All posts by Gary Clifton

Gary Clifton, forty years a cop, has over sixty short fiction pieces published or pending with various venues. He's been shot at, shot, stabbed, sued, lied to and about, frequently misunderstood and is currently retired to a dusty north Texas Ranch where he doesn't much care if school keeps or not. Clifton has an M.S. from Abilene Christian University.

AND BEHIND DOOR TWO

The deceased was a balding middle-aged male, lying face up, eyes partially open in the gaze of eternity. Homicide Detective Felix Kowalski knelt over the cadaver carefully, avoiding the pool of crimson on the entry way tile. “Perp knocked on the door, the vic opened it and took two to the heart.” He glanced up at his partner, Detective Sheena Washington.

+++++She nodded. “Vic’s wallet is on a bedroom nightstand, cash and credit cards undisturbed. Driver’s license says he’s Wilson McDowell, 53, a plumber and the homeowner of this address, 5912 Easton Terrace. His wife confirmed that information.”

+++++He glanced around. “Nice house for a plumber.”

+++++“He owns the company.”

+++++“That his wife I hear crying?”

+++++“Yeah… in the kitchen with the E.M.T.’s. She’s a wreck, Kowalski.”

+++++“Was she…?

+++++“Came home, found him dead where he lays, called 9-1-1.”

+++++“Unless she came home, shot ol’ Wilson, then dialed 9-1-1. You remember the case we worked last year?”

+++++“She’s putting on a hell of an act for a shooter. I couldn’t get a coherent comment. Tears are real. I don’t think she…”

+++++“Have techs found a firearm on the premises?”

+++++“No.”

+++++“Have we swabbed her hands… the paraffin test?”

+++++Sheena sighed. “Yes, Kowalski. First thing I did when I arrived. It appears the shooter walked off with the murder weapon.” Slender, 35, and attractive, Sheena was known as a tough customer.

+++++Kowalski went through the dead man’s pockets, inadvertently moving the victim’s right arm. A sparkle of metal in the hand caught his eye. Unfolding the cold fingers, he removed a small silver ring with a green stone on a broken silver chain. The initials, “RMD” were stamped inside the ring.

+++++“Ripped from the shooter’s neck?” Kowalski stood, holding the ring and chain out for Sheena to examine. Tall, angular, his close-cropped hair was flecked with gray.

+++++Sheena dropped the ring and chain into a plastic evidence bag and handed it back.

+++++In thirty minutes of interviewing the distraught wife, Marilyn McDowell, they learned he did in fact, own McDowell Plumbing, attended church regularly, neither drank nor smoked, and had no enemies that she knew of. She said she did not recognize the chain or ring, nor had any idea as to who “RMD” might be.

+++++Kowalski and Sheena talked quietly on the front porch, turning their back into the freezing cold November north wind. Tomorrow they would re-interview Mrs. McDowell to develop a list of his associates then drop by McDowell Plumbing and visit with whomever they found.

+++++Kowalski said, “She didn’t do it.”

+++++“Like I said.”

+++++“Girlfriend… or angry husband?”

+++++“We can look at that, but I don’t think so.”

***

+++++Kowalski dropped off the ring and chain at the county crime lab the following morning, picked up a city car, and he and Sheena drove to McDowell Plumbing. Two clerical employees and five plumbers seemed appropriately stunned at the boss’s death. Mrs. McDowell had phoned them the night before. None provided a solid lead.

+++++“McDowell was a real nerd,” Sheena remarked as they drove away. “You suppose somebody meant to do a home invasion robbery, panicked, and shot him when he came to the door.”

+++++“Possible, but not likely.  Looks too personal.” He looked at his wristwatch. “It’s nearly eleven. Let’s grab a burger.”

+++++Kowalski was working on a grease and cholesterol special while Sheena picked at a salad when the crime lab buzzed Kowalski’s cellular. He listened, then said, “Great. We’ll need to drop by and pick it up.”

+++++Sheena studied him expectantly.

+++++He said through a mouthful of sandwich, “The chain has a trace of blood where it was busted. They raised a mitochondrial DNA sample but found no match in any database they have access to.”

+++++“Bad news.”

+++++“Good news is, the chain had previously been broken and repaired…silver link replaced. How many jewelry shops in this city repair jewelry, a dozen at most?”

+++++She punched her iPhone. “Good guess. Looks like thirteen. We can cover that by quitting time today.”

+++++They had progressed to number ten. The thin, morose jeweler peered at the ring and chain through his glass. “Never saw the ring before, but I recall this chain. Came in maybe two months ago with a busted link here where you can see the replacement.” He dug in a floor-safe and tossed a folder on the glass-topped counter.

+++++Kowalski said, “Sir you’re gonna’ have to…”

+++++The jeweler pulled a yellow, carbon copy of a receipt from the pile, showing Patricia Davis had paid twenty dollars for “chain repair” ten weeks earlier. Sheena copied the address. The jeweler machine-copied the form and handed over his original.

+++++The address shown was on the far side of town from the murder scene. They were greeted at the door of a poorly kept house by a graying lady of at least 80. She appeared to be incapable of standing upright without the aid of an ornate cane she clutched in her left hand.

+++++“Ma’am, were from the metropolitan police homicide unit. We’re looking for Patricia Davis.”

+++++“I’m Patricia Davis,” she replied in a weak voice, heavy with age.

+++++Kowalski produced the ring and chain. The elderly face, ever so slightly, showed recognition… and something else neither cop could quite decipher.”

+++++“Do you recognize these items, ma’am.” Sheena asked, the answer already apparent.

+++++“My granddaughter’s… Rebecca Marie.  She broke the chain and we dropped it off for repair. I picked it up from the shop. My husband bought it for her twentieth birthday. He bought it too small and she wore it around her neck on the chain. Too sentimental, I guess, to alter her granddaddy’s gift.”

+++++Kowalski and Sheen, cop-style, stepped past her into an immaculate living room.

+++++“We’d need to speak to your husband, too, ma’am,” Kowalski said.

+++++The tired eyes teared up. “He uh, died ten days ago.”

+++++“We’re terribly sorry for your loss, Mrs. Davis.” Sheena offered the standard comment. “Could we speak with your granddaughter, please?”

+++++More tears. She died in an accident… not long after we put her chain in for repairs.”

+++++“Accident?” Sheena asked.

+++++The tears exploded. “Our baby fell in front of a city bus. It was grief from that, killed my husband, Herman.”

+++++“Oh my,” the hardened Kowalski said as tenderly as he could. “So sorry. Please sit down, Mrs. Davis.” He helped her into a chair.

+++++“The chain and ring?” Sheena asked. “We need to see…”

+++++“Stolen from her body in the funeral home. What animals would…?”

+++++Kowalski and Sheena hurried to the homicide office and spent several hours milking the computer.

+++++“Kowalski, Rebecca Marie Davis did, in fact, die beneath a city bus. Note here, the responding patrol officer wrote that the scene had indications of suicide.”

+++++“Yeah, and look at this. “Herman Davis didn’t just die. He was a suicide by hanging in his living room. I guess you saw those open beams in the ceiling?”

+++++“Granddaughter died, grandfather killed himself. We’ve seen that before.”

+++++“I don’t think the Davis family has squat to do with this, Sheena. Wilson McDowell has no connection that I see with the tragedy. Besides, the old lady couldn’t possible drive cross town, shoot McDowell, then make it home. Her life expectancy looks to me to be measured in hours.”

+++++“Well, back to square one.” Sheena shut down the computer. The crime lab called and reported no gunshot residue on Mrs. McDowell’s hands, the victim’s wife.

***

+++++At just before midnight, Kowalski was dozing on his sofa in front of the TV when Sheena called.

+++++“Another murder identical to Wilson McDowell a block away from his house. Note the address: 5912 Easton Drive. McDowell was at 5912 Easton Terrace.”

+++++Kowalski arrived at the latest murder scene, worked his way through the glut of emergency vehicles and found Sheena stooped over the body. A smallish man of about thirty, with sandy blond hair, lay face up, eyes fixated in death on a spot above the ceiling, three bullet holes prominent in his chest.

+++++She looked up. “Three in the chest. Looks identical. He opened the door and received some final justice.”

+++++“Justice?”

+++++“Don’t you recognize this creep, Kowalski?”  We arrested him for rape two years ago. The vic was a 16-year-old with Down syndrome and his lawyer got him off. Looks like he ran outta’ luck.”

+++++“Yeah, yeah.  Willie ‘Chickie’ Wilson. Good riddance. Any suspects?”

+++++“Nada. The list of people who wanted this loser dead is two blocks long. Maybe just write it off to an act of God?”

+++++“Sheena, the address thing… Easton Terrace and Easton Drive is a damned strange coincidence.”

+++++“Kowalski, I have trouble connecting Wilson McDowell, hardworking plumber to this sorry mope.” She gestured to the floor.

+++++“Sheena, we canvassed hell outta’ McDowell’s neighborhood, but typically, lots of folks aren’t home or just won’t answer the door. My gut says go back and finish McDowell’s street, Easton Terrace, a block over before we spin our wheels sorting out suspects on this guy. Then we start here on Chickie’s Easton Drive.”

+++++They split up, a uniformed officer present with each so residents could look out and confirm it was police knocking on their door.

+++++An elderly man in a nightgown, six doors down from the McDowell house greeted Sheena and her uniformed escort, a classic deer in the headlights expression.

+++++“Sir,” Sheena began. As you must have heard, a neighbor was murdered up the block night before last. My notes show we didn’t manage to get you to answer the door.”

+++++“Whut? Police?” He fiddled with an earpiece. “It’s the middle of the night.”

+++++She repeated her words, raising her voice.

+++++“Well, by God when you can’t hear, you don’t always know somebody’s knockin’. I had got up to pee when you two walked up the sidewalk. Whutcha’ want?”

+++++“Did you see or hear anything unusual two nights ago?”

+++++“Naw… well, this old lady managed to bang loud enough to catch the attention of the Devil himself. Ask me if I knew where “Wilson” lived. Told her I didn’t know no Wilsons.”

+++++Sheena scribbled in her notebook. “She say anything else, sir?”

+++++“Then she ask me if she was on Easton and I said ‘yeah, Easton Terrace’. Couldn’t half hear what the old heifer was saying and she couldn’t hear me. Sent her on her way… couldn’t hardly walk. She hobbled out to the sidewalk on a cane and I went back to bed.”

+++++Sheena found Kowalski down the block. She relayed the conversation with the deaf neighbor.

+++++Kowalski called Records on his iPhone and requested a detailed search for any rape complaints against Willie ‘Chickie’ Wilson in the past six months. He listened, jotted notes rapidly by flashlight, and broke the connection.

+++++“Damn, Sheena, a Patricia Davis of the address where we interviewed a lady of the same name this past afternoon tried to file a rape charge against Wilson three months ago. She had no evidence, no rape kit, no witnesses… but get this. Rebecca Marie Davis, the alleged victim was her granddaughter and affected with Down syndrome. You don’t suppose…?”

+++++They exchanged knowing glances. Sheena said, “Maybe a feeble old lady can actually drive across town.”

+++++Kowalski replied thoughtfully. “Twice…and at night?”

***

+++++The Davis house was dark. Kowalski shined his flashlight in a side window. Clearly visible was a frail body hanging from a rope wrapped around a ceiling beam. They called for backup and kicked the door.

+++++The note was in plain view on the same sofa they’d used during their earlier visit. Sheena read it aloud:

+++++“To the nice police officers who called on me yesterday. I knew you’d figure it out and be back. That animal hired my Rebecca Marie to clean his house and then took advantage of her child-like trust. She was two months pregnant and couldn’t deal with the shame when she jumped in front of that bus. I asked that stupid old man where Wilson lived and he didn’t know, although I already had the address. I just couldn’t see very well in the dark and I got on Easton Terrace instead of Easton Drive. I asked the man if he was Wilson and he said yes, then I learned from the newspaper I’d shot Wilson McDowell instead of that awful Chickie Wilson.”

+++++Sheena looked up at Kowalski.

+++++“Is there more?” He asked.

+++++“Rebecca’s chain and ring weren’t stolen at the funeral home. My husband picked them off her poor, sweet neck in that coffin and the whole affair killed him. I’ve worn them since. I drove my husband’s old car to Mr. McDowell’s and when I got home, I saw that my chain and ring were missing. I went back tonight to make sure the right monster got what he had coming because I knew it was over. It wasn’t enough, but it was all I could do.”

+++++“Good Grief.” Sheena handed the note to Kowalski. “A coincidence of names and addresses. The media will make her another Lucy Borden.”

+++++Kowalski pointed to the .38 snub-nose laying in open view on a counter. “We have the evidence. Ballistics will match this pistol to both shootings, the rape connection to Chickie Wilson. The defendant is beyond reach. McDowell is a tragedy, but Chickie Wilson needed killing.”

+++++He stepped to a kitchen garbage disposal, ripped the note in small pieces and flushed it down. “The newsies spend a lot of time in the sewer. Let ‘um practice on that.”

Freedom’s Limit

Henry did the crime all right – and the time. A low rent daytime burglary blundered into violent, horrible murder. In hindsight’s perfection, two lives ended that day. Old Mrs. Winfrey and Henry both were dead as fried chickens, although Henry’s demise would take a few extra years.
+++++ In 1950, Hell and the Pleasant Grove neighborhood in Dallas were synonymous. “Dead broke” was a term as common as “gimme your money or I’ll shoot your ass”. Except Henry had no gun.
+++++His mama was a whore who was never too discreet about plying her trade around Henry from his earliest recollection. But lazy mama couldn’t screw her way out of poverty or even feed Henry from beneath her daily load of drugs, smokes, and booze. Henry could recall going weeks without a single dime. Kid-jobs were scarce. Henry, dumb as a busted back door, nobody would hire him anyway.
+++++ So Henry evolved – germinated – as a thief like most of his peers. He’d broken into a hundred homes in Pleasant Grove – always for poor folks’ valuables which wouldn’t bring a dollar on the street. By sixteen, he’d been arrested five times for juvenile burglary. The Texas penal code is clear. When he reached age seventeen Henry was a fully grown adult. But some things were constant – Mama whored and Henry stole, period.
+++++ Old Mrs. Winfrey walked down to the corner bus stop every Thursday morning and spent the day somewhere. Henry couldn’t have known she always visited her daughter in north Dallas . Henry, in his narrow gauge thinking, didn’t actually see her leave that Thursday. He just assumed – damned bad business in the burglary trade. He slipped the back door lock and was stashing silverware in a pillow case when she walked in. Push came to shove, in spades. Simpleton Henry beat the shrieking old lady’s brains on the kitchen floor with an iron skillet. Witnesses heard the screams and the cops caught Henry a block down, blood-soaked and bathed in sweat. He confessed before they reached the station house.
+++++ A Dallas jury, enraged after examining photos of the bloody gore on Mrs. Winfrey’s kitchen floor, sentenced adult Henry to the electric chair: Old Sparky. Henry languished on death row for twelve years. Texas switched the method of execution to the three needle cocktail, but he was still a dead man.
+++++Then the appellate court, from their seats near the right hand of God, decided Henry was too stupid to execute. “Go figure,” cops said. They commuted his sentence to life, which only meant “life” if he got shanked in the shower.

They moved Henry into the general prison population. An odd sort, not given to social interaction, Henry was allowed out of his cell one half hour daily to sweep out the prison machine shop. He labored there fifteen more years. Henry really never learned to read nor attend prison church services, spending his entire “off” time alone in his six by eight cell. He rarely spoke and among other inmates had not a single friend.
+++++Early on he’d acquired a plastic mayonnaise jar. After he swept the machine shop each day, he began gathering small bits of wire and metal scraps, wedging them into the semi-flexible container. Prison officials examined the jar in his cell. Old harmless Henry, they concluded, was not a threat with his dopey jar of scraps. Perhaps a sort of therapy, they suggested. So they let him keep it.
+++++Then to Henry’s surprise, the prison system told him he was rehabilitated and unceremoniously paroled him. Two thirds of his life in a cage, Henry was dumped back on the street along with his jar of scrap metal bits, new blue jeans, and a ten dollar bill. Mama had long since died of accumulated whore-life ailments. But mama’s elderly sister, Myrtle offered Henry a tiny room in the rear of her Pleasant Grove house.
+++++Henry found the outside world huge beyond comprehension. He spent all day every day in his little room, pacing the few steps back and forth hours on end. In time, Aunt Myrtle urged, then demanded Henry by God seek employment.

In weeks, the issue approached detonation. Each day, despite Aunt Myrtle’s cajoling, Henry found one reason, then another for not venturing out of his room. He was ill or had no work-leads. +++++He’d seek a job the next day he always said and probably actually meant. Then he paced the floor all day.
+++++Early one morning Aunt Myrtle barged into Henry’s small space in a rage. “Look for a job today or out on the street” were the options. In her frenzy, Myrtle slapped Henry, the jostle knocking his jar of scrap off a small bed table. Henry the model prisoner exploded back to Henry the burglar – the stone killer who’d bashed Mrs. Winfrey’s brains all over the kitchen nearly a lifetime before.
+++++In rage born of years of frustration, Henry snatched up the jar and repeated the Mrs. Winfrey routine on Aunt Myrtle’s skull. Breathless and only as remorseful as his dim, sociopath mind would allow, Henry, coated with gore, stood over the body, the murder weapon, still in hand. The violent attack had shattered the plastic into small bits across the floor, but the small remnants of wire and scrap wedged carefully into the container over many years had held their shape perfectly without the confinement of the container. The bits were a steel ball.
+++++Again, screams and noise had alerted neighbors. When the first cops pushed into the room, Henry sat on the floor next to a basically headless Aunt Myrtle, still clutching the blood-soaked, self welded wad of wire. “Put it down, buddy,” the cop ordered, pistol drawn.
+++++But Henry really didn’t hear. He sat, fixated on the wire-ball. “Rehabilitated?” He shouted at his wad of metal. “How does it feel to be free?”