Andy and Barney entered Independence, Kansas from the east on U.S. Highway 160 and slowed down to the recommended speed of 30 miles per hour. East Main Street was lined with contemporary houses until hitting 4th Street when a downtown district began. Andy was taking in the scenery of a town he hadn't been to since his one year playing high school basketball.
"We need to find 16th Street and then Laurel," Barney said. Andy didn't answer and the car remained silent for a couple more minutes. "You ever been here before?"
Andy turned his attention from the city to Barney. "Yeah, I came here to play basketball. I went to school in Mason City and Independence was one of our rivals."
"I hope we can get this guy," Barney said. Jess' sister Kimberly had been recently raped and murdered by an unknown assailant. Another kidnapping, down from Mason City along U.S. 160 in Independence, fit the same motive as Kimberly's and Andy was hoping he could save this girl from the same fate. The girl, Miranda Johnston, had went missing a couple days ago and the girls' parents have the police searching but the mother also hired Barney to go places that police may not be able to get into. "Why'd you want to come with me?"
"To make it up to Jess," Andy sighed.
The White Cloud Casino traversed the Missouri River between Camden, Missouri and Leavenworth, Kansas. The White Cloud was a massive steamboat that utilized the expansive 8 mile width of the Missouri to be a floating casino, stopping at selected cities to let people on or off. The steamboat also had a hotel on it for people unable to get off at one of the selected cities.
Mike and Alexis arrived at the boat at 4:30 in the afternoon in North Centropolis, Missouri--a separate entity of Centropolis proper but in the metro area. They checked in as Mr and Mrs. Bruce Kent and easily found their hotel room on the top floor of the steamboat. The White Cloud Casino prided itself on being completely honest and family friendly, something that had started to slip when Gene Hemingway purchased the Casino about eight months ago.
Mike and Alexis were there to investigation the shady dealings that supposedly went on there and try to uncover if Hemingway is behind it or just a pawn. Unbeknownst to them, their room was next to Jimmy Brock's room, another reporter for a different newspaper who's going to die soon.
"Murder On the White Cloud"
Kyle was in the corner of his studio room painting, as he usually was in the early afternoon hours. A soft knock came from the door and Kyle looked around the easel, "Come in," he said.
Jess slowly opened the door and stepping in. "Hey, Kyle," she said.
"Hey, Jess. How are you today?"
"I'm fine. You've been working hard on that painting," Jess said.
"It's for someone special and I want to get it done. It's almost there, just needs a bit more attention. What's up?"
"Nothing. No one's around. Andy went to see his parents, Mike and Alexis are on assignment and aside from you, there's no one to talk to."
"Aw, I'm sorry. You want to do anything? I can hang out with you for awhile," Kyle offered.
"Nah, I just want to talk. What are you painting?"
"Well, it's kind of private," Kyle said. "It's something I'm doing privately. For someone."
"Sweet, you had someone commission a painting from you?" Jess smiled.
"No. Well, kind of," Kyle said. I guess you can look at it if you want."
Kyle scooted him and his stool back and invited Jess to look at the painting. Jess saw the painting and gasped when she saw it. It was a painting of her and her sister Kimberly hugging in a porch swing. Clipped to the painting was a picture Kyle was copying. The picture looks like it was taken about ten years ago when Jess was 11 and Kimberly was 5. Jess began tearing up and Kyle put his arm around her.
"I asked your mom for the picture after the funeral. I figured if you didn't want it then your mom would," Kyle said.
"I love it. That was always my favorite picture of us. I can't believe you did this. Especially when you could've done something for money."
"This was more important," Kyle smiled as he stood and hugged Jess. "I can finish it up and you can hang it up tonight."
"Well, thank you, Kyle. I believe this is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me," Jess said. "I want to thank you for being there for me through all of this. I don't think I could've made it without you."
"Don't mention it. Anyone could've done it," Kyle said, shrugging off the compliment.
"But not anyone did. You did. Even my best friend, Andy, didn't even do half of what you did. He spent the last week with Barney or Mariah and barely even spoke to me," Jess said.
"Has Andy been acting different lately? Have you noticed?" Kyle asked.
"I didn't think so originally but now I'm thinking that something is wrong with him. I've hardly seen him lately so I haven't been able to talk to him about it," Jess said.
"Ever since he met that Barney guy he seems different. What do we really know about Barney?"
"He's a private investigator. Life long Centropolian but that's pretty much it," Jess said. "Andy really hasn't formally introduced Barney to anyone."
"That really seems weird, especially for Andy. Do you think he could be on drugs and hiding it from us?" Kyle asked.
"I doubt it. If Andy was going to start doing drugs he would've started in high school."
"His life is going nowhere. Maybe facing that reality is hurting him and it's his way of crying out. To his friends. To help him."
Jess began laughing uproariously and touched Kyle's shoulder, "I really don't know how you kept a straight face during all that," she said. "I think he's just at a strange point in his life. He'll probably be fine quicker than we think."
"Where are you going to hang your painting?" Kyle asked.
"I don't know. I guess above my bed," Jess said. "Come look at my room and see if you think it'll look good there."
Kyle followed Jess to her bedroom and looked at the spot over her, currently held by a movie poster of "Sex and the City". "I think it'll look fine there," Kyle said. "Do you need help getting that poster down?"
"No, I got it," Jess said, "but you can help me anyway," she continued and kissed Kyle. Jess then reached over and closed the door, leading Kyle over to her bed.
On the White Cloud, Mike and Alexis were joining in the gambling fun. Alexis had placed herself in front of a slot machine while Mike headed over to a blackjack table and sat down. He scooted a pile of chips over to the betting square and was given two cards--one was a five of clubs and the other the eight of diamonds. The dealer gave the other four players their cards and two to himself, getting the five of spades.
Mike thought for a moment. "Hit," he said.
The dealer gave him another card--seven of hearts--then turned his attention to the other players before turning his card over and revealing the three of hearts. The dealer gave himself another card--five of diamonds. When this round was done, Mike had won with his 20, everyone else went bust except for a guy in a cowboy hat who stood at 17.
Mike continued playing, getting really involved in the game. Alexis had, by now, lost $20 in the slot machine and finally got up and stormed away from the machines. She went out to the deck to look at the passing city. After a couple minutes, Jimmy Brock came up and stood next to her and sighed loudly.
"Excuse me?" Alexis asked him.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to disturb you," Jimmy said.
"Then why did you stand so close to me?" Alexis asked, smiling.
"All right, you got me. I was wanting to talk to you," he smiled back. "I saw you getting upset at that slot machine over there and wanted to make sure you were all right."
"I'm fine. It's just a game. I'm a big girl, I can handled losing," Alexis looked up Jimmy and saw that his eyes were fixed on her cleavage. "Listen, mister, I think I'm a bit too young for you. Besides, I'm married."
"That's never stopped some women before," Jimmy licked his lips. "I'm Jimmy Brock, the premiere reporter for the North Centropolis Sentinel, and who are you?"
"Natalie Kent. Mrs. Natalie Kent," Alexis said, remembering her ruse as a married woman.
"Well, Mrs. Kent, if you change your mind or something, let me know. I am in room seven," Jimmy Brock started to walk away, "I will see you around, Mrs. Kent."
Alexis shuddered as he left. "Great, he's in the room next to ours," she said. "But something tells me he knows more about what's going on here."
Alexis went back into the casino and found Mike still at the blackjack table. "Hey, Alex--Natalie. What's going on?"
"Not much. We need to talk, can you cash out or something?" Alexis asked.
"Sure, just a moment," Mike grabbed his chips, nodded to the dealer and followed Alexis back out onto the deck. "What's up?"
"Our room is right next to Jimmy Brock's."
"Jimmy Brock. Mr. Centropolis himself?" Mike asked.
"Yeah. I bet he's here to report on the corruption, too."
"Possibly. We should stay close to him. Go back to the room and grab your camera. We're gonna start investigating what's going on around here," Mike said.
"Okay," Alexis sighed, "I'll be right back."
Alexis went back to the hotel portion of the steamboat and went back to her and Mike's room. She unlocked the door and walked into the room. She heard some sort of argument in Brock's room but ignored it and grabbed her camera off of the dresser. She then headed back down to the casino and met up with Mike.
"Yeah. Brock was really in a heated argument up there," Alexis said.
"Really? Could you hear what he was saying?"
"No, I didn't listen. I figured he was arguing with an editor or something."
"I think there's something more going on here," Mike said. "I just asked one of the employees about Hemingway and while he said that he's not supposed talk about the boss while on duty, he seemed really unnerved."
"So?" Alexis asked.
"He was all smiley and happy before I asked him about Hemingway. Something is going on around here. Let's go back to the room and figure out where to start on all this."
Mike and Alexis entered the hallway and saw a huge crowd of people huddled around the area where their door was. They pushed their way through the people and saw Jimmy Brock laying in the hallway with a knife twisted into his ribs.
"Oh my God! What happened?" Mike asked.
"This man was stabbed," a woman began, "and she did it!" she shrieked, pointing to Alexis.
"What? I was only up here for a couple minutes to get my camera. I heard arguing in Brock's room. I was downstairs in the casino when this happened," Alexis scoffed.
"I saw this man hit on you. You seemed very upset by it. He probably did it again when she came up here and she got mad," another woman said.
"What?" Alexis stood tall amidst the crowd of people. "You people don't even know who I am. And instead of prematurely sending me to the electric chair, you people should be getting a doctor or something up here to get this man out of the middle of the hallway."
Soon, the crowd had dispersed and Mike and Alexis were in their room thinking about what to do next.
"I wish we knew who Brock was fighting with," Mike said. "I don't even know where to begin."
"We can try to sneak into his room and look around. Maybe we can find some notes or something," Alexis suggested.
"But the casino has a guard standing outside his door. There's no way we'd be able to get over there."
"You're forgetting that our rooms are connected. There's a door that goes between our two rooms. We just have to make sure that we're really quiet when we're over there."
"I can't believe how sneaky you're being. Breaking and entering in a casino is serious, Alexis," Mike said. "Do you know how to pick a lock?"
It took Alexis ten minutes to get the door leading into Jimmy Brock's room. They quietly searched the room, through his dresser drawers, the nightstand drawer and the big closet between the bedroom and the bathroom. Mike sat down on the bed and picked up the phone. The phone buzzed twice and then someone answered.
"Switchboard. How can I help you Mr. Brock?"
"Uh," Mike paused then cleared his throat. "I've forgotten what the last number I called was," Mike said in a deeper voice.
"Just one moment, Mr. Brock," the switchboard operator did some typing then spoke again. "785-555-3954. Would you like me to place that call?"
"No thank you. What was the last number that called me?"
"Just another moment, Mr. Brock," the switchboard operator did more typing then spoke again. "816-555-7832. Would you like me to place that call?"
Mike chuckled, "No, thank you. That will be all."
Mike hung up the phone just as Alexis came out of the bathroom. "What's going on?"
"Let's get out of here," Mike grabbed Alexis' arm and dragged her back into their room. He shut both doors and locked theirs. "I got a couple of phone numbers. I wrote them down."
"Phone numbers? That's great! Were they on a piece of paper or something?"
"No, I asked the switchboard operator," Mike smiled.
"That's dangerous. They're gonna start looking into who called considering the one person who'd use Brock's phone is dead," Alexis said.
"We have to start somewhere," Mike began and picked up the phone receiver. "We can at least see who the last people he talked to were."
Mike dialed the 785 number and waited while it rang. It rang quite a few times until it clicked onto a voice mail recording from an editor at the North Centropolis Sentinel. Mike hung up, wrote down the editor's name and that he was from the Sentinel then dialed the 816 number.
It rang twice. "Gene Hemingway's office," answered a female voice. Mike quickly hung up and turned to Alexis.
"It was the phone number to Gene Hemingway's office. Why do you think Brock was talking to Hemingway?"
"When Brock came up and talk to me--well, my breasts, not really me--something made me think he knew what was going on around here. He acted like he was here for fun not for a story or anything," Alexis said.
"He and Hemingway are in cahoots?" Mike asked.
"If cahoots means 'working together' then yes," Alexis smiled. "Let's go see if we can find Mr. Hemingway."
The parted ways and began asking around to the employees about where Mr. Hemingway's office was. Mike finally got the information from an employee that was currently on break and smoking some pot.
"His office is on the lowest level of the boat. He's apparently planning to depart the boat, along with Brock's body when we reach Farley so we have to see him now," Mike explained. "Let's go."
Mike and Alexis took the elevator to the lowest level. They could hear the turbines of the steamboat churning on this level. When reaching to lowest level, they looked one way and nothing but turbines. The other way, the could see a massive door and a woman sitting at a desk. They cautiously made their way to the door and the woman.
"Can I help you?" the woman asked without even looking up.
This caught both of them off guard. "Hi, yeah. We're from the Centropolis Inquirer and we would like to talk to Mr. Hemingway about the reporter that was killed tonight," Mike said.
The woman looked up at them. "He's busy at the moment," the woman said.
"Then we'll wait for him to deboard in Farley," Alexis spoke up.
That caught the woman off guard. She paused for a minute or so then picked up a phone. "Sir? There are a couple reporters here to ask you questions about Jimmy Brock," she said. "The Inquirer. Uh-huh. I'll tell them."
She hung up the phone and looked directly at Mike and Alexis. "Mr. Hemingway is not seeing anyone about that matter right now."
"I know that we are just from the Inquirer, what's been dubbed a tabloid rag, but not answering any questions on this matter--even from tabloid reporters--is mighty suspicious. I'm pretty sure Mr. Hemingway wouldn't want anything else to hurt his business," Mike said.
The woman stared at Mike then the doorknob turned and Mr. Hemingway appeared. "How are you two this evening?" he said, extending his hand.
"Fine, Mr. Hemingway. I'm glad you decided to see us tonight," Mike said. "I'm Bruce Kent and this is Alexis Barrett. Can we please talk in your office?"
The three of them entered the office and Hemingway sat down at his desk. "Now what do you want to talk about?"
"Did you know Jimmy Brock?" Mike asked.
"I knew who he was and he was a boisterous gambler but other than that we weren't close at all," Hemingway said.
"Did you know you were being investigated for fraud?"
"I had an inkling," he sighed.
"Brock was the lead reporter on the investigation. Kind of strange that he would wind up dead," Mike said.
Alexis noted something in a cabinet. We walked over to it and got out her camera and took a couple of pictures. Mike and Hemingway continued to talk but Alexis ignored them.
"I don't really like what you are insinuating, Mr. Kent," Hemingway huffed. "Now if you must excuse me, I have to get ready to deboard in Farley."
Hemingway ushered Mike and Alexis out of his office and slammed the door. "Well, that was rude," Mike said.
"Look what I got," Alexis clicked to the picture she took of the glass cabinet. "Hemingway has a collection of fancy knives in his office."
"One of them is missing. I bet if we can find out where they are stashing Brock's body then we can find the murder weapon and see if it matches. If it does, then we have a story."
"But we don't know where they took Brock's body," Mike said.
"Then we'll find the ship's doctor and ask him," Alexis said. She turned around and spoke to the woman guarding Hemingway's office. "Excuse me, where's the doctor located?"
"One floor up, to the right and the third door down."
Mike and Alexis arrived at the doctor's office and slowly opened the door. It pushed right open but no one was in the room. Jimmy Brock lay to the side covered in a sheet. Mike and Alexis looked under the sheet to make sure it was Brock and saw Brock pale, bloated face lying sullen.
"Let's find that knife," Alexis whispered.
Mike opened a couple drawers that were on the table Brock lied on and saw a knife. He gasped and poked Alexis. "Found it!"
Alexis smiled and began taking pictures. After a few minutes, they were back in their room and the boat was preparing for docking at Farley. "We did it! We know who killed Brock!"
"But we still don't know why."
"We work for a tabloid. We just guess and hope everything works out all right. Come on, let's get off this ship and get back to Centropolis," Alexis smiled and winked at Mike.
Barney and Andy were standing with a police officer from Independence. They were in the hallway of the local high school standing in front of Miranda Johnston's locker. "Have you went to the parents?" the officer asked.
"We went over to the house but no one was home. Thanks for letting us look in her locker," Barney said.
"No problem. We couldn't find anything but I think it's just a simple kidnapping. You know, like that girl in Mason," the officer said.
"That girl died," Andy said. "We want to find this girl before that happens. Just open the locker."
The officer opened Miranda's locker and Barney pulled out a composition notebook and opened it. "Just a bunch of drawing and journal entries."
"There's probably more to it. May we take this?"
"I guess. We looked through it and didn't find anything worth investigating," said the officer.
"Let's go back to the parent's house, Barn," Andy said. "We'll save her."
In 2 Weeks:
Andy and Barney go to see Miranda's parents; Jess begins her student teaching career and something is approaching Earth.