Smoke on the Water Episode 23

Smoke on the water header

Chapter 23: Hoyt

I stared at David Foley through the one-way mirror, taking in the khaki shorts, pink polo shirt, and well-worn Sperrys. His blond hair was tousled in a way that looked too deliberate. This guy belonged on a country club golf course somewhere or schmoozing over corporate lunches. Entitlement practically oozed out of every pore. I had a hard time imagining him getting his hands dirty. But looks could be deceiving.

Had this pretentious fucker been the one to circle back the other night to lock Caroline in that closet because she’d dared to tell him no? Had he attacked Jasper, then used that lighter to start the fire and just left her to die?

Chief Thompson closed a hand over my shoulder. “Keep it together, son. By rights, you shouldn’t be here after that blow up with Carson yesterday.”

That was true enough. I was surprised the chief had agreed to bring me when I’d asked to tag along for the interrogation. Caroline had stuck around with Ed and Bree to help coordinate clean up, as the arson investigator had said they could get back in that afternoon. I knew Ford would keep an eye on her, and it seemed like we might have our perp right here.

The door to the interrogation room opened and Chief Carson strode inside. He dragged out the only other chair in the room across from Foley at the rickety table and sat.

“Appreciate you coming in, Mr. Foley.”

“Am I being charged with something?”

Oh, hell. Was he about to lawyer up and stonewall us?

“No. We’re just asking some questions, trying to get a better picture of what happened the night of the fire at the OBX Brewhouse. You were one of the last folks to leave, so we wanted to find out if you remembered anything.”

Foley’s shoulders relaxed a fraction. “I don’t remember much. I’d been drinking pretty heavily that night before I left to walk back to my rental.”

Carson nodded. “Why were you drinking that night?”

“I’d had a fight with my girlfriend. But we’ve sorted everything out now. It’s fine.”

The police chief made a show of checking the notes he’d brought with him. “Says here there were a few people there who reported you got a little aggressive before you left the bar. That you didn’t appreciate being cut off.”

Given how little Carson thought of Caroline, I was actually surprised he’d even asked.

Foley ducked his head, a bit of color rising in his cheeks. “Yeah. I was probably a dick. I think I scared the girl on duty.” That head snapped back up. “But I didn’t do anything.”

“Sure, sure.” Another consultation of the list. “You ever been to Hatterwick before?”

Blond brows drew together. “Yeah. Why?”

“When was that?”

“Earlier this summer. Back in early June. I was here with some friends for a bachelor weekend.”

Carson was nodding. “You remember where you stayed?”

“In a rental over on Sandpiper something or other.”

I tensed, waiting to see where this line of questioning would go. I remembered Jim Foster reporting that the beach house had been left a total disaster. Was that a result of a bachelor party gone a little too wild?

“Whose name was the rental under?” Carson asked.

“Lucas Platt.”

“Shit,” I muttered. “This was one of the last people inside that house before it burned.” Maybe Carson wasn’t quite so shitty at his job as I’d believed.

In the interrogation room, I could see Foley starting to tense up again. “What are you getting at, Chief?”

“Well, it happens that the last time you were here, there was a fire in that rental. Same day y’all left.” Carson opened a folder he’d brought in and pulled out photos from the scene of the beach house fire.

Foley blinked. “We had nothing to do with that. We were gone.”

“Right, right. I’m just wondering if you remember seeing anything that morning. After all, y’all were there. Not a lot of other folks in the area.”

The other man threw up his hands. “No. Why would I? It was weeks ago.”

“The thing is, David, you were here on-island right around the time this beach house burned. And now you’re back on-island at the same time the Brewhouse burned.”

An angry flush worked its way up Foley’s neck and into his face. “I didn’t do anything. I’m sure lots of people were on-island at the same time as both those things.”

“True enough.” Carson placed the evidence bag with the lighter on the table. “Do you recognize this?”

Surprise flickered over the other man’s face. “That’s my lighter. I lost it when I was here earlier in the summer. Where did you find it?”

“Lost it, huh? Didn’t report it.”

Foley looked at Carson like he was an idiot. “It’s a lighter. Why would I report it? It’s not like you would have done anything. I assumed I left it behind. Clearly, someone found it.”

“Mmmhmm. Well, the problem here, David, is that multiple witnesses state you got pretty aggressive with a bartender on duty last night when she refused you service. And it doesn’t look good for you that somebody locked her in a supply closet after closing and used this very lighter to set the place on fire. That just seems like one too many coincidences to me.”

The guy was starting to sweat. “I want my lawyer.”

“I think that’s a pretty good idea. Because here’s what it looks like to me: You were here earlier this summer, maybe realized you forgot your pretty lighter. All engraved with your initials and shit. Seems like it was a nice one. Maybe a gift from your girl? Something that means something to you. Anyway, you realized you left it and came back to the house to retrieve it.”

Foley fisted both hands on the tabletop. “I don’t know anything about any fires. I didn’t go back to the house. Hell, if you want to talk to somebody who’s into that shit, look for the kids who were there that week.”

“What kids would those be?”

“There were some boys in the rental next door. High school age, I think. I saw them screwing around with some fireworks, setting a trash can on fire. Maybe they found my lighter. I don’t fucking know, but I didn’t do this.”

Carson closed his folder and rose. “We’ll do that. In the meantime, why don’t you get in touch with your lawyer?”

When he walked out, I looked at Thompson. “Do we have rental records for the rest of the area around the house?”

“One of the officers put them together.”

“You think those teenagers are still here?”

“I don’t know, but we damned sure need to find out. If what he says is true and they’re still here, they might be responsible for a bunch of these nuisance fires this summer.”

“Maybe. But there’s a big damned difference between the small shit like trash cans and mailboxes, and knowingly burning down an occupied structure. Hell, even if the teens were here and were responsible for some of the chaos, I don’t see them escalating like that. And actually, I’m not sure I can see Foley doing it, either.”

Michael studied me. “You trying to talk us out of suspecting this guy?”

“No. Just thinking.” I tried to imagine where his head might have been.“He was drunk. Angry at women in general. Got cut off by Caroline and kicked out of the bar. That would’ve stuck in his craw, been embarrassing. He’d have gotten more angry, might’ve wanted some payback. But I can’t quite make that fit. I could see him setting fire to the building after everybody was gone. But there were still cars in the lot. It was obvious people were still there. No matter how drunk and pissed this guy was, I can’t see him attacking Jasper and deliberately locking Caroline in that closet. He doesn’t have any priors. Someone capable of that kind of violence wouldn’t fly under the radar so easily.” And he didn’t have the dead eyes I would expect in someone capable of murder.

Michael folded his arms. “Foley could’ve snapped.”

“Maybe.” I certainly wasn’t an expert in psychopaths. “Or it could be that he’s telling the truth. That he lost the lighter when he was here earlier in the summer. The perp could have found it and has been using it. He might’ve left it behind at the tavern fire either by accident or in a deliberate effort to frame Foley.”

The pieces just weren’t quite coming together.

“We’ve thought all summer we were dealing with more than one perp,” Michael pointed out. “Whether Foley’s guilty of this fire or not, it’s possible he’s giving us some answers to some of them. Let’s see if they’re still on-island and go from there.”

I followed him out of the observation room and into what counted as the bullpen of our tiny island police department.

As soon as Carson laid eyes on me, he glared. “What the hell is he doing here?”

My boss didn’t even blink. “Just observing. What’s the word on those teens? Is it possible they’re still here?”

Officer Chris Shelton looked up from a pile of paperwork. “According to rental records, there’s a family who leased one of the houses for the entire summer. Both parents are professors, and they’ve got two boys. The house they rented is two doors down from the one that burned.”

Carson was already moving toward the door. “Then let’s find the little bastards and bring them in for a chat.”