Thursday, April 22, 2010

Opening three chapters of 'Guilt of Innocence.'

Here's the opening chapters of the Turner/Frank novel I am working on now entitled "Guilt of Innocence."

As usual, I follow a formula. The book starts out with a puzzler on how the victim was iced. Remember now, I'm always looking for commentary--so tell me what you think needs fixed, reduced, refitted, or ejected. Doesn't mean I'll take your advice--but at least I'll listen.


We had a problem.

Although it was just seven in the morning the sun was coming up and the heat was beginning to build. It was late July. July in this city meant only three things: wind, heat . . . and more damn heat. The wind was blowing a steady gait from out of the south. That meant it was going to be a very hot day. Hot enough to make Superman sweat. Hot enough to make a Bedouin think about wearing khaki shorts. Hot enough to make Turkish coffee taste like a frozen cherry slush. Hot enough to make Lucifer think of ski slopes in Aspen.

Hot enough to make perspiration perspire.

The blue shirt underneath my sport coat was damp. And the day was just beginning. By time nine o:clock rolled around I would have to change shirts and ditch the coat. By the time we finished our initial investigation I’d be nothing more than a piece of melted cheese dip. Already I could feel the heat radiating off the car beside me. The small Caddy convertible, black as coal with its top up, was going to turn into a boiler in about an hour. There’s nothing like a black car and leather seats which can absorb heat and somehow magnify it tenfold. Throw a dead body into the car, add in about three tons of humidity,and you can imagine the rest.

But that wasn’t the problem.

As I walked around the driver’s side of the black Cadillac XLR-V my eyes kept glancing at the front windshield. Punched through the glass, about six inches above the upper rim of the steering wheel, was a bullet hole. Striation lines radiated from the hole outward across the glass but the windshield itself was intact. A quick glance at the back window had the bullet’s exit point. About half the window was gone. The remaining glass was coated in blood and brain matter.

Slumped back across the tan leather seats of the car was the victim. The front part of his head was there. The back half wasn’t. The dead man looked to be in his 30's or early 40's. He had on a blue suit. Dark navy blue. Hand stitched. Tailor made.

Made from imported Egyptian cotton. Maybe worth a grand or more. Minimum.

Underneath the suit was an off white linen shirt. Not something found in a typical Wal-Mart. Around his neck was a signature red silk tie. Again, maybe one or two C-notes for a price tag. Expensive Italian leather for shoes and wrap-around shades still setting perfectly on the bridge of his nose completed the picture.

Whoever the sonofabitch was he wasn’t worried about balancing his check book like the rest of us. Me, I thought twice about it every time I wanted to buy a Daffy Duck tie off the racks at K-Mart even though, in reality, I didn’t have to anymore. Not this guy. Hell. His car alone–new–was three and a half years my salary. Give or take a couple of nickels. The guy, when he was breathing, was awash in cash. Very rich. And that meant very powerful. He would have powerful friends. Powerful friends usually expected quick results whenever one of their kind checked out unexpectedly.

But that wasn’t the problem.


The problem was the dead man and how he died. Specifically, in the place where he died. Hearing steps behind me I turned and watched my partner, a red headed Neanderthal wannabe with the IQ of an Einstein approaching. Glancing at me the guy meshed his thick eyebrows together and whistled softly.

“This doesn’t look good.”

“Yeah. I was thinking the same thing.”

He turned and looked out over the railing of the parking garage slot the Caddy was parked in. The fourth floor of a five floor parking garage. The Caddy was facing to the south up against the southern cement retainer wall. In front of him was nothing. Nothing for twenty square miles. Just an empty wheat field which stretched out forever.

“You know what the problem is, right?” Frank grunted, shoving hands into his wrinkled gray slacks as we faced the wheat field and stared off into nothingness.

“Let me guess. The trajectory of the bullet doesn’t come up from the wheat field. It’s coming from slightly above the parking garage.”

“Yep, that’s the ticket,” nodded Frank, grinning maliciously, “And there’s more.”

“Uh huh,” I nodded, turning to look to the north. To the direction the bullet was heading after it had passed through the victim’s cranium and the back window. Another goddamn wheat field, “The bullet can’t be found. So we have no evidence, other than a dead man and a couple of bullet holes, to start from.”

The parking garage, with the attached five story office building of black glass and black granite beside it, set in an industrial park on the city’s south edge. A quarter of a mile to the west was I-475 sweeping around the city. The six lanes of the cement ribbon were filled with morning traffic. You could hear the constant hum clear out here. The one paved street leading to the crime scene sliced through mostly farm country. But there were a couple of new office complexes around and a third in the process of being constructed. Downtown was ten miles to the north and east. In between was nothing but farm country and a few brand new housing developments.

“There you go. On the money. That’s why they made you the youngest detective sergeant on the force. Brilliant, my friend. Brilliant!”

I turned and looked at my partner and grinned.


Did I tell you Frank has no neck? No? Well, he doesn’t. Just a head built like a block of steel reinforced cement setting on a set of shoulders wide enough to make flood gates at Hoover dam jealous over. His hair is a light colored carrot red, stringing and always blowing around unruly in the slightest breeze. Somehow the thinning hair complimented his square head nicely. If you like to look at nightmares.

He’s got hands the size of dinner plates. When he rolls his hands up into fists they look like those giant wrecking balls cranes throw around to knock down buildings. No. He’s not much to look at. Actually he’s like sushi. He’s an acquired taste. You either like him or you don’t. There’s no in-between. I like him. We’ve been on the force together for over twelve years. Partners in the South Side Division for ten. You can’t ask for a better man. They don’t make’em better. And there is a plus to this guy. His looks make him look like a dumb mug straight out of a mental ward. But he’s just the opposite. He knows every detail about every thing. You can’t stump him.

I know. I’ve been trying to do it for twelve years.

“Wanna give me an idea on the murder weapon, genius?” I asked, grinning.

“Nine millimeter. Hard nose. Maybe from, say, at an elevation of about fifty feet off the ground.”

“Out there,” I said, waving a hand toward the wheat, “Fifty feet above the ground.”

Frank nodded, grinning that evil little grin of his I was all too familiar with.

“Oh no,” I said, shaking my head firmly and lifting a hand up, palm outward, toward him, “I had the last Sherlock. Remember the Levant Case? That was a Sherlock. It’s your turn. You are the lead investigator on this one, buddy!”

A ‘Sherlock’ was our little way of telling each other a particular case was not going to fit the typical run-of-the-mill murder we police-types are so fond of. This one had all the marking of something that was going to be tough to figure out. Most homicide cases are relatively simple. Nine times out of ten the victim knew his killer. Six out of ten times the murder is a spur of the moment affair with all kinds of witnesses and evidence lying about to finger the perpetrator. (The Perp. . . jeez, I hate that word. Too many cop shows on TV.) So, most of the time, cops simply follow the leads, like a good machinist follows his blue prints, and eventually you wind up with the guilty party.

But . . . .
Sometimes there’s a monkey-wrench thrown into a cop’s normal routine. A case comes drifting in from out of the blue which doesn’t follow the rules. The evidence is usually little, or nonexistent, and typically there is a multitude of possible suspects, each with several reasons on why they would pull the trigger. To solve this kind of case meant you had to work like Sherlock Holmes. Deductive reasoning. Ruling out the all the possibilities until you came onto the one possibility, no matter how absurd it might be, which answered all the questions. Frank, for all of his fabulous smarts, hated these cases. Hated them so much he became very creative in throwing them to me.

“Naw, I had the last Sherlock. The Hutch case.”

“The Hutch case? Jesus. That was a pimp shooting one of his girls in broad daylight in front of a Dunkin’ Donuts. Sixteen witnesses saw the shooting. The trick lived long enough to tell us her pimp did it. The pimp confessed, for chrissakes! How could that be a Sherlock?”

“But we couldn’t find the gun, Turn. It took me . . .oh . . . a couple of hours to figure out where the murder weapon was. That’s what made it a Sherlock. So it’s your turn. Quit squawking.”

I grinned.

Oh, what the hell. I don’t mind taking these cases. Frank hates’em. I find them stimulating. But I enjoy the banter the two of us go through every time one of them comes up. Work with a guy long enough and you either begin to enjoy his company or you hate his guts. I liked Frank. We worked well together.

Maybe I should introduce myself. I’m Turner Hahn. Detective sergeant Turner Hahn, South Side. I’ve been a cop for fifteen, going on sixteen, years now; ten with the gold badge of a detective. I’m a little over six feet three, with black hair and gray-blue eyes. I used to be a football player. I played linebacker in college. Played for a college in the Big 12 conference. And I had thoughts of playing in the NFL. But this kid from Syracuse, built like the back side of Mt. Everest, decided to use my legs for bowling pens. He threw a rolling block on me, caught my right leg under his fat ass, and that was that. So long NFL.

Yeah, I was married once. Childhood sweetheart from high school. But then one day I came home and found a note on the table informing me she decided to run off with an accountant by the name of Rodney. At least he would be home at night. So now I call myself a confirmed bachelor. I live in a run down building down on Floyd street about two blocks from the Brown river. Floyd street is down in the industrial section of town. The place I have is a red brick mass of badly constructed masonry. But cheap enough for me to afford on a detective sergeant’s pay. No. I couldn’t afford to buy a building. Not on my pay scale. I can afford it because my grandfather gave the building to me. The old coot claims to be a farmer living upstate. He does own a big ass farm and a good portion of the year he can be found living in the main house up there. But the old man has secrets. Secrets he doesn’t share–secrets I don’t want to know about, frankly. And he’s rich. Rich with a capital “R” in front of it. Rich enough to make the legendary King Midas look like a shyster. He and I are much alike. He’s an old widower who loves cars. He refuses to marry and likes to tinker with his toys when he’s not planting wheat or irrigating corn. And he likes to come to the city and share a case or two of beer with me and talk about cars.

The old man gave me the place because I needed a place to work on and store my babies. The building used to be a garage. And the babies I collect are Muscle cars. You know, the Detroit iron of the 50's, 60's and 70's which had enough horsepower to pull the Queen Mary through the Panama Canal. Or maybe bruise kidneys against your spine if you hit the accelerator too hard. I own a ‘69 Z-28 IROC with a 302 Chevy small block; green with white strips and white vinyl interior. There’s also a sweet ‘71 Plymouth Road Runner with the 383 engine in it. And I use a ‘68 Shelby Cobra Mustang 350 G.T. with the small block 289 cu. in. as my personal transportation.

Oh, I guess I’m a collector of books as well. First edition, autographed books. Mostly detective fiction and novels; but anything actually which has been signed by the author. The second floor of the garage I remolded and converted into a loft. More like a giant library really. With a kitchen and a bathroom added as necessities. Just one giant room with an entire wall filled with nothing but books and a few rather expensively framed water colors scattered about. And yeah, amazingly enough, I’ve been known to sit in a chair with a good book and a glass of wine and listen to Mozart as I read. What the hell is wrong with that? Hard to think a cop who likes to get his hands greasy digging in the innards of an engine block can actually read as well, huh?

Well forget about it. It doesn’t matter. I know I’m an odd duck.

And . . .oh, one other thing; I have a flaw. Or, at least, I think it is a flaw although Frank thinks it’s The Gift of the Gods. Some people think I look like a famous dead actor. My curly black hair, my eyes, the dimples . . . make a lot of people think I look like the ‘30's matinee idol Clarke Gable. Believe me, brother, it’s not a ‘gift.’ I’m not Clarke Gable! I’m Turner Hahn. Cop. Bachelor. Someone who, although he admires and likes the cut and shape of a fine looking woman, nevertheless want’s no part of’em.

Frank thinks I’m an idiot. With my looks, he tells me, I could have women hanging all over me. Not that I sometimes don’t think about it, I’ll admit. But I’m not that interested. The failed marriage, a few badly ending affairs, and I’ve come to an obvious conclusion. Life is a lot sweeter messing around with cars, reading a good book, and going home to an empty house. At least it’s safer that way.
So that’s it. Color in the lines with the crayon labeled , “Cop.”

Grinning, I looked back at the kid in the white smock walking up to me chewing a big wad of gum loudly and with the wind blowing his unruly dirty brown hair around. Joe Wieser was the kid’s name and he worked with the County Medical Office. It was Joe who usually came out on homicide cases. And for all of his looking like a geeky teenager hardly able to walk and chew gum at the same time he was very good at his job.

“Jesus, you got nothing here, boys. Have a fine day and see you later,” he said, lifting a hand and waving as he grinned and turning to walk away.

“Joey, get your lily-white ass over here and stop playing around,” Frank growled, a grin spreading across his block of head fondly.

“What do you have?” I asked.

“Our victim has been dead roughly twelve hours, judging from the way the blood has coagulated and the amount of rigor mortis setting in. Victim’s name is Stewart. David R. Stewart, attorney. Now ain’t that a kick. A dead attorney. And hey, it’ll come as no surprise to you two the man died of a gunshot wound to the head.”

Joe grinned, his jaw working on the wad of gum in his mouth, pushing the clip board in his right hand up and underneath one armpit. We grinned. Or, at least, I grinned. Frank sort of pulled his lips back in a snarl and rolled his right hand up into a fist, cracking knuckles in the process, before unraveling the fist. The noise of his knuckles barking sounded like car doors being ripped open by a hydraulic jack. Joey got the message. The grin left his smirking lips. So did the color in his face.

“Uh . . sorry. That’s all I have for now. Give me five, six hours and I’ll have more for you.”

“We’ll give you a call,” I said, nodding.

With a quick, nervous wave of the hand and Joy split the scene. Frank chuckled quietly as he watched the little geek leaving. That’s what so loveable about Frank. He scares the hell out of a lot of people. Especially when he flexes his fists.

“Who were the first black and whites on the scene?” he asked, turning to look behind the Caddy at the two patrol units parked on either side, “And who found the stiff in the first place?”

“Jones and Bradley got the first squawk. Got here about a half hour ago. Found a Linda Edwards setting in that Honda over there almost in hysterics. She used her cell phone and called it in.”

“Where’s the caller?”

I pointed to the second ambulance behind one of the black and whites. Medics were working on a young woman who was setting on a guernsey. She had an oxygen mask on, holding it there with both hands, but even from this distance she didn’t look too steady. Her complexion looked like it was freshly knead bread dough. Odds were she was going to faint. And soon. Medics stood on either side of her waiting for her to pitch forward and take a header toward the pavement.

“I’ll talk to her. Maybe she can give us something more than just a name.”

“I’ll find out what Mick and Gabe know,” I said, turning to find the first officers to arrive.

It just goes to show you. In this line of business you can get trapped in doing the usual routine. Police work, for the most part, is nothing more than a routine. Ask questions, investigate the clues, ask more questions, follow up the leads; ask more questions. In the end, you nab your crook. The routine is a safety net to get the job done. But it is also a trap. A trap which suspends the brain from actually ticking over. Routine work does not ask you to think. Just stay between the lines and color in the dots. The trap springs when a case comes along which nixes the standard police routine.

Sometimes Harry Houdini comes back to life and commits a crime. Not literally. Figuratively. A crime is committed which defies explanation. A crime filled with smoke and mirrors and sublime slight-of-hand trickery. This case was an act of deception worthy of Houdini.


Our dead lawyer was a corporate schmooz whose firm had maybe two hundred clients in the local Fortune 500 companies in this town. He was the senior partner in a law firm consisting of five partners and a stable of conscripts. All expensive and all extremely intelligent, coming from the best law schools in the country.

The firm of Stewart, Pierce, Hoskins, Alberts & Benedict occupied the entire fifth floor of the office building the garage was attached to. Spacious to the point of opulence, so new the paint smelled fresh and the carpet was still springy to step on. Daniel Stewart’s office was the biggest office on the floor. Windows, the entire north wall, had a magnificent view of the immediate farm fields surrounding the building and the distance sky line of the city’s downtown just a few miles away. On the light oak paneled walls, real wood and not the normal four by eight sheets of paneling one buy’s at the local lumber yard, were seven or eight original oil paintings. Each painting had an individual spot light to accentuate the canvas. And each was of someone whose name I actually recognized.


A quick glance of the dead man’s office told me several things about our victim. The man’s desk was spotless. A big desk set close to the windows, with black onyx top, and not a paper or folder seemed out of place. Pencils were aligned in perfect formation on the left hand side of the desk’s center; black and red ink pens on the right. Three thick folders were stacked one atop the other on the left inner corner. On the right inner corner was the phone/intercom.

The furniture in the office was black leather. Expensive black leather.

Our victim liked his life to be lived in an orderly, planned, and concise fashion. And he liked to flash his money around.

“The boy was a stickler for precision,” Frank grunted, unimpressed, as we eyed the place.

“You know what I say about an organized mind.”

“Yeah,” Frank nodded, grinning. “‘An organized mind is the sign of a sick puppy.’ If that’s the case, then the chump outside was very, very sick.”

“We need to find one of the partners and take him out to the garage to identify the body. Any one here yet?”

“One. A Franklin L. Pierce. Apparently he and our victim started the firm ten years ago. Came out of law school together and went immediately straight up the corporate ladder.”

Funny thing about high-priced corporate lawyers. They know their way around a law suit and the courtroom. They can smooth talk their way through the front doors of a convent if they had to. But they are not used to seeing a dead body. Especially a messy one.

Franklin Pierce became physically sick when we asked him to identify the body. We had to shuffle him over to one side and allow him to hurl up his Starbucks and rolls over the hand railing two or three times before he caught his breath. Eventually, standing up straight and wiping his lips with a silk handkerchief, and as pale as fresh alabaster, he nodded and turned to face us.

“My god! Poor Dan. Who could do something so horrible as this?”

“Apparently someone who had a major time disagreement with him,” Frank answered, his big frame dwarfing the small frame of the lawyer in front of us. “Got any ideas who that might be?”

“We had our share of those who disliked our successes, detective. But in the business world you can’t become as successful as rapidly as we did without stepping one someone’s toes. Our reputation as a firm is our intense aggressiveness in defending our clients. But we do no criminal litigation. We don’t represent organized crime. Or, at least, not to our knowledge. Admittedly a number of firms would like to see terrible things happen to us. I can’t deny that. But not this. Not murder. This is unbelievable. Insane.”

I saw it. And glancing at Frank I knew he saw it as well. The way Pierce used his hands as he spoke; the dark gray silk suit. The dark gray button down shirt and the black silk tie. The once perfectly folded white silk handkerchief placed just so in the suit’s breast pocket. And finally, Franklin L. Pierce himself.

The lawyer was a small man. Smaller than even a normal sized woman. Dark curly blond hair, thinning up front, with dark brown eyes made the small man visually impressive. In an effeminate sort of way. Glancing at my troglodyte friend and partner I read his unreadable face and said nothing.

“So you think none of your associates or competitors are capable of murder.”

A brief hesitation, a narrowing of the eyelids and a shift in his stance told me there was something. But Pierce shook his head and shrugged elegantly.

“For the life of me I can’t think of a soul, officer. I’m at a loss for words.”

Yeah. Sure.

No matter. We’ll get back to that little part he forgot to mention. All in due time. I nodded and half turned to look at the office.

“When did you see your partner last?” Frank asked, picking up something off the dead man’s precision-lined desk and in the process forging a look of disapproval from the man standing beside me.

“Last night. Here, in the office, around seven or eight o:clock. At the end of the day the partners usually get together for a twenty or thirty minute confab to touch base with everyone. We’ve decided to go away from formal staff meetings during the day. Too stressful. In this work there is more than enough stress to work through. So we’ve become more casual in our approach.”

“How did he act last night? Was he tense? Was he relaxed? Did anything strike you as being different?” I chipped in turning to look at the little man again.

“Tired. I would say he was very tired. The last couple of months he has
been working on a rather large piece of litigation involving patent rights. A smaller company is suing one of our clients over who owns the patent. Such cases involves lots of detail work and reams of reading pertinent decisions. They are time consuming and can sap the strength from you.”

“What about his home life?” Frank grunted, putting an expensive pen down on the desk not exactly like he found it. Causing the look of irritation on Franklin Pierce’s face to increase in severity. “Was our victim married?”

“Oh, indeed. Old college sweet. Became engaged when Dan was in his last year at law school. Married the day after he graduated. A beauty. Or so they tell me.”

I tried not to smile.

The last statement sounded like something pushing awfully hard toward jealousy. Was Franklin Pierce jealous of our victim’s wife? Could that mean more than a business relationship between Pierce and the deceased? Jealousy was one of the oldest reasons to murder someone. Especially someone who had been as good looking as our dead man out in the parking garage. I glanced at Frank and saw him nod slightly. We agreed. It was a string in the investigation we would have to follow up on.

“What’s the wife’s name?” Frank grunted, folding his arms across the massive span of his chest and frowning as he looked down on Pierce.

Frank, when frowning, and as big as he is, could make a canonized saint fidget nervously with his prayer beads. It wasn’t that Frank was just taller than Pierce. It was like looking at Mt. Everest hovering over an anthill. It was about mass. Density. Strength. Oblique intimidation.


A gravely misunderstood tool. When used in the hands of a craftsman intimidation can open up entirely new lines of investigation. It can reveal clues which otherwise would have remained hidden.

“Margaret. Margaret Ellaine.”

“We’ll need to ask some questions to everyone in the office. And the deceased has a personal secretary?”

“Certainly. Two, actually. Vivian Spears is Dan’s personal assistant. If you’re interested in Dan’s itinerary she would be the one to talk to. Deborah Charles is Dan’s records assistant. She keeps track on all of Dan’s legal briefs, documents. Things like that.”

We nodded and said we needed to talk to them.

Two hours later we had nothing.

Nothing suspicious. Nothing to point to a possible motive for murder. Nothing for a suspect.


And as usual, when we had nothing, something always came along to break up the monotony.

Riding the elevator down from the law officers Frank’s cell phone began singing “Take this Job and Shove It.” A country/western tune I really disliked in general, and certainly despised as a ringtone for a phone. But it was his phone. Not mine. Sighing, but keeping my mouth closed, I eyed the big grunt beside me and waited until he flipped his phone closed and drop it in his sport coat.

“That was Yankovich. Apparently we’re getting a new case handed to us. A new old case, to be precise.”


“Just wait, you’ll see what I mean. We’re gonna meet Yank at the morgue in a half hour.”

Demitri Yankovich was our shift commander at South Side. Generally Frank and I pulled the four to midnight shift in the detective division at South Side. Yank was the looey in charge of the eight detectives assigned to this shift. He was also second in command of the precinct–which basically met he kept an eye on everyone–uniformed officers and detectives–who worked with us on that shift. Frank and I and one other set of detectives worked the homicide desks. A third team worked Narcotics while the fourth team of detectives worked Robbery/Larceny cases.

Yeah, business was that good down on our side of town.

Walking out of the office building and into the sunlight walkway which would take us over to the adjacent parking building I slipped a pair of aviator’s sunglasses on and glanced at my watch. It was almost nine in the morning. We had been on duty for almost seventeen hours. Tired, brother, wasn’t even close to describing how we felt. If I didn’t get a hot shower soon and about nine hours in the sack I knew I was going to go to do something stupid. Really stupid.


Lieutenant Yankovich stood facing us a frown on his lips. Nothing unusual there. Yank’s usual expression was a frown on his lips and a somber resignation in the rest of his face. The resignation of a man who had fought the wars and seen way too much crime and corruption in his life before eventually coming to the conclusion he could do very damn little to stop it. The tall, slightly stooping shift commander had hands in his slacks while underneath his left arm was a thick folder. A very thick folder.

A blue folder. A cold case file.

Which seemed odd to me. Discussing a cold case file standing in the semi-empty morgue seemed odd. Between us a white sheet covering a body lay on the steel top of an examination table. Obviously it was no longer a cold case. Glancing at the white sheet, noting the contours of a woman, I suspected it was a very active case now. The question still–why here? Why drive across town to come to the morgue and personally hand the file over to us? Why not just drop the file on our desk, as he usually did, mumble something and walk away.

The lieutenant nodded as we stepped up to the metal table and handed me the folder. There was no greeting–no small talk. He acknowledged us with a nod of the head and went right into his speech.

“Fifteen years ago a fourteen year old girl by the name of Yasmine Hollender disappeared from her home in the dead of night. While the parents slept in their bedroom down the hall from her room, someone came in through the kitchen door, walked through the kitchen and dining room, went up the staircase and walked down the hall to Yasmine’s bedroom and kidnapped her.

In the back yard they found the threadbare old teddy bear she liked to sleep with lying in the grass by the gate in a wooden picket fence. In the alley behind the house was a set of tire tracks. Also the tracks of a man wearing a size twelve set of shoes. And her tracks. Yasmine’s.”

He didn’t look at the white sheet covering the body. His voice was calm and soft. Casual. Sounding like he was giving a lecture to a group of police academy rookies. But there was something else here. This wasn’t the lieutenant we were used to. Usually there was more animation in the man’s voice. Something was here which was of real interest to the lieutenant. There was this sense of secrecy–of conspiracy–I couldn’t shake off.

“There was no evidence of the kitchen door being forced open. Someone had key and let themselves in. He left no evidence behind him. How he got up those creaky old stairs and not make a sound is a puzzle. The Hollender’s had a dog, a German Shepard, which usually slept at the foot of the Hollender’s bed. If it was a stranger entering the house the dog would have alerted everyone.”

“So the abductor was well known by the family,” Frank grunted, nodding. “That sound’s like a very close family friend. Or a close relative. Who became the prime suspect?”

Yankovich eyed Frank for a long time. What little color was in his already pale face left it. In seconds he looked a white as the corpse under the white cloth. But, slowly, color returned. Clearing something out of his voice he glanced down at the cloth and then back up to Frank.

“Me,” he said quietly.


We expected a lot of possible answers. An uncle, maybe a brother. . . possibly a cousin. But this was totally out beyond the center field fence line. This was like getting hit in the back of the head with a cement block. We stood there eyeing the lieutenant not knowing what to say.

“Yasmine’s father was Franklin Hollander. City commissioner Franklin Hollander from the Tenth District. An honest politician, if you can believe that. He was the man who told me the police force needed honest cops. More honest cops. So he got me this job. He was my mentor, if you will, who kinda helped me along in my career. Behind the scenes he worked tirelessly to get me promoted. And I was. Went up the ranks far faster than most cops. Too fast, way too fast for a lot of men. You two know the score. Promotions are not that common. One man goes up another rank, ten are bypassed. Hell, Turner, I’ve been asking you for years to take the lieutenant’s test and go before the promotions board. The same with you, Frank. Both of you should be lieutenants by now. But neither of you are interested.”

It was true. Frank and I were held the rank of Detective Sergeants, First Class. A gold badge. If we wanted to, and if there were openings, the two of us could go after a lieutenant’s badge. But getting that badge meant giving up working Homicide. Our promotions could shove us in some supervisory’s job anywhere in the department. But it guaranteed it wouldn’t be in Homicide. Rookie officers didn’t get that promotion. Didn’t matter how many years in Homicide you may have spent.

“Why you, Yank?”

The lieutenant looked at me and smiled weakly, shaking his head.
“The Hollanders had be over their house two, three times a week. Yasmine was their only child and she developed a kinda hero’s worship for me. I was the only one over at their house so many times a week. The neighbors knew me. Everyone. Suspicion fell on my shoulders almost immediately. Especially when, in the investigation, they found the silly diary of hers where she constantly talked of me in a girlish romantic way.”

“You were interrogated?”

He looked at Frank and nodded.

“Who were the lead investigators on the case?”

“Iggie Johannson and Mickey Mulligan.”

Jesus Christ.

Hit up the side of the head twice with a cement block. I blinked a couple of times and tried to put it together. But the way I felt inside you could have knocked me down waving an ostrich feather in front of me. The same could be said with Frank.

Iggie Johannson and Mickey Mulligan.

If there were any two pieces of low life shit it had to be these two. They were two homicide dicks working out of the Downtown Divison. And to say that Frank and I despised these two creeps would be a vast understatement. They were two slick numbers who worked both sides of the street. On one hand they were good at their jobs when it came to finding the common criminals. They were Downtown’s top performers. Which made sense, if you asked me, since they were criminals themselves. They could smell a crook a mile away.

But they also were the prime muscle for a crime boss and professional gambler by the named Nathan Brinkley. Brinkly was into local politics. He liked sticking his fingers in the city’s bidding on construction jobs. He liked buying off commissioners. Many said he liked friends in the police department. Friends like Iggie Johannsson and Mickey Mulligan.

For years Frank and I had been looking for a way to tie Brinkley with come kind of corruption and or murder rap. The word on the street was Brinkley wouldn’t hesitate to rub someone out if they become too much of an obstacle. The word also was his two best men knew how to do it and never leave a clue behind. They were in the system.

Who would be more in the system than two homicide detectives like Iggie and Mickey?

“It was their first case as detectives. And they latched on the fact Yasmine had a crush for me and I was already well known. We had had our run-ins before. We didn’t like each. Still don’t like each other. So they tried every way they could think of to pin the rap on me. But there was nothing which would stick. Yasmine Hollander simply disappeared. She didn’t leave a trace anywhere. Iggie and Mickey hounded me on this case for over a year. They cost me a couple of promotions early on. And then I put a stop to it. I got Internal Affairs to step in and clear my name. When they seemed reluctant to do so I found a lawyer. A ruthless lawyer who had no love for the top brass. He rattled some cages. Made some threats. The case became a cold case file. Staid that way for fifteen years. But as you can see, it ain’t a cold case anymore.”

I glanced down at the body. She would be about twenty-nine now. Frowning, I found myself wondering. What had happened in that fifteen lost years? How was she abducted? Why did she return? And how did she die?

The last question I looked up and studied the lieutenant’s face. It was as if he was reading my mind.

“Found her in the river night before last. Drowned. No indication of any foul play. But I’m not buying it. Something happened. Something made her come back. I’ve got this ugly feeling her return forced others to act and act quickly. And leave no clues behind.”

“So we’re back to Iggie and Mickey,” Frank grunted, glancing at the body and nodding. “You think this has something to do with Nathan Brinkley?”
The lieutenant nodded.

“Like I said, Franklin Hollander was an honest man. Too honest, many would tell you. But he was charismatic. He had a way in persuading a crowd and make them believe in him. He promised to clean up crime and corruption in the Tenth. He was working hard to make good on his promises. Which meant he became a direct threat to Nathan Brinkley. But six months after Yasmine disappeared Franklin Hollander was killed by a drunk driver. A head on collision while he was coming home from a political rally. Both Hollander and the drunk died instantly. Two months after that Linda Hollander, Franklin’s wife, committed herself to an asylum. She had a nervous breakdown. A year later she died from a drug overdose.

It was Iggie and Mickey who investigated Hollander’s death. They were the ones who said a drunk swerved across his lane, jumped a median strip while driving a Chevy pickup, and slammed into Franklin Hollander’s Lincoln. It didn’t sound right. It just didn’t fit.”

“So you suspect Iggie and Mickey?”

“Yes,” the lieutenant–and friend–nodded quietly, his eyes darting behind us to see if anyone was within hearing distance. “But no proof. Those two clowns have been getting away with murder for years. Along with their boss. It’s time we closed the case on this. That’s why I’ve asked you two to come down here. I want you two to wrap it up. Pen something on the three of them. Bring them in cuffs and let’s send them to the chair. These three thugs have gotten away with murder for years. Ruined people’s lives. Destroyed reputations. Enough is enough.”

The two of us nodded at the same. It would be our pleasure to take out these three. All we had to do was prove they were guilty. Something we had been trying to do on other cases for years.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Here's one of the Turner/Frank short stories that ran recently in The Darkest Before Dawn ezine. It's entitled 'Dirt.'


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.”

Nathan Brinkley.

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.