Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ffolkes' Medicine

It's not hard-boiled noir, but I do write another kind of detective novel. A historical-detective featuring a pirate by the name of Geoffery Armitage Ffolkes. A loud-mouthed, opinonated rogue who has much too high opinion of himself and his intellectual accomplishments.

The book is coming out in January or February of this year (2010). Thought I'd post the first chapter for your reading pleasure.


Boston, Massachusetts
In the Year of Our Lord, 1690

In my youth I was such a pretty, pretty man.

Tall, flamboyant–with a flair for the outrageous and a love for the puerile. I wooed the wicked and flaunted with a rebel’s air the conventions of any and all authority. But no more. No more. Now I am old and wizened. I feel my old friend, Death, hovering near and I cannot deny him much longer. So I commit to posterity my life’s story. As meager and mundane as it may have been.

I, Geoffery Armitage Ffolkes, being of sound body but weak in the flesh, do hereby set to pen and paper my true confessions. I confess I have lived a wicked and dissolute life. I have lusted for beautiful women both far above and far below my station in life. I have posed as the imposter of royal lineage in several royal courts in Europe in the quest of acquiring titles and royal patronage. Patronage I truthfully was not entitled to have. I have swindled the rich, conned the clergy, and blatantly disregarded those who believed they were superior to me in any way. I stole the treasures of both kings and pontiffs with a casual disregard of one’s ownership. I wallowed in the sensual caresses of Gluttony and Sloth.

I have stalked the guilty in the dregs of the night when honest folk slept in warm beds and thought of only the next day’s labors. I have played the role of fool and court jester, pleasing those who wallowed in wealth and greed while I concocted elaborate plans to remove a sizeable portion of their ill-gotten wealth.
All of this I did freely and without any consideration of others.

I have been soldier, poet, diplomat, duelist, artist, and prosperous merchant in a city noted for its wicked predilections and larcenous soul. I have prostrated myself before the thrones of two dozen or so potentates from the northern fjords of Norway all the way to the slave pits of Calicut. I have sailed the seven seas and stood on five continents. I have navigated the Ganges and sailed down the Huang He in an ancient Chinese Junk in search for riches beyond imagination. I have cut through jungles thick with death and fever in long treks to find ancient Aztec or Mayan treasure. I have stood atop tall stone pyramids in cities overrun by the cruel jungle where no man had occupied for more than a hundred years. I have marveled at the wealth of the many rajas of India and admired the splendors of the royal courts of the Ming.

All this I enjoyed without the slightest suggestion of regret hampering my conscience.

Aye, I confess I was a pirate for lo all these many years in addition to the other identities I became. But not just the ordinary buccaneer who served on one ship or another and barely escaped with his life and a doubloon or two. Nay, not Geoffery Armitage Ffolkes! In every endeavor I chose to pursue I did so with a gusto, a panache, a lust for life few mortals could match! Meek and submissive I never lived nor endured. Life is but a short canvas given to an artist to paint on. Why live the life of the mundane? If one must endure the few years on this earth the good Lord has given him, why not be the bon vivant and expand one’s experiences? I did with a hearty gusto, with a throaty panache, and I regret none of it.

But the crowning glory of my illustrious career was that of being an assassin and agent provocateur for the English crown. I actively spied on both the Spanish and all the potential enemies of England even though, on many occasions, I disguised myself as a prosperous merchant and smuggler. In the Caribbean, even when the Spanish and English were at war, Spanish colonies depended on smugglers to bring them the goods they desired. Smuggling became an honest profession–one which became very profitable for me and my comrades.

The crown’s enemies abounded and there my credentials as a spy and provocateur became most valuable. With my mercantile operations I moved freely among the Dutch, the French, and the Spanish. But equally, I moved through the rank and file of the Brethren of the Coast–that loosely construed title which included most, if not all, of the pirates who roamed the green and blue waters of the Caribbean. Aye, piracy in my time was both a bane and a boon to the English. Our ships and crews kept the Spanish from seizing valuable colonies. English naval presence in this part of the world was abysmally lacking in those early days and if it were not for the brethren, Spain would have taken Jamaica and the other colonies with little effort.

But piracy posed an equal threat to the English. Some of my brethren were quite blood thirsty in their desire to acquire the wealth they desired. Ruthless in their tactics a number of these deranged buccaneers actually threatened to tip the balance between peace and war among nations. Something had to be done to remove such dangerous creatures from the high seas. Someone had to be found who had the talent, the bravado, the skill to hunt down these rogues and bring an end to their ravenous cruelties.

As to how I came to be in Caribbean is of no importance. Suffice to say that two years’ before my service to the King began, and on a bright summer’s Sunday morn of startling blue skies and with a fresh breeze filled with the aromas of Bougainvillea, I and an acquaintance of mine sailed into Port Royal harbor. For well over three weeks my friend and I sailed a small one-masted craft called a pinnace across the high seas before reaching safety of this English port. We had only the clothes on our backs, a canister of rain water and two sun-baked fish between us. We also had one very large treasure chest of freshly minted Spanish doubloons, recently and with some dispatch lifted from its rightful owners, setting on the ship’s single deck as well.

Aye, it is true the two of us astride the deck of the small craft brought many onto the city’s docks to stand and gawk at us. Our sails hung like limp rags from the single mast, shredded to nothing more than hanging slivers of cloth. Our tiny craft appeared battered and abused. But not from the wear and tear of the fierce tropical storms so prevalent in the summer months of the Caribbean. We looked like discarded flotsam from the effects of musket balls and round shot angrily hurled in our direction. Much of the ship’s round stern was bashed and abused. But suffice to say that we, that is my tiny Irish friend, a grizzled old one-eyed and pipe smoking seaman named Tobias O’Rourke, and I arrived in Port Royal with a large crowd giving us a standing ovation.

This pitting together our own special talents into an amicable and smooth running partnership did not end with our arrival into the city. We decided to become business partners in a number of different venues. We found ourselves soon the proprietors of one of the city’s largest inns. Say what you will about the many inns and dives an honest pirate or buccaneer might frequent in Port Royal. True, it was possible to find both the wicked and the faithful in such a wicked city. And it was equally true one could find an inn which might be nothing more than a din of inequity, where every vice and sin may be had for the price of a gold doubloon.

But it was also possible to find inns which were the finest in all of the Caribbean. Inns where one might find a bed with clean sheets, meals which were hearty and well prepared, and where genuine ale and fine wines might be had for a reasonable price. The inn Tobias and I owned, and where the little Irishman took a special interest in, was such an inn. We called it, The Inn of the Seven Sins, and it soon became the hostelry and drinking rendezvous for the famous and infamous of Port Royal.

We also branched out onto the high seas by purchasing a well built sloop of war and named it the Swift Flyer. From the colonial governor we purchased a Letter of Marque. This piece of parchment with its elegant calligraphy gave us official permission to prey upon the shipping of the many enemies of England. On the flush deck of our sloop of war we began hunting Spanish game. The Swift Flyer was a sturdy craft of 18 guns, swift and sure before the wind and against it. She could out sail almost any ship in the Caribbean, and certainly any ship of her class. On her deck I forged together a crew of hardy souls who had no love for neither the Spanish nor the French. And over a period of two years my crew and I took one prize after another.

Our small fleet increased with the acquisition of a two masted brigantine named the Santa Isabella, along with three Dutch flynts we renamed the Fourth of August, the Tenth of February and Sophia’s Dark Eyes. These we manned with good crews and began the very lucrative trade of being honest shippers and smugglers; supplying the needs for any client who wished to send forth goods from one Caribbean port to another with swift dispatch and little fanfare.

Aye lads, you would think that now, being the prosperous burger and shipping tycoon, my days a’pirating were but a fond memory. Memories to be told to children and grand children as they sat around my velvet cushioned rocking chair. But lo! The adventurous buccaneer’s life was but ready to begin. And more to the point, the surreptitious life of being the King’s assassin and spy suddenly, and unexpectedly, burst before my eyes with the noise and rattle of a hundred ship’s cannonade ripping the air with smoke and smoldering shot and shell!

In October of 1661 a forty-gunned man ‘o war slipped into the harbor just as the hot tropical sun was beginning to sip the western waters. She was accompanied by two sloops of war flanking her port and starboard gun ports. All three ships had snapping in the growing wind white flags with the blood red image of the Cross of St. George proudly from their mizzen masts. No one paid attention to their arrival. One must remember Port Royal was an English colony. Jamaica was an English colony only recently wrested away from the Spanish grip. Port
Royal was the richest colony in the New World. Richer, in fact, than the American colonies of Massachusetts and New York. The city sat on the south eastern tip of the island and just across the bay from a small hamlet called Kingston. As port she had the best harbor in all of the Caribbean waters. Deep water and protected from storms, ships from all over the world littered her harbor and created a floating forests of masts one could only marvel at.

Of course a very large number of ships riding at anchor were buccaneers and pirates. Ah, well, to be precise–His Majesty frowned upon the unprincipled rape and pillage of the regular pirate, therefore those ships riding the calm waters of the harbor were buccaneers and corsairs all sailing under the authority of an English Letter of Marque. With such a document in one’s hand it became legal to go a’pirating. Legal pirating. As long as you preyed upon the King’s enemies. A boon for those of us who craved adventure or burned with a desire to rise above their stations in life by acquiring a fortune in gold. Enough gold, mind you, to buy a title or to set up and become a prosperous merchant.

English men of war arrived and departed on a regular basis from Port Royal. King and country were habitually at war with the Spanish, and in the year 1661 His Majesty’s fleet was spread thin across the world confronting the Spanish hegemony. And here, in the Caribbean, His Majesty’s presence was very thin indeed. Dangerously thin. Giving arise, interestingly enough, a reason why His Majesty so tolerated large congregations of cut throats and pirates in Port Royal.

In truth there were enough pirate ships in the city’s wide bay to constitute a rather impressive fleet of warships. Enough to thwart any sustained effort by the Spanish to reclaim the island it originally had settled some forty years earlier. In lacking an English naval presence we Brethren of the Coast provided the protection our fair city needed. Aye, occasionally there would be the threat of Spanish warships raiding the coastline. There was always the threat of a Spanish raid into the city itself. But in all the years I hailed from Port Royal no serious threat ever presented itself to its inhabitants.

Ah, but what can I say to describe Port Royal! The Jewel of the English Caribbean! A city who’s foul reputation for being the most sinful place on Earth richly earned! Yet a city filled with sturdy English merchants and even more sturdy and determined English plantations owners bent on making a fortune in the incessant demand for sugar and spices. An English city in both ambiance and architecture.

Everywhere one looked one saw stout Tudor architecture of wood, stone, and plaster. Cobble stone streets were commonplace. His Majesty’s royal tax collectors could be found in numbers whenever a ship, be it merchant or buccaneer, dropped anchor in the harbor. Red clad soldiers milled in the streets with the corsair and land lubber. From the battlements of the large forts which protected the city the Cross of St. George flew proudly.

But as a city it was a Jezebel standing in the midst of the righteous. A harlot residing in the congregation. A city filled with its own aroma of danger and intrigue. Whatever sin one wished to partake in could be found. More than eighty drinking establishments littered the narrow streets near the wharves. Whores and assassins could be hired for the price of a mere farthing. Every night some poor soul lay dead in the streets. Or was found floating face down in the bay. The end product of some petty dispute.

Both the honest yeoman and the most unrepentant sinner could be found in Port Royal. Yet a city equally awash with the sense of unrestricted freedom. Those who came to Port Royal came for many reasons. But many came because they yearned deep within their souls to break the chains and manacles of the Old World and the aristocracy of Europe. They sought their fortunes and fate in the boundless promise of the New World. It is the reason I came to Port Royal. It was the reason my sagacious old one-eyed Irish leprechaun of a partner tagged along with me.

But I stray from my original thought.

In the said October of 1661 three English ships of war slid into the harbor and dropped anchor. No sooner had their anchors chains rattled into the bay than a skiff was hurriedly deposited into the water and manned by stout seamen. With haste the slipped away from the large man of war and began pulling across the calm waters toward the nearest wharf. There was a sense of urgency in the way the long boat almost flew across the water with its eight oars rising and falling in precision.

In the middle of the long boat sat two figures. Odd creatures one would not have thought would be found on an English ship of war. One figure, dressed in fine cotton dyed as red as freshly spilt blood and cut in the traditional naval fashion, sat sitting bolt up right and rigid as any good naval officer ought to do. A large blue tri-cornered hat, made of fine silk and dyed a deep blue, sat upon a freshly white-powdered wig. The wig framed a rather young, rather angular face of a handsome young man. Haughty, confident, even perhaps somewhat arrogant, the young English naval officer sat quietly and confidently in the longboat, hands resting on the bass knob of a dark ebony cane.

Beside him sat a strangely hooded creature smaller in stature when compared to the officer setting beside her. A light cloak of emerald green satin hid her from the gaze of any curious onlooker. But there was no doubt the hooded figure was a woman and a woman of refinement and breeding. Equally evident was the obvious attention the young man showered on the creature beside him. Neither said a word as the longboat raced across the waters. None had to. It was evident the officer, and the common seamen manning the oars, all were keenly aware of the woman’s desire for great haste.

Ah! What strange machinations a man will do! For a brief smile, a whimsical nod, or a flash of dark alluring eyes, a man will throw away all caution and common sense and challenge the very gods themselves! Risk all, dare Fate itself, even defy Old Man Death for nothing more than to again enter the gentle embrace of a woman’s good will.

How terribly simple we men are.

Friday, January 1, 2010

First 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.