Jason arrived at 22nd and Elm Streets in ten minutes. As luck would have it, Officer Janczuk was on the scene. He locked his bike well out of the way and walked over to the policeman and said, “Hi, Officer Janczuk. We have to stop meeting like this.” And he held out his hand.
Without thinking, the officer automatically responded and shook hands with the teen. “Hi, Jason. What are you doing here?”
Just before he let go of Janczuk’s hand, he planted a posthypnotic suggestion in the officer’s mind. One that would cause him to answer his questions.
“I was just running an errand for Dad and I saw the commotion. Was anyone hurt?”
“There were a couple of scrapes and bruises, but no broken bones. Five people of the 29 on board the bus went to the hospital to be checked out, but they were all walking, so that was encouraging.”
“Yeah it was. Are those people the other passengers?” Jason asked, pointing to a group of adults standing near a drug store.
“No, those are the relatives of the passengers. We have the passengers segregated from each other as well as from the bystanders. That way their stories won’t be influenced by the others.”
Jason looked around and recognized four of the passengers; six if you counted the kids with Mrs. Eubanks. That gave him an idea. He turned to Officer Janczuk and said, “I see Mrs. Eubanks still has her sons with her. It would be good to question her first so she can get the boys home.”
Officer Janczuk didn’t respond; he just turned and walked over to Mrs Eubanks and, after several questions, he sent her home. As she walked out of the cordoned-off area, Jason walked over to her. “Hi, Mrs. Eubanks. Are you and the boys OK?”
“Oh… hello Jason. Other than my nerves, we’re doing fine.”
“Have you called Mr. Eubanks yet?”
“No. I left my phone on the kitchen counter. May I use your phone, Jason?”
“Of course you may.” And he removed the phone from his pocket and handed it to her.
After tapping in her number and pressing ‘SEND’, she waited. When Mr. Eubanks answered, she told him what happened and asked him to pick them up. A moment later, she hung up and handed the phone back to Jason.
“Thank you, Jason. Dan will be here in a few minutes. You weren’t on the bus, were you?”
“No ma’am, I was running an errand when I saw you here. I parked and locked my bike over at the streetlight there,” and he pointed to his bike. “Mrs. Eubanks, a friend of mine was on the first bus that rolled over. He was the only survivor out of 38 people on the bus. He told me something and it seemed kind of strange at the time. He said he heard a loud bang just as the bus started to swerve before it rolled over. Do you remember if there was a noise today?”
“Now that you mention it, Danny and Mark asked me what the loud noise was just before we hit the curb.”
Then Danny spoke up. “I saw a man on the roof of the hardware store over there,” and he pointed to the store a few buildings down. “And then he came down and was walking away carrying a guitar case.”
“That’s a pretty important clue, Danny. Did you tell the policeman?”
“No. Mom gets mad if we interrupt her when she’s speaking with another adult. I didn’t want to get in trouble.”
“Yeah, I can understand that.” Then Jason took Danny’s hand in his and, squatting down next to the boy, said, “Danny, close your eyes and try to picture what you saw on the roof. Try to remember what the man looked like. Have you got it?”
Still holding the boy’s hand, he continued, “Now try to picture what the man and his guitar case looked like. For instance, what was the man wearing; what did the man look like; what color was his hair; did he have any tattoos? The more you can remember, the more it will help the police.”
Unknown to Danny, his mother or his brother, Jason was downloading the boy’s mental images so he could pass them along to the police sketch artist. All he had to do now was to figure out a way to make that happen. Until then, he could share the images with Alex and Michelle.
Jason looked up at the boy’s mother. “Mrs. Eubanks, I think you should have Danny give the police the description of the man he saw. It could be important.”
“Jason, I don’t want to put Danny in jeopardy. As I said, Dan will be here in a few minutes and we’re going home.”
“*sigh* Yes ma’am. I understand.”
A moment or two later Mr. Eubanks showed up and Mrs. Eubanks and her kids got in the car and drove off. Jason pulled out his mobile and called Michelle.
After filling her in on what he found out, Michelle said, “Jason, get on your bike and come over here. Upload the image to me and I’ll see if I can draw the guy.”
“You’re kidding, right? You only draw cartoons and caricatures. How is that going to help?”
“You goose! I draw cartoons and caricatures because I like them; they’re fun and they make people happy, but I could have been a sketch artist if I wanted to be. You do know I had an Art minor in college, don’t you? Just get over here and stop being so silly.”
= = =
After retrieving his bike, Jason headed back to the west side of the city. When he got to his Cell Chief’s house he rang the doorbell and then just walked in, as was his habit at Michelle’s place ever since she was his babysitter.
“I’m up in my room, Jason!” she called down. He walked up the stairs. Michelle’s door was open and he walked right in.
“How’s my favorite babysitter doing today?” he asked. Michelle walked over and gave him a hug.
“I’m doing great! How about you; are you just about finished with Ron Conrad?”
“I’m doing great, too. And yes, it looks like Ron Conrad is coming along as well. Glenn told Alex this morning that Conrad just nodded to him as he passed. We still have to monitor for a while, but if it keeps up this way, all of Glenn’s troubles will be over.”
“That’s great, Jason! Are you and Alex up for another job?”
“Yes, but we’d like to take a certain one, if it’s OK with you.”
“Jason, you know it doesn’t work that way. I really need to have you guys find out what’s happening with all the bus roll-overs we’ve had lately. Three in eight days is hardly an accident.”
“Hahaha! That was the job we wanted to do, Michelle! We’ve already gathered a lot of information and now we just need to have you draw this guy,” then Jason took Michelle’s hand and force-fed to her the images that he downloaded from Danny Eubanks.
“A guitar case, eh? Back in the 1920s gangsters used to carry their machine guns in violin cases. Hehe.”
“Times change, Michelle.”
“I guess they do. Is Alex at home?”
“Yeah, but they’re probably eating supper now, which reminds me, I have to let Dad know I’ll be late.” Jason took out his mobile and sent a text.
“I haven’t had supper either. Let’s check the fridge and see what Mom left for me. She and Dad went out for dinner at a friend’s house. They invited me to join them, but I told them I was swamped with stuff I had to finish for work… not.”
“Let me guess. The other couple has a son your age?”
“No, Mom and Dad know better than to do that to me again. The first time was enough. In the middle of the meal, both sets of parents started hinting about how good we looked together. They had us sitting next to each other, opposite my parents. Then Jack said to his parents, ‘I don’t think this will work. My boyfriend and I promised not to date other people,’ all we could hear was the ticking of the clock on the mantle. Looking around the table, four chins were on their plates. I high-fived Jack and we both started laughing.”
“Hahaha! Was Jack really gay?”
“Yes, and that was his way of coming out. Hehehe. Jack and I got along great after that. Both sets of parents were quiet for the rest of the meal and we went home before dessert! When we got home I asked Mom and Dad if they thought I was going to catch ‘gay’ from Jack. It was great! Mom’s face turned bright red and Dad walked out of the room.”
“Hahaha! And you called me silly! So why didn’t you go to dinner with them tonight?”
“Can you imagine being the only young person at a meal with four older people? It’s cruel and unusual punishment. At least your dad has the sense to respect your privacy. Let’s go down and see what’s in the kitchen.”
When they got there, they found bread, ham, roast beef and cheese, and Michelle’s mom had made some potato salad. Soon they were eating and Jason was letting Michelle know what else he and Alex had discovered about the bus rollovers.
“The one thing that’s a common thread through all three accidents is the bang before the rollovers. Officer Janczuk was at the scene of the last two rollovers and when I shook his hand tonight, I read that they found the front passenger-side tire of the first bus was also destroyed. I read that the lab determined that the cause appeared to be a bullet hole and then the tire was shredded as the driver lost control and rolled over.”
“I wonder why they’re shooting that tire. The bus has four tires, right?”
“No, it has six tires, but they’re on two axles. The rear tires are duals and shooting only one could possibly go unnoticed until the bus was returned to the bus garage at the end of the day. Shooting the driver’s-side tire might cause the bus to hit another car on the street, but there’s no guarantee that the bus could roll over. Although there’s no guarantee that the bus would roll over with the passenger-side tire getting shot out, there’s a better chance of it because of the curb causing the bus to stop suddenly and then tip over. I’ve noticed one other thing that was common with all three accidents. The next bus stop was at a busy cross street and the cross street also had a bus route on it. A lot of people transfer from one bus to another to complete their trip, so they would have been up and at the exits, throwing the center of balance off slightly. It would make it easier to tip the bus with the weight distributed that way.”
“Thank you, Mr. Scientist! But that does make sense.” As they sat there eating, Michelle picked up the sketch pad and pencil that she brought downstairs with her. Jason went to the fridge and got a couple of Cokes. When he came back, he looked over Michelle’s shoulder and was impressed by her artistic skills.
“So have you and Alex been getting it on yet?” she asked.
Jason knew better than to try to lie to the ‘human lie detector’. “Yeah, a couple of times.”
“Hehe. Your definition of ‘a couple’ doesn’t seem to agree with mine.”
“OK, that’s it! No more personal questions; from now on I’m strictly business with you. Hehe.”
“Why Jason! You’re blushing! That’s so cute.”
“GAH! Cute is not in a guy’s vocabulary!” This went on for a few more minutes as Michelle finished the sketch.
“Is this about right, Jason?”
“Wow! That’s spot on! Let’s scan it and email it to Alex so he can see who we’re looking for.” They put the sandwich fixin’s back in the refrigerator and grabbed their paper plates, Cokes and plastic forks and headed back to Michelle’s room. She had an ‘all-in-one’ printer, scanner, copier and she loaded her sketch in it. Within seconds she was sending it to Jason and Alex. Jason sent a text to Alex.
u gots mail
In a moment, he got a reply.
meet me on Skype
Michelle started Skype and connected to Alex.
Jason is here with me.
Alex connected and requested video. Michelle granted it and soon Alex’s face was staring at them.
“Hey Michelle! Jason, I saw that guy at the Saturday bus roll-over! He was carrying the same guitar case. Is he our guy?”
“It’s probable, Alex. Where did he go when you saw him?”
“He was walking down Carver towards Sawyer. I didn’t notice if he turned or not. Come to think of it, he never even looked to see what all the cops and firefighters were doing; he just seemed to want to walk away.”
“By the way, Alex, we’re officially on this case.”
“That’s excellent, Jason! Thanks, Michelle! So what’s next?”
“Whatever it is, it has to wait until tomorrow. I have a ton of homework and it’s not getting any earlier. Let’s bike to school tomorrow so we’ll have transportation and can get places more easily.”
“OK. Your place is on the way. I’ll be there at 7:30.”
Michelle, Jason and Alex went over possible scenarios and plans of action before they signed off. Jason gave Michelle another hug and rode home. When he got there, he briefed his dad and then got to his homework. He finished by 10:00 PM and said goodnight to Mark before going to bed. Tuesday was going to be a busy day.
= = =
The next morning I pulled up to Jason’s door at 7:29. Jason was waiting and we rode off together. I spoke first. “We still have to check on Ron Conrad. This is his second of three days with Mr. Killian. He should be getting to Mr. Killian’s room at 7:45, so we should be able to get there on time. I think Killian is making him serve 30 minutes a day. I got to Glenn’s locker at about 8:20 yesterday and Conrad had already passed by him.”
“You know, that’s kind of a good deal for Conrad,” Jason noted. “If he had detention he’d be there for 45 minutes each afternoon.”
“Yeah, plus it was nice of Killian to give him an alternative,” I added. “So what’s the plan for this afternoon?”
“I was thinking about going to the 7-11 at Carver and Sawyer and ‘convincing’ the owner to let us look at his security videos. I brought a few blank DVDs to make copies on my laptop.”
“OK, then what?”
“Well, it depends on whether Mr. X is on the videos or not. If he is, we’ll check the neighborhood around the drug store from last night and see if we can find another security camera that he would have passed. After that, we can go to the first crash site and see what we can find.”
“OK… and then do we go to the police with the evidence?”
“Not right away… I want to check out the bus company garage and the police vehicle impound first.”
“Jason, it sounds like you’ve thought this out, but what’s at the garage and the vehicle impound?”
“I want to see if we can ID the guy in Michelle’s sketch. And it might be a good idea to find out if the guy has been checking his handiwork at the impound lot. That’s where the three buses were towed. I don’t think they would have had time to get them back to the bus company yet, especially the wreck from the first accident and the bus from yesterday.”
“Hehe. You’re a regular Sherlock Holmes, aren’t you?”
“Well, it is pretty logical. The guy doesn’t seem to care about the passengers and he’s only going after buses. Why not a truck or a car? I just want to see if he’s ticked off at the bus company for some reason. Depending on what we find out, we can go to the police and give them what we have.”
“Now for the hard part. *sigh*”
“What’s that, Alex?”
“Waiting for the end of the day.”
“Not really. We still have to check on Ron Conrad.”
When we pulled up to West Side High we parked and locked our bikes and went in to talk with Glenn. His locker was near Mr Killian’s room and as we got there, Glenn walked up, too.
“Hey Glenn! How’s life treating you these days?” Jason asked.
“Hey Jason, Alex! Dude, your dad is great on the grill! I’ll never doubt your words again!” Glenn replied.
“Hehe. I know, right? Alex told me yesterday that I understated his skills. So how’s that other thing going so far?”
“Yesterday it was great! In fact, he should be here in a minute or two.”
“Yeah. That’s why Jason and I are here.”
We continued our small talk for a minute or so and finally Conrad walked out of Mr. Killian’s room.
“Hey, Ron!” Jason called to him.
“Hi Jason! Guess what? Mr. Killian must have had a change of heart; he said I don’t have to report tomorrow. He said he was impressed by my attitude change and he was rewarding me for it. If our places were reversed, I don’t know if I would have cut him any slack.”
“Don’t sell yourself short, Ron. I bet you would,” I said.
“Oh, Hi Alex. Yeah, I bet I would, too. Glenn! I didn’t notice you there. What’s up, bud?”
“I’m doing OK, Ron. Just getting ready for first period.”
“Yeah–I have to do that too. I’ll catch you guys next time, OK?”
We said goodbye to Ron. Glenn just hung his head and slowly shook it. “I don’t know what you guys did, but I’m forever grateful to you, however it happened.”
“We’re still not certain that it’s working yet, Glenn,” Jason told him. “Just keep your eyes open for any backsliding and let one of us know as soon as it happens.”
Just then the morning bell rang to announce five minutes ‘til homeroom. We walked off in three directions to start the day.
= = =
I was right. The day seemed to drag on forever. Lunch was OK because Jason and I were talking about our plans again. Then the afternoon seemed to drag longer than the morning. Finally it was 3:00 PM and the final bell rang. I met Jason at the bike rack and we were off for the 7-11. We arrived in about 15 minutes and Jason introduced us to the manager and, as he shook his hand, he was able to plant a posthypnotic suggestion to let us see the security video. The manager even showed us how to copy the files we wanted to Jason’s laptop. Then the guy had to go to the counter to help some customers, leaving us to finish the task. We found the Saturday file and fast-forwarded to about 2:00 PM, the time the bus rolled.
There were five cameras tied into the system and we started by watching the front door and parking lot view. At 14:07:38 on the time counter, we saw him. Not only did he go past the camera, he actually entered the store! The markings on the door showed that he was 5’10” tall. He stepped up to the counter and got a pack of cigarettes and a lottery quick-pick ticket. He had shown up on the parking lot camera and two more cameras inside. When he finished paying, he left and walked through the lot to Sawyer Avenue and got into a car at a parking meter and drove off.
Jason rewound the file to 13:30 and watched in 8x speed until the car arrived and was parked at the meter. We were able to see the direction he came from and we even got a clear shot of his front license plate. This was too easy! Jason copied the file from 13:30 to 14:30 onto his laptop, checked to be sure it would play back and then packed his laptop up. We got a couple of Slurpees, thanked the manager and we were soon on our way.
The next stop was the drug store at 22nd and Elm. This was about 20 minutes away. Jason showed me the hardware store that Danny Eubanks had pointed out to him the day before.
“Danny said he saw the guy on the roof of the building and he had to pass the hardware store to exit the area. Let’s see if the hardware store has a camera.”
It did and Jason worked his magic again. Within minutes we had the man in question passing by the hardware store and fifteen minutes later he was passing by again, going in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a camera that might have followed him to his car, but this was enough to put the guy at both locations during the time that two of the buses rolled over. Now it was off to the first crash site.
When we got to the original site, 14th and Lambert, the only structure we saw was a Shell gas station. We talked with the manager, but when we looked through the video records, we couldn’t find our guy.
Jason was a little depressed when we didn’t see Mr. X, but I didn’t see any evidence of the bus, either. We could see the right area, but there wasn’t any sign of the bus or evidence that it had rolled down the hill after it tipped over.
“Jason, where’s the bus?”
“Alex! You’re a genius! Of course it’s not there; no one ever reset the time for Daylight Saving Time!”
When we checked the real-time clock, we found that the recording time was off by 83 minutes. We corrected our search parameters and we saw the car from Saturday pulling up to the air pump. Mr. X looked like he was reaching over to the back seat to retrieve the guitar case! Sure enough, when he opened the case, he took out what looked to be a hunting rifle and, after resting it on the passenger-side window frame, he waited. In a matter ten minutes the bus pulled up. There was no sound on the video, but we saw a bright flash inside Mr. X’s car and we saw the bus tire almost explode as the bullet ripped through it.
Next we saw the bus hit the curb and finally, it rolled over and kept going until it was at the bottom of the slope. Mr. X looked like he was laughing as he put the rifle back into the guitar case and returned it to the back seat. Before he drove off, he took a picture of the carnage on his phone.
“Jason, this guy is sick! He needs to be locked up in a mental institution!”
“No shit! Let’s copy this and get to the impound lot.”
A few minutes later we arrived. Jason handed the guy at the counter a copy of Michelle’s sketch and asked if he had seen the man.
“Oh that guy… yeah. He was here last week trying to get pictures of the fatality bus. He said he worked for a newspaper, but when he couldn’t show valid proof that he did, we asked him to leave. He got really irate and said he was going to have our jobs for that. He was a real whack-job. He left when he heard me calling for help.”
“Did you happen to get his name,” Jason asked.
“Nah. I was more concerned about getting him out of here.”
We thanked the guy and left. We had one more stop to make before we could call Officer Janczuk and let him know what we found. We headed to the city bus garage downtown. When we got there, Jason used his friendly smile and introduced us to the shift chief. Once he shook his hand, the guy was as helpful as could be. I really have to see if he can teach me to do that. Hehe.
Jason showed him the sketch and his reaction told us we hit pay dirt!
“What do you want to know about that son of a bitch?”
“Well, anything you can tell us, really.”
“He’s caused us more trouble than any six people are worth.”
“Does he work here, sir?”
“Not anymore. He was fired for stealing two weeks ago. It wasn’t like he was taking company property; he was stealing tools from his coworkers! There’s an unwritten law with mechanics. You never steal someone’s tools!”
“What did he have to say for himself?” I asked.
“He tried to laugh it off and say it was an accident; all tools look the same. Then we found that he had a dozen tools in the trunk of his car that came from two of the guys here. They wanted to kick his ass.”
“Wow! You’ve been a great help. Do you have an address on him?”
“Nah. I think he’s living in his car.”
Jason sped through the files and found the one he wanted. He spun his laptop around and asked, “Is it this car?” He had a freeze-frame from the 7-11 video on the screen.
“Yeah, that’s it. Where did you get that picture?”
Jason ignored the question and asked his own.
“One last question. Do you know this guy’s name?”
“Yeah. He’s Jacob Winslow.”