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Authors: Stuart M. Kaminsky

Big Silence

BOOK: Big Silence

The Big Silence
An Abe Lieberman Mystery
Stuart M. Kaminsky

This one is for Renata and Vern Sawyer.

Vengeance has made its unappeased way with every dart of death and visited your family one by one. And now with eager hand Fate is pursuing you. Your turn has come.

Iphigenia in Tauris
















Preview: Last Dark Place


in Cleveland only once before. That was about ten years ago, when he and Maureen were still married. A Cleveland cop, a detective named Morello, had remembered when Bill was a young football hero with bad knees that had kept him out of the pros.

Three decades ago Hardrock Hanrahan had been the fastest lineman on the Chicago Vocational High School football team. Dick Butkus, who had graduated from CVS a few years later, told Bill at a reunion that Hardrock had been an inspiration to him. And then the knee went in a practice game and so did the speed and any chance at Notre Dame or Illinois or even Wisconsin. He lasted two years at Southern Illinois University and managed a
magazine second team All-American spot. But the knees wouldn’t hold. He gave up to join his father as a Chicago cop, as his father had joined his grandfather before him.

Morello, who followed college football down to the Division III teams, found out that Hanrahan was passing through to Chicago and had a few hours between planes. Morello, a guy in his late fifties maybe, with lots of dyed too-black hair and the face of a Coke can run over by an eighteen-wheeler, had driven through Cleveland showing Hanrahan the sights, apologizing here, showing pride there. Hanrahan, who had been drinking hard then and hated flying, would have preferred being in the airport bar, but he couldn’t hurt the man’s feelings.

So he had seen Cleveland and had a few drinks on the plane.

Morello was dead now, his name on a plaque. Line of duty. Shot by a sixteen-year-old drug dealer in a stolen car. According to Morello’s partner, the detective’s last word was “son” before the kid in the car shot him in the face. Morello’s partner had shot the kid four times. The kid died. Morello’s partner had faced charges and been put on unpaid leave for sixty days.

Now Detective Bill Hanrahan was back in Cleveland, but he wasn’t going to have time for any sightseeing. His knees were no better but he was sober and meant to stay that way. He had gone to AA after he had let an informant die while he was drunk in a restaurant across from her apartment building. Hanrahan’s partner, Abe Lieberman, had covered for him, but Hanrahan had been a Catholic, a lapsed one to be sure, and guilt was his lot.

A few years later he had seriously considered sliding back to the bottle when he killed a young lunatic named Frankie Kraylaw whose wife and child he had been protecting in his house. Hanrahan had set up the lunatic and lured him to the house, knowing that if he had not killed the man, the man would surely have killed the young woman and the boy.

With the help of a young Catholic priest, AA, Iris Chen, and his partner, Abe Lieberman, Bill had slowly, shakily come through it still carrying guilt.

Now the divorce from Maureen was complete and Bill Hanrahan hoped and expected to marry Iris Chen in a few months. He was also slowly and with some caution returning to the church. The assignment he was on was Captain Kearney’s way of giving Hanrahan a few days away from the city, away from the reminders of the past.

It was early October. A bit cold for fall in Ohio. Hanrahan had watched the Weather Channel and was prepared with the zippered lined jacket Iris had given him. The job was simple, even boring.

He sat in the car he had rented, heater on low, radio on an oldies station he had found by pushing the right button. The Beatles were singing “Help.”

Hanrahan was a burly man who looked like a cop and didn’t find it easy to hide, but that wasn’t a problem on this one. Back in Chicago a mob witness, an accountant named Mickey Gornitz, had agreed to talk about his boss’s highly illegal operation, but only to Hanrahan’s partner, Abe Lieberman, with whom Gornitz had gone to Marshall High School. No surprise. Abe was easy to talk to, and Abe and his brother had been basketball stars in a basketball school. Articles had been written about the brothers, who were both starting guards on the same team, a team that won the city championship the three years they played. Besides talking to Lieberman, Gornitz had several conditions. One was that his ex-wife and his seventeen-year-old son should be protected until Mickey finished testifying and went into witness protection. The assistant Cook County state attorney didn’t think it was necessary. Gornitz hadn’t seen his wife or son in fifteen years, when she had walked out on him, changed her name and the boy’s, and moved to Boston. Mickey hadn’t spoken to either his son or his ex-wife since they went out the door, but he had sent her money, plenty of it. The assistant state attorney gave in. This was a big case and watching a couple of people, humoring his witness, was a small price to pay.

A Boston cop named Persky, weary and yawning, had come on the flight to Cleveland from Boston with Gornitz’s ex and the kid. They didn’t know he was there. Persky knew a Chicago cop was going to take over, and he had found Hanrahan waiting for him when the crowd came off the plane.

Hanrahan had shown the man his ID, but Persky had waved it away, saying “They’re yours. I’m headin’ for the bar. Got a plane back home in about an hour.”

So they were Hanrahan’s. He had a recent photograph of the woman and the boy. They were easy to spot. She was about Hanrahan’s age, in good shape, not bad looking if a little hard around the edges and a little loud. The kid was little, thin, and wore a gray sports jacket, tie, and slacks. His hair was dark and combed straight back. He was wearing glasses and looked like a classic case of what Lieberman’s grandson called “the nerds.”

Hanrahan had done his footwork before they arrived. The Boston and Cleveland police had helped. The mother and son had a rental car waiting. They were on their way for a trip to four colleges in Ohio that were all interested in the boy, who was a straight A student with an interest in computers and theoretical mathematics. Hanrahan had their itinerary from the Boston police and had made reservations at the same motels as the mother, Louise Firth, and her son, Matthew.

No trouble. They would make their rounds in three days, wind up at a motel in Dayton near the airport, and catch a plane back to Boston where Persky or someone would be there to meet them. It was almost a minivacation on the State of Illinois. Football on television at night with his shoes off, dinner watching the mother and son — at a table discreetly far away — back to bed and early to rise, providing Mom and son didn’t decide to take in a movie.

Hanrahan followed the pair in front of him to baggage claim. He had only a carry-on. A skycap helped the woman and boy to the Hertz minibus, and Hanrahan got back in his rented car parked illegally at the curb and followed them.

Now he sat outside the Hertz gate listening to “When My Dream Boat Comes Home” by Louis Prima and Keely Smith.

First day went easy. About forty miles to Oberlin, tour around the campus with Hanrahan a safe hundred yards behind, back to administration for talk, and on to the motel where he had a room next to mother and son.

Because of his size, Hanrahan had learned a great deal about being inconspicuous. Most of it depended on staying as far back as possible and never doing anything to call attention to himself. It was especially easy when the people he was following had no reason to think they were being followed. Like today. In any case, knowing that they were going to colleges, Hanrahan had brought his briefcase, which he found dust-covered in the back of the bedroom closet. He filled it with papers, wore his suit, and tried to look like a college professor.

Food the first day was ribs. Drink was diet root beer. It was a Monday. The Bears were playing the Bucs silently over at the bar, and a juke box played Sinatra. The mother and son ate, looked like they had a disagreement about something small, and went right to the motel with Hanrahan behind them.

He was up well before them the next morning and had already eaten when they came down. He read the paper in the lobby to find out what, if anything, the Cleveland
Plain Dealer
said about the game. Hanrahan had watched. The Bears had lost, again. And to the Bucs. The glory days of Payton, Butkus (Hanrahan’s idol), MacMahon, and the rest were long gone.

The next two days were about the same. Kenyon, Wooster, and finally Wittenberg. The campuses didn’t look very different from each other. Small, right out of a movie about small colleges. Hanrahan liked Wooster best, but his experience had been at Southern back in Illinois, a state school already grown to the size of a small metropolis. These schools were no bigger than CVS, his old high school.

After each tour and interviews, the son had come back to the car burdened by catalogs, flyers, and copies of who-knows-what. The Wittenberg visit was last. Mother and son had gone to that motel near the Dayton airport, and Hanrahan had bedded down in the room next door. His plane was about two hours after theirs in the morning.

The walls were thin in the motel, but not thin enough to hear what they were saying. They didn’t seem to be arguing. Hanrahan would have been happier if the rooms had been on the second or third floor with no entry possible from the outside, but they were on the first. No big problem. The windows were thick and didn’t open, and bushes, dense and deep, stood before each window. He was just a professional wanting everything to be right, which it was till just before three in the morning. Hanrahan leaped up at the sound, unsure of what he had heard. He looked at the television screen. A man was talking silently. No doubt about the second sound, a shot, followed by another. In shorts and a Southern Illinois T-shirt, Hanrahan rumbled for his .38, found it, went into the hall where a few brave souls were opening their doors. Hanrahan went for the door of the room next to his. When the curious in the hall saw the gun in the big man’s hand, they retreated, closed and chained their doors.

Hanrahan crashed his fist into the door once and shouted, “Open up. Police.”

He didn’t expect an answer and didn’t get one. Weapon held high, he threw his shoulder against the door. He tried three times, failed to budge it, and finally shot the lock open. It took two bullets.

The lights were out and the light from the hallway sent a path of yellow to the nearest bed. Nothing moved. No one spoke. Crouched, Hanrahan went for the switch, which he assumed would be in the same place as the one in his room. It was.

White light from the lamps on the table snapped on and Hanrahan pointed his weapon at the figure on the closest bed. It was clearly the mother though there wasn’t much left of the top of her head and there was a hell of a lot of blood. She was wearing pink pajamas and a surprised look; her remaining eye was open. They didn’t usually die with their eyes closed. Not like in the movies and on television.

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