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Authors: Chris Knopf

Cop Job

BOOK: Cop Job
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A
LSO BY
C
HRIS
K
NOPF

SAM ACQUILLO HAMPTONS MYSTERIES

The Last Refuge

Two Time

Head Wounds

Hard Stop

Black Swan

JACKIE SWAITKOWSKI HAMPTONS MYSTERIES

Short Squeeze

Bad Bird

Ice Cap

ARTHUR CATHCART

Dead Anyway

Cries of the Lost

A Billion Ways To Die

STAND-ALONE THRILLER

Elysiana

A SAM ACQUILLO HAMPTONS MYSTERY

Copyright © 2015 by Chris Knopf

All rights reserved. No part of this publication, or parts thereof, may be reproduced in any form, except for the inclusion of brief quotes in a review, without the written permission of the publisher.

The events and characters in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to any person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.

For information, address:

The Permanent Press

4170 Noyac Road

Sag Harbor, NY 11963

www.thepermanentpress.com

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Knopf, Chris—

Cop job / Chris Knopf.

pages ; cm. — (A Sam Acquillo Hamptons mystery)

ISBN 978-1-57962-393-7
eISBN 978-1-57962-439-2

1. Acquillo, Sam (Fictitious character)—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3611.N66C67 2015

813'.6—dc23                                                             2015020499

Printed in the United States of America

C
HAPTER
O
NE

I
got there just in time to see the crane hoist Alfie Aldergreen out of Hawk Pond. He was still strapped in his motorized wheelchair. Grey green salt water poured off his rigid body and cascaded over the chair’s tubular chrome framing. His head was twisted back and his eyes were closed, thank God, though his tongue, a swollen purple mass, protruded through his lips, which were partly chewed away.

Dead bodies are never pretty.

The scene was lit like a night game at Yankee Stadium. Cops in uniforms and political people from the town milled around. Few had official functions to perform, but all tried hard to look as if they did. I saw Joe Sullivan in the middle of it all, a Southampton Town detective upon whose broad shoulders the burden of sorting through this dreary affair had already settled.

I was called there by Jackie Swaitkowski, a lawyer who worked for a philanthropic law firm specializing in hard-luck cases like Alfie’s. I saw her standing near the crane, wearing a summer suit with a hem an inch or two above the entirely professional, clutching herself around the middle in a rigid pose of shock and sorrow.

When I tried to go to her, a patrol cop stopped me by shoving the end of a nightstick in my chest.

“Step back,” he said. “This is a secured area.”

I looked down at the stick.

“I’m here with attorney Swaitkowski,” I said.

I looked over his shoulder and the cop followed my gaze. As luck would have it, Joe Sullivan and Jackie were deep in conversation. The cop dropped the stick and I brushed by, making a little more body contact than was probably necessary.

“Oh, Sam,” said Jackie, as I approached.

I let her put her arms around me, and even gave her a slight squeeze. Sullivan just stood there and waited.

“What the hell happened?” I asked him.

“Your friend Hodges was fishing off the breakwater. When the tide went out, he saw the top of Alfie’s head. It was almost sunset before he realized what it was.”

“Any ideas?” I asked.

“Not yet,” he said. “Jackie?”

She looked down at the ground and shook her head.

“He’s been very agitated lately. Paranoid. More than usual,” she said, looking up at me.

We were all aware of Alfie’s mood swings. A regular presence along Main Street in Southampton Village, year-round, Alfie was known to have conversations with himself, or people no one else could see. He was usually happily engaged, often playing a very credible alto saxophone, though sometimes his face was lit with fear, and he’d stop passersby to warn them of impending catastrophe.

I’d spent a fair amount of time with the guy, sitting next to his chair on a park bench drinking coffee I’d bought for the two of us. One time I had to talk down an angry shopkeeper who thought Alfie had stolen some of her merchandise, when in fact one of his invisible companions had made it a gift. That’s when I introduced him to Jackie, whose free legal services became a regular necessity.

“Not like suicidal or anything?” I asked.

Jackie looked around the area where we stood—a parking lot serving a boat launch adjacent to the harbor’s breakwater.

“How far are we from the Village?” she asked. “Eight, ten miles? How would he even get here?”

“There were no wheelchair tracks leading up to the breakwater,” said Sullivan, nodding toward a gravel-covered area cordoned off with yellow tape. “He’d have to fly to get there himself.”

“Any other tracks?” I asked.

“Trucks, trailers, footprints everywhere. Nothing you could take an impression of. Not in gravel. We’ll be back in the daylight for a closer look, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up.”

Alfie had a one-room apartment behind a small, free-standing art gallery a block from the center of Southampton Village. The gallery space changed hands every season, but the owner, Jimmy Watruss, let Alfie rent the back area for a small percentage of his disability check. Like Alfie, Jimmy was a veteran attached to a mechanized unit during the Iraq War. The only thing Alfie told me about his service was when the wizard Gandalf joined up with his platoon. Apparently his fellow soldiers demurred when he set out across the desert to challenge the rising threat of Mordor.

Back stateside, the army shrinks set him up with a drug regimen, and after a few months of observation, sent him into the civilian world. The first thing Alfie did was buy an old Fiat S1955 Ducati motorcycle, which he drove into a bridge abutment trying to avoid a volcano that had suddenly erupted on the New Jersey Turnpike.

The VA put most of him back together, but there was no saving the bottom half of his spinal cord.

Alfie wore his DCU—short for desert camouflage uniform—every day, though he’d never let people draw him into a conversation about the war. I don’t know how he ended up living in Southampton. I never asked, and even if I had, he probably wouldn’t have remembered. I did get to see his apartment once, when the batteries in his chair ran out and I volunteered to push him back home. The room was spare and immaculately clean, his uniforms and modest belongings neatly stored in portable, olive drab metal closets.

P
AUL
H
ODGES
, who lived aboard an old forty-eight-foot Gulf-stream motor sailor in the Hawk Pond Marina, emerged from a cluster of men watching the crane. I waved him over. In his late sixties, Hodges’s arms were still strung with ropey muscles, the legacy of long years in commercial fishing and construction and slinging questionable sustenance at his restaurant in Sag Harbor. Never an attractive man, age had been unkind to his grey puffs of curly hair and his face, which you might mistake for a less attractive version of Ernest Borgnine’s.

“That poor son of a bitch sure didn’t catch his share of luck,” he said. Despite myself, my eyes were drawn to where Alfie sat in his DCUs, slumped over in his chair, his long brown hair stuck in sodden, forlorn strands across his face. He was guarded by two of Sullivan’s men so no one could touch the body before the medical examiner arrived. Not that anyone wanted to.

“I feel bad about this,” said Hodges. “There he was the whole time I’m fishing. I thought his hair was seaweed. Sorry,” he added, looking over at Jackie.

“You ever see him motoring around the marina?” Sullivan asked.

Hodges shook his head. “Never seen him anywhere but the Village. Never really knew the guy. Not like these two,” he added, using his thumb to point at Jackie and me.

“Was he on his meds?” Sullivan asked Jackie.

“I don’t know. I’m his lawyer, not his caseworker. But I know who is. Esther Ferguson.”

Sullivan looked at his notebook and wrote down her name. “I know Esther,” he said. “Tough cookie.”

Tough as in a cross between Joe Frazier and a rabid badger. She didn’t like me, which placed her within a fairly crowded field. Her beef was my occasional intervention on behalf of Alfie, which offended her social worker prerogatives. I was offended that she didn’t always do as good a job looking after her clients as she did upholding her exclusive right to their care.

So we were even.

“Alfie was murdered. That’s the gist of it,” I said.

“I could make a case for it being an accident, or suicide,” said Sullivan. “But why?”

Sullivan had been a plainclothesman for about five years. Before that he was a patrol cop assigned to North Sea, the wooded, watery territory just north of Southampton Village. I lived in North Sea in a cottage off the Little Peconic Bay—when I wasn’t staying on the
Carpe Mañana
, which was berthed next to Hodges’s in the Hawk Pond marina.

A Smart Car pulled into the parking lot and I knew the medical examiner had arrived, based entirely on the weirdness of the vehicle.

Carlo Vendetti was a cheerful scarecrow of a guy with long, slippery black hair stuck out of his baseball cap, disguising the fact that the rest of his head was as bald as a baby’s ass. You’d say he had a weak chin, if he actually had a chin. With a beak-like nose and black-rimmed glasses, Carlo was a right geek if there ever was one. That was okay with me. I got along fine with geeks.

“Sam the Man,” he said, as he approached our little group. “Detective,” he said to Sullivan. “And the most stunning defense attorney in the Eastern United States,” he said to Jackie, taking her hand by the fingers and giving her knuckles a light kiss, much to her dismay.

“Hi, Carlo,” she said, gently extracting her hand.

I didn’t disagree with Carlo on Jackie’s looks, I just never thought of her in that way. Too much of a tomboy, too frenetic and churned up with Catholic guilt and attention deficit disorder for my taste. I liked her better in the steady hands of her boyfriend, a guy about the size of a sequoia with the equanimity and forbearance to match.

“Come with me, doctor,” said Sullivan, placing a guiding hand on the ME’s back. “Let me introduce you to Alfie Aldergreen.”

Hodges tagged along. I waited until they were all out of earshot, then asked Jackie, “What do you think?”

She pushed a wad of kinky reddish blonde hair back off her face, a gesture signaling equal parts confusion and distress.

“First I thought, ‘Who’d want to kill a harmless, crazy guy in a wheelchair?’ ” she said. “But, of course, people like him get killed all the time just for being harmless and crazy.”

“Did he say anything unusual last time you talked to him?” I asked.

“Like I told you, he was really worked up. He said a secret organization was out to get him. You know he was paranoid, but not that big on conspiracy theories. More focused on individuals. Conan the Barbarian comes to mind. Most would think crazy is crazy, but these folks have their themes. They usually don’t deviate.”

BOOK: Cop Job
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