A Hook Runyon Mystery #3

June 19, 2012
St. Martin’s Minotaur Books
Hardcover: 304 pages
ISBN-10: 1250001005
ISBN-13: 978-1250001009

Chapter 1

Hook pushed the office door shut just as Scrap’s crane fired up again. He took a deep breath and picked up the phone.

“How’s it hanging, Eddie?” he said.

“Runyon, I been sitting on this phone for half an hour. You think all I have to do is to wait on you?”

“Sorry, Eddie, but my secretary couldn’t make it in today.”

“Cut the wisecracks, Runyon. There’s been a death out at the Johnson Canyon Tunnel?”

A chill ran through Hook. He hated that damn tunnel.

“A death?”

“You know, when someone stops breathing, forever.”

“Yeah, I know what death is, Eddie. It’s working security in a junkyard.”

“I want you to go check it out.”

Hook lit a cigarette and watched the crane lift a wrecked Cadillac into the sky.

“And leave Scrap’s copper unprotected? Jesus, Eddie, do you think that’s a good idea?”

“Believe me, Runyon, I’d send someone else if I could, but that line has to be kept open. If that tunnel shuts down, the whole system goes with it.”

“What do they think happened?”

“Accident, one of the military guards that’s been stationed out there.”

“Accident?” Hook flipped his ashes into the wastebasket and looked out the window, which was gray with smoke and dust. “How do they know?”

“A man don’t stand in the middle of the tunnel in the middle of the night with a hotshot charging down grade on purpose.”

“Jesus,” Hook said.

“The engineer called it in. Took him half a mile to get shut down,” Eddie said. “He didn’t even know what he’d hit until he saw the guard’s boot stuck on the catwalk.”

“Alright, Eddie. I’ll take the popcar out.”

The popcar, sometimes called the popper, was a small gasoline powered trolley used mostly for track inspections. It could be an uncomfortable ride in the desert but was Hook’s only transportation at the moment.

“I released the engineer on to the next stop. He’ll catch a hotshot back. You can talk to him then.”

“Damn it, Eddie, I should take a look at things before the engine’s released.”

“There’s still another army guard assigned to duty out there. He might have some idea what’s going on.”

“I’ll check it out, Eddie.”

“This thing has to be wrapped up fast, Runyon. That line can’t be tied up. It ain’t the first tunnel accident out there, you know. They killed off half of Arizona building that damn thing.”

“What’s the rush, Eddie? The war’s over, hadn’t you heard? Japan has been bombed into oblivion.”

“I want this thing resolved, see. On top of everything else, that line is being upgraded, and there’s equipment and people. We can’t shut the railroad down while you play detective.”

“I am a detective, Eddie.”

“And there’s that other little problem, too,” Eddie said.

Hook’s pulse ticked up. Eddie had been looking to nail him for years.

“They give me a promotion over your head, Eddie?”

“In your dreams, Runyon. You might just recall dumping a boxcar back in Amarillo.”

Hook lit another cigarette and watched Mixer dig through Scrap’s trash.

“That switchman cut off his thumb, Eddie. What the hell was I supposed to do, let him bleed to death?”

“And deprive the railroad of paying his medical pension for the next thirty years?” Eddie said. “I should hope not.”

“I’m missing an arm, Eddie. No one pays me a pension.”

“That’s not your biggest problem, Runyon. For example, there’s that little donation of Santa Fe property you made to the St. John Orphanage.”

“They had a truck and volunteered to clean up the wreckage if they could have the goods. I had to get that line open, didn’t I?”

“Oh, St. John’s was real glad to get the army cots,” he said. “And the other things, too.”

Mixer found Scrap’s old lunch sack in the trash and proceeded to tear it open.

“What other things?” Hook asked.

“That box of army condoms the kids opened back at the orphanage. They thought they were goddang balloons. The priest said it looked like New Year’s Eve.

“So the diocese calls Chicago, and Chicago calls me. Turns out everyone is unhappy.”

“Jesus,” Hook said.

“You’ve bagged your limit of Brownies for the year, Runyon. I don’t know if I can head this thing off. Maybe you ought to learn the salvage business just in case you have a career change.”

“I’d like to visit, Eddie, but there’s a corpse waiting.”

“Open and shut like they say,” Eddie said.

“Yeah,” Hook said. “Like they say.”