Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Freak'en Mess

Here's one of my short stories featuring Turner and Frank. Enjoy

“Suppose you tell me what happened,” I said to a very shaken young man.

The kid was a high school student—young, good looking kid of about seventeen or eighteen.

Dark blond crew cut hair.

Startling sapphire blue eyes.

The rugged good looks of a football player. He had on blue jeans, beat up sneakers, and a letter jacket covering a damp sweat shirt underneath. He looked as if he just pulled himself out of a shower. His hair was wet and he had that smell of cheap soap. You know; the kind of soap found in a high school locker room.

But the kid was not going to be saying much to me. He was visibly shaking and his eyes were as wide as saucer plates. There was no color in his complexion and it sounded like he was mumbling something incomprehensibly—all the signs of someone about to go in shock. Frowning, I took hold of the kid’s arm gently and steered him through the mass of emergency crews, firemen, blue clad police officers, and handed him to an EMT team.

It was a mess.

It was five in the afternoon and the intersection of Harry and Pike was one of the heavier traffic routes in the city. Cars were backed up for at least two blocks in all four directions. Angry drivers were blaring their horns as they sat in their cars in the bumper to bumper stand-still traffic. We had an emergency response team of fire trucks, four or five black-and-whites, a forensics’ team and two ambulance crews packed into the intersection. Four beat officers were directing traffic around the crime scene, their arms gesturing and pointing drivers where to go. Cars were snaking around us at a slow, steady pace. The drivers—of course—gawking like stupid circus freaks as they drove by. You had to keep alert if you didn’t want to become the next victim.

And oh. . . Frank and I were on the scene as well.

Homicide. South Side Division.

Usually a traffic accident didn’t warrant the presence of homicide detectives on the scene. But this wasn’t an ordinary traffic accident. For Frank and I, nothing is ever ordinary.

Directly underneath the traffic lights was the source of all this commotion. A black Lincoln sat dead-center in the middle of the intersection. Rammed into its rear bumper, crumpling fenders and trunk of the Lincoln, was a beat-up old Jeep Cherokee. The front end of the Cherokee was rolled up like an accordion. There was broken glass, radiator coolant and pieces of plastic littering the concrete everywhere.

And to top it off it was about to rain. It was a hot, muggy late afternoon. Massive thunderstorms were building up all around us. The air was filled with the raw earthy smell of rain and static electricity. In the distance I could hear the rumble of approaching thunder. When it did let loose it was going to come down in buckets.

A freak’en mess.

“Jesus, I’m glad I got out of the patrol division when I did. Isn’t this the biggest cluster-fuck you ever saw?”

I grinned. Frank—my partner—had such a poetic touch with words. I called it quaint the way he spoke. Others used words like blunt or crude. Combative was another adjective often mentioned. However you wanted to describe it, he had a way of concisely encapsulating the situation with the fewest set of words needed.
Frank Morales is my partner and friend. We’ve been slogging away in Homicide as partners for the last five years. Frank is kinda unique. Picture a six foot two red-headed Neanderthal dressed in a pair of slacks, a cowboy shirt, with a light cotton sports coat. Imagine thick shaggy red eyebrows . . . a low forehead . . . and tiny little eyes that seemed capable of boring right through you. Sounds like a freak, huh? Well, here’s the freaky part. Go in the bathroom and weigh yourself and then multiply by two. That, my friend, would be approximately Frank’s IQ.


People who want to be polite describe me as vaguely resembling an old actor by the name of Clark Gable. The same dark hair. The same mustache. The same smirk. On the other hand, people who think I am somewhat less than pleasant have called me a dried up gigolo with bad teeth and an attitude only an orangutan could love.

It doesn’t matter.

Choose either image. Frankly I don’t give a damn.

“What’s the scoop?” I asked, still grinning and eyeing Frank.

“The kid’s name is Jason Reims. He’s the starting quarterback for North High. He and his girl friend, a Melissa Carr . . . .”

“Wait, don’t tell me. The head cheerleader. . . .” I grunted, lifting a hand up and grinning wider.

Frank doesn’t smile like a normal human being. That’s because he might not be human. His grin is when the corners of his lips twitch as he looked at me and nodded.

“You want me to tell the story or do you want to wing it by yourself?”

I nodded, my grin widening.

“Yeah, the head cheerleader. The two were coming home after football practice. They turned onto Harry and got behind the Lincoln. The light turned red. When the light turned green the Lincoln moved slowly into the intersection and then just stopped. Came to a screeching halt. That’s when Jason and his Cherokee kissed the Lincoln’s ass end. When got out and walked up to the Lincoln he saw the old guy lying in the front seat with most of brains painted all over the passenger side door. That pinkish white puddle beside the driver’s door is where the kid threw up. And that’s it. End of what we know for the moment.”

No wonder the kid was going into shock. Seeing a dead man for the first time in your life was bad enough. Seeing a dead guy who died from a high powered rifle bullet drilled through his temple was a different ball of wax. I felt sorry for the kid. He’d have some bad dreams about the bloody image lying in the Lincoln‘s front seat for years to come.

“Who’s the dead guy?”

“Thomas Bruel. Lives out in The Shadows. You know the place. That new gated community where a house under a million is considered a shanty. Or maybe the servant’s quarters. Take your pick.”

“Ok . . . what does forensics say?”

“Not much,” Frank said, turning and looking down Harry Street and nodding his head in that direction. “They said the bullet came from some higher elevation thataway.”

I turned and stared down Harry Street. The street was four lines of concrete running in a straight line between buildings shoe-horned together as far as the eye could see. The two lanes of traffic coming this direction was a carpet of Detroit and Japan’s finest automotive designs of steel and glass. Filled with pissed off drivers quietly stewing in the air-conditioning as they waited. Most of the buildings were maybe two stories high. The nearest tall building was a black and silver modern office building rising up from the sea of older architectural wonders by a good six or seven stories. It was, estimating roughly, at least eight hundred yards away.

“From there?” I asked, pointing a finger and lifting an eyebrow in surprise. “That’d be one hell of a shot.”

“Guess what the building is called,” Frank answered, the corners of his lips twitching in amusement.

“Uh huh. Let me guess. Something like ‘The Bruel Building.’”

“Bruel Place,” my no-necked, square-headed partner corrected.

“Coming to work was he? And someone decides to punch his ticket goodbye,” I grunted, turning to look at Lincoln and the mess around us for a moment or two thoughtfully. “Why don’t we mosey over to Bruel Place before the rain comes.”

“Yeah, good idea.”

We entered the building and instantly recognized two things. One, the building was brand new. The strong aroma of fresh paint and newly laid carpet was strong as we stepped into the almost frigid air conditioning interior. Secondly, the distinct aroma of money hung in the air like cheap aftershave lotion. One could wallow in the smell and step out into the parking lot and be a good C-note richer.

Unless you were cops. Honest cops. Usually it worked out an honest cop would depart a couple of hundred clams poorer. Fortunately between the two of us we could cover the spread.

It didn’t take long for us to break the bad news about the old man. Nor find the murder weapon. The weapon itself was a .308 caliber Winchester Model 70 bolt-action rifle with a thick bull barrel, built-in bipod, sporting a huge Bushnell telescopic sight. Not a sissy’s gun. It was a gun designed to reach out to extreme long range—like maybe into the next area code—and tap someone right between the eyes.

It sat on the carpeted office floor of old man Bruel’s office right beside the old man’s desk. Curiously, the tall dark window behind the dead man’s desk had a neat round hole cut out of the glass in the lower right hand corner. A round hole large enough to push the muzzle through and have enough of an opening to site in the telescope. Beside the rifle, lying on the thick carpet was the brass shell casing the murderer had ejected from the gun just after pulling the trigger.

The Winchester belonged to the dead man. Turned out old man Bruel was both a big-game hunter and a gun collector. As was his only son, David Bruel. In the office of the deceased was a rack of rare fire arms worth a small fortune securely and individually encased in display cases made of heavy Plexiglas.

The same was true for the old man’s son. David Bruel’s office was directly across the hall from the old man’s.

Just a long, empty, carpeted hall separated the two offices. Secretaries were stationed at one end of the hall but none had a desk situated where one of them could look down the hall and spy anyone coming or going. At the other end of the hall was an empty executive suite and executive rest rooms.

To get to the two occupied offices or to the executive rest rooms one had to pass by triumvirate of three sharp-eyed secretaries huddled together in the outer reception room, walk down the carpeted hall, and then have a key to enter the restroom. Executives had keys.

A few questions later we had narrowed our suspects. Or . . . we thought we had.
One was the old man’s son, David Bruel. And just for shits and giggles our second suspect was David Bruel’s wife, Francisca.

David Bruel had two good reasons to kill the old bastard. The first one was the family company was being sold out to an international conglomerate for a hefty some. A stipulation in the buy-out was that David would be paid only a fraction of the value in stock he owned and he would have to sign a waiver stating that he had no interest in retaining a position within the company.

He stood to lose, conservatively, almost a hundred million dollars the moment the deal was signed. There was no way he was going to agree to any such stipulation. Further, he and his father had had row after row concerning the buy-out deal. David said he was going to fight his father’s deal with everything he could bring to bear. Reams of litigation papers had been filed. The family squabbling over the fate of the company was ugly and getting uglier with each passing month.

But the more interesting reason the son was our prime candidate was the fact his wife and the old man were having a clandestine affair. It seemed everyone in the building knew about it. Everyone except for David Bruel.

And as far as we knew he still didn’t know about it. David Bruel was not in town. Hadn’t been for a week. The dead man’s private secretary, an Elizabeth Burke, said the younger Bruel was in Antwerp working on a major deal.

That would be Antwerp---as in Antwerp, Belgium. Something like six thousand miles away.

So scratch David Bruel as being our prime suspect.

On the other hand, Francisca Bruel was in town. And from the description the old man’s secretary gave us, Francisca was both a diabolical two-timing bitch and damn good with a rifle herself. In fact that’s how David Bruel and she met. At a shooting match two years ago. Competitors. She won and David came in second. But from that moment on David Bruel couldn’t think of anyone else but for Francisca Olivia.

Now she was Francisca Olivia-Bruel; woman who occupied the beds of both David and Thomas Bruel. The problem was she wasn’t going to be Mrs. David Bruel for long. In fact she wasn’t going to be associated with anyone within the Bruel family the moment Thomas Bruel sold the company.

The old man’s secretary couldn’t say for sure, but from the hints her employer had given her, he was going to both throw Francisca out of his bed and tell his son about their affair.

“Why this sudden altruistic change of heart?” Frank asked, looking down at the petite frame of Elizabeth Burke standing between the two of us, arms folded across her white silk blouse and staring into office of the elder Bruel.

She was petite, but classic in looks. She was pushing sixty. But she was trim. Precise. A looker even at sixty with big hazel eyes behind large round shaped horn rim glasses and blond hair penned to the back of her head in a tight bun. A real charmer in a grand motherly kind of way. But God only knew what kind of stunner she would have been at twenty.

“Oh there was nothing altruistic in Mr. Bruel’s decision to mention his affair with his son’s wife. No, nothing like that at all. I’m sure Mr. Bruel was going to use the affair in some way to get to his son—to make him suffer a little more.”

“Suffer? Why would a father want to see his son suffer?” I asked.

“Because Mr. Bruel found out about a year ago his son wasn’t really his son.”

Well now. Wasn’t that interesting.

Apparently David Bruel’s mother was apparently the long deceased wife of our victim. But Thomas Bruel wasn’t daddy. About a year earlier someone had sent the old man a note with the allegation that the mother of David Bruel had been playing around with someone else. David Bruel was not a Bruel at all.

“So who is David Bruel’s father?” Frank asked as we looked down into the face of the attractive woman.

She silently shrugged and shook her head before turning and walking away.

“Well isn’t this a lovely can of horse shit,” Frank growled as we watched Miss Burke glide away.

I nodded and frowned.

“What’s our next move, buddy? Go pay a visit to Mrs. David Bruel?”

“Yep. Might as well.”
It would have been lovely to talk to the two-timing siren goddess known as Francisca Olivia-Bruel. But it took us several hours to track her down. When we did we had an unpleasant surprise waiting for us. We found her in the back yard floating face down in the swimming pool. Someone about an hour earlier had clipped her over the head with a heavy object. An object heavy enough to crush her temple.

It got worse as the investigation went along. Prints off the Winchester came back from the lab. On the gun were prints of Thomas Bruel, David Bruel, a few smudges, and . . . Francisca Bruel. In fact the freshest print on the trigger was Francisca’s. A little asking around in the Bruel building and we netted a witness who would swear in court he had seen Francisca Bruel leaving the building at roughly the time the shot was fired which killed Thomas Bruel.

“This is really a freaking mess,” sighed my grumpy partner as we sat back in our office chairs back at South Side later that night. “It looks like Francisca Bruel pops the old man in the head with a .308. She has the talent. She has the gun. She has motive. But who pops the blond bombshell later? And why?”


Just like that. That’s all it took.

Just two words Frank grunted out loud.

Blond bombshell.

“Let’s go,” I said, getting out of my chair and reaching for the car keys lying on the desk in front of me.

Frank and I have worked together for years. We know how each other thinks. We’re like a pair of non-attached Siamese twins. What one of us won’t come up with the other one will. So when I told him to get up he didn’t say a word of protest. He already knew where we were going.

Twenty minutes later we were in the office of Thomas Bruel. In his office and looking at a wall full of photos and trophies from his hunting days. And there it was. Staring back at us and as obvious as a brick being thrown through a plate glass window.

“You kidding me?” Frank grunted in quiet disbelief, shaking his head. “The old man wasn’t really putting the screws to his son so much as he was putting it to . . .”

“Right. Makes perfect sense, once you think about it,” I answered, nodding and grinning.

“But that mean’s . . . . “


“But we haven’t a scrap of evidence to prove anything.”

“Uh huh. But you ever play poker?”

“Every Thursday night at your place,” nodded my partner, almost grinning. “Jesus. You’re gonna try to bluff your way into a confession? Good look, brother.”

“Maybe not a complete bluff,” I said, digging in my slacks’ pocket for a cell phone. “We can check one of my hunches out first. But I’ll bet a hundred big ones I’m right.”

Frank didn’t say a thing.

He knew I was right.

Two hours later we were leaning on the door bell of Miss Elizabeth Burke’s front door. Neither of us was surprised when the petite little woman answered the door before the doorbell finished with its second chime.

“Come in, detectives. I’ve been expecting you.”

She had changed from here severe gray skirt and white silk blouse into a pair of light tan slacks and some kind of floral pattern sleeveless blouse. Without hesitation she turned and led us through the house straight back to the kitchen. The smell for fresh coffee and just out of the oven cinnamon rolls filled the house with magnificent aromas. Aromas strong enough to make your mouth water.

Entering the kitchen we found place mats sitting on the table were coffee cups and small plates waiting for us. In the middle of the table was a big pan of cinnamon rolls. And sitting at the table was a balding little plump man dressed in a business suit. He was sitting back in his chair, legs crossed, sipping his cup of coffee and beaming cheerily as we entered.

“Detectives, let me introduce you to Preston Edwards. He is—was—Mr. Bruel’s personal attorney. He is mine as well.”

Not what we expected.

“Coffee? Rolls?”

I grinned and nodded. Why not?

We sat down and waited patiently for the small woman to pour the coffee.
When she sat down and poured a cup for herself the plump little counselor sat his cup and saucer down and folded his hands together on his lap and looked at us.

“Liz has informed me you might be coming here tonight on official business. Might I inquire as to what that business might be?”

“Murder,” I said. “We want to arrest her for murder.”

“Two, actually.” Frank grunted, holding up two extended fingers. “Murder One for Thomas Bruel and Murder Two for Francisca Bruel.”

The lawyer’s smile widened and he nodded, looking like a satisfied eunuch working in the emperor’s harem.

“And what evidence do you have for these outrageous accusations, detectives?”

I laid the framed photo we found on the wall in Thomas Bruel’s office onto the table and slid it across with a finger to the counselor.

“A safari hunt in Tanzania fifteen years ago. Thomas Bruel, his first wife, and their son David. David is what, Miss Burke? Maybe ten? Eleven in the photo?”

“Thirteen, gentlemen. He was thirteen years old. A lovely child, don’t you think?”

“And you, Miss Burke,” I said, nodding. “How old were you then?”

“Me?” she stammered, almost blushing as she lowered her coffee and stared the photo. “Why I must have been . . . let me see . . . almost forty, detective.”

Father. Mother. Son. Elizatbeth Bruel. Surrounded by a large group of natives carrying setting on heavy packs. And all of them armed with powerful rifles. Including Elizabeth Bruel.

Thomas Bruel’s mother was kneeling beside the gangly looking David Bruel with an arm over his thin shoulders and dressed with a huge grin of maternal pride spreading her thin lips. She was a dark haired woman with high cheek bones and a narrow razor straight nose. David was all bones and awkwardness with a round face, ruddy complexion and strawberry blond hair. Behind them was the small, stunning figure of Elizabeth Burke with her round face, ruddy complexion and strawberry blond hair.

“Made some phone calls before we came over here, Miss Burke. We know the truth. David Bruel’s mother wasn’t his biological mother. You were. Thirty years ago Thomas Bruel’s wife had a miscarriage at about the time you gave birth to a strapping healthy baby boy. But somehow Mrs. Bruel comes out of the hospital with a child and you leave out the back door alone. Care to tell us what happened?”

“She has nothing to say, gentlemen. As her counselor I have told her to remain officially silent on the matter. We’ll present our case in court if it comes to that. But officially her lips are sealed.”

“What would she say if this discussion was unofficial?” Frank grunted, eyeing the little man caustically.

“That depends on what further evidence you have against my client”

“We have witnesses who will testify that your client has been diligently practicing her shooting skills at a local firing range. Using a big bore rifle much like the one which killed our victim.”

“We will not deny that my client has a fondness for guns and that she is quite good at long range shooting. But lots of people must enjoy the same pass time, detective. Including women, I might add.”

I nodded in agreement.

“What about this,” I began. “We have a witness in the Bruel building who’ll swear they saw Francisca Bruel leaving the building at about the time the shot was fired killing Thomas Bruel. The problem with that is Francisca Bruel couldn’t possibly have been in the building at the time of the murder. She was across town at another engagement.”

A pure lie on my part. Playing poker you’ve got to pull off a bluff or two if you want to win the big hands. It all depends on how believable you can make it.

The plump little man smiled pleasantly and shook his head no.

“You insinuate my client might have disguised herself as Francisca Bruel? Do you have a witness that can positively and categorically identify my client posing as Francisca Bruel?”

Bluff called. There’d be no raking in the pot for me.

“Anything else, detectives? Or is that the sum total of your case?”

We stared at the little man across from us and said nothing. There was nothing we could say. We had nothing. Nothing to pin Elizabeth Burke directly to killing anyone. All we had were hunches.

“Let me tell you what I think happened, Miss Burke. Last year Francisca Bruel somehow found out you were David Bruel’s real mother. Armed with that knowledge she seduced Thomas Bruel and began blackmailing him. She threatened to tell the world that Thomas Bruel’s first wife was not David Bruel’s mother. That kind of news would threaten the multimillion dollar sale of the Bruel family business. How am I doing so far?”

Large beautiful hazel eyes stared deep into my eyes as she sat at her end of the table holding her coffee cup up to her lips with both hands. But she said nothing. Not a word. Only her eyes communicated to me. Telling me that so far I was right on the money.

“In the last few months something changes,” I continued, watching her closely. “A second bomb shell is dropped on the old man. Somehow Thomas Bruel finds out he wasn’t the father of his son. He comes to you in rage and threatens you. But you’ve been his private secretary and lover for years. For years you warmed his bed on all those lonely nights. Until Francisca takes your place. But he can’t fire you. He can’t get rid of you. You know too much. So in his fury he begins a campaign of tearing your son apart in public and making sure you see the drama on a daily basis. He threatens to disinherit him from the Bruel fortune. He threatens to sell the company out right and toss David out to the wolves penniless. You take it for so long. And then one day . . . you snap. You plan the perfect set of murders.”


Elizabeth Burke remained as silent as an artic glacier. Except her deep hazel eyes begin to fill with tears and she hides her trembling lips behind the coffee cup.

The lawyer cleared his throat, glanceed as the woman to his right, and then looks at me.

“You can prove these allegations, detective?”

I turned and stared at the man and said nothing.

The lawyer’s brown eyes looked at me without flinching. And then he opened his mouth and began talking softly.

“There is another possibility to your work of fantasy, detective. It could be that years earlier, a young secretary falls madly in love with her dashing, handsome employer. They have a torrid affair. The employer is married to a beautiful, but barren, woman. The wife apparently cannot give her husband a child. And a child is what the man wants the most.

But it turns out the wife is not barren. The man is sterile. The young secretary, fearing that her lover might leave her, supplies the one item that will make all parties happy. She becomes pregnant. The employer’s wife is fully aware of what is going on between husband and secretary. Believing she is barren, she accepts the idea of the young secretary carrying her husband’s child on the stipulation that the child will be raised in her household. The wife will play the mother. The secretary will become wealthy and continue to have her amorous affair with the man.

Years go by in relative bliss. Every one is happy. Life is good until the young Bruel grows up. Life changes when he meets and falls in love with Francisca.

She was, gentlemen, nothing but a money-grabbing, greedy witch if there ever was one. Always looking for a way to pull into her fingers more of the Bruel family fortune. Somehow she found out the truth about David’s parentage. But she kept the news to herself until the moment she could use it to her advantage. Eventually she finds the right spot to reveal her informaton.

This intolerable situation goes on for a while. But one day Thomas decides the affair is over. The blackmailing is over. He tells Francisca to pack her bags and leave. But Francisca just laughs in his face and tells him the harsh realities of life. Thomas is trapped. Trapped and furious with Elizabeth, his son, and with Francisca. He begins a reign of terror. In the end he goes insane. He decides to destroy them all.

Someone had to step in and end the misery. Someone had to remove the cancer called Francisca and stop Thomas from committing mass suicide.”

“Is that an unofficial confession, counselor?” I asked.

“It is nothing but pure conjecture between friends setting in a friend’s kitchen sharing a cup of coffee and munching on some delicious cinnamon rolls.”

Frank and I nodded and came to our feet. Frank finished his java with a quick snap of the wrist and then we nodded to the two of them and left.

Sometimes, in a poker game, you win on nothing but a bluff. If you’re lucky. Most of the time you fail miserably and lose your shirt. Lady Luck wasn’t setting with us in this game. As we drove back to South Side we both felt like Lady Luck had been definitely sitting to our left and wasn’t about to budge from the table.

Not ever.


  1. A freak'en mess to be sure! This is really a well-crafted plot and it's gritty and real because life doesn't always have a happy ending and the forces of good don't always win. Great story.

  2. Very well put together. Have you considered sending stories to Astonishing Adventures magazine? You'd fit in there, I think.