Derek Braggs parked his Subaru in the only available patch of all day shade and cracked the windows a little before locking the car. He tossed an apple up, catching it in his palm as he walked. He looked back at the fresh paint on the driver’s side front quarter. They’d done a nice job, you really couldn’t tell.
He made his way across the parking garage roof and entered the top floor of a mostly empty office tower that hadn’t been full since the heydays of the oil boom, mid 80’s and hadn’t had fresh carpet or paint since then either.
It was home to an assortment of companies that needed table space that didn’t have to look good. The suite next to VisionQuest Marketing was filled with day traders, and the next floor down housed a collection of antique barber chairs. There were distinct benefits to showing up 15 minutes early, that was becoming obvious. He hadn’t scalded his ass on his car seat since summer started, and with the better leads he was able to collect for showing up early, he was neatly in the lead…
He stopped cold at the end of a short hallway leading into the phone bank. Instead of resting neatly at the top of the leader board, as it had been for weeks, his marker was hanging two spaces down, haphazardly. One magnet was not even making contact with the board as it swiveled. Two names appeared above his, Shaquita Williams and Donald Tunney, both night shifters calling the Australian leads, damn it!
He grunted with disgust as he squinted to focus on the prize next to his name. It was not, he noted, the Vegas plane tickets he’d been vying for in the top spot, but another set of cheap ass steak knives, the kind he’d given away as Christmas gifts to nearly everyone on his list last year, after coming in third six months in a row.
He knew he was lucky to even be in the dial-sales business anymore. Nearly every sales room in the nation now worked from automated digital dialers, with randomized leads that you were lucky to make your minimums off of. It was bad enough to be selling Internet-marketing services over the phone.
He hated agreeing with every smart ass that if their service was so great, they’d sell it on the internet, instead of calling people on the phone. Now, he’d been “promoted” to day shift, an honor they all fought desperately hard to avoid, because selling to their countrymen was notoriously hard.
Americans were too cynical, why not? He was. But he was also good at getting those 16 digits and closing accounts. The night shift had it easier; the Australian leads had been hot lately. In spite of that he’d sold over 150 units this month and was now being edged out by 4 and 6 units respectively.
He adjusted the desk chair to the proper height and slapped a dog-eared copy of “The Magic” off the desk and into the trash can. No time for gratitude today, it was time for blood.
He took a bite of his apple and snapped the rubber band off a stack of leads he’d been saving for just such an occasion. These were the “dead ends”, leads he’d made contact with three times and was technically supposed to have surrendered. Except that he knew, in this stack of 50, there were 12 really soft leads, just waiting for him to offer a price drop. Today was his day.
By the time the rest of the team began to filter in, Derek was on his seventh call, and had signed three contingencies. Once they were verified by a supervisor, he’d be on his way back up. Those three got him 1/3 of the way to what he figured was a safe lead and the tickets he’d been promising his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend if he didn’t win.
He ran a finger over her picture, perched on the corner of the desk. He really kind of owed it to her.
“Derek who?” the voice on the other end said.
“Just Derek, I’m with Social-ism.biz. We offer social media marketing, and I’m looking to speak with,” he squinted at the lead. He needed new glasses, “Charles Mandell.”
There was pause, then a rustle of pages, “Ah, here you are, Derek, how did you know the deceased?”
Derek chuckled, “What? Um, deceased? Are you serious? Wow, I thought I was having a bad day.”
“Yeah, I never kid when I’ve got blood on my little crime scene booties, son, so, you called him three times recently, what was your relationship?” the voice said.
“Um, who did you say this was?” Derek felt his throat tighten, and his head, which hadn’t hurt since yesterday, began to throb behind a shrinking knot he’d gotten somehow, night before last.
“I didn’t. This is detective Bronson, homicide, APD, now, can we get back to how you knew my stiff?”
“APD? As in Albuquerque Police Department? Gotta be some mistake, see, I’m trying to reach Charles Mandell, with Chuck’s Cars, in Carslbad California.”
“Today is your lucky day, because that is the name on my vic’s license, and I am only going to ask you nicely one more time, how did you know him?”
“I didn’t. I’m in phone sales, and wait, how are you answering his phone in Albuquerque?”
“Well, see, they got this new-fangled invention, called a cell phone, maybe you heard of it?” the cop was enjoying this, “And when I’m getting ready to put a dead man on a gurney and his phone rings, I get real curious about who it is. One more time, how…did…you… know him?”
“Look, he’s just a name on a sales lead to me man. That's all. I was calling him back, because last time he had a question. I got the answer about a new price, and I was calling back to enroll him in marketing services. I swear, that’s it,” Derek winced, he’d said more than he intended, he could hear Todd in his head, telling him to shutup. He was thinking about hanging up, when his supervisor came up and put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s the APD…”
“I know. I was doing my quality checks, heard the whole thing, do not hang up. He already knows who and where you are,” his boss whispered. He patted Derek’s shoulder then walked back to the office, where Derek saw him pick up a headset to listen.
“Right. See, thing is, you talked to this poor guy for forty minutes on your last call, and twenty five before that, and fifteen before that. So, either you’re the most persistent salesman in the world, this guy was the world’s nicest man, or my favorite possibility, you knew him, and you’re lying to me. I think I know the answer, what I want to know is. Why?"
Derek looked toward the office. His supervisor glared back, “Yeah, well, sometimes the leads have a lot of questions. It's just part of my technique. The longer they talk, the more likely they’ll say yes.”
The cop on the other end sighed, “Fine, where were you night before last?”
Derek didn’t answer.
“Don’t like that question? Let’s try this one, got a black Subaru Forester?” Bronson pushed.
Derek said nothing.
“I’m taking that as a yes. Tell you what. I’m giving you a courtesy here. You've got two hours to report to the police station there in Amarillo. If you’re not there in two hours to help us answer a few questions, I’ll be sending someone out to talk to you, okay?”
Derek hung up.
“Bill, I’m taking a mental health day,” Derek said. He stood up and headed for the door.
“We don’t have mental health days, Derek, Derek! Hey, you can’t hold those leads, you know? If you’re not back in the morning, I’ll fill your chair!” He followed Derek down the hall.
Derek turned back as he reached the Door, “Hey, Bill, do me a favor?”
“Shut the hell up.”
It was hot in the garage, and the smell of bleach burned Derek’s nose. He’d used a quart of it, mixed in water, so far, but he’d gotten the hatchback done. Between the burning in his lungs and the crying, he felt exhausted.
This couldn’t be happening. His Iphone vibrated in his pocket. He pulled it out, the screen read, James Bronson, crap, how did he do that?
He slid the phone back in his pocket, then thought better of it, threw it onto a work bench along one wall and smashed it with a three-pound hammer. If he could track his number, the phone would tell them exactly where he’d been night before last.
He sopped up the remaining bleach with towels, dug around under his workbench and pulled out a trash bag that held his bloody clothes and added the towels.
His garage door faced the alley. He looked both ways, then walked three blocks and dropped the bag in a neighbor’s trash can, checking to make sure it still had trash in it. It would be collected in the morning. This was almost over.
As he walked back toward the garage, his eyes burned from the bleach, and he half closed them, wishing all of this would just go away. This didn’t make any sense. He needed to get the car to the carwash.
He stepped into the garage, just as a tall, African American man, in a cheap blue suit stepped out from the passenger side of his car. Had to be a cop.
“You must be Mr. Braggs. I'm detective Roberts.” He consulted a notebook. “A detective Bronson filled me in on his end and asked me to come talk with you. Smells like bleach in here, mind if I ask you why?”
Derek froze. They had him. He might as well just tell them what he knew. “I was cleaning my hatchback. There was some blood in it.”
The detective looked surprised, “Why?”
“I hit a deer, night before last.”
“Oh. Okay. Blood in the hatchback?”
“Yeah, just a little, my brother said you could keep the meat, but once I got it in there, I realized…” Derek paused, “Do I need an attorney?”
“You can have one, if that’s what you want, but if you didn’t do anything.... Is that your phone?” Detective Roberts pointed to the crushed device.
Derek closed his eyes and heaved a heavy sigh. “Yeah, it, uh got smashed on the side of the road while I was loading the deer."
The detective picked up the hammer, ran a finger over the face of it, and rubbed it against his thumb, rolling glass dust between his fingers. “Huh? Gotta hate it when that happens.”
The detective walked around to the trunk. “You know, we can still tell if there’s blood in here, right?”
“Look, I know how this looks, but it’s not what you think!”
“Okay, tell, me, what does it look like? Because from where I’m at, it looks like you just destroyed evidence, had your car freshly repainted, smashed your phone because you thought that would stop me from tracking where it was, and this.”
He accepted the trash bag Derek had thrown out from another man who’d joined them in the garage. “I’m guessing these are your bloody clothes, oh, Derek, that’s really predictable. I just have one question.”
He handed the bag back to his partner. “Why was this,” he held up the sales lead with Charles Mandell’s name on it, “Laying in your front seat?”
“I can explain,” he heard himself say, as he felt his hands pinned behind his back.
“Derek Braggs, you are under arrest for the murder of Charles Mandell. You have the right to remain silent…”
Two hours later, Derek sat, handcuffed to the table in a small, dank, interrogation room in the Amarillo Police Department.
“When will my attorney be here?” he asked.
“That’s not our department, Mr. Braggs. Why do you need an attorney? After all, all you did was hit a deer on the side of the road, where was that, exactly?” The second cop, a white guy, with curly hair, asked. He leaned across the table toward him.
“Between here and Albuquerque,” Derek answered. I'm not sure where, it was really late. I'd had a couple of drinks, and it happened really fast.
“Right. So, although you don’t know Charles Mandell, you both ended up in the same town, on the night he was killed. Hit by what we think was a black Subaru, due to evidence found where the body was dumped. A Subaru a lot like yours, wouldn’t you say, Roberts?”
“Nah, he’s innocent. You heard the man. He hit a deer,” Detective Roberts said, sipping from a water bottle.
“Can I get some of that water?” Derek asked.
“It’s coming,” Robert’s partner, who’d introduced himself as Detective Larson, said. “Sometimes it comes faster when people start telling us the truth.”
“Funny how that works,” said Derek, rolling his eyes.
“Look, I’d like to help, you. I really would,” Detective Roberts said. “I believe you, but my partner here, he’s got a serious Jones to lock you up, and you’re giving me nothing to help stop him from putting you away for a very long time.”
Derek laughed, “Look, no matter how many times you ask that's the only story I have, because it’s the truth, weird as it sounds.”
“So you just left town, didn’t tell anybody, not even this girl?” Larson tossed a picture of Janice, Derek’s girlfriend onto the table.
Derek looked away, embarrassed, “Especially not her.”
“Why? Enlighten me,” Larson said, sarcastically.
Derek leaned in, “Would you tell your wife, if you were going out of state to meet a chick who showed you her tits in a snap chat pic?”
It was Robert’s turn to laugh, “Ironically; he would, Derek, if he was ever married. My partner here is what you call a hound dog, doesn’t’ care who knows it.”
“Well, it turned out to be a scam. It was some guys, waiting to rob me, I guess. So I took off, and they followed me and about half an hour outside Albuquerque; that's when I hit the deer,” Derek answered.
“Tell me about the car repairs. Explain that. The body shop has no record of it, so we don’t even really know what the damage was. Our forensic guy can tell you hit something pretty big, maybe even lost a headlight?” Larson asked.
“I told you, my friend Trey, said he could get it fixed overnight, cash, no paper trail, so my girlfriend wouldn’t find out. He knows what I hit, the hair was all over it,” Derek said.
Roberts sighed, “Maybe so, maybe so, but your friend isn’t talking. You’re covering your ass. He's covering his ass, the only ass not getting covered here is your friend Mr. C Mandell. Who’s looking out for him?”
The door opened and Todd Braggs glided into the room, beet red. “Gentlemen, what are you doing to my client? Shut up Derek, not another word.”
Todd held the door for the detectives as they left, looking back at Derek.
“What did you do?”
“You know what happened,'” Derekreplied. “I drove over to New Mexico to meet that girl, and…”
“Not that you idiot! How many times do I have to tell you, little brother, never, ever talk to the cops, until I get here! Now, what did you tell them?”
“I told them everything. About the snap chat, the deer, everything.”
“Okay, good, so you only told the truth?”
“Well, I might have lied a little, at first.”
“And I cleaned the hatchback with bleach.”
“And threw away my bloody clothes, but they found them,” Derek said, shrinking from what he knew was next.
“You are the single most incompetent deer murderer, maybe ever! How in the world, what are the odds, this guy getting offed on the same night, in the same town?”
"It's worse," Derek told him.
"I don't see how it could be."
"The dead guy? I called him to sell him something from work. But he lives in Carlsbad California, what was he doing in Albuquerque?"
Todd Brags looked at his brother. He wanted to throttle him, but instead he paced, there was a knock at the door. “Come in.”
Detective Roberts came into the room and before Todd could protest, he slid a series of photocopies onto the table and spread them out.
“Thought these might jog your memory,” he said.
There were three, all of Charles Mandell. Two of his mangled body and one of him, alive and smiling. Todd reached for the photos, too late. “Wait! This is him? This is one of the guys!”
“The guys who chased you?” Roberts asked, Detective Larson drifted into the room behind him.
“Chased? What the hell?” Todd put a hand on Robert’s chest and gently pushed him toward the door, “I’m afraid I must insist, gentlemen. I need to consult with my client.”
“What are they talking about?” Todd demanded, spinning on his brother.
“Alright, alright, calm down, man. I didn’t tell you, because I knew you’d freak out. When I got there, to meet Sheila, there were these two guys there, waiting for me. They wanted to rob me or something. That guy, Charles Mandell. He was one of them!” Derek said. “What the hell is going on anyway?”
“Okay, listen, here is what we are going to do, you are going to surrender your phone,” Todd said, “and that should clear this whole thing up.”
“Your phone, you sent me a picture of the dead deer. You said you screen capped the girl. You took pictures of your damage for insurance. It's all on there, man.”
Derek interrupted, “Todd..” but Todd ignored him.
"Besides, Albuquerque is a big town. You ere probably nowhere near…”
“Todd, listen to me!” Derek yelled. “The phone, is smashed. They got nothing from it. It was the first thing I thought of.”
Derek rolled his head, “Yeah, okay. I smashed it. I panicked; I thought they’d find all of that and know I was in Albuquerque, where the first cop called from. It didn’t occur to me until later that I could prove my story, you know?”
“No, I don’t know. You idiot!” Todd slammed his hand on the table.
There was a knock at the door again, “What?”
This time it was Larson who glided through with a single sheet in his hand. He laid it on the table, a beautiful, brunette with a gleaming smile. “Is that the girl?” he asked.
Derek sank into the chair. She was real! “What happened to her, is she okay?”
“Is that the girl?” Larson repeated.
“Don’t answer that!” Todd ordered.
“Yes!” Derek said, “is she okay?”
“She’s fine, but you’ve got a much bigger problem, this girl? Is Sheila Mandell, Charles’ Mandell’s fourteen-year-old daughter."
“What the hell?” Derek’s eyes grew round in terror, “No; she's twenty-three! She told me.”
“Calm down, you and a lot of other guys,” Larson said. “We understand you got catfished on this one, but the problem is, the dad wasn’t there to rob you. He drove all the way from California to stop his daughter from doing it again. The other man, was her twenty year old brother who lives in Albuquerque and called dad. He’s still missing. We’re booking you for the murder of Charles Mandell and suspected murder of his son. You can talk to your attorney after we get you booked.”
“Don’t say a word, I’ll get you out of here,” Todd said. “They don’t have anything but circumstantial evidence. I’ll pay your bail and have you out in a few hours. I’m going to see the judge right now.”
This is part one of two, follow my profile to get part two and the rest of my stories in your feed. Like my work? Check our MarkrMorrisJr.com for more