Doing an experiment. Below are the first three chapters of A Taste of Old Revenge. The second book of the Turner Hahn/Frank Morales series. Hope you enjoy it enough to want to pick up the US copy coming out in August of this year.
A stale breeze played through the dead man’s hair.
An unwanted breeze.
A breeze filled with malaise.
The old man was slumped across the open cavity of an accounts ledger, his face squashed between the pages of a thick accounting book. The body looked remarkably like a piece of trash carelessly tossed onto an old kitchen table. Or maybe like a discarded, broken doll long forgotten by the one who had once loved it. As I bent down for a closer inspection I could see a clearly defined hole in the back of the old man's hairless cranium. There was remarkably little blood. What little blood had seeped out had created a tiny rivulet down the man’s neck and formed a dark puddle about the size of a man’s palm on the brown pages of the accounting book. The blood was not fresh.
Inspecting the wound I got the impression of precision. A surgeon’s frugality of effort. Or a craftsman’s sure touch in a grisly occupation. Standing up and frowning, another impression occurred to me.
Premeditation. Coldly calculated and flawlessly executed.
And who said a murder had to be messy?
The dead man's arms were pushed across the table on either side of the oversized open book. Between the fingers of the corpse's right hand was the butt of a cigarette, with ash about two inches long still clinging precariously to the filter. In front of the ledger was an ash tray almost overflowing with the discarded flotsam usually associated with a heavy smoker. There was a distinct blue haze of cigarette smoke hanging in mid-air above the corpse's head and the room smelled of old tobacco and sweat. Added to the mixture was the sweet aroma of automotive body putty.
Above the dead man's head was a single light fixture swinging slightly in the breeze. Creating a surreal film noir touch to the crime scene.
The fixture hung from the ceiling on a long and frayed electrical wire. As it swung in a rhythmic pendulum motion the oscillating light created oddly contorted shadows that danced a frenetic but silent mime across the walls and floor like some madman's macabre nightmare.
It wasn't much of an office. In the middle of the room was an old kitchen table, three office chairs, and the dead man. To one side was a dilapidated old sofa so threadbare I could see the springs were about to pop out and give the next person who sat down on it an intimate surprise. In one corner was a set of three six-drawer filing cabinets. The floor was old green tiles worn through to the bare wood in front of the single door, which opened toward the steep stairs. The stairs led down from the office to the main garage floor below.
A garage which, for me, held paradise.
Below, in the dim half light of a cavern, the cement floor was filled with classic cars from about six different decades and a dozen different countries. It was the cold steel setting on the garage floor that kept singing alluring charms to me. I wanted to forget about the body. Bodies, in my line of occupation, I see almost on a daily basis. But the sensual curving lines of a black ‘29 SSK Mercedes in the far corner of the shop, and the seemingly plain-looking dark red ‘40 Ford two-door coupé, captured my full attention. In the middle of the floor was a ‘52 Buick convertible with its top down, painted pale-blue, with brand new white vinyl interior. The Buick's huge chrome grill gleamed in a lustful display of American excess. The paint was so fresh and the white interior so new I would have sworn it had just rolled off the assembly line.
I was like some buck toothed, pimply-faced kid with a pocket full of money, standing in a Buick dealer's showroom and aching to buy my first new car.
Sitting next to the Buick was a ‘64 Chevrolet Corvette coupé stripped down to the bare plastic body and sitting on four rather solid looking floor jacks. The doors were off, the windows were out and it was devoid of an interior. Some artisan was carefully patching the nicks and scratches on the ‘Vette's plastic body with the delicate touch of a brain surgeon. It was covered with a coating of red primer and waiting for its first coat of paint. There was a tool bench beside the car's gutted remains and on it were an air hose and a paint gun. At some point during the next two or three days, I thought to myself, someone in this city was going to be the proud owner of an immaculately restored ‘Vette.
And dammit, it wasn’t going to be me.
Also on the garage floor was a brown ‘29 Lincoln sedan, a red '58 MG two-seater, and a massive looking black '41 Cadillac two-door sedan. All of them were in various states of disassembly, with the cement floor around each car littered with discarded body panels and disassembled engine parts.
But the jewel in this crown lay underneath an old tarp in a corner of the shop. It was a perfectly restored ‘49 Jaguar XK-120 in British Racing Green. I have to admit when I took a look at this one I felt sick in the stomach. Looking at that car, holding the tarp over my head as I gazed upon its sensual curves of cool metal, the sight brought back a lot of memories. As a kid living on the farm, the dream of someday owning an XK-120 and touring over back country highways from one end of the country to the next, constantly drifted into my thoughts. Even now, more than fifty years after rolling off the showroom floor, it looked like it could go like hell and scare the bejesus out of every motorcycle cop in the country.
But all I could do was admire it and shake my head. Reluctantly I dropped the covering and slipped back into the practiced routine of investigating a murder. Climbing the rickety stairs I kept glancing over my shoulder and grinning in sheer admiration at what sat silently on the floor behind me. But walking into the office and blending into the blue banks of haze floating over the body brought me back to the situation at hand. The city pays me to be a homicide detective. Not an art critic.
In front of the ragged looking wooden office chair the corpse was slumped in was the empty brass casing of a .22 caliber long rifle cartridge. Frank Morales, my partner, was kneeling beside it and pushing it around with the eraser of a pencil when I walked into the room. He looked up at me when I walked in, grinned, and began clucking like a hen as he started shaking his head.
"This doesn't look promising, Tonto," he said, still grinning and shaking his head, "this doesn't look promising at all."
I pushed my hands into the pockets of my trench coat and smirked.
"I suppose you're gonna tell me it’s my turn to grouse through the pig pen."
Frank grinned and nodded his head as he looked up and winked.
"You got it, pardner. This is our third stiff and it looks like a stinker. I'll play along as the dumb sidekick and do the paperwork. But you've got the brains to figure this one out. And buddy, I got a feeling it ain't gonna be easy."
He stood up, still grinning, and dropped the pencil into his shirt pocket before looking back at the body. Frank is about the same height as I am but roughly a foot wider and eighty pounds heavier. He has a head shaped in ninety degree angles, and a nose which is, more or less, spread across his face like someone spreading butter across a piece of bread. He has beady brown eyes, and a chin which is made of reinforced concrete. And no neck. Yeah, that’s right; no neck.
Just a head and a set of shoulders about the size of a cement mixer. How he swivels his head from side to side I’ve never figured out. He's not fat but he is large and solid. He's not slow, which surprises a lot of people. His reflexes are dangerously fast and he has two hams for fists which can punch the lights out of an aroused gorilla. He claims he's dumb. But don’t believe it, brother. I know his IQ is somewhere around the same numbers the scales in my bathroom say I weigh, and he’s got more college degrees than I’ve got fingers. Some people collect comic books as a hobby. Hell, I collect muscle cars and first-edition, signed books. Frank collects college degrees. He wears clothes like most nine year old kids wear a coating of mud after a summer shower. God only knows if he's ever ironed a shirt. But don’t for a moment underestimate the guy. You do and you’ll pay for it in the end.
And me? Just an ex-jock who almost had a chance to play in the NFL. A dream which almost came true. But now, like so many things, just water under the bridge. Now I am a detective, like Frank, in the South Side Division. I live in a warehouse where I collect my cars and work on them in my spare time. The ground floor is the garage. The second floor is like an oversized loft I’ve converted into a decent habitat. And get this; I did the work myself. No help. No contractors. Hell, I’m as surprised as you are. I actually have a talent for working with a hammer and saw. And I’m not bad at wall papering and plastering. If this gig at being a cop doesn’t work out, who knows? I might start a home-remodeling business.
Frank and I have been partners for a long time. Long enough to know when to argue and when not to. When Frank grinned like that, and had that twinkle in his eyes, I knew there was no use arguing.
"The guy's name is Abraham Polanski. He is. . .was. . . the owner of Polanski's Garage. Specializing in restorations. His driver's license says he’s really old. And buddy, if you'll look at his right forearm, you'll see something interesting."
I took a step closer to the body and looked at the outstretched right arm. Just above the wrist was a tattoo. A long list of numbers, nearly faded out completely from years of hard work and being in the sun. But it was there.
"Holocaust survivor," I said, looking back at Frank.
"Looks it," nodded my bullet-headed friend. "And does the last name ring any bells?"
I mumbled the last name over a couple of times as I reached up and loosened the knot on my tie and quickly glanced at my watch. It was a quarter past one in the morning. Frank and I had been working for more than twelve hours. He was tired. I was tired. I had a feeling Abraham Polanski probably was damn tired as well.
"Polanski, Polanski." I kept repeating slowly. And then it hit me, "Aaron Polanski, the lawyer."
"The one and the same." Frank nodded, grinning.
"Daddy?" I asked, using a finger to point at the corpse.
"It's not his younger brother."
I made a face and shook my head in disgust. Aaron Polanski was a high-price lawyer who did criminal work for only those who could afford it. His law offices were on top of a building overlooking the cliffs of the Brown River where it collided with the Little Brown. He and his partners had the entire floor. His connections ran from the river docks all the way up to the state house. He was a lawyer who liked to rub shoulders with the powerful and influential. He knew what real power felt like and he wore the mantle of the Chosen Few with a deft ease.
However, into this power broker's life a deep measure of tragedy was about to come barging in and it would fall on our shoulders to go over and tell him his father had been murdered.
"There's something else I thought you might find interesting," Frank said, grinning again, as he lifted a hand up and motioned with his index finger to follow him.
We went down the creaking and swaying old stairs to the garage floor. As I followed Frank across the floor past the powder blue Buick I ran my hand over the cold steel of its right rear finder lovingly, then went on to the back of the garage. On the other side of the '64 Corvette Frank knelt down and pulled out of his shirt pocket his ubiquitous pencil.
"See? A foot print. Fresh. I think it was our killer."
On the cement floor was the clear print of a man's shoe outlined in what appeared to be automotive oil. It was between the 'Vette and the MG and hard to see, but it was the only foot print on an otherwise scrupulously clean shop floor. Kneeling to get a closer look at it I felt the sharp breath of the winter's frigid air slap me in the face.
"Yeah, I felt it too when I found this," Frank said, looking at me and nodding. "It's coming from a broken window pane over there on that wall."
We stood up and walked over to the window. I crunched on glass as I stepped up to the window for a closer look. It was a large window with all the panes of glass painted in with a thick coat of green paint. On the other side of the window an alley ran down past the building for the entire block. The wind was as cold as anything coming off an Arctic tundra, filled with snow, and not indicating it was going to get any friendlier. Braving the wind I stepped closer to look at the busted window pane.
"There's a piece of thread sticking in the window, Frank. See?"
Frank stepped up, bent forward and squinted to see in the gloom. He saw it, grunted, then stepped back and out of the wind.
"The guy must 'uv bashed in the window, opened it, then slid in and walked across the garage."
I nodded as I stepped back and looked down at the broken glass. Roughly ten long pieces of glass littered the clean floor.
"Where did he step into the oil?"
"That footprint you showed me. He stepped into a puddle of oil somewhere. Where?"
Frank looked at me with an expressionless face then shrugged and turned to start hunting for the oil spill. As he moved off into the middle of the garage I turned to look at the window. A quick glance was enough to reveal that someone had reached in, unlocked the window, then yanked the window up and climbed in. The window had not been opened for years and several layers of paint covering the seams where window met wall created a perfect cement. But even in the gloom of half light I could see someone with powerful muscles had managed to slide the window open.
Frank came back over to where I was and shrugged. He could find no oil spill on the garage floor. I could understand that part. Old man Polanski obviously was a man who had been a stickler for keeping the place clean. The office upstairs might look run like the nightly digs of a back alley wino. But the work area, and especially the concrete garage floor, was clean enough to have a surgical unit in use. So there it was. If the garage floor was clean enough to eat off of where did the killer get the oil on his shoes?
"Let's take another look at that print," we both said at the same time.
Somehow we both got our bodies between the 'Vette and the MG. Kneeling, we kept gazing at the print for sometime before either of us spoke.
"It looks like oil," Frank muttered, scowling as he stuck a finger into the outer edge of the black stuff and lifted it up to take a delicate whiff. "But it ain't."
"No. Smells different. And it doesn't feel like oil. Or at least not automotive oil."
Hearing a noise behind me I turned and looked over my shoulder to see Officer Sancho Rodriguez shivering visibly from the cold outside. He and his partner, Arthur Simpson, were the first two to respond to the report of gunshots. They had been out in the alley looking for clues, and as I stood up and turned to face the shivering, blue lipped young officer. I could not help but grin. The kid was standing in a puddle of water from the snow melting off his heavy wind slicker.
"Can you talk, or do we need to use a blow torch to thaw you out?"
Sancho grinned and then visibly began shaking violently as the warmth of the building began to bring feeling back into his thin frame.
"Naw, I'm all right. But… but I thought you might want to see something Artie found outside."
"Okay, where is it and we'll go take a look see," Frank grunted, but lifted a finger up to point at the rookie patrol officer. "But you keep that little ass of yours inside until the blood begins flowing again. We'll send Artie in as well."
We found Artie Simpson outside in the alley and beside the garage window. Artie, like his partner, was shivering in the cold, arms clasped around his chest, standing in a snow bank deep enough to graze the lower end of his knee caps. Like his partner, Artie was tall and thin and not built to be wandering about in deep snow with a thirty mile an hour wind howling down the empty alley. We hurried over to him just as he pointed to the brick wall and the window.
"Look at the right side of the window!" he yelled over the howling wind and blowing snow. "I think it's a bullet hole and a splatter of blood!"
We nodded, told him to get inside and get some hot coffee and call headquarters to see when the forensic team would arrive. He nodded gratefully and hurried away as we stepped up to the wall for a closer look.
He was right. It was a bullet hole and there was a rather large splash of blood and flesh on the brick. The bullet had not penetrated through the brick. But it had left a sizable gash in the old stone. There was enough blood covering the wall to indicate someone had been on the receiving end before it had touched the wall. We both grunted, looked at each other, then turned to look at the alley.
Twenty feet down from the window we found another slash of blood on the bricks. But this time it was a long arching streak of dark crimson smeared across the cold stone. It looked like the signature of a man who, at one point, had leaned against the wall to get some strength back after being wounded, but due to the loss of blood had slid to one side when he lost consciousness. In the snow beside the scarlet slash was a set of wide and deep tracks which indicated the victim had collapsed to his knees before struggling back to his feet. Beside the footprints were large round holes where the victim's blood had splattered into the dirty snow. Hot blood melting the grimy gray-white sludge clear to the pavement.
Also in the alley was a set of tire tracks. They were relatively fresh, and from the way they cut into the deep snow, it looked as if the vehicle had flown down through the alley at high speed.
"Someone tried to run the guy over?" Frank asked, looking at me skeptically.
"Or maybe someone trying to get away from something he shouldn't have seen."
"Who'd have an honest right to be in this alley at that time in the morning? Naw. I think someone tried to run over the poor bastard who caught it. Jesus, the guy's lost so much blood he's got to be around here somewhere. Probably covered with snow by now."
"Let's go back into the garage. We'll ask for another squad car to come down and give us a hand. We also need to check the walls in the alley for more bullet holes."
It was beginning to snow again. It gave that feeling it was going to snow all night and not let up. As we trudged back through the thick gop to the garage's back door, I paused to look at the ugly gouge in the brick where the bullet had struck.
It had to have been a big caliber. Maybe a .357 magnum or a 9 millimeter. Who was the second victim? The murderer of the old guy? Where was the second victim's body? Surely no one could lose the amount of blood covering the walls of the old building and still live.
Why had the old concentration camp survivor been murdered? Nothing had been apparently stolen from the garage. And why use a .22 caliber? That was a kind of weapon a professional hit man might use. Or a government agent. It was not the choice of weapon for the local gangs in this neighborhood.
Why was the old man sitting in his office, alone, at this time of the night when he got popped? I wouldn't know for sure until the medical examiner did the autopsy, but I had a feeling the first murder went down about two hours ago. That would make it about 11:00 p.m. Did the old man work that late often? Was he expecting someone?
And why kill the killer? And. . . Jesus.
I shook my head to clear the questions out and then hurriedly followed Frank into the warmth of the garage and closed the door behind me. There were just too many goddamn questions. Just too many questions. If I didn't step back and just allow the investigation to go about its normal routine I'd go nuts.
As if I wasn't already nuts.
When we pulled up in front of Aaron Polanski’s palatial home's gated drive I glanced at the dashboard clock and saw it was a quarter to three in the morning. I made a note of that because, frankly, I was surprised to find lights on and someone still up when I got out of the car to buzz the main house. When Polanski personally answered the gate phone before the phone had time to buzz twice, I found my curiosity was shaking the fatigue out of my brain.
Why would a corporate lawyer be up at 2:45 on a Saturday morning? Could it be that conscience might be prickling his mind with daggers of guilt? Insomnia? Or maybe something as ordinary and mundane as a bad case of the flu. Whatever the reason, both myself and my partner agreed it was worth remembering.
I identified myself and walked back into the car through the fresh snow. The lawyer activated the twin monogrammed iron gates and they were swinging open, carving a path through the snow on large iron wheels, as I opened the car door and slid into the Ford's interior warmth. Climbing in, Frank glanced at me and lifted his right eyebrow into a high arch, his way of saying he was impressed, and then pulled the car into gear and started slowly down the long driveway.
We were in the middle of a Winter Wonderland.
In a sea of crystalline ice and snow.
In a fairyland of virgin whiteness. But with its edges dipping into grimy reality.
In the city the falling snow laid a blanket of silence over the noise and traffic. But out here in the country the vast carpets of white stuff, bathed in the bright flood light of the moon's glare, seeped through the breaks in the clouds and seemed starkly ethereal, even surreal to my taste. As we heard the fresh layer of snow crunching underneath the tires, I kept my eyes on the darkness of the big house Polanski's money had built and wondered what a bachelor lawyer did in such a monstrous palace. Sitting in the middle of some moderately rolling hills, with large trees flanking both sides of the house, everything was covered in a white crystalline carpet and large splashes of bright moonlight. On the other side of the sweeping curved driveway was a large pond and fountain. In the middle of the pond was a series of marble statues encased in ice and rumored to have been carved by Michelangelo. As Frank stopped the car in front of the double doors, I reached for the door handle thinking of Orson Welles' Citizen Kane. Maybe Polanski could show us the real Rosebud if we asked nicely.
He was waiting for us at the top of the landing, framed in the bright light of one opened door, hands stuffed into a heavy looking smoking jacket, but with shadows hiding his facial expression from view.
"Detectives Hahn and Morales, good to see you!" he said, coming out of the doorway and extending a hand. "What brings you out this early in the morning?"
We shook hands but did not say anything until we had stepped into the house and waited for him to close the door behind him. The vastness of the house struck me instantly as we heard the door close. One man, a few servants, and a home large enough to be four-star hotel basically described Aaron Polanski. The eerie silence of completely uninhabited space came to my ears as the attorney turned and led us down a long hallway and finally into a vast cavern of a room filled with books and lit by a blazing, crackling fire stoked to high intensity in a natural stone fireplace.
"Care for some hot coffee? It's a terribly cold night to be out and about. I'm sure both of you need something to thaw out with. Unfortunately, I only drink coffee."
We declined the offer, and then with no way to say it gently, quietly told the small dark eyed man why we were here. I watched as the color drained from the small man's face and his eyes suddenly filled with tears. Turning his back to us quickly he lifted a hand up to his face and stood there for a moment or two before regaining his composure and turning back to face us. The man's complexion remained ghostly pale but the tears were gone from the eyes and there was this mask of grim determination on his face I found interesting.
"When did you discover his body?"
"About an hour ago," I said, watching the man intently. "We got a call about shots being fired in an alley behind your father's garage. When we arrived we found a back window jimmied open. Inside we found your father upstairs in the office."
"How did he die?"
"A bullet in the back of the head," I answered without trying to make it less harsh.
Sometimes a harsh answer straight into the face of a possible suspect generates an interesting response.
"An execution? My father? Were there any signs of a struggle? Anything taken?"
"None." Frank grunted, scribbling intently on a small spiral notebook before looking up at the attorney. "He'd been smoking and working at his ledger when the killer came up from behind and shot him. I doubt your father even heard the door open behind him."
Polanski watched Frank for a moment with a set, grim face, and then nodded as if at least agreeing with what Frank had envisioned.
"Yes, you're probably right, Sergeant. Father was very hard of hearing and refused to acquire a hearing aid of any kind. He liked to work on his books late at night. He hardly ever slept more than three or four hours at a time."
Shaking his head in numbed disbelief I saw a sparkle of a tear coming back to his eyes, but the man refused to let his emotions take over and he grimly hung on as he turned and looked at me.
"You have any suspects? Any leads?"
"Possibly one. We think the man who shot your father was, in turn, gunned down by a third party. We're looking for the body of the first killer. He took a bullet in the alley behind the garage apparently just after shooting your father. We think we'll find the body very soon."
"But you haven't found him yet, I take it."
"No. Not yet."
This shrewd attorney’s eyes kept staring at me for a moment or two and I could see he wanted to ask me a thousand more questions. But he paused, hesitated, then reluctantly held up a hand.
"Excuse me, gentlemen. But I must call my brother with this news. You haven't contacted him yet, have you?"
"Didn't know you had a brother, counselor." I answered truthfully, glancing at Frank, and then back at the standing attorney.
"Yes. Rabbi Hiram Polanski. He is the rabbi of the Children of Joshua Synagogue over on Belmont and Fifth. Our religion, gentlemen, requires us to deal with our dead as rapidly as possible. Please, excuse me and allow me to make a quick phone call. I am sure he would like to be here to hear what you have to say. It won't take long."
He turned and hurried out of the room and closed the door behind him, leaving us alone with the spitting, snapping fireplace and our own rather bland and somewhat rude thoughts.
Above the mantle of the fireplace was a large framed piece of canvas of some abstract splash of color housed in a heavy handed mahogany frame. Both of us were looking at it for some seconds in silence before Frank cleared his throat and tossed a thumb in its direction.
"It's not a Rembrandt," he said with a twisted grin on his thin lips.
"Picasso. A genuine Picasso," I stated with absolute certainty. Grinning.
"It's a fake."
"Fake. You couldn't tell a genuine Picasso from a Milky Way wrapper, Turn."
"Betcha," I said, grinning into my partner's face.
"A sawbuck," he said, nodding, just as a door opened behind us and the attorney glided in through the dark gloom of the far wall and back into the amber light of the fireplace.
"That's odd," he said, glancing at us just before sitting down in a chair close to the fire. "Hiram doesn't answer his phone. I find that quite peculiar. If anyone in our family was punctual about when to retire for the night and when to get up, it is my brother."
"You expected him to be home," Frank said, watching the attorney’s face carefully.
"Absolutely. He is scheduled to fly out tomorrow afternoon to Arizona. He's getting married out there next weekend. I know this morning was full of various things to do before he could leave. He should be home sleeping the sleep of the expectant groom."
"We'll go by his house when we leave here," I said, making a mental note to do so. "But we need to ask a couple of questions first."
"Yes, I understand. Please, let me pour you some coffee. I'm sure you could use some. I know I need some caffeine in me."
He didn't wait for an answer. On a small coffee table beside his chair were a silver tray and several unused coffee cups, along with a large sterling silver decanter of coffee. Handing a cup and saucer first to Frank, he poured a cup for me and handed it to me before pouring himself a cup. Sitting back in his chair finally, he sighed heavily and closed his aching red eyes for a moment.
"God, what a night! How is this going to affect Hiram? And worse, how in the world are we going to find David and get him back in time?"
"David?" Frank repeated after taking a sip of his coffee.
"Our younger brother. David Polanski, the world traveler and general black sheep of the family," Aaron Polanski said, smiling sadly as he crossed his legs and balanced his saucer and cup in his lap. "He's the youngest in the family. The baby. The one pampered by father. He came so late in father's life that poor kid didn't have a chance. Father gave him everything he wanted and defended him whenever David screwed up. My youngest brother, detectives, has seen most of the world and has been thrown out of just about every major university on two continents. The last time I talked to him he was in Tel Aviv and about to go on an archeological dig for some American university."
"When was this?" Frank asked, retrieving his small spiral notebook and a pen and rapidly taking notes again.
"Three months ago. Maybe four, I don't remember."
"And your other brother?" I asked, watching him as I lifted my cup up to drink. "When did you speak to him last?"
"Oh, just last evening. We had supper together and discussed his wedding plans. He wants me to fly out Tucson this Friday. I'm to be his best man. He called me at the office yesterday in panic. He heard I was to be in court all the way up to Friday and he wanted to make sure I would be there for the ceremony on Sunday morning. I assured him I would catch the plane Friday night and be there for the wedding. It's his first marriage, you see. Right now he's nothing but a throbbing case of jitters. That's why I’m surprised he didn't answer the phone on the first ring. I didn't think he'd be asleep, but he should be in bed."
I nodded and frowned, thinking to myself. Where was the rabbi?
"Your father, counselor. Did he have any enemies?"
"My father has been in his shop at that same address for over fifty years. He's been involved with any number of charity groups and civic groups from the beginning. He's taken in kids off the street and taught them a trade they could take and use for the rest of their lives. He's been a pillar in that community since 1949. I cannot imagine anyone hating my father."
"He had people working for him?"
"Four. All trained by him; loyal to him. They have been with him for a long time."
"Could we get their names?"
"I'll fax them to you just as soon as I get to my office."
"How about finances? Any problems in this area?"
The lawyer pulled back gray lips and smiled wickedly for a brief second, then lifted his cup to his lips for a sip before answering.
"There were no financial problems, detectives. My father was a gifted artisan. People brought cars to him from all over the world and never discussed how much it was going to cost. Add to the fact that in the last few years my practice has been, shall we say, somewhat successful, and I think I can safely say there were no financial concerns worth noting."
"When was the last time you saw him alive?" Frank asked, looking up from his little notebook and aiming his tiny little brown eyes at the attorney.
"Day before yesterday. We lunched together down town."
"And how did he seem to you? Acted okay? Nervous? Moody?"
"He acted like he normally did. Father is . . . was . . . plain and gruff and irritable at people he thought were trying to act superior to him. And he didn't like eating at one of the more civilized restaurants I like to go to. But he seemed to like the food, and our conversation went well. He was excited about a car almost ready to leave the shop. One of mine. He wanted me to come over and take a look at before I left for Hiram's wedding."
"You have no idea why anyone would want to harm your father?" I asked, placing the empty cup onto the coffee table beside the lawyer. "No idea at all?"
"Counselor, your father was a holocaust survivor?" Frank grunted, making the man in front of us to look at my partner quickly and angrily.
"Langenburg. Out of a father, mother, two sisters and six brothers, he was the only one to survive."
"Did he ever say anything to you about that part of his life?"
"No. Most who endured preferred to keep it buried. On the other hand, because of his past, he made sure all three of his sons were aware of their heritage and insisted that we become diligent in our efforts to make sure something like that never happened again."
I nodded, looked at Frank, then came to my feet. Frank closed his notebook and slipped it inside his coat pocket and we both looked at the attorney.
"Our condolences on your loss, counselor. The investigation is just starting, but I am sure we will have some news for you in the next couple of days."
The attorney came to his feet, smiled weakly, but shook our hands firmly before leading us to the front door of the house. He seemed, at this time of the morning, suddenly very small and very weak. He looked exhausted, and I have to admit, I felt sorry for him. It's not fair when you have to bury your father before it's supposed to be his time. And sometimes it's not enjoyable being in my line of work.
"Oh, one final question," I said, just as Frank reached for the door and the cold icy tundra outside, "the painting above your fireplace. Picasso?"
A small light of appreciation flickered momentarily in the attorney's eyes as he smiled and shook his head.
"I'm impressed, detective Hahn. At least you recognized the style. But no, not a Picasso. A contemporary of his, to be sure. I picked it up in France about ten years go. Spent a small fortune to acquire it. But odd, now that you mention it. For the life of me the artist’s name escapes me."
“Chagall,” Frank grunted, poker-faced, “Marc Chagall. A Russian living in Paris about the same time Picasso was there.”
I grinned and shook my head in disgust. Of course he would know. As the lawyer looked at that Neanderthal partner of mine I reached for my billfold and pulled out a worn, thread-bare looking ten dollar bill.
“You are a connoisseur of art, Sergeant Morales?” Aaron Polanski asked, an odd smile on his thin lips and eyes looking at Frank with a totally different expression in them.
“Naw, I just read a lot.”
“My goodness. Not one in ten thousand would have recognized a Chagall,” mused the lawyer as he reached for the door handle. “Quite impressive, Sergeant. Quite impressive.”
Frank said nothing but calmly folded the sawbuck in half and stuffed it into his slacks as we walked out into the frozen night.
We didn’t make it to the rabbi’s house.
By the time we left the lawyer’s palatial estate it was almost 4:30 in the morning. Frank and I had been on the job close to sixteen straight hours. This may come as a surprise to everyone. But sleep is a good thing. Even detectives need to sleep no matter how many active cases they’re working on.
Before we went home I asked a couple of detectives, Joey Johansson and Curt Butterfield, to find the rabbi and do the routine for us. Joey and Curt were one of the three teams that worked the graveyard shift. They were only working on two cases at the moment, one a homicide case and the other an auto theft ring, so I thought they might have time to swing over to the rabbi’s place. You have to understand. In this city having a detective’s badge doesn’t mean you are exclusively a homicide detective. We’re not a New York or Chicago. Out here we only have about a million point five living in and around the metropolitan area, so the department is not as specialized as those in the bigger cities. Drive forty-five minutes in any direction and you’ll find yourself standing in the middle of a wheat field. We’re a blue collar city. We build cars and steel. We’re a little like Chicago in that millions of tons of wheat are shipped down river from huge granaries which dot the river banks of the Brown and Little Brown. We also ship out beef. At any given time the beef packing plants’ holding pens have about two hundred thousand head of beef waiting to be slaughtered. Both rivers, coming together to form a big Y almost in the center of town, have tugboat and barge traffic on them day or night, summer or winter.
Parts of this city never sleep. It is going twenty-four hours a day, every day, except Christmas. But it’s a young city. We haven’t developed the true ghettos yet, although some would say anything east of Troust Boulevard could be classified as ghetto. Most of the city is still in the building stage. The suburbs sweep out in all directions with lots of bedroom communities. People here still nod their heads and say ‘good morning’ to you as you pass them on the streets. It’s still safe, in most areas, to let your kids stay out after dark and play.
In the summer, and especially in August and September, it is as hot as the blast furnaces in Hell. It’s nothing to survive through one or two months in the summer when the temperature on the bank hits the century mark or higher every day, and stays there till about eight or nine o’clock that night. In the winter, especially in the downtown area, which sits on a high bluff overlooking both rivers, the wind chill gets low enough to make the Arctic tundra of Siberia a cake walk. I’ve seen the ice freeze so hard down on the river you needed a crowbar to break the stuff off your car doors. If you are going to live in this town, you are going to be relatively young and naturally tough. Just the kind of city I like.
But if you are going to carry a detective’s badge in this town, you are going to be a detective of all trades and not a specialist. Even the uniformed cop riding a beat sometimes acts more like a detective than a regular beat officer. That’s just the way it is here. The city is big, raw boned, and young. But it isn’t one with a large budget and the budget for the city’s police department is amazingly frugal. Overtime is a word which is an anathema to the department’s higher ups. Working too many sixteen hour shifts in a month can get your butt in a sling, if you know what I mean. Hard not to do if you’re a cop. Even harder if you are a detective.
Joey and Curt worked the graveyard shift. Joey is a third generation Swede. He’s as big as a trash truck, blond haired and blue eyed. There’s a perpetual grin smeared across his thin lips and he is an eternal optimist. Curt is almost as big, with sandy brown hair and dark brown eyes. He doesn’t smile often, but that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of humor in the man’s soul. It’s just harder to find, and far more droll than Joey’s. Together the two make a great team and we help each other out anytime we’re asked. Before we left the station that night I laid a note down on Joey’s desk asking them to check the rabbi out for us. The next day when I came in I found Frank standing by our desks with a note in his hand.
“They couldn’t find the rabbi, Turn. Went to his house twice and knocked on the door. Knocked loud enough to wake up the neighbors. But no rabbi.”
“Not what they think,” he said, glancing again at the note and then back up at me. “The car is still in the garage. A light is on in the kitchen. There were no papers lying on the sidewalk in front of the door and no mail in the mailbox. Curt said they called the cab companies to see if someone called a cab and left the place. No one left. But get this – someone came over about midnight last night.”
“When was the old man killed?”
Frank’s rectangular shaped head nodded as he grinned and reached for a paper on his desk.
“Yeah, that crossed my mind too. Joey says the old guy clocked out sometime between six p.m. and midnight.”
Joey, or Joe Weiser, was one of the assistant coroners who worked the four to midnight shift. Young, red headed, with big freckles and chewing a big wad of gum about the size of a baby’s fist, he was a smart cookie who didn’t let anything get by him.
“Someone dropped in at the rabbi’s house around midnight. Where did they pick up this person?”
“Corner of Montrose and Eighth. That’s about six blocks from the old man’s garage.”
“It’s down by the river front,” I mumbled, thinking it over. “There’s nothing down there but warehouse and wharves.”
My short but very wide partner nodded. Outside the precinct house we could hear the heavy traffic of commuters heading home. But inside the precinct, and in the second floor detective’s squad room, it was as silent as a tomb. Three other detective teams worked the four to midnight shift. They were swamped with their workloads, as were we all, and hardly stayed long enough in the squad room to drink a cup of coffee, so I wasn’t surprised we were the only ones here.
“So what are we going to stick our noses into first? The John Doe? Or the convenience store killing? Or the old man’s?”
I glanced at Frank and thought it over. At the moment we were working on three separate cases. None of them were going our way, making it all the more frustrating for both of us. Case number two had us investigating a John Doe . . . a nude John Doe found in the middle of an empty lot half buried in a bank of snow. A week earlier an elderly lady was walking her rat terrier through a lot filled with fresh snow. The rat terrier went berserk and literally drug the old lady over to the body – whereupon she immediately fainted and fell across the semi-bloated corpse. When she came to and realized where she was she began screaming hysterically. This attracted attention and half the residents on the block came out to see what was going on. By the time we got there we were in store for a full-fledged, genuine mystery.
The coroner’s report said the man died from falling a great distance. The chest cavity was crushed, there were massive wounds to the skull, and both legs were broken. Interestingly, Joey pointed out to us all the fingers on the man’s right hand had been systematically busted in a precise pattern. As if someone had tortured the poor guy before killing him. The problem about this murder was this; how did he die? The body was found in the middle of an empty lot, in a snow bank roughly four foot deep, in a neighborhood that has brownstones lined up like ducks in a penny arcade shooting gallery not more than three stories high. Joey said the John Doe had to have fallen at least a hundred feet to his death. Adding to the conundrum was the fact he was a true John Doe. We had no idea as to his identity. We could not find his clothes. There was no wallet lying about. His fingerprints came up without any matches and no mug shots matched his face. There were no reports of a missing person fitting his description. There were no vehicles parked close by that might have sat for days unattended. There was absolutely nothing in this case which gave us even a tiny glimmer to work from.
Of course, Frank being Frank, and seeing this was going to be one of those cases which required one to actually activate the cerebral cortex and do some thinking, gave me that quirky grin only he can do and told me this case was mine.
Case number three began three days ago. On the surface it seemed more like an ordinary homicide. Two men in their twenties walk into a convenience store. Just as they enter through the glass doors they slip on identical Halloween masks. Circus clowns masks. As luck would have it they put the masks on before the security camera in the store can get a clear shot of their faces. Pulling out a big gun they rob the store, disregarding the two bystanders completely. Since it is a convenience store they may have taken one hundred or one hundred fifty bucks from the till. Places like this don’t keep a lot of money lying around. Both men turn and walk to the front door of the store. The tallest walks out and calmly strolls across the drive and rolls his big frame into a ‘66 Chevy Nova SS. The second guy, somewhat smaller and wearing a baseball cap, starts to step through the door but hesitates and then turns to look at the store clerk.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
The second guy looked at the clerk for a moment or two and then raised his big automatic up and calmly shot the clerk in the chest with two rounds. The bystanders screamed and dove to the floor. One bystander was a teenage girl who’d dropped in after her high school basketball practice to get something cold to drink. The second bystander was an accountant who’s in his forties and had just finished filling his minivan with gas. Both saw the cold blooded murder and both saw the killer turn and look at them just before the two dove for the floor. Both believed they were going to die. The killer just looked at them for a second or two and then turned and walked out to the Chevy Nova and got in. The two drove away and blended into the traffic sedately, as if they were just doing something totally normal.
The teenager was a babbling idiot when we first interviewed her. We had to wait a day for her to finally calm down and give us a statement. The accountant was the one who recognized the car. He was positive it was a ‘66 Nova SS because his older brother had one exactly like it. His brother’s was a bright red one. The one used by the killers was navy blue. Both gave us fairly decent descriptions. The tall one was dark haired, maybe about six feet three or taller, and wore blue jeans. For a coat he wore a high school letter jacket. A red one with white leather sleeves. On the right hand pocket of the jacket was a big “E.” Down the right leather sleeve were all kinds of small gold emblems representing the sports the killer played in while in school.
The high school was North High. Their mascot was an eagle.
The second guy was maybe six feet one or two with sandy brown hair, wearing a Kansas City Royals baseball cap backwards on his head. The only thing the two remembered about this guy was his dark brown eyes . . . they seemed to be black holes which stared straight through the clown’s mask . . . and the big eagle tattoo on the man’s shooting hand.
Both witnesses said the killer looked at each of them straight in the eye before turning to walk out the door. The accountant, hearing the glass door close, rose to one knee and watched the killer get into the Chevy and the car drive slowly away. He tried to get a license plate number but the car didn’t have one. But he definitely remembers the car. It was show-room perfect. For a wet, cold winter day, the car was sparkling clean and waxed to a bright sheen. The way the driver drove away he wanted to make sure nothing bad happened.
I had a gut instinct this case was not a simple robbery/homicide. That gut instinct seemed to pan out when the witnesses found no suspects in the mug shots. It was confirmed when DMV . . . Department of Motor Vehicles . . . said there were fifteen ‘66 Chevy Novas in the metropolitan area and none of them were pained blue. Before Frank could say anything, I tapped him on the shoulder and said, “This one’s yours Oh Magnificent One!”
He just grinned, nodded his head and shrugged.
“Uh, Turn . . .”
“Oh,” I grunted, coming out of my thinking mode and grinning. “Let’s go over to the empty lot where we found John Doe. I want to look the place over again. And then on the way out to the rabbi’s house, let’s drop by the dead clerk’s apartment and have another look around.”
“Sure. And when we’re finished with the rabbi, let’s stop in at Dewey’s and have lunch. I’m starving for a good steak.”
“I thought you were on a diet.”
“Ha!” snorted Frank, shaking his head and throwing on his big overcoat. “The wife says I’m on a diet. But when the wife isn’t around this fat boy is eating a steak and a mess of ‘taters!”
I grinned and followed him out of the squad room. Frank’s wife of twenty years was the best Italian cook I have ever shared a bowl of pasta with. She could make anything coming out of Italy, or anything which should have come out of Italy, with such perfection it made you tear up in delight. But there was no such thing as red meat served in Frank’s house. Chicken, yes. Fish, quite often. But no steaks, no hamburgers, no pork chops, and god forbid if anyone came in with a raw potato in hand.
Thirty minutes later we pulled the 1969 Plymouth Road Runner and its rumbling 383 cu. in. engine up beside an empty curb next to the empty lot where our John Doe was found. Frank, sitting behind the wheel, kept the car running and the heater on and drummed stubby little fingers on the steering wheel and waited patiently for me to do something.
The Road Runner was one of my restorations. Light green with white racing stripes down the middle of the hood and roof and black vinyl interior. It’d taken almost a year to go through the car from top to bottom. But it was done and Frank could not keep his hands off it. The big oaf loved cars as much as I did. I never could say no to him when he asked if he could drive.
Still, I have to say the car’s heater was not the greatest gift to mankind. It worked. But barely. So we dressed for the weather. I was wearing the black wool overcoat, warm leather gloves, and had a heavy chocolate brown colored fedora pulled over my brow. Underneath the overcoat was a pair of good slacks fresh from the cleaners, a black sport coat, a navy blue shirt with a button down collar, and a dark chocolate brown silk tie. Hell, I looked more like an expensively dressed pimp than a cop. But this was winter, and every time winter came to this town, bringing with it Arctic winds and snow deep enough to bury your ass in, I get this urge to dress up like some movie gangster straight out of the 1930s.
Don’t ask my why.
I just do.
Frank sat drumming his fingers on the steering wheel quietly and waited patiently. He was dressed in his typical sartorial splendor. He wore dark slacks which needed pressing, a tan sport coat which went out of style ten years ago, and a white shirt adorned with a blood red tie. If the old cliché is true that the clothes make the man, then my loveable ole’ partner was an unmade man. I never saw the little fireplug ever wear an overcoat. It didn’t matter how bad it snowed or blew Arctic gales. This Neanderthal lookalike built like a midget gorilla was unfazed. The colder it got the better he liked it. The style of his habiliments never changed. He was always ten years out of date and proud of it.
Finally, after some moments looking the empty block over, I took a deep breath and half turned to Frank.
“Who took the initial call?”
“Flannery and O’Connor.”
I nodded, thinking to myself I should have known. Flannery and O’Connor were two big-boned Irish cops from out of our station. This part of town was their beat. They knew the streets around here better than the residents. Both men were third generation cops. And about as Irish as you could get.
“Let’s see if they are on duty tonight. Maybe they got some thoughts about this screwy case…”
Frank was reaching for the radio and looking over his shoulder at me at the same time.
“Got an idea knocking about in that thick head of yours?”
“Sure, I’m working on one. But it’s too damn strange to say anything about right now. I want to poke around a little longer before I open up.”
We made arrangements to meet the two Irishmen at a quarter past nine tonight. They’d be on their lunch break and they’d meet us at a little spoonery called Billie’s. It was their favorite place for lunch. Just a railroad car stuck out in the middle of an empty field between two rather large brown stone warehouses down on the water front. A blue collar joint which was plain, simple, cheap and fairly decent food. Especially the chili. They made a chili using jalapeno peppers hot enough to melt the titanium skin off an SR-71 Blackbird. The moment O’Connor’s voice over the radio mentioned Billie’s I saw Frank’s eyes light up like Roman candles.
Grinning, I shook my head in mock horror as I took one last look at the empty lot the John Doe was found in. If Frank had a bowl or two of chili at nine, his stomach would be rumbling like a badly plumbed septic tank at about eleven. And from experience you did not want to be in the car with him if his stomach started to make strange sounds.
“Let’s go over to the rabbi’s house and see if the good shepherd is home.”
Twenty minutes later we pulled into the snow covered driveway of the rabbi’s house and slowly came to a halt in the thick snow. It was a house out of place. On either side of the block the houses and drives had been scraped clean with a fanatic’s attention to detail. Not so here. The sidewalk at the edge of the lawn had several dozen sets of tracks in it but it was a white aberration sitting in the middle of a ribbon of dark cement. The driveway had been a virgin carpet before the Road Runner plowed to a halt.
The house itself sat dark and alone, deep in a white tundra of a yard wide enough to allow a herd of reindeer to graze in. It was a big and expensive sprawling ranch made of brick and wood trim. Big trees, which looked as if they would offer vast amounts of cool shade on acres of properly trimmed Bermuda grass, lined the front of the house in their stark bare boned winter’s uniform. The windows sat staring at us in black gloom, the only light being the single black pole of a yard light which apparently came on automatically at dusk. Sitting in the almost-warm car the two of us looked the house over in silence for a moment or two before Frank grunted.
“His brother’s house looks like something out of Frank Capra movie. But this looks like something out of Hitchcock.”
I nodded and reached inside my overcoat and suit coat and adjusted the Kimber 1911 Model Ultra series .45 caliber semi-automatic riding in its holster underneath my left armpit.
“Looks like no one’s home. That doesn’t feel right for a guy who’s about to go off and get married.” My partner grunted, unbuttoning his sport coat and pulling out the department issued 9 mm Glock. “Think we ought to call for backup?”
“For a rabbi? How many homicidal rabbis have we collared lately?”
“Well,” Frank began, his voice deepening and taking on the tone of someone who’d sniffed too much glue in their youth, “there’s always a first time.”
“Not tonight, brother,” I answered, grinning, as I rolled out of the car and stood up.
Still, I had to admit it. It didn’t look right. Not that anything caught my eye as being out of place or odd. We knew the rabbi was going to hop a plane and fly to Arizona and get married. He could have taken an earlier flight for all we knew. But the rabbi’s car was still in the garage and no cabby had come by to pick up a ride. Walking side by side up the snow covered side walk to the front door, neither of us felt at ease.
Something was out of place. Suspiciously odd.
Frank lifted a big ham for a hand up and pressed the door bell button. Inside we heard it chiming. Followed by silence. Ringing the bell again he kept leaning on the button for a long time. Again – only silence for an answer.
Next came his giant fist up and pounding on the door. Pounding with enough force to wake up the neighbors. He started to do it a second time but I shook my head no and pulled out the .45 from its shoulder holster. Frank followed suit with his Glock as I reached for the door knob and gave it a twist.
Somehow I wasn’t surprised as the door opened without resistance.
We stepped into the darkness of the living room fast and split into two opposite directions the moment we cleared the door. Each of us hugging an opposing wall we quickly searched the empty house. In the kitchen we found a bowl of half-eaten Pop Tarts and a half gallon of stale milk sitting on a small breakfast bar. I put a finger to my lips to warn Frank and then pointed to the stool.
In a bathroom Frank silently motioned me to come over and take a look. In the bathroom sink was a dried towel coated in the dark coloration of dried blood. Lots of blood. In the master bedroom we found a pile of discarded clothes and a heavy parka. The parka had a hole in it the size of a penny. Its inside lining was coated in blood. As was the discarded shirt. But there were no bodies.
“Our killer came here,” Frank grunted, holstering his 9mm. “Why?”
“Good question,” I nodded, rising from my kneeling position after checking out the clothing. “And where is our Rabbi Polanski?”
“I’ll call the crime lab and get someone over here. And some uniforms as well. We’ll need to talk to the neighbors.”
I nodded silently and stared at the pile of clothes at my feet.
A mystery. A conundrum. A homicide which was stacking up to be the not-run-of-the-mill variety. Okay.