Jake had no problem waking up early recently. The hole in the wall had really confused his thermostat. It shut on and off erratically sending the place from meat locker cold to sauna hot and back again like it was in protest mode. Because of this, he just ran the ceiling fans at night instead of the central unit. During the day, he left the second story windows open to catch as much of the gulf breeze as he could. In preparation for eventual construction, Hoss had installed a window unit air conditioner down stairs. It was old, dirty and beat up, but it could pump out some cold air.
“Hey boss, you’re in early again. I see the beginning of a bad habit,” Rebecca said as he got in the market Saturday morning.
“Got to, it’s the only four walled structure I own. Anything I need to do to get ready for the day?”
“No, I already stocked the cooler. Oh, I see the UPS guy already delivered the pickled quail eggs,” she said with a mischievous tone.
“Sold two jars this morning.”
“You’re kidding me. It’s 8:30. We’ve only been open thirty minutes.”
“Nope, and they didn’t buy any of that nasty pumpkin bread. Looks like they spotted some mold on it.”
About a year ago, a national chain had opened not one but two grocery stores within five miles of the market. It was inevitable and Jake had actually been surprised at how long it took them to commit to it. Once opened, they took all but the oldest customers away and he had decided to transition the market into more of a specialty store carrying small label gourmet foods. The problem was that he had very little experience with such items and less success picking ones that would sell.
Rebecca had been working for him about eight years. She was an artist during the week and would only work in the store on weekends and high volume holidays. She had many peculiar habits but was quite capable of picking out obscure items that his customers would be willing to purchase. So they had an ongoing competition. Every time he brought in a new item he would ask her to choose one too. So far, hers were outselling his by a five to one margin.
“What about those chorizos?” Jake asked defensively.
“Yeah, yeah, sold out. Got more on order, I know. But that was like four rounds ago, wasn’t it?”
“So, it was a high margin item. I know you’re better at reading these people. I just don’t know why.”
“Jake, you wanna know where you’re going wrong?”
“Yes, please,” he replied folding his arms across his chest.
“You don’t buy anything for the store that you don’t like. You got it all wrong. I’m not saying you have bad taste, but not everyone likes what you do.”
She was a smart woman and had traveled enough to know it was a big world, but Jake wasn’t going to admit that he was wrong.
“People just need to know this stuff is available here. They’ll find out and it’ll all move.”
“How are they gonna find out? Are you starting some kind of top secret advertising campaign?”
“Word of mouth is the best advertising, anyone will tell you. But more important is history. This place has a history here. It’s been around since Thirty-A was paved with oyster shells.”
A middle-aged couple walked in and Jake looked at Rebecca and winked.
“How’re ya’ll doing?” he asked.
“Fine, fine. Yourself?” the man replied.
“Doin’ good. Just getting in?”
“No, headed back to Mississippi. Been here the last two weeks.”
“How about some pumpkin bread, baked fresh by an Amish community, all natural ingredients. It would make great snack food for the ride home.” He held up a packaged loaf for their inspection.
The man glanced at it and asked, “Amish community? At the beach in Florida?”
“Well, no,” Jake said, beginning to sound dejected. “We had it flown in fresh.”
“Flown in fresh Amish pumpkin bread? Think I’ll pass,” the man said. “We really just wanted to get a couple of bottles of something cold for the ride home.”
“Right back at the cooler,” Jake pointed.
He noticed as the couple walked down the aisle to the cooler and returned, the man’s shoes were making a strange scratching sound. As they stood at the register to check out, Jake peered over the counter at his feet.
The woman said, “It’s sand. Don’t ask why. He just likes the feel of sand in his shoes.”
“Gets me through the rest of the year,” the man said as if it should have been obvious to everyone.
They left and Rebecca said to Jake, “See, if you were him, you’d try to sell pre-sanded shoes to people.”
“Ha! Ha!” Jake said walking to the back. “I’m going to the office to do the week’s receipts. Let me know if it gets busy.”
He unlocked the office door and went in the filing cabinet to get the paperwork from the previous week. As he sat down at the desk, he looked up at the security monitor the sheriff had made him install last year. There weren’t but about two robberies a year at a county road business, but the sheriff had talked everyone into installing these monitors to help deter crime. Jake had balked at first then changed his mind when the employees accused him of not caring about their safety. He had installed the camera right above the coolers pointed up towards the register and front door. But the full Florida sun had made it virtually useless. Every time the door was open the entire center of the monitor went bright white making the people walking in and out look like those aliens in re-enactments on tabloid TV.
He went to work on the calculator but in a few seconds dropped the receipts and went rummaging through his desk drawer for the remote. He found it after spilling most of the drawer’s contents on the floor. Pointing it at the monitor he pressed buttons wildly until he got the menu screen up. The recording device had a month’s storage on it. He pushed buttons again until he got to the night of the 18th. He fast forwarded to 2:30 a.m., about the time of Eden’s wreck.
There was a low glow along the bottom of the screen from the lights on the cooler, all else was dark. Jake squinted towards the center of the screen looking for any movement. At 2:34, there was a quick flash, starting through the door and traveling to the right past one of the large panes of tinted glass that completed the front walls on either side of the door. Immediately afterwards there was a second streak also car headlights starting at the same angle as the first, but it jarred towards the building. By the time the second set of headlights got to the edge of the window, they had turned to face it and were moving horizontally towards the parking lot and his house. He rewound the video and watched it again and then a third time. It looked as if the second car had decided at the last second, and too late, to turn in front of the market and head up to Highway 98 instead of continuing down the county road.
Jake put down the remote and watched the rest of the tape. There was nothing else in the camera’s field of view until eighteen minutes later, at 2:52, when the flashing lights of emergency vehicles arrived at the intersection one by one. He leaned back in his chair and sat still for a minute then got up walked out of the office and through the market.
“Are you leaving?” Rebecca asked as she was checking out some customers.
“Going across the street. Be right back,” he said quickly.
He walked out to the corner and looked again at the orange accident marks they had painted out. They told the same story the security video had. He walked west a few steps down Thirty-A trying to find any other tire marks, but could find none. He looked around him then started marching back to the intersection and across Seagrove Road to the restaurant that stood across the street from the market on the only other corner at the ‘T’ intersection. It was a typical ranch house for the area that had been bought and renovated into an upscale restaurant about four years ago. Because of its small size, the original front door had been covered over and a new entrance had been built in the corner directly facing the intersection. He stood at the front door and looked in through the windows to the small dining room inside. He could not see the camera, although he knew it had to be in there.
On the inside of the door hung a white sign visible through the glass that read ‘Daytime deliveries use rear entrance.’ He walked around to the rear door and rang the buzzer.
From inside a voice yelled, “Later!!”
He buzzed again.
And again he heard, “I said later!”
He buzzed again.
This time he heard a bunch of banging around and the lock turn. The door swung open to reveal the owner-chef, Terrance.
As he was opening the door, Terrance yelled, “Look, you imbecile, it says deliveries ten to three.” Then he saw it was Jake.
“Oh,” he said unimpressed, “I thought you were a different imbecile.”
“Hello, Terrance. Uh, do you have a minute?” Jake said.
“Well, no, in fact, I don’t. I’m trying to work right now. Shouldn’t you be over there selling cheap beer to underage college kids?”
“Ah, ha, no we’re still asking for ID’s. You know, wrong year, no beer.”
Jake was doing his best to be civil to Terrance, but their common history was working against him. Terrance had moved over from Northern California where he had been quite a popular chef. This was well known on the county road because Terrance had taken several reviews of his previous restaurant, had them laminated onto hardwood plaques, probably at great expense, and hung them on the walls around the restroom hall in the back of the dining area.
Jake and he had managed to become enemies almost immediately. As the house was being renovated into the restaurant, the construction company placed it’s roll off dumpster in Jake’s parking lot. When Jake complained, the contractor apologized but pointed out there was no room across the street and Terrance had told him to use Jake’s spaces. When Jake confronted Terrance about it, Terrance had explained in coarse language that he should be grateful the restaurant was going in. He went on to compare the market to an animal feed store and said if Jake was worried about appearances, he should stop dressing like a hobo.
The relationship got worse from there. Because of the limited parking at the Redwood, customers frequently parked in Jake’s lot. So Jake posted a sign that read ‘Market Parking Only – All Others Will be Towed and Vandalized.’ But it was a mostly empty threat. Many of the restaurant customers were also regulars at the market and they correctly guessed that Jake wouldn’t follow through on his threat. Whenever Terrance received a complaint from a diner, which was rare, he would politely tell them they could go graze across the street. It was mostly due to a total difference of personalities and both were too stubborn to back down.
“So, why are you bothering me?” Terrance asked.
“I need to see your security camera footage,” Jake asked calmly.
“Oh, how nice, you want to learn how to attract real customers?”
“No, it’s about a crime.”
“I see. Have people been defecating at your front door again? Perhaps they are merely trying to return some of that cheap pâté you are selling – slightly used.”
“Look, I’m serious,” Jake said beginning to get irritated.
“What sort of crime?”
“The accident,” Jake said pointing back to his house.
“From what I understand, the young lady was drunk and alone in the car, so how could there have been a crime?” Terrance asked skeptically.
“I think there was a second car that might have been involved.”
“Did the Sheriff tell you this?”
“No, Mrs. Stanley across the street heard it. I looked at my security video from that night and I saw a second set of headlights, but I think your camera might have seen more.
“Well, I tell you what, Magnum P.I., you let the sheriff know about your little theory and if he’d like to come look at my footage, I’ll show him.”
Jake finally lost his patience. “Is it completely necessary for you to always act like an ass or are you just under-medicated in the morning?”
Terrance scowled and shut the door in his face.
Jake returned to the market. As he walked in Rebecca was rushing to check out a customer. “Little help?” she said sternly and Jake noticed the half dozen people waiting in line at her register. He walked to the second register, turned the key and said, “Next”. He started scanning items out of a woman’s basket when she asked, “Tell me. That restaurant across the street, how’s the food?”
“Oh, it’s great,” he replied smiling, “and they haven’t had any cases of botulism in almost two months. That’ll be forty-two fifty.”
“Is there another place you’d recommend?” she asked kindly as she paid.
“Try The Dinner Table. It’s where most all the locals prefer to eat.”
He quickly checked out the others who were waiting in line who made it a point to not ask any questions. After the line died down, he picked up a telephone and dialed the mobile phone number for Deputy Allen.
“Hello?” the deputy said on the other end of the line.
“Tommy, it’s Jake Burns, can you come by the store? I have something I think you need to see.”
“Gosh, Jake it’s Saturday. I’m off duty.”
“Is it an emergency?”
“Well, then you sort of need to call the Sheriff’s office. Tony’s on duty now, he can come by.”
Deputy Tony Ash was a part time Deputy and volunteer firefighter. He was very eager to respond to anything involving the promise of danger. But in cases where mental work was involved, he had neither the capacity nor patience for the job.
“C’mon, Tommy. It’s important. I need to show something to you.”
The line was quiet for a minute and then Tommy said, “Okay, I’m working on the farm right now. I’ll be by in a couple of hours.”
“Thanks. I’ll see you then.”
“What was that about?” Rebecca asked him.
“I think there was someone else involved in Eden’s wreck.”
“What makes you think that?” she asked.
He relayed the events since yesterday to her. He explained what Mrs. Jones had told him in the store, then his visit with Mrs. Stanley. At the description of what he saw on the security video, a dubious look formed on her brows and mouth so he insisted she watch it for herself. He took her back to the office and set the playback to the time he had looked at earlier. They watched it together once. Jake stood under the monitor and pointed to the light trails explaining his theory. Then they heard a customer calling from the front of the store. Jake handed Rebecca the remote and quickly walked out to check them out. He returned to the office to find Rebecca carefully watching the monitor but it had become all messed up. It appeared grainy and the head lights were flashing instead of floating across the screen.
“What’d you do!” he yelled at her in panic.
“Relax, it’s in slow motion,” she said trying to calm him down.
“Oh, how’d you do that?”
“This button that says slow,” she replied in the tone of voice normally used for children. “Who called 911?”
“Some family from Birmingham renting a house across the street.”
“Did you talk to them that night?”
“Yeah, the man was still outside when I got there a little after three. He didn’t say anything about another car if that’s what you’re getting at.”
“So your theory is based on what Mrs. Stanley said she heard and what you see here.”
“Well, there’s the video from the Redwood also.”
“What’s on it?”
“I don’t know. Terrance won’t show it to me.”
“Surprise, surprise,” she mused, “you need to see his tape.”
“He’d have to show it to Tommy if he asked.”
“Yeah, you’d better make a pretty good case to him.”
She laid down the remote and walked out of the office. Jake continued watching the slow motion version, both hands clinched in tight fists. Accidents are an impossibility to the emotional mind. The death of someone so young and well liked covered that spot of paradise with an anguished disbelief. That she had died in a driving accident only compounded it. She had been driving since she was thirteen. Back then, anyone who had property down there could get a Walton County beach permit for their car. It would allow you to drive up and down the beach and through what was then thousands of acres of undeveloped scrub brush from Destin to Panama City. Eden had managed to find a route from her parent’s house in Destin all the way to the market without ever having to drive a paved road. Shelia had never complained because it gave Eden an option to running wild when things weren’t so good after David left.
By the time she was sixteen, she could’ve been driving in stock car races had she wanted to. Jake had given her a part time job bringing fresh seafood from Destin Harbor down to the market. He reminded her regularly that she should take her time since she was paid by the hour and not by the trip. No one with that much experience driving could make such a wild mistake.
“Jake, little help,” Rebecca called from the front. He untensed and went back to working the second register. Saturday’s were always busy down there as the preferred check-in date for the hundreds of beach rentals. It became more hectic at eleven when his other employees began coming in for their paychecks. Under normal circumstances, he would have done them in the morning, but the events that morning had derailed his routine. For the first two, Mike and Todd, his clean-up/stocking boys, he was able to run back to the office between customers. But the traffic only got heavier and soon he found himself scanning items with one hand and tallying timecards with the other.
The last off duty cashier to show up was Ashley. Jake had been waiting for her.
“Wow, we’re actually busy today,” she said in shock.
“Just another Saturday,” Jake said smiling at the customer he was finishing up. “Ashley, can I see you in the office?”
They walked to the back and he closed the door behind him.
“Is everything okay?” she asked.
“Sure it is. Say Ashley, you worked as a hostess at the Redwood for a while, right?”
“For a little while, yes. That Terrance is a complete tool.”
“Yes, he is. Can I ask you something, in, you know, confidence?”
“What kind of security system does he have?”
“Huh?” she asked understanding the question but questioning it nonetheless.
“Well, he’s got the security camera, right?”
“Yes,” she said slowly.
“Where is it?”
“Like yours, in the back pointed towards his front door.”
“Where does he keep the taping equipment?”
“In the bottom of the hostess stand by the front door.”
His next question was meant to be flippant but came out slow and unsure. “What kind of alarm system does he have?”
“What’s going on Jake?”
He had no choice. He gave her the whole story.
RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS CONTINUE TO CHAPTER 16