Here is the long awaited chapter 3 ... sorry, the Christmas rush got in the way.
For those of you just joining us, you might want to read earlier chapters, available through the Table of Contents
The interview had the sterility of all the expected questions: what they had done that night, the last time Calvin remembered seeing John. Deputy Collins asked most of the questions. He was stiff with an awkward formality, as though he was auditioning for the role without ever having prepared for the part. Parrish, meanwhile, remained quiet. Only once did his leopard-like eyes betray a hint of predatory readiness: when Calvin described the conversation about Hurlburt’s diary. Then Parrish cocked his head, and interrupted smoothly.
“What did he say he was going to do with this diary?”
Calvin shrugged. “Some kind of treasure hunting – an old lost tomb of Egypt.” A swell of guilt grew as Calvin recalled his inattention to his friend’s plans. “I really wasn’t following the story too closely.”
Parrish pursued, “Did he tell you about any plans?”
Calvin shook his head. “No, he just said that he had a few associates involved – never mentioned who they were.” Parrish’s upper lip bulged where underneath he ran his tongue over his teeth, sucking them. He sat back, again turning his attention to the rest of the room, surveying every corner. Collins resumed his monotone questioning straight from a bad 1950’s tv cop drama. After what seemed to be an eternity, Collins concluded. As the deputies stood to leave, Collins gave Calvin his business card. “If you think of anything else that might be of help, please give me a call.”
“Yessir. I certainly will.” Calvin said, ushering them to the door and opening it for them.
“Thank you for your time, Rev. Poteat.” said Collins mechanically as he turned and walked out the door, putting his hat back on in one smooth motion. Parrish looked Calvin in the eye for a moment longer than comfortable. “We’ll be in touch” he said flatly. He nodded and left.
Calvin closed the door and returned to the couch. He stared at his now closed laptop, replaying the interview in his mind. The shock of John’s disappearance only now settled in. Calvin picked up the telephone, intending to call John’s parents. Three numbers into dialing, he stopped. His shock gave way to understanding, and he closed his eyes, letting out a long slow breath in an attempt to release the grip that had encased his chest. Calvin hung up the phone, went to the kitchen, found the telephone book and searched the yellow pages, continuing to exhale long and slow to keep fear at bay. He found the number he was looking for and dialed – it rang one, two, three “Law offices of Artemus Jordan, may I help you.” Came the bored sounding voice.
“Yes, I need to speak to AC immediately – tell him that Calvin Poteat is calling.”
“Sir, he’s in a meeting. May I take a message?”
“Just tell him that Calvin Poteat is calling and that I need to speak to him immediately.” Calvin said forcefully.
“Yes sir” came the frosty reply. Calvin heard the click of being put on hold. It was no more than ten seconds that he was on hold. But all during it, Calvin bounced on his heels, as though that would make AC pick up sooner. The phone clicked again.
“Cal, good Lord, what’s so important? I’m here with another client.”
“AC – I just had two Sherriff’s deputies here in my apartment. They were asking me questions about John Carter – John has disappeared, and they didn’t say so, but I think they suspect I did something to him.”
A moment of silence. “OK – here’s what we do. I’ve got to finish this up – it’ll take me another twenty minutes. In the meantime, you come on down here and be ready to tell me everything that happened, got it?”
Calvin felt relieved “I’ll be there before you know it.”
Calvin sat in the office lobby of Artemus Cleanth Jordan, attorney at law, thumbing through the year-old magazines: Fish and Line, Wilderness Treks, Backwoods, Newsreport, North Carolina Legal Review. On the wood paneled wall hung two oversize prints framed with a grassmat backing – one a scene of hunters shooting at a covey of quail, dogs on point, and the quail bursting from beneath an old shrub. The other was a pair of mallards soaring over a lake at sunset. The secretary, a surly twenty something with teased bleach-blonde hair and a permanent tan, did her best job of ignoring Calvin. Her telephone buzzed. She answered, nodded, and said “You may go in now” with all the emotion of a zoo bred cat, bored in a cage.
Calvin stepped into the back office. AC was behind an elegantly styled mahogany desk. On the walls were his diplomas and photos of AC in the jungle, AC on top of a mountain, AC whitewater rafting. He stood up to greet Cal, his 6 foot 2 inches packed with a little more girth than Calvin’s shorter yet leaner body. He took Cal’s hand in his own, squeezing it with just the right pressure – firm but not bone crushing. One of the keys to AC’s success was his capacity to read people, and then lead them through instinctive body language. He could have been a gifted salesman or personal counselor, but he had opted to use his gift for reading people in the legal profession. Within a millisecond, he knew that this was no time for the customary half hour of pleasantries demanded by southern protocol.
“Cal, it’s good to see you – tell me what happened to John.”
They sat, and Calvin told his story while AC leaned back, bringing his fingertips together in a steeple just touching his lips. From time to time, AC nodded to encourage a continued flow of words. He mentally noted Calvin’s every twitch, eye movement, and tremor. He gently pressed leading questions: “Did you tell the deputies everything?” “Tell me more about what John was planning.” “What did he say about these associates?” Finally, AC brought the interview to a close: “You’ve told me everything?”
Calvin felt spent. Telling his story had relieved anxiety, but the catharsis had drained him. “Yes, everything.”
AC stood and returned behind his desk. “Sounds like just some routine questioning. Based on what you’ve told me, I can’t think of anything they’ve got against you. If they call you again, make sure to not answer any questions until I get there.” He jotted notes on a legal pad. Not taking his eyes from the paper, he continued “Strange about John though –You have no idea where he might’ve gone?”
“I’ve said before that I don’t know.” Calvin spat with desperation and frustration – he felt like cursed king Midas or that comic book heroine Rogue –his touch bringing disaster to those he loved. “I just don’t know.” He said quietly, with a faint plea for help in his voice.
AC bit the inside of his cheek, pursing his lips to one side. “Do Mr. and Mrs. Carter know yet?”
Calvin felt a blanket of failure settle upon him. “I don’t know, I meant to call them, but …. well, I didn’t.” Some friend…Some minister I’ve turned out to be.
AC nodded. “I’d better give her a call, then.” He made another note on his legal pad. “Tell you what. Let me buy you lunch – you look like you’ve been through it today. I’ll give the Carters a call and check in with them. You run on down to Biltmore village and get us a seat at that tex-mex place that just opened up there by the church. I’ll meet you there in about half an hour. OK?”
Calvin agreed. AC had always had the aura of command about him. He had felt that back in high school, when he was three years ahead of John and Cal and captain of the track team. Even now, twenty years later or so, he still breathed authority. Calvin felt that with AC looking into it, he could rest from his worry about John’s disappearance.
It was three days later when Calvin returned to John’s house. Deputy Parrish had called and asked to meet him there – he had a few more questions and thought that being on the property might help jog Calvin’s memory. Calvin immediately called AC and asked him to meet them there. When he arrived, he saw that AC had beaten him, and was standing on the front porch conversing with Parrish, who held in his hand a stuffed manila folder. Calvin smirked at the sight of AC’s height and power towering over the slender and small Parrish. Yet Parrish seemed ready to spring, like a mongrel dog pouncing at the neck of the bear.
Calvin swallowed what spit he had and got out of the car. Walking up to the porch, he said “AC, I see you’ve met deputy Parrish.”
AC chuckled “Yes, it turns out we know some people in common.” Parrish snorted.
“Do you mind if we go inside?” Parrish barked. AC glanced at Calvin and then back to Parrish with a grin. He gestured with an open palm. Parrish opened the door and all three went into the main foyer.
“Why don’t you tell me again what happened the last time you and Mr. Carter saw each other?” Parrish said.
“Yessir. I had driven up here to stay the night – John and I are old high school friends and we had some catching up to do. So we stayed up late into the night talking. When I woke up the next day, John was gone. I checked the garage and his truck was gone. I thought that he’d gone to buy donuts. After about an hour, I figured that he wasn’t coming back, so I left him a note and told him I’d be in touch. I called a couple of times later in the week and left messages, but no answer.”
Parrish reached into his folder and flipped through a few pages. He pulled out a page from a yellow legal pad. “Is this the note you left?”
Parrish looked it over. “What kind of epiphanies were you looking for?”
Calvin’s jaw tightened. He swallowed. AC frowned for a moment, and took the initiative to respond for Calvin: “His wife and son were killed in an auto accident about two months ago. My client came back home to recover from his tragic loss.”
The deputy looked up at AC with an unflinching face. His voice lowered just the slightest bit as he said “I’m sorry,” only moving his eyes to Calvin as he said “for your loss.”
Calvin said quietly “I called up John because I needed to talk – we’ve been friends since the fifth grade. He knows me better than anyone else – or at least longer than anyone else. For the most part, he spent most of the night listening to me talk. I guess the epiphanies I was looking for were breakthroughs in how to move on.”
Parrish bobbed his head curtly. “Would you step upstairs and show me just where you stayed?” Calvin nodded and led them upstairs. He showed them the room in which he stayed – the bed still unmade, his towel still hanging over the back of the chair. He led them down the hall into the library, giving a play by play of the evening, conveniently omitting the amount of alcohol consumed. He then walked over to the bookshelf, running his hands along the titles. A puzzled look went across his face.
“That’s funny. I thought I put it right back here.”
Parrish’s blue eyes bored down on Calvin as he said “Put what there?”
“The book …. This diary that he’d gotten hold of. He was talking about it being a kind of pirate treasure map to some kind of archeological find under a monument in New York. It sounded like a childish fantasy – in the morning as I came my way back through here, I remember picking up the diary and putting it back on the shelf right here.”
Parrish’s eyes scanned the walls, coming to rest on the face of the man emerging from the leaves. He focused on the green-painted plaster eyes, as though searching them for answers to his questions.
“Rev. Poteat – how much did you and Mr. Carter have to drink that night?”
“To drink? I….”
“We found several empty wine bottles down in the recycling bin in the kitchen.”
“well, yes we did have a lot to drink….”
“and perhaps things got a little out of hand?”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
Deputy Parrish took his eyes from the leaf-man and turned them upon Poteat. He pressed on, panzer-like. “I’m not sure I mean anything. Rev. Poteat. It just seems odd that you two spent the night here by yourselves drinking heavily and then Mr. Carter is never seen from or heard from again. That’s kind of strange, don’t you think.”
“Listen, if you want affidavits from my neighbors that I was where I said I’ve been all this week, that’s fine. I haven’t been around here at all.”
“No, I reckon that would be a bit too dangerous if you had somehow disposed of Mr. Carter’s body. Likely he passed out and you piled him in his own truck and disposed of him and the truck. I just can’t figure out why.”
Calvin felt tingles over his body. A slight high pitched whine rang in his ear. He had that familiar sensation of being an observer to events going on around his own body. I’m in deep – way over my head. AC interrupted at this point “Deputy, don’t you think you’re going a bit too far?”
Parrish grinned mirthlessly back at AC. “Sorry, counselor, I’m just trying to figure out why one of the richest men in North Carolina would suddenly disappear without any word to his associates.”
A flash went off in Calvin’s mind “Associates… John said that he had a few associates involved with him in this treasure hunt scheme.”
“And did he mention any of the associates by name?” asked AC, “anyone helping him look under this obelisk? Anyone he might be staying with?”
Calvin shook his head, “No, no names. I’m sure if you could find his address book, their names might be in there. But he didn’t say anything to me.”
AC nodded. “It seems like you have all the information you need, deputy. I think you can leave my client alone and concentrate your search on the property. You can refer any more of your questions through me.” With that, AC steered Calvin downstairs and out of the house.