Authors: David Chill
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Hard-Boiled, #Private Investigators
A Novel by
© 1991-2013 by David Chill
This book is a work of fiction. Names characters, places
and events are products of the author's imagination and are used fictitiously. Any
resemblance to actual events, locations or persons living or deceased, is
purely coincidental. We assume no responsibility for errors, inaccuracies,
omissions, or any inconsistency herein.
The people who tried to kill Norman Freeman last night
came dangerously close to succeeding. Or at least Norman thought they were trying
to kill him. Despite having the passenger window of his car shot out on the
Santa Monica freeway, he still wasn't entirely sure.
"They may have been after my brother," he
said. "It's very confusing."
"Getting shot at often is," I answered. During
my tenure on the police force, I had exchanged gunfire on two occasions. Both
times I escaped without physical harm but paid an emotional price. There were
the countless nights where sleep never came, and many others that were altered
by petrifying nightmares. Each shooting incident took a couple of months to
overcome, but I don’t think I ever fully recovered. The bad dreams still slip
in occasionally. Trauma can stay with you forever.
"I'm just stunned at what happened," he said,
as his pretty blonde fiancée sitting next to him took his hand and squeezed it
slightly. A large diamond ring glittered from her finger.
"You told me that over the phone," I reminded
him, "but let me ask you something. How did you happen to select me?
Burnside Investigations doesn't exactly stand out in the yellow pages."
Norman brightened for a moment. "Dick Bridges
Dick Bridges was director of campus security at Los
Angeles University, more commonly referred to as LAU, and we had known each
other since I played football across town at USC. That was almost twenty years
ago. Time goes by so quickly. It seemed like yesterday that I resigned from the
police department; in fact it was only two years.
I nodded. "Dick and I go back a long ways. He's
done well for himself."
"Mr. Bridges told me you were the best."
Laughing, I said, "Dick owes me a few favors. Has
he lost any weight?"
Norman shook his head. "No. He'd make a good
offensive tackle. I could have used him two years ago. I played quarterback at
I was well aware of Norman Freeman. His name or photo
had appeared almost daily in the Los Angeles Times. The blond hair, blue eyes,
rugged jaw, and muscular frame were right out of central casting. He wore a
long sleeve oxford cloth shirt with a button down collar and pressed khakis. It
was as if Frank Gifford, the all-American boy of the fifties, had magically
reappeared. He made me feel old, but at forty, that was far from a herculean
Norman had been a second round draft pick of the
Patriots, but his pro career was short-circuited by an injury during a
pre-season game. When no receivers were open on one fateful play, he took off
on a scramble and attempted to hurdle the safety who stood between him and the
goal line. The defender upended him brutally, separating the shoulder of his
throwing arm and causing a concussion when he landed on the unforgiving turf.
Despite attempts at rehabilitation, the shoulder never fully recovered and
headaches became a regular part of his day. And Norman Freeman's gridiron
career came to a sudden halt.
"So what are you doing now?" I inquired.
Norman smiled shyly. "Working for my father. He
owns a bunch of car dealerships on the Westside. I'm being groomed to take over
"Nice work if you can get it," I remarked.
Being a smart ass was a gift which came naturally to me. And as off-putting as
it might be at times, it often got people to say things they ordinarily didn’t
But Norman Freeman sat in silence for a minute,
pondering the end of his left thumbnail. I noticed that it had become slightly
warm in my office, and I made a mental note to contact the property manager to
fix the air conditioning. Had I something more interesting to do that afternoon
I would have hurried him along, but Norman was more entertaining than staring
out my window. And his fiancée was certainly a sight to behold.
Her name was Ashley and she was about Norman's age, tall
and slender, with golden hair that flowed freely down her back. She wore a
black top, white slacks and pink and white Nikes. Despite the warm weather, she
carried a white denim jacket with little silver stars sewn into the collar. She
wore a face full of make up including violet eye shadow and scarlet lipstick.
When she smiled, her teeth were big and white, a gleaming Pepsodent smile if
there ever was one. I tried not to linger too long on her and began to mentally
review my calendar for the rest of the day. I needed to be at Mrs. Wachs' house
at five o'clock, but that was a few hours away. Aside from that, the only thing
I had to decide was what to have for dinner.
"Mr. Burnside, you're probably wondering why I'm
here," he said.
"The thought crossed my mind."
"As I told you over the phone, somebody tried to
shoot me last night. Actually it may have been Robbie they were trying to
"So you mentioned. Robbie's your brother."
"Right. He played for LAU also. He was a really
good wide receiver. You may have heard of him."
I nodded. "All-Conference if I recall."
"You were All-Conference as well, weren't you?"
He nodded eagerly. "Three years. Robbie was my best
receiver the last two. Freeman to Freeman."
"Then you graduated."
"I was a year older."
"Of course," I said.
"They changed around the offense after I left.
Started using the Read Option. That was probably why Robbie didn't have a great
"So I gathered. I still follow the game."
"Sure," he commented. "I remember
watching you when I was a little kid, Mr. Burnside. You played safety at USC,
"You've got a good memory. But why don't we get
back to why you're here."
"Oh yeah," he paused. "Well it was like
this. I was driving Robbie's car last night. You see, our parents had an affair
up at the house. I needed to leave early and Robbie's Honda was blocking my car
in the driveway. So I just borrowed his."
"Sure. I do the same thing when someone double
parks in front of me."
Norman gave me a confused look but continued on.
"Anyway, I'm driving on the freeway when all of a sudden someone pulls
alongside and fires a gun at me. Shot the side window clean out. I was really
lucky they missed, the bullet got lodged in the head rest."
"And you think they were after your brother."
"Who would want to kill me?"
I decided to answer a question with a question. "Who
would want to kill Robbie?"
He thought for a moment. "I don't know."
"Did you get the plate number?"
"No," he said sadly. "I was too startled.
I can't even describe the car to you."
I asked if he had gone to the police, and both Norman
and Ashley responded with concurrent nods. Norman had the perplexed look of a
football player facing a Cover 2 defense for the first time. Ashley responded.
"The police took a report,” she said, “but they
told us that without a license plate number there wasn't much they could do.
They also seemed very busy."
"Business must be booming," I mused.
I held up my hand. "Never mind,” I said, and turned
back to Norman. “Before I start sticking my nose into your brother's business,
have you talked to him about this?"
He nodded yes. "Robbie... Robbie told me not to
worry about things. Not to get involved. He'd be very angry if he found out
what I'm doing here. But I'm his brother. I care about him. And I'm worried for
I watched Norman's face to see if it would reveal
anything more than golden boy looks. He spent most of his time talking with his
gaze aimed at the floor. That might have meant either he couldn't look me in
the eye or that my linoleum was developing serious wax build-up. Trial judges
often instruct their juries to consider a witness's body movements during
testimony, but I've concluded that theory doesn’t always work well in practice.
People can tell the god's honest truth with a drooped head and slumped
shoulders, while others are able to commit blatant perjury while looking
someone dead in the eye.
He continued to fidget. "So will you help me?"
he finally asked.
"I doubt I'll be able to find the guy who took a
shot at you last night."
A pained expression filled his young face. "Can you
at least find out why?"
I pondered the question while I glanced at the bare
walls in my spartan office. I kept meaning to hang some pictures, but
procrastination got the best of me. While I scanned my white walls, I also
considered whether to order a pizza tonight or splurge and go for some steamed
clams near the beach.
“I can’t guarantee I’ll find the answer. But I can
promise you the same thing I promise every client. I’ll do the very best I
possibly can and I’ll give you your money’s worth.”
Norman nodded. “Okay.”
"Does anyone else know you've come to me for
"Just my father. And he's completely supportive. In
fact he'll pay for it."
Time to test the waters. "My usual fee is six
hundred a day," I said, watching Norman's expression carefully. "Plus
Showing not the least bit of hesitation, Norman Freeman
pulled himself to his feet and reached hastily into his pocket for a wad of
greenbacks. He peeled off a small stack and handed them to me.
"Here's a week's retainer. Would you mind keeping
receipts for the expenses? Dad would like to deduct them."
In my hand sat thirty pictures of Ben Franklin. I tried
to spread them like a deck of playing cards but they barely budged. The bills
were fresh and crisp and clung together as if they were bonded. They felt good
in my hand. It had been a while since this much cold cash had dropped into my
lap and I savored the feeling. Steamed clams, I decided. Definitely the
Before they left, I instructed Norman to jot down a list
of Robbie's friends and acquaintances, and how I could reach them. He also
mentioned that many of them would be attending his, Norman's, bachelor party
the following evening. He invited me to join the festivities as well, although
he warned me Robbie was going to bring some rather outgoing ladies to liven up
the gathering. I told him I'd be on my best behavior.
So now I had two paying clients: Norman Freeman and the
Differential Mutual Insurance Company. The Differential, as they were so fond
of referring to themselves, had hired me to investigate one of their claimants,
a middle-aged woman named Cindy Wachs. She lived in Carson, a smoggy, blue
collar suburb about twenty-five freeway minutes from my office on Olympic
Boulevard in West Los Angeles.
It was a warm day in the Southland with the mercury
rising to the mid-seventies. This summer was very typical so far in the basin:
warm days followed by cool evenings. As was my custom in the summer, I spurned
the button-down look and wore a red knit shirt with a little tiger crouched
over the heart, dark slacks and black sneakers. My hair was short and black,
and parted on the right side. While I’d never be in football condition again, I
still was lean and strong. I left the windows open as I navigated the San Diego
freeway, the warm winds lapping at me as I drove.
Mrs. Wachs lived in a modest, working class neighborhood
lined with stucco homes that featured pickup trucks parked inelegantly on the
front lawn. A few of the local gentry sat on the curb and sipped refreshments
contained within a surreptitious brown paper bag. A couple of ten year olds
were carefully playing with matches in the middle of the street.
I pulled out my file from the Differential and examined
it once again. Mrs. Wachs was about forty years old and had been involved in a
rather curious car accident. While stopped at a red light, her Plymouth Fury
was rammed on the passenger door by a van which had rolled mysteriously down
the embankment of a driveway. Despite being on the other side of the vehicle,
Mrs. Wachs complained of a stiff neck and an aching back. Her doctor happily
provided an exhaustive battery of medical tests and physical therapy to the
tune of forty-two thousand dollars. Mrs. Wachs herself had filed a
multi-million dollar lawsuit against the Differential, the van owner's
insurance company, of which two thousand dollars was for vehicle damage and
most of the remainder geared towards compensation for pain and suffering. To
say the least, the Differential was not pleased.
My client’s person of interest had yet to arrive home,
so I parked my black Nissan Pathfinder across the street and awaited her
arrival. I used to own a Jeep, but after spending a few evenings tailing a
wayward wife through a series of torrential winter rainstorms, I decided to
invest in a vehicle with a permanent roof. Unpacking the camcorder, I played
with the zoom lens and pretended I was directing a documentary about the other
side of Los Angeles. I inserted a George Winston CD into the tray and used it
as a soundtrack. My career imitating Ken Burns lasted ten minutes. Mrs. Wachs
had arrived home.