Chapter 7: The Other Mueller Report

By the time I arrived at work the next morning, I’d developed the surreal impression that the entire abduction had been a dream. I’d slept well, a deep and exhausted form of sleep I hadn’t encountered in years, and I awoke to a delicious breakfast prepared by my still-shotgun-wielding wife. I had the feeling that shotgun might be around a while, but I wasn’t going to get worried about it unless she gave it a name or something.

My schedule was full for the day, and we hadn’t had any calls from the police or the feds, no clowns or wizards were hanging around in the parking lot. It was as if nothing unusual was going on at all.

Nonetheless, I wasn’t tempted at all to simply let things lie and wait for someone else to figure out what was going on. I needed to go on the offense, and I needed to do it without canceling my appointments or otherwise inconveniencing my clients. I needed someone to do a little old-fashioned problem solving, and I had two guys on the payroll for just that sort of thing.

I took a meandering lap around the office with my ears open, to just sort of take the office temperature. Someone had brought in a box of fresh bagels, the garlic aroma permeating the suite. I snagged one of them along with a small paper plate, then I rooted through the freezer and found a small tub of Ben & Jerry’s Americone Dream ice cream – perfect. I headed back toward the litigation department, past the back conference room where my partner Braden was meeting with his staff, past the paralegals hunched over their keyboards, small plates with bagels beside them and steaming cups of coffee. Finally, I got to Tom Schaffer’s office, found the door closed and went in anyway.

Tom was one of my problem solvers, and to be honest, I couldn’t remember exactly what problem I had him working on right now. Sometimes, I just made problems up out of the clear blue sky to keep him on his toes. I found him at his desk with his face in his hands behind three monitors. He spread two of his fingers and peered at me between them, and then started telling me about the problems he was having with whatever I had him working on. Sounded like he was in a heck of a pickle, I’m not sure, I wasn’t paying that much attention. He’d probably be talking like this for hours or even days before he’d move into the part where he tells me that whatever he’d doing is working now. I put the bagel and the Americone Dream ice cream down on the desk beside him, nodding reassuringly as I backed out of the office and closed the door again.

“He’ll be fine,” I said to myself out loud, frowning. But as entertaining as it would be, it was probably not the best time to send him out into the city flipping over rocks and looking under them. I walked a few doors down the hall to the office of Michael Mueller, my other problem solver. I closed the door behind me and told him about the night before, from the arrival of the two gents with heaters to the conversation with O’Neil.

Mike Mueller was a former football player, six-foot-four, and had a wide, prominent mustache to differentiate him from anyone with a similar name associated with me. He’d been working for me since he graduated from Hillsdale College, nearly twenty years before, and he was the polar opposite of Tom. For example, when I walked into his office that morning his face was not in his hands and he was in a pretty good mood, and he had no interest in bagels or ice cream. He listened to my story, interrupting a few times to verify that I was serious, and when I was finished he simply asked, “So what do you want me to do?”

*   *   *

The rest of the day was very normal. Three estate planning appointments, two annual financial planning reviews, and an annuity delivery. In between those, I had two telephone consultations and two conference calls. I had time to have a bagel just before my one o’clock, and then before I knew it, it was six o’clock. Before she left, Meredith had brought in a message from FBI Agent Tom Fine, looking to schedule a time to meet.

I wasn’t crazy about that – I expected the federal agent to just show up and expect me to talk to him, like in the movies, but maybe that was only when you were a suspect. Rather comically, Meredith had told him I didn’t have any availability all week and Fine had simply asked to relay the message that he’d called. Perhaps he knew that I’d make room for him even though he wasn’t a client, and to Meredith’s credit, he’d known that she wouldn’t.

Leaving a note on Meredith’s desk to call Fine and schedule a meeting with me the next day following my last appointment, I felt like I owed myself a night of peace and quiet. My shotgun-wielding wife was in full agreement after verifying that I was walking in without Sparkles or Stupid Gandalf. We were settled in on the couch at around nine-thirty and I was just drifting off to sleep, thinking I should go to bed but not wanting to move, when an incoming text message snapped me back to awareness.

I looked at the phone, and then sighed.

“What’s going on?” Julia asked.

“Mike’s coming by and he says it can’t wait.”

“What can’t wait?”

I shrugged. “The Mueller Report, I guess?”

It seemed that Mike Mueller had been a very busy boy.

He’d started off the same way I had, by heading down to Tom’s office, listening to Tom for a few seconds, and then backing out slowly again, closing the door behind him. Then he went back to his desk and got to work finding the dead beekeeper’s address.

Mike figured Chelsea was right about the beekeeper and his connection to the attempted murder of Arturo, and since I’d never before been abducted by a clown or a dimwitted fictional sorcerer, he thought Sparkles and Stupid Gandalf were also connected to the murder of Arturo. Which meant that if he took a closer look at Rob Marcum, he might well find something that led him to the other two.

Of course, in the old days, this would be a fairly simple matter of picking up a telephone book and looking him up. Now it was a slightly more complicated process, but only slightly. He simply googled “Rob Marcum Beekeeper” and found an address, then used the County Auditor’s website to locate it. He ruled out a freakishly coincidental second local beekeeper named Rob Marcum by checking Chelsea’s address and verifying it was within a mile and a half of the beekeeper, as she’d said.

Then he checked for a criminal record, and found no filings in Franklin County at least, no liens on his property other than a single, modest mortgage. Nothing in the public record jumping out as odd about him, other than his charitable attitude toward hornets, and of course, turning up in the river

So Mike left the office, climbing into his enormous pickup truck, and stopping by his house first to let out his dog. Pretty soon he found himself rolling down a rural Union County road, then pulling into a gravel driveway which widened out into a miniature parking lot, an old white farmhouse to the left with a wide front lawn and a few scattered trees. A barn to the right had been converted to a workshop with a garage door wide enough to pull a bus inside. It was open, exposing a box truck with Marcum’s Friendly Pest Control on the side. A field stretched out behind both buildings and Mike could see a small grid of apiaries in the distance, and wasn’t crazy about them. Who kept millions of things that can sting you as pets? What was next, a scorpion farm?

Mike got out of his truck without much of a plan, and walked into the garage like he owned the place. It was well lit by a rack of fluorescents hanging from the rafters, and was cluttered with tools and cartons and tanks of compressed gas. A neat stack of boxes to one side seemed to be a new addition to the décor; they were bright brown and crisp as if they’d just been folded into box-shapes, and they were taped closed with black masking tape by someone being a little overly meticulous.

In the far corner, a small living area had been carved out, a sink with two yards of counterspace and a stove, and a small couch with a television and a pair of tables and armchairs arranged around it. The furniture was clean but old and a little tattered. But what really stood out to Mike was the Canton Crowns paraphenilia.

It was everywhere. A couple of throw pillows, a banner on the wall behind the television, a blanket folded on one of the tables, and even on closer inspection, the table itself. Mike stroked his moustache with his thumb and forefinger, a habit he had formed after years of having a big, thick, prominent moustache. He approached a wall where more Canton Crowns swag was displayed – ticket stubs to games over the years displayed in frames, a jersey, and a few photographs.

Mike leaned in to look at the photos. One was of two men at a Crowns game, sitting in the stands with beers, grinning. Another was the scoreboard to a game the Crowns had won, apparently with historic decisiveness. And another showed the inside of a bar, packed with thirty or forty people, mostly men, all wearing Crowns sweatshirts or tee shirts or jerseys, all pumping their fists in the air and mugging for the camera. In the background a banner on the wall read “WELCOME CROWNS CREW!” along with some drink specials.

He got out his phone to take a picture of the photo with it, but a voice behind him interrupted, a man clearing his throat and asking, “Can I help you?”

A man had emerged from the back room, dressed in jeans and an expensive flannel shirt and oddly padded tennis shoes that made him an inch and a half taller. Orthopedics, maybe? Mike shrugged, recognizing him from the stadium photo on the wall, and stuck out his hand to introduce himself. The guy’s name was Colin Marcum, and turned out to be the deceased man’s brother, packing up his stuff. He was wary of Mike at first, wanted to confirm that he wasn’t a reporter poking around.

Mike reassured Colin that he wasn’t a reporter, but as mentioned earlier, he did not have a plan, so instead what flew out of his mouth was, “I’m a private detective.”

It made sense, with that great big Magnum P.I. moustache. If he’d worn a Hawaiian shirt, I think he might have sold it.

But Colin asked for ID, and neither of them turned out to know whether or not private detectives carried ID, or frankly whether private detectives actually existed anymore, and within a minute, Mike had managed to redefine the word “detective” as “guy who works for an attorney.”

Colin was all right with that. He was still rattled by the death of his brother, and anyone trying to find out what happened to him was okay in his book.

“I’ve already talked to the police, and also an FBI agent,” he explained. “But I’ll tell you anything you think is helpful, if I can.”

So Mike asked questions he thought characters like Raylan from Justified might ask. Did Rob Marcum have any criminal associates? Any brushes with the law? Did he ever hang out with clowns or wizards? Did looking like Kevin Spacey ever present any sort of problem to him in the last couple years?

And the answer to all of that except the last one appeared to be No. He did get confronted at a gas station by a group of college students chanting at him, and he hadn’t been able to convince them he wasn’t really Kevin Spacey, so he’d simply agreed that sure, he was Kevin Spacey, and then the mob seemed to run out of steam, and he was able to get in his car and drive away.

“I guess your brother was a pretty big Crowns fan,” Mike remarked, gesturing around the living area.

“Oh, yeah. Since we were little kids. Breaks his damn heart that owner wants to sell them to Baltimore,” Colin replied. “I think Robby would have killed that guy if he ever got the chance, tell you the truth.”

Mike spent the afternoon on the Internet, locating as many of Rob Marcum’s social media accounts that he could find – as a business owner, he had a significant online presence and there were plenty of them. He read every single post he could find on a half a dozen platforms, going back several years. It was an unsettling feeling, combing through the dead beekeeper’s past like that, studying holiday photos and family picnics. There was a lot of Colin Marcum in the photos; Mike thought the two had been very close for adult brothers, not much of a rift had formed as so often does.

He found photos of Rob in his beekeeping suit, looking like some sort of lawnmowing astronaut. Photos of a woman and a dog, a girlfriend of some sort who disappeared from his account ten months before. She’d been with him for years, was very prevalent until the breakup. Couldn’t have been easy, and trauma like that can lead to the wrong crowds, and bad, hasty decisions.

It wasn’t until he found the Crowns Crew page that he made a breakthrough. The Crowns Crew was a group of local Crowns fans who worked deals with local bars to hold events during Crowns games, leveraging their numbers for deals on beers and appetizers. It was a surprisingly organized approach to watching football; Mike was a former football player himself and thought it was borderline creepy. Rob and Colin had been Crowns Crewmembers, and the Facebook page claimed over two hundred others.

He couldn’t see the Crowns Crew posts because it was a private group; he would need to ask to be a member, and he didn’t want to do that. Instead he clicked on the member list, which wasn’t marked as private evidently, and found that he knew one of the guys on the list. He sent out a message, got a reply, and a half an hour later he was sitting at his kitchen table looking at screenshots of the group’s posts.

And that’s where he learned they were meeting that very night, at a bar called Legends in Dublin, to discuss what to do with the existential crisis their group would face if the Canton Crowns moved to Baltimore.

Mike sighed heavily. He wasn’t crazy about bars. Because again, he was the polar opposite of Tom.

Standing in my kitchen at a quarter til ten, Mike seemed both angry and triumphant.

“That place was loud,” he said, emphasizing the last word very, very loudly. “I don’t know how people sit around in those places, it’s like having people scream in your ears for fun.”

I nodded, maybe a little impatient, since I was thinking it might be a good time for brevity. Mike frowned at my nod because he’d known me long enough to interpret it, and then took out his phone and started to unlock it.

He said, “I got there and their meeting was already going on, but it was in a packed back room, and when I went to the doorway they all stopped talking and just stared at me like pod people from a science fiction movie, and I had to go back to the bar so they’d stop. I found a bar stool where I could see through the doorway to the only other exit, and I decided to wait until the meeting broke up, then get a better look at everyone. Do you know how expensive beer is now? I got a Corona and it was like four bucks.”

I nodded again, because yep, that’s how much a Corona is now. Mike didn’t even look up, just kept scrolling through his phone. “I sat there for another 45 minutes, and then they finally broke up and a little herd of them headed for the front door, where there was a little smoking patio. I went over to the window and looked out at them, ten or twelve of them standing around lighting each other’s smokes and explaining things to each other. Sort of muttering, commiserating. They were a really unhealthy looking group, like wow – they made me feel pretty great about myself.”

My wife walked through the room with the shotgun over her shoulder and smacked Mike on the back as she passed. “What’s up, Mike. Your moustache is looking fabulous as always.”

“Thank you.”

Then she was gone and Mike cocked his head at the doorway and said, “Was that a…”

“A shotgun, yes. It’s her new thing, she carries a shotgun.”

“Okay.”

“Well, I know it’s okay, Mike. So, what do you got here? Bottom line it for me.”

Mike flipped the phone around so I could see the screen and said, “These two guys right here. Bigger guy with a Gandalf beard, smoking with his pal. I had him pegged as Stupid Gandalf.”

I looked at the screen and a grin spread across my face, feeling fantastic, like maybe I hadn’t grinned that wide in a while and needed to. I said, “That could very, very easily be him.”

“Well then good news, boss,” Mike said. “I got his license plate number.”


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