“. . . Look, I’m telling you exactly what I think. Your boy is guilty. Guilty as sin and he’s going to the electric chair for it. Once I present the prosecution’s case against him he’s as good convicted. So get over it, you two. It’s over. Open and shut.”
And with those words Assistant District Attorney Victor Koffsky turned, walked into a waiting elevator filled with irritable looking court house denizens of the bureaucracy and disappeared from view. Leaving us standing in the middle of the busy hallway with hands in our pockets and sour looks on our faces.
He was tall. Well dressed. Looked like an aging athlete who still kept himself in shape. Photogenic. With perfect set of teeth as white as fine porcelain when he smiled.
I couldn’t stand the sycophantic little asshole.
“Told’ya,” Frank—my partner in Homicide—growled irritatingly. “I told you he wasn’t going to listen. He’s a frakken gunslinger. All he wants to do is rack up another notch on his conviction’s record. The ‘sumbitch is going to run for the DA’s office in a couple of years. He needs a glittering conviction record to be a viable candidate.”
People, lots of people, were moving around us in the main hall in front of the bank of elevators of City Hall. Lawyers, cops, stenographers, reporters; the full gamut of what you would see on a busy Thursday afternoon. They were moving around us like rats scurrying through a maze. Most of them look constipated. Or worried. Or angry. All of them too busy to care about why two big boned, ugly looking homicide detectives like us were standing in the middle of the hall looking like we had ate a pot full of bad chili. Or worse.
“He’s innocent, Frank. He’s innocent. You know it and I know it. And to be honest, I think our assistant DA suspects it.”
“Come on, let’s get out of here. It’s too much of a fraken circus for my tastes. And I hate clowns.”
The situation was like this. A patrol officer we knew named Jason Norris was found in bed with a dead woman. Dead because someone caved her head in with a ball peen hammer. The evidence pointed to Jason as the murderer. And I have to admit the evidence was compelling. The hammer’s wooden handle was littered with Jason’s finger prints. When they pulled Jason out of bed and arrested him the victim’s blood was smeared all over his hands. Semen—his—was you know where. Worse yet, the woman lying dead in bed beside him was six weeks pregnant.
That’s what was the kicker; the alcohol content.
Jason had a reputation. A bad one. Everyone who knew him was aware of it. Since he was a cop it meant everyone in the department knew it. When Jason drank he couldn’t stop. And when he got drunk he got mean. Really mean. But the worst part about his drinking was that he couldn’t remember anything when he sobered up. Totally blacked out when he was drunk. There had been some bad times for Jason when he was drinking. Bar fights. The kind that led to back ally confrontations and beating the bejesus out victims to the point long hospital stays were necessary. Fights with his wife—fights coming to blows. Fights which led to his wife getting battered and bruised severely. Violence that would explode and become vicious.
It was his drinking and his tendency to get mean that caused his divorce. Wife and children left him; had a court order put on him to keep him away from them forever. Three kids never to be seen again. A wife who once loved him now terrified of him and threatened to kill him if he ever showed up at her house. She meant it.
But when sober Jason Norris was the nicest guy you ever met. And one damn fine cop. You couldn’t meet a better man. Honest, always laughing; never getting riled up in those little situations cops who work the patrol beat get into on a weekly basis. A steady as a rock and just as reliable. He worked in the patrol Division down at South Side. Our precinct house. Frank and I were in the detective division. We saw Jason every day and chewed the fat with him. Saw him many times on various homicide cases we worked. We considered him a friend. A good friend.
So when he asked us to come down and see him in the clinker and he told us—swore to us—that he did not kill his girlfriend nor had taken a drop of alcohol prior to having sex with her—we believed him.
Yeah. Two cynical, suspicious, garrulous old veterans like us. We believed him.
We’ve seen it all. Heard it all.
The lies. The alibis.
Bad guys who thought they could get away with it. Basically good people who, for some reason or another, just cracked . . . just went over to the dark side . . . and killed someone. Greedy people who killed for personal gain. People acting stupid and winding up offing someone accidentally. We’ve seen it all. And all of them . . . all of them would tell us in the beginning they were innocent. Misunderstood. Wrongly accused. Or it was an accident.
Heard it all.
Yeah. Sure, kid. Sure, you’re innocent . . .
But when Jason told us while he stood gripping the iron bars of his cell with white knuckles and had that look of a deer caught in headlights he was innocent, we believed him. We believed him. Had no reason to believe him. Knew, the two of us, from experience alcoholics regularly fell off the wagon and slinked back to the bottle. But not this time. This time we took a chance. Took a chance on an alcoholic’s word. We believed him.
Walking out into the parking lot and moving toward my car I slipped a pair of dark sunglasses on and looked at my red haired gorilla for a partner. It was a hot August day. Hotter than Lucifer’s day room. Hotter than an iron work’s smelting pot. Hot. Walking across the scorching surface of an asphalt parking lot past cars and pickup trucks reflecting sunlight into our faces made it even hotter.
I was looking at Frank as we walked ‘cause I knew he was going to ask questions. As big and as ugly as the carrot-headed freak is the guy is as smart as Einstein squared. I knew his micro-chipped computer for a mind was already looking over this case from about six different directions.
“The way I see it,” he began as my red and white Rousch Ford Mustang came into view, “is we start on the idea that someone wants Jason behind bars. He’s been framed by one someone who’s got a grudge.”
“Say that doesn’t pan out. Say it’s not someone holding a grudge against Jason. What’s our other alternative?”
The rectangular shaped head of Frank’s was about a foot and a half above the roofline of the Mustang as his beady little brown eyes bored into mine. There was a frown on his lips and he was squinting at me with one eye. Like Popeye. Like he did every time there was a bright sun out.
“What are you not telling me, pretty boy. Come on, spit it out.”
The grin on my lips widened as I slid into the hot interior of the car and closed the door. Frank slid into his as I started the 535 horse V8 engine and punched the air conditioner on. Frank looked like a surrealist painter’s idea of a rejuvenated Neanderthal. Wide shoulders, rectangular head, arms as big as the anchor chains on the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan. Tall. I was as tall as Frank. But I looked . . . somewhat . . . like a long dead actor. An actor from out of the ‘30’s. Black hair, dark eyes, a thin mustache, an ever present smirk on my lips. Maybe a personality that went with the smirk. Or . . . so I’m told.
Anyway . . . I was the pretty boy. He was the Neanderthal.
“A couple of month’s back we were sitting in a booth at Dewey’s drinking coffee. You were in the head using the bathroom. We were talking about families, married life—you know, just talking. Jason said he missed seeing his kids. I asked him if he thought he’d ever get married again and have another family. He looked up from his coffee cup and shook his head no. Told me he was going to get fixed. Make damn sure there’d be no way he’d get anyone pregnant again.”
Dewey’s was a dinner down in the industrial section of town by the Brown River we liked to go to often. So did a lot of other cops. Like Jason.
“So you’re thinking this isn’t really about Jason. It’s about the dead girl. And Jason’s being used as a patsy,” Frank growled, frowning, and looking at me.
“Could be,” I nodded, depressing the clutch pedal and slapping the gearshift down into second gear to move. “If he got fixed. If the kid is not his.”
Two phone calls. One to the sergeant on the desk in the jail asking him to ask Jason the name of his personal doctor. The second call to the doctor. End results; Jason had been fixed. But there was a problem. Jason got himself fixed. But recently. Within the last three weeks. The embryo in the dead girl was at least six weeks old.
Another phone call. This time to the morgue. And the answer; not so good.
“No. They did not check the baby’s DNA,” Frank said, snapping the phone closed and looking at me. “They didn’t because that test is expensive and they didn’t think it was necessary. They could run one if you gave them the okay. But a DNA test takes weeks to get the results back.”
Turning right onto a lesser traveled street I accelerated and listened to the 500 plus horses of the engine in front of us rumbling pleasingly. Driving for a while I my mind was elsewhere. Thinking. Looking the case over. Until Frank’s deep voice broke in.
“Still think our boy is innocent?”
“Still think so,” I nodded, frowning. “Everything the DA has on Jason could have been planted as much as being the real deal.”
“But the blood alcohol level. How’d he get drunk if he didn’t do any drinking?”
I frowned again and shook my head. The car moved like a killer whale skimming the surf looking for seals to munch on as we drove through the traffic. I was driving—subconsciously driving away from the downtown traffic bog—but driving with no particular place in mind.
Something we do often when we’re working a case and find ourselves in the batter’s box called indecision.
“Call forensics again and ask Joe to read us the toxicology report.”
Joe was Joe Weiser. Lab tech and forensics expert. A gum smacking, constant smirking, pimple-faced whiz kid who was good at his job. And someone we trusted.
Frank was on the phone for five minutes as I kept driving. When he hung up there was a twitch in the man’s lips. The closest thing Frank came to grinning.
I nodded and glanced at Frank.
“Time to start looking at the victim I’d say.”
“Me too,” Frank agreed.
Three-quarters routine day-to-day questioning. One-quarter intuition. You ask questions. The same questions mostly. Over and over again. You watch the faces of those you talk to. Watch their eyes. Watch their hands. Watch how the sit in a chair. Listen to the timbre of their voices. The little things. Always the little things.
It’s not so much what the say. It’s how they say it. And what they say to you without saying a word. Sometimes witnesses and suspects tell a cop more that way than what they reveal from their statements.
A good example of this would be Doctor Thomas Pope.
Pope kept folding his hands on his lap as he sat in a chair in his office and talked to us. Dr. Pope was a gynecologist. The dead woman, by the way, was Holly Harris. Nurse Holly Harris who happened to be the main nurse in Dr. Pope’s private practice.
Late that afternoon Frank and I came calling on Dr. Pope at his office. It was the end of the day and the good doctor was about to leave and go home for the night. Go home to his lovely wife, his five bedroom house, his evening with the wife at the club having some drinks and sharing a meal with friends.
“Just a couple of questions, doctor. Just a couple of minutes of your time. That’s all we’re asking,” I said as we stood facing each other.
“Well,” the deep voice of the man said as he hurriedly looked at the thousand dollar Rolex strapped to his wrist and then up at us. “Okay. But I haven’t much time. I’m to pick the wife up at six and then we have a dinner at the club with the mayor and a few other friends.”
Thomas Pope was in his early fifties. Salt and pepper colored hair. Blue eyes. Good teeth. A deep, natural tan. Good looking. Neither thin nor fat. He wore an Armani suit with a red silk tie that looked like two C-notes if a penny around his neck. With a big diamond pin stock smack in the middle.
“I don’t really understand why I am talking to two different detectives, gentlemen. I though this case was closed and the guilty party was behind bars.”
“That’s why we’re here,” Frank said, eyeing the elaborate office complex of the doctor’s as we walked back to his office. “A question has arisen about the evidence.”
“Oh?” Pope said, looking up at us after sitting down on a black leather divan in his office and crossing his legs and folding hands onto his lap. “What’s been discovered, if I may ask.”
“Actually a couple of new discoveries,” I said after we sat down on a divan directly opposite the doctor. “A couple of points that throw a different light on the case.”
Refolding themselves. Or reaching out and adjusting the angle of a magazine lying on the coffee table between us before refolding again.
“We just found out that the police officer charged with murder has a big bruise on his foot—between a couple of toes—from a needle. Amphetamines was found in his blood. A really large amount of amphetamines.”
“Sounds like the man was a drug user as well as an alcoholic,” the doctor said, smiling sadly.
Moving. Unable to keep still.
“The police officer has a past with alcoholism, that’s true. But not drugs. He’s never been known to use drugs. So it’s something new for us to look at.”
“I’m afraid, form my experience in dealing with my patients, sooner or later an alcoholic gets involved with drugs. I understand this man was rather violent when he drank. Hollie mention to me a couple of times her concerns for her safety when he drank.”
“She said her boyfriend was hitting the booze some?” Frank asked as he tried not to watch the doctor’s hands.
“I’m afraid so, detective. Apparently he liked his whiskey. And lots of it.”
Hands. Moving. This time to straighten his tie underneath his suit coat before folding and lying down in his lap.
“Yes, his blood alcohol count was quite high,” I agreed and smiled. “But, being a doctor and all, maybe you could make a comment on a theory of mine. You know, tell us if it’s feasible to fake the results. Make it look like a man’s drunk even though he hasn’t drank a drop.”
Hands. Hand rubbing each other gently.
“What’s your theory?”
“We’ve been talking. Trying to come up with a possible defense for the accused. An expert like you might be able to say if it’s possible or not for it to be done,” I said and looked straight into the doctor’s blue eyes.
“Slip a Mickey into the guy’s coffee or tea,” Frank said, his eyes unblinking as the stared at the doctor. “You know, a knock out potion. A Mickey. Big enough to knock the guy out. And knocked out, you take a needle attached to an intravenous feeding system and stuff enough alcohol in him to make him drunk. Is it possible for something like that to happen?”
This time not the hands. The eyes.
The eyes widening. Ever so slightly. The look of panic for a heartbeat or two. And then back to normal.
“Well . . . I suppose that could be done. Yes, technically possible. But it sounds a bit far fetched, don’t you think? Especially with the man’s reputation? Why would anyone what to be so . . . so ingenious coming up with a plan like that?”
“Ah, that brings us the second piece of evidence,” I said, the smile on my lips widening. “It seems like the victim was six weeks pregnant. I’m thinking she didn’t know. The accused didn’t know. In fact the accused couldn’t have impregnated her since he had himself surgically altered to keep that from happening. So whoever did kill our victim is the murderer of the child as well. A double homicide.”
Coming up to his lips and swiping downward. His eyes filled with horror. His face as white as the fresh wrappings of a Hindi corpse. Guilty. As guilty as sin and knowing we knew it. We knew it and waited for him to say something. Say something to possibly defend himself. But he saw it in our faces. We had proof. There was the six week old fetus. DNA. His DNA.
Laying on his lap.
For the last time.
“She didn’t know she was pregnant. I didn’t know. But the other night she came into the office and said we were through. Done. No more sex. I could keep my wife and my golf club privileges. She said she found someone and had fallen in love. She was quitting. Leaving me. We were through. I . . . I went crazy. I never considered myself a vindictive, possessive kind of man. But I couldn’t take this. Couldn’t take the thought of losing her. Especially losing her to an alcohol has been of a cop.”
Later that night we roused Assistant District Attorney Victor Koffsky out of his bed. Rudely pounded on the front door and leaned on the doorbell and kept shouting with loud voices, waking up the neighbors in the posh suburban neighborhood of his, until he came to the door. When he threw the door open he was pissed. Pissed enough to chew nails. Too bad. We told him to get his ass into some clothes and come downtown with us. It was time to let an innocent man out of jail. He didn’t argue. He saw it in our eyes. We meant it.
He came quietly.