Authors: Frank Zafiro,Colin Conway
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Hard-Boiled, #Police Procedurals
Some Degree of Murder
By Frank Zafiro and Colin Conway
Copyright 2011 Frank Scalise and Colin Conway
Cover Design by
For my family and friends who have encouraged me on this writing journey. I know it is a lonely and selfish pursuit. Thank you for believing that the words would someday mean something.
for Rory V.
Revenge is a confession of pain.
Coming into River City by bus would not have been my first choice. I didn’t have much choice in the way of travel unless I wanted to drive and that’s a task I hate doing, especially interstate.
The equipment in my bag was the sort of thing that the airlines frown upon. Thankfully, no terrorist has ever used a Greyhound to crash into a Denny’s, so the rules are looser with ground travel. Besides, no one would really complain about an attack on either of those two staples of Americana.
Greyhound’s employees stack unchecked bags underneath a bus without a second of hesitation. Their eight dollar an hour mentality couldn’t handle any extra strain from the Department of Homeland Security.
When the bus finally shuddered to a stop behind the station, I nudged the sleeping woman next to me. She had slept with her mouth open for the last hour of the trip. She snorted and adjusted her position in the seat. I glanced around the bus as people got to their feet and shuffled to the exit.
She boarded the bus in Ritzville with a handful of other passengers. With her purple muumuu and frizzy hair, I imagined her to be one of those lonely women who collect Harlequin romance novels and sing lullabies to a cat named Mr. Noodles. The image helped sour my already poor disposition towards the woman.
I elbowed her until she woke up with a scowl on her face. “What the hell?”
Her eyes widened in surprise. “You can’t talk to me like that.”
I sneered at her and fought back the frustration of two days on a Greyhound bus. I stood, shoved past her and exited the bus.
The sun hovered barely above the horizon, casting a pinkish glow onto the city. An old Mexican in a Greyhound uniform slowly unloaded the luggage from underneath the bus. I stood back and watched him work as a number of idiots stared on in wonder, excitement boiling over on whose bag would come out next.
When the old man finally got to my bag, he tossed it on the ground in a sweeping arc. My lip curled and I looked around. There were too many people with too many eyes for me to lay into him. He should have known better.
I snatched the bag and wandered through the terminal. The smell of failure and desperation hung in the air. When I sniffed again, it smelled more like piss and vomit.
Near the front of the station, three cops stood around a grey-haired drunk who wore a green army jacket and dirty blue jeans. Their dark blue uniforms sported patches that read River City Police Department.
The middle cop, the fat one with the double chin, talked with the drunk while the two young storm troopers took up defensive positions, triangulating their prey. “Wake up, man. You gotta go. People are complaining.”
The drunk didn’t respond and he stared at the ground.
The two young storm troopers could have been poster boys for Nazi Fag Monthly. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed and skinny, they both wore black leather gloves and worked them by rubbing their knuckles in to the palms of their hands. They both had the fresh faces that the Aryans would covet in prison.
The doughboy cop kicked the drunk’s shoe. “Hey, man.”
The drunk shook his head and his eyelids drooped.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“Got what?” asked the fat cop, his belly barely contained by his belt.
“I got suicidal tendencies,” the drunk slurred loudly.
“No kidding? I got them, too. That band rocks.” The chubby bastard smiled at his joke and the two hyenas with him giggled.
I shook my head and walked away. Cops are the same in every town.
Stepping out the front of the station, I saw the sun dip below the horizon. I smiled at the darkness and headed west along First Avenue.
River City had changed since the last time I visited. New buildings stood proudly next to renovated structures.
My hotel, The Davenport, was supposed to be the shining star of downtown. When I left in the early nineties, the Davenport was an aging, boarded up shit hole that the local winos broke in to so they could sleep off a night’s drunk. Now, the rooms were going for almost two hundred a night and the hotel was a destination. The booking agent gushed that I just had to see it. I let her book me there just to get her to shut up.
Cars whizzed northbound on Washington as I waited to cross. When the light changed, a y
ellow Humvee slammed on its brakes and skidded into the intersection in front of me. Horns blared from several cars and a one-fingered salute came through the window of the red Saturn directly behind him. The guy driving the Hummer chatted away on his cell phone, oblivious to what was going on around him. That’s why I hate to drive. Too many idiots are out there.
First Avenue was poorly lit,
but even in the falling darkness, I saw his dirty, brown shoe peeking out beyond the doorway about a hundred feet in front of me. My bag was instinctively on my left shoulder, but I wasn’t carrying a weapon to reach for with my free hand.
The bum stepped out of the doorway, blocking my path down the street.
“Gimme a dollar.”
I glanced over my sho
ulder and saw no one behind me. “No.”
As I passed him, he grabbed my left arm. “I said gimme…”
My fist smashed into his throat, forcing him to gag and fall to his knees. His hands clutched his throat and he gurgled in pain. I checked the street again and in the far distance, a car was headed my way before it turned south. The wino shuffled on his knees to get away from me, his hands still around his own throat. With a quick step, I kicked him in the back, driving him to the ground.
I ran my fingers through my hair and continued walking to the Davenport. Six blocks later, I saw why the booking agent gushed about the hotel. A valet ran out of the garage and helped a leggy blonde slide out of her red BMW. She dug into a little black purse, pulled out a bill and stuffed it in to the valet’s hand. He stared at her breasts during the entire transaction.
The blonde’s high-heels clicked as she wiggled down the sidewalk in front of me. She had a blood red blouse on with a short, black mini-skirt. A thin black line in her panty hose ran up the back of each leg.
Inside the hotel, she clicked off to the right and entered the Peacock Lounge. From the balcony alcove above, a four-piece jazz band belted out a Dixieland song.
Several groups of senior citizens sat at the tables and couches on the main floor, enjoying the music and prattling on about their lives. I followed the carpeted path to the front desk, staying off of the marble floors.
“Welcome to the Davenport Hotel. May I help you, sir?”
“I have a reservation.”
The clerk’s skinny fingers tapped away on the keyboard. Even with the long fingernails, she was an expert typist. She grabbed some paperwork and stuffed it in to a small pamphlet.
“Okay, Mr. Kelley, you are in room 614,” she said and handed the pamphlet to me. As she explained the rules of the honor bar and the array of services the hotel offered, I thought about the leggy blonde who walked into the Peacock Lounge.
The clerk concluded her practiced speech with, “We hope you enjoy your stay with us.”
I nodded at her and wandered over to the elevator.
In my room, I tossed my bag on to the bed and scanned the room. King size bed. Television in a dark wood cabinet. Writing desk. Nightstand.
In the bathroom, I splashed my face with cold water before soaping it up. Suds covered my face like a mask. I blinked at myself in the mirror for a couple of minutes before washing the soap off.
From my bag, I pulled out a couple of pairs of black slacks along with three polo shirts of various colors and hung them in the closet. I made a note to myself of the iron in the closet.
In the top drawer of the dresser that was part of the television cabinet, I stacked my socks and underwear. I grabbed my toiletry bag and walked back into the bathroom where I laid everything out on the sink. Toothpaste and toothbrush. Hair gel and brush. Shaving cream and razor. Cologne and skin conditioner. Everything paired with its mate for faster preparation in the morning.
From the bag on the bed, I pulled the four final items out. Two Glock 27s in Kydex holsters, a box of 40 caliber rounds and a roll of duct tape. Using the duct tape, I strapped both guns and the box of ammunition to the back of the television cabinet. I tossed the tape back in to my bag and pushed it underneath the bed.
I took stock of the room one last time before lying down on the bed and closing my eyes. I tried to rest, but I was still wound up and needed to find a way to relax.
The rain was merciless. Huge drops pelted the windshield and hood of the police car next to me with a metallic ping. Every five seconds, a wiper blade swept across the windshield in a futile effort to keep it clear. A patrolman sat inside the car, writing his report.
I felt like a complete sissy standing there holding an umbrella. I held a luke-warm cup of coffee in my right hand. I’d picked it up at the Circle K at Market and Euclid on my way to the scene. The stale brew sat roiling in my stomach. Bile crept back up my throat. I’d forgotten how terrible graveyard coffee was.
The rain showed no sign of letting up. According to the patrolman in the car, it had only been a drizzle when they came across her, but by the time they taped off the scene and called me, the downpour began. I hate rain. As far as destroying a crime scene goes, it runs a close second to other cops.
I sipped the bitter coffee again and forced it down past the bile. The Crime Scene Forensics Unit had hastily constructed four posts and a tarp over the top of the body in an effort to preserve some of the evidence. A good idea, I suppose, but anything more than three feet away from the body was being washed away in the deluge of water.
I surveyed the scene, ticking off facts in my mind. My head hurt with the beginnings of a hangover, but focusing on the work helped some. The field where the body lay took up most of the block to the south and east of the roadway. The road was made up of dirty gravel and ran in a northeasterly direction up to Trent Avenue. The Looking Glass River to the northwest. Railroad tracks to the south. Most of the area consisted of deserted industrial businesses.
Smart, I decided. If he did it on purpose, anyway. Come in from the north or the south. Low traffic road. Quick dump, quick exit.
I swung my gaze back to the body. Whoever had murdered her obviously did not care if she was found. She lay on her back in the weeds, which were thick and green. The patrol car’s spotlight lit up her face and made her features seem severe, even from ten feet away. If her eyes weren’t closed, it would almost appear that she was staring up at the tarp above her. I prayed for a footprint in the mud, but knew it was unlikely. The weeds were too thick.
All my potential evidence was just washing away.
I turned as Detective Bill Lindsay trotted up to the car. He wore a light windbreaker and a Colorado Avalanche ball cap. I moved the umbrella over for him to share. Once underneath, he shook off water and glanced over at the body, ten feet away.
I shrugged. “What was your first clue?”
Lindsay took my sourness as camaraderie. “Hey, I’m just a poor second grade detective,” he said with a grin. “I work burglaries and vandalisms, not homicides like you Major Crimes studs. I’m here to help, but this technical stuff is way beyond me.”
“You’re in a good mood for two in the morning.”
Lindsay grinned even wider. “Call-out pay, baby. When the phone rings this time of night, it means someone died. If it ain’t family, then it’s payday.”
I took another sip of coffee. I was half-hung over as it was, with the worst of it still waiting on deck. I wasn’t in the mood for his chirpy bullshit.
“What do you know?” Lindsay asked.
I looked away from him and back at the body. The tarp collected water and sagged under the weight. Occasionally, one of the crime scene techs would gently push up under the middle of the tarp and force the water off the sides.
“Female. Hispanic. Torn clothing. And a whole lot of rain.”
Lindsay chuckled. “Yeah. I thought I saw the animals marching two by two on my way down here.”
That wouldn’t have been funny in the daytime, I thought to myself. It sure as hell wasn’t funny at two in the morning, ten feet from a dead girl.
“So…” Lindsay gave me an expectant look.
“We gonna work the scene?”
I shook my head. “Forensics isn’t finished taking photos. Cameron showed up with the van and only had one roll of film with the camera.”
Lindsay snorted. “Goofball.”
I shook my head again. “Not his fault. Whoever stocked it last should’ve reloaded the case. Anyway, he’ll be back in a few minutes. He’ll finish his photos. Then we watch Forensics collect evidence. Most of what we do is watch. Ask questions. Make a few decisions.”
“You don’t work the evidence?”
“The actual, physical evidence? No. Do you dust for prints on your burglary scenes?”
“They photograph the point of entry, tool marks, whatever?”
“And you base your investigation off what they find?”
“Same concept here.”
He didn’t answer. I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye. He was concentrating on the body. I sipped the coffee again.
A pair of headlights cut through the downpour and headed toward us. Cameron Whitaker pulled up in the gray Forensics van.
“Thank God,” I muttered.
“Hey, hey, CSI!” Lindsay boomed.
It was going to be a long night.