Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sharing an Oldie but Goodie




Thought I'd give you a treat today.  Thought I'd share a Turner Hahn and Frank Morales story.  An oldie but goodie.  I know, I know . . . you might have read this one earlier.  But here it is anyway. 
If you don't know (or haven't read a Turner Hahn/Frank Morales story) Turner and Frank are the first two permanent characters I created years ago.  Characters I want to share a lot of stories with to those who might like truly interesting, dynamic . . .  . . . uh . . . characters.
 
I don't know if you'll agree with me or not but noir fiction is devoid of clearly memorable characters.  Oh I am sure each of us can knock of half a dozen or more names of steely eyed, cold blooded, damnably efficient killers.  I can too.   But characters . . . basically good men with their own set of eccentricities doing a job, either by choice or unwillingly, which throws them into life and death situations,  seems to be sorely missing.
 
I'm talking about people you actually would like to get to know and hang around with.  People you could trust.  People who you could share a bawdy joke with.  Those kinds of people.  Turner Hahn and Frank Morales are two who do this for me.  Each unique.  Each a character.
 
Turner looks like the spitting image of a well known movie star who worked the cinema back in the 30's and 40's.  A farm boy who hates the farm.  A guy who, by sheer accident, becomes filthy rich (honestly) yet chooses to remain a cop.  A guy with a wiry sense of humor.
 
Frank Morales is a hulking monster with short cropped stringy red hair with a jaw made out of plate armor.  If Turner's humor is wiry . . . Frank's is morbidly dry.  And he's incredibly intelligent with an IQ that may be four-digits long.  Yes . . . I said four-digits long.  Frank is also a married man.  Happily married (rare to find such a character in the noir/hard-boiled world).  A beautiful wife, a house full of kids, dogs, cats, and parrots.
 
Put the two of'em together and they make one hell of a homicide detective team.  Or at least, I think so.  So here's Coercion.  See if you like it.
 
Coercion
 
 
 
 
            “You know, this probably isn’t a good idea.”
            I stood behind my partner, Frank Morales, with hands in slacks and watched the big gorilla hold the wiry form of Nick James in on one of his big, shovel sized hands like the kid was nothing but a discarded rag doll.  Frank had his other hand up and cocked back like a ram, his fist the size of a wrecking ball, about to jackhammer straight into the kid’s face
            Frank turned, looked over his shoulder, and shook his head.
            “Turn, we don’t have time for niceties. Shit is gonna explode pretty fucking soon if we don’t get some answers.  And I’m betting this little creep has some answers.”
            I grinned.  Couldn’t argue with simple logic like that.
            We were standing in the back room of a pool hall down on First Street.  A smoke filled, dimly lit dive with a back room that smelled of stale cigarettes and piss.  Out front two people were knocking around a cue ball–the click of the balls smacking into each other somehow oddly comforting to listen to.  Glancing at my watch I noted it was a quarter past one in the afternoon.  We had exactly forty-five minutes to find Tex Edwards.  Just forty-five minutes.
            Or all kinds of hell were indeed going to be let loose.
            “Nick, I can’t tell you how much this kind of interrogation hurts me.  Hurts me somewhat less than it’s gonna hurt you, I’ll admit.  But let’s not quibble over nuances.  A little cooperation would be helpful.  Tell us what we want to know and you won’t have to go to the emergency room.  Or spit out teeth.”
            “But I haven’t a clue where the hell Tex is, Frank!  Shit. He doesn’t give me an itinerary of his coming and goings.  Why would he?”
            Crack!  The sound of a fist smacking into hard bone was almost as sharp and clear as the pool playing behind us.  Nick, the idiot, flew back two or three feet, smashed into a stack of beer, rattling bottles and threatening to tip over, before sliding semi-unconscious to the floor.  Frank walked over Nick, reached down and yanked him to a standing upright position,  and rolled up his fist again.
            “You know where Tex is.  You know his little hideaway.  I know you do.  Now, we can do this one of two ways.  We can be civilized and you can answer my questions without any form of coercion.  Or I can beat you to a bloody pulp and throw your ass in jail for resisting arrest and accessory to a murder.  You’re choice.”
            “Oooh, coercion.” I crowed, grinning as I looked at Frank.  “A big word for you, buddy,”
            “Yeah, I know.  I don’t use’em often,” Frank nodded, almost smiling, but not taking his tiny little eyes off Nick.
            True.  As smart as the block of cement was, he wasn’t usually a talker.  But when he took on the mantel of Lead Investigator of a crime it was remarkable to see the transformation sweep over him.  Like watching a rerun of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hide.
            We’re cops.  Homicide division down at South Side Precinct.  Yeah . . . I know.  Cops are not supposed to act like goons and beat the shit out of potential witnesses.  We’re supposed to follow rules.  Department regulations.  And we do.  Most of the time.  But there comes a time . . . a place . . . where you have to bend the rules.  Take chances.  Even . . . become a goon.
            Take this case.
            Two hours earlier in the day the two of us were driving down Melrose in my rag top ‘71 Camaro heading toward a witness’ house to talk to her.  Different crime–different case.  My case.  But it was a beautiful day.  The sun was out.  The sky was a pale light blue.  The street filled with the traffic and noise I find very comforting to listen to.  Half way there my cell phone rings.  Pulling it out of my sport coat I handed it to Frank to answer.  He frowned, flipped it open, and grunted.  And then listened for the next three minutes before snapping it closed and looking at me grimly.
            “That was the lieutenant.  Apparently we’re investigating a kidnapping.  Top priority.”
            “Whose been nabbed?”
            “A kid.  The son of–get this–Lewis Abernathy.”
            I whistled softly in surprised.  Lewis Abernathy was maybe the richest guy in the city.  The state.  Damn close to being as richest guy in the country.  Abernathy Industries owned just about every kind of major manufacturing and high tech industry one could think of.  Rich wasn’t a word that came close to describing Lewis Abernathy’s wealth.  Frowning, looking at Frank, I raised an eyebrow expectantly.
            “Five million dollars in old, and unlisted, bills.  Nothing bigger than a twenty.  That’s what the kidnappers want.  And they want it by two this afternoon.  Or they kill the kid.”
            “What do you have for leads?”
            “Me?  What do you mean . . . me?”
            “It’s your case, buddy.  I’ve got mine.  Now you’ve got yours.”
            Frank started to make a protest.  But he took one look at my kisser and decided to clam up.  And then he shook his head and sighed.
            “Shit.  Okay, my case.”
            “What do you have for a lead?”
            “Need to get back to the precinct.  Supposed to have a video from a security cam from  the kid’s school showing how he was nabbed.  We’ll start with that.”
            I made a sudden U-turn in front of a cabby . . . who hit his bakes and screeched to a stop as he proudly saluted me with his middle finger . . .and we hurried back to the precinct.  We watched the video.  The three of us.  Frank.  Me.  And Lieutenant Yankovich.
            We call him Yank.  As tall and Frank and me.  Slightly stooped over.  The haggard, pale face of a corpse.  Yet for a boss the guy is okay.  And as a cop goes they don’t make them any smarter.
            We watched the tape.   Saw the dad’s big limo pull up in front of the front of the private school.  Saw the dirty white van setting at the curb just in front of the limo.  A van with ‘Dino Plumbing’ written on its sides.  Saw the chauffeur get out of the car and open the back door for the kid to get out.  Saw the kid’s body guard slide out of the limo’s front passenger side.   Watched both chauffeur and body guard smile at the kid and say something nice.  Saw the four masked thugs jump out of the back of the van and take out both driver and body guard with two quick slugs into their backs.  Watched closely as one of the masked thugs nabbed the kid and picked him up roughly in one arm and hurried back to the van.  Saw the van driver limp quickly around to the driver side and jump in.  Saw the van squealing away in a cloud of blue smoke coming out of the van’s back end.
            “That’s it,” Yank grunted in a rough whisper.  “ The chauffeur and body guard are wounded.  But they’ll make it.  Other than that,  that’s all we got.”
            “It’s enough,” Frank grunted, frowning, and rewinding the tape.
            “Enough?  You got something?”
            We both nodded.
            Hell.  When you work long enough with someone you like, the two of you start to think the same way.  See the same things.  Come to the same conclusions.
            “Watch the driver,” Frank said as he stepped back to watch the tape again.  “See the limp?  Left leg.  About two inches shorter than his right.  Remind you of anyone?”
            The three of us watched the tape again.  And then again.  And then again.
            “Yeah, it does look familiar.  Been years since I’ve noticed him around.  Can’t think of his name just yet.  But it’ll come to me.”
            “Tex Edwards,” Frank said, nodding.  “Been in the slammer for the last ten years on a robbery rap.  “Turn and I put him there.  Betcha five-to-one he got himself paroled.”
            I pulled out my cell phone and make a quick call.  It didn’t take long to confirm Frank’s suspicions.
            “Yep.  Been seen a couple of times down at Nick’s Pool Hall down on First Street,” I threw out.
            “Our first stop,” Frank grunted, the corners of his lips twitching–his form of a grin.
            Yank’s gray lips split back into a wide grin as he nodded.
            “Good hunting, boys.  Find the kid and bring him back alive.  Don’t do anything too foolish.  But if you do, I know the name of a good lawyer.”
            So here we were.  Having a nice, friendly, chat with Nick in the back room of his pool hall.  It didn’t take long to get a lead on Tex’s whereabouts.  And Nick got to keep his teeth.  Most of'em at least.
            It was a house down on 112th Street South.  A house set back deep in the lot and surrounded by old elm trees.  To one side of the house was a detached garage.  In front of the house was a beat up, splinted picket fence screaming for a new paint job.  We drove by the house once to get a good look at the place.  Circling the block we parked about half a block down and then walked up to the house next to our target, hopped a fence, and now stood backs against the garage wall on the far side of the garage away from the house.
            “Did you notice the windows?  No screens.”
            “Flash Bangs,” I suggested, lifting one up in my hand and grinning.  “Yeah, thought you’d have that in mind.”
            “Smart ass,” he grunted, the corners of his lips twitching as he pulled out his 9 mm Glock from its holster underneath his left armpit. “Toss it in the side window.  I go in the front.  You go in the back.  Take’em out if they show any resistance.  First one finds the kid grabs him and runs.  The other will cover.”
            And that’s the way it went down.  The Flash Bang did its work.  Lots of noise.  The shock wave knocking everybody silly.  Only one gunman popped up as I went through the back door.  He was on his way out as I was on the way in.  But a knee to the groin and the butt of my Kimber on the back of his neck persuaded him to stick around.  Frank met Tex in a bedroom just as the creep was lifting a gun up to shoot the kid.  But he didn’t make it.   Frank, as big as the ugly butt head is, can move when he has to.  And he did.  A swift kick to the side of Tex’s good leg–just to the side of the kneecap–snapped the leg in two like a twig.  The guy screamed, dropped his gun, fell to the floor and grabbed his broken leg with both hands.   Frank shut him up by using a number 14 shoe size of his into the man’s face.
            The kid was safe.  We took him to his parents and watched father and mother grab their only kid and hug him for all their worth.  Yeah . . . no joke.  Even rich people love their kids just like everyone else does.   Go figure.


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