The Strange Shape of Anne's Grief Part 32
by Shane Migliavacca
The Strange Shape Of Anne's Grief chapter 32 Sheriff John Pinbacker (III)
The cat had started sleeping with them a few weeks ago. Pinbacker often woke to find himself wedged in between Rose and the cat. When the phone began it’s insistent ringing at one in the morning he had to reach over the cat who complained loudly before jumping off the bed. His throat was dry when he answered. Only managing a low grumble when he spoke. Deputy Harold Olson’s excited voice responded on the other end. “Scrotum” fumbled over his words as bad as he did his feet as he told Pinbacker what had happened. A bad fire in town. When he heard where and how bad Pinbacker rushed to get dressed. By the time he was ready to leave the commotion had woke Rose. She propped up on one elbow brushing hair out of her face. “What’s up John? Not another one?”
He pulled on his jacket. “Big fire. Save-Mart. They don’t think they can save it.” He leaned down, kissing her on the top of her head.
“Don’t know when I’ll be back honey.”
“Call me when you can.”
“I will. See you later.” He gave her another kiss before rushing out of the bedroom.
The cat sat on the back of Pinbacker’s recliner. Watching him. He stroked the cat’s soft fur covered head. “Be good. Catch another mouse buddy.”
The cat purred in response. A few weeks ago Pinbacker had woke to a strange noise. The cat sat on the floor of the bedroom. It had made a low moaning sound. At first Pinbacker thought in might be sick, maybe getting ready to throw up. Turning on the small flashlight he kept on the nightstand he saw the cat drop something on the rug. A large, dead mouse. The cat stood next to it beaming proudly at him before picking up the mouse carcass and attempting to jump on the bed with it. Pinbacker quickly got out of bed. The cat following him with the mouse out into the living room. Rose wouldn’t be very thrilled with a dead mouse on their bed. Frankly he wouldn’t be himself. After disposing of the mouse, he’d treated the cat to a late night extra helping of treats. He’d felt quite proud of the little sucker. Something Rose noticed the next morning when he told her the story. He noted that she appeared to be more accepting of the cat’s presence afterwards. The cat for whatever reason had bonded to him after they’d taken it in. The cat perhaps sensed Rose’s growing acceptance. It’s original standoffish nature to her had grown to where it would rub up against her legs as she cooked dinner or would sit on the couch next to her. He was happy they were starting to get along. Just thinking about it made him smile. Rose needed company around the house during the day. With the murder investigation ongoing, more and more of his time was spent working.
He took one last look at the cat and the house before heading out, thermos of hot tea in hand. It always felt like it could be his last. Even here in Frostwood he couldn’t shake that feeling he had as a cop in the city. Every time out might be his last. It wasn’t nonsense he knew, even in Frostwood something could happen.
The cold winter air banished the last bit of sleepiness in his system. Waking him up. He’d need it. It looked to be a long night ahead. Save-Mart on fire. Olson had said the Fire Chief didn’t think it could be saved. Was burning too intensely. Which made the chief suspect it was more then an accident. The first things that came to Pinbacker’s mind were somebody had a grudge with the store or insurance money. Save-Mart was a big deal in town. They did tons of business, especially now during the holidays. So burning it down for insurance seemed unlikely. Which left someone with a grudge. Now that, that had a lot of possible suspects. The store had put a lot of smaller family owned store out of business over the years. There was crazy old Miss Beal, she was always causing trouble there. Or it could be a disgruntled employee. There were plenty of those the way Hendricks ran the place. Shit. He’d have that prick breathing down his neck now. Was probably already there on scene causing trouble. His instincts told him nothing was ever so cut and dried though. For every possible motive he could come up with there could be another one he never thought of. Some nutball who’d wet the bed as a kid who burned the store down because his dog told him too.
It was chaotic when he arrived. The fire was blazing. The fire crews doing all the could to contain it. He recognized some firetrucks from neighboring towns. Called in to help. His deputies were doing their best to keep back the mob of onlookers and help out anyway they could. He’d told Olson to call in everybody. Fuck he could use a cigarette right now. Couldn’t risk it. Somebody might narc him out to Rose. That was trouble he didn’t need.
So strange, he’d just been here a few hours ago meeting with Hendricks about that girl. What was her name? Anne Masterson? Or was it Marstien? Something like that. She’d be added to the list of suspects. If it was true what Hendricks had told him. Pinbacker scanned the crowd. Where was that damn prick? He’d expected the man to make a beeline for him the moment he’d pulled up. He was sure he’d be dealing with him before the night was over no doubt.
Deputy Dana Cuthbert was busy talking to a couple of the onlookers, taking statements. She nodded to him as he passed by. Feeling a slight pull in his chest as she did so. No time for that John he thought.
“I heard a wolf howl.” The witness told her. “When I saw the store was on fire.”
“A wolf?” Dana looked at Pinbacker, a puzzled look on her face.
It was going to be a long night.
The flames licked at the black sky. Save-Mart was far enough away from any other buildings that the flames shouldn't spread. That was something anyway. Deputy Olson stood watching the fire. Here everyone else was busy and the kid stood gawking. He’d put the kid to work sure enough.
“Hey Scrotum.” He couldn’t resist. “Find out if the store manager Hendricks is here. If he isn’t, try calling him. Got it?”
Olson’s cheeks reddened. If he was upset with the use of his nickname, he didn’t show it.
“Got it chief.”
Olson hurried off. That should keep the kid busy for awhile. Good. Pinbacker yawned. It was going to be a long night. Watching the fire he felt a weight in his chest. A feeling of defeat stung him. The murder of that girl, this. It was on his watch. Was there a way he could have prevented this? Maybe if he was psychic. Who could predict crazy acts like this? Surly not a rational mind. The murdered girl, Carol Machen, she worked here. Couldn’t be a coincidence. What purpose did any of it serve though?
That was the million dollar question as his old partner Bill Fredricks used to say.
Maybe this Anne should be talked to sooner then later.
By morning the blaze was no more then dying embers in the ruins that had been Save-Mart. A light snowfall started the day. The sun peeking out from behind hazy winter colds off and on. Deputy Olson hadn’t found Hendricks on site. Calling the man’s home revealed he’d never come home from work last night. His wife was of course worried sick, having tried to call him at Save-Mart and getting no answer. She’d been unable to get through to the sheriff’s office due to the phone being tied up with calls about the fire.
Pinbacker had been turning this information around in his mind for some time when morning came. Hendricks himself was looking more and more like a prime suspect in the whole damn thing. He may have burned down the store. But why? Insurance money. If that was the case why wasn’t he here now. The Machen girl could have been a mistress or accomplice. Or she’d learned of what ever scheme he’d cooked up and he’d disposed of her. That Anne girl could be a misdirection on his part. Or something happened that upset his plans and he had to cover his tracks fast. Burning down the store and evidence contained within. It was all speculation at this point.
He’d been going on fumes for awhile now. His deputies and the firefighters had to be feeling it too by now. They weren’t showing it. He wanted to go home, sleep and pretended none of this shit was happening. If they were here doing their job, so would he.
Hiding his fatigue Pinbacker called Olson to his side. The kid’s eyes were bloodshot. Pinbacker put a hand on the kid’s shoulder.
“No sir. Just getting my second wind.”
The kid was lying of course. “I got a job for you. Actually it’s more like two jobs. Give you something to keep you going. Want to get us some coffee and bagels?”
“Sure boss. What’s the other job?”
“I’ll tell you when you get back.”
Olson trotted off.
Pinbacker had decided to check out this Anne…Marsten! That was the name. He’d send Olson to bring her down to the station later for some questions. Maybe she’d have some tidbits of info that could pin down the whys.
He walked over to Dana. Who sat on one of the parking lot guardrails, flipping through her small note pad.
“How’s it going?”
Even tired she looked great. “Going over witness statements.” Crinkling her nose she flipped over a page in the notebook.
“Anything more useful then wolf howls?”
“Nope. More then one of them heard what they thought was howling.” Frustrated she closed the pad. “Do we have wolves around here?”
“You tell me. You grew up around here.”
Dana shrugged. “Don’t mean I pay attention.” She stood rubbing her rear.
“You should watch out resting your backside on cold metal like that. Hemorrhoids can sneak up on you.”
Snow started to fall faster, the flakes bigger in size. The wind picking up, whipping the two with icy fingers.
Dana pulled her coat tight to her. “We’re in for a bad one tonight.”
“You can tell by the wind?” He held down his hat. The wind trying to rip it off his head.
“No. Heard the weather report on one of the car radios. We’re getting a big storm from Canada. Heavy snowfall mixed with wind and freezing rain.”
“Damn. Hell of a day ahead.”
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