Episode 7 â€“ Land
Brogan ordered another beer.
“We checked all the ships’ passenger lists in the harbor. Doctor ‘Goose’ never left town by ship.”
“The boys at the station labeled him ‘Goose’. When he was in college at the University of Florida, Gainesville, his nickname was ‘goose’.’”
“We alerted the State Police but the roads are bad this time of year from the monsoon rains, he probably didn’t drive.”
Jack thought for a moment, “Maybe he isn’t missing, maybe Mrs. Gosling filed a false report.”
“You maybe be right, Jack. We’re bringing her down to the station tomorrow morning for questioning. You can sit in, if you want.”
After Brogan finished his second beer, he and the uniform left. The atmosphere in the bar relaxed immediately. One drinker actually danced a small jig to celebrate.
“Jack,” said Beans, “tomorrow, go to the County Records and check for any land sale to a Harriet Hackett, in the last three years.”
“I’ll tell you tomorrow.” Beans became silent and took a small sip of beer.
“You know Brogan?”
“Yes. The Tampa PD has consulted me on a couple of cases, with good results.”
“I suppose you know the Mayor, too?”
“I’ve met him once or twice.”
Jack looked at Beans, “You know, Beans, I’m continually amazed at the number of people you come in contact with.”
Jack pulled out the animal haters’ list. “Do any of these names ring a bell?”
Beans looked at the list. “I know or heard of a couple of these names but the dog’s death wasn’t caused by one of the people on the list.
“Thanks, Beans.” Jack put the list in his pocket.
They talked as the sun rested in the west for the day. The phone rang
and Eddie called Jack to the phone. “It’s for you.”
Jack picked up the receiver. “Hello?”
“Jack? This is Robert Jackson, Whitebread.”
“I remembered something. When I stopped to get Mrs. Matthews’ medicine at the drug store, I happened to look out at the limo and I think I saw someone near the car.”
“Man or woman?”
“The hat looked like a woman’s.”
“Okay. Thanks. Have a safe trip to New York.”
Jack told Beans Whitebread’s story.
“Well. Maybe the killer was a woman after all,” replied Beans.
“Possible. Mrs. Matthews had three automobiles. I saw them in her garage. Maybe she or her maid drove to the drug store and killed the dog. But I never met her maid, a woman called Doris.”
Jack caught a taxi home about three in the morning. He wasn’t drunk or inebriated, he was frustrated.
Next morning on his way to the County Records Building, he stopped by his office. At nine in the morning, the office seemed cool. Lucy was sitting behind her desk.
“Any calls?” asked Jack.
“No. Only the landlord and your ex.”
“I’m going to the County Building. I might be back this afternoon.”
Jack parked in the visitors’ area and climbed the steps to the building entrance. Why government buildings always have steps, he wondered. It’s like the government is above the people or something.
After an hour and a half of searching dusty old books, Jack found an entry for the sale of five hundred acres of an orange grove near Zepherville to Harriet Hackett, dated October 5, 1933, two years ago. Well, he thought that confirms Beans’ idea.
He drove to Rollo’s and gave Beans the news.
“Who is Harriet Hackett?” asked Jack.
“You know her as Harriet Gosling.”
“But how . . . ?”
“Harriet and her brother, Max, have been quietly buying up land from here to the east coast. They operate under the name of the ‘Florida Land Company’. They figure people, in the next twenty years, will move from the north here. Harriet maybe a sweet housewife, but underneath, she is a tiger.”
“What’s our next step?” asked Jack.
“Fill up your gas tank,” replied Beans. “We need to look at some land.”
Being near noon, Beans had almost finished his first beer of the day. He swallowed the last inch in the bottom of the mug. Then, he placed a large Panama hat on his head.
“There. I’m ready,” he said.
The hottest part of the day had begun. The gravel road was dusty and marked with potholes. Zepherville consisted of a gas station, a bar, a diner, and a bunch of clapboard houses. They drove through town toward the east. About a half mile outside of town, they stopped in front of a sign advertizing the Florida Land Company.
Beans got out.
“What are we looking for?” asked Jack.
“Fresh dirt,” replied Beans.
They walked up and down the rows of orange trees baking in the sun. It was too hot to even talk. Jack had brought canteens of water but the water was gone by the time they had walked half the orchard.
“Are you sure there is something out here?” sweated Jack.
In the middle of the next row, they found fresh dirt. Someone had tried covering the soil, but Beans’ sharp eyes saw the dirt immediately.
“There!” he pointed.