The Last Ride (An excerpt from the second book in the Henry Walsh Private Investigator series)

Chapter One:

Barrington’s was a restaurant for people fancier than I was, or the type who liked to believe they were perhaps something special. If you happened to enjoy eighteen-dollar cocktails and large plates with barely enough food to fill a space between your teeth, then Barrington’s was for you. 

Angela Thompson appeared to be looking my way when I walked past the tall plants and a fish tank, separating the bar from the restaurant’s foyer. She gave me a nod and raised her martini glass, taking a sip without taking her eyes off me.

Angela might’ve been a little older than she’d been in the photo I saw of her, but she was an attractive woman, although the dim lights over the bar made it hard to get a good enough look. 

She watched and smiled, extending her hand to shake mine. “You must be Henry.” 

“Sorry I’m late,” I said, looking around the bar. I felt like everyone had turned to look at me. But it always felt that way when I walked up to a bar I’d never been in before. 

I gazed around at the well-dressed crowd, filling most of the seats around the long, U-shaped bar. It was twice the size of any bar I’d normally spend my time at, including the one at my friend Billy’s restaurant. The men at Barrington’s all wore ties, although loose around their necks. I guess I’d describe the women—including Angela—to be dressed professionally. I couldn’t think of any other way to describe it.

I looked at my Sperry Top-Siders, feeling a little underdressed with my short-sleeved shirt. At least it had buttons.

Angela looked at her watch and turned it on her wrist. “You’re right on time.”

A glass, half full with gold-colored liquor was on the bar in front of the empty stool next to Angela. “Is someone sitting here?”

Before she could answer, a man’s hand reached from behind and grabbed the glass. “Excuse me,” he said. 

It was an older gentleman, maybe the only other person at the bar besides me who didn’t dress like he’d come from a corporate board meeting. 

I stepped out of his way. “I’m sorry, I—”

“No, please. Go ahead.” He put his warm, heavy hand on my back and grabbed the glass. “I’m leaving.” 

Angela put her hand on my arm. “Go ahead. Sit down. He’s been ‘leaving’ for an hour now. If you don’t take his seat, he’ll never go home.” She winked at Roy, sipping her martini with a somewhat mischievous smile.

The man reached out for my hand. “Roy Mason,” he said, squeezing my hand hard. He held it a bit too long, like he wanted to wait for me to cry mercy.

Angela told him who I was before I had a chance to.

Roy finally let go of my hand. “The private investigator, huh?”

“Roy is a friend of John’s,” Angela said.

I slid onto the stool and faced him.

“John and I were more than just friends,” Roy said. “Two peas in a pod.”

“I’m sorry about your loss,” I said, then glanced at Angela. “To both of you.”

Roy shook his head, looking toward the floor. “Sometimes a freak accident is all it takes, end a good man’s life.”

Angela leaned toward me. “Roy seems to think I’m wasting your time. He’s got a lot of friends at the sheriff's office and refuses to believe they would ever make a mistake. But I don’t think it hurts anyone to make sure we know the truth, does it?”

Roy finished what was in his glass and placed it on the bar. “Okay, I’m leaving. For real this time.” He gave me a quick nod. “Good meeting you.” He kissed Angela on the back of her head. “We’ll catch up later, hon.”

She gave him a half-hearted wave over her shoulder but didn’t turn from the bar. “Bye now, Roy.”

I watched him limp, going past the tall plants and the fish tank, and out the door. 

Angela said, “Like I told you on the phone, I’m on an island, all alone with this. Nobody wants to believe something else could’ve happened to John. It’s like they all just want to put it away and ignore the facts because the sheriff’s office said it was an accident.” Angela waved the bartender over. “Kyle? Would you please come over here and get my friend a drink?” She tapped the top of her glass. “I could use a refill myself.”

The bartender walked toward us, wiping his hands on the towel draped over his shoulder. “What would you like?” 

“Jack Daniels.” I put two fingers in the air. “Two ice cubes.”

He walked away, and I said to Angela, “Do you want to tell me more about what happened to Mr. Thompson?”

Angela peered into her glass. “Aren’t you going to ask me why the ex-wife is hiring a private investigator?”

“Bob told me you were in business together,” I said. “So I assumed—”

“John and I were business partners. But we were more than that. I don’t mean we were lovers. Not anymore. It started, we were just two kids out of college who were in the right place at the right time and started a business together. We were lucky.”

“You met in college?”

Angela nodded.

I said, “And John was married to someone else?”

“The last one, his widow; she was wife number three.”

Kyle walked over and put a martini down in front of Angela and put a glass down in front of me that was filled to the top with ice.

Angela pointed at my glass. “Didn’t you ask for two ice cubes?” 

I took a sip. “That’s all right.”

Angela waved for Kyle and said to me, “It shouldn’t be that difficult to follow a simple request, should it?”

“Really, it’s not a big deal,” I said. “I don’t like it watered down.” 

Kyle walked over. “Is everything all right?”

“Yeah, good,” I said.

But Angela wasn’t having it. “Kyle,” she said, grabbing the glass from my hand. She slid it toward Kyle. “Would you mind giving Henry what he’d asked for?”

Kyle said, “That’s a Jack Daniels. Isn’t that what he wanted?”

Angela shook her head. “He specifically said he wanted two cubes of ice. Does that look like two cubes of ice? Four minutes from now, it’ll be a Jack and water.”

I gave Kyle a look like I had nothing to do with it.

He dumped what was in my glass and filled it again from the bottle, placing two cubes in it with the metal scoop. “Sorry about that,” he said, and turned away.

Angela sipped her martini, holding the glass by the stem. She said, “You want something a certain way, you ask for it. You don’t get it, you demand it.” She gave me a questioning look. “You’re not a pushover, are you?”

I cracked a grin and shook my head. “I like to pick my battles,” I said.

Angela turned toward me on the stool, her skirt hiked halfway up her thighs and her knee rubbing against mine. “I don’t know how much you know,” she said, “other than what I told you on the phone. But I might as well start from the beginning.” Angela sipped her martini and picked an olive from the glass, popping it in her mouth. “John was what you might consider an avid biker. He rode two, three times a week. And he never missed his Sunday morning rides. It was his favorite day. No matter what—rain or shine—John would be out there at seven o’clock in the morning.”

“Did he always ride at Losco Park?” I said.

“He did. He liked the dirt trails there.” She got Kyle’s attention, pointing to the glass.

“So, what happened?” I said.

“Well, as far as I understand, John got up like he did every Sunday morning for his bike ride. I guess, for the last time.” She paused. “Two boys found him on the edge of a pond. The sheriff’s office claims he went off the trail and down the side of a hill. They believe he must’ve been out of control, hitting his head before his bike slid into the pond. They found him facedown in four inches of water.”

“But from what I’ve looked into, his death wasn’t caused by drowning,” I said...

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