Denny, we aren’t worth a tinker’s damn. I’m fine, busy and all that, and you? You’re dog meat. I can’t believe how awful you look.

That wasn’t comforting, but coming from Sabrina, honest. After a moment’s pause during which I tried to collect my thoughts, I replied. Car wreck.

She said nothing.

I glanced toward her voice but couldn’t see her. I think the phrase describing my condition is death warmed over.

She laughed, a guttural explosion that tapered off to the throaty snicker which drove me crazy. She moved closer to where I could see her.

I tried to laugh, but my ribs and mouth wouldn’t permit a serious sound. I clutched at my ribs and breathed slowly until the pain subsided. I turned my head ever so slowly toward her. Instead of her, I saw two of my head reflected in the silver lenses of her sunglasses. If someone had taken red and white balls of clay, smashed them together, and tried to form Jimmy Durante’s head from it, they would have fashioned me. I wasn’t complaining. After all, I survived.

As Sabrina leaned forward, she removed her sunglasses. Her long brown hair slipped from her shoulders and cascaded down her front to where her V-neck sweater revealed a hint of cleavage. Sabrina was an attractive lanky brunette with an oval face and perpetual quiet smile who wore little makeup. Her nose was prominent, which made her supremely foxy, because it detracted from her otherwise perfect appearance.

Your clothes and personal stuff are in the closet.

Stuff! This lady has two master’s degrees for crying out loud. One was in Language Arts and the other in Statistical Modeling.

Miss Sabrina Southerland worked for the State of Texas Department of Justice. Her job title was Statistical Analyst, but she spent her time tying all the technical loose ends together on almost any kind of computer crime devised. She could hack into anybody’s domain and monitor every sleazeball, scum bag, and crook’s Internet habits. She had pulled records designated ‘eyes only’ and knew what and who every politician did behind his wife’s back.

She leaned slightly forward. And that’s where they will stay. Doctor says you can’t leave till your EEG stabilizes. What do you know about whatever happened to you?

A lot. I paused. Not much. I paused again. I’m quite coherent. I asked how bad off we are, didn’t I?

Stupidly, Denny, but yes. Either way, you’re staying put. If I need to sit here to make sure, I will.

That’s okay. I don’t feel much like leaving. I need you to do something. I sounded plaintive.

I can go to jail for that, she said in a disinterested tone.

You don’t even—

Don’t need to. You want me to get into state record archives and steal copious amounts of information, but I’m not going to jail for you, she responded. We’re a historical item.

Then what brought you here?

She shrugged and fidgeted in the chair.

I don’t give up easily. This is legal. I need the name and address of every person along the I-35 corridor who owns a black H2.

What happened? she asked.

Someone forced me off the road in Desoto. How did you know I was here?

By checking ambulance dispatches. The police called for an ambulance at 12:49 a.m., and one responded at 1:17 am. Pretty slow. They brought you here at 1:42. The computer report said you’ve got the laundry list of damages I mentioned before.

Typical mathematician, I said, trying to make a joke. Once proved, you don’t need to recover ground.

I love you too, Sabrina said, scowling and squinting at the same time.

If she hit me, it would have felt less painful. I thought about the way I split up with her. Over a two-month period, I stopped calling or returning her calls. It wasn’t because I didn’t care for her. I loved her, but I chickened out.

I came here to see what I might do for you, but I won’t tamper with state records. What’s in it for me? she inquired and then softened her irritation. Flowers...? She stood and turned toward the door.

My eyes lost their focus and my head became cloudy as I pondered her demand. Any inspiration I might’ve had faded away with the light.

The next time I awoke, the room was dark but not night, rather the period after sunset when the horizon was bathed in oranges and reds.

Mister McConnell. A soft voice spoke. Would you care to sit up and eat dinner?

Startled, I tried to answer but eked out the words, Famished, food would be good. What day is it?

Sunday evening. You’ve slept over twenty-four hours.

She adjusted the bed using a handheld control paddle and then rolled the service tray to my side. Can you walk, sir? By the way, I’m Sheila, the evening nurse on the floor.

I don’t know? I swung my legs out over the side and tried to raise my aching torso at the same time. For a minute, I thought I would pass out. The world spun like a top until the nurse grabbed my shoulders, stabilizing my erratic movement.

Perhaps I’d better help, she said.

Help me get on my feet, and then let’s see what happens.

I seemed all right. I stepped into the bathroom while she held my arm with one hand and wrapped her other arm around my waist. After washing my hands and the small part of my face that wasn’t bandaged, I laboriously made my way back to the bed without assistance. Sheila brought my meal. I sat on the edge of the bed, methodically chewing each bite because of the pain in my face.

Awhile later, she returned, pushing a rolling instrument cart with a tray of bandages on top.

First, we’ll take vitals and then change the dressings, Her tone reminded me of my mother’s when she wanted me to eat something she knew I wasn’t going to like.

As she took my blood pressure, I asked, The tall brunette who was here earlier, is she gone? When she lifted my arm to wrap the blood pressure cuff, pain rampaged through me like a cattle stampede.

Earlier? That was yesterday. Pressure’s good. Temp’s normal. Now let’s look at that nasty bump. The policeman who came in this morning said you were one of the luckiest people in the world not only to be alive but to be in one piece.

I haven’t thought about it, but I suppose he’s right. Did he leave any papers for me? I asked, trying to fight the aches.

I don’t know. Check the closet. Wow, your noodle took quite a beating. The doctor removed seven or eight pieces of glass and metal from your scalp, face, and neck. She paused for a moment, then dipped gauze in a yellow liquid and cleaned the top of my head. The stitches will need to come out in a week. Now, bend your head forward so I can wrap it. She reached for the bandages.

When I bent forward, pain knifed down my spine. I glanced down the length of her short frame. She had a slender body that didn’t have much in the way of curves, but the uniform hid her figure. Her blonde hair smelled of antiseptic. While she worked, her right foot bounced, keeping time to a tune she hummed.

When she finished, she asked, Would you like some ice cream? We keep cups of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry on the floor.

Chocolate. Thank you. You know, for the bandages, keeping me alive, giving me a second chance to screw up, and especially for the ice cream.

She laughed. You’re welcome. I’m glad you have a sense of humor, Mister McConnell.

Denny, please.

Very well, Denny. I wish all our patients were so kind. She paused to straighten the cart. The doctor will be in around six to take a look at you. The night nurse will wake you earlier so you can freshen.

When she left, I went over to the closet to get my personal belongings. A bulging brown envelope lay in the corner. My hopes soared. All it contained was my wallet, a comb, my mutilated watch, and my blood crusted clothes. I took the watch out. The time had stopped at 12:37. I put the bag back on the shelf and wandered around the room pondering recent events—my trip to collect information in Austin and Waco. What I had specifically accomplished in the two cities I found mystifying. Then I worked backward to account for the time after flying over the buttresses, but exhaustion consumed me. I fell back in bed and slept.

Bam! The door hit the wall. I instantly woke up, trying to cover myself with my arms.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to do that. The words were sung. The lights came on. Sorry again. A tall middle-aged heavyset blonde suddenly stood over me. She had to be six foot two. How are we this morning?

The phrase flashed through my mind. Sabrina asked that very question. Our conversation, if it could be called that, flooded my brain. I needed to call her.

I’m great. In fact, I’m ready to get the... go home. I tried to sing my reply.

Doctor Shield will determine that. Direct to the point. Now, up you go. The bathroom is right over there. He’ll be here in five minutes. Sung, not said.

What time—

Five forty.

Why not the wom—

He’s on call, she’s not. Her reply was abrupt.

Then, he will have to confer—

No, Doctor Shield is quite familiar with you, she declared.

Then—

She sang again. No more questions. Let’s freshen up. We only have two minutes left. She departed whistling, not a tune but a ‘wow’ sort of sound.

The doctor arrived, stripped the bandages, asked me questions, and looked in my eyes, using of all things, a three-battery flashlight. As he wrote on my chart, he told me I was released. Then he said, Make an appointment with Doctor Sanderson for Monday in a week to have the stitches removed. The nurse will give you a card with the information.

He wished me luck and tossed the chart at the foot of the bed as he left.

While his demeanor was bad, the news was good.

However, leaving the hospital went downhill. I had to wear the rags they had torn from my mangled body, but without the shirt, which was beyond recognition. Dirt, blood, and fragments of the car were embedded in my sport coat. Once dressed, I sat. Two hours later, an orderly showed up with a creaking wheelchair, and within a minute, he whisked me off to the elevator, asking how I was going to get home. I told him by cab. Outside, we saw a cab pulling into the drive.

I gotta get the wheelchair back. Good luck, said the orderly.

An old woman got out of the cab.

I nodded at the driver to indicate I was his next passenger, and he pointed to the back seat. I got in and adjusted myself into a comfortable position while he stared at me.

He said, Hey buddy, you look like shit. Where to?

I gave him my address and asked him to drive up Inwood Road to a bank so I could use an ATM. When I unfolded the wallet to insert the money, I remembered I had over a hundred dollars in it when I left Waco. The money was gone, but the credit cards and parking ticket were still there. Some junior officer must’ve been able to take home a nice steak to the wife and children. I didn’t begrudge the guy one bit for having borrowed the money. He saved my life.

I walked in the front door of my house, taking a deep breath. The fresh clean odor helped vanquish the smell of antiseptic coupled with medication that permeated the hospital. I went straight to the master suite, put on a robe, put the rags in the trash, and took the trash bag to the garbage container. When I returned to the kitchen, I called my mother in San Antonio, not knowing whether she and dad had been notified of the accident or not. Since they weren’t here and hadn’t called, I assumed not.

I broke the news, and it took me fifteen or twenty minutes to quell her anxiety and assure her that her bumpkin was fine. We talked about the holidays, where Uncle Albert and Aunt Ellie were traveling in their camper, and when I was going to get back to the married with children life. We said goodbye. Calling her to hear her comforting voice was the most important therapy for my road to recovery. At that point, I made a promise to myself. I would cherish the relationships I had, particularly with women.

I fixed a tuna salad sandwich, poured a glass of milk, and sat at the breakfast room table. Why was I forced off the road? The answer was simple. It had to do with the case I was working.

I was doing investigative work for Ashcroft, Smith, Tilden & Tocqueville, an established Dallas law firm specializing in land and oil disputes. All three led to the reason I was in Austin—to research deeds of trust and oil leases. Allen and Wendy Axtell-Shearer were suing the Coopers over a stretch of land and its oil that lay between the two ranches. In the past, the lawsuits were about the land, but today it was about the oil.

The reams of information I gathered told a contemptible story of the feud between the Axtells and the Coopers. I hadn’t read much of it, but what I saw had me gnashing my teeth.

A portion of the 3,850 acre Axtell ranch was sold by the 84-year-old rancher, Billy James Axtell, to Abraham Cooper, Sr. in 1898 whereupon James died. Within a year of the sale, the Axtell heirs contested the sale. After litigation, all was smooth until the two ranches expanded, then the two families began fighting over fields, cattle, women, and anything else that walked or grew. Finally, in 1943, the Cooper clan sold two small portions of their ranch to the Axtell family. The Coopers and several banks carried the notes. Yet all was not done.

Fifteen years later, the Axtells defaulted on the notes, rendering the Axtell ranch insolvent. The Coopers regained much of the ranch they sold to the Axtells less what the banks took on their portion of the defaulted notes. Through dividing the land among the parties and transactions out of court, no survey of the final settlement was completed, and once done, it contained errors. This generated a lawsuit by the Axtell family and one by the Cooper family. Both families even sued the banks. In 1958, a State Court left the previous settlement alone except for two minor changes, one near an Axtell corral and one on the north side of the farm to market road. Neither family was happy, and they each accused the other family of lying, cheating, and perjury. Both started wearing side arms; however, neither family took a shot at the other. Matters got worse.

One of the Axtell brood, Wendy Axtell-Shearer, great-great-granddaughter of Billy James Axtell and sole heir to the rundown thrown, married into the Cooper clan. She married Allen Shearer, the great-grandnephew of Abraham Cooper. Abraham’s granddaughter gave birth to an illegitimate son, Byron Shearer, making Allen Shearer the grandson of Byron.

Allen and Wendy lived in Bent Tree in North Dallas but owned the several-hundred-acre non-working ranch on which the Axtell home had been built. While Allen did not have an ax to grind, Wendy did. She kept a cigar box of papers about the feud, including the eighty-acre parcel that had been disputed for forty years. She gave these to her lawyer while her husband argued for her to take no legal action. She believed the disputed land was her inheritance as attested by the 1958 decision of the court.

Complicated? You bet!

As Axtell luck would have it, nearly a year ago, oil was discovered on the west side of the fence running from north to south, dividing the two ranches. The law firm representing Wendy and her husband told me the location of the fence was the basis for the suit.

Charles Tilden, Shearer’s lawyer, said, During the bankruptcy in 1958, the court settlement left the property arguably up in the air because of the nature of the ruling. The final boundary was established by the survey of 1975. However, the survey should have been done in 1958 before the court proceedings adjourned. Wendy has based her suit on this set of circumstances.

That was the last survey? I said in disbelief.

The most recent survey was done before Western Drilling began sinking holes for the wells. Wendy could care less about it because she says it’s wrong. The Coopers made it wrong.

Wendy, using the cigar box of papers, demanded the law firm of Ashcroft, Smith, Tilden & Tocqueville file a multimillion-dollar lawsuit.

I was brought in to research the recorded history of the two ranches, beginning with their homesteads. If it were not for obtaining copies of all of this, I wouldn’t have been driving back to Dallas three nights ago with reams of paper on the passenger seat.

So, what was the motive of whoever attempted to kill me? I could only guess the reams of data contained something damning to the Coopers. Why was the old settlement worth killing the messenger? How could they get a hit together so quickly? Who would be next? To paraphrase Shakespeare, There is the rub. Another rub I didn’t understand was the prelude incident to this attempt on my life.

While in Austin in the archives at the Land Commission, an employee who helped me, Judy-somebody, mentioned that I needed to talk to a man named Chase. I asked who he was and for his last name, but she said his surname wasn’t needed. She said I could find him in office number 700 at the Prudential Building on Congress Avenue. If interested, I was to be there at six o’clock that evening. Of course I was interested.

When I got off the elevator, Chase paced back and forth across an office doorway diagonally to the right of the elevator. He escorted me into the office in a hurry. He was shorter than me, sturdily built, and muscular. His white, rumpled dress shirt and only partially tucked in baggy, wrinkled pants didn’t leave an impression of confidence, nor did his thinning tousled hair.

The meeting lasted no more than four minutes. We stood in an anteroom devoid of furnishings. He closed the door and scrutinized me. The settlement was agreed to by the Axtells, and they will lose regardless of the information you collected.

I asked several questions about his knowledge of the case but received vague, nonplus replies.

Each answer ended with the statements, You’re wasting your and everyone’s time, or It doesn’t appear you heard me. He seemed almost panicky while we talked.

They want you out of the middle. He pointed to the door, and I left.

Why tell me this? He provided no basis or weight behind his statements.

However, I surmised the ‘they’ he alluded to were the ones who hired someone to bump me off.

I had no idea how he knew my name or who told him. I couldn’t even guess his role in this lawsuit from our meeting. I could hazard he made a call to have me killed, or perhaps he was the driver of the Hummer. I’m sure I will never see Chase again. Since I have to go back to Austin, I decided to make a point of looking up Judy.

I sat at the kitchen table much longer than I expected. The tuna sandwich in front of me sat untouched. I wasn’t hungry. The sun was getting low and my spirits with it. Taking two Advil, I clambered into bed. Not wanting to be interrupted, I turned off my cell. Before slumber overtook me, I devised a plan for the morning. First I needed to get a new car, visit Charles Tilden III, the son of the man whose name was on the brass nameplate, and if okay with Charles, then I planned on rounding out the day by calling on Wendy.

I overslept. Waking just before noon, I checked messages. The insurance company said the car was totaled and told me what they’d pay. It wasn’t much. Sabrina’s message was more pleasant. She wondered if I got home okay and said she was sorry she couldn’t give me a lift. I’d call her later, but first, brunch. I dug around a sparsely stocked kitchen, coming up with a bagel, sardines, cream cheese, and grapefruit. After the strange yet hardy meal, I showered, changed bandages, and called a taxi.

He dropped me at an auto dealer on North Central Expressway’s auto row.

That was where I picked up the bright white Porsche 911 Carrere with a sunroof that would take control of my life. I decided on the street-hugging speedster for one reason—my life. If someone was out to maim me, I wanted the most opportunistic, evasive getaway vehicle I could afford. While completing the paperwork, I became lightheaded and fainted. Deferring my plan until Wednesday, I spirited the new car to the manse and parked it in the garage.

I went into the family room, took a nap for several hours, and awoke feeling better. After receiving similar blows, gashes, and immeasurable physical abuse, how does the hero in the movie get back to his feet so quickly in hot pursuit of the villain? After a couple of waking hours, I returned to bed three times longer than I was awake. It was beyond comprehension.

Once up, I headed for the Tower study to begin a log or diary on this affair. I knew I must get what transpired over the last week on paper because I would be in it for the haul.

About the manse. Of all the rooms in the twelve-room, ultra-modern 5,000 square foot executive manor house, my room was the Tower study. The climb up the spiral staircase to the ellipse-shaped study always created an anticipation and increased pulse. The stairs entered the study about one-third of the way into the oval room facing the oversized window. Floor-to-ceiling bookcases were built into the rest of the room. A ladder on a track circumnavigated the twelve-foot bookshelves. Soft white linen drapes with a dark red thread that ran randomly through them gave a quiet brilliance to the room that in the late afternoon sun took my breath away. The window offered a view of the swimming pool and manicured gardens. The Tower was never dark or dreary even though the wood was an antique mahogany. The formal, sculpted antique desk and credenza matched the paneling. The modern chairs, sofa, and end tables were casual but fit with the rest of the room’s décor.

As I stepped from the last stair onto the hardwood floor, the late autumn afternoon sun cast pale yellow, orange, and red reflections off the antique parquet floor. I wandered the room for a minute, enjoying its splendor. When I sat, I gazed at the silly, brown ceramic horse with the oversized mane sitting on the credenza. A child obviously made it. The pony was the only item in the room that wasn’t antique or valuable.

I was a house sitter! Upon our divorce sixteen months ago, my ex-wife, Barbara Sue, got our home, and I had given no thought of where to live. Barbara Sue and I were college sweethearts. We dated for five years before we tied the knot. Maybe the long prenuptial gestation period should have warned us of what was to come. Time can be strange. At first, I began searching for a place in a specific area. I knew it was going to take awhile, so I rented an apartment. Then, circling ads in the paper one Sunday morning, I came across one that read:

Need mature person(s) to take care of a home while the owners are away. No cost except food and will pay a small salary.

I thought about the ad for two or three microseconds then called. A man answered, giving the name of the law firm: Ashcroft, Smith, Tilden & Tocqueville. A lawyer I didn’t know met me at the house, and after about thirty minutes of talking while he showed me the abode, he offered me the appointment—his word not mine. So, I put my few items of furniture in storage and moved in with two suitcases of clothes.

I sat at the curved desk, taking out a new spiral

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