MARCUS WENT BACK to the Poplar's photography studio. A niggling suspicion would not have allowed him peace of mind had he not gone. Just because the suspects had already been there didn't mean they wouldn't return. After all, their first search had been a failure. Logically, that did not make sense. It was baffling to him why they hadn't found the film. It wasn't as if the roll was locked up in a safe. They might have assumed the film would already be developed; that prints would be displayed, waiting for them to come along and take. There was also the possibility that the suspects had been looking for digital memory sticks instead of rolls of film. They might not be familiar with what might be termed old-fashioned picture taking.
Marcus also wondered if there'd been other evidence, something that they did find. Being a photographer, Clifford might very well have shot a lot more than the one roll of film. Camera buffs had to be prone to snap pictures off left and right. Should that be the case, the suspects could very well have succeeded in their search and would have no reason to return.
Actually, it was not known how many persons had been to the studio. Fingerprints were all over the place. There was no telling which belonged to the Poplar's clients, and which to their killers. There was also the possibility that those killers might have worn gloves, leaving only the prints of innocent people to be found.
As he pulled his Chrysler to a stop directly in front of C. & J. Photography's entry door, Marcus was surprised to see it wide open. From behind the steering wheel of his 300C, it was very obvious that the studio was gutted. Not only the photo equipment and furnishings were gone, but interior walls as well. It wasn't only that suite. The entire horseshoe-shaped building was in the same condition. Seeing two construction workers emerge from a doorway down the row at the corner, the curious Detective went to find out what was going on.
"Excuse me..." By way of introducing himself, he flipped open his I.D. folder to expose his credentials. "What's going on here?"
Squinting at the glossy card, Edmund Rice shrugged. "Guess it ain't a secret. The motel's being torn down, and the used materials sold off. Gonna be a convenience store built here."
Now that wasn't at all convenient to the investigation. "I'm assuming the tenants were notified?"
The other man spoke up. "I read about the photo people being killed in a hit and run accident," he said. "The boss told me this place," gesturing at their surroundings, "would be cleared for demolition by day before yesterday. Everyone was to have vacated by then."
"Were they out? Lock, stock, and whatever?"
"Yeah, except for the photo place. Stuff from there is cleared out now, though."
"Not us is all I know." Edmund grew thoughtful. "Wait a minute. I remember Stella, the boss, complaining in the office after she hung up the phone. Something about a nitwit trashing expensive equipment."
"Could she have been talking to Skip Poplar?"
"I can tell you something about it," Don Copeland interjected. "When I got here this morning, half an hour early, there were two pickup trucks backed up to the photography studio door. A couple of guys were loading the equipment and furniture. When I questioned them about it, one of them showed me a signed receipt. Believe it or not, they bought thousands of dollars worth of stuff, for $59.75."
Marcus could believe it. The signature on the receipt was none other than Skip Poplar. "They sure got a good deal," he said.
Edmund nodded in agreement. "Wish I'd known that equipment was selling so cheap. I could have made myself enough greenbacks re-selling it to pay off my Harley."
As he drove away, Marcus figured that it was entirely possible the Poplars were in the process of finding another place for their studio when they'd been eliminated. He also figured to have a talk with Skip's caretaker. Mrs. Brown might have some input.
Using his cell phone, but not having the number of hers, he tried catching her at the Poplar residence. He was in luck. She was sorry that she hadn't known anything about any of it. Not the relocating of the studio or the selling off of its contents dirt cheap. She put Skip on the line.
"Skip," Marcus began, "why did you sell your parents' camera equipment?"
"I didn't want it," he replied blandly.
"You could have gotten a lot more for the equipment than you did. Who set the price?"
"I did. There were some neat wheels that I wanted for my bike. The spokes are red, white and blue. I needed three of them because my bike has three wheels."
"Skip, let me understand this. You sold the contents of the studio for the price of patriotic wheels?" The thought was ludicrous.
"Sure. I did a good deal, right?"
No good could come from raking the mentally challenged man over the coals; he simply didn't know any better. It was the men who'd taken advantage of him that needed the lecture. "Can you give me the names of the men who bought the equipment?"
"Do not know them."
"How did you find them to sell the equipment to?"
"I was in my front yard fixing a flat tire on my bike after supper yesterday, and they asked me if I wanted to sell the stuff that was in the studio. I wanted to get the neat wheels, so I told the guys my price. They wanted to get it last night, but I made them wait until this morning."
"Why didn't you check with Mrs. Brown about this? She's supposed to be helping you do things."
"I didn't because she would have wanted me to buy food or soap with the money. I wanted those wheels."
"And now you have them," Marcus muttered.
"No. Somebody else buyed them before I got my money. The guy at the bike store said he would get more. I have to wait."
"So you still have the check?"
"I got money. Two dollars, a twenty dollar, and one five dollar."
It angered Marcus that, not only had the jerks bought the equipment for peanuts, they'd cheated Skip out of a good deal of those peanuts. He had to try and find them. "Can you tell me what the men look like?"
"Oh, you want me to tell you what they look like, right?"
"Yes, please," he said with ever shortening patience.
"One was ugly because he didn't smile. The other one had whiskers so I don't know what he looked like."
The suspects had struck again. Evidently failing to turn up pictures that would have incriminated them, they'd taken advantage of Skip's low intelligence and bought the safety net, so to speak. Now law enforcement wouldn't be able to get the goods against them. Or so they wrongly thought. They'd never butted heads with the Detectives of Sunset Investigations before. This would be their one and only time!