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First pages

One

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 heat. The wind was blowing a steady gait from out of the south. That meant it was going to be a hot day. A witheringly hot day.

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. Later on, after 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, black as coal, was going to turn into a boiler in about an hour. There’s nothing like a black car and black leather seats which can absorb heat and 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 CTS-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 outward from the hole. 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 . . .and tailored to perfection. 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 this guy was, he wasn’t worried about balancing his check book like the rest of us. Not so long ago I used to think twice every time I wanted to buy a Daffy Duck tie off the racks at K-Mart. Times have changed. So has the health of my bank account. But this guy . . . this guy looked as if he never had to worry about money. Hell. His car alone–new–was two 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. 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.

No.

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 equal to a couple of Einsteins, 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. Top floor of a four floor parking garage. The Caddy was facing to the south parked 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, “But 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. All six lanes of the cement ribbon were filled with morning traffic. You could hear the constant hum all the way 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 wheat fields 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, looked at my partner, and grinned.

Smart-ass.

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. Stringy 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 them 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 most of those twelve. 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 since the day I met him.

“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 sixteen or eighteen feet off the floor. Or, more precisely, about fifty feet from ground level.”

“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 was 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 along and gets dumped into your lap which doesn’t follow the rules. The evidence is usually very little. Or nonexistent. Typically there are a multitude of possible suspects. Each with several reasons on why they would pull the trigger. To solve a case like this means 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 answers 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. She 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.”

A wiry smirk played across my lips.

What the hell. I don’t mind taking these cases. Frank hates’em. I find them stimulating. 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 ever since I graduated from college. Twelve years. 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. Once I had dreams 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 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 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. But there's one secret that's not so secret. 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. 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 cu. inch 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. On a daily basis I use a ‘68 Shelby Cobra Mustang 350 G.T. with the small block 289 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 some bedrooms added as necessities. Just one giant room for the living room, dinning and kitchen, with an entire wall filled with nothing but books and a few rather expensively framed water colors scattered about. 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, isn't it?

Well forget 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, the mustache, 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 wants no part of’em on a permanent basis.

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.

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 Weiser was the kid’s name and he worked with the City/County Medical Office. It was Joe who usually came out on homicide cases. 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, something almost like a grin spreading across his block for a head.

“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 that's 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 gurney. 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 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's 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.

Two

Our dead lawyer was a corporate schmooze who's firm had maybe two hundred clients in the local Fortune 500 companies in this town. He was the senior partner and co-founder 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 sixth 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 distant 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. Each was of someone whose name I actually recognized.

Impressive.

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 a 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 must have been a rat's ass away from wearing a straight jacket.”

“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. Stewart came out of law school and created this from scratch. Apparently he offered Pierce a full partnership right off the bat.”

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 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 on 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. 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.

Intimidation.

A gravely misunderstood tool . . . intimidation. When used in the hands of a craftsman it can open up entirely new lines of investigation. It can reveal clues which otherwise would have remained hidden.

“Jocelyn Stewart.”

Frank looked at the lawyer and grunted. Grunted in a tone that made me turn and glance at Pierce and then at Frank.

“Jocelyn Stewart. The one who owns the cosmetics empire?”

“That Jocelyn Stewart,” the lawyer agree, a thin smirk peeling back his lips as he nodded.

“Who’s Jocelyn Stewart?” I asked.

“She owns Frederic's of Georgia. One of the largest cosmetics firms in the country. Old money. Really old money if you know what I mean.” Frank answered, glancing at me and not looking happy.

Sighing, I looked at the lawyer. I knew what Frank was hinting at. Money. Old money.

Meaning lawyers. A ton of them. And power. Layers of political power magnified by the color of green. How Frank and I stumbled like a couple of blind men into these cases was a mystery to me. It had to be Karma. Both of us must have really pissed people off in our previous lives.

“We’ll need to ask some questions to everyone in the office. Does the deceased have 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.

Nothing.

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 ring tone. 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 dropped 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.”

“Huh?”

“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 lieutenant 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 thirteen 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.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I am a sixty-six year old writer of genre fiction. 'Been writing it for the last fifty five years. And, if the Dark Forces agree, I plan to keep on writing in it for the next fifty five years.


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