Here's the latest Turner Hahn/Frank Morales short story that was posted first on the web site darkestbeforedawn.net. It's entitled 'Dirt.' Hope you like it.
He was scared.
As we sat in the booth watching him through the big plate glass window of the Dewey’s, we could tell he was wound up tighter than cheap Hong Kong wristwatch. His head kept darting back and forth with quick, jerking movements. Several times he stopped, turned and scanned the streets behind him. He paused often . . . nervously hesitating before crossing streets. Hesitating as if he was expecting a cement truck to come along and turn him into a grease stain at any moment.
Cupping hands in front of his face he blew some warmth in them before stuffing them into his dark blue seaman’s coat. Down by the river it was colder than a Siberian nightmare—as it always was in late January in this city. Wearing a blue stocking sock hat pulled down over his ears, hot puffs of steam for breath shot out in rapid machinegun bursts as the little man paused and studied the parking lot of the diner in front of him.
Yeah. It didn’t take much to see Davie Higgins was one frightened little thief.
Darting across the street, zig zagging like a star NFL running back in a Sunday afternoon game, Davie made his way through traffic and navigated the parking lot of the diner. He came through the door and into the warmth of the diner in one fast, smooth motion—his eyes taking in everyone with a quick, practiced glance. When he saw us in our usual place he moved rapidly to join us.
I slid over in the booth to make room for him and nodded to Dewey to bring over a cup of hot, coal black java. Davie would need a lot of java to thaw out on a day like today. And Dewey, the owner of this joint, made coffee strong enough to shut down a runaway nuclear reactor.
Dewey’s is one of our favorite eateries. It’s a big aluminum eatery straight out of the 50’s sitting down by the river. Good food . . easy on the wallet . . . and lots of it. Frank—my partner in Homicide for the last five years—and I ate there often. As do a number of other cops working with us out of the South Side precinct.
“Guys, tha . . . .thanks for meeting me here like this.”
Frank, the red haired gorilla for my partner, nodded and pointed to the coffee cup sliding across the table.
“Thaw out first, and then talk. I’m getting cold just looking at’ya.”
A grin flashed across Davie’s haggard, unshaven face as he reached for the coffee with both hands. You could almost see the coffee thawing frozen flesh.
“Okay, Danny. What’s up? Your call sounded urgent.”
He lowered the cup, still gripping it with both hands, and shot glances at the two of us and then at the few still sitting in the diner. You could see it in his face and eyes he wanted to talk. You could also catch a glimpse of genuine fear holding him back.
“Listen, guys, I’ve got to get out of town. I’ve got to leave now. Even sitting here talking to you two is costing me. But the thing is . . . I need some dough. So I thought of you, Turn. I hear you’re loaded. Thought maybe you could loan me a few bucks.”
I looked into the little man’s face, half expecting the thief to break into a big grin. This sounded like a joke. One of Davie’s famous practical jokes he was famous for. He had pulled a few on me before. Even had Frank in on the joke. But the look in his eyes of a deer running from the wolves convinced me this wasn’t a joke. This was real.
“What happened, Davie?” Frank grunted, reaching for his coffee and glancing out the big picture window beside him. Looking for something that might be out-of-place maybe. Like maybe a car with two dark men sitting in it with the car running—looking as if they were waiting for someone.
He leaned across the table half way and lowered his voice to barely above a whisper.
“I saw someone get snuffed last night. Saw it with my own eyes. Saw the two of’em grab this chic and throw a pillow over her face. She fought. She kicked. She tried to escape. But these guys were good. They knew what they were doing.”
Frank shot me a glance and gave me a slight nod toward the window.
My eyes barely moved. But it was enough.
In the parking lot about six rows back two guys in heavy trench coats sat in a black Caddy Seville. The driver had both hands on the wheel and he was wearing black leather gloves. Both of them had fedoras on and pulled down low over the eyes. There was no way to catch a good glimpse of their faces.
The little thief didn’t see the car. He was too busy slurping hot coffee and digging into a big donut Dewey brought over and shoved in front of him on the table.
“Start from the beginning,” I said, keeping my eyes on the little man and not looking anywhere else. “Tell us everything.”
“Yeah, yeah . . . I know the routine. I was . . well . . . working a heist last night. Over on Belmont drive. You know. That little art museum some rich widow built a few years ago. That place.”
I nodded. I knew exactly where he was last night. I knew exactly what he was doing. Coming on duty tonight one of the daily bulletins was a report about a very expensive piece of canvas lifted out of the Harlin Museum over on Belmont.
“Go on,” I said, reaching for my donut.
“I was using a rope and repelling down from a skylight, see. ‘Bout half way down I glance up and out of one of their tall windows. Across the street from the museum is a fancy apartment complex. The rear of a fancy complex. All the balconies face the museum, see. Well, I see this blond chic stagger into sight. She’s left the curtains to the glass balcony door wide open and I could see her as clear as day. About twenty-five . . . maybe thirty. Tops.”
Frank was listening and taking in every word. But his eyes were on the two men in the car. Apparently the two in the car noticed Frank’s interest. From out of the side of my eye I see a dark shape slide out of the Dewey’s lot and disappear.
“I could see she’s agitated. Scared. She pressed her back up against the glass and throws a hand out as if to push someone away. That’s when . . . that’s when the two big men grab her and strangle her with the pillow.”
“Describe’em,” Frank grunted, and turning his attention toward the little man in front of him.
“I didn’t catch a glimpse of their faces that time, Frank. Like I said, the girl put up a fight. They were twisting and turning around like crazy yo-yo’s for a while until one of ‘em got a hold of her from behind and held her still.”
“So you didn’t see their faces,” I repeated.
“Not that time, Turn. Not that time. But a couple of minutes later I saw a face. After the chic slumped over they dragged her back into apartment. But one of’em came back and closed the curtains.”
“Recognize him?” Frank grunted, glancing the big plate glass window again.
Davie didn’t immediately answer. The little guy shuddered violently. The color in his face drained. He became as pale as one of the several corpses lying in the city morgue. His eyes and lifted the cup of java to his lips and took a long drag of the scaling black joe.
“I . . . I think he saw me, guys. Saw me somehow hanging on the rope in the museum. That’s the reason I gotta get out town. If he did see me I’m as good as dead. That sonofabitch doesn’t play around. He’ll cut my throat in the blink of an eye. You’ve got to believe me, guys! I can’t stay here! I gotta leave . . . get the hell out of here and go as far away from here as I can possible get!”
“Who saw you? “ I asked quietly. “Give us a name and we’ll go over and pinch’em. We’ll make sure they won’t come after you.”
“Ha!” A sardonic bark for a laugh escaped from the little man’s lips as he lowered his coffee cup and shook his head in amused helplessness. “You’re not going to pinch these guys. I’ve never heard of a cop pinching a cop. Besides, even if you did, where would it get you? I’m leaving town, boys. I’m not sticking around—and sure as hell I ain’t gonna testify against’em. I may look stupid, but I ain’t that stupid.”
“You’re saying a cop killed this woman?”
“I saw Mickey Mulligan’s ugly ginning face just as clearly as I’m seeing yours, Frank. The asshole came to the window, chewing that damn toothpick he’s always chew’en on, looked out to see if anyone was curious and then closed the curtains. Plain as day.”
Mickey Mulligan was detective sergeant Mickey Mulligan. A detective, homicide section, based out of the Downtown division of the city’s police force. His partner was named Iggie Johannson.
But dirty. Dirty but smart. A lot in the department believed the two were on the take. Worked as the muscle for a local crime boss. Both Frank and I knew them quite well. We had had our share of run-ins with them.
It would have given us great pleasure to be able to cuff them and bring them in on some kind of provable rap. Like maybe . . . homicide.
“And you think he saw you,” I said, frowning. “Saw you through a window inside the museum in the dead of night?”
“Maybe he did—maybe he didn’t. Hell, I’m too damn scared to know for sure. All I know is this. If he thinks someone saw him standing in that window right after killing that girl, they’re as good as dead. And I’m not sticking around to find out what happens next. So I’m asking, Turner . . . asking as a guy whose given the two of you a lot of good tips on other shit going down in this town . . . I’m asking if you’ll spot me some money.”
I frowned and glanced at my watch. It was almost four in the afternoon. The nearest branch of my bank was ten blocks away. It’d take, in this afternoon traffic, a good hour to get there and get back. An hour I didn’t want Davie to endure alone.
“Let’s go,” I said half pushing the little thief out of the booth.
“Where we going?” he asked, sliding out and turning to stare at me.
“Nearest ATM is about five blocks from here. I can pull out maybe five C-notes. I can get you more tomorrow if you’re willing to stick around.”
“Not me, brother,” Dave said, shaking his head and his voice sounding firm. “Five hundred is more than enough. I know where I’m going and that’ll be enough to get me there.”
“We’d feel a lot better if you’d let us tuck you away some place nice and safe for a while. Just for the night. You know, just in case, and then in the morning we’ll see you off,” Frank growled but speaking softly.
“Thanks, guys. For everything. But I know how to take care of myself. Where I’m going no one is going to find me.”
And with those last words he left us as we stood in front of the ATM. Left us in the cold. Walked away, hailed for a cab, and disappeared into the heavy traffic. We watched the cab leave, each of us in our silence knowing the dumb sonofabitch wasn’t going to make it through the night alive.
We drove over to The Esquries, the apartment complex Davie said he had seen a murder committed. It didn’t take long to find the body. She was swinging from a sheet tied around a wooden ceiling beam. Below her dangling feet was chair which had been kicked away. On a glass coffee table was a typed-written suicide letter. A typed letter with no signature.
“Davie’s in a world of shit if this is really a murder,” Frank growled, frowning and shaking his head. “If Mulligan saw him hanging by a rope in the museum our little friend hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in hell.”
I nodded, turned, and walked to the drapes which hid the sliding glass door leading out into the balcony. Pulling them open I gazed out across the street and into the glass window of the museum Davie had said he seen Mickey Mulligan. It was roughly the same time of night as it was when the murder went down. Not to my surprise I noticed there was enough back light in the museum to see fairly clearly inside. Maybe not enough light to see a face. But more than enough light to see a dark from hanging from a rope in mid air.
Iggie and Mickey were smart enough to figure it out. It wouldn’t take long to add up one and one and finger the only second-story man with the balls to rob a high security museum.
I reached for the cell phone inside my coat and called for Joe Weiser and his forensic’s team. I then dialed Lt. Yankovich’s number and told him we had to sit down and talk. Two hours later we were sitting in the lieutenant’s office with the door closed and watching him use a long boney finger rub the throbbing vein pulsating visibly in his forehead.
“Those fuckers,” he grunted, shaking his head and sounding savage. “They’ve been playing both sides of the fence for years. I’ve been waiting to collar them and bring them in since the first day I meet’em. But they’re good. They’re experts in covering their tracks. Betcha fifty the coroner is going to come up with a report that is, at best, inconclusive. She could have been murdered by strangulation. But the hanging covered up all traces.”
That’s what we were thinking. It wasn’t as if we had not had our run-ins with Iggie and Mickey before. About a year early the two snuffed out a couple of friends of ours but made look appear as if it was a murder-suicide.
“The pissy thing is I can’t say a damn thing to the chief of detectives about this. Nor can I mention it internal affairs. The chief thinks these two bastards are top notch detectives. They’re a couple of his boys. And internal affairs doesn’t want to hear anything without some tangible evidence to back up the claims. In other words, boys, without some evidence that will implicate them in this murder, we’ve got bumpkus. Too bad your little thief wouldn’t hang around and talk. But I understand his reasons why he’d think otherwise.”
“We’ll find some evidence, Yank. If the lab comes back and can’t give us a definitive decision and say it’s a murder, what we need from you is to label it as a Suspicious Fatality.”
“Ah. . . I see where this is going,” the lieutenant nodded, smiling. “You think the two believe they got away clean with this murder. But a Suspicious Fatality makes it an official inquiry. You want to draw them into this mess. Make them fidgety. There’s no love lost between you and them. You think they may do something stupid and tip their hand. Good. I like it.”
As we walked out of the lieutenant’s office Frank pulled out his cell phone and began punching in numbers.
“Home?” I asked.
“Naw,” he said, shaking his massive head. “If Iggie and Mickey were in on this then this girl is somehow connected to their boss.”
A lot of people in this town thought the smooth, well dressed, handsome professional gambler ran this town. I wouldn’t offer up too much of an argument against the idea. Brinkley’s sticky fingers seemed to be everywhere in city politics. He was especially strong in ward politics down at the grassroots level. He had a knack for glad-handing people and making them feel important—while he ran a shiv through their heart in the process.
But so far the man had been meticulous in keeping his name out of the papers and totally removed from any criminal accusation. The press loved the guy. It seemed he was on the local news every night of the week.
A few phone calls—some promises given we could keep to a few associates—and we got what we were looking for. The dead girl used to be Nathan Brinkley’s main squeeze. She was a high-priced model he met in New York. Great looks. Great listener. Talked a lot when she got drunk. Couldn’t keep her mouth shut. Apparently said a couple of things at some local nightclubs which really upset Brinkley.
“She became a liability,” Frank nodded, snapping his phone closed after his last phone call. “Knew too much and couldn’t keep her mouth shut.”
“So Brinkley tells Iggie and Mickey to clean up the mess. Do it quietly and efficiently.”
I started to say something but my cell phone started buzzing.
“Turner, listen. . . there’s a contract out on me. Two hired guns from Detroit flew in last night to take me out. Word is a certain person we know thinks I know too much. They’ve got this town buttoned up. I can’t move anywhere without being seen. I. . . I need your help.”
It was Davie Higgns talking. And he sounded . . . odd.
“Davie, where are you? Let us come and get you and take you someplace safe.”
“Yeah . . . yeah, that makes sense. There’s eyes everywhere looking for me. I’m over at my girl’s apartment. Corner of Douglas and Haig, apartment 22.”
“Davie, lock the doors and keep away from the windows. We’ll be over there in ten minutes.”
Took us eight minutes to get to Douglas and Haig. Rolling out of the car we both looked the place over and frowned. It was an old hotel down in the bad end of town. A dive where those who worked the streets at night, or ran numbers for the big boys, could afford to live in. The moment our eyes took it in we had bad vibrations.
“You thinking what I’m thinking?” the ugly mug of a partner asked me as he unbuttoned his sport jacket casually.
“If you’re thinking the last scene of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid then yeah, that’s what I’m thinking.”
A trap. It felt like a trap. It looked like the perfect place for a trap. It smelled like a trap. Unbuttoning my coat I reached in and pulled out the heavy framed .45 cal. Kimber and slide the carriage back to jack a round into the firing chamber. From behind my back I reached for the .380 cal. Walther PPK I used as a back-up gun.
We went in quietly. Entering the front door we found ourselves in long corridor filled with the smells of a hundred different varieties. On either side of the corridor was the long stretch of apartment doors. All closed and conspicuously silent. To our left a set of creaky, ancient looking stairs that went up to the second floor. As quietly as we could we went up the stairs, guns drawn and anticipating the fireworks to begin at any moment.
We found the door to apartment 22 partially open. Frank, using the muzzle of his 9 mil. Glock, pushed the door open further while I stood in the hall, back to him, waiting for someone to step out from one of the apartments with a gun in his hands.
“Davie’s dead,” Frank growled behind me. “Just happened. He’s still bleeding and can you smell the cordite?”
A door flew open. And then a second door. Two guys stepped out into the hall with Uzi’s in their hands. The hallway erupted in gunfire. I dived for the floor, firing both guns at one of the shooters in the process. Frank knelt down and started firing at the other target. The hail of machine gun fire was incredibly loud and incredibly destructive. Bullets spraying from the stubby muzzles of each Uzi chewed up the walls, throwing clouds of flying splinters everywhere. From within one of the apartments a woman started screaming hysterically.
And then it was over as fast as it started. Our two shooters went down with a half dozen slugs in each. But more surprises awaited us. Coming to my feet I heard behind me another set of doors open with a loud bang. Turning, lifting the Kimber up rapidly, I saw two more shooters emerge into the hall. This time they had shotguns, the ugly muzzles up and already pointing at me. But before I had time to move—before Frank had time to turn—gunfire erupted and I saw the two shooters stagger back from being hit by multiple rounds.
Surprised at this unexpected rescue I turned to see who are saviors were.
Iggie Johannson and Mickey Mulligan.
Both of them, standing at the top of the stairs with guns in their hands, stood looking at us with smirks on their faces. And behind them? Two newspaper reporters and two photographers. Reporters from a paper owned by Nathan Brinkley. The photographers were clicking shots as fast as their fingers could work their cameras. The two reporters came rushing from behind Iggie and Mickey and ran toward us with digital recorders lifted up to catch every word we said.
How does it feel to be rescued by detectives Johannson and Mulligan? Care to commit on how we knew Davie Higgins was involved in the murder of a beautiful model? Who sent out these hired guns to kill you? Do you believe your two friends should be given a medal for saving your lives?
I turned and looked at the smirking face of Iggie Johannson. The dark complexioned, dark eyed man with the toothpick between his lips, stared back. The smirk widened as he lifted a hand up and half saluted me.
There would be no catching Iggie and Mickey and charging them with murder. By nightfall the papers of Nathan Brinkley would have the story out in blazing color on their front pages hailing these two as heroes. The chief of detectives would be quoted often about how highly he thought of these two detectives and the work that they do. They would get their medals for valor. Penned on their chests by the mayor himself.
And Nathan Brinkley? Nathan Brinkley would be laughing. Laughing in a pleased Cheshire-cat smugness at again thwarting our efforts to bring him down.