Donovan and his partner had taken just a few minutes to get there after they had gotten the call. They were just finishing their lunch when the dispatcher had notified them of a body in an alley just a couple of blocks away from where they were. She had been all set to drive off but Donovan had said, “And the hurray would be? Gent’s not going anywhere.”
So, they had finished in “a civilized fashion,” as Donovan had described it, even though they were just eating take-out in the front seat of their unit. “An unhurried lunch is a sign a refined life,” he had said. He had gotten out when they were done, dropped their trash in a can, gotten back in and said, “Now.”
She had taken off a little faster than she had to, just to show him. He’d kept a straight face but smiled. Charlotte had been his partner for just a month or so, he having gone through one or two others during his big D divorce. He hadn’t been that easy to get along with during that time, in part because of the divorce but also because, after some dozen years as cop, half of them as a detective, he had just gotten tired of the macho attitude that so many detectives sported, both male and female. Charlie wasn’t like that, just quietly did the job. And she wasn’t like a lot of women nowadays, ex-wife included, thought Donovan, having no compulsion to share her feelings on any and all subjects and situations that came up. And she didn’t put with his crap, quietly giving as much as he gave.
In just a bit they had arrived at an alley South of Market Street, an area both rough and up and coming. A grey haired man with sergeant strips was standing at the mouth of the
alley among the black and whites pulled up there.
“Well, if it isn’t the Mutt and Jeff of the detective division,” he said, looking at the six foot plus Donovan and Charlotte who came up to her partner’s shoulder.
“Wow, Schmidt, way to throw around the ancient culture references,” said Donovan.
Schmidt shrugged and said to Charlotte, who had been his patrol partner before she had made detective, “How was your brother’s wedding, was that last week?”
“Week before and it was okay,” she said.
“Oh, still don’t likin’ the bride huh?”
“Well —,” she started, but stopped when Donovan cleared his throat.
“Mind if we …” he said, gesturing down to where the body lay, covered with a sheet.
“Just having a conversation,” she said, “in a civilized fashion,” and headed into the alley.
He was on his side, arm thrown up above his head. Donovan could see at least one hole in the front his shirt which was soaking in blood between the hole and the street. But not that much blood. “Looks like shot in the chest, fell on his side. Bettin’ he was shot in the heart so it stopped beatin’.” Clothes were a mismatch, plaid sport coat over a stripped shirt and well worn slacks. Fashion from chez Goodwill.
“Found this next to him,” says Schmidt, holding up a clear evidence bag with a knife inside.
“He was shot, Schmidt, not stabbed,” said Donovan.
“Hey, I thought…”
“He’s just jerking your chain,” said Charlie. “Where was it?”
He pointed to a spot just to the right of the body. Donovan said, “Huh. You think he could have been holding the knife?”
Charlotte said, “Like brought a knife to a gun fight?”
Donovan shrugged and was leaning over the body for another look when a young uniform came up to Schmidt. “Sarge, there’re a couple of guys I think you should talk to,” nodding back to the alley entrance.
The uniform pointed to two men standing at the street, another uniform standing behind them. Donovan looked over to see a stocky, beefy looking guy dressed in a well tailored dark suit and a shorter skinny guy in a grey suit that kind of hung on him.
“They see something?” Schmidt asked the uniform.
“Well, it’s more than that. They say they shot the guy.”
So now they’re all standing and staring down the alley and the two guys are staring back.
“Bring ‘em down,” said Donovan.
The uniform walked back up the alley and came back with the two, the other uniform, plus the coroner team that had just arrived. The team knelt down and started their routine.
The stocky guy was a snappy dresser. Nice looking dark, pin-stripe suit, silk tie over a barrel chest. He was bald except for a small patch of hair under his lower lip, a style that Donovan thought looked pretty stupid. The skinny guy sported the type of sparse mustache that a person shouldn’t even bother having.
Donovan said, “Gentleman, I’m detective Donovan and this is detective Hanley. And you are…?”
“Jonny Polock,” says Snappy, “and this is my associate Jack Baton.”
The second uniform was holding a .38
Charlie took point and started by asking them to just tell what happened.
Snappy says, “So we’re heading over to Tony’s for a little manicotti, you know, and this moke steps out from behind that dumpster and starts waving this knife…” Schmidt holds up the bagged knife, “…yeah,’ says Polock, “that’s the one, right Jack?” and Jack starts bobbing his head. “Anyway he starts with the most foul language and says hand over the wallets and I say ‘What for? I don’t carry any money, just the plastic, ya know?’ And I say to Jack, ‘Nobody carries cash anymore, right?’ and Jack is nodding…” and Jack is bobbing his head again to illustrate.. “and the jerk says ‘Give it to me’ and starts waving the knife, you know,… what’s the word?”
“Brandishing,” says Jack.
“Yeah, that’s it, brandishing. So I say ‘okay’ and I reach in grab my gun and he still keeps comin’, so I plug the scum.” He stops, like he’s waiting for general agreement from the cops. There was a moment of silence that Charlie ended when she went on to get more details, beginning with, “Why did you leave the scene?”
Donovan looked beyond her to idly watch the coroner team doing their thing. Liver temp and photos had been taken, and they had moved the body onto his back, one tech checking wounds and the other reaching into pockets. He came out with some papers, that he handed to Schmidt, and then another folded piece of paper from an inside coat pocket. Donovan watched him unfold it and then frown. He looked up at Snappy, then back down at the paper, then at Snappy again. He handed it to Schmidt with a comment and a nod toward where Donovan, Charlotte and the men were standing. Schmidt did just what the tech had done, then did a ’come hither’ nod to Donovan. Donovan did and when Schmidt handed him the paper, Donovan was looking down at a photocopy of a picture of Snappy. Well now, he thought, this just got really interesting.
He went over to Charlie and the guys, Snappy still talking and Skinny still bobbing, interrupted with an ‘excuse me, the guy had this in his pocket’ and showed the picture so all three could see it. Charlie’s eyebrow went up, Snappy said ‘hey’ and
Skinny stood silent and still, his eyes getting a hooded look as they slid over to look at Snappy. Well now, thought Donovan, what the hell?
Back at the squad room, they sat in a conference room, each with a cup of slightly rancid coffee, except for Baton who had politely declined, and who had sat silently without any bobbing as Polock had talked on, mostly along the lines of “I don’t get it, I just don‘t get it.”
Donovan let him go on for awhile, then interrupted. “You said that you were in the city looking for a couple of bail jumpers and a fugitive.” Just for fun he stared at Baton when he asked. Baton stared back for just a moment, then in a calm, smooth voice said, “That’s correct. As we said, we are skip chasers, seeking persons for whom there are outstanding arrest warrants of one kind or another.”
“Anything unusually interesting about the ones you were looking for here?”
Baton considered. “Most are just failures to appear for court appearances. We’re hired by their bail bondsmen. Fairly routine stuff, mostly small time lower level dope sellers. But, one does concern a man that escaped from prison and an arrest warrant that was issued about 10 years back. That one could be considered …interesting.”
“Well, yeah,” said Snappy, “but he’s not this guy…
“No, no, Jonny. This guy was just hired to kill you,” the last with a small smile. “The whole robbery, demanding your wallet was a ruse to get in close to you. The detective is making the point that this guy must have some significant contact with our fugitive.”
Donovan marveled at Baton’s use of the word “ruse”, how he had adroitly let Snappy know he had been the intended target without alarming him and how he had just as adroitly not mentioned that this whole shtick of Baton playing the second fiddle to Polock was intended to do just that, put Snappy out front in case of trouble.
They were finishing the pair’s taped statements when an officer came in and said their lawyer was here. A sharp faced woman came in and announced that she was Abigail Johnson, attorney for the pair and that she objected to their statements being taken without her consent, that she would pursue action for this breach of constitutional rights and they had nothing further to say. Charlotte was about to interrupt this tirade but Donovan stopped her with a hand under the table and just let her talk on. She did, talking on for some time and while he just looked at her, not reacting, until she just stopped, looking a little nonplused.
“Done?” asked Donovan. A hint of a smile played on Skinny’s lips. “Why don’t my partner and I leave and let you talk with your clients, I’m sure they’ll tell you that they spoke to us voluntarily and that they are not presently charged with anything.” He left his business card on the table, nodded to Charlotte and they left the room.
“She’s a piece of work,“ said Charlie.
Donovan shrugged. “She’s one of those attorneys who try to dominate these situations, to control the proceedings not just in the interests of their client, but also because of their Buick -sized egos.” He sniffed the coffee pot, poured the contents into the sink and started a fresh pot. “I recall her,“ he said. “From quite awhile ago, when we were in law school together. She doesn’t remember me yet, and might not, given that I’m out of context, not a lawyer but a cop.”
“What was she like then?’
“Standard arrogance.” After a bit the door opened and Abigail came out looking at Donovan‘s business card.
“I know you from law school, don’t I?”
“You remember me from law school.”
She missed the distinction, “Yeah, thought you looked familiar when I first saw you. But,” indicating the squad room with a wave of the hand, “the surroundings kinda threw me. You didn’t go into law?”
“Tried it for a few years, but didn’t like the work.” Or the people. Or the endless crap. “So, here I am and here we are. How long they,” nodding toward the interview room, “been your clients?”
“They’ve had our firm on retainer for a number of years.”
“They always had this role playing thing goin’ on?”
She looked blank for just a second, then laughed. “Oh, you caught that did you? Took me a while to catch on to that.” A while, really? thought Donovan. “Jack says it just works better if people think Jonny is the boss.” Yeah, that’s the reason.
Back into the conference room and the guys were describing how they had gotten a tip about the fugitive wanted in a soup kitchen in the City, “..a place in the Tenderloin called Harper House.” Donovan saw Charlie’s eyebrows go up. “So we went there and nosed around but came up with nothing.”
“You must have shook something loose,” said Charlie. “Where do you think the photo come from?”
“From our webpage,” said Jack. “We have Jonny’s picture on our home page.”
“Not yours?” asked Donovan.
Jack shook his head, “Jonny’s looks make for a bold statement for our kind of business.” Right.
After some time, they sent Jonny, Jack and Abigail on their way, Abigail saying “Like to have lunch some time,” and Donovan saying “sure”. After, Donovan and Charlotte headed up to the Tenderloin neighborhood and the Harper House.
“Really going to lunch with her?”
“What do you think?
Donovan said, “You reacted when Jack mentioned the Harper House.”
“Harper House is a connected charity,” said Charlie.
Charlie laughed. “High society, you uninformed peasant. Lotsa of the city’s wealthiest and politicos founded Harper House to help the poor.”
“And their conscious’s.”
“So cynical. Anyway, many of the city’s elite sit on the Board of Directors. There are very large fund raisers twice a year, big galas and the like.”
Charlie sighed. “They do a lot of good for the homeless and the really poor, Donovan.”
Donovan just shrugged and found a place to park a block from Harper House. The Tenderloin neighborhood sitting next to downtown hotels and offices could be called “gritty.” That was a polite term for what it was. More like slimy, thought Donovan. And it smelled, like places like this always did. Just inside the doors of Harper House there were those some referred to as ‘homeless’ but Donovan called bums.
They badged the receptionist and showed a picture of their dead guy. The receptionist shrugged and thought he looked familiar. Charlie showed it to a woman holding an infant who had sidled up to the counter and she said, “Oh dear, that’s Monty,” and shook her head sadly. Charlie sat down with her and she started talking about Monty. “Monty Hudson,” she said his name was, “from New York, I think.”
Charlie just listened and guided the conversation where she needed it to go. Donovan stood by, listening and admiring Charlie’s ability to just sit with this woman, a stranger who was opening up to Charlie like they were old friends. Donovan couldn’t do that. He had trouble getting past seeing this woman’s whole history, all the bad decisions he was certain she had made that had left her in the position where she wasn’t able to support herself but was dependent on others to stay alive. And while he could see the cuteness of the baby the woman held, and Charlie was cooing at, it was like he could see its whole life: cute baby and then toddler, child, surely teenager and an adult hamstrung by his mom’s bad decisions.
“Monty had been coming around for about a month, I think,” she was saying. “He seemed okay, most of the time, but you know, he wasn’t really all there.” She shook her head again. “He get jumped? They couldn’t have gotten much, he didn’t have anything.”
“He have any friends here or maybe people he talked to?” asked Charlie.
“Yeah, I guess so,” and named a few people and “…Dennis, of course.”
“One of the managers, Dennis Hanlon. He talks to everyone.”
In a few minutes Dennis Hanlon was talking to Donovan and Charlie. Hanlon sat in a rather well appointed office, looking a bit too well dressed and coiffed for an administrator of a homeless shelter Donovan thought.
“Oh sure,” looking at the photo, “Monty Stuart.”
“Oh, no, that was his little joke. He wanted to be from New York City for some reason, so he’d introduce himself as ‘Monty Hudson, you know, like the river in New York.’ Didn’t make much sense, but then Monty’s mind wasn’t entirely here. What happened to him?”
“He was shot,” said Donovan and watched as Hanlon’s face paused before registering the obligatory shock and sorrow. “He was trying to use a knife to mug someone but they had a gun,” and now Donovan saw a quicker facial reaction from Hanlon.
“Well, wouldn’t have expected something like that from him, but like I said, he really wasn’t all here, so who knows…”
After a few questions about Monty’s friends and the like, Donovan showed Hanlon Jonny’s picture. “Can’t say I’ve seen him.” Donovan explained that Jonny had been there earlier, asking questions. “Heard about that, but I missed them somehow.”
Charlie asked to see the place so he showed them around the center with its daycare, meeting rooms, therapy offices and a room with computers for the clients.
“Internet access?” asked Donovan.
“Sure,” said Hanlon, “our clients need it for job searches and to have some kind of e-mail account.”
After they left Hanlon, Donovan said, “Let’s find that woman with the kid.”
“Sara,” said Charlie.
“Right,” said Donovan and they found her in a room with other women with infants. Donovan showed her Jonny’s picture.
“Yeah, I remember him. He and another guy, a skinny guy, were here before. I don’t remember when. I think they were looking for someone, but I never talked to ‘em, so I don’t really know.”
Later at their office Donovan said, “So, Hanlon doesn’t know our boys, but he talks to everyone. He tells us he doesn’t think Monty would do something like that, but is sure to add that he could have, being not all there and all. Whereas Baby Lady –”
“Sara,” said Charlie.
“Right, she says she’s seen our guys and that she doesn’t think Monty would do such a thing. But our guy says ‘yea’ he could, maybe. We seem to have a conflict of opinions.”
“What are you getting at?”
“Well, let’s review. Skinny and Snappy come here looking for an ‘interesting fugitive’ as Skinny put it.”
“Wait, wait. Who?”
“Polock and Baton.”
“You call ’em Skinny and Snappy? I don‘t get… oh,” she nodded. “Snappy dresser.”
Donovan grinned. He’d have had to explain that to his past partners. “Anyway, our boys don’t find him, apparently. But somehow our Mr. Stuart takes such a dislike to them that he follows and attacks them. Motive? Who knows because the guy’s not all there. At least that’s how it might of looked but for the picture in his pocket which shows Snappy was really the target. Our manager ‘reluctantly’ fingers Stuart as possibly violent and unstable, whereas Sara paints him as just not all there. A suspicious mind, one of which I happen to have, would think that manager is painting a big bull’s eye on our deceased Mr. Stuart and diverting attention from himself. Our manager ‘somehow’ did not meet Snappy and Skinny, but was aware they had been there asking questions. What does all this suggest?”
“You think Hanlon could be the wanted guy and he somehow talked Stuart into killing the bounty hunter? Sounds kinda outlandish.”
Did to Donovan too, after saying it all out loud. But it also appealed to him, for some reason.
“You just want him to be the guy to prove the corruption of the elites, you proletariat.”
That was the reason. “Just thinking out loud.”
“Humph,” Charlie said. “He doesn’t look much like the old photo Polock and Baton gave us.”
No, he doesn’t, he thought. “People change,” he said. “You just don’t want it to be because you don’t want to admit the possibility …’
She was silent for a minute. “Yeah, you’re right. I hate it when your right.”
“Good thing it doesn’t happen all that often,” she added.
Donovan settled down and started running all the names of the people they had encountered, as was his habit, even those not involved directly in the case, but anyone they had interviewed or spoken to. “You just never know,” he had told Charlie, when she had asked about it when they first started together. Mostly it netted nothing, but once in awhile someone got hooked. So he checked criminal databases, DMV, some state licensing databases and a few others that he could access. He started with Dennis Hanlon and found nothing—mildly disappointing, having had brief fantasy of Hanlon having serious warrant and therefore motive and therefore getting to score a major coup on Charlie. He sighed and went on. Couple of guys that they had talked to at Harper House had some convictions, some trivial, some not, but nothing current or surprising given the clientele at Harper House.
He entered another name and now Donovan was staring at the screen after the results came up. Well, he thought, wasn’t expecting that, and then sat back and decided if he really wanted to do anything about it. He called over to Charlie, “Look at this.” She came over with a “what?” expression on her face. “Your Sara Clinton is an alias.”
Charlie stared at the screen and saw that Sara Clinton was one of several alias that the woman with the baby at Harper House had used. Her photo showed a younger face, but it was her. Her real name was Sara Putnam, apparently. A medium sized criminal record, mostly lower level theft and drug stuff. Donovan pointed. “I see it,” said Charlie and sighed.
“We going to anything about it?”
Charlie sighed again. “It’s a felony drug warrant, Donovan, for failure to appear at a trial. We can’t ignore it, even it‘s got nothing to do with our investigation.”
“We could just call the precinct guys and let them pick her up.”
Charlie sighed yet again. “No, no, she knows us. It‘d be easier on her if we went and got her.” And that was Charlie, thought Donovan. “We’ll have to call Child Protective Services for the baby,” she said shaking her head sadly.
He and Charlie went back to Harper House and found Hanlon. They explained and then they all went to find Sara. Dinner was being served in a hall and Sara was one of the people on the serving line. She looked up as they came into the hall and just for a second Donovan thought she had that look like she was going to try and run. But she just stood there as Charlie went to her and said, “I’m sorry, Sara, but you have to come with us.”
They were walking in the hallway back to Hanlon’ office when Sara said, “No one was supposed to get hurt.” Donovan, confused, said “What?” There was nothing about anyone getting killed in her drug case, just coke for sale and then it clicked and he thought, Oh.
Sara said, “He was just supposed to scare them. No one was supposed to get killed,” and was shaking her head. “Stupid Monty,” she muttered.
In Hanlon’s office Charlie read Sara her rights and asked if she wanted to talk and Sara said, “What difference does it make?” She started talking and they didn’t stop her.
“Those guys came in and were looking for someone. I didn’t talk to them and I was worried they were looking for me or would notice me or something. I mean, I’m straight now, why should I have to go back to jail? So I told Monty about it and asked if he maybe do could do something to scare em off. He said sure and left.”
“You thought someone like Monty could scare someone like Mr. Polock?” asked Charlie.
Sara shook her head. “I didn’t know, but I thought if Monty did something to them then that would like distract them or something and they would forget about me.” She shrugged. “Should have known Monty would screw it up. He just wasn’t all there.”
Donovan thought about her ‘plan’ and thought the late Monty wasn’t the only one not all there.
Donovan lived in the southwest of the City, a couple of miles or so from the ocean beach, a part where tourists did not venture because there was nothing to see. It was a working class neighborhood, mostly full of neat, older attached houses, and small businesses.
“It is,” as he had told Charlie when they had had an occasion to be out here once, “a neighborhood of the proletariat.” And it was, workers and small business owners, his people. People who knew the value of work and effort and lived their lives without feeling that they deserved anything.
Dermot’s was nothing fancy, just a neighborhood bar. Clean, comfortable, not too dark, not too light. No bizarre drinks that took the bar tender a half hour to make and cost ten bucks. Just members of the proletariat like Sparky the electrician down the bar talking baseball with Sidney the upholsterer and Margaret the neighborhood lawyer who did wills and small business law. Donovan could hear Becky the hairdresser at one of the tables laughing at one of her own stories that she was telling to Joan, a secretary at someplace downtown. He would take these people over a Hanlon or the elites behind Harper House any day of the week
Donovan sat on a bar stool, sipping his Irish, neat. He had been telling Dermot, the bar tender and owner, about Skinny and Snappy. “Just walking away from a shooting like that, ain’t that illegal?” Dermot had asked.
“Don’t know,” Donovan said. “Couldn’t come up anything myself. It’s the lieutenant’s and the DA’s problem.”
“Huh,” said Dermot, shaking his head. “Crazy case.” He moved down the bar to refill Sparky’s beer.
Yeah, Donovan thought, crazy case. Crazy Monty, crazy Baby Lady and crazy like a fox Skinny.
Donovan sipped at his Irish and thought there should be some kind of lesson from this very strange day, some moral lesson, but he just couldn’t think of one. Stuart was dead and Donovan thought he should be mustering some kind of feeling about that, but he wasn’t. He could hear his ex-wife’s voice saying “that’s because you have no feelings for other people!”
Actually it was because he didn’t think Stuart’s life had been worth all that much and never was going to be worth much, given his broken brain. And what does that kind of thinking make me, though Donovan,. His ex would never think of someone’s life like that and neither would Charlie. Unfeeling or just too realistic about people and life? A proletariat view of life is what he liked to think it was. But maybe he had just been a cop too long.
Donovan fished in his coat pocket and came out with Abigail Johnson’s business card. He thought a bit about Snappy’s and Skinny’s attorney. She was an attractive woman, and maybe a lunch wouldn’t be so bad. But she was an lawyer.
Donovan gave a mental shrug, crumpled the card, finished his drink, nodded to Dermot for another and moved down the bar to talk a little baseball.
Tony Lukas was an attorney for a number of years, including several as a deputy district attorney. He left the practice of the law as he did not like it that much and it did not like him much either. He then owned a chocolate story for twenty years, recently closed. Mostly retired he writes the occasional story and takes the occasional job. He has also been published in Overmydeadbody.com, Bewildering Stories and is soon to published in Yellowmama.