The smell of hamburger, onions, and stale cooking oil was everywhere. We, my partner and I, stood in the kitchen of an empty restaurant staring at him in mute silence. Hanging out of the air duct above the fryers—one big bare ass. Glaring white, almost glowing in a neon way, dangling like raw meat in the air above our heads. The idiot tried to rob the till of a restaurant by taking clothes off and rubbing his body with oil so he could slide down an air duct above the deep fryer. I thought I’d seen it all as my partner, Frank, frowned and grunted, “Tough way to order carry-out.”
But there was more.
How do you get a dead stiff out of an air duct?
You add grease or oil to lube the body. A messy effort to do—even messier when the body suddenly lurches, goes ‘Plop!’ and comes hurtling down into the supposed waiting arms of the fireman called to extract him. But they weren’t expecting him to come down so fast. Or be so slippery. They tried to catch him. They threw him around, back and forth to each other, like a flopping fish gulping for air straight out of the water. But no one could get a hand on him.
The slimy end came when the body hit the red tile stone floor of the kitchen, slid for about ten feet before bumping into a large stand alone freezer. The blow was hard enough to knock over a steel bowl full of flour setting atop the freezer. The white stuff covered the stiff from the top of his head down to his chest and created a cloud of fine power rising slowly into the silent kitchen air.
“Jesus, this gets better with each passing second,” Frank yapped, twitching the corners of his lips—his version of grinning—and looking at me. “Do the clowns and dancing midgets come out now?”
“Oh yeah,” I nodded, frowning, and pointing at the white mess with a finger. “Take a look at that.”
The thief didn’t die from asphyxiation. Someone put a .38 caliber slug directly into the man’s chest. Into his heart. This wasn’t an accidental death. This was murder.
“Well, I’ll be go to hell.”
“Let’s get some prints off him and see if he’s ever checked in to one of our guest suites before,” I sighed, thinking it’d might be nice to hand this one over to someone else.
But there was no one else to hand it to. Every other detective team at South Side was working a case. So going home actually at the end of a shift and getting some sleep was not an option. Not tonight.
His name was Sammy Geiger. He was a small time hood with an arrest record about as long as a giraffe’s neck. Mostly breaking-and-entering, robbery, and petty drug deals. He’d been out of prison all of six weeks before his ticket was stamped. A phone call to his parole officer told us he lived in a flop house over on Culver and B Street . That’s where Frank and I decided to begin our investigation. That’s where we met his partner. A freaked out junkie by the name of Woodrow Teaks.
Teaks was just a kid of skin and bones, stringy, oily hair, and bleached out skin. He was a coke head who probably had never come down off his high in about two years. Just a bundle of nerves and hypertension. We found him in Sammy’s room frantically ripping the place to pieces. The kid wasn’t just frantic for whatever prize he was looking for. He was in panic mode. Throwing clothes and mattresses around he was hissing and whimpering with each breath he took. The room looked as if someone had thrown in Flash/Bang grenade and ducked.
The door to the room was partially open when we arrived. Frank, being the lovable Neanderthal that he is, lifted a foot up and kicked the door open and we both went in with guns drawn.
“Eeiiiieeeks! Teaks yelped, jumping almost to the ceiling and turned to face us.
As he turned we both noticed the small caliber automatic stuck into the front of his slacks.
“Police, Teaks! Hands up and knees on the floor!” I barked
“Guys . . . guys! I didn’t do it. I didn’t shoot Sammy! Honest guys, I didn’t! But . . . but I can’t go back to jail. I can’t. They’ll throw me in a cell and toss away the key.”
And the next thing we heard was the smashing of glass and a scream of sheer terror followed by a rather loud, and rather sickening, thump of flesh hitting unyielding metal.
“Sonofabitch,” Frank grunted, walking into the room and past the destroyed bed to the only window visible. A busted window with nothing but shards of glass littering its frame. “The kid took a header straight into the van parked in the alley below.”
But by time we got down the alley Woodrow Teaks was gone—leaving behind a trail of blood on the alley pavement. From down the alley we heard the tinny whine of a two cylinder engine of a motor scooter kick into life and winding up loudly before fading away. Pulling out my cell phone I flipped it open and called dispatch. An alert went out for any and all patrol officers to keep an eye open for a bloody freak weaving in and out of traffic on a scooter. They were to observe only and to give Frank and me a call. We then walked out of the alley, strolled down the sidewalk in front of the flophouse, and crawled into a navy blue with white stripes ’72 IROC Z-28 Camaro we were using today.
I know . . . a cop with an old car like this as a cop car? Yep. The department let’s detectives drive their personal cars if they want to. And as a hobby I collect American-made Muscle Cars. It’s a match made in heaven.
Pulling away from the curb we turned a corner in the general direction Tweaks disappeared into and waited for our first sighting to be called in. It didn’t take long. But it was a surprise.
“In Bel Air Heights ,” Frank grunted, lifting an eyebrow in surprise as I worked through heavy traffic and headed for a pricey residential district. “What the hell is he doing up there?”
“Call up the lieutenant. See if he can find out who owns the restaurant.”
“Where’d that come from? Is this another one of your hunches?”
I grinned, shoved the gearshift down into second, and nodded.
Frank pulled out his cell phone and made the call. It took all of three minutes to get the answer back.
“Jesus, you’re one lucky bastard. The restaurant? Johnny Polanski’s. It’s his main digs for his little brotherhood of thieves. What the hell were Tweeks and Geiger doing breaking into that place? Other than having a death wish.”
“They wanted something they thought Polanski would want back. Want back in a big way.”
“They were going to shake down Polanski? They’re idiots. Fucking idiots.”
I had to agree. But then, they were crazed-out drug addicts. And nobody like that is going to nominated for a Nobel Peace prize.
Johnny Polanski lived in a quarter million dollar museum setting in a lawn about half the size of Rhode Island . A white picket fence encircled his little kingdom, punctured in two places by the entrance and exits of a half-circle drive that swept underneath big leafy trees and rolled past his front door. Setting on the cement in front of Polanski’s house was the beat up, oil caked motor scooter of Woodrow Tweeks. As we turned onto the drive we noticed the front door of the house was wide open. Lying in the middle of the door was a body. A bloody body.
We came rolling out of the IROC with guns in hand and stepped over the body of one of Polanski’s grunts and entered the house. Somewhere in the back of the house we heard Tweeks shouting at the top of his lungs and a woman screaming hysterically.
“Give me the money! Give me the money or the next one that gets it is gonna be your kid, Johnny!”
“For Chrissakes, Woody, put down the fucking gun! I’ll give you the money! Just put down the fucking gun!”
We hurried through the rambling mansion and found Tweeks standing in the doorway of the dining room which led into the kitchen. Through the doorway we could see another one of Polanski’s grunts on the tile floor of the kitchen, his head floating in a thick pool of dark blood. Johnny Polanski, his wife, and their son all were standing at the far end of the kitchen directly in front of Tweeks, their arms up in the air and all three clearly terrified at the freak waving his gun around idiotically at them.
Tweeks didn’t hear us. We moved through the dining room and came up behind him. Frank reached out with one of his big paws, grabbed Tweek’s by a shoulder and whirled him around so fast the idiot dropped his gun onto the kitchen floor. The moment Tweeks faced me I threw a hard right cross and jacked his jaw about six inches to the left. Lights went out in his eyes and he dropped like a discarded McDonald’s sandwich bag. He would have hit the floor by Frank’s big hand held him up in the air like a rag doll as I stepped into the kitchen and kicked Tweeks’ gun to one side.
“Thank god!” Polanski whistled, grinning suddenly and grabbing his wife and son and hugging them in relief. “Arrest that bastard! He just murdered two of my men and was going to kill us as well!”
“Why would Tweeks want to kill you, Polanski? Would it have anything to do with the death of Sammy Geiger?”
“Who the hell is Sammy Geiger?” the crook yelled, still holding his family close to him but a hood coming down over his eyes.
“Sammy and Woody worked together. They broke into your restaurant last night. Took something from you. Something important, I’m guessing. Or at least . . . tried to. But someone put a bullet into Sammy’s chest. Wonder who did that, Johnny?”
Johnny’s eyes glanced down the form of the dead grunt lying in the pool of blood on the kitchen floor. Specifically he glanced at the grunt’s snub-nosed revolver still in the dead man’s hand. I grinned, nodded, and told Polanski to step away from his wife and son and to turn around. Snapping cuffs over his wrists we stuffed Johnny into the first patrol car that showed up and took him downtown.
Two drugged out freaks. A small black book with names and phone numbers. A snub-nosed revolver belonging to the dead Polanski grunt being the gun that killed Sammy Geiger.
And a hunch . . . one of my hunches . . . which tied everything together.
B.R. Stateham is the author of Murderous Passions, a police-procedural novel featuring homicide detectives Turner Hahn and Frank Morales. The writer is a sixty-one year old dreamer of crime noir and dark fantasies. The second book in the Turner/Frank series is entitled, A Taste of Old Revenge is in search for a publisher and someday will find one. Maybe. Until then, look up the author on his web site at www.brstateham.com and see what other creations his mind plays with.