Sometimes things happen when we least expect it. This was turning out to be one of those days.
It was Saturday and I didn’t have any pressing matters waiting for my attention, which is unusual. I needed to take advantage of the relatively quiet time. After years of working as a private investigator, I was finally learning to manage my time better. I’d set this day aside to take care of paperwork.
The sign outside my office reads Webster & Goldberg – Private Investigators. My partner and husband, Pete, is the Goldberg. We’d married recently and I’d retained my maiden name, Webster, at least for business purposes. It simply made things easier not to have to change everything – like my license and, well, everything. It worked for us. Although Pete’s name is Goldberg, he’s one hundred percent Italian, but that’s another story.
Pete was taking advantage of the day in his own way, by running errands. I knew he was headed for the hardware store to pick up a few things, and he’d mentioned needing a haircut. Other than that, I wasn’t sure where he was going.
We have one employee, Stanley Hawks. He and his wife, Felicity, had taken advantage of the quiet weekend to take a trip up the coast from Los Angeles to wherever the road led them.
Glancing at my watch, I realized it was almost lunchtime. My stomach rumbled to emphasize the time and the need for food. I opened my desk drawer to pull out my purse, but before I could do so, the front door opened and an older man wearing a camouflage jacket, jeans and boots walked in.
He had a full grey beard and mustache, and longish hair. Well, he needed a haircut. He was a tall, large man with intense brown eyes that looked deeply into my baby blues. He was a little shaggy looking and reminded me of a big ol’ grizzly bear, definitely not a cuddly stuffed toy.
“Pete here?” A man of few words.
“He’s out running errands. May I help you?”
“No.” He pulled a chair over and sat down in front of my desk. “I’ll wait.”
“I don’t think he’ll be in any time soon. Are you sure I can’t help you?”
He narrowed his eyes and practically immobilized me with his intense scrutiny.
“May I ask who you are?”
“People call me Griz.”
Well, there was a real shocker. A man who resembled a grizzly bear and whom people called Griz stopping in the office was not how I’d hoped to start my day.
“Does Pete know you?” I asked.
The man was becoming a challenge. He was apparently going to make me work for every word that came out of his mouth.
“Okay, Griz, can you tell me why you’re here and why you’re looking for my husband?”
He finally grinned, showing fairly even white teeth, and held his hand out to me across my desk. “You must be Sandi.”
“I am. And who might you be, other than Griz?”
Wait a minute! Something clicked in the back of my mind. I’d heard of this man before.
I took his hand. “You’re Don Workman, right?”
His grin widened. “You’ve heard of me.”
“Pete’s actually talked about you quite a bit, but I’ve only heard him call you Griz a few times. You were his first partner, right?”
Pete had been a police officer and he left L.A.P.D. because of an eye injury. The injury didn’t hamper his life, but it involved his peripheral vision and caused problems on the job. I met him not long after he left the department and he went to work for me as a P.I.
“That I was. I showed him the ropes.”
“Are you stopping just to touch bases with him? I can call around and find him, if you don’t mind waiting.”
“I’d appreciate it if you’d track him down. Like I said, I’ll wait for him. I need his help with something.”
My stomach rumbled and Griz’s stomach rumbled in reply.
He patted his belly. “Been a long time since breakfast.”
“Let me try to find Pete and I’ll have him meet us at the diner down the street. I need to eat, too.”
“Works for me.”
I called Pete’s cell phone and turned when I heard the sound of ringing in the office. Disconnecting, I walked to his desk where I found his cell phone plugged into the charger.
Never one to give up easily, I checked the phone book for Tiny’s Hardware Store and dialed the number. Pete had said that would be his first stop. He’s a firm believer in giving his business to the smaller local businesses. Tiny knew us well.
The phone rang twice before he picked up the call.
“Tiny, this is Sandi Webster – uh, Goldberg. Is Pete still there?”
“Hey, Sandi. He was here early this morning and left a long time ago.”
“Did he mention where he was going?”
“He said he had to get a haircut.”
“Thanks, Tiny. I’ll try there.”
I called his barber, Tony. Pete loved the barber shop. He and the other men sat around and swapped stories. “Oh, he only visited for about half an hour before he left. He said he had a lot to do. I think he said he had to pick up something at Sporting Goods.”
“Thanks, Tony. I’ll try there.”
Before I could dial another number, my landline rang. I picked it up without looking at Caller ID, hoping it was Pete.
Without thinking, I answered with, “There’s someone here, waiting to see you.”
“Oh?” My mother’s voice came in loud and clear.
“Sorry, Mom. I thought you were Pete. What’s up?”
“I called to ask for a favor.”
Her voice sounded odd, and I knew something was up.
“What’s going on?”
“Well, I, uh, like I said, I need a favor.” Her next words came out as fast as the water out of a firehose. “Your Aunt Martha is coming for a visit and she’ll need to stay with you and Pete for a few days.” I could practically hear her holding her breath, if such a thing is possible.
I dropped into my chair.
Griz watched me intently.
The panic I felt must have shown on my face.
“Aunt Martha? We’re going to be out of town,” I lied.
“You don’t even know when she’s coming.”
“When is she going to be here?” I closed my eyes and hoped we’d really be out of town.
“We’ll be out of town.”
“No, you won’t.”
“Yes, we will. I just forgot to tell you.”
“No, you won’t. It’s not the end of the world if my sister comes for a visit, so don’t try to get out of it, Sandra.”
There it was. A mother using her daughter’s given name – something akin to the kiss of death.
I sighed deeply, wanting my mother to hear me. I didn’t even try to hide it.
“Mother, can I call you back? I have a client here right now.” I crossed my fingers while I told that little fib. Well, Griz wanted Pete’s help with something, right? He could be a client.
“She’ll be there tomorrow, Sandra, so don’t wait too long. We have things to talk about before she arrives.”
We hung up and I picked up my purse, turning back to Griz. “Let’s go eat. We can walk to the diner.”
He might look a bit shaggy, but he was all gentleman. When we stepped out onto the sidewalk, he placed his big hand on my back and moved me to the inside position. I once heard that men are supposed to walk on the street side so if a car loses control and drives onto the sidewalk, the man will take the fall – or some such crazy thing. Maybe it started back when horses and buggies were in use.
We were seated at a table by the window at the diner. Our waitress, Tiffany, knew Pete and me as regulars. She took our drink orders and disappeared.
Returning with our drinks, she said, “Pete was in for breakfast. I was surprised you weren’t with him.”
“He’s out running errands this morning. I don’t suppose he mentioned where he was going when he left, did he?”
“He said something about needing a new hammer. Now, have you decided what you’d like to eat?”
Apparently this had been his first stop, before the hardware store.
She disappeared again after we placed our orders, both of us requesting hamburgers.
I settled my hands on the tabletop. “Okay, Griz, can you tell me what you want Pete to help you with? Maybe I can help, too.”
He studied me for a moment before seeming to decide he could talk to me. “Do you know what a prepper is?”
“I do. That’s someone preparing for catastrophic conditions, whether it’s natural or manmade. I’m assuming that’s what you’re talking about.”
“It is, and that’s what I am. I moved far out of town after I retired. Being a cop colored my perceptions of people. I don’t trust ‘em.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. I dealt with a lot of criminals, and even the good people weren’t always so good when they were in stressful conditions. It happens.”
I thought about it for a moment. “I can see that. Pete doesn’t really trust too many people, but I never thought about it until now.” I was sorry he’d called it to my attention.
“I moved away so I wouldn’t have to deal with people anymore. And the few I come into contact with have no idea I’m a prepper. They think I’m just an old hermit. I can live with that. Please keep this to yourself. I like being thought of as a hermit. It keeps people away.”
“Are you out in the desert, or in the mountains? Out in the country? I’m sorry. That’s none of my business.”
“It’s about to become your business if you and Pete will help me.”
“I see.” I didn’t, but what could I say? “Maybe I should make another call to see if I can find Pete.”
“Might be a good idea.”
Entrance to Nowhere -
A Sandi Webster Mystery
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