Bronze Refined As Silver

by Mark Eidemiller

Chapter Fourteen

Our flight was scheduled for the afternoon of the 28th. It would take us six hours to get to San Francisco, including one connecting flight. Clark and Johnny drove us to the Burlington airport, north of Rutland.

As we stood in line waiting to board, I commented on the design of Dot's fanny pack. "I've been meaning to ask: did you make that yourself?"

She nodded. "After my last pack got ripped offa me while I was wading through a crowd at the Mall, I did a little creative designing and put this together. That was five years ago, and it'll probably outlive me. There's a 1/8" bike lock cable between the layers of heavy-duty leather, and the double-lock takes an effort to open -- makes the average thief think twice. And I pity the poor fool who puts his hands on it while in range of this little black belt."

"Very nice. If I get you the parts, could you make me one?"

"Sure," she smiled. "The college's probably got the facilities for it."

Even though we had the forethought to check ahead, the radical change in temperature caught of off guard. We were shedding layers into a couple of expandable duffle bags as we got off the jet, sweating by the time we reached the hotel room. We called Clark and Johnny and told them we had arrived safely, then caught a nap and had dinner in the hotel.

The next day, we arrived early at The Darians Restaurant. We mentioned Massey's name, and the waitress' eyes glowed appreciatively.

"You're the ones meetin' Barry, right?" she said.

"Yeah," I answered. "Can you get us a table that's kinda private?"

"Sure, hon. Follow me."

We were directed to a booth near a corner. It was isolated enough for our needs. The waitress identified herself as Stacy, and made a couple of suggestions for ordering. We said we'd think about it.

Massey showed up a few minutes later. He was in his thirties, balding, and came dressed in slacks, dress shirt, and tie. He hung onto a manilla envelope. We exchanged introductions, then sat. Stacy came to our table a minute later.

"How's it shakin', Barry?"

"Fine, Stace. How 'bout a couple of Glen's grilled cheese sandwiches, a side salad and some onion rings. Ranch on the side, and a Diet."

"No ice, right?"

"Yeah." He looked over at us, and we ordered also.

After Stacy headed to the kitchen, I opened up the conversation. "What made you investigate Mr. Renwick?"

He took a sip of water. "It all started with a hunch, a funny feeling that things weren't quite what they appeared. So I poked around a bit. Two things stood out like neon. First, Renwick's body had never been positively identified. Sure, the body had the same general characteristics as Renwick -- hair color and length, height, weight, build, skin color, clothing type, etc. -- but the hands weren't his. They were too small. Renwick always had large hands, according to all his pictures, and from testimonies from friends and co-workers."

He opened up the envelope and pulled out a photocopied picture, face down. "The second thing that stood out was the matter of one Mark Durant. Durant was a co-worker for Renwick's engineering company. He was a wildcatter, an independent worker who had done business with Renwick over the years. They were good friends and drinking buddies. Co-workers told me they used to call Renwick and Durant the Grim Brothers because of a very close resemblance to one another." He flipped over the photocopy, showing the two men side-by-side.

The similarity was striking. "I see what you mean," commented Dot.

"On the day of the quake, Renwick was transporting a briefcase containing $57,500 in cash that he was going to deposit in the bank that afternoon. After the quake, however, the briefcase nor the money was able to be found. They finally blamed it on looters ransacking the area during the aftermath of the quake.

"Durant was living in a motel room next to the freeway, less than a mile from the section that collapsed. Three days after the quake, without saying a word to anyone, he checked out and left the city. The trail ends there." He paused to take a sip of his diet soda. "I couldn't let this matter rest. I hung onto the information for some time, then was able to use it in an article I was writing for the Chronicle."

I rubbed my chin thoughtfully. Inside, however, I was cheering. "Let me get this straight. Durant died in the quake instead of Renwick. Renwick somehow escaped the quake, took the briefcase with the money, pretended to be Durant, and left for parts unknown."

"Exactly. There are too many things about this to call them coincidences." He took a deep breath. "I know there are so many questions unanswered . . . so many loose ends. How did Durant get to be in Renwick's truck, and why was he behind the wheel when the quake hit? How did Renwick get away, and then get into Durant's motel room? And where did he go?" He shrugged. "That's it. In a way, I wrote the article hoping someone would come forward to take up the challenge."

"Thank you, Mr. Massey," said Dot, placing her hand atop his and smiling. "You've done more than we could hope for. Maybe we can take it from here."

"I hope so. These are copies of all my notes." He slid the envelope across the table and smiled. "Good luck."

I reached over and retrieved the manilla motherload. We finished our lunch while Massey told us about some of the other things he had written. It was a good time. Once Massey started relaxing around us he was a very nice guy.

After lunch we hurried back to the privacy of our rental car, and the cell phone. I eagerly told Clark what we had found out, and announced we'd be heading back in the morning.

"Don't," he said. "We just got a weather bulletin. There's a big snowfront moving in that's threatening to sock us in for a few days. We're going to get some supplies, then batten down the hatches and settle in until it blows through. Why don't you two just stay there where it's warmer until we give the all clear, okay?"

I relayed the message to Dot. "Okay . . . sure." I suddenly had a brainstorm. "Ask Johnny where the closest fax machine is, and if he can use it in private."

A couple of moments later Clark got back on the line. "He says there's one in the admin building, and one in the library. The library's more private. The notes?"

"It's quite a treasure. If I fax it to you, it'll give you a head start in unraveling the mystery. Dot and I would love to be there, but . . . if anyone can do this, you three can."

"Three?" he said, puzzled. Then I heard a low chuckle. "Yes. Three."

We ended the conversation. I explained to Dot about what I had in mind. "I think there's a fax machine at the hotel."

"Good. Let's go."

As Dot drove, I made another call.

Johnny walked into the cottage. He had his portfolio tucked under one arm, and a dusting of snow on his shoulders.

"Brrrrrrrr," he muttered, shaking off the white powder. "I do believe our snowfront has arrived."

"Then it's good that I got our supplies while you retrieved the faxes."

"How did you do with the roads?"

"Not bad, considering. Anyhow, I got everything we needed -- plus a few extras."

Johnny hung up his coat. "Extras?"

"I took the liberty of purchasing a speakerphone box for your telephone." He picked up the handset and dialed a number. "Hello. Are you ready?" He pressed the button on the speakerphone box and replaced the handset.

"What's going on, Doc?" asked Johnny curiously.

"I am, Big Words," came the squeak over the speaker. "It's good to hear your voice after all these years, even if it does sound like it's in a cave."

"M-Monk?" he stuttered.

"The one and only, thank God."

Clark explained. "With this, we three can converse as if we were in the same room together."

"A conference call," clarified Monk. "Lissen, Johnny. Nobody knows Renny like we do. If anyone can track his little heinie down, we can. True?"

Johnny thought about it a moment. "You are correct."

There was a few seconds of silence. "Johnny?" Monk's voice was hesitant.

"Y-yes, Monk?"

"I'm sorry for bein' so distant from ya all these years."

Johnny hesitated, then replied, "Me, too."

"Let's not be strangers, okay? You've never even seen Lea since we got married."

"No." His face suddenly broke into a grin. "I have, however, met Dot. She's very lovely. I assume her looks came from the maternal side of your families?"

"More than you know," commented Monk.

Clark secretly grinned at the inside joke, then said, "We have the notes from Perry. What about you?"

"Came in an hour ago. I've been giving them the once over. I gotta hand it to that reporter . . . he sure sold me on it."

Clark turned to Johnny. He nodded. "I looked them over as they came through the fax. Overall, they appear to be quite convincing."

"Sounds good. I'll pick things up as we go. Shall we begin?"

Monk spoke. "Not just yet. Confession time. After the team broke up, I lost track of Renny -- also. I think the last time we were all together in one place was for Ham's funeral."

"Yes," agreed Johnny. "Every now and then I'd run across his name in the news, but I never considered contacting him."

There was silence. Clark said, "Okay. What do we already know about Renny's social life?"

"Doesn't look like it changed much after the split," observed Monk. "He was always a bit of a loner. His work was his life. That's what made him a good engineer."

"Exactly," replied Johnny. "Looks like his friendship with Durant was the only social contact he had outside of the workplace, and they knew each other several years."

"Yeah. They was drinkin' buddies. I can relate. And the other guy wasn't a social extrovert either. So what do we know about Durant? Married, girlfriend, anyone?"

"It says he had an ex-wife, now living in Arizona. No kids, nothing." Johnny read from the notes. "A loner like Renny. An independent worker . . . a world traveler. And since the pay wasn't bad, he didn't exactly live like a pauper."

"Sounds a little like Renny," mused Monk. "Before settling down in San Francisco."

"Interesting," commented Clark, thinking aloud. "Is it possible that they saw greener pastures in the other's lives? Renny's past of glory and adventure . . . Durant's present?"

"Could Renny have become envious of what Durant could do that he couldn't?"

Johnny walked over to the window. "His life would be quite empty if that were the case. He'd see the glories of his past as ancient history. But then there's Durant, the greener grass on the other side of the fence. He just might have seen Durant as himself if things had been different."

"Wait a minute," interrupted Clark. "Did he ever give any indication of that while we were together?"

"Naw," answered Monk. "When we weren't doing somethin' connected to our chosen professions -- I'd dare anybody to say what we did was boring -- we all pretty much lived from one adventure to the next. That was the fun of it all. And apart from the things you and I have already shared, Doc, I've got no regrets."

"I concur," added Johnny, nodding. "We cheated death over and over, made discoveries that boggled the mind, and faced danger like most people face traffic jams. You expressed it correctly, Monk . . . it was fun."

"But if Renny got caught up in the monotony of his life and stopped looking at the fun in his job, every day would be just another reminder that he's gettin' old."

"So," concluded Clark. "Renny escapes death from the earthquake -- a reminder of all the times of cheating death in the past. His friend dies in the driver's seat -- in the place he should've been. He could see it as an omen, so to speak -- a way for him to make a brand new start."

"Tough bait to resist," agreed Monk. "Especially when he finds out that everyone else thinks he's dead."

"Any thoughts on how Durant ended up in the driver's seat?" tossed out Johnny.

The reply came as a minute of silence. Clark said, "Okay, we'll leave that one with the question of how Renny got into Durant's motel room. Let's just accept he presumption that Renny somehow survived the collapse of the freeway and was able to find shelter back at Durant's motel."

"If he was in shock -- and who wouldn't? -- he'd go back to the closest place of security," said Johnny. "Consider the following: he receives a bump to the head which causes him to lose his memory temporarily. He goes to Durant's motel, and somehow comes to believe he is Mark Durant. Possible?"

"I can't buy it," replied Monk. "All he'd have to do is look in the mirror, and he'd see the difference. Besides, Durant's first move would be to check into the hospital if he were hurt, or call into work and let them know he's okay. But it didn't go down like that, did it?" He paused. "Nope. It had to be Renny."

Johnny nodded. "Point well taken," he conceded.

"So Renny gets into Durant's motel room with a briefcase full of money. He sees his opportunity to make a fresh start, so leaves the country. How and where? Airport?"

"With security the way it is nowadays?" commented Monk. "Not a chance."

"Indeed," agreed Johnny.

"Wait a minnit!" suddenly exclaimed Monk.

"What is it?" asked Clark.

"Durant's 4-by-4 was never recovered, right? Check out the picture of the truck!"

Johnny sorted through the papers and found the one Monk was referring to. He looked at it and handed it to Clark. "Very nice," he commented.

"Very nice? It's more than very nice." He paused. "Guys, it's obvious! If I were Renny and I had a chance to drive that rig, I'd jump at it. Icing on the cake. And the rougher territory, the better. Renny made a beeline for the nearest border."

"If that were the case," formulated Clark, "there are only two directions he could have gone in -- north to Canada and Alaska, or south to Mexico and South America."

"Mexico," said Monk and Johnny as one.

Clark nodded. "Agreed. A lot of small villages to get lost in."

"What would he do?" asked Johnny. "Engineering?"

"Maybe," replied Monk. "But, considerin' those mallets he calls fists, I'd put my money on some good ol' bare-knuckle fightin'. You both remember how he loved to fight?"

"True," answered Clark with a smile.

"If he performed some creative wagering, he could parlay the money into a small fortune," added Johnny.

"Hold on," said Clark. "Is there any way we can verify this?"

There was a chuckle over the speaker. "Leave that to me. I've got some amigos in Mexico who might be able to provide some information."

"But would they remember things after ten years?"

"They will for the right amount of pesos. Doc, can I tap into the Hidalgo account if I need to?"

"Certainly. Use whatever you need."

"Thought you'd say that. Thanks. Let me make a few calls. I'll get back to you."

"Okay. Later, Monk." Clark hung up the phone and looked at Johnny. "So how's it feel to be back in harness, brother?"

Johnny took a deep breath and grinned wide. "Wonderful!"

In San Francisco, the fog sometimes takes on a life of its own. There's a film noir feeling that comes over you when you're walking through it. However, the scene playing out before us was more 'cat-versus-mouse' -- unfortunately, not a product of our imaginations -- with the 'cats' being five teenagers on the prowl, and the 'mice' being a young upper-middle class couple dressed for a night on the town, blissfully oblivious in each other's company.

"Looks like they've got something on their minds," observed Dot.

"Uh huh. They're heading for an ambush." I stopped; my course was clear, my decision simple. "I can't stand by and watch this happen. Is there a way to warn them?"

She slowly shook her head. "No. They're too close together. Besides, it looks like the gang's got a plan. Someone could get hurt if we force their hand."

"Then we've got to stop them." My tone was dead serious, and so was I.

She looked over at me with amazement. "You want to face down five apparently well-armed punks?"

"Something's got to be done. Otherwise that couple will end up as a headline in tomorrow's news." I looked at her. "You're the security person. Any ideas?"

Her eyes suddenly went wide with recognition, and a grin crossed her face. "As a matter of fact, yes." She reached into her waist pack and brought something out. As she did, I understood her grin.

We watched from a distance, taking a precious few minutes to assess the situation and identify our 'targets.'

There were five of them, all in their late teens, their heads shaved in a common style. The first one we named 'Ray-Ban' because of the fact that he was wearing expensive Ray-Ban sunglasses even though it was dark. He was a white kid, skinny, and a chain smoker. The coat that he wore hung on him like a tent in the popular style. He also wore bluejeans and high-topped sneakers. He twirled something nervously in his hand which produced an irritating clicking sound.

The second one was another white kid, and we named him 'GI Joe' because of the grey-and-white camouflage BDU slacks tucked neatly into military-style boots, and the black bomber jacket. He carried a length of chain in his hand, but I wouldn't be surprised if he had an army-style .45 somewhere in that outfit.

Numbers three and four were lookalike black kids we named 'Bat Boy' and 'Robin' because of the baseball bats they wielded with martial artist proficiency. They wore baggy jackets like Ray-Ban, but also baggy pants as well.

The fifth was a white girl we named 'GI Jane' because she wore a tight-fitting top, and military BDU slacks in green camouflage pattern similar to GI Joe's. She had the same hairstyle as the boys, and tattoos across her arms and the back of her neck. The way she held the five-foot bamboo pole indicated her proficiency with her weapon of choice.

Dot made some observations and outlined some tactics. "Okay. GI Jane's the most dangerous, 'cause of the reach of that bo staff of hers. She's the first one we'll have to be cautious of. Then I'd probably say Bat Boy and Robin, for the same reasons, then GI Joe, and Ray-Ban. The more distance they can put between us and them while still being able to strike, the better their advantage is. And anyone of them can be carrying throwing weapons or guns, so we've still got a lot of unknown factors here."

We formulated our plan of attack, and, after a few tips on surveillance, started following the hoods who followed the victims. At one point, GI Joe and Ray Ban split off and moved ahead, waiting at the mouth of an alleyway. The couple walked right into the trap. Intimidating them with their weapons, they directed the young couple down the alley. Unable to escape, they submitted. Both were terrified, the lady whimpering and clinging tight to the gentleman. We gave them a minute to move down the alleyway, then advanced.

We took our positions on either side of the alley's mouth, keeping out of sight but able to observe the punks. We waited. Farther in, they had surrounded the young couple, and were taunting and terrorizing them. I heard a sharp hiss to my left. I looked over at Dot. She gave a quick nod, and I offered up a quick prayer.

Then we moved in unison, quietly stepping out of the fog. Standing side-by-side, with only a few feet separating us, I was amazed we hadn't been spotted yet. But our prey was too engrossed in their 'playtime' to catch our movement. I tried not to tense up as we moved forward.

Dot loudly addressed the group: "Ahem! Is this a private party, or is anyone invited?"

Our appearance produced the desired effect on them. The four immediately went silent and looked in our direction. Ray-Ban and GI Jane, closer to us than the others, turned towards us while GI Joe and Bat Boy kept the couple covered.

In four-letter terms that could've peeled paint off a wall, GI Jane told us to get lost.

"Now, now," commented Dot, smiling. "Is that any way for a lady to speak? But, then again, you're the farthest thing from a lady that I've seen since the last Marilyn Manson concert."

GI Jane's quite unprintable reply sparked hoots and laughter from her male companions. Then she repeated her colorful instruction for us to vacate, pointing her staff at us as further incentive.

We continued to stand, our arms hanging loosely at our sides, the palms of our hands facing to the rear.

It was time. I looked over at Dot. "Ms. Brooks?" I said in an exaggerated British accent.

"Yes, Mr. Liston?" she replied, equally casual.

"It appears that we're going to have to teach these ruffians a lesson."

She nodded and smiled. "Agreed."

We took a couple of steps towards them and stopped. By that time, their full attention was on us. The two who had hung back now advanced, and the battle lines were taking shape. On my side I faced GI Joe and Bat Boy, and Dot faced GI Jane and Ray-Ban. We strived to keep our distances from the long-reaching weapons, but moved as close as we dared. Our movements distracted the foursome from the young couple, who now recognized our intent and started to slowly and quietly retreat from the scene. Good, I thought.

"After we're done with these hooligans," I said, still using the British accent. "Would you be interested in a game of ping pong?"

Dot raised her eyebrows. "Yes. I think I would like that."

The foursome were pumping themselves up for a rumble. They tapped their weapons on the ground, slapped them into their open palms, or just swung them randomly. Their faces carried a common expression of intimidation, which didn't matter much to us. GI Joe and Ray-Ban spontaneously hooted and grunted, while the others were silent.

"I brought the paddles," I said, breathing deeply. "Did you bring the ping pong balls?"

She raised one hand, and a white ball-shaped object rested in it. "Sure did."

The ball suddenly flew out of her hand, as if she lost her hold on it. "Oops!" she exclaimed as it flew in the direction of Bat Boy. Her other hand released a second ball in the direction of GI Jane's feet. Simultaneously, two more matching balls left my hands in the directions of GI Joe and Ray-Ban as I sucked in a lungful of air and held it.

Bat Boy's reflexes were good, but his decision to hit the white ball and send it away from him was bad. As the bat connected, the ball splattered, and the contents were released instantly. He sagged a moment, the bat clattering from apathetic fingers, then he dropped to his knees, and fell forward on his face.

GI Jane tried to backpedal away from the ball breaking at her feet, but didn't get far enough away. She bellowed with rage at the realization that they were under attack and losing, but the bellow died to a groan, then a yawn. The one we considered most dangerous gave up without a fight, her eyelids flickering, and she crumpled to the ground.

Ray-Ban swung a roundhouse punch at Dot's head, but it came out far slower than intended. Dot sidestepped it easily, then grabbed his arm, pulling him into the punch. Unable to stop himself, he followed through and sailed forward to smash into the wall of the alley.

GI Joe swung his chain at me, but I also avoided it. I grabbed the arm and pulled him forward, then brought my knee up to make contact with his stomach. He whooshed as the wind was knocked out of him. He gasped in air, rolled his eyes skyward, and was asleep before he landed on the ground.

Then there was silence, save for the sound of occasional snoring. My lungs were aching, but we waited a few more seconds. Then, looking at her watch, Dot exhaled and took in a breath. A moment later she smiled and breathed normally. I exhaled and gratefully did likewise.

"Good work, Mr. Liston," she said formally, putting an arm around my shoulders.

"And you, Ms. Brooks." I put an arm around her waist. We leaned on each other for a few moments. "You know, I really have to hand it to your granddad -- anaesthetic gas is a wonderful thing."

"I'm glad I brought them along. Not sure why though."

I was going to answer her when I saw movement from behind us. The fifth gang member, Robin, had been hiding in the fog. Swinging his bat and screaming curses, he rushed us. Dot ducked to avoid the full impact of the bat, but it was not enough to keep from it clipping her across the top of her head. Stunned, she dropped to the concrete. Reacting quickly, I pulled off my jacket and held it like a net in front of me, slowing the bat's swing and giving me an opportunity to seize it. With a twist and a heave, I tossed it and the jacket to the side, where it landed with a clatter.

However, that didn't stop the enraged youth. As he rushed me, I suddenly bent double at the waist so that my eyes stared at the concrete floor, and thrust my fists over my head, parallel to the ground. My move caught the punk off-guard and off-balance, and he continued at a full run, my fists burying themselves in his midsection with an abrupt, intense release of air. I assumed he fell over onto my back, because I suddenly stood erect, ramrod stiff, and sent the youth flying upside-down into the unyielding brick wall behind me.

I heard his final groan, but I didn't move for an instant, waiting for any other surprises. Then my attention was turned to Dot, and I quickly went to her side. I examined her with the limited First Aid knowledge I had, then, cradling her in my arms, I held her close to me, praying. She moaned. Then she opened her eyes and looked up at me.

I smiled at her. "Just take it easy. You got clipped. No blood that I can see, but you've got a nasty little bump."

Her free hand reached up experimentally. "Ouch," she said, grimacing at a sudden spasm of pain. Then her eyes opened wide with a wave of fear. "The guy with the bat . . . "

I tightened my hold around her, letting her feel the security in it. "Out for the count. Do you think you can stand up?"

"I don't know," she said, acknowledging our positions with a grin. "I think I could get to like this."

I grinned back. "Yeah, you're fine," I conceded.

I helped her to her feet. She hung onto me a little, but that was all right. She looked around, and saw the last of the five slumped near the wall. "What happened?"

"I'm not sure," I answered honestly. "It was all too quick." Then I changed the subject. "So what do we do? An anonymous call to the San Francisco Police?"

She frowned and tried to shake her head; it came slowly. "Without proof, they won't be able to hold them." She paused. "How about stripping them down to their undies and leaving them here for awhile?"

I shook my head. "Personally, I don't think there's enough undies there to go around. And although it's kinda warm around here, it could cool down before the night's over. Besides, I want to embarrass the snot out of them, not send them to the hospital. Next idea?"

She looked around the alley, then smiled. "How about that?" she suggested, pointing.

As we walked away from the alley with our bundles, we took one last look back. The alley was clean. We'd taken out the trash. Actually, our five sleeping antagonists were tied up and sleeping peacefully in one of the dumpsters. They had enough clothes on to keep them from suffering from exposure, but the rest went with us, along with their weapons and their wallets. Their weapons went into another dumpster down the way, their wallets and personal items into a bag we discovered under Ray-Ban's massive coat; we'd return them by mail in a day or so. And their remaining clothing became an anonymous donation to a charity drop box a couple of blocks away.

I looked over at Dot. Her face had gone suddenly pale, and she swayed slightly.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

"Yeah . . . sure . . . fine," she said unconvincingly.

Then her body abruptly went limp and started to fall. I released the bag and caught her, lowering her to the ground. After a quick check of her vital signs, I reached for my cell phone and dialed 911.

Go to Chapter Fifteen

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