Draft52

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CHAPTER 52

Scissors, paper, rock, two out of three times, and Deputy Bob Lurz had to be the one to climb into the garbage truck at the place where 6th made a little jog north and 7th took its place. Paul Bergin lived on N Street and 6th. Deputy Bill Holsinger drove down to L and 7th.

The fellow driving the truck and the fellow dumping the cans were duly deputized. At O street Bob was told that Paul Bergin was making a last minute addition of a grocery bag to the can already out on the street. Two more pickups and Bob had this grocery bag in his hands.

"Jesus Christ, Bob, you reek!" gasped Bill when his partner piled into the truck with the evidence.

"All in the line of duty. Look what we got." He let Bill peek inside at a wooden knife block. The handles were the same as the murder weap- on. One blade was missing.

"So it's Paul Bergin for sure," said Deputy Bill. "I'm with the sher- iff on this one. When the perpetrators make catching them this easy it's no fun at all."

"There should be nothing fun about any of this, Bill," his partner ad- monished. "Kimberly Zinter is dead."

At the sheriff's station the deputies, Roddy Walker, and even Special Agent Mark Felt donned gloves before the knife holder was removed from the grocery bag. Photographs were taken. One blade was removed and photographed next to the tagged murder weapon for comparison. The knife handles were not identical, but that was to be expected in a hand-crafted set. Everything was dusted for fingerprints and photo- graphed as well. Felt began to interrogate the deputies as though he were some pricey city lawyer Bergin might retain.

"Are you sure this came from Mr. Bergin's house, Deputy?"

"I counted four stops after I got in the truck. There are three houses between the Bergin place and where I crawled inside."

"But did you actually see that you were in front of his house?"

"No, Agent Felt. I was inside the garbage truck."

Deputy Bill shook his head when Felt glanced at him. He had also been well out of sight. "But the driver of the garbage truck and the pick- up man both said they saw Paul Bergin throw this bag in his trash can just before they picked it up," he said.

When Agent Felt absobved all this he looked simultaneously pleased and troubled. "Sheriff Walker, I'm pleasantly surprised by what you've managed to get so far, but I wonder if you do see the glaring hole in our case?"

Walker nodded. "I do, Special Agent Felt."

"I can give you their names if you wish, Agent Felt," said Bill "The trash men were deputized for this operation just like the Sheriff told us to do. That gives them legal standing. "

"It also gives them elevated responsibility, Bill," said Roddy, "and I hope you explained that to them when you swore them in."

Deputy Bob said, "If it's any help, right after the Bergin stop the guy driving the truck immediately took me around the corner and three blocks away to meet up with Bill out of sight. They knew what we were after. This bag came from the Bergin house, no doubt about it."

That made Felt relax a bit. He said, "I think we're ready to see Judge Porter. We might have just enough now to fingerprint both Mr. and Mrs. Bergin."

Sheriff Walker approached a large cork board to look at photographs pinned thereupon. "And if his boots and tires match what we posted here, Special Agent Felt, then we will have a little bit more than just enough.'

Felt nodded with obvious pleasure. The case was only starting but so far it was moving very rapidly, much to his satisfaction.

But the homocide investigation experienced the first headwind from Judge Karl Porter when he declined to allow the sheriff to bring the Bergins in for fingerprints as he had previously ruled for Robyn. He mused, aloud, that the case was becoming a fishing expedition.

If Special Agent Mark Felt was disappointed it didn't show. "Let's go visit the Bergin place anyway," he told the Sheriff outside the court- house. "I want to see if I can shake something loose."

"Do you want Bob and Bill to tag along?"

"No, I need them to make a phone call. Tell your men to get the number of Bergin's plates, then have them go up to the temple and take photo- graphs of his tire treads.' 'Oh, we already have Bergin's plate on file,' Roddy said. 'He doesn't think the wartime speed limit of 35 miles per hour applies to church deacons."

Agent Felt smiled in admiration. "Sheriff, this is one of the smallest towns I've ever seen, but the way you run your department is a G-man's dream."

When they arrived at Bergin's home Mark Felt took copious notes begin- ning with the fact that no vehicle was present.

Felt thought the most striking thing about the woman who answered the door was how singularly unattractive she was. If she hadn't worn a dress Mark might have thought Deacon Paul himself was standing there. He cleared his throat and identified himself and Sheriff Walker.

"Yes?" she snapped. "How may I help you?"

"Is Mr. Bergin at home?" She shook her head. "Paul works at the Tem- ple. I'm his wife Ruth."

"Perhaps you can help after all, Mrs. Bergin. It seems a young woman was attacked with a knife recently."

"Good God, is she well?"

"It's hard to say at this point," said Felt. 'What I can tell you is that we think we have the knife that was used in the attack. It has a unique wooden handle. It's hand-crafted, you see. Only a very few sets were sold, Ruth, and we think you might have one of them."

Ruth gasped. "You can't think that I, that Paul did this."

"Not at all ma'am. A criminal investigation is much like tracing out every rabbit trail even when they just come to a dead end. If you show us your own kitchen knife set then the sheriff and I will be on our way."

"We never bought our knife block," Ruth said. 'It was made by Owen Bergin when Headwater was first settled and has passed down from fa- ther to son ever since."

Felt made a note of that on his pad, then broke into a smile. He said, "You see, Sheriff? I knew we must be wasting our time."

"I'm sorry, Ma'am," said Sheriff Walker, "but we had to be sure. Still, do you mind if we take one little peek at what you do have?"

Mark Felt admired how Roddy caught his little game and slid right into his role without clashing gears. And Ruth went inside to fetch it.

The fact that Ruth didn't know she was missing her knife set was re- corded in Felt's notebook. As he expected, she returned empty-handed and Felt recorded that too, not so much that he didn't know it, but for the affidavit he would have the sheriff type up for Judge Porter.

"I don't understand," Ruth said. "I used a knife from the block just this morning when I made breakfast for Paul and the children, but now everything is gone."

"Oh no, Ruth, that's just what I didn't want to hear," Roddy said "But I'm sure there's a good explanation."

"Ruth, do you mind if the sheriff and I come in so all the heat in your house doesn't escape through the front door?"

She thought about that for longer than Felt liked but in the end Ruth nodded and opened her screen door to let them in. She asked them to sit on a couch. Roddy thought Ruth's home was very similar to Kim Zinter's place in size and design but different in almost every other way. There were no decorations at all, no paintings, no rugs, not even a single knick-knack. Only two books were in sight, a Bible and the Green Book.

There was another difference: when he visited Robyn she was playing music, but here it was silent. No record collection and no Victrola to play them on. Roddy marveled how religious folk were so keen on a life in the hereafter when their life here on Earth was so miserable, by choice.

"I see you don't have a radio, Mrs. Bergin."

"There's only one station in town, Sheriff, and more often than not they play race records. Paul says that's the devil's own music. Why, even the children in the Temple high school are playing that garbage if you can imagine."

"The girl who was attacked sang in the Temple school band," revealed Felt.

"Do you know somebody who might have stabbed her because she sang race music?" Ruth's eyes said yes but she shook her head no.

"It was very generous of you to allow us to come indoors, Ruth," he said. "I have no right to ask this of you, and don't believe for an in- stant that we really think you attacked the girl, but if I could just get one print of your thumb I could compare it to what we found on the knife and completely eliminate you as a suspect in this case."

The sheriff had to restrain himself from whistling in admiration at Agent Felt's performance, it was so beautifully done. Ruth would be thinking of self-preservation in the face of her own husband framing her for the crime. And Roddy thought that wasn't far from the truth.

"Will you have to take me down to the station for a thumbprint?"

"Not at all," said Felt, and he used his pencil to make a thick dark spot on a page in his notebook. "Are you right or left handed?" 'Right, of course," Ruth said, as though southpaws were somehow immor- al.

And so with Ruth Bergin fully and freely willing, Special Agent Mark Felt rubbed her right thumb in the spot of graphite, then flipped to a fresh page in his notebook and rolled her thumb across it to get a perfect print. He dared not close the book until it was lacquered.

"This schoolgirl who was attacked, she was Erik Zinter's kid, wasn't she?"

Felt stood up from the couch still holding his notebook carefully open. He said, "I've been careful not to say too much and upset you, Mrs. Bergin."

"I suppose it couldn't be helped," she sniffed.

Sheriff Walker scrambled to his feet at that remark and politely asked Ruth what she meant by making it.

She said, "I think only a believer would fully understand me, but Erik was putting our most holy relic to common purposes. Digging coal! Our God is a sovereign God."

Roddy made eye contact with Agent Felt, who raised his notebook a bit and shrugged. He already had what he came for. Roddy said, "So God wasn't content to take Erik's life for what he did? He had to take the life of his daughter as well?"

Ruth was shocked. "She's dead?"

"Yes, Ruth, she's dead. What a terrible thing for Clara Zinter, don't you think, losing her entire family? But whoever did it has a death wish. He left the body draped across three states and elevated it to a federal case. It was already the Chair for the killer if I caught him." Walker repeated that last part. "If I caught him."

"But the Bureau always, always gets its man," Felt finished.

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