Something was different this hot and humid Georgia morning. Frowning, Abel Tooley unlocked the massive padlock securing the junkyard’s heavy wire gate, and raked his gaze from one side of the yard to the other. Nothing looked out of place. On the left, pieces of haphazardly piled rusty metal jutted up at all angles. Ahead, totaled vehicles lay like discarded shells, which most of them were, now that Abel had picked their carcasses clean as needed by his customers. At the far right, early morning sunlight reflected from last night’s rain caught in the hollows of discarded fenders and hubcaps.
Abel went into the shop and filled the coffee pot, scowling as he measured the grounds and sifted through his memory that seldom failed him.
The Volvo! That was it. That’s what was different, and that car was going to get him off the hook at the bank.
He pulled keys from his pegboard. He’d been too busy to give the Volvo more than a cursory glance when it came in yesterday. Now he opened the driver’s door.
Sniffed. Cigar smoke. Something else, too, something nauseating. He looked under the seats, over the visors, between the cushions, grimacing.
Abel fitted the trunk key into the lock, popped it open and recoiled.
“Godamighty!” he gasped, his breakfast gorging into his throat. He turned away, breathed deeply of fresh air before looking back at the naked body of a grotesquely fat man so short that he fit neatly crosswise in the trunk. Opaque, bloodshot blue eyes stared unseeingly from below a neat small hole in the man’s forehead.
Abel sprinted into his shop and dialed 911.
“Done,” said the tall dark man to the elegant woman seated on a Victorian couch.
She narrowed her eyes and drew on her slim cigar. “No trouble?”
“Here.” The woman handed him a fat envelope. “Get lost. I never want to see you again.”
He sketched a mock salute. “I’m gone.”
She smiled as the door closed behind him.
Crime Scene people covered Abel’s junkyard like busy ants.
“What made you check the trunk?” asked Detective Paul George.
“Always do,” said Abel. “Then when I smelled—” he broke off. “Ugh!” he finished lamely.
George’s partner Amy Adams, young, pert and a gung-ho cop, asked, “How long have you had the car?”
“Came in yesterday.”
Abel shook his head, pulling on one ear. “Don’t see much of anybody here, usually. That Volvo was towed in by a private company over to Macon.”
“You didn’t check the trunk then?”
“No. I was pretty busy, planned doin’ it today.”
Paul George put his notebook in his pocket and gestured to the crime scene crew. “Finish up, then.” He and Amy followed Abel into his small shop. “Any name on the tow truck?”
Abel shook his head. “New and plain as window glass. I figured it just hadn’t been painted yet.” He shuffled through a mountain of sold and paid-out slips and finally handed one to Paul. “Sorry to be so slow. I keep every ticket on anything I’ve ever sold. See, all he asked was five hundred. That was a good deal for me, Volvo in as good a shape as that I can fix up and sell for a thousand, maybe fifteen hundred. And do I need that right about now!”
“Didn’t you think it was funny, him not asking for more?”
Abel shrugged. “Said it wasn’t his, he was delivering it for the owner. Here’s the title.”
Paul looked it over. “Pretty new paper. Probably fake. I’d like to have the name of the real owner.” He put the paper in his jacket pocket. “Be sure you don’t do anything with that car. It’s evidence.”
“But—” Abel’s shoulders slumped. The bank was on him and he badly needed that sale to pay off the last of the loan on the junkyard. Most of his receipts came in small amounts, and not enough of those. “I guess I knew it was too good to be true.”
He watched the detectives drive away, wishing he’d taken a better look in the trunk. There was something familiar about that fat dead face. Something....he shook his head and went back to work.