Four-Part Dissonance, by Edward Doughtie. Chapter 11. (Scroll down or go to archives for previous chapters.)

Chapter 11.

Eileen Mattingly ushered Branch and Chat into the conservatory. She began speaking as soon as they were seated on the rattan chairs. Branch noted that she was so focused on the situation that she neglected to offer them any refreshment.
“My husband sometimes makes last-minute business trips. He keeps a packed bag at his office so he doesn’t have to come home first. He called me two days ago and said he had to go to Dallas in a hurry, and didn’t know when he’d be back. But he said he’d call from Dallas. He hasn’t.”
“And he usually calls?” Branch asked.
“Always. So yesterday I called the hotel where he always stays. He hadn’t checked in. And I called the car service he always uses. They hadn’t heard from him at all. So I talked to Maggie Mason, his secretary. She’s been with him for years, utterly reliable. She usually calls the hotel and car service for him while he’s on the way to the airport. She hadn’t heard anything from him either. And he told her as he was leaving that the people he needed to see would meet him and he wouldn’t need the car.”
“How about the hotel?”
“He asked her to call for his usual room.”
“Which hotel?”
“Highland Hilton.”
Branch made a note. “Did Ms. Mason or anyone at the office know the purpose of his trip?”
“I asked, of course. All Maggie could remember was that he said he had to go talk to some men in Dallas. But unless he needs to take some papers or contracts along, the office people rarely know what his trips are for. Unless the trip generates work for them.”
“He keeps a lot to himself.”
“Yes.”
Branch heard a note of resignation in her answer. She is clearly worried about him, he thought, but she’s used to being out of touch with much of what he does. “Could he have got so absorbed in his business that he forgot to call? Or could he have stayed at another hotel, closer to wherever his business talks were going on?”
She frowned and shook her head. “It would be so out of character. He would have called his regular hotel and cancelled. He would have called me by now.”
Branch hesitated. “Please don’t be offended by this question. But I have to ask. Have you ever suspected him of—infidelity?”
“No. We’ve had our problems, but that has never been one of them.” She was firm and unhesitating. Branch wouldn’t go there.
Chat had been his usual quiet, observant self. He spoke, gently. “Mrs. Mattingly, if there had been a ransom demand you would have said so by now. What makes you think he’s been kidnapped?”
She twisted her fingers in her lap. “I don’t know a lot about his business. As Sergeant Branch said, he keeps a lot to himself. But I’ve noticed that he’s been in touch with some–strange people.”
“How strange?” Chat asked. “I mean, strange in what way?”
“It’s hard to say. They seem more in politics than business. But they’re very secretive. They will call my husband here or at the office, but will never leave a name or number or message. Whenever my husband gets a call at home, he will usually say whatever he has to say on whatever phone is handy, whether I’m around or not. But lately he’s taken to going into his study and shutting the door when one of them calls. I say one of ‘them.’ I guess I call anyone he’s secretive about one of ‘them.’”
“Anything else?” Chat asked.
She fluttered her hands. “I’m sorry to be so vague. I just have these uneasy feelings.” She looked away and compressed her lips. “I don’t want to sound paranoid. But my husband seemed to be reading some strange books around the same time he started hearing from these strange people.”
“Books?”
“And magazines. Political stuff that I never heard of. Of course I’m not very interested in politics.”
Branch spoke up. “Mrs. Mattingly, when we spoke on the phone, I mentioned that we might want to look for evidence that may help us find your husband. Would you be willing to let us look around in his study?”
“Of course.” She rose. “This way, please.”
The study was a spacious book-lined room; under the single window stood a heavy walnut desk covered with papers and a computer. A leather-covered chair and sofa occupied the center of the room, and a large table with a few books stacked on it was against a wall. Chat immediately went to the desk, booted up the computer and began clicking keys. Branch stood by the sofa, slowly turning around. He stopped when he noticed a suitcase in one corner, a fabric case with rollers, a carryon. Mrs. Mattingly stood in the doorway. Branch pointed to the bag in the corner.
“He kept a packed bag here too?”
“Yes. He always wanted to be ready for a trip.” She leaned on the doorframe. “If you don’t mind, I’ll leave you alone in here and go lie down. I haven’t slept much lately.”
“Please, go ahead. If we feel we need to take anything, we’ll leave a receipt.” She left, walking as if the surrounding air were resisting her.
“Awriight!” Chat waved from the computer. Branch came and looked over his shoulder. “Ok, you know how your computer keeps a history of the websites you visit?”
“If you say so.”
“Well, look at what old Clint has been visiting. Looks like that Texas Examiner guy was right.” The screen showed the websites for the National Alliance, the Republic of Texas, the Freemen, Christian Identity, the World Church of the Creator. “All these are far right, racist, anti-Semitic, or some weird combination.”
“Good. Keep digging.”
“Here are a couple I never heard of. This Freemen guy mentions The Lads of Liberty and the Aryan Christian Mission.”
Branch looked away, trying to remember. “Sounds a bit like those Wyoming groups the Examiner article mentioned. What were they? Defenders of Liberty—“
“Yeah. And the Aryan Christian Covenant.”
Branch picked up the suitcase and set it on the table. Inside he found a suit, white shirt, socks, underwear, handkerchiefs, and shaving kit. The kit contained the expected razor, toothbrush, shampoo, and deodorant. There was also a vial of pills. He shook them out into his palm, recognizing aspirin, Tylenol, Maalox. He walked to the desk and held out his hand to Chat.
“Recognize any of these?”
Chat pointed. “That’s an upper. That’s a downer. That’s Prozac. Valium. Don’t know that one.” He glanced toward the door, and with a faint smile said, “That one’s Viagra.”
“Be prepared,” Branch said.
He returned to the kit. A zippered side pocket held three condoms. He put the kit on the table and lifted the clothes out of the bag. A book, a worn paperback, called The Turner Diaries. The title rang a faint bell, one with sinister associations he couldn’t quite account for. Later, he thought. He felt along the sides of the bag. A barely detectable bulge made him pause. He found a corner of the lining and tugged; taped to the lining were five gold coins, krugerrands. He replaced the clothes and closed the bag.
“Let’s look at his reading material,” Branch said. He picked up a stack of magazines. More far right paranoia, some in slick covers, some in smudgy photocopies. Now Branch remembered the Turner Diaries. It was an apocalyptic novel about a race war, very right wing, the Oklahoma City bomber’s favorite reading. Mattingly was clearly involved with some unsavory stuff. And whether it led him to do anything illegal or not, it showed that he was, among other things, very gullible.
Chat spoke again from the computer. “Look at this email.” Branch looked over Chat’s shoulder.
“Came in the day he left.”
“Mattingly,” it read, “The LoL will be in touch. ACM.”
“I don’t think that means ‘laugh out loud,’” Chat said.
Branch scratched his chin. “How about ‘Lads of Liberty’ and ‘Aryan Christian Mission’?”
“Could be.” Chat grinned.
“What’s the return address?”
“There’s a name here that we could check out. But if they’ve piggybacked on someone else, it would be hard to trace. Virus spreaders do that all the time.”
Branch pulled a phone card from his wallet and perched on a corner of the desk. He picked up the phone and punched numbers. “My name is Branch, Houston Police. Is Lieutenant Stover available? Thanks.” Chat leaned back and looked at Branch, who held out the phone so Chat could hear the hold music—synthesizer Bach. They grinned at each other. Branch focused on the phone. “Hi, Smoky. Listen, I’ve got a possible big-time kidnapping that may have happened on your beat. Clint Mattingly. Yeah. No, no ransom yet. I like these wingnuts, the Lads of Liberty and the Aryan Christian Mission. Do you have anything on them? Signs of them around Dallas? Umm-hmm. I’d like to come up if I may. This may be connected with the murders of that Japanese string quartet that I’m working on.”
Branch told Stover what he knew of Mattingly’s habits and his wife’s reason for worry. He glanced at Chat, who mouthed the word “cases” and made fiddling motions. He nodded, and spoke into the phone. “Any sign of those fiddle cases we called about the other day?” Branch looked at Chat and shook his head. “Ok, I’ll check in with you tomorrow. I’ll probably drive up early in the morning. You have my cell number.”
Branch turned to Chat. “You up for a drive to Dallas?”
“How about I stay here, take this computer back and see what I can find in the deleted files?” He gave a half smile. “I might cramp your style.”
“What does that mean?”
“Don’t tell me you’re not going to look up the lovely Mizz Hargrove?”
“I might give her a friendly call,” Branch said, deadpan. “But I think I’ll make another call now.” He picked up Mattingly’s phone and looked at the speed dial, then punched a button.
An excited voice answered. “Mr. Mattingly?”
“Ms. Mason?”
“Who is this?”
“This is Detective Branch, Houston Police. I’m using Mr. Mattingly’s phone in his home office.”
“Oh. This is his private line. I thought you might be a—a kidnapper.”
“I understand. Ms. Mason, could you tell me who might have called Mr. Mattingly before he left for Dallas?”
“Sure. I’ve looked at the log, and the only call he got from someone I didn’t recognize was someone who said he was from Liberty, a Mr. Ladislaw.”
“Liberty, Texas?”
“That’s what I assumed. He didn’t give a phone number, and the caller ID was blocked.”
Branch gave her his numbers and urged her to call if she heard anything or thought of anything. He turned to Chat. “Ladislaw from Liberty. Didn’t know there was a Polish community there. How about one of the Lads of Liberty?”
“Bingo. Veddy clever,” Chat tried his English detective accent.
“Now before we leave, let’s look through these magazines, see if there are any items marked, ads, poison recipes, whatever.”
“I’ve checked the books for mushroom stuff and pharmacology. Nothing.”
“Good.” They sat and thumbed through the stacks of magazines and newsletters. Branch was not exactly surprised at the malice and ignorance they displayed, but he was saddened by it. Chat frequently shook his head and hissed “Sheee!”
Mrs. Mattingly came to the door and leaned on the frame, her face sagging. “Excuse me, but are you finding anything?”
Branch stood. “Nothing conclusive. But there may be something in the deleted files in the computer. With your permission I’d like to take it back to headquarters and see what we can recover.”
“Certainly.”
“And I’d like to take the suitcase and some of these papers. I’ll give you a receipt.”
“All right.”
“I’m going try to go to Dallas tomorrow. I’ve spoken to a detective in the Dallas department, who will help us. I’ll keep my cell phone on in case you need me. And Sergeant Jackson will stay here in Houston and be on call.”
“Good. Thank you.”
They packed up the computer, the suitcase, and some of the magazines and papers. Back at the station, Branch checked in with Sandoval and got his approval for the Dallas trip. Chat plugged in Mattingly’s computer and went to work on deleted files and emails.

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