Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Let's Celebrate

To celebrate this collection of Turner Hahn and Frank Morales coming out soon, I thought I'd tickle your fancy with one of the stories found in the collection.  There's twenty-one short stories in it.  Twenty-one stories written over a three year period.  Some good.  Some average.  Several, I think, very, very good.

Here's one which, in my not so humble opinion, is one of the best of the lot.  It's call Prove It.  About a cop going over the deep end.  I think you're gonna like it.

I've talked about Turner and Frank before.  About how close they are to me.  About wanting to write hardboiled stories that featured 'buddies' working, backing each other up, in the dark alleys of Mankind's darker side of humanity.

It is quite possible these guys will never be a popular as I think they should be.  Too bad.  They're really two unique characters.

So here's Prove It.  Hope you like it.

By the way, the collection should be out by the middle of this month (September.)

Prove It



            We were the first on the scene. 

            A hot night, just after a major thunderstorm, the streets wet with steam rising off the parking lot like malevolent wraiths. 

            The car was parked in a glazed and glistening empty ten acres of wet asphalt. The only car parked in this flat pool table of loneliness.  A metallic island in a sea of black.  Pulling up behind the Caddy de Ville we got out, unbuttoned our sport coats and walked to the car slowly, each of us gripping our weapon just in case.  At three in the morning you expect anything.  Especially if you’re a cop and you get a phone call that said something about screeching tires, shouting voices, and gunfire.

            She was sprawled on the front seat of the caddy with half her head missing.  Most of it was a dark smear across the right side passenger door and window.  A big caliber gun held just in front of her left ear had done the trick.

            Efficient.  But messy.

            She was in her early forties.  A blond with a skimpy summer dress of black with white poke dots.  A dress that was way too tight but one that nicely expressed the trim compactness of her frame.  Lying on the floorboard in front of the slumped over body was a big purse of black plastic.  Between the purse and her, lying on the bloody leather seat, was a blood stained business card.  Looking up at my partner I grunted and pointed to the card.

            “Can you read it from your side?”

            Frank grunted and bent down to look through the passenger side window.  Think ‘thug’ when you think of Frank.  Or misanthrope.  Maybe Neanderthal would be better.  Big, ugly, with stringy red hair and a nose about the size of a Goodyear blimp.  But don’t voice your thoughts.   There are some things best kept to your self.

            “Can’t,” he said, standing up and shaking his head. “Too much shit on the window and not enough light.  Let me get a flashlight and maybe you can read it on your side.”

            “Right,” I nodded, looking up and at the back of the big man as he walked back to our car. “Run the license plate while you’re at it.  I think I know this car.  I’ve seen it before.”

            I pulled out my cell phone, flipped it open, and called for an ambulance and forensics team.  In the middle of my talk I heard footsteps behind me.   Turning, Frank stood staring at me.  The look on his face told me I wasn’t going to like what I was about to hear.

            “Turn, the car belongs to Grace McKenzie.  She’s Dave McKenzie’s wife.”


            Dave McKenzie was Officer David McKenzie.  One of our own.  A patrol officer stationed in the South Side Division.  He was downstairs in the patrol divisions.  We were upstairs in the detective division. We knew the guy.  Knew him for years.  Knew how much in love he was with his unfaithful wife.  Knew how much of a hot head he could be if anyone started making smart-ass remarks about her.  And when he became angry it was a mean, brutal anger.

            Mean enough to murder.

            “Can you see the card now?”

            Frank lifted the flashlight and shot a white-hot beam through the driver’s side window.  Bending down he squinted and grunted before standing and clicking the light off.

            “Ruby’s Irish pub,” he said. “And someone’s written a phone number and what looks like a motel room number across the front of it.”

            Ruby’s was a decent little place to catch a beer or a stiff drink across town.  It was frequented by the young college types who were professionals in some kind of high dollar tech or corporate job.  Lots of women could be found there.  Women who were looking for a good time with someone who had money to burn.

            “Turner, we’d better find Dave and get him isolated.  If he finds out someone zipped his wife he’ll go ape shit.”

            “Unless he already has,” I nodded, staring down at the corpse.

            Dave worked the same shift we did.  So by rights he should be somewhere on our side of town sitting in his black and white with his partner.  He wasn’t.  A couple of phone calls later confirmed it.  Dave came to work all right.    But around nine p.m. he got a phone call and had to go home.  Family emergency, he told his patrol sergeant when called in.

            That didn’t sound like Dave.   Dave was like clockwork when it came to his job.  He never got sick.  He never was late.  Always willing to pull a few more hours when he could.  That wasn’t Dave to suddenly check out and go home.

            We drove over to Dave’s house.  A big, rambling old two story Victorian set in the middle of a block lined with old elm trees.  A house—a neighborhood—to raise a family on.  To see kids playing in the front yard or riding bicycles down the sidewalks.  But Dave and Grace never had kids.  Only ten years of arguing and unfaithfulness; with Dave being the workaholic, dedicated cop and Grace being . . . Grace.

            The house was big, black . . . and lifeless.  Even the detached garage, with its doors wide open and inviting, felt dead.

            Ruby’s Irish Pub locked its doors at two in the morning.  Glancing at my watch I noticed it was a little past four.  A couple of more hours and the sun would be coming up.

            In silence we drove over to The Adirondacks Motel off the 456 exit on the north side of town.  The scribbled phone number was from the motel.  Driving into the still pre-dawn parking lot of the hotel we got out of the car and stared up at the room listed on the card.  Around us the still air was as silent as a morgue’s during after hours.  Even the traffic up on the bypass just a block away was eerily absent.     

            Glancing at Frank I could see it in the set of his jaw muscles.

            He was getting bad vibes just like me.

            Something didn’t feel right.

            It didn’t take long to find it.  The motel door was splintered and partially open.  Frank used a gloved hand to push the door open gently as we both reached for iron.  We waited for a few second and then slid into the blackness of the room half expecting gunfire to greet us.  No gunfire.  But lying in the middle of a rumpled bed was man dressed in slacks and a white shirt with stringy brown hair and large blue eyes staring up at the ceiling.  He looked to be about forty.  Arms had been pulled behind him and layers of gray bound them tight.  Over his head was a plastic bag sealed at the neck with more duct tape.  There were bruises on the arm from someone powerful who had yanked the dead man’s arms back to bind them.  There were a lot of bruises on his battered face from being slapped around a lot before the bag was pulled over his head and sealed shut.

            Whoever wanted this guy dead wanted to extract a little pain from him first.  The kind of pain that . . . say . . . a jealous husband might want to extract.

            As we stood on either side of the body Frank was on his cell phone calling for forensics my phone chimed up.  Pulling it out, I flipped it open and grunted.

            “Turner, this is Blake.  I know where you can find Dave.”

            Blake Gauge was a big black cop, the biggest I’d ever seen, and who had been Dave’s patrol sergeant for years.  He and Dave were old friends.  If anyone might have a line on Dave’s whereabouts it would be Blake.

            “When he gets down in the dumps over something Grace's done he usually goes and hangs out in a dive called Calypso’s down on Second.  Know the place?”

            I knew the place.  An all night hole in the wall filled with the blue haze of chain smoking hucksters and down on their luck drifters drowning their sorrows in tall glasses of ice cold beer. The place always had that dry smell of old urine and stale beer hanging faintly in the air and the lights were always turned low.  A good place for a stranger to lose himself in a crowd if he wanted to.

            We found him sitting, alone, at the end of the bar.  In front of him was a half consumed bottle of cheap whiskey, an astray overflowing with dead butts, a pack of cigarettes on the bar in front of him, and a bowl of shelled peanuts.  In sat in the middle of a thick haze of cigarette smoke which seemed to just hang in the air.

As Frank and I walked into the place David shook a fresh cigarette out and lit it.  Blowing smoke over his head he reached for the book of whiskey and poured himself a drink just as Gus, the bartender on duty this morning, strolled over to us.

            “Boys, get him outta here.  Take him somewhere and sober him up.  He’s in a sour mood and is scaring the hell out the customers.  I don’t want any trouble.  And I sure as hell don’t want this place busted up!”

            “How long has he been here?” Frank asked, his face turning hard and grim.

            “Since around one this morning.  Came in here, Bill told me, a little past one and went through the first bottle of whiskey like it was bottled water.  That’s the third he’s working on now.  He should have passed out a long time ago.  If he doesn’t die of alcoholic poisoning his liver will kill him soon enough.”

            We nodded and moved past the wiry little bald bar tender and strolled down the bar toward our friend.  Both of us were tense.  Expecting anything.  David was acting strange—not the loud, grinning cop we normally saw.  Not drunk either.  He seemed distant.  Aloof.  Amazingly calm.  But he looked like hell.  Red bleary eyes, disheveled, sweaty brown hair—wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt which looked like it hadn’t been washed in a week.

            We’ve seen this kind of change in personality before.

            It never turned out well.

            We slid up to the bar, bracketing our friend like two hulking bookends.  Dave acted as if he hadn’t noticed.  Exhaling a long pillar of cigarette smoke he watched it for a moment or two dissolve into the cloud of smoke hanging over him and then reached for his drink.

            “Dave,” I said softly but firmly. “You know why we’re here.  We need to go downtown and talk.  And then we need to get you some help.”

            The fleeting glimpse of a grin flashed across his gray lips just before taking a drink.  Lowering his glass he didn’t turn to look at either of us. 

            “Ever love someone, Turner?  I mean, really love someone.  Love someone so much they became a part of you.  Like breathing.  Like blood pulsing through your veins.  Ever love someone like that?”

            I shook my head no and said nothing.  Frank said nothing but I saw him spread his feet out and clinch hands into fist.  Coming off the bar I unbuttoned the sport coat but made no other move.  Behind me I heard chairs sliding back hurriedly and feet pounding across the wooden floor heading for the door.  Even Gus seemed to have disappeared.

            “I loved her, Turn.  Grace.  I loved her like no one could love her.  Sure, she had a temper.  We had our shouting matches.  We had our fights.  But never . . . never did she doubt that I loved her.  Never.  Not even when she’d come home at odd times of the night and day looking like she’d been sleeping in some back alley with a dead wino.”
            A rattling, half-sob of a sigh came out of the man’s chest and eyes filled with tears.  But with a steady hand he poured himself another drink and sat the bottle down in a slow, deliberate fashion before speaking.

            “But it never lasts, friend.  You know.  Love—it never lasts.  One day something happens.  One day you wake up and find her gone again.  She’s not in your bed.  She’s not downstairs cooking breakfast.  She’s nowhere around.  So it just happens.  Like catching the flu.  One day something just . . . . snaps and you realize you can’t take it any longer.  You realize she never loved you.  Realize you were nothing but a patsy—a lunch ticket—to her and nothing else.”

            “So what happened, Dave?  Who was the guy in the motel?”  I asked.

            “Some shit head for a traveling salesmen who would call her up every time he got into town.  From Pittsburg.  An asshole with a nice wife and three kids.  Didn’t give a damn about his wife or kids.  For the last five years . . . five fucking years . . . the two of’em would go out on the town.   Party . . . get shit faced drunk. . . screw around.  Five fucking years.”

            I nodded.  I heard the pain and anger in his voice.  I was very familiar with this tale.  Scribble in different names—different events.  But the story was disturbingly similar.  And similarly, potentially very dangerous.

With a smooth, calm effort Dave slid off the bar stool and half turned toward Frank.

            “Before we go anywhere, Turn, I need to take a piss.”

            “Hold it,” I grunted in a hard voice.

            Dave half turned and faced me with an odd grin on face.  But he didn’t stop.  With a bang the flimsy wooden door slammed shut and we heard the click of the lock from the inside.

            “Sonofabitch!” hissed Frank as he turned and started moving toward the head.

            “He’s gonna blow his fucking brains out, Turn!  He’s not gonna let us take him in alive.”

            We both jumped for the bathroom door—but stopped suddenly in our tracks when we hard the toilet flush.  The door banged open and out stepped Dave drying hands off with a thick wad of paper towels and that same strange—odd—grin on his lips.

            “What?  You think I was gonna try to escape?  Run?  No?  Oh, I know. You thought I’d eat my on piece.  Check out by painting brain matter all over the bathroom walls.  Ha, that’ll be the day.”


            That’s when I got scared.  I’ve seen all kinds of strange things being a homicide detective.  I’ve seen just about every way a person can die.  Naturally and unnaturally. Frank and I have arrested bad people.  Mean people.  Innocent people who, in the heat of anger or fear, made terrible decisions.  But I’d never encountered this.  The guy who walked into the head was David McKenzie.  The guy who walked out wasn’t.  Sure, he looked like the guy we used to know.  He sounded like the guy we used to know.  But he wasn’t Dave McKenzie.  Somehow David McKenzie’s soul died in that dirty, filthy bathroom and the person who came out was someone entirely different.  Different inside.

            “So,” the stranger grunted, his odd—evil—smile widening in pleasure. “Someone must have iced Grace and shit head.  Wonderful.”

            “You did,” I said, pulling out handcuffs and stepping toward the stranger.

            A menacing laugh rolled out of the stranger’s chest.  Dead eyes stared directly into mine.  Dead eyes of a soulless creature. I still remember the tone, the snarl of pure hate, in his voice as he replied.

            “Prove it.”

            And—as you might guessed—we didn’t.  We never found the murder weapon.  There were no fingerprints either on the Caddy or in the hotel room.  There were no witnesses. 

            We had nothing.

            He walked.  Walked out of jail. Laughing.  Laughing as moved down the stone steps of downtown lockup and disappeared into the night,



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