Morris Endon stared at the body bag. A few feet away a small yellow photo evidence tag sat next to the shards of a priceless vase. The tall black letters read, “18.” He flinched as a bright flash went off from across the room temporarily blinding him. The detective holding the camera ignored him, focusing on a shell casing next to yet another yellow plastic sign. The flash came again, and then again, as the man took picture after picture, changing angle, moving to the left, kneeling and then standing.
He had been reading Inman News on his couch, listening to Tchaikovsky and sipping from a whiskey highball with ice and ginger ale when the doorbell rang. The deep, rich tone of the Westminster chime had been jarring in the quiet night. The police officer stood at the door, with his cruiser and its indiscreet flashing lights in the driveway behind him. Already he could see his neighbors peeking out of their curtained windows.
The HOA bi-annual meeting was next week, he was sure he would be the topic of plenty of idle gossip.
Standing there staring at the officer, Morris suddenly regretted the alcohol. He could feel the warm glow of it, spreading through his body, engendering a lassitude he found difficult to fight, yet felt necessary to eradicate. He was at a crime scene, with cops everywhere, he needed to be careful of what he said or did.
Despite his meteoric advancement from the cheap inner-city apartment of his youth to a well-heeled existence in one of the wealthier parts of town, police officers still unnerved him.
It isn’t as if he can arrest me for drinking in my own home after all.
“Morris Endon?” The officer was young, late 20s at most, his hand rested lightly on his utility belt, close to his service weapon.
“Yes, what can I do for you, Officer?”
“Sir, I need to ask you to come with me. There’s been an incident at Kurgen Real Estate and your presence is required there.”
“An incident? It’s nearly ten o’clock. What sort of incident?”
“A shooting, sir. If you could please come with me.”
“Of course.” His mind whirling, he wondered if he should call someone. A lawyer? Mr. Kurgen?
What do they want with me? He could feel the panic rising. I haven’t done anything.
He had slipped on shoes and a coat and locked the heavy, burled walnut front door behind him and followed the officer towards the flashing lights. Morris had contemplated telling the officer he would drive himself but sat in the back seat of the cruiser instead.
He can smell the alcohol on my breath, I’m sure of it.
The ride over had been silent, but quick. There was no traffic this late at night. Outside a sliver of a moon had risen. It appeared and disappeared behind the thick, low cloud cover. He had been taken into the building through the front door, past a coroner’s van and the media truck, both parked
Morris’s eyes tracked back to the body bag. There was blood on the carpet, a deep, red stain that crept to the left and stopped by one corner of the antique lacquered Chinese cabinet. Calling it an incident had been such an understatement. How was he going to explain to Mrs. Kurgen that the irreplaceable antique vase had been shattered? Or the Chinese cabinet shot full of holes?
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. There are rules.
“Sir?” He flinched again. The officer who had escorted him here laid a reassuring hand on his sleeve, “Mr. Endon, if you could come this way, please.”
He followed him, away from the body, past the cleaning crew and the detective interviewing them, and two men wearing jackets emblazoned with “CORONER” in yellow on the back.
My office. They are leading me into my office.
The detective was in plain clothes, a gold badge clipped to his belt. He stood up when Morris walked in.
“Mr. Endon, I’m Detective Rob Stone. Sorry to roust you out of bed and bring you in here so late.” He clasped Morris’s hand and gave it a quick, authoritative shake.
“Please, sit down.”
He sat back down in Morris’s new desk chair, motioning for Morris to take a seat normally reserved for visitors. The seats were lower, something that had been quite intentional on Morris’s part when setting up the office. It was easier to maintain a psychological advantage that way. He sat, sinking into the seat. It was comfortable, but he was sitting lower than he was used to. A thread of resentment ran through him and he struggled to keep it from showing on his face.
“What the hell happened here?” Morris asked, trying to keep his voice even.
There are two god-damned body bags in the office. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.
“We are still trying to figure that out. We have two men dead here in the office and the parking attendant who serves as security at night has also been killed.”
“My God!” Morris didn’t have to manufacture that response, he was horrified. How had things gone down like this? Who would do something like this?”
“Well, like I said, we are working on it. If I were to guess, I’d say that one of these men shot the security guard and then headed up here.”
“To what end?” Morris asked, “To steal the collection?”
Perhaps I can steer them in that direction.
The detective shook his head, dissolving Morris’s hopes of diverting the police attention.
“No, if they had intended theft they wouldn’t have been armed with silencers.”
Morris blinked at the detective, his face frozen.
Rob leaned back, the chair tilted without a creak of protest, despite the man’s girth.
“This chair is amazing. I really need to get me one of these.”
Morris managed a weak smile, the resentment of being displaced slightly stronger now,
“What brand is it?”
“Oh yeah? I’ve heard about them, but this is real luxury here.”
Morris fought to keep his emotions in check. Yes, the Eames lounge chair is top of the line.”
And at over four thousand dollars, it is completely out of your price range.
“Mmhm, I’ll say it is,” the detective sighed and stared out the window. “Quite the view as well.”
Morris felt his face flush, “Detective, is there a reason you had your officer roust me out of my home? Perhaps we could talk furniture choices and skylines when it is daylight out.”
The detective smiled, “My apologies. I was waiting for a list of office personnel. And we are dusting for fingerprints as well, but I’m sure you can imagine that is quite a task with this size office.” He leaned forward, staring intensely into Morris’s eyes, “What I’m hoping to understand from you is what two men armed with silencers would have been looking for in a real estate office, and who killed them.”
Morris stammered, “I’m sure I don’t know.” His face flushed and the resentment transformed into fear. They actually considered him a suspect?
I’m not involved. Say it, over and over, until they listen. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.
“You deal in commercial real estate? Or is it residential?”
“It’s a mix, actually. Commercial, high-end residential, and corporate clients mainly.”
Morris answered promptly, relieved that the detective had turned away again. The man stared out at the city’s skyline, lights sprinkled the high rises and there were wide swaths of darkness, the closely spaced homes in the distance devoid of light. The city, and most of its inhabitants, peacefully snoozed away.
A silence fell and the minutes seemed to tick by. His anxiety increased. “I am happy to help with the personnel list if you need any assistance. I don’t know everyone, there’s a few newer employees that have come on board recently that I am not familiar with…”
His voice petered out and died as Rob stared at him.
“Tell you what,” the detective leaned forward, “I’ll get that list and talk to you in the morning.” He stood up and reached into his back pocket, removing a business card and handing it to Morris. “You could come by the station if you prefer.”
Morris was relieved, “Sure, I can do that. What time?”
“Give me a call in the morning when you are up. I imagine you will have a few things to deal with – getting a crime scene cleanup crew in if the techs are done working the scene, insurance claims, and I’ll want you to double-check with all of your employees. We will get to that last bit tomorrow.”
Morris winced at the thought of the blood-soaked carpet. “Right. Will do.”
The detective called past him, “Stevens, can you give Mr. Endon a ride back home?”
Morris shook his head as he pulled out his phone, “No need, I’ll catch a cab home.”
He stepped gingerly around the crime scene tape and avoided looking at the body bags that were now being loaded onto gurneys.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.
Morris did his best to not break into a trot as he reached the outer doors of the Kurgen Real Estate and disappeared from the detective’s view.
Rob watched Morris leave. He leaned back, the chair tilting without a single creak or groan. He turned to look out at the Kansas City skyline again, his thoughts on the tiny red tattoo he had glimpsed peeking out from under both of the dead mens’ wristwatches. Both men, both tattooed, the symbol of a man under the canopy of the heavens…
￼Ten years fell away and he was plunged into the memories he had tried so hard to forget. The Indalo, whoever they were, had undoubtedly taken his wife from him, threatened to kill his child, and ended his career at the CIA.
Rob stared at the dark night skyline, but all he saw was a sunny playground in Virginia, less than a month after Claire’s death. His memories of that day remained as sharp as if they had happened yesterday.
He had forced himself to get dressed and take their daughter to the playground near the house. It had been two weeks and he was due to return to work. He had made all of the arrangements – found the perfect preschool, one that Claire had talked about sending her to, and they had agreed to take her mid-week instead of a Monday. He sat there, watching Maddy run and climb on the jungle gym, his mind still clouded with grief, his heart shattered.
A woman, clad in yoga pants, a t-shirt and running shoes, the standard attire of a stay at home mom, had sat down on the bench next to him.
“They certainly are having fun, aren’t they?” She had asked and smiled at him. The children shrieked and ran, several of them engaged in an elaborate game of tag.
“Yes, they sure are.” And he watched as Maddy’s frizzy curls bounced as she slid down a bright blue slide. She was smiling, something that he hadn’t seen her do in weeks.
“Let me guess which one is yours. Hmm. Is it that cute little one that’s on the monkey bars?” She pointed and he saw a small tattoo peeking from her bangle bracelets. They slid away as she pointed and he saw it, edged in black, on her right wrist.
“Um no, the one with all of the frizzy curls. I haven’t figured out how to wash her hair right,” he sighed, “her mom always handled it.” He watched Maddy climb into a tunnel.
“Don’t brush it.”
“Curly hair, don’t brush it, just finger comb it while its wet. It will make all the difference in the world.” She smiled.
“I’ll try that. Thank you.” She nodded and they sat in silence for a moment. Maddy was still in the tunnel and he straightened, trying to see if she had come out the other end.
“You said her mom always handled her hair,” the woman asked, friendly, her tone relaxed, yet curious. “So I’m guessing divorce, right? Or she’s on a trip?”
Rob blinked, “Uh, divorce, yeah.” He didn’t want another word of condolence. They meant nothing. Just empty words in the face of howling grief.
“I knew it,” she said, her expression sympathetic, “You have that shell-shocked look I normally see on my girlfriend’s faces after their husband’s move on to their trophy wives.”
He managed a weak smile and said nothing. Maddy’s frizzy hair disappeared from view as she moved farther into the bright yellow tunnel.
“Kids are wonderful,” the woman mused, “Really keep you going when nothing else will, don’t you agree?”
Rob thought of the past week. He had spent most of it in pajamas and a bathrobe, the dishes piling up in the sink, staring numbly at the television, Maddy at his side.
“Um, yes, indeed.” He stood up. The tunnel had a fork in it. He could see that now, a second entrance and exit that was close to a man-made cave. Had she gone in that?
“I think of them as our little piece of immortality. If we didn’t have that, what would we have to show that we were ever here at all?”
“Um, right. I, uh, I need to go find where she has gone to. It was nice talking to you.”
She had murmured something in return, but he had been too far away, all of his alarm bells going off at once.
The first time I take her to a park since losing Claire and I manage to lose sight of her. Nominate me for Father of the Year award.
He had found Maddy sitting at the edge of the rubber matting, near the entrance to the faux cave, tears in her eyes.
“Daddy, I fell and hurt my knee on the rocks there.” She pointed a tiny hand at a section of pea gravel.
“It’s okay, Pumpkin, I’ve got you. Here, put your arms around me and I’ll carry you.” She reached out and encircled his neck with her small arms, leaning her head on his shoulder. He felt her tears wet his shirt and a scrape of paper on the back of his neck.
“What do you have there, Pumpkin?”
“A picture of our house, Daddy, a nice girl gave it to me. She said it was a present for you!”
He took the picture, staring at it, and Maddy shifted in his arms, “She said you would like it, Daddy.”
It was a picture of their house. The car in the drive, and a bouquet of flowers that had been delivered yesterday from an associate who had just returned from vacation and learned of Claire’s death. He flipped the photograph over. On the back were two words:
Rob felt cold fear grip him, washing over him like in an icy wave. It was a hot, summer day and a cold sweat formed on his brow, goosebumps on his skin.
“I think of them as our little piece of immortality. If we didn’t have that, what would we have to show that we were ever here at all?”
He turned to look back at the bench. The woman was gone. His gaze traveled over the park as he mentally reviewed what she had looked like: brown hair pulled in a ponytail, brown eyes, yoga pants and a t-shirt, the typical look that most of the moms here shared. Skinny, lattes in hand, with their makeup and manicured nails. She had looked like any of them. Nothing stood out, nothing except for that tattoo.
“Daddy? Can we go home now?”
“Maddy, who gave this to you?”
“A big girl, like an adult? Or a little girl?”
The little girl shrugged, “I dunno. I guess a big girl, maybe like a mommy. She was in the tunnel. She said you would like it.”
“Can you see this girl now?” He turned around slowly, the tunnel was filled with preschoolers. “Can you look, Maddy, and see if you see her?”
The little girl lifted her head up and stared at the children on the playground. Several groups were leaving, even as others settled down at picnic tables to dive into sandwiches and juice cartons.
If Claire had been here, she would have remembered to make a picnic lunch.
He looked around, noticing that many of the mothers had claimed the premium shaded spots, staking out their favorite lunch spots as early as possible.
Maddy stared at the playground, her eyes fixing on the kids at the picnic tables, “I’m hungry, Daddy.”
“Just look a little bit more, Sweetheart.”
A whine had escaped her, “I don’t see her Daddy. And I really want some goldfish crackers.”
“I know you do, Maddy, but this is important. Do you see the girl who gave you the picture?”
The little girl had begun to cry. “I don’t see her. Daddy, I’m hungry!”
He had given up, leaving the park, eyes darting as he studied the women he passed intently. His direct gaze unnerved a couple of the mother hens. They had stared at him, one put a protective hand on her daughter’s shoulder, watching him as he broke into a jog. Maddy shrieked with excitement, her hunger forgotten for the moment.
That night, after dinner, she had drawn a picture. It was eerily similar to the mark on the woman’s wrist.
“What’s this, Sweetheart? Where did you see it?”
“It’s pretty, isn’t it Daddy? It was on the girl’s hand. The one who gave me the picture for you.”
He leaned closer, “On her hand, Sweetheart? Or here, on her wrist?” He pointed to his wrist, and the little girl nodded.
“It was on her wrist.” She pushed at his hand, “I need my other crayons, Daddy, I’m gonna make a rainbow now.”
“Could I have this picture, Sweetheart?”
She smiled up at him, and his heart broke, she looked so much like Claire. Except for her eyes. Instead of Claire’s pale blue, she had warm, chocolate brown ones like his own. “Sure Daddy, will you put it up on the fridge?”
“I think I’ll put it in my office, Pumpkin.”
Later that night, Maddy sound asleep in her bedroom he had stared at the picture.
Two different people, both with the same tattoo. The person who had given Maddy that photograph had done it while she was in the tunnel, nearly thirty feet away from where he was sitting with the woman. It was no coincidence. They were connected. He reached for the bookshelf that rested between his desk and Claire’s. She had written fantasy stories for children, and she had been deep in the middle of one when she died.
The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols sat on the second shelf down, scraps of paper at intervals, that marked Claire’s research.
He paged through the book from the beginning of it, page by page, examining the symbols, finally locating the matching symbol a fraction of the way through the thick book.
“Indalo, huh,” his finger followed the text, “It serves as a reminder of the complex belief of man as the microcosm and the Universe as a microcosm.”
He had heard whispers, nothing more than rumors. Hell, that was what most of his existence at work was built on. Follow the whispers, listen, dig deeper. What if this symbol stood for far more than just an ideal? What if it had some very real, very dangerous people attached to it?
He sat back, staring at the image of the Indalo and the words scribbled on the back of the photograph.
It was all related, he was sure of it. And he was also sure that the last thing he needed was to be involved. That woman had threatened him, more specifically, she had threatened Maddy. And he had to wonder if somehow Claire’s accident hadn’t been an accident at all. Taking a turn too fast, that wasn’t Claire’s style, not even before Maddy was born. He had jokingly called her Grandma when she was behind the wheel, while she had called him Mario Andretti in return.
His parents were dead. His mom to leukemia when he was ten, his dad and his love of the bottle months before Rob turned twenty-two. Claire had lost her parents to a car crash a year after they were married, and both of them were only children. He was all that Maddy had, and she was the only thing he loved left in the world.
I can’t do this job anymore. Not if it means losing Maddy.
The next day he had quit the CIA and put the house on the market. Two days after that, he and Maddy had boarded a plane for Kansas City, leaving Virginia, his life with Claire, and a career as an analyst with the CIA behind him forever. The file he had been compiling, the files and papers he had accumulated over nearly a year of digging, were returned to headquarters. Someone else could research the mysterious group he had found linked to shadowy financial dealings and hired hits across the globe. Someone who didn’t have a child to protect. Someone who hadn’t lost his wife.
Until tonight, that is. Ten years. It had been ten years since he had lost Claire. And he was as sure then as he was now, that it had been no car accident. Someone had deliberately made him a widower, and his child an motherless orphan. Someone had threatened him, and promised to finish destroying what was left of his life if he kept prying. And with a tiny, innocent three-year-old child to protect, who was he to argue?
He had walked away. He had abandoned his investigation and chosen to live. He had fled with the only things that mattered – his life and Maddy’s. And here, in the middle of flyover country, he had thought he was safe. Quietly, in a way that would not reveal his curiosity, not betray his basic he had looked up the symbol. The symbol, he learned, was the Indalo and depicted man under either a rainbow or the vault of heaven.
A red Indalo. Just like the black Indalo tattooed on the woman’s wrist. She had been part of it, something I had known all along. How do these two men fit into all of this?
And as Rob sat there in an overly expensive armchair he wondered if he dared to dig deeper. Or should he walk away while he still could?
He reached into his pocket and hit speed dial. It rang twice and she answered.
“You should be asleep by now.”
“Dad, you called me,” her voice held a slightly petulant tone, “What is that term for ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t?’”
“Right. An idiom. So you call me at almost midnight. If I don’t answer, you come home, wake me up, and demand to know why I didn’t answer the phone. But if I answer the phone, you ask me why I’m not asleep.” She sighed and yawned, “See the problem here?”
Rob chuckled, “I guess you have a point there. But you weren’t asleep.”
“Nope, I was finishing the book you gave me.”
“Voyage From Yesteryear? What did you think of it?”
“It was good, really good, but,” she paused for a moment, “Do you ever think humans could ever truly get along in a society without government and laws? I mean, really get along?”
“You are far too young to be so cynical.”
“I’ll be home soon.”
“Okay. G’night.” Her phone clicked as she ended the call. He stared at the darkened screen for a moment. Whatever was going on here, whatever the Indalo was doing here, he was now tasked with finding it out.