This is a follow-up to my January 2021 story, “On The Way”. To see how it all began, click here first: https://wp.me/pc3LSm-yr
Tom Delaney sat alone at his favorite bar sipping his third bourbon. Life had quickly gone down the shitter a few months ago when he bet big time on a “sure thing” that didn’t pan out. That was one of Tom’s biggest faults; he was always looking for the money angle, whether legit or not. Now here he was, a 38-year-old washed up ex PI with a huge chip on his shoulder, a failed marriage and no money.
When the bartender announced closing time, Tom grudgingly slid off his stool and made his way to his car. He took Route 718 toward a friend’s cabin which he was using until he got his life on track.
The weather was changing and when the fog rolls in, driving on 718 gets hairy. He wasn’t on the road very long when he found himself in pea soup conditions. Suddenly a deer appeared out of nowhere and Tom swerved, coming to a screeching stop. After a brief standoff, the deer gracefully bounded down the steep edge and disappeared into the thick woods.
Shaken, Tom settled himself in his car. The glow of the headlights revealed a shiny object in the thicket below. Being a curious type, Tom drove his car closer to the edge, grabbed a flashlight from the backseat and gingerly made his way down the side of the bluff settling on a heavily overgrown landing about 15 feet below. He walked around for a few minutes before his foot came in contact with something hard. Crouching for a better look, he discovered a battered helmet with the weather-beaten orange and black ‘KTM’ emblem of a bicycle manufacturer.
Disappointed that his find wasn’t something valuable, Tom stood up to leave. He took a few steps and heard a strange ‘crunch’ under his shoe. Shining his flashlight on his foot, Tom couldn’t believe what was buried under the leaves and debris.
“Holy shit! It’s a human skeleton! Poor guy must have ridden his bike off the road. Wonder where his bicycle is? What have we here?” Tom moved some leaves out of the way and discovered a waist bag which he took. Maybe he’d get lucky and find some money in the bag. Deciding to investigate a little more, Tom eventually came across the bicycle caught up in a large bush. It was a mangled mess, certainly of no value to him; nearby was a moldy leather jacket. Tom snagged the jacket and went through the pockets; nothing. Noticing a zippered inner compartment, he found an iPhone inside. Slipping the phone into his rear pocket, Tom climbed up to his car and drove off. He left with that uneasy, suspicious feeling he’d get while working on a case. Old habits die hard.
Once home, Tom emptied the contents of the waist bag: assorted crap, a wallet and an iPhone. “Hmm. Two iPhones. Why would one person need two cells? There had to be two people there that night. What the hell happened? Was this the scene of an accident or a crime?” Tom’s PI sixth sense was really kicking in now.
Both phones were wet. Drying them off, Tom placed the phones and SIM cards in two separate Ziploc bags filled with silica gel packets he had stockpiled. They’d have to dry out a day or two. Next he went through the wallet: $47 which he immediately pocketed, an expired debit card and a driver’s license. The license was issued to Joseph Barnes, 312 Ogden Drive, Sparta, NJ. – a 90-minute drive from the cabin.
Tom broke out his own phone and Googled ‘Joseph Barnes, Sparta, NJ’; it took a little while then BINGO! There it was – a missing person flyer dated January 2021. Last known location was Bethlehem, PA – a few miles from the cabin. There was a phone number to call. A picture of Joseph on a bike holding a KTM helmet smiled at Tom; the same face was on the driver’s license.
Tom spent most of the following day at Wind Creek Casino in Bethlehem playing the penny slots with Joseph Barnes’ $47. He was on a roll and left the casino with $100 in his pocket. Tom couldn’t wait any longer and anxiously drove home to see if he could get the iPhones up and running. He took the phones out of the bags, inserted the SIM cards and turned them on; both phones started up. To Tom’s amazement, neither phone needed a passcode. As he suspected, one phone belonged to Joseph Barnes; the other belonged to someone named David Stapleton from Allentown, PA.
“David, David, David. Why were you on Route 718 that night and what did you do to Joseph Barnes?” thought Tom.
Tom realized that after 14 months David Stapleton could be anywhere with a different phone number but there was only one way to find out. After his win at the casino, he was feeling lucky. This could be the big break he was waiting for.
Slipping David’s phone into his pocket, Tom drove to his favorite bar. On the corner was an old phone booth with a pay telephone – the untraceable kind. Tom opened ‘Settings’ on David’s iPhone; there were two different phone numbers for David. Tom hesitated for a minute thinking about his days as a PI. Instinct took over, suggesting he ignore the first number on David’s phone and go for the second one. Tom reasoned that the first number was likely David’s cell number; there was a chance the second number was for a business, a house or a place where David used to work – anything that might provide a clue. It was worth a shot. After all, Tom wasn’t looking to talk to David just yet; all he wanted was a lead. Tom dropped two quarters into the public phone slot and dialed the second number on David’s cell. The call was answered on the third ring.
“Hi. This is Dave at Stapleton Plumbing and Heating in Allentown. We’re closed now but will reopen at 8 AM. Please call back then.”
Pay dirt! Tom Delaney may be down but he wasn’t out! He’d head back to the cabin and Google David’s business, maybe get an address. This called for a little celebration – some company at the bar with his old friend Jim Beam. Sipping his drink, Tom could practically smell the shakedown money he’d be raking in.
As he drove home from the bar, the ubiquitous late night fog rolled in. Tom was momentarily blinded by a pair of oncoming headlights and swerved right to avoid a collision. He turned the steering wheel sharply and his car plowed through bushes, bounced off trees and crash-landed upside down at the bottom of the cliff before it burst into flames.
Poor Tom. Just when things were starting to look up. Karma’s a bitch.
NAR © 2022