Chat by Archer Mayor Read Free Book Online

Book: Chat by Archer Mayor Read Free Book Online
Authors: Archer Mayor
Tags: Fiction, General, Mystery & Detective, FIC022000
“Shouldn’t be much longer.”
    Mitch shambled back into the garage’s gloom while Rob pulled a set of keys from his pocket and selected one for the padlock. “We have the only copy,” he said. “Maintains the chain of custody.”
    Joe nodded, having figured that out for himself. In addition to the lock, someone had signed, dated, and attached crime scene tape across the doorjamb, which Rob broke through as he twisted the knob and pushed back the door.
    “Like maybe I told you on the phone yesterday, we don’t usually do this—secure a car after a ten-fifty—not unless there’s been foul play.” He stepped inside and hit the lights. “And for all the crime tape and lock, this chain of custody wouldn’t hold up in court. I didn’t do this till after you called me. Before then, it was just in the yard where the wrecker dumped it. Sorry.”
    Joe brushed that aside. “Doesn’t matter. You said you’d give it a closer inspection. Were you able to do that?”
    He was no longer looking at Barrows, being distracted by the familiar car, bent and sagging as if exhausted, standing in what was clearly the garage’s paint room—as pristine and bare as an operating theater, and almost as well lighted by a double bank of color-balanced fluorescent tubes. Having just emerged from the clutter behind them, Joe found the contrast startling—and the sight of the car dismaying.
    Barrows picked up on his mood, saying softly, “I meant to ask, Agent Gunther: How’re they doing? Your family, I mean.”
    Slowly, Joe turned away from the car, where, in the glaring light, he’d just seen some of his mother’s blood on the passenger seat. “They’re hanging in there, Rob. Thanks. And call me Joe.”
    Barrows nodded. “Right.” He gestured toward the car. “I checked it out about an hour after we talked.”
    He crossed over to a control panel mounted to the wall, and pushed an oversize button. There was a loud whirring sound and a slight trembling underfoot before the car began hovering into the air on a lift. Once the tires were at about eye level, Barrows took his hand off the button, returning the room to its otherworldly quiet.
    He then removed his flashlight from his duty belt and crooked a finger at Joe. “I think I found out what happened,” he said, leading the way underneath the battered car and switching on the light.
    Once Joe joined him, he pointed to a spot inside the crumpled right front wheel, which was frozen at a grotesquely unnatural angle. “See that?” he asked.
    Joe squinted at where the light’s halo was holding steady. He was struck by how much debris was clinging to the undercarriage—souvenirs of its trip down the embankment.
    “That’s your tie rod,” Barrows was explaining. “Or what’s left of it. It’s missing the nut that holds it in place. As soon as that sucker drops off and the arm goes free, you lose your steering.”
    Joe paid closer attention, now clearly seeing and understanding the mechanics involved. “Christ,” he muttered. “Seems an iffy way to hold something that important together. Don’t the nuts work free all the time?”
    “They’re usually locked in place with a cotter pin,” Barrows told him significantly.
    Joe cast him a glance and raised his eyebrows.
    His guide kept talking. “Of course, cotter pins can break, or rust off, or be forgotten during reassembly. If that happens, it’s just a matter of time before the car’s vibrations or hitting a good bump make the nut do what this one did.”
    Joe nodded thoughtfully before suggesting the obvious. “But that’s only true if the car’s old enough to have that rusty a cotter pin, or if the tie rod end’s been worked on by somebody.”
    Both men fell silent before Barrows supplied the requisite rejoinder: “And in theory, this car’s too new for either one.”
    Joe returned to studying the broken part. “Well, you never know. We should check out the car’s repair history. Leo always had the same

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