Chapter 6: The Secret Life of Beekeepers

Detective Douglas O’Neil was a round man with a round face and black, rectangular glasses, sitting behind his desk finishing some paperwork. He put his pen down and stood as I entered his office, the officer who’d escorted me there gesturing to a chair before leaving us. Detective O’Neil shook my hand with what could best be described as an enormous paw, and I had to grit my teeth a little. A very, very firm handshake. He said, “Well, Mr. DuPont it sounds like you’ve had one heck of a night.”

It seemed like police detectives in movies and television shows were always swearing, so the word “heck” seemed oddly out of place. But I nodded firmly and said, “Yes, I certainly did. And I wanted to thank you for sending the officers to my house. I know my wife and I feel a lot better, and they were both very discrete. I didn’t want my daughter knowing what happened at all, and I don’t think she does. I guess they told her they were checking for a gas leak?”

“Well, we couldn’t not check out your house. They were brazen enough to go there in the first place, and you probably made them fairly angry. But I’m glad to hear Officers Winchester and Crowley were both professional and discrete. I’d expected nothing less from them. How is your wife doing?”

“She fired up the home security system, put in a frozen pizza, loaded the shotgun, and she’s sitting there with it watching Dancing With The Stars.”

O’Neil shrugged and bobbed his head around in vague approval. “I’m having the local patrols keep an eye on the place. And since kidnapping is federal, we’ve contacted the FBI. They will probably be by to process the place – your driveway is in that sense a federal crime scene.”

I sighed and nodded. “They gave me the agent’s card, but I guess he isn’t available until tomorrow.”

“You don’t really want tonight going on much longer anyway, do you?”

“Not at all.”

“Any idea who these guys were?”

I had a great deal of respect for the police and knew they all wanted to catch Sparkles and Stupid Gandalf as much as I wanted them to. But he was probably the eighth or ninth person to ask me that, and the answer was still the same. I’d briefly considered Arturo’s boys, it did seem in character in terms of not being very well thought out. But I’d just seen them at the hearing not so long before, and their height and body types and voices were all wrong. It would have been great if it were that simple, but it couldn’t be them.

“No,” I told him, after a pause long enough to convey that he already knew that. “just what I told the officers.”

“Right,” O’Neil said, looking a little sheepish, almost like I’d tricked him into admitting that he already knew. He leaned back in his chair with a heavy sigh and picked up a Darth Vader-shaped coffee mug from the desk and took a sip, frowning.

“Did they tell you what I told them or not?”

“They just bullet pointed it, so go ahead and tell me again. What’s this got to do with the beekeeper they pulled out of the river?”

*  *  *

Hours before, I’d found the sensation to be very surreal, realizing that I was driving a stolen van down a dark road, adrenaline rushing through my body as if I were in a stock car race. I had never driven a stolen car – a stolen anything, obviously – and experienced a truly strange rush of guilt as if I could ever get in trouble for taking the van under such circumstances. Also, I kept trying to get out my phone to call the police, and then after realizing I didn’t have it, I would panic briefly, and then try to get my phone out again. It took a few rounds of that to pull myself together.

The trees along the river were hulking shadows against the purple night sky, the road narrow and unlit. It hooked around an upscale housing development shining in stark contrast, streetlights flooding it like a baseball diamond through the trees. The road dumped me into a cul-de-sac which then spilled onto Fishinger Road. I turned left and hit the gas, thinking that for the first time in my life, getting pulled over would be a fabulous turn of events.

I didn’t get pulled over, but I found a squad car in a parking lot near Tuttle Mall between a bank and a fast food place. I screeched into the parking lot, stopping directly in front of it as two officers emerged from it, frowning at me and touching their belts. I popped on the interior lights and showed them my hands, theatrically mouthing the words “I was kidnapped” at them through the windshield.

They were young. I was always startled by how young police officers and doctors seemed, younger and younger with every passing year. One of them pointed a flashlight at me through the windshield, his blonde hair too short to be affected by the wind, while the other one, slightly older approached my window. He had darker features and a narrow mustache, eyes hard and serious.

His voice carried well. He asked me to roll down my window and I did so, keeping one hand on top of the steering wheel. Right when he could hear me, I blurted out my name and said, “Two guys abducted me from my house, and I escaped just a few minutes ago by stealing this van.”

That got their attention, and all I had to do for a while after that was answer questions and follow instructions. I told them where on the dark road I’d escaped, near Fishinger Road between the housing development and the river, and they radioed into the dispatcher to send another couple of units over to look for Sparkles and Stupid Gandalf. Then I told them about the abduction at my house, the strange trip through the Maxwell Mechanical warehouse, how they’d taken my phone and that I thought it was back in my garage unless it was in Stupid Gandalf’s pocket.

The blonde officer – McLeary – lent me his phone so I could call my wife and tell her what happened. She hadn’t arrived home yet, and I told her not to go there until I’d called her back. The home security system would have prevented them from getting into the actual house, but they might still have the garage door opener from my car, and if they did, they could be sitting in there just waiting.

That is, if they could get a ride back there. Might they just have simply called an Uber?

They went ahead and searched me since I was in fact driving a stolen van. I still had my wallet, so they were able to validate most of my story quickly. Still, we hung around the parking lot for nearly a half an hour, a couple more units pulling in to talk briefly with McLeary, who seemed to be in charge, while I sat in the back of the cruiser with the other officer, the door hanging open in a nod to my status as a non-criminal.

The van was going to be impounded and they said the feds would want to go through it as well. I doubted that either Sparkles or Stupid Gandalf had any idea the seriousness of their crimes, and I doubted they would evade justice for very long. Once you’re on the FBI’s radar, they’re tenacious and unless you are some sort of career criminal living off the grid, they’re going to close in on you.

My guess was, the clown and his bearded pal must have had some connection to Maxwell Mechanical, one of them could be a former employee, something to give them the familiarity they clearly had with the warehouse. They’d get a list going of people connected to Maxwell Mechanical, cross-examine it with my description, and a couple of guys would stand right out.

Or, I supposed, they could really be career criminals living off the grid, just not a particularly bright pair of them. In that case, maybe they’d just head down to Florida for a while and never have to worry about it again.

I tried to think about fingerprints or DNA. Wouldn’t they have left something in the truck or the van? Or possibly my garage? I didn’t know how any of this worked – I was the wrong kind of attorney.

But eventually, the two officers were nice enough to roll through the fast food place to get me a cheeseburger and some fries. I was starving. I wolfed it all down while they drove me back to the station, where I made a written statement and spoke with about eight different desk officers who filled out forms while I spoke. By the time I sat down with Detective O’Neil, I was ready to fall asleep right there in the chair in front of him.

Nonetheless, I went ahead and recapped what Chelsea had told me, from her absolute conviction that her husband’s accident had been attempted murder, to Charles Van Dyne and the glass-enclosed nest he’d found in the Hornet, to Rob Marcum, the murdered, hornet-specializing beekeeper who lived just over a mile from where the Hornet was stored.

O’Neil wasn’t much more intrigued by the information. Police work in real life was just simpler than intricate, carefully planned murder plots. He said, “I’m going to tell you what I told Ms. De Modelo, since she’s called in here three or four times with just about that exact information. That’s exactly how police work looks on television, and it’s exactly how it doesn’t work in real life. Nine times out of ten, someone gets killed and it immediately looks like their spouse or close associate did it, and then it turns out that’s who it was. Or it looks like a random act of violence, and that’s what it turns out to be.”

“I thought the same thing until a clown and a wizard rolled by and offered to hit me with bricks and wrenches,” I told him, my tone maybe a little sharp for addressing a police detective, but I was exhausted.

O’Neil took another sip of coffee from his Darth Vader mug and frowned down at it; probably it was getting cold. Then he said, “Did either of these two guys mention Mr. or Mrs. de Modelo? Either of them mention a beekeeper or a Hornet or anything else you’re talking about?”

“They didn’t,” I said. “But they found the beekeeper in the river, and that’s where they took me. And that’s just one of the coincidences. The beekeeper lived near my client, specialized in the type of insect that almost killed him, the only type of insect that could have, around here, since he is allergic to them.”

The detective made a decision that I’ve made a hundred times before, when I’m looking down at a half a cup of coffee that is just on the fringe of being too cold to drink. He upended it into his mouth like a great big shot of whiskey, and then winced as he swallowed it, thumping the empty cup back down on the desk. Nobody wants to let their cold coffee win. Then he looked up at me and said, “Listen. I’ll tell you a story. Do you remember the Outerbelt Sniper, about fourteen-fifteen years ago?”

“Sure,” I said, because it was a scary time back in 2005. Statistically, millions of people use the outer belt every day, and the guy was hitting one car every few days, so it was really lottery ticket odds, that you’d get shot while driving.

Yes, and go ahead and tell yourself that as you drive home on the outer belt at night, when you know he’s out there somewhere, or that he’s going to be, looking through a scope while what dark thing his brain had become twisting around in his head, telling him what to do.

“I was new to the force back then, working a patrol car for the CPD. The pressure on us all to find the guy was like a heatwave. You’d wake up thinking about him, you’d get to work and that was the first thing you’d hear about, any new lead, any possibility. The feds came in, took everything over, and we all ended up running down every single thread they could find. Make a long story short, they eventually figured out who he was, and they slapped his picture up on the national news, saying ‘This guy is the sniper. If you see this guy, do not engage, just call the feds.”

I nodded. “I remember the news reports. Definitely one of the largest manhunts I can recall.”

“Biggest one I ever worked on,” O’Neil replied. “And the tips came in by the thousand, from all over the country. We had his vehicle description out there, his photo, his license plate number, everything. So many tips it really ended up giving him cover at first, we’re all running around chasing everything but him.”

“They got him in Vegas, right?”

He snapped and pointed at me and said, “That’s exactly right. The way it worked was, a couple of guys in a Vegas casino saw the news report while grabbing something to eat, and then they noticed the guy from the news just a couple tables over. They even walked up to him and gave him a couple of slices of pizza, said ‘excuse me sir, we’re not going to finish this pizza, do you want it?’ And the guy accepted it, smiled, thanked them, and they moved away from him and called the number from the news report.”

I wasn’t following him in terms of how this connected to beekeepers. “Okay…”

O’Neil put his feet up on the desk by his empty Darth Vader cup, clearly enjoying the story. “The feds blew him off. They were getting reports right and left, and they pretty much told him, sure. Sure, pal. The guy drove straight to Vegas on the Interstate for a couple slices of pizza. So these guys hang up and they know no one’s coming to get the guy, so then they head to the parking garage and they carefully walk the whole thing, checking every single car there until lo and behold, they find his car, license plate and everything.”

That seemed like pretty solid work for a couple of knuckleheads in Vegas. Just sort of objectively, it didn’t seem to me like they were doing Vegas right.

“So,” the detective went on. “They called the feds back, and phones weren’t quite yet to where they could send a photo of the car, but they told them they’d located the car, told them the license number, and suddenly the feds erupted into action. They swarmed the casino, locked the car down, and arrested the guy when he approached it. The Columbus Outerbelt Sniper was in custody, justice was served, the system worked, and everything was good, right?”

“Probably not exactly, from your smirk.”

“Out went the story to the newspapers and television stations. The two guys were heroes, right? For being alert, seeing the news story, recognizing the guy in the casino?”

“Yes?”

“Yes. Yes, they sure were heroes. But not quite like we thought because within a few hours, a guy goes to the feds in Vegas and says, ‘Ummmm, excuse me, but I’m the guy they gave the pizza to.’”

I frowned, my forehead wrinkling up all on its own. “Huh?”

“That’s right, the guy looked a lot like the sniper. They ran a few stories putting both photos side by side and they could have easily been brothers, possibly even twins. Same height, same beard, same hair. But not the same guy. No, these guys saw a guy in their casino who looked a lot like the sniper, but wasn’t the sniper. But the sniper actually was in the building somewhere. By pure coincidence. So when they mistakenly identified the guy as the sniper, and then went looking for the sniper’s car, they found it. But it was completely unconnected to the guy they originally saw.”

Now it was ringing a bell, a sort of News of the Weird epilogue to a terrifying story.

O’Neil said, “One time my wife and I went to London, England. We went into a pub, sat down in a couple of bar stools, and ordered pints. Then we noticed my college roommate was sitting two barstools down from me, his wife in between us. Hadn’t seen him in 22 years. Coincidences are just a reality, they aren’t a map to the Holy Grail or some kind of Da Vinci code.”

I shrugged and sort of threw my hands in the air. “Well, I guess I should go home then.”

“Might as well,” the detective agreed. “I’ll have a car drop you off, and I’ll have another unit meet you guys there to check out the property again, make sure your pals haven’t been back.”

“All right. I assume you’ll let me know if you get any leads?”

“I forwarded everything to the FBI lead, an Agent Tom Fine.”

“Needs a partner named Jim Dandy,” I said.

“About sixty cops beat you to that one today, Mr. DuPont, but nice swing.”

“Thanks.”

“Agent Fine says he’s going to comb through every corner of the beekeeper’s life. If he’s got any dark secrets or criminal connections or previous attempts to stuff hornets in a car ventilation system for nefarious purposes, he’ll find it and let us know.”

“Well, thanks very much Detective,” I said, getting out of the chair.

“Have yourself a drink when you get home, Mr. DuPont.”

“Count on it,” I told him and shook his hand before leaving his office.


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