by Helena Baron-Murdock
The pulled pork sandwich was as good as it got at the barbeque joint Donovan favored in Old Town. Since the Fed had an expense account, he sprung for lunch. Dabbing a corner of his mouth with a napkin, Donovan continued, “It wasn’t originally my call. This is about two years ago. We had a new guy, Hutter.” Butler nodded like he knew the name. “And Collins, who was undersheriff then, had me go in and back him up. Considering that it was at the Horsemen’s compound, he thought that it might be a little intimidating to the new guy. I’d dealt with Herko before so I wasn’t going to be put off by his bullshit.”
“What went down?” The agent had barely touched his ribs.
“They all said it was an accident. I didn’t expect anything less. Hutter was falling for it. A kid, maybe 16 or 17 was dead from a fist to the face. Apparently there was a party and the kid, the son of one of Herko’s lieutenants, was drunk and staggered into Herko just as he was about to take a hit of blow from the blade of his Bowie knife.”
“Oh, oh, I see what’s coming.”
“Right, Herko who is notorious for his foul temper smashes the kid in the face and kills him with one blow.”
“He’s a big guy, makes Hulk Hogan look like a midget wrestler,” Butler added spearing a fry with his fork.
“You couldn’t charge him? That’s a pretty damning story.”
“Well, it was one I heard only after the fact. The story the witnesses were giving was that the kid was drunk and had run into a post in the compound patio. Place they used for dog fights if you ask me. We could have got him on manslaughter maybe, contributing to the delinquency of a minor leading to mortal injury. The DA didn’t think we had enough so they let it slide.”
“Killed the kid with one blow for messing with his blow. Almost poetic.”
“I dunno about that, but I’ve been wanting to nail Herko for something since then. He paid a blood price to the parents of the kid. I hear the mother wasn’t too happy about it. And he promotes the kid’s old man to second in command and then sends him on a buy down south where lo and behold he gets popped with a load of product by the Feds and local gendarmes who got the tip from an anonymous caller and now poppa-san is doing large in a federal institution.”
Butler’s phone rang first. “Yeah, when was that? You sure it’s him?” He turned to look at Mendez who was bringing his own phone to his ear. “Ok, ok, hang tight. Yes, go with them, get out of there!” He looked across the table, worried. Donovan was taking the call from dispatch. “On the way to Community? Alright, thanks Carol, I owe you.”
Butler blurted, “Something’s gone down at the compound. They think it’s Herko!”
Mendez nodded. “I’ve got someone inside. She says it looks like an overdose of some kind. It’s Herko.”
Donovan stood, dropping his napkin on his plate. “Meet you in emergency at Community.”
When they wheeled Herko into emergency he was screaming that he was on fire. He struggled against the restraints on the gurney and finally broke free of them. He careened down the hallway in agony, tearing at his clothes, his cut, his shirt, insisting that he was burning up. An EMT tried to tackle him and got a blast in the chops from an elbow that landed him crumpled against a wall. Security and deputies who were attending a stabbing call joined the fray. They tased him but he merely ripped the barbs out of his skin and continued to rage, batting at anyone who came near him. He raised his dusty leonine head and roared at the ceiling, digging his nails into his bare flesh. He fell to his knees and gasped for breath. Then he was silent and dead.
At the same time Bridgette, his longtime old lady, added to the cacophony, hysterically screaming “It’s all my fault! It’s all my fault!” She was being consoled by another biker momma who looked very much on edge, eyes wild, jumping at every sound and motion, spring loaded like a feral cat. Donovan directed a nurse he knew over to help with the grieving girlfriend. A phalanx of club members muscled their way through security to see their leader, face and arms scratched and bleeding, shriveled into a fetal position. They couldn’t help but notice the spent taser wires. Their eyes darted around the room looking for someone to blame. Donovan gave them a choice. “Let’s step outside, boys, and let the hospital staff do their job.”
The snarl lasted only as long as it took Donovan to place the barrel of his weapon to the biker’s tattooed forehead. “You may be in an emergency room, pal, but I’ll make sure you get a hole they can’t do anything about.” The biker’s resolve melted away so apparently he wasn’t as stupid as he looked. “Don’t go too far, boys, I’m going to want to ask you some questions.” He heard a chortle, “Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.” And moments later, the roar of two stroke engines snarling with menace driven away.
Mendez had the skittish momma by the elbow, leading her into the little office behind the reception desk that the shift nurse hurriedly vacated. He motioned Donovan over with a tilt of his head. Butler joined them in the tiny room and closed the door.
“Ok, Angie,” Mendez demanded, “What the hell went down?”
The woman, a nondescript brunette, still rather young but trying to look hard, nodded her head, her hands shaking. “It was totally freaky, man. I was watching TV and I could hear them arguing in the kitchen. He was on her about Mark. About how she should have told him the first time Mark came on to her. Someone else in the club must have seen something go down between them. And told Herko. I mean Mark was a good looking guy and he liked to play. But he should have been smarter than that.”
Donovan held up a printout of the Florida license. “This the man, Mark Nesso?”
The woman pulled her head back in shock. “Yeah, that’s Mark. How. . . ?” She stopped and looked inquiringly at Mendez.
“They found him in a field almost mile behind the compound, Angie. He’d been shot in the back.” He addressed Butler and Donovan, “This is Angie Renfro, she’s one of ours.”
Donovan nodded and smiled. “Pleased to meet you Angie. I think you’re going to help me solve a murder.”
Angie fixed him with a dumb stare and scratching her arms turned to Mendez. “You gotta get me into detox, Eric, my skin’s beginning to crawl.”
Donovan was on the carpet. The carpet was in Sheriff Tim Collins’ office. It was a large office, conference table off to one side, designed to make everyone else feel small. Donovan didn’t feel small and he didn’t like the implication that he didn’t know how to do his job.
“I put down a murder in less than eight hours. If that’s not enough, I closed a case that was over two years old. And I got the killer for both. Jerzy Herkovanic.
“The most you could have got on Herko was manslaughter for killing the kid with his fist.” Tim Collins, a large man who spent too much time behind his desk and the dining table, rested his elbows on the arms of his large chair behind the wide oak desk and put the tips of his fingers together. Donovan knew that face. It was his I’m-gonna- stick-it-to-you-no-matter-what-you-say face. “How can you tie Herko to the shooting?”
“It’s all there in the report, Tim. The slug they dug out of Nesso was a .223. Stopped right in the center of the heart. The DEA’s undercover confirmed what I suspected. Herko had a trophy room, strictly off limits to anyone not in the inner circle, on the second floor of the compound with a large window overlooking the undeveloped field that abuts to a number of rural dead ends about a mile away, one of them being Willig near where we found Nesso’s body. Herko had a shooting range set up in the room that allowed him to target practice in the vacant lot behind. He had everything in there, competition rifles worth a couple grand easy, tripods, sandbags, scopes, range finders. Looked like he did his own loads, too. Apparently, according to one of my sources, he did a lot of plinking from his perch.
“Right, now it’s coming back to me. Wasn’t he on an Olympic rifle team when he was a kid?”
“The Serbian team. He comes from a family of sharpshooters, there’s generations of them, snipers, all dead shots. I’m putting Herko up there drawing a bead on Nesso’s back.”
“Wait a minute, I used to patrol that neck of the woods. That’s impossible. It’s at least a mile as the crow flies. And what’s his motive? Bad drug deal?”
“What I put together from what I’ve been told, Nesso made a play for Herko’s woman and got caught. Nesso tried to deal his way out of it with some of the hybrid blow everyone was raving about. Herko had another idea. He would take all of Nesso’s stash and give him a running start across the field. If Nesso made it to the pavement of one of the dead end streets he would let him live. Nesso didn’t have much of a choice and he gambled that he could get out of range of the average weapon.”
“Why’d Herko even let him get that far? He almost made it.”
“You’re right. The ME said that had Nesso made it a few more yards he might have lived. The round was starting to tumble. On the other hand, Herko, being the show-off and sadist that he was, probably let Nesso think he was going to reach the pavement when he took that gold medal long shot.”
“OK, I suppose congratulations are in order. You solved two killings in on day. And Herkovanic overdosed and saved the County the added expensive of trying him and sending him away.”
“Herko may have overdosed, but it was deliberate, murder.”
Collins rolled his eyes. “Come on, out with it.”
“We could never make a case on it, but here’s how I figure it went down. The blow that Nesso gave Herko was a tainted batch. The DEA lab confirmed it. They said it was a very sophisticated formula. It produced euphoria in small amounts, but there was a tipping point if you overdid it. It was designed to attack the nerves under the skin and make the user feel like his entire body was on fire. That much stimulus caused the brain to shut down and death was not far behind. Nesso must have known that Herko would have overindulged when he handed over his entire stash.”
“Alright, what’s this Nesso’s motive?”
“Murder for hire.”
“Aw, jeez, Donovan, gimme a break!”
“You’ll remember that Herko killed the kid of one of his lieutenants and had to pay a blood price. And then by coincidence, the kid’s old man who gets promoted to number two is popped on a Fed drug bust and ends up doing large in a Fed pen. But the kid’s mother wasn’t having any of it. She took the payoff and bided her time. She knew that revenge is a dish best served cold. The opportunity came along when Nesso bolted from the cartel and needed cash to get his own operation going. She connected with the chemist and he gave Herko the deadly product. Killer blow for a killing blow. I think that’s called poetic justice.”
“You realize I’m still going to have to reprimand you for pulling your weapon and threatening a citizen. I have to appear before the grand jury today to explain your actions. A citizen’s group filed the complaint.”
“Tim, I was doing my job. That situation could have gone south in a hurry. Cut me some slack! Your job, I don’t have to tell you, is to run interference for your people. Do your job so I can do my job!”
Sheriff Tim Collins gave his detective a blank look. The corners of his mouth turned up slightly. “You’re getting pretty close to retirement age, aren’t you?”