Chapter 32

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Howie Boy Collier sat outside his father's office annoyed over having to wait for his father's meeting to end. He glanced at his Rolex and decided to give the old man five more minutes. If he didn't summon him by then, he would leave and head for the family hunting lodge in Perry County.

The second week of deer season was underway, Howie's favorite time to hunt. He always skipped the first week when too many yahoos were afield. This annual trip was a ritual, one he never missed out on. His father, once an avid deer hunter, could no longer see the sense in it. A waste of time, the old man had told him. That was okay with Howie Boy. He liked the solitude of having the lodge to himself. No father, no wife, no kids, and no bothersome constituents. Just him and nature. And his rifle.

The office door finally opened and his father shook hands with his guest. "Pleasure doing business with you," his father said.

The man gave him a deferential nod. "Likewise."

As soon as the man disappeared from view, his father's smiling face changed, transforming into a sneer of disapproval. That's the face Howie Boy was used to seeing, his father's default expression.

Uriah Collier beckoned him to enter by wiggling his index finger. "Hold all my calls, Sara," he ordered his personal assistant.

After Howie Boy entered the inner sanctum of his father's office, the man closed and locked the office door. Well, that was new. His father never locked the door in previous meetings. Something serious had to be afoot.

Howie Boy walked to his father's liquor cabinet and poured two fingers of bourbon from a decanter and dropped in two ice cubes. He turned to his father. "Do you want one?"

His father shook his head and walked to the window facing south toward the Philadelphia sports complex. He sighed.

"What's with all the melodrama, Father. First the locked door, then the sigh?"

His father turned to face him. "You better take a seat."

Howie Boy chose a sofa and plopped down onto the soft cushions. "That bad, eh?"

"Yesterday I received a telephone call from a man named Tanzin, a state trooper on my payroll. He put a woman on the line, a female trooper by the name of Henning who is not  on my payroll. Shocked the hell out of me because Lionel told me he had killed her."

"It's not like Lionel to make mistakes."

"Forget about him. The problem is Trooper Henning knows everything."

Howie Boy swished the ice around in his glass. "Everything about what?"

"Everything about what happened ten years ago."

He laughed. "That's not possible."

"Exactly what I thought too, at first. She told me she's in possession of a photo showing both you and Neil Mantener in the security office of the convention center."

Howie Boy took a sip of bourbon, savoring the burn at the back of his tongue and throat. "I thought you dealt with all the evidence. That stuff should've been destroyed years ago."

"It was, to my knowledge. The original detective, Custer Graham, must have held out on us. Somehow this Trooper Henning got a hold of a photo."

"What else does Graham still have?"

"Nothing. He's dead."

Howie Boy took another sip. This one didn't burn as much since his tongue was now numb. "Lionel took care of that problem?"

"Yes."

"But not the lady cop?"

"Apparently not."

Howie Boy considered what his father had just told him. "Why does the lady cop even care? What's motivating her to look into that dead case?"

His father approached and took a seat on a matching sofa opposite him. "Howard, she says there was a witness."

Howie Boy hated when people called him Howard. He relished his nickname because the boy part of the moniker caused people to underestimate him. Also, it made him appear self-deprecating and folksy, something his constituents ate up. It made them think they could trust him.

Whenever his father called him Howard, he expressed his contempt by calling his father by his first name. "That's bullshit, Uriah. Nobody saw me that night. I was out of there before the cops arrived."

His father leaned in close and lowered his voice, as if someone might be listening. "If that's the case, why did Trooper Henning mention cash at the scene of the wreck?"

Howie Boy's blood turned cold. "How could she possibly know that? Get Lionel to finish the job."

"Can't. He's in the wind."

Howie Boy was through sipping. He downed the rest of his bourbon. "What does the lady cop want?"

"An audience with me."

"You think she wants to shake you down?"

His father shrugged. "If that's all, it's no big deal. I'll pay her whatever she wants. What worries me is she might be some idealistic do-gooder who actually wants to solve the case. She might want to get to you through me."

"She's a state employee. Can't you get the governor to apply pressure, like you did back then with the police?"

"Unfortunately, son, the governor from back then has term limited out. He's not the governor anymore, and I don't own the new guy. Not yet."

The bourbon roiled in Howie's stomach. If even a whiff of his involvement leaked to the media, his political career would be finished. "Where did you leave things with the lady cop?"

"I had no choice. I set up a meeting with her. She'll be here this afternoon at four."

A smile crossed Howie Boy's face. "Father, does she know I'm here? Does she have any idea about my annual visit?"

"If she does, she didn't find out from me."

"The stakes are too high to trust anyone else to deal with her. I'll handle this myself." He got up from the sofa and walked to the liquor cabinet, poured himself another two fingers. "I've silenced tougher people than some lady cop."

The Colliers play hardball

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The Colliers play hardball. Will Pet be able to handle these two slippery characters?

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