Discussions About A Gone Girl

‘State of Control’ Draft; Copyright WBJR Living Trust

DAY TWO Pennsylvania, 4:30–5 pm EDT

Dillon Rice was not pleased to find James Keyes in Thornton’s office. “I can come back tomorrow, Chief.”

“No, no.” Thornton motioned him in. “The Chairman wants Jim to work with us. Anything new?”

Rice settled gingerly into a visitor’s chair, folder of photocopies from Tory’s cubicle tucked against his shirt. “Hello, Jim.”

“Dillon.” Keyes, as usual, was immaculately attired and somber of mien, a serious man the French would say. Rice thought the term faintly derogatory; he certainly he viewed it that way applied to Keyes. The executive secretary’s suit today was Republican-brown. Matching tasseled loafers. Tan tie with pale blue highlights accented his blue broadcloth shirt.

“Well, Dil?” Thornton said. “You called this meeting.”

“M’mm, I don’t have much but more questions.”

“Such as?” Keyes asked.

“Well…was Tory working any closely-held investigations outside usual audits and so forth?M’mm, perhaps working directly for the Board? You would know, Jim, as Executive Secretary.”

“No. She wasn’t doing anything directly for the Board. Was she?” he asked Thornton.

Rice knew the Board played senior staff against each other. He was surprised Keyes didn’t regard himself immune. Thornton evidently wasn’t. “Paranoid, Jimmy?” The chief’s eyes twinkled. “Why would the Board ask me, and not keep you in the loop?” He leaned back in his swivel chair, hands laced comfortably on his belly, wrinkling his tie. All his ties were wrinkled in the same spot. To Rice: “Find anything in Tory’s desk?”

“You’ve gone through her desk?” Keyes seemed disturbed by this. Rice had never seen Keyes as a respecter of employee privacy, so his reaction meant something else. The chief rocked slowly, holding Keyes’ gaze with evident amusement.

“What you got, Dil?”

“M’mm. An old document,” Rice said reluctantly. “Alexander Raymond’s exit comments upon retiring.”

Thornton smiled. “The legendary Mr. Raymond. When I was a rookie investigator, Alex kicked back my applicant-paperwork regular as clockwork. Unfit for Board consumption. He was right, too. He taught generations of inspectors to maintain a healthy suspicious mind. But he died before he could retire, Dil. He was a workaholic like you, Jim. Let that be a lesson.”

Keyes nodded minimally to acknowledge the hit. To Rice: “Why did she have his exit remarks?”

“That’s what I came to ask. She highlighted three entries. Here’s one.” He read aloud: “The Board’s auditors should specialize in financial intelligence and work primarily on suspected hidden ownership, tied-house issues and international distribution questions — “

Keyes interrupted with a wide smile. “He got his wish there! I was a field auditor when we hammered beer-distributors, hard, on tied-house violations.”

Thornton said, “Jim, I remember your big Philadelphia case. Beer wholesaler owned a restaurant-supply business and controlling interest in a finance company. Hard for taverns to turn down his beer for a competitor’s when they owe him for fixtures, maybe their mortgage.”

“Actually,” Keyes said, “the restaurant-supply company owned the wholesaler. Held finance-company shares through an out-of-state air-conditioning business. All tied together in a tidy Delaware holding company. Fines we levied equaled the whole Beer Division budget that year.”

“Funny business, liquor,” Thornton said. “Ain’t it? Before Prohibition, liquor manufacturers were the big ogre to the Anti-Saloon League. Distilleries and breweries owning saloons, doing all they could to increase consumption.” He smiled puckishly. “Wrecking the nation’s moral fiber.”

“The Drys saw liquor makers like we see Colombian drug cartels,” Keyes said stuffily. “Saloons were their street-dealers. Trying to hook everybody.”

“Thus ‘three-tier’ tied-house statutes after Repeal,” Thornton agreed. “Now we use those laws to make commercial-bribery cases against a beer wholesaler — for selling beer mugs to taverns! Same approach other industries have, movies to bicycles, to protect their market share.”

Keyes bristled. “No tavern-keeper will buy competing brands if you hold his damn mortgage!”

Thornton raised a hand. “You made a good case, Jim. But you got to admit, it’s far afield from protecting the average steelworker from drinking up his paycheck and beating hell out of his old lady when he gets home. A major Dry talking-point back in the day, you’ll recall.”

Keys nodded. “Drys were why Control States like us sell hard stuff in state stores. To stop distilleries returning to street-level dealing. Drys saw beer as the lesser evil, so we let the private sector sell it again.” He fiddled with an unopened pack of Pall Malls. “Now addiction-therapists — the New Drys — say a bottle of beer is dangerous as a shot of rye. Think how much money Board stores would make if we kept all beer sales!”

Rice cleared his throat. “M’mm, Jim? This international distribution Raymond mentions. Mean anything to you?”

“No. The Board’s authority doesn’t extend to international sales. We’re single-largest purchaser of spirits in the world, but to the international liquor- trade it only means we’re a great big customer.”

Thornton was grinning again. “Yep, a socialist business enterprise right inside the good old U. S. of A. I laugh when I read the Soviet Union collapsed because it couldn’t run an economy without capitalism or competition. The Board makes pots of money running a socialist liquor-business without competition.”

“That’s Central Stores’ job. Yours is to enforce liquor code on licensees.”

“And never the twain shall meet. Tory highlight anything else, Dil?”

Rice read aloud the section about Board membership in SBACI, curious if Keyes would mention bracing Tory about her inquiry. “Distilleries and their authorized distributors,” Thornton observed. “Funding fun and games for state liquor boards. There’s your liquor cartels, Jim — lobbying state officials now, instead of saloon-keepers. Raymond didn’t seem to like it did he?”

Keyes frowned. “You knew nothing about this?”

“About Tory reading archived documents?” Thornton showed no trace of guile. But Rice knew his boss; Thornton was goading the other man. Rice waited for Keyes to mention challenging Tory’s SBACI call. He didn’t.

Rice filed the omission away while Keyes said, “You were told to keep her under control when we transferred her to central-division enforcement.”

“Was I now?” Rice thought his chief’s mock astonishment overdoing it. “Why would that have been, Jimmy?”

“Oh, come on!” Keyes thrust his Pall Malls in an inner coat pocket. “This thing she had about distillery reps in liquor stores.”

Thornton rocked, smiled, said nothing. Keyes glared. The moment stretched. “M’mm, Jim,” Rice said,”could the reason for her transfer shed light on Tory’s interest in Mr. Raymond’s remarks?”

Keyes seemed on the verge of an angry retort. Almost visibly controlled it. “Well she damn sure didn’t consult her Central Stores supervisor on off-the-wall store audits about force-outs. Now her chief doesn’t know what she was up to. So it’s her typical behavior.”

Rice started to speak. Thornton cut across his words. “Tory did all kinds of unsupervised things, Jim. Lived with her husband before they were married. Audited his store’s books without disclosing their relationship. Board could have fired her for conflict of interest but her audits were clean. So they kept her and let Hugh resign. He married her anyway.”

“That’s not the audits I meant!”

Thornton grinned. “I know.”

*****

One of Dillon Rice’s gifts was turning into furniture when people revealed secrets. He waited: if Tory auditing her intimate partner didn’t get her fired, what angered Central Stores enough later to force her transfer?

But Thornton was off on another tack. “You worry too much, Jimmy. Guilty conscience?” Keyes blinked. “The only unauthorized activity Tory may have been up to around here is extramarital.”

Keyes straightened in his chair, interested. “Yeah?”

The chief smiled indulgently.”This Gerner was a pretty muscular guy. Not bad-looking, I’m told. The Pittsburgh guy killed in Denver?”

“So what?”

“So he worked for a beer-warehouse she audited several times since she’s been here in enforcement. Like she audited her old man’s store for Central Stores. Denver cops asked what are the odds she and Gerner show up together out there?”

“Cops think Gerner went to Denver with her? An — umm — assignation thing?”

“It’s a line they’re working.”

Rice suppressed jolt of anger at his chief. Thornton should know better than to feed such speculation to Keyes. If Tory had begun some maverick investigation that might embarrass the Board, Keyes had the skill to bury it forever under whispers about her whoring on the job.

Sure enough, Keyes seemed so pleased with the Denver-police speculation he lost interest in any more discussion. “Okay, keep me informed. Thanks.” He left in a hurry.

“Running to tell the Chairman,” Rice muttered, and pantomimed closing the door.

Thornton nodded okay about the door. “Maybe he just needs a smoke.” He picked up his phone. “Hold my calls. Guard my privacy with your life. Or go home. It’s after quitting time.”

Rice closed the door on a shout of laughter from Thornton’s confidential secretary. Thornton chuckled. “See the way Jimmy went after the Pittsburgh thing? I’m glad Denver cops gave me the notion so I could lay it on him.”

“M’mm,” Rice said cautiously. “It slanders Tory, chief.”

“You slay me, Dil!” Thornton wrinkled his tie some more. “C’mon, give me a reason makes sense for a strong-arm Pittsburgh punk to be in a Denver garage with Tory.”

Rice knew he’d missed something obvious to his boss. “Well — did she uncover something on audit to help our paper-chase on the hidden ownership — ?”

Thornton stopped him. “You’re the best on paper trails, Dil. You really are. Think outside the paper.”

Rice didn’t try to hide his disapproval.”I don’t understand why you told him about the police extramarital speculation.”

Thornton leaned elbows on his desk. “This Gerner was a strong-arm punk, Dil. A damn forklift- operator. Not the kind of male to ring Tory’s chimes. Probably didn’t even own a three-piece suit! But there’s a good chance he saw her over there, could identify her on sight. Whoever hired this done wanted to get the right woman.”

“He was the spotter. I’m a moron.”

“As far from moron as I can imagine, Dil. But you gotta think flexible. Whatever led to this, it’s a lot closer than Denver. I told Scheff lean on the company, see if we can shake loose Gerner’s associates. Somebody lined him up for finger-man.”

Senior inspector for the Allegheny region, Rice knew Scheff liked to throw his weight around so this was a good assignment for him.

Rice considered. “M’mm. Married woman in an alleged romantic entanglement away from home — it might divert police attention from possible abduction of a liquor inspector. They lose interest quickly in domestics.”

“Haven’t lost interest yet. But they did ask.”

“Who all knows this?”

“You and me — and now Jimmy. If the Tuchi warehouse people tell Scheff about the alleged affair…” Thornton’s eyes almost disappeared in smile wrinkles. “If the slander, as you call it, boomerangs back here from Pittsburgh, Jimmy is telling tales out of school. Motive? To make the cops lose interest. Which would mean he knows more than he’s saying. He usually does.”

“That’s deep, Chief. But her reputation — “

Smile wrinkles went away. “Hell, Dil! We have to face it Tory may be duct-taped-up in a closet somewhere. Even dead. Goddamn it!” He rubbed his face. “I gotta play the hand dealt. See if we can smoke out any leads. Now give me the good stuff. You wouldn’t spill anything useful with Jimmy here.”

“M’mm. As far as Keyes goes, I found Tory called SBACI — the liquor trade group? — after she read Raymond’s exit comments. Innocent-enough inquiry — but her notes show Keyes got in her face right away. You notice he didn’t mention this.”

“If he jumped her, she struck a nerve. He held back to see if we knew. We do now, thanks to you. But he doesn’t know we know, so maybe a leg up. What else you got?”

“Most importantly, one of Tory’s credit cards was used this morning to purchase gas. In Kansas! A card not in her purse at the crime scene. But Lori told me Tory carried a separate money clip. Maybe a credit card with the cash?”

The chief heaved out of his chair, walked to a window offering an off-center view of the capitol dome. “Your wife is right about the money clip. Tory was always misplacing her purse. She said a smart friend gave her that fancy clip to carry separately, so she’d never be stranded. What else?”

“Not quite a rumor she was sweet on a real-life cowboy. Not a forklift thug. M’mm, I found a handful of color photos of Western scenes in her work space. Two names on them: Jed and Kanorado. Not her handwriting. My guess is male. My Rand-McNally says Kanorado is a tiny little town on the Kansas border east of Denver.”

“I’ll be damned.”

“This tells you something it doesn’t tell me?”

“She was proud of that fancied-up money-clip, Dil. And the one time I saw it, she did have a card with her cash, so that fits. The clip itself had gold and silver lettering on it. Colorado down one side, Kansas down the reverse side.”

“Western souvenir?”

“Something like that. Kan was in gold lettering. So was orado. Col and sas were in silver.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I didn’t either, so I asked. She gave me one of those Mona Lisa smiles of hers. Said Kanorado counts, Rob, not Colsas. Thanks to you, now I get it.”

“M’mm. The card was used a few miles east of Kanorado, near a town called Goodland. It would be odd for a kidnapper to use it near an obscure spot on the map Tory actually knew about. Perhaps she’s out there under her own volition.”

“Which makes it even odder, given the circumstances,” Thornton pointed out. “Give this to that Sergeant Buford to chase down. Denver is two hours behind us, so his day has longer to run.”

--

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Bill Burkett

Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.