The Cadillac Diaries: Episode 11

“Hello?” the old man called again. “Anybody here?”

‘Be right back,’ Tanner McDaniel typed into the chat window before getting up from his desk.

“Tanner McDaniel. What can I do for you?” McDaniel asked when he saw the elderly man.

“Thomas Howard,” the old man said as he took McDaniel’s extended hand, “and this here is Buck.”

The terrier barked up at Thomas and waited.

“So I understand this is a place where I can have my granddaughter’s car fixed up?” Thomas asked.

“That’s correct. For the right price, we can detail and modify any car to satisfy your needs,” McDaniel said, sounding like an advertisement. He had spouted these lines more times than he could count. “What kind of car is it?”

“A Pontiac Bonneville,” Thomas said.

“And what year?” McDaniel asked.

Thomas thought for a moment then said, “I believe she’s an eighty nine.”

“An older car,” McDaniel said, slightly nodding his head.

“Yep,” Thomas said, “and that’s why my granddaughter Jenny doesn’t like her car. I thought if you could fix her up, you know like they do in those shows the kids watch nowadays, Jenny might like her a whole lot more,” Thomas said.

“How much were you looking to spend?” McDaniel asked the old man.

“Money ain’t no object. I live with my son and his family, and they provide everything I need. I’m sure we can arrange a payment,” Thomas said.

McDaniel felt his knees almost give out.

“Well we can make that car perfect in every way for your granddaughter,” McDaniel assured Thomas. “Now how old is your she?”

“She’ll be sixteen next week,” Thomas said proudly.

“Really?” McDaniel replied, trying to hide his excitement.

“Does she know that you’re doing this for her?” McDaniel asked out of curiosity.

“Nope. It’s going to be a surprise for her birthday,” Thomas smiled.

“Well we’ve got some great deals. Let’s head to my office and we can talk details,” McDaniel said.

“All righty,” Thomas agreed. But when he turned to follow McDaniel, he dropped his cane. Instantly, Buck grabbed it and ran out of the shop.

“Buck!” Thomas yelled as he struggled to remain standing.

“I’ll get him,” McDaniel assured him. “Let’s just get you to a chair.”

McDaniel helped Thomas into the office and hurried off after the dog.

In what seemed like a few minutes, McDaniel returned with Thomas’ cane as Buck followed close behind.

“I’m sorry about that,” Thomas said as he reached out for the cane.

McDaniel went around to his desk and sat down. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that the girl had left the chat window. When he saw the time, he turned to Thomas and said,

“I didn’t realize I had been gone so long. He’s a fast little guy, isn’t he?”

“It’s all right,” Thomas said. “I’ve got to go anyway. I’ll call you about the car.”

McDaniel tried to persuade Thomas to close the deal, but the old man wouldn’t budge.

After his office was clear, McDaniel made a file for Thomas Howard and moved it to the filing cabinet. That’s when he realized that a thick manila folder was missing.

He tore through everything in the office, frantically searching for the folder.

“Top Hat gave you that file with express orders not to lose it, and now it’s gone,” he told himself.

Beginning to panic, he dropped down in the chair and said, “I should call and warn him.”

McDaniel dialed the number and asked for Top Hat.

He heard the voice say, “It’s for you.”

When he came to the phone, Top Hat growled, “What?” in his gravely voice. Clearly he was irritated at being bothered.

“Sorry, sir, but you know the file you gave me?” McDaniel asked.

“The one about Cleaver and the girl?” Top Hat responded.

“Yes, sir,” McDaniel replied.

“It was stolen,” Top Hat answered.

“Yes, sir,” McDaniel said surprised. “How did you know?”

“Because you’re an idiot,” Top Hat grumbled and hung up.

 

*              *              *

 

Ray sat back in the Cadillac and opened the folder he had lifted from McDaniel’s filing cabinet.

“Good job back there, buddy,” Ray told Pete.

Pete barked and lay down beside him as Ray pulled one paper after another from the folder.

He flipped through shipping manifests, lists of license plate numbers, and VIN numbers with parts listed next to each.

“This is perfect,” Ray said. “This gives us more than enough to expose Body Shots as a front for fencing stolen cars and Tanner McDaniel as the ringmaster.”

Ray held up one piece of paper, showing it to Pete as he said, “This records every car that was stolen and what cars the stolen parts went into. Perfect.”

Ray couldn’t help but smile.

“This isn’t enough to clear Brian Baker, but it’s a good start.”

As he pulled out of the parking garage, Ray said “Let’s get back to the Baker house to grab those photos.”

Pete’s ears shot up as he barked his full approval.

Ray made his way back to the Baker house but slowed to a stop when he saw a column of smoke rising above the houses just before he got there. He remembered that two fire trucks had passed him along the way but at the time had thought nothing of it. Now as he pulled up to the Baker house, he saw where they had been headed.

“What in the world?” Ray asked watching the scene.

The Baker house was ablaze along with most of the yard and the houses on either side. An ambulance and two EMT’s were assisting the injured as Ray sat in stunned silence.

Looking over at Pete, he finally said,

“I think we may have stepped in something deeper than I originally thought.”

 

*              *              *

 

It was late when McDaniel finally closed up shop and walked out to his car.

“I can’t wait to get home. I’m tired, and today has been less than productive,” he said as he pulled on his jacket and removed his keys.

When he reached his car, he came to a dead stop. All four tires were gone. Stolen.

“Dang it,” he said angrily.

Removing his cell phone, McDaniel held it up trying to get a signal, but when he failed, he shoved the phone back into his pocket and said sarcastically,

“Well there’s a great end to a lousy day.”

He remembered a gas station that wasn’t too far, so he tucked his hands into his pockets and stomped out of the parking lot.

Three minutes later, McDaniel reached the gas station but saw that it was closed.

“Come on, man,” he complained in frustration.

Looking around, McDaniel spotted the pay phone, or at least what was left of it. It appeared as though someone had taken a bat to it. The dented steel and chipped plastic lay scattered about the payment.

“It’s horrible, isn’t it?” Top Hat asked as he stepped around the gas station corner. Wearing a black leather jacket thrown over blue jean overalls, he scratched a scraggly salt and pepper beard as he approached. His trademark top hat rested firmly on his head, despite the strong breeze tugging at it.

“What is?” McDaniel asked nervously.

“The bad timing,” Top Hat said.

McDaniel saw something in Top Hat’s eyes that frightened him.

“Look I’m real sorry about the folder. I’ll get it back; I promise,” McDaniel swore.

“No you won’t,” Top Hat said.

“What about Cleaver?” McDaniel asked, trying to shift the point of conversation.

“He made a mistake, and he’ll pay for his crime,” Top Hat said.

“Where does that leave me?” McDaniel asked.

Focusing on Top Hat’s steady gaze, McDaniel was surprised by the gunshot and blinding pain that tore through his chest. He looked down and saw a bleeding hole just to the left of his heart.

“You, unfortunately, will be murdered during an aborted mugging,” Top Hat said coldly as he slipped the weapon just inside the shaft of his boot.

McDaniel tried to speak, to call for help, but his lungs failed him and he fell backwards choking.

“Thank you for your service,” Top Hat sneered as he turned and walked away.

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Published in: on December 4, 2010 at 2:25 am  Leave a Comment  

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