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Salt Air and Ghost Eyes
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Salt Air and Ghost Eyes

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Editor’s Note: The following may be too graphic for some readers.

Part 2, Chapter 39

Reed watched as the man exited his van with a small pad in his hand. When he reached the steps, he spoke to Reed.

“I’m Mike Brandon with Panama City Locksmith. Where is the safe you need opening?” he said as he reached his hand out to shake Reed’s hand.

Reed made a mental note about the man noticing he seemed a little old to still be working.

It was his long grey beard and shaggy hair tucked under a company logo hat that made him think the man was some leftover hippie from the 1960s.

“This guy is going to be out of his league when he sees this safe,” Reed thought as he led the man to the doctor’s study.

Burns was still pilling books on the floor when they walked into the room. When he saw Reed, Burns held up another book turning the title to where Reed could see it.

“Got another one: 'The Green River Killer,'” he said as he chunked it into the now large pile of books in the center of the room.

Brandon saw the cover of the book and shook his head.

“I lived out in King County, Washington, when that Gary Ridgway fellow killed all those women. What a mess,” Brandon said as Reed showed him the safe.

Reed remembered the case as well. He had just made detective in Tampa when the it caught the national media’s attention.

“Yea, I think they finally got him to confess. If I remember correctly, he got multiple life sentences for killing all those women,” Reed said.

“The gossip then was he had killed almost 100 women along State Route 99. My wife at the time was terrified,” Brandon said, mumbling something about his distaste for his ex-wife.

The safe was clearly visible in the shelves now that all of the books had been removed.

“Interesting. This is a Case D1000 series safe, pretty expensive and extremely hard to open. It has a double lock system requiring two sets of combinations to open it,” Brandon said as he ran his hand over the face of the safe.

“Does that mean you can’t open it?” Reed asked expecting him to say it was not possible to open it without the combinations.

“Let’s just say that on a scale of one to ten this is maybe a six. Give me about 20 minutes and I’ll have it opened for you,” he said, then reminding Reed he needed a search warrant before he could proceed.

“Coming right up,” Reed said as he walked back out on the porch to call the chief.

As he walked through the front door, he was met by another patrolman who handed him the warrant.

“Chief said you needed this,” the officer said, adding he was there to help if needed.

“You're Pete Barnes’ at the meat market’s son, aren’t you?” Reed asked the officer.

“Yes, sir, I’m Stiles, the youngest boy and on the police reserves for right now, waiting on an opening,” he responded

“Good, go in the study and help Burns; he’ll tell what we are looking for,” Reed said as he spun around taking the search warrant to Brandon.

Brandon took the paper from Reed and glanced over it handing it back.

“Looks O.K. to me,” he said as he started back to the van to get his tools.

Reed watched him as he set up his equipment and started working on the safe. Although his appearance was anything but professional, he moved quickly, meticulously listening, with a high-tech device, to the movements of the innards of the safe as he slowly turned the combination knob.

“I’m going to check this fellow out when I get back to the station; something tells me he has a lot of experience opening safes,” Reed thought.

Like Brandon had said, it took about 20 minutes for him to crack the safe.

“Let’s see if this works,” he said as he slowly moved the lever down listening for the tumblers to fall into place.

When Brandon spoke saying he was ready to open the safe, Burns and the other officer stopped going through the books to watch him.

Like children at Christmastime, the three men stood silently, waiting to see what was in the safe. Just before the last tumbler fell, Mrs. Baxter walked into the room.

“Let’s see what the old doctor was hiding in here,” Brandon said as he pulled on the safe lever opening the safe.

At first no one said a word. The safe appeared to be full of stacks of paper held together with rubber bands.

“What have you found?” Mrs. Baxter asked.

“Looks like just a pile of old paperwork to me,” Burns said as watch Reed finger some of the packages of papers.

“Grab that table and drag it over here and let’s take these papers out and spread it around, so we can see what we have,” he told Barnes.

As soon as the table was in place, Reed placed the stacks of papers in rows. It didn’t take long before half the table was covered in stacks of papers.

Brandon stood back and watched until Reed realized he was still in the room.

“I’m sorry, but your work is over here, so you’ll need to leave,” Reed said, telling him that the safe’s contents were now part of a murder investigation.

“No problem. I’ll have them send you a bill as soon as I get back to the office,” he said as he walked out of the room.

Reed thanked him and made a mental note to follow up on his interest in finding out who this expert safecracker really was.

Brandon had not been the only one eavesdropping on the contents of the safe. Mrs. Baxter was now standing next to the table staring at the stacks of paper now spread out in front of her.

“Does any of this look familiar?” Reed asked her.

She did not say anything, just shook her head from side to side.

After all of the papers were removed from the safe, Reed ran his hand all the way inside across the back of the safe. He felt something about the size of a match box in the corner.

It was a small, brass case. Once he got it into the light of the room, he could vaguely see an engraving. He held it up and looked at Mrs. Baxter, who continued to shake her head.

Byron Spires is a retired newspaper editor. He has written dozens of short stories and serials in the Havana Herald. He recently published “The Curious Life of Marci Bell: Part I,” in a series of three books. Byron has been involved with local theatre having done over 50 musicals, a dozen stage plays and wrote and directed an original play “Splintered Judgement.” He is available for speaking engagements. You can contact him at byronspires51@gmail.com.

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