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Authors: John Dunning

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BOOK: Booked to Die
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2

I crossed the
police line and walked into the alley. The body was about thirty yards in. Strobe lights had been set up and pictures taken. The lights were still on for the benefit of the sketcher, and the narrow canyon was ablaze. The sketcher stood at the edge of things, working with a pencil and clipboard while two assistants checked measurements with a tape. The coroner had arrived only a short time before me, but an assistant coroner had been there for more than an hour. The two men stood over the body talking. I didn’t interrupt: just hung back and watched. Hennessey appeared out of the gloom with two cups of coffee. I took mine and he filled me in on what little he knew. Police had responded to an anonymous call at 1:32 a.m.: report of a dead man, which checked out affirmative. Officers arrived at 1:37: homicide detectives had been sent over and the crime lab summoned. Then, because the case strongly resembled a series of such apparently random derelict murders, Hennessey had been called. Hennessey was my partner, and he called me. We had been working that chain of cases for two years: if this one fit the pattern, it would become ours.

There had been no one to interview at the scene. The caller, who was described by the dispatcher as a white-sounding male, probably under fifty, had hung up when asked for his name. Later we’d want to listen to a tape of that conversation, but I didn’t have much hope for it. Chances were we’d never find the guy because, chances were, he was just someone who had stumbled over the body and didn’t want to get involved.

The scene itself wasn’t a good bet for evidence. The alley was narrow and paved. On one side was an old department store; on the other, an old hotel. The walls of the hotel were red brick, worn smooth by many years. The department store had a fake marble facade, which continued into the alley to just about the place where the body lay. Orange powder had been dusted on both sides, and it looked like they’d come up with some prints. In all probability they’d turn out to be everyone but the mayor of Denver and the guy we wanted.

That was all we had. That was all we ever had. The first murdered bum had been found in an alley much like this one two years and two months ago, April 1984. His head had been kicked in. There had been three more that year and two the next, all the same general method of operation: a helluva beating, then death. The guy’s hatred for street people, winos, and the homeless seemed compulsive. Hennessey thought he might be a skinhead, one of those jerks with a brownshirt mentality and an irresistible need to take out society’s lower elements. I thought his motives were simpler. He was a sadist: he didn’t care who he killed, as long as he got his little shot of violence when he needed it. Street people were easy marks, so he did street people. If you murder women and children, society will try to track you down, but the best effort society gives the killer of a bum is a quick shuffle. Time is fleeting and manpower limited: we do what we can, and sometimes a killer gets away because we can’t do enough.

It turned out Neal and I were both right. The guy we’d fingered for all these jobs was Jackie Newton, ex-con, refugee from the coast, a real sweetheart in anybody’s book. Jackie wasn’t a skinhead but he might as well have been: his mind Worked the same way. We now knew all about his sadistic streak. Jackie hated everybody who didn’t think, act, and look just like him. He particularly hated people whose personal, racial, or intellectual characteristics could be summed up in one cruel gutteral word. Queers, freaks, spies, shines, gooks, dopes—Jackie hated them all, twenty-four hours a day. And let us not forget cops. Pigs. Jackie was a product of the sixties, and pigs were the group he hated most of all.

The feeling was absolutely mutual on my part. There’s something in the book, I know, about a cop keeping his feelings out of his work. If detection is a science, which I believe, it should probably be done with unfettered intellect, but God damn it, I wanted Jackie Newton dead or locked away forever. Don’t tell me it shouldn’t be personal: we were way beyond that little phase of drawing room etiquette, Jackie and I. I had been working on him two years and was no closer to putting him away than I was when I first heard his name, almost three years ago.

He had blown into town, broke, in 1983. Today he was involved in two $30 million shopping center deals and owned property all over the city. There are guys who have a streak of genius for generating money, and Jackie, I will admit grudgingly, was one of them. He owned an estate in undeveloped Jefferson County, where he lived alone and liked it, and reportedly he was connected to what passes in Denver for the mob. This alone brought him to our attention before we learned that he murdered drunks for a hobby. It was a strange case that way: we knew who the killer was before the first victim was killed. A cop in Santa Monica told us not to be surprised by a sudden rise in derelict deaths. This had happened in California and in Newark, where Jackie lived fifteen years ago. We knew before the fact what Newark knew, what Santa Monica knew, and we still couldn’t stop it and we couldn’t prove it once it had started. It had almost seemed too pat, and we went through a phase of exploring other ideas— the skinhead, the unknown sadist—before we learned, without a doubt, that Jackie was our boy.

In the killing of Harold Brubaker, we’d had a witness. Jesus, you never saw such a beating, our boy had said: this guy has sledgehammers in his fists and what he does with his feet…it’s like something inhuman. The witness was a highly credible young man who had watched from a dark doorway less than ten feet away: a kid working overtime who had stepped out for a smoke and seen it all. It was like Providence was suddenly in our corner. A light had come on and Jackie had looked straight up at it. The kid had seen him clearly, not a doubt in the world. I had the son of a bitch where I wanted him at last. I brought Jackie in and ran him through a lineup. The kid had no trouble picking him out: he was a first-rate witness all the way. I did everything according to Hoyle and the Miranda ruling: the last thing I wanted was for the bastard to slide on tainted evidence or technical bullshit. We threw a protective shield around the witness, for Jackie had friends in slimy places, but what can I say? Things happen… court dates get postponed, his attorneys drag it out, weeks become months, and in all that time there’s bound to be a breach. They got to our boy, and when they were done he had no heart for testifying against anybody. They never put a hand on him, but they sure made him see things their way. He stammered in court, he hesitated, he wasn’t sure… and the case against Jackie Newton went down the drain.

Jackie had been quiet since then: we had scared him with Harold Brubaker and he had been lying low. Now he was starting up again, and I’d bet there’d be another one before long. Success breeds success. There’s nothing worse than a cunning killer who strikes down people he doesn’t know, for no reason other than a blood lust.

3

I waited until
the coroner was finished, then I moved in for a look at the body. They had turned him over, and he lay on the pavement with his arms crossed gently over his chest. He looked like he might get up and walk away. His eyes were closed and he had the unwashed, unshaved look they all had. But there was something different about this one, something vaguely familiar, as if I had known him once, long ago.

“What can you tell us, Georgie?” I said. The coroner, a spectacled man in his fifties, spoke while his assistant looked on.

“It’s a lot like the others, but there are some significant differences. As you can see, the victim is a guttersnipe, body not well nourished, white male, probably mid-thirties, five foot seven inches, hundred fifty, sixty pounds. Murder weapon was a heavy blunt instrument, a pipe wrench or a crescent wrench or some steel tool would be my guess. The victim was hit twice in the center of the rear cranium, once for business and once for good measure. There was no doubt in the mind of the killer what the objective was. I think the first one did it—we’ll know more in the morning. Time of death was within the last three hours.”

“Call came in about one-thirty,” Hennessey said.

“He had probably been dead a little over an hour then,” the coroner said.

I looked at the face of the dead man and again felt that disquieting rumble deep in my brain.

“There’s some evidence he was killed somewhere else, then dumped here,” the coroner said.

“That’s new,” Hennessey said.

“What evidence?” I asked.

“I think there’s a good deal of blood unaccounted for,” the coroner said. “Again, we’ll know more in the morning, but let’s say I’m about eighty percent sure. That pipe really opened his head up. A wound like that will bleed like a geyser, but this one didn’t, or, if it did, where’s the blood? This little puddle’s just leakage, as if the heart had stopped some time prior to his being put here. I think that’s what happened. Somebody did this man in somewhere else, then dropped him here.”

“Any signs of a beating?”

The coroner gave me a look. “You don’t consider this a beating?”

“I mean injuries to other parts of the body… indications that he was beaten severely before he was killed.”

“Nothing so far. Looks like he was hit twice and that’s that.”

I shook my head. “I’ve seen this guy somewhere. I can’t make him.”

Hennessey asked the coroner if they had a name. The coroner looked at his notes and said, “The deceased had no driver’s license. There was a fragment of a social security card. Most of the number had worn away, but we were able to get a name. Robert B. Westfall.”

The name clicked. “Yeah, I know him,” I said. “He’s a bookscout.”

“A what?”

“A guy that hunts for books. That’s where I’ve seen him, selling books in the neighborhood stores.”

“I always heard you were the intellectual type, Janeway,” the coroner said.

“Is that what you hear?” I said dryly.

“It’s a small world, my friend, and the night has a thousand eyes.”

“You’ve been observed reading books again, Clifford,” Hennessey said. “I guess I’m the man of action on this team.”

I turned my attention back to the corpse. The coroner hung over my shoulder like a scarecrow. I was trying to place the guy, to remember where and when I had last seen him.

“In the bookstores they call him Bobby the Bookscout,” I said. “He was pretty good, from what I hear.”

“How does a bum get to be good at something like that?” the coroner asked.

“They’re not bums in the usual sense. Most of ‘em work like hell, don’t drink, and stay out of trouble.”

“What about the ones that don’t like to work, do drink, and don’t stay out of trouble?” Hennessey said.

“I guess there are some of those.”

“I don’t know much about this kinda stuff,” Hennessey said. “You tell me, Cliff. Could one of these boys find something, say a book, since that’s what they look for, that’s so valuable another one might kill him for it? And where does that leave us with Jackie Newton?”

“I’ll let you boys hash that out,” the coroner said. “Call me tomorrow.”

“Thanks, George.”

We stood for a moment after the coroner had left. Hennessey’s questions kept running through my mind. I felt a pang of disappointment that Jackie Newton might slide on this one for the plain and simple reason that he hadn’t done it.

“Cliff?”

“Yeah, Neal. Just give me a minute.”

I watched them cover the body and take it away. The sketcher had left and the lab men were packing up: the sad saga of Bobby the Bookscout was just about over. All that was left was the hunt for his killer.

“We sure can’t rule out the possibility of Jackie,” I said.

Hennessey didn’t say anything.

“Let’s go see the son of a bitch,” I said.

“I’ll call Jeffco.”

As peace officers, we were empowered to investigate and arrest anywhere in the state of Colorado. Usual procedure when you went out of your jurisdiction was to take an officer from that district along, in case something happened. Thirty minutes later we had arrived at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, where Officer Ben Nasses was waiting for us. Officer Nasses was young and articulate, one of the new breed. He was also very black. Jackie Newton would love him.

Jackie lived in an expensive villa a few miles south of the town of Morrison. He wasn’t quite in the mountains, but the house was perched at the top of a bluff where you could see most of Denver and the front range south, halfway to Colorado Springs. We pulled into the driveway. The house was dark, with no sign of life. I had a sinking feeling that we’d find Jackie Newton asleep, that he’d been asleep all night. I had the feeling, not for the first time, that I’d never be able to make him on anything.

But Jackie wasn’t home. Nasses rang the bell three times and knocked, but no one came. “What now?” he said. I told him we would wait, if he had nothing better to do, and he said that was fine. “I’d like for us not to be visible when he comes home,” I said, and Hennessey went to move the car on down the street. By the time Neal came back, Nasses and I had moved off the step and into a gravel walkway that skirted the house. Hennessey was nervous. “I don’t think we want to mess around here, Cliff,” he said. He had been my partner for a long time: he knew all about my impatience with oppressive procedure, and he also knew how much I wanted to put Jackie away. Don’t be stupid—that’s what Neal was saying. But I was very much aware of the rules of evidence. I had never had a case thrown out because I was weak in court, and Hennessey knew that too. Sometimes you play by the book, sometimes you had to take a chance.

“I’m going to take a look in the garage,” I said.

Hennessey whimpered but stayed with me. I moved around the house. “You boys’re crazy,” Nasses called. He wasn’t going anywhere. Hennessey tugged at me in the dark. “Cliff, the kid’s right. This makes no sense. Even if you find something you won’t be able to use it. Let’s get out of here.”

“If I find something, I’ll find a way to use it.”

The bastard’s liable to come rolling in here any minute.“

“Then let’s do it quick.”

The garage was locked but that was no problem: I had it open in less than half a minute. There were two vehicles inside, a Caddy and a Jeep four-wheel. There was an empty space for the third car, the one Jackie Newton was now driving.

I felt the hood of each car, then went through the glove compartments. There was just the usual junk—papers, ownership, registration. John Randolph Newton was listed as the owner of both vehicles, but I knew that. I knew where and when he had bought them, that he’d bought the Jeep on time, paid it off in six months, and paid cash for the Cadillac. I knew the salesmen who had dealt with him.
A real laid-back guy
, one salesman had said,
a pussycat
. Money wasn’t anything to a guy like Jackie: he had made, lost, and made again three times over more money than those boys would see in their whole lives. That’s one thing you could say for Jackie Newton: he was free with his money, and salesmen loved him.

There was an unpaid ticket on the seat of the Caddy. I took down the information. Jackie had been tagged for speeding— fifty-five in a twenty-five, a four-pointer. This was good news: the last time I’d looked at his record he had had nine points against his license. Jackie liked to drive fast, and it was costing him. I knew he hadn’t paid the ticket because of the points: he’d have his lawyer go in and plead it down, try to get two points knocked off in the city attorney’s office before it ever got to a judge. A word from me in the ear of the city attorney might not be out of order. Anything that hassled Jackie Newton was a good use of my time. From little things big things grow. Get Jackie’s license suspended and I knew he’d drive anyway. Then I could bust him for something bigger. Al Capone never got indicted for murder, just tax evasion, but it was enough.

I put everything back the way it was. Hennessey was standing at the door, the man of action watching for headlights. I looked along the shelves. There were paint cans, tools, boxes of screws, all meticulously in their places. Jackie Newton was a neat man: the compulsively neat killer.

“Cliff,” Hennessey said. His voice fluttered in his throat.

“All right,” I said. “There’s nothing here.”

I turned off the lights and locked the door. We started across the yard but a vision brought me up short. I thought I saw a body hanging from a tree. It was one of those sights that makes you wonder if your eyes are getting old. “Look at that,” I said, but Hennessey still didn’t see. I took out a penlight and cut across the lawn, and slowly the thing came into focus. It was a dog, the Doberman, hung by the neck like some western desperado. “It’s Bruno,” I said numbly. Again I realized what an obsession Jackie Newton and I had become to each other: I knew everything about the guy, even the name of his dog. Supposedly, Jackie had loved the dog: the only thing Jackie Newton had ever been said to love. This was what happened if he loved you: you didn’t ever want to give him cause to hate you, as I had.

“Looks like somebody’s got it in for Jackie,” Hennessey said.

“I don’t think so, Neal. I think he did it himself.”

I was playing my light around the barbecue grill, which had been turned over and spilled. There was a half-eaten steak in the grass, many hours old. The steak had been chewed as if by an animal. Beside it were two upset plates. “I’ll tell you what happened here,” I said, “you tell me how it sounds. Jackie had been entertaining somebody—probably a woman since there were just the two of ‘em. Something happened to take him away for a minute… maybe the phone had rung… but something made him go inside. When he came back, the dog had turned over the grill and eaten one of the steaks and was starting on the other. Jackie went into a rage. We’ve seen him in action, we know how he can be. He strung the poor bastard up with the clothesline. Then he did what he always does when he gets like that. Took his fastest car, the Lamborghini, and went out for a drive. That’s where he’s been tonight, out in the country driving at a hundred and fifty miles an hour.”

“You could make me buy that,” Hennessey said.

“Then I’ll tell you what else he did. He couldn’t get rid of it, the rage just wouldn’t go away. Nothing worked. He hated killing that dog, hated himself for doing it, so he went down-town and killed the bookscout. Somebody he didn’t know or care about… just an outlet for all that murderous energy. That’s why the bookscout wasn’t beaten before he was killed: that’s why he was different from all the others. Jackie didn’t do this one for pleasure, he did it because he needed to.”

“I don’t know about that part,” Hennessey said.

“What’s the matter with it?” I snapped.

“For one thing, you want it too much. You want it to fit, Cliff. I know where you’re coming from with Jackie Newton, you’d pin the goddamn Kennedy assassination on Jackie if you thought you could make it stick.”

“It does fit,” I said impatiently. “It fits, Neal.”

Hennessey didn’t say any more, which was probably a good thing. We didn’t touch the dog except to confirm that it had been dead for some time. It was very stiff. Its eyes were open. If a dog’s face can show feelings, this one showed shock, sadness, and, finally, disbelief. Its front paws had been clawing the air and had finally come to rest, frozen there, in a posture much like a man in prayer. I had to fight an impulse to cut it down. Hennessey was right: we had no warrant, no authority, no right to be here. This was very bad police work. The dog didn’t exist for us, even assuming that it might be relevant to our case, until we established some proper groundwork.

We had pushed luck about as far as it can go. We went around to the front of the house, where Officer Nasses again told us his opinion, no offense intended, that we were out of our minds. I still wanted to be here when Jackie came rolling in: I wanted to see what time it was, how he looked, what his car looked like. I wanted to see as much as possible of what he did, what the state of his mind was. I put Hennessey and Nasses out front, in the trees across the road, and I went around to watch the back. This could be a very long wait. Jackie might be in Wyoming by now: that’s the kind of state a Lamborghini was made for, empty roads and wide-open spaces and cops who didn’t care how fast you went. He might be gone for a week.

So I’d wait. If the wait got too long, I’d let Hennessey and Nasses go in, but I would stay. Jackie Newton was turning me into an eccentric. I had a disturbing vision of myself waiting here for days, then weeks, into the changing seasons, my beard coming in, my clothes becoming tattered and worn, Hennessey bringing me food and water once a day. I was like Fred Dobbs in
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
: I had started out a sane and decent man and slowly the obsession had turned me crazy. I looked at my watch: the sky was getting light in the east. Sanity came with the dawn. I’d give him till eight o’clock, nine at the latest, then I’d go in and catch him later. Hennessey was right again: I had nothing on Jackie. It didn’t fit, the pattern was broken. For once, Jackie Newton wasn’t my man.

BOOK: Booked to Die
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