“I don’t know what that means. What sort of soil reports?”
“You know, the environmental kind.”
“I still don’t understand.”
“Eric Treadwell and Dickie Strauss were friends, did you know that?”
“Not really, no.”
“They have the same tat sleeve. Dickie said he copied it from Eric’s.”
t does any of that have to do with me?”
“I’m not sure, Roger,” said Puller. He took a sip of coffee and studied the man. “How’d the trip to New York go?”
Trent looked startled. “How did you know that’s where I went?”
“Bill Strauss told us. He wouldn’t tell us why, but he did say that your company was very profitable and investment opportunities were everywhere.”
Trent glanced away and Puller saw a small tremor start up in the man’s left hand.
“Everybody needs energy,” added Puller.
“Right,” said Trent curtly. “Are we done here? Because you clearly have nothing to tell me that is helpful.”
Cole glanced at Puller. He said, “I guess so. You should probably go home and get some sleep. You look beat.”
“Thanks for your concern,” snapped Trent.
As the other man rose, Puller did too. He stepped closer and said in a low voice, “I would take those death threats seriously, Roger. But maybe not for the reason you think.”
Trent grew a shade paler, turned, and left. A few moments later the Escalade roared off.
As Cole and Puller walked outside, she said, “What exactly was that about?”
“That man is scared. For a lot of reasons. Personal. Business. Why do you think that is? He owns the whole town. Big fish in a little pond.”
“I don’t know,” said Cole.
“Big fish in a little pond,” repeated Puller.
Cole got it. “There’s a bigger fish in town.”
“We find baldy.”
“How? You said you had an idea.”
“Let me put it another way. We find Dickie Strauss.”
“You think he’s the guy Dougett saw running from the house?”
“Fits the physical description. Burns on the arm? Try a tat sleeve. And if it wasn’t Dickie, it might have been one of his tat sleeve crew.”
“There aren’t any gangs in Drake, Puller.”
“None that you’re aware of,” he corrected.
“Why would Dickie Strauss have been in that house? And if he was, then that means he killed Larry Wellman. Why would he do that?”
“That’s not necessarily so.”
“What do you mean? They were both in the house and Larry ended up dead. Somebody had to kill him. He didn’t hang himself.”
“So what’s your point?”
“Let’s just find Dickie instead of arguing. Any idea where he might be?”
She slid the cruiser into drive. “Yeah.”
“You’ll find out when we get there. I can play things close to the vest too.”
THE CONCRETE DOME. Puller studied it as they passed by.
“Maybe Drake should make that into a tourist attraction,” he said.
“Yeah, that would be a great draw. Stare at cement for a dollar,” replied Cole.
She turned down a street and steered the cruiser into the neighborhood that had once housed people that had worked in the nearby facility. They passed abandoned houses that were starting to cave in, and other homes where people had worked to make them livable. Puller stared at small kids with dirty faces, and skinny mothers who ran after them. He didn’t see many men, but figured they were probably out earning a living or at least trying to find work.
He sniffed the air. “Nice aroma.”
“We try to get them to take their trash to the dump, but it’s an ongoing struggle. And the bathrooms in these places stopped working a long time ago. Most have put in outhouses of some kind.”
“Nice life for the citizens of the richest nation on earth.”
“Well, those riches must be concentrated in the hands of a few, because we don’t have any of it.”
“They are,” said Puller. “Like your brother-in-law.” He looked around. “Those are electrical poles, but those transformers don’t seem to be hot.”
“People here were trying to tie into them and getting fried. We had the electric company turn this part of the grid off and do a workaround.” She pointed to a telephone pole that had some cable running from it down to the ground where it snaked inside some of the homes.
“Telephone service is being tapped into, as you can see. We let that pass. Folks here can’t necessarily afford cell phones. But they can still talk to people. Phone company is okay with it. Hell, more and more people don’t even have landlines these days. They make their money off cell phones and data usage and stuff like that.”
Cole pointed up ahead. “There’s our destination.”
The place was at the end of the street and far larger than the other homes. Puller stared at the massive overhead doors painted red, though the paint had mostly faded away.
It struck Puller what he was looking at. “A firehouse?”
“Used to be. Hasn’t been used for that since they domed over the Bunker. At least that’s what I was told as a kid.”
“So what do they use it for now?”
The next instant Puller heard the motorcycle start up. Actually, it was more than one motorcycle.
“Harley club,” said Cole. “Of which Dickie Strauss is a member. They call it Xanadu. Some of them might not even know what it means. But it helps keep most of these boys out of trouble.”
“And Treadwell too? He had a Harley. Is that where the tat sleeve came from?”
“I don’t know about the tat sleeve. And no, not everyone in the club has one.”
“But it would have been nice to know that Dickie and Treadwell belonged to the same club.”
“We just found out that it might have been Dickie that ran out of the Halversons’ place. Until then, I had no reason to suspect he was involved.”
“But maybe the motorcycle gang was connected to Treadwell’s death.”
“It’s a club, Puller, not a gang. Most of the members are older guys. They have families and bills to pay.”
She pulled the car to a stop in front of the old firehouse and they got out. Through the open doorways Puller could see an old fire truck with rotted wheels in one bay, and the ubiquitous fire pole just beyond it. Wooden lockers lined both sides of the wall, and there was old