Frank brought Stevie Toomey into the windowless cubicle of the interrogation room, kicked a chair out from underneath a table and sat the kid’s ass down into the hard wooden chair rather unceremoniously. The room was just four bare walls, a small table sat in the middle of the floor underneath a very bright light, with two chairs facing each other. From the ceiling a single light hung down from a long black cord. The light was powerful enough to look at the bottom of the Marianas Trench. From San Francisco.
The kid—Stevie—weighed about one and thirty five pounds, thin as a bone and as pale as freshly mixed bread dough. The harsh bright light shining down directly on the table made the kid blink his eyes and squint. Sniffling, using the back of one handcuffed arm to rub across his dripping nose, he continued squinting as he bent forward a little to focus and see me sitting across from him.
“Turner! Frank! Jesus, am I glad to see you. Listen , I . . . I’m innocent! I didn’t kill no one. No one! I was just stupid, that’s all. Just stupid!”
Frank—gently for him—smacked the kid up on back of the head with a hand and walked around the table to stand to my left. We both stood, hands in slacks, and glared at the kid. Neither of us too happy. The kid, whom we knew for years, was accused of murder. But not just murder. The torture and murder of a young woman. A pretty divorcee who lived in an expensive apartment building down on Wilson and Lomax streets.
The kid was a recovering drug addict. He’d been in and out of jail for most of his life. Mostly for drug trafficking. But with a little felony theft thrown in as well. Night before last the residents in the apartment building heard Nancy Rolls screaming. Screaming terribly. And then silence. The first cops to arrive on the scene happened to be detectives Dick Powell and John Hughes. Two detectives who, like us, were out of the South Side Precinct.
Nancy Rolls had been carved like a Sunday turkey. Strapped into a chair in the kitchen, blood all over the kitchen floor. A butcher knife with a long, heavy blade had been used for the wet work. And when Powell and Hughes arrived they found Stevie standing over the corpse with the bloody knife in his hand. Covered in blood.
The apartment was filled with Stevie’s fingerprints. Witnesses said Stevie had been seen coming in and out of the apartment for several days in a row. The last time, just yesterday, they all heard voice arguing in the apartment. A man’s voice and a woman’s voice. They heard glass breaking. Furniture being thrown around. One or two witnesses saw the kid coming out of the apartment on a dead run and disappearing down an elevator.
Powell and Hughes charged Stevie with first degree murder. And with Stevie’s
drug and prison record it looked like an open-and-shut case. But there were—in our opinions—two things wrong with that picture. First, Dick Powell and John Hughes were two pieces of shit who couldn’t figure out how to work play dough without needing massive help from a kindergartner. And secondly, we knew Stevie Toombs was an idiot. But he wasn’t a murderer. There wasn’t a mean bone in the kid’s body.
“So let’s hear it,” I said. “Let’s hear your side of the story.”
“And don’t jerk us around, Stevie.” Frank put in, his voice a menacing rumble coming deep out of his chest. “Don’t give us some shit that’s not true. Otherwise they’re gonna fry your ass in the electric chair.”
“Turner . . . Frank . . . last week I got a job in that building as their janitor and handyman. I met Mrs. Rolls the first day I went to work. She brought me up to her apartment and showed me some things that needed repairing. A kitchen sink—some plumbing in the bathroom—a couple of electrical outlets that didn’t work in the living room. So I fixed them. Well, Mrs. Rolls was nice. She kept sending me work to do in the apartment and I did it. But I didn’t kill her. I didn’t kill her!”
“Okay, that explains the fingerprints all over the place,” Frank nodded, frowning and lifting an eyebrow suspiciously. “But what the hell were you doing holding the knife, Stevie? Why were you covered in blood?”
“I was downstairs, in apartment 4B when I got a call from one of the clients upstairs. He told me there was screaming going on in Mrs. Rolls’ apartment and I’d better get up there and check it out. Well . . . when I got up there I found Mrs. Rolls. Found her strapped . . . strapped in the chair and bleeding all over.”
“She was still alive?” I asked sharply.
Stevie’s eyes looked at me, big and full of fear, and gulped and nodded his head.
“The knife was sticking out of her chest, Turner. But she was alive. She was groaning. I don’t know why I did it, Turn. I wasn’t thinking! I was scared shitless! But . . . but I pulled the knife out and bent down with a rag to try and stop the bleeding. Blood covered me from head to foot. The moment I pulled the knife out she jerked, stiffened, then died. Died right there with me standing over her. A couple of seconds later Powell and Hughes came running into the place with guns drawn. They saw me holding the knife. Saw the blood. Jesus. I’m as good as dead, guys. Good as dead.”
His last two sentences came out low. Came out as a whisper. Came out as a man who knew he was going to die. Die for something he didn’t do.
I frowned, glanced at Frank and shook my head. I looked at the kid again. Be damned if I was going to see this kid go to the electric chair. Be damned if I was going to allow Dick Powell and John Hughes’sloppy investigation kill an innocent man.
“Yesterday,” I began harshly, my voice forcing the kid to come out of his stupor. “You were in the apartment when an argument took place. The sounds of a rough argument form what the tenant say. Why was she angry at you?”
Stevie looked at both of us, blinked a couple of times, and shook his head.
“She wasn’t. She wasn’t yelling at me. It was her ex. The two were in a hell of a row. I was back in the bathroom installing a new bathroom sink when he and his friend walked in. They started yelling at each other right off the bat. The moment the fight broke out I got outta there. Didn’t want to be anywhere around while the two of them went at it.”
“What were they arguing about?” Frank asked.
“Dunno,” shrugged Stevie and grinning sheepishly. “When I heard the voices going up in volume I left. Left as fast as I could.”
“The ex brought a friend over with him?” I asked.
“A guy. Good looking. Wearing expensive clothes. Had gold chains around his neck.”
I watched the kid for a few seconds, my mind racing along about a hundred different possibilities. Coming out of it I started to ask another question. But the door to the interrogation room flew open and in walked Dick Powell and John Hughes.
“What the hell you two clowns doing? The Rolls Murder is our case. A closed case, I might add.”
Dick Powell was a goofy looking white guy with a big head and bigger ears. Ears that jugged out like diving brakes on a jet fighter. He had a rangy little body that could never wear clothes right and big feet some said could be used as water skis. His partner was a massive black guy with shoulders as wide as Frank’s and a kisser that even a mother would get the chills looking at too long. They both glared at us with eyes dripping with barely contained hostility.
Good. I didn’t like the sons-a-bitches, either.
“Let me handle this, Turn. Take Stevie down to the holding tank.”
Grinning, I held onto Stevie’s arm as we stepped out of the room and headed downstairs. The arguing began immediately. Heatedly. As we waited for the elevator to take us down to the basement I heard Frank’s voice saying something like, ‘ . . . you couldn’t find your ass standing in broad daylight in a whorehouse, Dick.”
The grin widened.
Frank had an endearing way with words.
Two hours later we were knocking on the apartment door of one Willard Rolls. Nancy ’s Rolls’ ex-husband. Before driving over to his apartment we found out a few things about our prime suspect. Like, for instance, the guy was rich. Very rich. A playboy who like women—and apparently men as well. He played both sides of the streets with equal aplomb. Something, apparently, Nancy Rolls found out much later and after they were married a couple of years.
But we got a surprise when the door opened. The guy holding the door open and looking at us with big, surprised eyes wasn’t Willard Rolls. It was a tall guy, good looking, with gold chains around his neck.
And he looked as if had a bad case of constipation the moment his eyes laid on us. What happened next was a blur. Good looking guy threw the door closed on us with all the force he could muster. We heard Willard Rolls scream inside. Heard furniture being overturned as if someone was bouncing off the furniture in a mad attempt to escape. Rolls screamed again—this time angrily—and then we heard a grunt of pain and a body falling heavily to the floor.
We kicked in the door and went in with guns drawn low and fast. To the right, draped over a divan was the unconscious form of Willard Rolls with blood from a jagged cut rolling out of his forehead like a river. On the far side of the room the good looking guy with the gold chains was throwing open the sliding glass doors leading out onto the balcony. Franks—ever resourceful—reached for a heavy looking brass lamp, gripped it with one of his big hammy hands, and threw it at good looking guy as hard as he could.
The lamp pinged off the back of the good looking guy’s head just as the guy was climbing over the wrought iron railing of the balcony. Good looking guy grunted and flipped over the railing, stone cold unconscious. A second later we heard people screaming and then a gigantic splash of water. Running onto the balcony we both looked down. Three floors below good looking man was floating, face down, in the apartment complex’s swimming pool. Several bathers were reaching for a leg to haul him out of the water while a couple of others had cell phones to their ears calling 911.
The good looking guy’s name was Delbert Simmons. Occupation: gigolo. Secondary occupation: murderer. In Willard Rolls he found a very rich meal ticket. In Nancy Rolls he found a strong willed person who threatened to take away his meal ticket. Something had to give. In Stevie Toomey he found the perfect patsy to take the rap for killing Nancy Rolls. What he hadn’t counted on were two flat footed homicide detectives like Frank and me who happened to be friends with an ex-junkie.
Huh. Just goes to show you. We all need a friend or two in this life.
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.