While Colton sat in the RAM, he was tempted to go online and search for Ray’s Garage. But, he resisted the temptation, not wanting to give away their location. Before leaving Mitchell’s Tap, he’d insisted they remove the sim cards from their phones, hoping that would prevent any tracing.
The right rear of the extended cab opened. “Damn, it’s freezing. Give me a hand.” Colton turned and saw Sandy with an overflowing buggy. He paused, thinking ‘he bought them, he can unload them.’ That’s when he saw the bright blue Phone Mart sign hanging above the corner store of the adjacent shopping strip.
After the two-dozen plastic bags were layered across the back seat and floor board, Colton realized this might be as good a time as any to purchase burner phones. They didn’t have anything else to do but wait out the storm, and he really wanted to get online.
The sales clerk was reading a magazine and listening to a weatherman from a small TV behind the counter. “Come in. Welcome to Phone Mart. How can I help you?”
There were no other customers inside the story. The the dapper little man turned down the TV volume and rushed to meet them. Colton thought he looked more like a reporter or assistant district attorney than a cell phone expert.
“I need two untraceable phones. Pending divorce. Bitch keeps calling and texting.” Sandy had an imagination, and often acted spontaneously.
“I’m his brother,” Colton added, resigning to the developing context.
Timothy, per his name tag, handed each of them a business card. “You’ve come to the right place, but I have good news and not-so-good news. Sandy glanced at Colton, then back at the clerk.
“Okay, tell it like it is.” Colton didn’t have any patience for a story or a sales pitch.
“We are the only dealer in Elk Grove that carries the Librem 5, made by Purism.” Neither ‘brother’ had heard of it. “It’s the absolute best option if you don’t want to be tracked.”
“Why’s that?” Sandy asked.
“It’s operating system is Linux based, which obviously means its not based on Android or iOS.”
“What’s the bad news? And, the cost.” Colton didn’t want a flip phone, preferring something closer to the look and feel of his iPhone 11.
“I don’t currently have two in stock, but I should have within an hour or so.” The little man said, stroking his upper lip with his right index finger.
“What’s your second best option?” Sandy asked.
“The Nokia 3310, a flip phone. I know that’s not for everyone.” Colton nodded in agreement and glanced at the clock on the wall above the TV. It was almost 3:30.
“I assume the Librem 5 isn’t a flip-phone?” Timothy walked to the counter and returned with a brochure. “Here’s what it looks like. Similar design as the Pixel 4 XL or the iPhone 10, with a slightly smaller screen size.” Colton liked it.
Sandy looked at Colton and nodded, handing over the brochure.
“You’re sure you’ll have two of these in an hour?” Colton thought of a couple of errands he and Sandy could run, but didn’t want one hour to turn into two or three.
The store’s phone rang and the clerk returned to his stool behind the counter. Colton and Sandy had seen the price on the brochure, $2000.00. “Shit, that’s a ton of money.” Sandy said, proud he’d given his mother’s land-line number to Chicago police when he was arrested. Surely, his attorney wasn’t a threat to disclose anything related to his case.
“That was the delivery guy. Said he was on his way but would definitely be delayed given the snow storm.”
After discussing price and the recommended phone service, Colton handed over $500 cash to hold the phones, promising to return with the balance in a few days, subject to the storm. He knew he had to make a round trip to Chicago to close his current bank account.
The return drive to Pop’s took forty-five minutes given the blizzard and a three-car pileup at the Nerge and Rohlwing intersection.
“Shit. What’s that bitch doing here?” Sandy slammed an open palm against the dashboard as Colton slowly steered the RAM into driveway. “I’m beginning to think we should find a better place to camp out.”
Mildred Simmons’ Impala blocked the carport’s open bay. Colton parked on the far side of her car and saw the wrinkle-faced woman coming outside through the house’s rear door with a kitchen towel hung over one arm. “She’s been inside. What the fuck?” Colton’s uneasiness over the next door neighbor doubled, quickly transforming into anger and a near-certainty the nosy woman was trouble with a capital T.
Both men exited the RAM and approached Mildred who’d opened the Impala’s drivers side door. “Bad weather to be outside but I thought you boys would enjoy a coconut cake.” Colton was too hot to respond and walked inside. From the dash-banging, he believed Sandy could deal with the situation.
“Rusty, you’ll catch pneumonia out in this weather.” Sandy couldn’t bring himself to scolding the old lady, the one who’d been so good to Pop.
“Don’t you worry. I’ve had my flu shot and it’s just a hop over here. You always loved my cakes.”
It then dawned on Sandy that Pop had not only given Mildred a key to the detached garage, but to his house also. In fact, they’d exchanged keys, mainly to check on things when one of them was out-of-town. Mildred touched Sandy’s cheek, crawled into the Impala and drove off.
Colton was standing by the gas heater in the den when Sandy entered and motioned for help unloading the groceries. “Hold on, come here.”
The closer Sandy got to Colton the more he could see his friend was about to explode. “Calm down, she just brought us a cake, just wants to help. No harm, but I promise I’ll get her key back.”
“Follow me you idiot. It’s far worse than you know.” Sandy followed Colton to the dining room table to his opened brief case. “Look. Read.”
Sandy looked at the top document. It was a copy of the murder indictment. Underneath was several pages including an Incident & Offense Report detailing the arson and the discovery of Ellen Heppner’s charred body. Another page was victim Gina Patton’s excruciating statement given to the DA’s detective. “Shit, you don’t think Mildred saw these, do you?”
Colton closed his eyes and raised his head toward the ceiling. “I guarantee you the bitch read every word. It wouldn’t surprise me if she snapped photos. We know she has a cell phone, from this morning.”
“God damn. I bet she saw all your guns scattered across your bed.” Sandy could think, a little, once prompted. “What do we do?”
“We’re probably okay for the moment, but if she hears or reads something about us she might put two and two together.” Colton returned to the heater.
Sandy joined Colton and remembered the Chicago Tribune journalist, Andrew Spivey, who’d called both of them asking for a statement before his article was published. “You think that reporter will print something after Monday’s hearing?”
“Could be, he’s nosy and has a keen interest in our case. I told you my attorney said Spivey called him after learning about the DA’s latest motion.”
Colton walked outside, backed the RAM into the carport, and started unloading the groceries. Sandy joined him and kept asking what they needed to do, recalling Colton’s statement during the drive over that he wished they could get rid of Gina Patton.