Sunday, December 20, 2009

Two Deadly Little Affairs opening chapter

Book four of the Turner series is called Two Deadly Little Affairs.
I thought I'd post here now and see if I could get some feedback. Leave a comment and tell me what you think.



Black–long since dried and buried deep into the carpet.
A big stain, spreading out like arthritic fingers–three of them–with one long crooked finger pointing seemingly to the open door of another room. Blood. An ugly, mean stain. Dark and dirty and filled with violence. Yet strangely absent a body. But in the bedroom . . .

Ah, the bedroom.

Two bodies. Lying in bed. One male and one female and neither wearing anything. But to be honest you had to really examine them to determine which was the male and which was the female. An examination frankly I was more than happy to leave to Joe Weiser and his boys down in forensics.

Someone walked in on the couple hot in the act of flying to the moon. They were too busy to notice. Whoever it was emptied at least two big clips of 7.62 mm ammo from a submachine gun into the bed. Shredded the bed and its occupants with a virulent intensity. Bullet holes were everywhere. The bed looked like it had went through a madman’s blender. The bed’s headboard looked like a gigantic rat had gnawed about half of it off with dull but strong choppers. The wall behind it looked like a cheese grater. Through half a dozen holes punched through the chapter plaster and clapboard wall I could see the bright points of sunlight shining through.

“Christ, why do we get the messy ones?”

I turned and glanced at my partner, Frank Morales. A big, ugly monster of bone and muscle and no neck. Stringy red hair that refused to comply to tonsorial regulations, always blowing in the breeze. About two seventy pounds of hard cement for beef with an IQ of a couple of Eienstein’s tucked in for good measure. Some said he looked like a well preserved Neanderthal. I smiled, thinking of some of the other sobriquets he’d been called. None of them complementary.

“Karma, buddy. We’re the saps the lieutenant want’s to use when something odd or weird happens.”

Frank, hands in slacks, stepped to my side and stared at the bloody bed. Around us Joe and his forensic’s team were quickly and efficiently working their trade. The click of their big Cannon 35 mm cameras taking in all the grisly sights permanently. Out front, surrounding the motel bungalow were various marked patrol cars of both the city and the county sheriff’s department.

Five miles outside the city was the Timberline Bungalows–an inexpensive motel of about ten small bungalows sat in among huge pine trees residing on the shores of the sprawling Lake Teuton. Lovers, adulterers, and a few other crazies came out here get out of the city for a few hours. The motel didn’t ask questions–didn’t care what happened inside his bungalows as long as there was no damage. If the credit card or color of the money looked good they’d take it and not care what you did.

“Well, this is weird, brother. The clerk said these two love birds checked in about eight last night. Just showed up in front of the office door. No bags. No car. How they got out here is a mystery to him. But they had money, and from what he could see bulging in the man’s wallet, lots of it. They checked in and didn’t come out. About four this morning the gunfire began. Lots of gunfire.”

“Anyone see anything?”

Frank almost grinned, the slight movement of the corner of his lips indicates something amused him, and nodded.

“Apparently two men dressed in camo and waving around Kalishnikovs is enough to keep most people hiding under their beds. One guest, two bungalows down, is ex-army just back from Iraq. Recognized the sound of the gunfire. He was the only one to take a peek outside. Said he saw two guys wearing old camo fatigues come walking out of here with their weapons and climb into an F-150 Ford pickup. Couldn’t see the color of the truck nor pick up a license plate number. Did say, though, the truck looked muddied. Like just coming off the farm or from one of those off-country tracks they like to wallow in.”

“Uh huh,” I nodded, half turning and checking out the bed again and frowning. “Want to know what else is funny?”

“I think I know what you’re gonna say,” Frank nodded, twitching his lips again. “Been wondering about that since the Yank told us to come out here and take over the investigation.”

“Why us?” I asked, nodding and looking at Frank. “This should be a county investigation. Lewis Peck or Ben Jones should be the lead investigator. They’re good. And Odel Jenkins isn’t the kind of sheriff who like’s to share an investigation with anyone. So what’s going on here?”

Odel Jenkins was the county sheriff. A raw, blunt, yet powerful politician who got himself elected twice as county commissioner and then decided to run for the sheriff’s office. The man was an ex-city cop. He had put himself through night school and picked up a law degree. He was fierce in his hates and fierce in his loyalties. His loyalties swung toward his men and his department–and his hate toward the city and anything to do with the city coming into his territory.
Neither Lewis Peck or Ben Jones, the top two detectives in the sheriff’s department, had even stuck their noses in for a quick peek of the crime scene. Again, something completely out of kilter. We know both of them. Both were good cops. Honest cops. They not being around made me feel uneasy.

“Come on, let’s take a walk.” I said, turning and walking out of the bungalow.

Outside birds were flashing over head, zooming and diving in a happy ballet of the first warm day of Spring. The wind, soft and still with a tang of sudden cold, whispered through the pines as Frank and I made our way past the bungalows and down toward the lake. As we did, I glanced at the narrow country black top which wound its way around the lake and past the small huts and noted the four or five cars and spectators who had come out to see what they could see.

The grim fascination people had with violent murder.

Smiling, shaking my head, I wasn’t surprised. People are people. We will never change.

As we approached the lake the bite in the breeze become pronounced. Lake Teuton was the main city reservoir and served as a major boating/camping site as well. It sprawled for about six miles in a long but modestly wide lake just north of the city. Fed by the Brown River and couple of smaller streams coming in from the northeast, the lake was as a magnet for fishermen and the wealthy. On the far shore were several huge mansions. Homes of the rich and powerful in this state. One of them being the governor’s house. His private residence. Several more powerful men I could name lived over on the far side. Some honest. Some almost honest. Some who didn’t have an honest bone in their body.

“You think they came from over there?” Frank asked, lifting an eyebrow in surprise. “Yeah, that make’s sense to me.”

A couple shows up. No bags. No mode of transportation. No indication that anyone dropped them off. They had to come from somewhere. Grinning, stuffing hands in my slacks, I turned and looked at the big hulk behind me.

“Okay, boy scout. Show me your woodsman’s tracking talents. Let’s find something to show this isn’t a wild goose chase.”

Actually Frank is a Boy Scout. He has four sons, three of which are boy scouts and he happens to be their pack leader. A devoted father, Frank and the boys mess around out in the woods as much as being a homicide detective will allow for a family. He’s also married to a knock out Italian ex-model–yeah, I’m not kidding–who can be as crazy eccentric as a woman can be.

Me? Not me, brother. Neither married nor interested in being a Boy Scout. Grew up on a farm and hated each day of it. Went to college on a football scholarship and never went back to the farm. Got married once, lived five years in hell with her which drove both of us to desperation. Got a divorce.

And then I come into money. An inheritance. Lots and lots of money–along with a grandfather I never knew I had. Money. Sudden wealth–you’d think my worries would be over. Right? Sorry, buddy. Doesn’t happen that way. Money is money. And if you suddenly find yourself buried in it where, the day before, you worked from pay check to pay check, people start asking questions. Especially if you’re a cop.

But those are my bags to carry. I deal with it. For all the money, for all the problems, just remember this. My name is Turner Hahn. I’m a cop. An honest one–and I’d like to keep it that way. I think I’m good at what I do. And odd, strange, out of the ordinary cases I like to work the most.

Like this one. From the moment Lieutenant Demitri Yankovich, our shift commander, told us to go out here to take over the investigation I knew it was going to be one of the odd ones. Frankly, I was glad it came along. Of late I was feeling bored and run down. My mind needed a challenge. My gut feeling was telling me there was far, far more to this case than what was directly in front of us. It was going to be more than just a murder.

“Hey, Turn . . . look at this,” Frank grunted, kneeling down in the grass just up from the sandy beach.

He was pointing to a large stain in the grass. Blood. Blood and the indications of two people hurrying through the tall grass coming from the lake and heading toward the hotel. Frank stood up and we both turned toward the lake. Directly in front of us was a large, powerfully built speedboat with two 150 horse Mercury Marine engines setting on its stern bulkhead. It had come in fast and slid high up on the sandy beach before coming to a halt. The sand around the boat was churned up where people had jumped off hurriedly. On the side of the hull was a long smear of blood. A startling red streak sliding across the white fiberglass hull.

“Somebody caught one earlier, Turn. Bad wound too from the amount of blood they left behind.”

I nodded in agreement.

Glancing up, looking out over the dark waters of the lake, I smiled, narrowed my eyes, and felt quietly pleased. Yes, something happened over on the far side of the lake. In one of those big houses. A rich man’s house. That would mean power. Big named lawyers to defend the accused. Politicians high and low possibly involved. Cover ups. Lies. Deceptions.

Yep. I do love my job.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Murderous Passions: Chapter One


Murder is such an up-close and personal venue.

Especially if the weapon of choice is a garrote made with piano wire. The C-string. With wood handles carved with a craftsman’s precision to fit the end of the wires for a firm, deadly grip.

Yes. A garrote is a very intimate form of death. It requires strength. Perseverance. Patience. It’s not like shooting someone with a 9mm. Stand ten feet way. Aim at the chest. Pull the trigger and then walk away. The garrote is not mundane and pedestrian. To kill with a garrote means you have to stand close to your victim. As close as two bodies intertwined in a lover’s embrace. You have to stand close enough to feel the victim’s body heat. Smell the victim’s fear. Taste the victim’s blood.

It’s messy.

The victim doesn’t die by strangulation so much as by drowning. If the proper technique is used the carotid artery is severed. Blood spurts everywhere. The victim downs in his own blood. A macabre sense of retribution. Dying by drowning in your own blood.

Yes. Garroting is very personal. Someone choosing this method meant the killer wanted to enjoy the act of snuffing someone’s life out. Like a wine connoisseur wanting to savor ever passing second of a rare wine.

The victim was Dr. Walter Holdridge. The Walter Holdridge. Nobel prize winner in Physics and for the last dozen years the academic catch for our own Anderson University. The victim lay sprawled across a computer terminal in the basement of the campus’ Computer Sciences building. Very dead. Very messy. And promising to be a case which would bring a lots of publicity to the university. Publicity of the unwanted kind.

Anderson University is a synonym for ‘money.’ It’s in the dictionary. Look it up in Webster’s and the number three definition will say, “Anderson University–and lot’s of it.” The campus is six blocks of downtown prime real estate. Sculptured lawns, big platters of well manicured flower beds, and red brick buildings of various architectural styles which somehow blend together describes the school. It has 3,000 students and each student is in the top three percent in the nation. Smart kids. Rich kids. Money and lots of smarts.

For a cop that’s a bad combination.

The tiny room the victim claimed as his own was all white. White walls. White ceiling. White tiles for floors. The only thing not white in the room was the black vinyl office chair, two small black chairs sitting against one wall, the CRT screen, and the keyboard. There was also the professor’s scruffy looking leather briefcase lying on one of the chairs. A big thing, looking as old as the professor himself, heavy and locked tightly shut. Everything else was pure white. Add in the fluorescent lights in the ceiling and one had the impression of the movie character HAL in the movie, 2001.

The professor’s dark blood contrasted sharply with the white. Reminding me, gruesomely, of a surreal painting. Ah! Murder as an art form! The ultimate sacrifice to create the ultimate piece of art. A thin crease in my lips told me I was grinning. Sometimes I have very bizarre thoughts. And my sense of humor needs working on as well.

The price you pay, I suspected, for working in Homicide too long.
Behind me I heard my partner, Frank Morales, step into the room and grunt in curiosity. Turning, I nodded and he looked at me and shrugged.

“Must have been a bleeder.” Frank grunted, shoving hands into his pockets.

“Yeah, must have,” I nodded my eyes returning to the body. “Who called in the report?”

“Campus security. The prof’s student-assistant came down here and found him. Dispatch sent Gonzales and Charles over in a black-and-white to take the initial squawk.”

Officers Alonzo Gonzales and Tubby Charles were two beat officers who’s beat would include the campus. Good men. Good beat cops who preferred remaining beat cops.
“Where are they now?”

“Upstairs interviewing anyone who was in the building at the time the body was discovered.”

I nodded, frowned, and looked at the blood again.

“Lot’s of blood.”

“Yeah, a lot of blood,” Frank repeated softly, nodding. “Garroting someone is messy. But this. This is really messy.”

“The prof put up a heck of a fight. Maybe some of this belongs to the killer. When are the lab boys due?”

“Any time now.”

I nodded.

“Okay, find the security guys who found the body, and the ones who were on duty during the approximate time of the murder if there was a shift change. Interview everyone.”

Frank turned on a heel and left. I frowned and glanced at my watch. Technically the lab boys are supposed to come in and do their thing before the investigating detectives begin poking around. Technically. They weren’t here yet, so what was I supposed to do? Frowning, I turned and stepped out into the hall directly in front of the room.

The hall was an exact copy of the room. All white. White ceiling, white walls, white tile floors; fluorescent lighting. I read somewhere about polar explorers worried about walking into a situation where everything turned white, leaving no way to ascertain a horizon or any sense of direction. Snow blindness they called it. I could understand the worry. I actually felt a slight sense of vertigo. Welding goggles came to mind. Something to cut down the glare of everything white.
The hall was one side of the basement. It was wide, empty, and ran past nine other rooms exactly like that of the crime scene. To my right and to my left the hall ran maybe one hundred feet in each direction. Staring in one directly and then the other I found it most curious. All that blood in the room behind me. Lots of blood which covered both the victim and had to cover the killer as well, yet the pristine white halls were absolutely spotless. Not even a shoe scuff mark could be seen decorating the white tile. Either our killer was damned lucky in getting nothing on him. Or damn fastidious. Pulling on my ear thoughtfully I turned and reentered the room.

I quickly searched the man’s pockets. I know I should have waited for the crime team to arrive first. Although, I didn’t and I hurriedly, but efficiently, searched the corpse. Keys, wallet, change in his pockets, a second set of keys on a single key ring, and two pens and a mechanical pencil comprised the man’s possessions. His wallet had three credit cards and fifty bucks in cash in it. There was a driver’s license, a university medical card, a couple of phone numbers hurriedly written on two pieces of paper and folded in half before being inserted into the wallet. There were two library cards; one for the campus library and one for the city’s. What was not in the billfold was any kind of a photo. No wife, no kids, not precocious grandchildren. Nothing. As I carefully put everything back into the billfold and inserted it back into the man’s rear trousers pocket I found myself wondering what that meant. No photos.

Although, I did find one curious item. A torn paper, ripped from a memo pad, with the words “Gamma-ray outbursts!!!!!” scribbled across it. Written so fast it was barely discernable. With five exclamation points. Folded in half, it was in the man’s upper left hand shirt pocket. It appeared like something one might find in a physicist’s pocket. However, there was something in the way it was so hurriedly scribbled which made me curious, as I folded it and slipped it back into the pocket.
There were bruises around the man’s mouth and jaw. The man’s well manicured fingernails looked messy. Meaning, with luck, there might be some skin material of his killer there. Only a good going over in the morgue would tell me that. Coming to my feet I turned and decided to take a good look at the briefcase.
It was a big clunker of a leather briefcase. Engraved into the metal latch were the letters WH. The leather handle was sweat-stained from years of toting things around in it.

Where it opened the leather was worn and grooved. Old, worn, but still serviceable. Like an old friend who should retire but can’t because he would be missed too much. Nevertheless, the clasp showed no markings of someone trying to open it. Gently lifting it with a finger it weighed enough to make-do for a temporary anchor for the Queen Mary.

Frowning, I stepped back to the cubicle’s single entrance and looked the scene over again. We had a murder of a physics professor, a professor in a small private, and I should say very expensive, college who prided itself on its academic reputation of elusiveness in its selection of students. First glance suggested it was not a murder by impulse. No thief suddenly caught in the act of burglary turning and killing his discoverer here. The garrote, a weapon of intimacy, suggested premeditation. To use a garrote one had to be willing to take a chance; a chance of his would-be victim being more ferocious in his defending himself, and taking the chance of being caught in the act itself. This grisly picture before me looked more like an execution. Someone really disliked the idea of the good professor taking one more unnecessary breath on this planet.

I stepped out of the room, and looking down the white hall, saw the lab boys lugging in their gear herding down the hall, and behind them, Frank strolling down the hall with a scowl on his face. Nodding and waving the tech boys into the room I waited for Frank to pull up beside and tell me what, or who, had just rained on his parade.

“Christ, this is going to be a bitch, Turn. A royal bitch.”

“How so?”

“Finished talking to the security guards. Get this; in order to get down here you have to have an identification card. It’s a magnetized card which directly connects into the campus’ mainframe. It recognizes your number and then unlocks the door to let you in. Except, you don’t automatically get in. After the computer scans the card you then have to have your thumb print scanned.”

“That’s a lot of security for a computer research area like this. What’s down here so important?”

Frank’s scowl darkened as he nodded in agreement.

“Apparently the research computer they’ve got down here is very fast, very experimental, and very expensive. The Air Force is interested in it and they have a couple of research grants being worked on here. So they added a third layer of security to monitor anyone coming or going. At each end of the hall there is a guard assigned to monitor those who come and go. Anyone who wants in has to scan his card, scan his thumb print, and then sign his name in a log book, indicating the time he entered and the time he left.”

“So we should know who was in the basement at the time of the professor’s death, right? We find out approximate time of death, then we check the log book and computer logs, and we have our killer.”

A wicked little grin spread across the thin lips of my pasta-loving partner. Frank had this twisted sense of humor I found amusing. He loved to irritate others. He enjoyed portraying himself as a thick-headed, stupid cop who wore badly fitting cheap suits. Furthermore, then he would say something or do something which was astonishingly brilliant. He hated to investigate cases which contained any form of a puzzle in it; an incongruity, if you ask me because of his high I.Q., yet he loved to torment me by adding layers upon layers of additional complexity to an already complex case. The little twist of his lips on his cement-block head told me another little wrinkle was coming.

“Oh, but you’re gonna love this, Turn. Ready? From 2: p.m. to 5:40 p.m. the only person is the victim. His student assistant comes in at 5:40 to see if he needs anything before she goes back to the dorm. That’s when she found him.”
“Well, before the professor arrives? Anyone check in but not check out?”

“Nope. The two security officers covering this area swear the students who came in before two were gone by the time the stiff arrives. When the professor comes swinging down the steps with his briefcase, something he did like clock work every day, he was alone. No one was down here, except for security, during that time.”
So there it was. A genuine, honest-to-God puzzle. Someone knows the professor’s habits; knows he comes down here to do work, precisely at two. Either the killer is down here waiting for the professor, and somehow knows he is going to be in that given cubicle and no other, or he somehow has a way to bypass all the layers of security and enters unseen. Or there was, possibly, a third alternative.

“Yeah, don’t say it,” Frank grunted, frowning and shaking his head no. “It could be one of the security officers. I thought of that too. No joy there, chum. My hunch is both are squeaky-clean boy scouts and ex-marines. If it was one of them it’d have to be one hell of a reason. Except, I doubt that’s gonna pan out. So, my bucko, you have one hell of a case in front of you! Moreover, I am sooooo glad you have it and I don’t!”

I smiled, sighed, and shrugged. Glancing at my watch I noticed it almost seven o:clock. I actually had hopes of going down to where I kept my cars stored and working on the Road Runner for an hour or two tonight. That wasn’t going to happen. We still had the initial investigation to do. Hours of assembling the sometimes dissimulate pieces of the puzzle, and doing it by the numbers in a procedure every working cop knows inside and out. We’d be lucky if we rolled into our beds by midnight.

“No surveillance cameras?”

“Nope. To be installed next week.”

I nodded, wondering if this too was planned or if it was just a dumb stroke of luck for the killer.

“Who’s the student assistant?”

Frank looked down at the small spiral notebook he used to jot down everything, flipped a couple of pages, and found the name.

“A graduate student by the name of Alicia Addams,” he said, looking up and grinning even more insidiously. “ She’s up stairs in the professor’s office waiting to be interviewed. I thought you might want that one. You know . . .playing the brilliant young Shylock of a detective and interviewing the pretty young damsel in distress.”

I grinned and patted the little man on the shoulder as I stepped around him.

“That’s Sherlock, bub. Not Shylock. So, why don’t you go talk to the security guys again. See if they can give you more about our victim and about anyone who might want to see a physics professor dead.”

The computer lab in the basement was only half of the basement. Also down there were a series of chemistry, biology, and physics laboratories. The building we were in was called Aimes Hall. It housed the departments of Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Four floors up from the basement was the floor where most of the professors had their offices. Stepping off the elevator I found Dr. Holdridge’s office quickly enough. I followed the sounds of someone sobbing, and between her sobs, blowing her nose into a wad of tissues.

“Alicia Addams?”

“Yes . . .yes, I’m Alicia.”

Surprise. I had this impression female grad students in physics had to look like some Russian female mud wrestler. Foolish me. Alicia Addams was in her twenties, with long brown hair, green eyes, and long, finely chiseled gams. Her face was not pretty. Nevertheless, it wasn’t ugly. However, save for her legs, she was wearing a one-piece blue dress, her legs were crossed as she sat in a chair in front of the dead stiff’s desk. They were long and nice to look at. Very nice.

Her eyes were red and her face was puffy from a long jag of crying. The wad of Kleenex in her hands looked like shredded mush. On the corner of the desk, and just out of reach, was a freshly opened box. Stepping into the closet-room sized office I reached for the box and handed it to her.

“Detective Sergeant Turner Hahn, Southside Division. I need to ask you a few questions.”

“Yes, I know. The two officers in uniform told me you would want to talk to me.”
I nodded and glanced at the office. It looked like what you might expect a Physics professor’s office should look like. Books everywhere. The wall immediately behind the desk was nothing but books from ceiling to carpeted floor and a small computer desk with a very large CRT screen. The interior wall was bare except for a set of photos of a living Dr. Holdridge standing either beside, or shaking hands with, a number of distinguished looking men. The exterior wall had a long and narrow slit of a window which looked down on the campus commons below. The last wall was more photos.

I was impressed with the man’s desk. It had the look of precision to it. Mostly bare, with the few papers on it stacked in a neat stack, yet what caught my eye were the three pens placed with unerring accuracy directly onto the middle of the desk’s surface. They were precisely aligned. Looking at them the word ‘perfectionist’ crossed my mind.

“You were the professor’s student assistant?”

“Yes. For two years now. I’m working on my Master’s degree in physics and chemistry.”

“When did you see the professor last? That is, before you found him in the lab below.”

“Oh, let me see . . .” she sighed, sniffling, and starring up at the ceiling for a moment or two to think. “This morning around ten, I think. He was here in the office working and I just popped in to ask if he needed anything.”
“Okay, how did he look and sound?”

“He was upset. Really angry. He told me he didn’t want to be bothered until later this afternoon when he went down to work on the computer. Really, I’d have to say, it was just another normal day.”

“Normal? An upset professor is normal?”
A whiff of a smile momentarily played on the girl’s lips before disappearing. Tears welled up and she hurriedly pulled out of the Kleenex box a dozen or more and buried her face in them for a short jag of crying. It ended with her blowing her nose loudly before she looked up at me.

“That was Dr. Holdridge, detective. He was always mad at someone. He was a great teacher and a brilliant mind. I have never heard anyone explain Quantum Mechanics so clearly like he could. Except, he was . . . he was . . . hard to get along with. He was tough. Tough and abrasive. He made a lot of demands on his students and on his peers. He often said he could not tolerate fools and he thought humanity in general were fools of the first order.”

Ah. A perfectionist and egotist.

“So who had angered him this time?”
“Oh, that’s simple. The head of the department, Dr. Murphy. Lots of his peers angered the professor. Although, Dr. Murphy was special. He would usually become livid if he got into a row with her.”

“Dr. Holdridge was not the department head?”

“Oh, no. No way. He wanted to be. He campaigned for it. Plus, he made no effort to conceal his ire at being superceded by a woman as chair. Furthermore, there was no way Dr. Holdridge would ever become the Physics department head. He was just too . . . too severe. He could make the most brilliant of his students feel like a stuttering idiot when he dressed them down. He could have the entire faculty on the verge of mutiny with some of his biting commentary. To be a department head, especially the department head in physics, you have to be something of a skilled diplomat and politician. You have to smooze with the alumni and with big-time business leaders. To be a top-drawer department you need lots of people and lots of corporations donating huge sums of money. You have to be colleague with your peers. I am afraid Dr. Holdridge was not that kind of personality.”

The personality of the late Doctor Walter Holdridge sounded like that of a Rottweiler with rabies. That kind of personality guaranteed the creation of a lot of enemies. The question was, was the killer on the campus? Or were there more out there we hadn’t heard about?

“So who else on the faculty could yank the professor’s chain?”

Again, that whiff of a smile played across the plain, yet attractive, face of the student. For a brief moment a small flicker of humor lit her green eyes, making her ever more attractive. I wondered if this smiling girl, this feminine geek, might also have a motive for murder.

“Oh, goodness. Everyone, at one time or the other, yanked the professor’s chain, detective. Just get a campus directory and go down the list. That would include the janitors for this building and the gardeners, the electricians, the plumbers. Everyone.”

I sighed and sat down in one of the small chairs beside the desk and directly opposite the child. Funny, here she was in her twenties, and not bad looking, and I was a single male barely in my forties. Nevertheless, somehow I was thinking her as if she was a child. A kid. Someone barely out of puberty. I was looking at her more like a father might look at his daughter.

Frankly, I didn’t like the thought. Although women and I was like mixing nitroglycerin and gasoline together, and any relationship with a woman, including my brief marriage, usually fell apart with a sudden finality to it, nevertheless I still liked to gaze upon a good looking woman. I thought there might be a chance I might find a girlfriend. One who actually found me both attractive and interesting. One I could actually tolerate and appreciate.

Hell, it was a thought. A hope. Everyone has to have a measure of hope in their souls.

“So who else on the faculty could repeatedly anger the professor?”

“Hmmm, let me see,” she began, furrowing her eyebrows and thinking for a moment before answering. “There’s Dr. Armand Pellieur. He’s head of the Chemistry department. His office is next door. Dr. Pellieur is very good at agitating the professor.”

“And then there’s Dr. Hodgeskins. He’s one of the professors in the Archeology department. There’s no love lost between there. Between those three, Dr. Murphy, Dr. Pellieur, and Dr. Hodgeskins, that would be the list.”
I nodded.

“So tell me about this afternoon. Was it usual for the professor to be in the basement at that time of the day?”

“Yes. Every day. You could use the professor to set your watch. Every day exactly at the same time.”

“So, you usually checked in to see how he was doing?”

“Every day,” she smiled weakly, more tears flowing down her ruby cheeks, her lower lip beginning to tremble. “Clockwork.”

“It was you who found the body?”

For an answer she broke into a fit of hysterical crying. More Kleenex left the box in one rapid sweep of the hand. I waited in silence for the moment to pass. You learn to be patient as a cop. Especially when you’re investigating a murder.

“Yes, I came in precisely at 4:15. That’s when the professor wanted me to interrupt him. That’s when I . . .found him like that.”

“What did you do?”

“I . . .I screamed. Screamed like a silly little girl. It was then I went running to find Ralph.”

“Who’s Ralph?”

“He’s the campus security officer on duty at the south entrance. I say hello to him every day at that time. I found him and we both ran back to see if the professor might still be alive. However, he wasn’t. Ralph told me to follow him. We called the police from the phone down in the basement.”

So. There it was. A dead professor with a piano wire around his neck and an entire university as primary suspects. Swell. I smiled with an appreciation, again, of Frank’s uncanny ability at sniffing out tough cases with the least amount of knowledge and handing it to me with a smirk on his face.

Well, that’s okay. That’s why I’m paid by the city. I’m a cop. Besides, truthfully, I like what I do.

“Thank you, Miss Addams.” I said, coming to my feet and stepping toward the entrance. “We might need to contact you again with more questions later on. Please stay in town until the investigation is done. Here is my card. If you think of anything else don’t hesitate in giving me a call. Okay?”

She reached out and took the card I held in my hand. Her face came up and there was this certain look, a look I was all too familiar with, clearly painted on her face. Shit. Here it comes again.

“Detective, somehow you look familiar. You look like an old movie star. Oh! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean old. Just, your face, seems so familiar to me. Although, I can’t seem to remember the actor’s name.”

Clark Gable. Yeah, I know. You must think I am an arrogant sonofabitch with an ego problem of my own if I think I look like Clark Gable. However, that’s a mistake. It’s not an ego problem. It’s genetics. One look at my mug and you can’t help but have the impression a bigger, taller, Clark Gable is standing in front of you. Besides, I don’t like it. It’s a curse.

I’m not Clark Gable. I don’t think I look like the dead actor. Although, others do. Then women, for some reason, latch onto it right from the get-go. Maybe you think that’s good. Women being attracted to me. Nevertheless remember; my wife tried to poison me. Twice. At the time we were only married for three months. That should tell you something about my success with women.

I smiled and half turned as I stepped out into the carpeted

“Where might I find this Dr. Murphy?”

“I think she’s downstairs in one of the labs.”

“Thanks,” I said, nodding, and turning away.

No. I’m not Clark Gable. I’m Turner Hahn. Cop. Nothing more and nothing less. Deal with it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Another short story "Justice"

Here's another one of my Turner and Frank stories. It's called 'Justice.'

The windows of the warehouse stared down at my partner and me with a sullen, gray insolence framed in moving shadows and simmering anger. As Frank and I climbed out of my car and closed the doors our eyes never left the ominous pile of brick and battered windows.

It was a slumbering slum of discarded stonework on the south side of town. It sat empty in a long row of empty buildings just like it. Most of the windows were boarded up, the wood weathered and splintered from maleficent neglect. A security fence, with faded signs in big letters saying “Keep Out” hanging from it in thirty foot spaces, did nothing in keeping people at bay. Weeds, coated in a starling silver-white luminescence of moon light, jutted up rudely from several cracks and crevices in the empty parking lot facing it. From somewhere the hot breath of summer was playing with an open door. The door’s hinges squealed; the noise adding a tint of grim reality to an already grim night. As I watched shafts of bright moon light race across the front of the building a thought crossed my mind;
Not a warehouse.

A mausoleum. A tomb.

From underneath my left armpit I pulled out the .45 caliber Kimber and slid the carriage back and clicked off the safeties as I thumbed the hammer back. The weight of the big gun felt reassuring in my hand. Reaching inside my sport coat I felt for the spare clips. I would need them tonight. Laying the Kimber on the hood of the car I reached behind me and pulled out the small framed Walther PPK .380 I carried as a back up. It didn’t have the knock-down power of the Kimber if you hit someone in the chest with it. But if I had to use it I wouldn’t be aiming for the chest. To my right I knew Frank had his 9mm Glock in hand and would be checking the snub-nosed .38 caliber Smith &Wesson he had for his back up.

Someone was going to die tonight.

There was no other way around it.

Debts had to be paid. Justice had to be metered out.

Inside the warehouse were four men and a woman. The men, Mick O’Toole, Chucky Mickelson, Bobby Hardaway, and ‘Beep’ Nickles, were together. A gaggle of young toughs who thought they were good at knocking off jewelry stores and small time bookie joints. Most of the time they were successful. They would target a jewelry store, cut the power to the alarm systems, drill a hole through the roof of the building and slide down ropes. Beep was a talented safe-cracker. He could crack a safe’s tumbler faster than I could pour a cold beer from the bottle into a glass. If he couldn’t, Bobby Hardaway was good at explosives. He knew how to use just enough plastique to shape a charge and blow open a safe door making the least amount of noise. When it was time to get away Chucky Mickelson was the driver.

But the man who was the brains of the outfit was Mick O’Toole. A true Irishman, said to be on the lamb from the IRA. Somehow he had pissed them off. Pissed them off enough to force Mick to leave Britain permanently.

That takes talent. How do you piss off the IRA that much and still live?

All four of them had two things in common. Two traits which made them hook up together and work as a team. Greed was one trait they shared in common. Meanness the other. Each one them wanted dough. Each one wanted to hurt people getting the dough. That’s why they liked knocking off small fry bookies. They’d stroll into a bookie joint, splatter the bookie with a shotgun, kill anyone else who got in the way, grab the take and leave.

The woman in there with them was a young girl by the name of Lois Hogan. Nineteen. Her father was Gill Hogan. Bookie—or more precisely, dead bookie. About a half hour ago Mick and his boys walked into the small restaurant Gill ran for his boss just as the place was closing up for the night. They pistol whipped Gill and then shot him three times in the chest before throwing the night’s bets into a bag and leaving. Gill’s daughter had been sitting out in the restaurant waiting for her father. Mick and his thugs grabbed Lois and threw her into the van they used for a getaway car and came out here. We knew this because twenty minutes ago a guy by the name of Caesar Ortega called me on my cell phone and told me he wanted to talk to Frank and me. Told us to meet him underneath a burnt out lamp post on the corner of Monroe and 113th Street South. Just two blocks away from where we now were standing.

And as the old saying goes, when Caesar calls, one answers. If they valued living.

Caesar Ortega was Gill Hogan’s boss. Gill ran one of Ortega’s bookie joints plus the restaurant. Ortega played the numbers, ran a string of strip joints and whore houses, had his hand in smuggling illegals up from Mexico. He stayed out of the drug business because he didn’t want to butt heads with larger crime syndicates and/or the crazy drug lords coming up out of Mexico and South America. He was a tough hood who knew the streets. A smart businessman who knew how to make a profit and stay out of a police lineup at the same time. That was Caesar Ortega.

When we pulled up to the curb we saw Ortega leaning against the grill of his black Mercedes, dressed in white slacks, a yellow Hawaiian print shirt, and white tipped loafers. He looked tan and in shape. And—from the frown on his face and the way he had his arms crossed—about as pissed off as a man could get.

“Turner. . . Frank,” he grunted, nodding his head, as we stepped around the front of our car and faced him.

“Caesar,” I said, nodding.

“You two working on the Hogan killing?”

Frank almost smiled and nodded.

“Word gets around fast, Caesar. Gill was killed only ten minutes ago.”

“I know, I was there when it happened.”

That was a surprise. I grinned as Frank popped off the obvious line.

“A confession, Caesar? From you?”

A dry, cruel smile stretched across Ortega’ lips as his hot, blazing dark eyes stared at Frank. It wasn’t a smile one would call humorous. Unless the smile of a Great White just before his attack could be considered humorous.

“I was setting across the street when those four creeps came in and wasted Gill. They killed him, took the cash, and threw his daughter into the back of a van and drove off. I know who they are and I know where you can find them.”

“Why are you telling this to us, Caesar?” I asked as I looked at the expensively dressed hood standing alone in front of his Mercedes. “What’s your game?”

“It’s vermin like that that gives a man in my position a bad name, my friend. People in town think these guys work for me. They think I give the orders to hit this joint or kill that fool. Word gets around. People higher up in the food chain start to get nervous and ask questions. When they start to get nervous I start to get nervous.”

Feeling a little pressure from the mob are you Caesar? Starting to look over your shoulder some? Interesting.

“So why don’t you take them out?” Frank asked bluntly.

Ortega flashed us that shark’s mirthless grin and spread his hands out eloquently as he shrugged.

“I’m just an honest businessman, Frank. My organization tries to stay away from trouble like this. But suppose, god forbid, someone in my organization took it upon themselves to clean house and take out the trash? A situation would arise which could easily spiral out of control. These four punks do have friends in certain parts of the city. These friends could become irritated at me. Rivalries could be established. It would be an unfortunate time for all of us.”

“But if we cleaned up the mess for you . . . ,”

“Exactly, Turner. If the police took care of the situation my hands are clean. There’s no room for doubt. Everybody remains friendly. Know what I mean? But Hahn, Morales . . . I gotta tell you. These guys are not going away peacefully. All of’em are fucking crazy. They’ve been in and out of the slammer so many times they’ve got permanent reservations waiting for’em. I’ve been told all of’em have said they’d rather die than go back in. Your work is cut out for you.”

So here we were—standing across the street in deep shadows which kept prying eyes off us as we checked our weapons for the second time and then slipped into our bullet proof vests. Frank, my no-neck lookalike Neanderthal clone flicked open his snub-nose .38 and checked the cylinder before flicking it close and glancing at me.

“How you want to play this?”

I shrugged, curled a finger around the trigger of the Kimber and gripped the Walther in the other.

“They’ve got the girl. We can’t wait for the TAC squad to arrive. She could be dead by then. We go in and take’em out as fast as possible.”


Yeah, right.

Getting into the building was easy. We moved from one dark shadow to the next, slipped across the big parking lot and found an open window. Slipping into the darkness of the warehouse we paused until we heard sounds of men laughing and bottles rattling on the floor above us. We found stairs and moved quietly up the rickety thing making as little noise as we could. On the second floor we found lights burning in a room which was away from any exterior windows. We also heard the moans of Lois Hogan. Moans coming from a woman who had been beaten and abused. Moans from a woman who was alive but knew she was dead.

Our backs against the wall I motioned to Frank I would circle around and enter the rooms where our friends were from the opposite side. He nodded as I moved off and slid around the corner at the far end of the hall. So far we had not been discovered. So far no gun play had happened. So far no one had died.

It all changed in the blinking of an eye.

Leaving Frank, I made a right hand turn down a long hall moved down it without making too much noise. I came to an intersection of a third hall and carefully peaked around the corner to make sure the coast was clear. Seeing it was I slid around the corner and took three steps before Beep Nickles stepped out of an office door unexpected and turned toward me. Beep was a tall straw of a man with thin arms and thin legs. He had a face that a weasel could appreciate and slick, oily black hair. When he came through the door and turned toward me he was looking down at the shotgun in his hands, an oily rag stuffed into the belt of his slacks, chewing on a toothpick and grinning to himself. Apparently he had just finished cleaning the shotgun. But looking up and seeing me his mouth dropped open in sheer surprise and instinctively he pumped the gun once and brought the barrel around and toward me.

The Kimber in my right hand exploded twice in two rapid shots. The noise of the .45 was loud enough to chip plaster off the walls. Both slugs smacked into Beep’s chest so close together one could put a quarter down and cover both holes. He flew back into the wall and slid down to the floor leaving a long red trail on the faded plaster wall behind him in the process.

Men began screaming. Guns were going off in rapid succession. I hard the sharp bark of Frank’s Glock go off twice. Someone had grabbed a shotgun and was pumping double-0 buckshot through the cheap plaster walls in front and behind me. I ducked and slid into the room where all the commotion was going on.

On the floor to one side of Frank was the body of Chucky Mickelson. There was a 9mm hole in his forehead just above the bridge of his nose. Where there had been the back of his head now was nothing but blood, brain matter and pieces of flesh surrounding a gaping hole about the size of a man’s fist. On the other side of Frank was Bobby Hardaway rolling on the bare linoleum floor gripping what was left of his right knee cap with a set of bloody hands. He was screaming in pain and bleeding like a broken bowl of cherry jello. In the opposite corner from Bobby was the trussed up figure of Lois Hogan lying on the floor. Hands and feet were tied together. Her face was nothing but a bloody mask She was alive. Barely.

But there was no Mick O’Toole.

“That way,” Frank said pointing the barrel of his Glock toward a door I had not seen entering. “I’ll stay here and make sure he doesn’t double back. Be careful, buddy. Be careful.”

I nodded and went after the Irishman. It didn’t take long to find him. He was four rooms away trying his best to open a window. But the old window had been welded shot from years of neglect. So Mick used the shotgun in his hands to blow the window out just as I entered the room behind him.

“Drop the gun and hands above your head, O’Toole!”

For an answer the Irishman whirled around, stepped to one side and let go a round of double 0 toward me. He was fast. Unfortunately for him I was faster. The moment I saw him begin his move I leapt to one side and rolled on a shoulder, coming up on my feet in a squatting position. The roar of the shotgun filled the room and a huge chuck of the wall behind and above my head disintegrated into a fine white powder of plaster and sawdust.

I didn’t let him get a second shot off. The Kimber barked two more times in my hand. The slugs found their mark. Each leg just above the Irishman’s knees caught some lead, buckled visibly, and collapsing the madman onto the floor in howling rage and pain. But he still wasn’t finished. He rolled onto his back, slid himself back to lean against a wall and reached inside his shirt for a weapon. But too late. I was too close to him. He brought a 9mm Smith & Wesson auto out and started to lift it up toward me. I used my left foot to kick the weapon from his hands and then brought the foot down hard onto the gaping hole of his left leg.

“Not getting out of prison time today, boyo!” I said, grinding my foot into his wound.

The pain was too much. The Irishman’s eyes rolled up into his skull and he slid down onto floor unconscious. I cuffed him, searched him, then grabbed him by his shirt collar and dragged him back to the room where his comrades were.

“Jesus. What a fucking mess.” Frank grunted, a wiry smirk on his face, coming to his feet after checking the woman’s wounds. “We’ll be up all night with the fucking paperwork. And the lieutenant’s not going to be happy we had to use deadly force.”

“Yeah, it’ll just tear him up, won’t it,” I said, grinning.

Our lieutenant down at South Side wouldn’t say a damn thing about the use of deadly force. The Irishman’s gang was well known to us. Nobody was going to be second guessing our use of force tonight. No one.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Freak'en Mess

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

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

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

Dark blond crew cut hair.

Startling sapphire blue eyes.

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

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

It was a mess.

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

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

Homicide. South Side Division.

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

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

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

A freak’en mess.

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

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


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

It doesn’t matter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I nodded, my grin widening.

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

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

“Who’s the dead guy?”

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

“Ok . . . what does forensics say?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, good idea.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So scratch David Bruel as being our prime suspect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well now. Wasn’t that interesting.

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

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

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

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

I nodded and frowned.

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

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

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

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


Just like that. That’s all it took.

Just two words Frank grunted out loud.

Blond bombshell.

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

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

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

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

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

“But that mean’s . . . . “


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

“Uh huh. But you ever play poker?”

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

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

Frank didn’t say a thing.

He knew I was right.

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

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

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

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

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

Not what we expected.

“Coffee? Rolls?”

I grinned and nodded. Why not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I nodded in agreement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“You can prove these allegations, detective?”

I turned and stared at the man and said nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not ever.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hard-boiled versus Noir

Okay, so I thought I was going to put a 'taste' of the first Turner and Frank novel in today. Not yet. Still working on that little exercise. Instead, I thought I'd explore the difference between a 'hard-boil' detective novel and a 'noir' novel.

So what's the difference between the two?

Turns out there's is a significant difference. In a generalized kind of way.

In the simplest of terms, 'hard-boiled' means a tough son of a bitch has been asked to solve a crime. Someone like a Sam Spade or a Phillip Marlowe--if you're old enough to know who the hell created those two 'classic' bums.

A detective is hired to solve a crime. He's tough, sarcastic, an all-around wise ass and as durable as nails. What also seems to be a common thread is the guy/gal is somewhat of a loner and as honest as a Saharan sun is unrelentingly bright. And he (or she--although I find it, personally, hard to swallow a 'hard-boiled' female detective like the one Susan Parentsky writes) works on a personal Code of Honor.

The Law may be one thing which can be side-stepped and generously altered in order to reach that unreachable goal called Justice. But the detective's Code of Honor is set in hardened cement. He never waivers. Generally speaking.

Noir fiction is, as one pundit once said, "A novel where you're screwed and you know it."

Noir fiction has someone taking the fall for a crime they may or may not have committed. They've been set up. Framed. Used as a fall guy. The writing, like that found in a hard-boiled novel, is sparse and clean, with very little frills. Perhaps 'gloomy' and 'paranoid' would be other descriptives that would fit the bill.

Generally speaking, the poor bastard who is the main character hasn't got a snowball's chance in hell. He's toast. Dead meat. The only wiggle-room left for him is to find the real culprits and exonerate himself. Or die trying--which is, for some writers, the only option.

In my novel, Murderous Passions, although not strictly a 'hard-boiled' novel since it has two cops as its central chracters, nevertheless paint 'hard-boiled' in as the general color. Two wise-ass, hard as nails, Code of Honor type of cops who like their jobs. They like bringing creeps to justice. It will remind you of a classic novel of bygone days. It'll give you a dark, gloomy sense like a good noir. So it's kinda a combination of both.

Or, at least, I like to think so. Find it at

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The birth of Turner Hahn and Frank Morales

Okay, I am a writer. And yes, I am pushing my novels in this blog. Along with some delvings into noir/mystery writing in general.

I've created two characters to inhabit and carry on their shoulders a series I've been wanting to write for years. A police-procedural series with a heavy dose of noir. Think along the lines of Ed McBain's classic 87th Precinct series. But instead of following the lives of an entire squad room of cops, follow instead the lives of just two. Turner Hahn and his partner, Frank Morales.

Turner Hahn is an unusal cat. He's come into a sudden fortune--a gift from a grandmother he thought long since dead. The sudden inheritance comes late in his life (he's in his late Thirties) and for the most part, he's a bit uncomfortable with it. Prior to the inheritance he was just a hard working, poor cop who had to scramp and save every dime from paycheck to paycheck. But no more.

So he's a rich cop. A cop who has a vague resemblance to the late 1930's matinee star, Clark Gable. You would think money and good looks would make him a woman's man. But no . . . not really. He like's women. But he's attracted to women who have three qualities about them; looks, smarts, and an independent streak. It's the independent streak in the women that usually ends the relationships. Neither will budge on giving up their hard-won freedoms. And settling down domestically really is not an option for either.

He lives in an an upstairs flat he created for himself. The building is a garage down in the industrial section. Downstairs is his collecting of cars. Yeah, he collects cars. American-made muscle cars from the 50's thur the 80's. He buys'em and then restores them himself when he finds the time.

Turner is familiar--yet different. Unique.

And if Turner is unique, wait until you meet his partner, Frank Morales. Think 'Neanderthal' when you think of Frank. A modern-day version of a Neanderthal. The man has no neck. Just a rectangular shaped head somehow smashed into a pair of huge shoulders. He has a jaw that looks like the prow of an ice-breaker and stringy, silky fine light red hair. But what truly makes Frank unique? His IQ. He's got an IQ as big as Einstein's. Along with a photogenic memory. You can't stump Frank with a question. He knows the answer. Trust me--people try stumping him.

He's married to an Italian beauty who may be certifiably insane. They have four boys, two dogs, a cat, and a parrot. He lives in surburbia with his family. He is, as you would expect, as tough as armor plating. But he's no ordinary side-kick. He is an equal. In the novels he becomes the lead investigator in a few cases and shows how it is done as well as Turner does.

What makes the novels different is this; they're cops who work on multiple-cases at the same time. Not one case--at least two and usually three cases. There's always the main case. And that case is a genuiune 'whodonit.' A real mystery. There will always be at least one head-scratcher in the novels. Probably more.

The first book is entitled Murderous Passions. You can find it here; You can order it from any book store, or of course, you can head over to online or Barnes& to order.

Try it. You might like it.

Tomorrow we might have a 'taste' of it available.