Thursday, August 19, 2010

A new Turner/Frank story called 'Burn Away'

Burn Away

It was two in the morning.

The streets were empty. Reflecting pools of light from the street lamps after a short summer rain. We–my partner and I–were in the Rousch 427 Mustang, the windows down, the 435 horses rumbling in a barely restrained symphony under the hood. Coming out of the stereo speakers were the strange, hypnotic vibes of a song called Handel on your Face by a two-singer male group called Bodyrockers.

I got a handle on your face./It’s in a stone-cold place./Why don’t you move it over here-ah/and let me burn away your fear.

The perfect theme song for murder.

It starts out with the classic notes of Handel’s Sarabanda and then turns into a melodic guilt-trip of lust, desire, and psychotic nightmares.

Frank and I were in route to pick up our prime suspect. A crazy sonofabitch with a rap sheet about as long as I-70 from Denver to Kansas City.




Attempted murder–just about everything a career criminal needed to make himself know to homicide detectives like us.

Now it was murder. Nothing attempted. Murder finalized. The body lay on the concrete pavement of his driveway with two 9 mm holes in his back and blood inching its way down the pavement toward the gutters. Inside the million dollar home the man’s wife was in hysterics. When we left the paramedics were giving her an injection to calm her nerves and make her sleep. She was sixty-eight years old with a heart condition. As we were leaving one of the paramedics looked at us, frowned, and shook his head.

In her condition it would be a miracle if she lived through the night. So our prime suspect wasn’t going to be charged with one murder. Two counts would be slapped on him if the woman died during the night.

Our suspect was named Raymond Russell. He’d just been released from a Federal prison a month earlier and was making himself at home down in the wharf district in a bar called Slim’s. His brother owned the place and Raymond was working there as a bartender/ bouncer. But rumor was he was doing other things on the side. Like fencing stolen goods. Muscling into the local drug business. Stealing cars.

Nice guy.

Turning on Vincent street, I worked the gearshift up through third to fourth and drove. Raymond was our suspect because the dead man’s daughter, a lovely little dark-eyed beauty about twenty-two or twenty-three by the name of Nancy told us her father and Raymond had had a series of bitter confrontations. Confrontations down in the wharf district not too far from where Raymond worked. Apparently Raymond wanted a piece of the old man’s business. Threatened the old man several times if he didn’t give in. Said his daughter might find herself in a terrible accident.

Like I said—Raymond was a nice guy.

I pulled the growling Mustang up to the curb about a half block away from the bar and cut the engine. In the darkness, Vine street is always black since no one in the street department feel’s safe enough to come down here and repair the busted street lights, the two of us sat back in the bucket seats and waited. Waited for the bar to close up and for Raymond to step out. In the darkness the black forms of warehouses and forgotten businesses lined both sides of the street like forgotten sentries. Only the soft colored neon lights of Slim’s broke the darkness.
An hour went by before the lights to the bar went out. As soon as they did Frank and I slid out of the Mustang and started walking silently down the street toward Raymond’s car. Frank–about as wide as a Mountain Gorilla on steroids and, with his stringy carrot top hair, about as ugly–reached inside his sport jacket and pulled out his 9 mm Glock. I pulled out the Kimber .45 caliber I preferred, cocked the hammer back with a thumb, and then reached for my leather case which held the gold detective badge inside.

He didn’t see us until we were about ten feet from him. But when he did, he dropped the money bag he had in one hand as he turned and stepped back.

“Who the hell are you guys?”

“Cops, Russell. Want to ask you some questions,” I said.

“Questions? About what? I haven’t done anything.”

“About a murder, Russell. A guy by the name Charles Connery,” Frank’s growl rumbled in the night.

“Charles Con . . . . why that crazy bitch! Listen, I’m not taking the fall for this. Whatever went down I wasn’t involved. There’s no way I’m going back to prison. No way!”

“Russell . . . Russell! Don’t do anything stupid,” I yelled.

Russell did something stupid. In the darkness we say the con reach with his left hand behind his back and pull out something dark and bulky looking. He lifted the left hand the bulky object up toward us in one swift motion. And that’s when we fired. My .45 and Frank’s 9 mm lit up the night at the same time. The blasts of the two pieces ripping the night apart with bright flames and a thundering roar.

Raymond Russell lay in the middle of the street in a pool of blood. Both of his shoulders were ripped to pieces from the slugs smacking into them. He was alive. He would live. Barely. But as we stood over him, and has Frank kicked the Colt .45 away from Raymond’s left hand, we stared down at the bleeding con and neither one of us were happy.

“Did you see that? See how he reached for his gun?”

“Yes,” I nodded, gripping the Kimber in my hand firmly. “His left hand. Drew with his left hand.”

“He’s right handed,” Frank said, nodding and using the Glock to point to Russell’s right hand. “Look at that.”

Raymond Russell’s right arm, from his elbow down to the tip of his fingers, was encased in a hard plaster cast. A fresh one. Pulling out a small flashlight I waved it around over the cast and noted how white it was.

“What did he mean about a crazy bitch?” I asked, frowning, eyeing the groaning man.

“Yeah,” Frank nodded, flipping open his cell phone and lifting it to his ear and speed dialing dispatch. “Sounds to me like he knows the Connerys. But maybe not the old man.”

“Knows Nancy Connery,” I said. “Sounds to me he knows her quite well.”

Frank spoke rapidly and calmly in the phone. Almost instantly we heard off in the distance sirens heading in our direction. Flipping the phone closed he dropped it back in his coat pocket and looked at me.

“Guess we should see just how crazy a bitch Nancy Connery is. If she is.”

Four hours later we knew exactly how crazy the daughter was. Driving over to the mansion just as the sun was beginning to light up the eastern sky we didn’t say a word. During the night Mrs. Connery died from a massive heart attack. The only Connery living now was the daughter. And she just inherited fifty million dollars. But last month–last month–Nancy Connery was thrown out of the family residence when word got back to her parents she had been seeing a slime ball by the name of Raymond Russell. Partying all night long. Getting drunk. Cavorting down at Slim’s like some cheap harlot. Words Charles Connery used to describe his daughter. He told her he was going to throw her, not only out of his house , but out of his will as well. If she wanted to run around with a lowlife like that, then run around with him without any money and see how long he stays with you.

Nancy Connery had a history of being in and out of mental institutions all her life. Self destructive the lass was. Hurt herself . . . and when she was in the mood, hurt others as well. Mostly her parents.

The night she was thrown out of her house she moved in with Raymond Russell. That lasted all of one week. Suddenly, the night before Charles Connery gets two slugs in the middle of his back, Nancy Connery moves back into the family mansion. The slugs came, interestingly enough, from the gun Raymond drew on us earlier in the night.

We climbed out of the Mustang and walked up to the front door of the house, the two of us noticing a light on in the living room as we stepped up to the double front doors. Reaching up I pressed the button for the doorbell and stepped back. Nancy Connors opened the door almost immediately.

“Detectives is . . . is he dead?”

“Who's dead, Miss Connors?” Frank asked.

“Why . . . .Raymond Russell. He is dead, isn’t he? He said he’d never go back to prison again. Said he’d kill himself first. So . . . so he must be dead. Right?”

“He’s alive, Miss Connors. Very much alive and telling his side of the story,” I said. “We need to take you downtown.”

She looked up us, her face a portrait of childish innocence, but her eyes . . . her large brown eyes . . . burning funeral pyres of insanity.

“I want a lawyer,” she whispered softly.

We nodded, each of us taking an arm and escorting her out of the house. As we walked to the patrol car that had followed us back to the house I could hear the lyrics from the song rattling along in my head.

I got a handle on your face./Its in a stone-cold place./ Why don’t you come over here-ah/and let me burn away your fear.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Dish Best Served Cold

A few weeks back I played around with an idea about a hit man--one with a strong sense of cold justice running deep in him. Came up with a character called Smitty. Now this has morphed into a taking this story and making a 50 or 60 page novella out of it, adding a second novella of similiar length with the same character, to create an ebook. What do you think? Will it work?


Coming down in waving curtains of gray monotony. A cold rain falling from a colorless gray sky. A frigid slap in the face which seemed to suck the life out of everyone. A wind filled with ice pellets which threatened to pummel the soul into a mindless narcosis.

Walking briskly he weaved in and out of the pedestrians around him, the collar of his heavy gray over coat turned up to protect his neck, head down and trying to use the narrow brim of him hat to protect his face, with gloved hands in his pockets. He was not in a friendly mood. The people on the sidewalk seemed to be in the same disposition. Everyone moved with hands in their pockets, heads bent down, determined to get where they were going as fast as they could regardless as to what happened around them. Twice someone bumped into him as they hurriedly past him. Rudely slamming into his shoulder and making him stumble. Each time neither Cretan made any form of an apology. Mumbling underneath his breath he kept on walking.

Downtown pedestrian traffic was heavy on this Monday morning for some reason. As was the traffic. It was the last Monday of the month and it always was this way. People seemed desperate to get somewhere. Desperation seemed to be the operative word. The city. The people. The whole damn world. Desperate.

Turning a corner he hurriedly opened a door to a coffee shop and stepped in, shaking the rain from out of the brim of his hat in the process. The small place was packed with young down-and-out college students bracing themselves with a strong black coffee or some sweet mocha in preparation for the day’s coming classes. Or young men, dressed in expensive business suits, fresh out of school with the MBA’s and eager to begin making their fortunes by wallowing in the corporate rat race in some firm’s downtown office.

Taking his hat off he almost smirked as he looked at the corporate wunderkinds sitting shoulder to shoulder and lining the long bar sipping their brews. The poor bastards. Their young, earnest faces were just too damn eager. He had an urge to grab the nearest one by the shoulder, whirl him around on his barstool, and slap the eagerness off his face. Might as well do it, he thought to himself as he nodded to the slim little brunette for a waitress behind the bar who was stretching out an hand toward him with a big cup of steaming coffee in it. Slap some sense into you, boy. Tell you to wake up and see the world as it truly was. The only fortune you were going to make was for someone else. Someone who already had a fortune several times over who didn’t give a damn about you. Instead he took the coffee from the girl’s hand and slipped a five dollar bill into it before turning back toward the shop’s entrance.

And that’s when the phone started ringing in his right coat pocket. Ringing with an insistence. Even vibrating against his leg each time it rung. A strange sound. A strange sensation.

Hesitantly, confused, he glanced back at the smiling waitress curiously and then, with his free hand reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the strange phone and looked at it. It was a simple flip-phone—a pre-paid device anyone could purchase for a few books at a Wall Mart or convenience store. How the hell it got into his coat pocket totally mystified him. It wasn’t his phone. It wasn’t one of his kids’ phones. Staring at it as if it was some strange alien device he let it ring a couple of more times before flipping it open and lifting it to his ear.

“Now that you’ve got your coffee, turn and look out the window. See the White Cab with the meter up and running? Get into it and tell the driver you want to go library on James and Runyon streets. When you get there go to the information desk and give them your name. And oh. . . toss the phone into the trash receptacle beside the door on the way out. It’s no use to you anymore.”

The voice.

Deep. Calm. Unnaturally calm.


Somehow . . . someway . . . coming through the speaker of the cheap phone was the calm but chilling voice of Death itself. A sudden spasm of involuntary chills assaulted his nerve endings making him shake violently.

“Who is this? What the hell is going on here?”

“You’ll find out, Henry. Just get into the cab and tell him to take you to the library. And throw away the phone.”


He knew his name. Knew his middle name to be precise. Only three people knew his middle name. His mother—his wife—and his partner. Make that only two people. His partner was dead. Dead two years now. Detective Gerald Urban was shot down in cold blood getting out of his car in the parking lot of the apartment complex he lived in. Dead from six bullets drilled into his chest and head.
But . . .

Henry. Said in a certain utterance, a certain tone, so familiar to him. Not the same voice as his old partner. The voice was different. But in the way it was said sounded so familiar. As if. . . as if . . .

Frowning, snapping the phone shut he turned and headed for the door. Opening the door he smacked the flap open to the trash can and dropped the phone into it as he put his hat on and stepped out into the rain. Walking quickly to the cab he slid into the back seat and told the cabbie the address.

Some sonofabitch was playing with him. Playing tricks on him. Making him think Gerald was alive. Bringing up old memories. Painful memories. Whoever this bastard was he was going to pay. Pay dearly for this prank.

The library on the corner of James and Runyon was a gray slab monstrosity complete with massive Grecian pillars littering the front part of the building. Half way up the eighty steps leading from the street the library was a wide, paved landing. In the middle of the landing was a fountain. In the middle of the fountain was a massive replica of Michelangelo’s David—albeit a copy more modestly clothed—towering above the mere mortals who ascended or descended the library steps.
Bounding up the step with an agility that belied his fifty-seven years he paid no attention the fountain nor its famous statue. Entering the massive silence of the biggest library building in the state he stopped for a moment in the outer entrance to shake the rain off him and remove hat and coat. Carrying hat and coat in one hand he moved through the set of glass doors which led into the main portion of the library itself and stopped to view the vast expanse of space and shelved books silently but intently.

A few dozen patrons were sitting at the long oak tables near the magazine and periodical racks. A few more milled slowly through the stacks upon stacks of books. Taking in everyone, one at a time, he studied each individual closely. But no one looked familiar. No Gerald Urban came forward. All seemed as it should. Frowning, he began walking across the polished dark marble floor toward the main check out and information desk.

“Yes, may I help you?”

“The name is Joseph Abrams. Detective Joseph Abrams. I believe I have a package here for me?”

“Ah, indeed you do, sir.” the young woman answered, smiling and bending down behind the counter to retrieve a large manila envelope. “You’ve been assigned reading room 12B. That’s up on the balcony above the magazine gallery over there.”

“Thank you,” he said, collecting the folder and turning to scan for the nearest elevator or stairs.

Sitting at the nearest table to the librarian’s counter was a young man in his twenties wearing soiled looking tennis shoes and dressed in clothes fresh from the racks of the Salvation Army. Shaggy, wet haired, with a three day old beard—no where near the age nor build of his dead partner. Frowning he walked past the boy and headed for a set of elevators.

In the nearest stack of books roamed an old man in his late sixties. Tall, thin, dressed conservative, the man had a head of white hair neatly groomed and steadied himself on a dark ebony can. No—much too old and too thin to be Gerald.
When the elevators opened on the balcony he stepped out and almost into the smiling face of very young woman. She was about five foot seven, voluptuous, with long brown hair and startling blue eyes. Half embarrassed he stepped back and apologized and watched the woman smile pleasantly and then disappear into the elevator.
No one else was on the balcony as he turned and walked down a narrow hall lined with small glassed in reading rooms. Reaching 12B he opened the door, stepped in, closing the door behind him. In his hand was the heavy manila envelope. Inside he could feel the hard outline of a plastic box along with a thick wad of papers. Pulling a chair back from the small table in the middle of the room he sat down and tore open the seal of the envelope. Inside was a cheap tape recorder with a sticky note attached to the top of it.

“Play the tape, Henry. And afterward take the tape with you and store it in a safe place.”

With a hesitant finger the big boned, balding homicide detective of twenty years reached up and pressed down on the Play button.

“Good morning, Henry.”

Again—that frightening voice. So different . . . so cold. So ungodly cold. Yet oddly . . . so familiar.

“Forgive me for these cheap theatrics. I know what you are thinking. You think someone is playing a trick on you. An elaborate trick and you’re mad as hell. I know. I can see that pulsating vein on your forehead beating now.”
Startled, he threw a hand up and touched his forehead. The vein was indeed pulsating. He could feel it. Angrily he hit the Stop button and looked out the glass windows of the reading room and peered into the other reading rooms across from his. But they were empty. Getting up he stepped out of his reading room moved down the hall and checked all the reading rooms. And then toured around the balcony. But there was no one to be found. He was along on the balcony. The only one to occupy any of the reading rooms.

Angry, yet puzzled, he made his way back to the small cubicle and closed the door behind him before sitting down. Punching the Play button again he sat back and folded hands together on the table in front of him. He would listen to the tape through its entirety before he made another move.

“Listen, we haven’t much time and much has to be done. Through a friend of ours I’ve come back to help you catch the murderers of your old partner. Yes, Henry. The man you knew as Gerald Urban is dead. Dead and buried. If you need a name to scribble onto the folder of a criminal investigation, just write one word. Smitty. I’ve come back to finish up what was started. I’ve come back to find the killers of Gerald and his wife. He and his wife weren’t gunned down in some random act of gangland violence. No. Your partner was gunned down because he had a contract out on his head. Someone paid big money to end Gerald Urban’s life. Big money. And what I propose to do is bring his murderer to justice.”


He knew it. He knew his partner went down from a hit. He knew it. But there was nothing . . . nothing . . . for evidence to prove it. The police commissioner sent in a team of investigators with orders to investigate and write up a report as fast possible. To wrap it up and forget about it. He protested. He wanted more time to investigate. But it was like talking to a brick wall. No one was listening to Joseph Abrams these days.

“Henry, your partner was secretly working with the Feds. He was a mole within the department. The Feds were using him in their investigations on the commissioner. They thought he was dirty. Working for the mob and wanted to bring him and his mob boss down. Apparently they were right. Somehow the mob heard about the investigation and decided to take action. Gerald Urban was their prime investigator and he was getting close. So they decided to take him out.

“The folder in the envelope is the secret notes your partner kept in a safe place just in case something happened. The mob doesn’t know about this. Nor do the Feds. As far as I know the Feds investigation unit has closed shop and gone back to Washington. The commish and his mob boss both think they’re in the clear. But they’re wrong. I know what they did. All I have to do is provide evidence to prove what they did and give it to you. In the next week things are going to happen. You’ll be hearing some rumbling from the streets. That will be me. By the end of the week I should have something for you. I’ll talk to you Sunday night, Henry. Give my love to Helen and the boys and tell Helen I do miss her coconut cream pie.”


Gerald loved coconut cream pie. But . . . but . . . but he was dead. Even the voice on the tape said he was dead! Yet. . . yet . . . the reference to coconut cream pie. Why? Who?

Color drained from his face and his right hand started to tremble. He felt suddenly like throwing up in a trash can violently. He was finding it difficult to breathe. Coming to his feet he felt his knees buckle. Catching himself with one hand slamming onto the table he steadied himself and stood up. Somehow he threw on the heavy trench coat. Vaguely he remembered slipping the thick sheaf of papers—his partner’s notes—inside his coat.

Jesus. Was Gerald dead? Could the dead come back to life? But . . . but . . . if Gerald was dead who was the person behind the deep, harsh whisper talking on the tape and sounding so much like his old friend? Did he—could he—believe in ghosts?

From his vantage point behind the steering wheel he watched Joseph Abrams run across the busy street to the precinct station. The old detective ran with his head bent down so hat could protect his face from the driving rain. Sitting, watching, both hands gently wrapped around the wheel delicately—like the delicate grip of a surgeon—the dark eyes of a lurking Cobra watched his old friend and partner make his way through the traffic. As he watched a thin slit of pleasure creased his narrow lips.
His old friend was still alive. Still a cop. Still honest.

One of the few left.

And one dangerously close to the flames. Something had to be done. Someone had to step in and save him and his family. Someone had to do the dirty work. To cut the monsters down at their knees and bring them down.

Joe couldn’t do it. He was only a couple of years away from retiring. And he wasn’t in Homicide any longer. Those who pulled the strings wanted Joe safely tucked away. Tucked away and incapable of snooping deeper into his partner’s death. So now he rode a desk down in Records. As far away from the action as a cop could get.

Yet there still were those who wanted to plant his old partner under a bed of roses. He and his family. Eyelids half closed as he watched the front of the precinct house through the rain. The mask of a killer slid across his face as he thought about those who wanted to harm Joe and his family. No one was going to harm this man. Nor his family,

No one.


Heavy rain hammered the cement with a dull, relentless assault on the senses. Sheets of rain waved and oscillated back and forth on the street in front of him like a dancer macabre waiting for its ghostly partner to arrive. Occasionally brilliant lighting would flash, ripping the night away with the strobe effect of blinding white light—soon followed by the thundering, bone jarring concussion seconds later. But in the darkness of the cab he resided. In the deep shadows of the condemned he moved not a muscle. Like carved stone. Watching and waiting.

Waiting like some primeval saber toothed tiger waiting for its prey.

Waiting with Lucifer’s patience for sinners to congregate.

Waiting like the hand of destiny invisibly hovering over the unsuspecting, ready to pluck the hapless soul from this miserable plane of existence with the snap of a wrist.

And one by one they came. By ones and by twos the dark specters appeared from out of the night. Running madly through the rain in some desperate attempt to get into the warmth and safety of the brightly light neighborhood drug store. One. And then two. Four. And finally . . . the sixth. All six at last together again in the small drugstore with its bright lights glaring out through the giant plate glass window like some unblinking monolithic eye.

But it wasn’t a drugstore. Not just a drugstore. More, far more, was it to him. The front part of the building was indeed a drugstore which catered to the needs of the residents which surrounded it in the middle of this blue color neighborhood. But the back of the store was the central distribution center for a mob owned drug ring ran by the six youths who had gathered together on this lifeless, listless, luckless night. Tonight was Sunday. Tonight was when all the street dealers brought in their profits. Tonight the money would be counted and then transported by van to a safer place. Tonight a quarter of a million dollars sat in the back of the drugstore waiting to be taken.

Taken. By him.

The door to the cab opened and he slid out with the smooth feline grace of a powerful hunting cat. Moving to the rear door of the cab he opened the door and pulled out two heavy looking sports bags and laid them on top the trunk of the car. The rain, falling perhaps even heavier, cold and hard as it was, bounced off him with a rude disinterested shrug. Dressed in a heavy cotton hoody, blue jeans and sneakers, he gripped the bags firmly in his hands and started walking toward the drugstore.

In the warmth and light of the drugstore Hobbie Martin stood in front of the main counter of the store with a cigarette in his hand. Frowning, he gazed at the five men—the main members of the gang—and wondered who the hell called for this meeting. This was stupid. Putting the top five leaders of the gang in the same room was an open invitation for the cops to raid the place. Ever since joining up with the mob, and the expansion of their drug trafficking transactions, the cops were becoming more than just casually interested. Bribes could go only so far. Pay offs could only take care of a few well placed officials. And killing that cop two years ago had added more heat
“Who the hell called for this?” he growled, glaring at his comrades.

“I thought you did,” a big black kid with bulging eyes and a massive forehead answered, turning with a surprised look on his face. “I got the message on my phone about an hour ago. It was your voice.”

“Yeah, me too,” the others agreed, nodding as the turned and faced their leader.

The small bell above the entrance door rattled with a startling clarity. Everyone turned to stare at the person entering. A short kid wearing a dark hoody and carrying two sport bags in his hands. Dripping wet with long, stringy black hair pouring water on the linoleum floor.

“Beat it, kid. The store’s closed,” Hobbie growled loudly, gesturing with his head to leave and to leave immediately.

The kid—maybe sixteen—closed the door behind him and walked straight toward Martin oblivious to the sudden tension and hostility which filled the store.

“Didn’t you hear me, kid? Are you deaf? Beat it! The store is closed!”
The small creature with the startling white hands gripping the bags kept walking toward Martin. Surprised—angered—and growing concerned, Martin turned and faced this odd creature full on, tossing the cigarette in his hand onto the floor and squashing it with a shoe. Behind him he felt his comrades coalesce and gather in closer to back him up. There was something odd about this kid. Something in the way he moved—something in the paleness of his skin, like that of a corpse, which bothered him.

“You want me to rip your head off and give it back to you, punk? Get the hell outta here or I’ll cut your pecker off!”

The kid stopped just in front of Martin and sat the sports bags down on the floor just in front of the gang leader. Standing up the kid’s eyes came up and looked directly into Martin’s. Unblinking eyes. Dark eyes like the unblinking stare of the undead about to strike.

“I want it all. Fill the bags up with money.”

The voice was a harsh, rough whisper—a voice much too powerful even in whispering mode for a kid this size to have. Startled, Martin half turned to glance at his men and then turned his attention back to the kid.

“That just caught you your life, buddy. Nobody comes in here and shakes us down. Nobody.”

With a snap of his fingers all six leapt at the kid at once. All six landed attempted to reach the kid at the same time. But it was for naught. That night chaos reigned. The kid—hardly half the size of Martin—somehow transfigured himself into a killing machine. Those horribly white hands came up with a sudden flash of speed, catching someone by the arm and giving it a violent twist. Bones snapped. Someone screamed. And then the carnage began.

In the thousands of years man has fought hand to hand combat many different fighting forms have come and gone. This night, in this store, the kid became a fighting machine using two brutal forms blended effortlessly together. Krav Maga and Muay Thai. Not the Krav Maga of polite society. Not the Muay Thai of sporting fame. No. Each was the darker, meaner kind—the forbidden, outlawed form designed to kill and maim. This was a fighting not for sport but for survival. This was savagery designed to take down an enemy with the fewest possible moves and never to let them get up again. Every part of the kid’s arms, hands, elbows, knees and feet became a weapon. Blows to the throat, to the groin; knees broken in half with a kick, ribs crushed with a hammering blow—all done in seconds in the midst of a group of street thugs who had no idea . . . and no chance . . . in surviving.

In seconds the fight was over. Silence filled the brightly lit drug store. Bodies littered the floor and counter top. Only the small framed kid with the long stringy black hair remained standing. Neither looking right nor left the kid bent down and retrieved the two bags sitting unmolested on the floor. Standing up he stepped over bodies and began walking toward the back of the store. Back toward the money.

“Jesus, would you look at this,” Detective Noel Sergeant whistled, bending forward in the chair he had pulled up in front of the TV monitor.

Joseph Abrams looked up from the coffee pot and toward the group of detectives huddled around the TV monitor. The squad room was filled with detectives. Those who’s shift were just about completed. And those who were about to come on duty. Abrams was one about to come on duty. A strong cup of Joe was what he needed. He hadn’t slept last night. His mind kept going over and over the series of incidents which brought him to the library the day before. Every time he closed his eyes he heard that harsh, eerie whisper for a voice coming out of the tape recorder. The voice alone enough to give him nightmares.

“What’s that,” he asked, as he moved across the squad room, coffee in hand, and came to a halt behind his current partner, Noel Sergeant.

“Got a call about 0400 hrs. Anonymous. Said there was a disturbance over on Granger and Reed streets in a drugstore,” Vic Edwards, third watch detective grunted, his eyes glued to the screen in front of him. “You know the place, Joe. It’s the hang out for the Reed Hellions.”

Joe gagged and hot coffee splashed onto his freshly pressed white shirt. The Reed Hellions. The gang rumored to have gunned down his old partner. Lowering his cup, hands shaking slightly, he bent forward and gazed at the monitor.

“Got over there about 0415 and found this, buddy. Found bodies. Lots of bodies. And drugs. And this tape. Here, let me rewind this so Joe can see it all.”

Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Another one of my Smitty stories

Here's another one of my Smitty stories. This one is entitled, Done. Smitty, if you remember, is a cold hearted killer who enjoys his work. Hope you like it.

The noise of the club was ear splitting. Some young punk band dressed in rags and chains was hammering and sawing away on stage and about four hundred kids--long stringy hair in an explosion of rioutous colors--filled the small club like the killing floor of a meat packing plant. The smell of sweating bodies, cigarettes, mary jane, and booze assaulted his senses.

Yet the lean man with the high cheekbones and black pits for eyes seemed unfazed with it all. Dressed in a dark button down shirt, expensive slacks, and wearing shades he might have looked out of place in a club like this. But not here. This shithole of a pit was The Place to be if you had lots of dough. And a bad reputation. The up and comers in the mob loved the place. Including a particularly mean little toad by the name of Willy Simmons.

Willy was tight with the mob because he could move money--and recruit young girls for the overseas white slavery trade--with consummate ease. Smooth, slick, with an oozing personality that naturally attracted young girls fresh to the city, Willy was not a man who lost any sleep over the lives he ruined on a daily basis, Which was the reason why he was here. Someone with a grudge wanted Willy removed. It had something to do with a young girl found dead in a river just outside Moscow, An American girl. From Texas. The voice over the phone--his new client--had a distinctive Texas accent. And pain, lots seeping out of the telephone. So he was here--waiting for the final go ahead to do the deed---dark eyes watching Willy as he sat at his private table and flirted with the women.

When the call came it was a little past midnight. Just a two word text message on his phone., "Do it," was all it said. A narrow smile of black malevolence lingered for a moment on his lips before disappearing. Coming to his feet he blending into the sea of flesh that filled the dance floor and like a lurking pirahna, gyrated with the masses and waited for the right moment to strike.

And when it came--it came swift, sure, and silently. Willy thought of himself as a dancer and liked to show off his moves to the young teenagers who flocked to his money and charms. Ten minutes passed by and some young blonde thing came up to his table and pulled him out into the dance floor--leaving the four big boned, muscle bound bodyguards behind him. The music, already loud, grew in intensity. The bodies pressed so tightly together it was difficult to breathe. Yet somehow Smitty manuvered through the tangled mass and slid up behind his target. They bumped once. . . twice . . . and then the man with the black eyes was gone.

And Willy kept on dancing. Dancing all the way to his grave. He never felt the six inch steel needle slip in between his ribs and penetrate into his heart. Dead in seconds he continued to dance--the crowd so packed it kept him upright and undulating with the beat of the music for another half hour.

Walking out into the cold starry night Smitty reached for his phone and quickly sent a message back to Texas. Just one word.


Monday, May 3, 2010

Here's my newest character.

Here's my newest character. His name is Smitty. And he's one cold blooded SOB. An assassin by trade--but surprisingly one with a heart. You'll see when you read this one entitled Tell'em Smitty Said So.

The park was filled with the riotous joy of Fall’s bright colors. The morning sun, bright and clear, seemed to make the colors glow in neon clarity. The wind was still. The park silent. Serene. Tranquil.

He sat on the park bench, legs crossed, the morning paper in his hands and in front of him. But dark black eyes of a viper turned the moment he heard the sound of a shoe stepping onto gravel to his left. Two young girls, no older than twelve or thirteen, were walking side by side down the path toward him. The girl with the dark brown hair pulled back into pony tails had her head down and sobbing quietly. Her friend had a hand over the sobbing girl’s shoulder, a look of genuine concern painted on her face. Both girls were small framed. Fragile. But with the promise of stunning beauty if allowed to grow to womanhood unharmed.

Dark eyes watched the girls . . . watched the sobbing child . . . and then returned to the paper in front of him. But years of caution—of danger—of death would not cease his vigilance. He listened from behind the news and heard the two girls slide onto the park bench opposite him. Listened as the girls began talking in the soft voices of conspirators.

“. . . and then Dad went crazy. He ripped the belt from his trousers and started beating us. Beat me and mom. Just kept hitting and hitting us. Mom pleaded. I cried in pain. But . . . but (sob). . . he just kept on beating us until finally Mom fell to the floor and passed out.”

“My god!”the second girl whispered, her voice filled with pain, terror . . . and fascination. “What happened next?

“Dad stared at Mom. Stared for a long time and then he dropped the belt from his hands and ran. Ran out the kitchen door. Debbie . . . Debbie . . . is there a God? If there is, why does He let things like this happen? What did we do to upset Daddy so? We must have done something terrible. If we did I . . . I need to know.”

Sobs racked the small child. Tears fell like rain firm her cheeks.

For some moments the child cried in quiet spasms of sheer agony—her friend beside her at a loss to offer comfort. When the sobbing lessened the girl cleared her throat, wiped a tear from her cheek, and spoke quietly.

“Come on, hon. Let’s go. We’re gonna be late to school. Come on, baby. Let’s go. And if there is a God he’ll do something to fix your Dad. Fix him good for what he did to you and your mom.”

As he listened, keeping the paper up to block his view, he heard the girls get up and start moving down the gravel path. Lowering the paper black pits of infinity watched them disappear around a corner; eyes narrowed thoughtfully, words from the girl ringing in his ear over and over like a stuck recording.

If there was a God . . .

Quietly he folded the paper neatly and laid it gently on the bench. Slipping dark shades on he realized he had an appointment . . . an urgent appointment . . . to keep. One that could not be rescheduled under any circumstances.

Don’t ask. Don’t need to know. Just remember there are some men with a unique talent. The talent of a hunter. The talent to track down their prey and corner them in a position allowing no escape. He found the man in question sitting alone in a bench in an empty bar in an even emptier part of town. On the table in front of the man was a half empty bottle of booze. In his hands an empty glass. He looked like hell. A weeks’ worth of black stubble smeared with gray littered his face. Red rimmed, tear-filled eyes stared dully at the wall. His clothes reeked of cigarettes, booze, and sweat. If a man looked like he was waiting for death this wreck was.

If there was a God . . .

He slid into the seat opposite the wreck and placed both hands on the table. One of them was partially closed as if he was holding—hiding—something in it. At first the wreck . . startled . . jumped in surprise and focused his eyes to stare into the stranger’s face. But one look at the black eyes and a shudder of a fugue danced across his soul. Death indeed, had a face!

“Go ahead, fella. I’m ready. God knows I deserve it. And I need to pay for my sins. So go ahead, get it over with. I won’t stop you.”

“Ready for what?” the wolf asked quietly, his hands not moving.

“You’re here to kill me, right? ‘bout time. I need to die, fella. After what I did to Gloria and my baby. I need to die. Went crazy. Went nuts. And all Gloria did was ask me to take out the trash. Asked me twice. But . . . but . . . I thought I heard in her voice her disgust. Disgust for me. God knows she’s right. I am disgusting. Haven’t had a job in months. The car’s been repossessed so even if I did get a job I couldn’t get to work. Bills unpaid and collectors threatening to take me to court. Can’t even afford to pay for baby’s lunch bill. So do it, fella. Kill me. I deserve to die.”

Death stared at the wreck for some seconds and remained motionless. And then a flicker of a thumb and a loud snap! and suddenly the long, sharp edge of a switch-blade materialized in his hand. Lifting the knife up Death used the tip of the blade and slid a paper napkin across the table toward the wreck. On the paper in black ink was a phone number.

“You’re a lucky sonofabitch, fella.” Death said in a hard voice. A mean voice. “You’ve got something I lost a long time ago. You got people who love you. Who think they’ve done something wrong. Shut up and listen carefully. Here’s your last chance to get it right. Last chance to make up for what you did. Call this number. By tomorrow you’ll have a job. Honest work. Honest pay. Do it tonight, fella, ‘cause the next time we meet you’ll get that last wish of yours. Promise. Call the number. Take the job. Tell’em Smitty said so.”

Death slid out of the booth and dropped the folded switch-blade into his slack’s right pocket. He didn’t look either right or left as he slipped on shades and walked out of the bar. Out into the night. Into the hard world he was familiar with. Into oblivion.

If there was a God . . .

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.