Friday the ThirteenthJanuary 12, 2016
He turned around and glanced at his partner. The monstrous goon was standing directly in front of the burning headlights of the Ford Mustang, big mitts for hands stuffed into the pockets of his slacks, and fully outlined like some black silhouette of a nightmare.
He smiled at that thought.
It was Friday the 13th. And let’s face it. Frank did look like some biological experiment gone horribly wrong. The guy was six feet four and weighed three hundred fifty pounds. Solid, baby. Solid. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on the guy. He had arms like the metal cables holding up the Golden Gate bridge. His head was perfectly shaped like a cement block, topped off with a crop of carrot colored red hair which kept blowing around uncontrollably in the stiff cold breeze coming in off the river.
It was a cold night. Cold enough for Frank to wear a heavy overcoat. The last time he looked at his phone the ambient temp was around a -9 degrees. The wind chill was around -21 degrees and dropping.
The Mustang sat in the middle of Cutler’s Road. At this time of the night, in this weather, the paved road which ran parallel to the Little Brown was empty of any traffic. Except for the Mustang. The red Ford looked like an abandoned derelict. Except when he and Frank came upon the car the headlights were still on and the engine was still running. They found the car with the driver’s side door wide open. Facing the river and wide open, with no one sitting behind the wheel, while in the passenger seat, slumped forward in her safety belt, the unconscious form of a young teenage girl.
Cutler’s Road was used by lovers of all ages as a secluded place in the beginning of a romance to get to know each other better. This part of the Little Brown was a wide expanse of moving water just south of the city. Big tugboats dragging barges filled with all kinds of cargo slowly made their way up river all day and all night long. At night the lights of city, and the southern edge of the runway for Harrison International Airport, was visually impressive to observe. Add in the occasional 747 or Airbus dropping in, literately, from above and it became even more impressive.
The drive of the Mustang was missing. The girl strapped into the car, now conscious and sitting in the back of an ambulance, swore her boyfriend had been in the car with her. In fact he had been driving the car when, in her words, everything ‘started getting all weird and freaky.’ The next thing she remember was waking up with Frank standing beside the car with a flashlight in his hands, gazing at her in a concerned fashion. Her boyfriend, a kid by the name of Mervin Tobias, had just bought the car. He had come and picked her up and they were just driving around. Honest, just driving around.
That was it. That’s all she remembered. Had no idea where her boyfriend was. Had no idea what had knocked her out. Had no idea what made her feel so strange and weird just before dropping off into unconsciousness.
Frank turned and glanced behind him. The dark image of his partner came out of the inky night and stepped into the column of bright lights of the Mustang. His partner was as tall as he was. But around a hundred pounds lighter. Better dressed and far better looking. In fact, so good looking he told Turner he should be in the movies ’cause he sure as hell looked like a dead movie star. Wavy black hair, a wiry smear of a black mustache, a perpetual smartass smirk permanently painted on his partner’s lips. If Turner didn’t look like a Thirties matinee idol come back to life no one did.
Frank jerked his head toward the Mustang.
“What the hell is going on here, Turn? Why the hell would a seventeen year old kid, after just buying a car with his own hard earned cash, go out and pick up his girlfriend, drive down here, and then apparently commit suicide?”
“Suicide?” Turner echoed, lifting an eyebrow in surprise and half turning to glance at the river. “You think that’s what happened?’
“I haven’t got a friggin’ clue what happened. And say, while we’re on the subject, why the hell am I the lead investigator on this case?”
“You agreed to our new formula, you big lumox. The agreement is three to one. My three cases as lead investigator to your one. Tonight this one is your case. Impress me with your genius, you walking encyclopedia.”
The smirking grin permanently on Turner’s lips widened as he turned back to his friend and looked him directly in the eye. Frank Morales was about as good a detective as they made them. And he was indeed a genius. Others who knew said the guy had an IQ that’d make a Descartes or a Feynman blush in embarrassment. He had an eidetic memory, a photography memory for those who didn’t what eidetic meant, that could recall every piece of data he had ever read anytime in his life.
Turner was almost his equal. As good as a detective as his partner. As experienced as a cop. Just as good with a gun or in a fight. And had a pretty damn good memory himself. Maybe a hundred pounds light. Certainly far more good looking. Separately the two had conviction records that were stellar. Combined as a team, the two were unequaled on the force for their ability to crack the uncrackable.
“What do we know about the boyfriend?” the smiling Turner asked.
“Not much,” shrugged Frank, turning to look back at the car. “Merv’s seventeen years old. The only child to a single parent. His mother works as a junior vice president at a big bank downtown. He’s been working at a sand pit company after school every day for the last three years saving up money to buy the car. Apparently good in school. Kinda popular. Average level jock on the football field and basketball court. Nothing out of the ordinary in any way.”
“You learned all that in the ten minutes or so we’ve been standing out here in the cold?”
“I know how to use a cell phone, asshat,” the red haired giant grunted, the corners of his lips twitching . . . Frank’s version of laughter . . . as he turned and started walking toward the ambulance. “Let’s see what the girlfriend has to say.”
Turner’s grin remained on his lips as he followed his partner over to the ambulance and stood behind and slightly to one side of Frank as Frank questioned the girl. She still looked groggy. But her wits were about her between her sucking in some oxygen through a clear plastic mask before answering any questions. Behind her the two medics watched her closely as they sat on the gurney and listened in quietly.
But there was nothing suspicious said.
Just a couple of teenagers our driving around in a car Merv absolutely adored the moment he picked it up. The girl was just a seventeen year old girl. Merv’s high school sweetie. Two parents, living in the suburbs, both parents working. Average. Just . . . average.
So what was going on here?
The girl acted like she’d been drugged. Her boyfriend was missing. Some local fisherman had phoned in the report about a car driving erratically on the road before coming to a halt in the middle of the road. And that was it. That’s all they knew.
“Who was the fisherman who called it in?” Turner asked.
“Dunno,” Frank said, shrugging. “Dispatch never got a name. The caller just said he was out by the Little Brown doing some ice fishing and saw the car driving around erratically.”
Turner, hands in his pocket and beginning to feel the cold seep in through the heavy overcoat he was wearing, turned and walked back to the edge of the river bank. Frank tagged along behind him. Silently the two began scanning the bank just below them and then the far side of the river. It didn’t take long.
“There,” Turner grunted, pulling a gloved hand out of his coat pocket and pointing across the river. “That small light.”
“Got it,” Frank nodded, reaching for his cell phone. “Let’s get a ride from the River Patrol and go see if that’s our man.”
It was their man. Unfortunately.
Someone had put a 9mm bullet through his forehead. Did it up close and personal. The fisherman was still sitting on the rough wooden bench in his hut, his back bracing him upright, his head thrown back and dead eyes staring at the hut’s rough plywood and tarp paper roof.
“Someone . . . somehow . . . drugs two teenagers in a car the boy just bought today,” Frank began, not sounding happy. “They pull the boy out of the car, go across the river and kill this guy because . . . because . . ?”
“Had to have seen’em,” Turner put in, his eyes looking at the dead man. “He saw someone coming down river in a boat. Saw’em nab the boy outta the car. He had just enough time to call us before they put a bullet in his head. Had to be that way.”
“Yeah, it makes sense,” Frank nodded. “But why? Who?”
“We’ve got two leads. We check out the mother and her work at the bank. A vice president of a big bank might be involved in . . . something. Right?”
“Or,” Frank said, turning to look at his partner. “Something happened at the sand pit the boy worked at. Something the boy saw that made him a liability. Who owns the sand pit?”
It didn’t take long to find out. A holding company called Payne Investments. Just so happened Payne Investments was owned by Thomas James. Gambler, thief, and member in good standing in several different organized crime families.
Two leads. Which one to go on first?
Frank’s case. Frank called the shots. He chose the sand pit.
The two blasted across town in Turner’s just restored black SS 396 Chevelle. The rich kid enjoyed collecting his own brand of toys. Hot vintage muscle cars. Pulling up silently to a street curb just down the street from the sand pit’s gated fence, both Frank and Turner saw a car sitting across the front of the close gate, the car’s engine idling, with a lone person sitting inside it and looking at his cell phone. The bright light of the phone’s software illuminated the man’s face. They recognized the man immediately. It was one of Thomas James’ goons. A thug suspected in half a dozen murders over the years in the city.
“Probable cause?” Turner said in the SS’s dark interior. “A probable crime being committed inside the pit’s premises?”
“That’s what I’m going on,” Frank grunted, opening his car door and sliding out.
Frank led. Turner followed.
The two pulled their respective weapons from their shoulder holsters as the slid through the darkness toward the running car. Shadow to shadow, in and out, completely unseen. The poor slob sitting inside his car and looking at porno on his phone didn’t see a thing until Frank tapped the driver’s side door window with the talking end of his .45 caliber Glock.
Interestingly, the tough guy sitting in his car . . . the hardened criminal who was suspected in at least a half dozen murders . . . was so surprised to turn and stare into the open end of a Glock that he dropped his phone onto his lap and fainted. Just rolled his eyes up into his head and fainted dead away.
They slapped some heavy bracelets on his wrists and then attached them to the steering wheel in such a way he wouldn’t be able to move a finger until someone uncuffed him. They took the keys out of the ignition and then they turned their attention to the pit itself.
There were only two buildings on the large fenced enclosed lot. There were lots of heavy equipment of all kinds sitting around in the darkness. There were several deep sand pits half filled with water scattered about. But only two buildings. One was a large shed used for equipment maintenance. The other was a small shack used for the foreman’s office. In that building they saw a window filled with the yellow glow of burning lights from within.
Peeking through that window they saw the kid roped like a prized calf into a rough wooden chair with gray Duct Tape wrapped around his mouth and head. The kid was sitting in the middle of the small room and two very large men were standing on either side of him looking at him with wide grins on their lips. In each of the men’s hands were big automatics they held down the length of their legs.
Through the window Turner and Frank heard them talking.
“Ya shoulda kept your mouth shut, Merv. We told you to keep your mouth shut. Now we gotta go out and put a bullet in your mother’s brain and then go over and take care of that pretty girlfriend of yours.”
“Too bad,” the second thug grunted, shaking his head sadly. “She’s cute, that one. A shame. A real shame.”
“Go outside, Art. Start up the front loader. We’ll dig a deep hole and throw his body in it and cover him up. Like the others. Merv here might as well join the company. On a permanent basis.”
Both men laughed as the one called Art holstered his weapon, turned, and walked over to the shack’s only entrance. He was still laughing when he opened the door and Frank’s wrecking ball for a fist caught him full in the face with a powerful right jab. Art flew back into the room, his legs barely working, and straight into the setting figure roped into the chair. Both he and the kid went over sideways and crashed to the floor. Art was out. He wasn’t moving. Wouldn’t be moving for another couple of hours.
Art’s buddy stepped back from the train wreck which flew by him and made a mistake. Instinctively he lifted his gun up and started to take a shot at the two entering the shack like thundering elephants. But Turner was faster. A 45.caliber slug caught the guy in his left shoulder. The blow from the powerful slug twisted the big man around savagely as it tore through bone and muscle. He dropped to the floor bleeding profusely. But he would live.
They pulled the strapped in Merv off the floor and sat him back upright in the chair. Frank pulled from his slacks a swing blade knife out, rolled his wrist around, and snapped the blade open like a pro. It took seconds to cut the kid free from his ropes.
“Oh my god! How did you . . . who are you . . . is Connie safe? Is she safe?” the kid began speaking a thousand miles an hour, eyes as wide as dinner plates. “You saved my life, man! You saved my life!”
Frank grunted, almost laughed, then walked over to the unconscious form he’d punched out and disarmed the sleeping beauty from his weapons. Turner, bending down beside the guy he’d plugged, did the same before standing up and walking back to the kid.
“Save your breath, son. You’re gonna be up all night telling us everything you know about this place. And by the way, I like your choice for a car. Nice one.”
The kid broke out into the biggest grin ever recorded by mankind. The grin of a teenage boy who was the proud owner of his very first car.