Category Archives: Crime Fiction

All Tore Up III

by Helene Baron-Murdock

The operations briefing was scheduled for 8 AM in Conference Room Two adjacent to the squad bay. Donovan had been in the office since 5. Now he was seated at the long table watching Lieutenant Jackson tack the mug shots of the three suspects and the reconstructed sketch of O.R. Phineas onto the white board.

Rick Nelson was there too, staring into the steam of a hot cup of coffee. He had that new-baby-no-sleep look to his bleary eyes. In answering “How’s the baby” he’d offered “I think she’s a vampire. She only sleeps during the day and stays awake all night. I could be catching a few precious winks if the Loot hadn’t called me in.”


Mike Jackson looked away from what he was writing on the white board. “Boss said he wanted everyone front and center. He even had me call Bobbie back.”

Lanky Townsend stopped at the doorway about to step in. “What? Bobbie Delyn? That’s cruel and usual punishment. I thought she was still going through rehab.”

“Boss’s orders,” Mike said to the white board and drawing a line connecting what he had written to the picture of O. R. Phineas that Donovan had printed out from an array of available images online. The victim had not been camera shy.

Stubby Burdon found a place at the table and set a paper hot cup down next to his file folder. “You’ll never guess who I saw in the breakroom.”

Nelson and Townsend turned to him and said “Bobbie” in unison.

“Taking my name in vain, are you?” The older woman in the doorway glared at them with mock displeasure.

“Not me, Sarge,” Burdon held up his hands in protest, “Just surprised to see you back is all.”

Sergeant Roberta Delyn had that tough cop look that only a woman can have. She was all business. No tolerance for boy games and pranks. If you messed up, she was the one who read you the riot act. At five foot five her square shoulders balanced a not exceptionally pretty face due to the white scar that ran from beneath her left ear across her cheek to the tip of her chin. A boyish dyed blond bob tucked under a ballcap, she was dressed in her usual puffy green down vest over a checked man’s shirt, a pair of Levi’s, one leg of which was wrapped in a brace, and a three toed aluminum cane. She passed behind Donovan’s chair to get to the end of the long table and casually asked, “Why are you still here?”

Donovan and Bobbie didn’t exactly have a history. Not that kind of history anyway. She’d been in Violent Crimes longer than he had. She was the Loots right hand and sometime his left foot. “Sergeant Delyn, always a pleasure.” Donovan raised his coffee cup in salute.

Jackson faced the detectives from the white board, sleeves rolled up, folder in hand. “Ok, let’s get started. Captain Voss will be delayed so we’ll start without him. Let’s hear what forensics came up with. Pete?”

“I have a question.” Bobbie had raised her hand. “Why am I here?”

“Come on, Sarge, as I explained, it was not my call.”

“I’m on sick leave, for cry’s sake!”

“You could have said no.”

“Well,” she said glaring at the other detectives at the table, “don’t expect me to ride your asses in my usual capable and efficient manner. If anybody needs me, I’ll be in the cafeteria.” At that she pushed her chair back and lifted herself, obviously in pain, to stand, and slowly shuffled her way out of the conference room and in the direction of the elevators.

Jackson shook his head. “Pete? You were saying?”

“Uh, not much new from the lab except that some of the bits and pieces are testing positive with non-human traces. Blood from the clothing of the gals matches the deceased, but other than that nothing. Samples from under their nails show no indication that they used their hands to rip the vic apart.”

“Maybe they washed their hands after,” Burdon offered.

“Jackson shook his head. “I don’t think so, Eric. Their clothing was bloody but I’m guessing it was transient. They may have handled some of the body parts. And not one has a broken nail, chewed maybe, so I’m leaning toward the idea that maybe they were bystanders, witnesses, if you will, not actually physically participating in the rendering.” He addressed Townsend again. “What kind of non-human traces? Are we talking about foxes or big cats? Bear?”

“They ruled out most of the local critters. They’re thinking something more exotic. They’re still waiting for confirmation on the sample but something along the lines of,” Townsend checked his notes, “pan troglodytes.”


“Chimpanzee.” Donovan offered.

“I know that!” Jackson retorted.

“Our closest animal relative.”

“Yours maybe.” Which drew guffaws around the table. “Ok, Pete, anything else?”

“Dispatch got a call from a fisherman downstream from Sharon’s Crossing. Seems like we might have found the victim’s hands. Deputy’s on the way. We should know within the hour.”

“Alright, might as well have the coroner’s guys head that way, too. If they’re his hands we can get a positive id. His prints are in the system.” He turned address the white board. “Now our terrible trio here, dumb, dumber, and dumbest.” He tapped each of their photos with his pen. “Melanie, Dora, and Laurel are not being very forthcoming about what they saw and how they were involved.”

Burdon who’d been on the interrogation team volunteered, “Here’s what we’re dealing with. The Captain is sitting in. Out of nowhere, he says “Will you admit that you tore the limbs off this man because you were high on mushrooms and you floated his head down the river on a raft made of sticks.’ This is when we were grilling dumber, there in the middle. I had no idea where the heck that came from. So Dora, dumb Dora, it fits, goes ‘I dunno about the first part, I was pretty high, but yeah, his head, it seemed like the right thing to do.’ And I about. . . .”

“Uh, good, good, looks like Captain Voss is on his way,” Jackson held up his hand glancing toward the doorway. Conference Room Two became very quiet as Voss stepped in.

The Chief of Detectives nodded at his lieutenant and briefly glanced at the others at the table. “Continue Jackson, you can fill me in on what has already transpired. How is the questioning of the women going?”

“Ah, yes sir, we were just getting to that.”

Donovan knew the Loot well enough to know that when he put on that poker face, he was seething inside. He should have seen it coming when Jackson broke a little smile.

“But first Detective Donovan was going to brief us on the narrative he has developed of our victim’s movements before his murder.”

Donovan blinked, ok, Mike, you owe me one, and gathered the folders with his notes in front of him. “Yesterday, approximately 1700 hours we receive a call from the proprietor of Sharon’s Corner, Dane Carson, who said he could identify the composite broadcast on the local evening news. Earlier, approximately 1300 hours, a facial recognition search I had initiated came up with a possible id of the victim. The names matched, and in the process of questioning Mr. Carson, I learned that the victim had presented a poetry reading at his establishment, less than a week ago, last Sunday. There were approximately twenty people in attendance that evening. I interviewed one of them so far, the organizer of the event, Faye Angeli, and plan to interview the others on the list of attendees. I learned or confirmed that the victim, O.R. Phineas, was a kind of literary celebrity, a poet. Mr. Phineas was last seen driving away from Sharon’s Corner in a silver BMW convertible accompanied it would seem by our first suspect, Melanie, who had come to the reading with May Naddy, as had the other two of our charming trio. That would indicate that she has prior knowledge of the poet perhaps leading up to the time of his death.”

may naddyAt Jackon’s nod he continued. “In my interview with Ms. Angeli, who is a real estate agent, she admitted to at one time being a part of the following of radical women around May Naddy known as The Bear Cult, but had left the group after what she termed an ‘unnerving incident.’ She wouldn’t say further what she meant by that but I’d guess that she witnessed something that still leaves her shaking. It’s her contention that May Naddy is a witch, evil, at least.”

Donovan pulled a print out of a photo from the folder and slide it across the table to the Loot. “Tack that one up next to the author’s photo of Phineas.” It was a picture of May Naddy from her last major film, Mistress of the Beasts. She wasn’t wearing a lot of clothes in that one either.

“Is this your idea of a joke, Detective, a pinup on the murder board?”

“The relevance of May Naddy in all of this is in the fact that she is well acquainted with Phineas. I did a little digging on the internet and you’d be surprised with what you can come up with. Before she moved her animal rescue operation to Weston County, May Naddy had a similar enterprise on an island off the coast of Croatia. She was also a patron the performance artist, Yuri Dicey.”

“I don’t see how any of this is relevant to our investigation, Detective.” Voss wasn’t the patient sort.

“Yuri Dicey was married to Oscar Reynaldo Phineas. She was killed when one of her stunts went wrong. He was suspected at first but was eventually cleared. But if you read the comments on stories about Dicey’s death, there are people who believe that Phineas in fact had something to do with his wife’s death.”

“That’s gossip, you’ve been wasting your time reading tabloids instead of doing police work!”

“One of those people is May Naddy. She has been quoted as saying she believes Phineas killed Yuri Dicey because he was jealous. I’ll just throw this out, Naddy and Dicey were rumored to be lovers.”

“And I’d throw that in the trash where it belongs. I don’t know where your reputation comes from, Donovan, but this certainly isn’t police work!”

“Hey, look at that!” Townsend held up his smart phone. “They found the hands and printed them! He’s our guy. O. R. Phineas, poet.”


Donovan sat opposite Bobbie Delyn at the table in the cafeteria with a paper cup of steaming caffeinated brown water and watched her chew the end of her pencil.

“What’s a four letter word for ‘martinet’?”


“Too many letters.”


“That fits, and completes the cross word ‘retired police officer,’ ‘excop’.” Bobbie gave what passed for a smile that creased her white scar like an odd punctuation. “The investigation not going well?”

“Our new chief of detectives is intent on charging the three, I wouldn’t say undeserving but nonetheless not culpable, with murder. Unfortunately other than the bloody clothing nothing indicates that they were directly responsible for the victim dismemberment. Personally, and I’m not alone with this, I think it is physically impossible for them to do it.”

“Because they’re women.”

“Of course not. Even a very strong man would be incapable of ripping a torso to shreds like that, even with tools. This guy was practically confetti.”

“Ugh, now there’s a pretty picture.” Bobbie scribbled on the edge of the newspaper thoughtfully. “Some kind of animal, then?”

“Pan Troglodytes.”

“Chimp. I know that one from doing the crosswords. But a chimp in R.K. Turis State Park? Who would. . . ?”

“Let me finish that thought for you. May Naddy and her anxious animal ark. I got Woody Ames, the animal behavior vet out of bed early this morning.”

“The County Dog Catcher as he so often calls himself. Bet he was happy.”

“Because she operates a wild animal sanctuary one of the stipulations for the permit was that Animal Control had to regularly inspect conditions on the ranch, make sure they weren’t being mistreated and such.”

“Yeah, I think I heard Woody complaining about that.”

“There’ve been problems before. One of her cheetahs escaped and went after the neighboring ranch’s sheep. Fortunately, the cheetah was defanged. It just gummed a lamb. Unfortunately the lamp died of a heart attack.

“Gummed a lamb. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to erase that from my memory.”

“So Woody has an inventory of what kind of animals she has out there. They’re mostly arthritic big cats who have seen better days, all defanged, or blind. A black bear that is so fat it can’t walk, it can only roll, a couple of dogs pretending to be wolves, llamas who’ve lost their spit, a giraffe that can’t stand, horses one step from the glue factory. . .the usual assortment of misfit four legged, feral cats, stray dogs, and two legged runaways engaged in some kind of throwback evolution. . . .”

“His words, I’ll assume.”

chimpanzee“And a crazed chimpanzee. Said when he did the inspection, the chimp was kept in some kind of cage away from everyone, including the other animals. And believe it or not, went apeshit whenever anyone came near her. May Naddy was the only one who could calm the chimp down. Female I think he said. Probably the most dangerous animal out there. His opinion.”

“If I were to draw a conclusion from what you’ve told me, May Naddy’s chimp is the perp.”

“May is linked to Phineas through Yuri Dicey who was both their lover.”

“Sounds like someone was working all the angles hoping to get to the point.”

“Naddy blamed the poet for Yuri’s death. Either she had Faye Angeli lure Phineas to Weston County or it was by coincidence. Either way, May sees her chance at revenge.”

“And uses the chimp as her hitman? From what I’ve heard they’re strong enough. But why involve the three runaways?”

“They were bait. From what I’ve read about O.R. Phineas, he was a lady’s man, left a trail of broken hearts and promises from coast to coast. The silver BMW he was last seen driving was reported missing by some gal up in Eureka. . . .”


“And who didn’t want to press charges because she was certain O.R. had just borrowed it but changed her tune to stolen when we told her we’d found it torched in a turnout off a dirt road down here. I think May used these three kids to lure him to her place. Maybe even tortured him. The lab is putting together a composite of the body parts that might show indications of torture.”

“Adding insult to injury. But wouldn’t she worry that the three women would talk if they were involved in any of it.”

“She’s got some kind of psychic grip on them. The experience was probably so horrific they’re suffering from amnesiac shock. If we let them stew a bit longer, one of them might loosen their hold on whatever false scenario they’re clinging to.”

Bobbie penciled in an answer with a grunt of satisfaction. “Might be a little complicated for the new guy.”

“He as much said I should be writing for TV cops shows. It was the most farfetched narrative he’s ever heard.”

“He won’t last long.”

“You don’t think so? I’ll be long gone, but you guys are going to have to put up with him.”

“He doesn’t fit. Who’s ever heard of a Derrick Voss. Helen Reddie over in HR told me that they had a much better candidate, guy by the name of Hendrix. He would have been a perfect fit, she said.”

Donovan took a sip of his coffee which had gone from scald to just hot. “You’re not thinking of jumping ship soon are you?”

“Me? No way. I’ve got half a dozen years before I’m eligible.” Bobbie pointed to her knee. “Unless I go out on a medical.” Then she frowned. “Wait! How old do you think I am?”

“Hey, Sarge. No offense, you just look mature for your age.”

“Geez, like I haven’t heard that one before.” She sighed and tapped the pencil eraser on the table. “So how are you going to deal with Voss the boss?”

“Mike’s getting a search warrant for the Bear Ranch. We’ll see if we can make a match with the chimp. If so, then it goes in that direction and Voss will have to follow it.”

“He was hoping for something cut and dried, this sounds sloppy and wet. So what’s the motive besides sheer cruelty and mayhem? Revenge for the girlfriend’s death?”

Donovan shrugged. “That’s one of them.” He retrieved a slim volume from his folder and passed to Bobbie.

“What’s this? Poetry? When Sunny Get Glue by O.R. Phoneas, er Phineas?”

“Yeah, Fay Angeli had an extra copy.”

“So your saying he was killed because of his poetry?” Bobbie leafed through the pages, lingered on some passages, winced, looked disgusted, sighed, and then passed the book back. “With something like that, anyone could claim justifiable homicide.”


Better Than Dead—16

by Colin Deerwood


There was an explosion of smoke, the rumble and roar of competing conversations, cacophonies of shouts, bursts of laughter as low belly guffaws of gents or the high whinnies of fillies, the distinct clink of bottle and glass, a shuffling and scraping of chairs, and music from a coin operated Victrola over in the corner where a few couples were rubbing their bodies against each other to the lowing moans of a crooner in what passed for dancing. The heady hoppy scent of beer and sharp tang of high octane joy juice mixed in the tobacco haze that hung in the air just about at eye level. It was a lively crowd and no one noticed as I stepped up to the bar where shoulder to shoulder the serious drinkers sat on stools or leaned against it for support.

cocktail lounge1Neither of the two bartenders treading the boards pouring drinks and ringing up the sales on the big brass cash register was the tree trunk that had served me the first time when I’d stepped in to avoid a tail. I tried to wedge myself between a couple of muscle heads who weren’t interested in letting me squeeze through until they laid eyes on Rebecca. Then they became gentlemen whose mouths had dropped open and whose eyes popped out of their sockets accompanied by an ahooga horn.

It just made her smile even prettier at the attention. She was what the old Jewish ladies in the neighborhood used to say, a real  shayna punim: a pretty face. I’d looked into that pretty face with stars in my eyes, too. But something was telling me it was too good to be true.

We’d followed Alice’s suggestion and took a breather in her friend’s loft on the top floor of the building. It was a tiny place, like Alice’s studio, but big enough to be crowded with large canvases hanging on or leaning against any spare wall space below the low ceiling and skylight. Becky sorted through them as if leafing through a sheet music bin, sounding little notes of surprise or astonishment. The ones on the walls looked like swabs of brush cleaning to me.

I’d cleaned up a bit. brushed the bin dust off the elbows, lapels, and knees. I washed my mug of the coal smudges. The bruises weren’t in any hurry to leave. And enough time now had elapsed since the hot grope in the tailor shop. She was still being coy but cool. It was like she knew she had me, she didn’t have to tug on the string.

I had other things on my mind besides. The throbbing at the base of my skull was annoying. I’d been beat on a little too much lately and it was taking its toll. A good long sleep would probably take care of that. In the meantime, getting the rocks back was the first priority, fencing them to diamond dealers Rebecca said she knew or even Max Feathers if worse came to worse. That would generate enough cash for me to light out for parts unknown, far enough that any of Mister K’s mooks might accidently bump into me. But now Becky and I were partners, business partners, so to speak, and there’s no better way to ruin a romance.

We bided our time waiting for evening to get grayer in a kind of no touch tango, dancing around what each of us might be thinking.

I thought taking the back way out of the building the safest bet and we scuttled across the trash strewn backyard to the alley behind. The less we were seen the better I was going to feel. She’d tied a scarf under her chin and I had my too large fedora down over my ears. We probably looked like an old couple out for an evening walk on the mean streets of the East Side. No cars followed us with their headlights dimmed and no mugs were tailing our footsteps. We were all but invisible. And I warned the kid. If things went south or anything happened to me or we got separated she was to amscray back to Alice’s and wait till I got word to her. When it developed that getting at the diamonds wasn’t in the immediate future, I had a backup option.


I’d attracted the bartender’s attention although not in the same manner that the kid was attracting the attention of the wolf in the pinstriped suit next to her. The leer of his oily grin wouldn’t pass the Hays code.

I held up two fingers and then sideways signifying a double.

“And your little sister?”

Rebecca smiled up at me and I remember how loopy she’d got on Max’s hootch.

“A Shirley Temple,” I said which prompted her to squeak with delight, “Oh, I love Shirley Temple!”

After I laid the simoleon on the bar I told the bartender that a friend of mine had left an envelope for me. I pointed to the cash register. “My name’s on it.”

He came back with the envelope. “What’s your name?”

I told him but someone was getting loud at one of the tables and he had to ask again. So I said it louder. “Lackland Ask!”

He didn’t quite hear what I said and bent his ear toward me. “Lackland Ask!” I repeated even louder. And right about then there was a lull in the barroom din and anyone who wanted to heard my name. He handed over the envelope and I pushed the two bits from my change on the bar toward him. “Gee, thanks.” He said and grinned brightly.

I’d been keeping a side eye on the skunk in wolf’s clothing trying out his con with the kid. She may have been starry eyed but she wasn’t dumb. She wasn’t going to fall for the line that he was Shirley Temple’s long lost brother, Ramon. Or was she?

lackbec1I nudged her with my elbow. “imtay otay ogay.”

She blinked once and frowned. “But Ask, I haven’t. . . .” As she turned to glance over her shoulder she saw the look on my face.

The wolf had been nudged out of the way by a snake and I felt like I’d just stepped into a frame of an Orphan Annie strip because the narrow framed ferret eyed fella in a long overcoat was a spitting image of the Asp.

He smiled one of those smiles that wasn’t a smile and I expected a forked tongue to slither out from between his tight bloodless lips. Instead he said in a high pitched voice, “So nice of you to announce yourself, Mr. Ask. If you will please come with me. Someone would like to ask you some questions, Mr. Ask.” He thought he was being funny but I could see by the way he was holding his hand that he had a gat in his coat pocket pointed at Rebecca and that he was very serious.

I nudged the envelope into the kid’s hand and murmured “Aketay isthay.” Then I turned to the large stevedore quaffing his brew behind me unaware of the little drama going on inches from him. I patted him on the derriere and when he turn to give me the mean eyes, I made a kiss with my lips. That enraged him.

He set his beer down and prepped a roundhouse.

“Ukday!’ I yelled, ducking as his fist landed square on the side of the Asp’s head. I goosed a couple of other saps scrambling for the door and within seconds the place had erupted into the brawl it had been waiting for all night.


Once on the bricks I twirled undecided which way to run. Just before the end of the block was a service alley. I headed there all the while scanning the opposite side of the street lined with jalopies. I wanted to stay to the shadows so I crossed over, the kid on my heels. I figured to get to the main drag where I might flag a cab or duck down to the subway. It wasn’t to be.

The asp-man was rubbing his head. “I can make him talk.” He examined the tips of his fingers, blood.

It was like they’d materialized from the bricks and shadows, the Asp’s twin, a skinny guy in a tweed cap and a red scarf around his mug, a bruiser with a taffy colored bald head, arms like elephants trunks, ten penny nails for eyes, and a short shrimpy guy with a tall hat and high heeled shoes. Only it wasn’t a guy. It was Della, Al’s redheaded sister. And I had to guess that the skinny guy with the scarf was Al.

“You have something that belongs to me!” she growled in my face.

The bruiser held me up by the scruff of my coat like I was hanging from a hook. The Asp had grabbed Rebecca by the arm as she tried to get away. She reached into her pocket and smacked him on the side of the head with the flashlight. It surprised him just enough to loosen his grip and it was all she needed.

“Unray, unry!” I shouted to her as Al started to chase after her.

Della called him back. “Letter go. This is the guy we want.” I felt the slap, the taste of blood in the mouth. “You took something from my mailbox.” There was another slap but not as hard. She may have hurt her hand the first time. “I want it back!” and a knee below the belt. That hurt, and I groaned because that was all I could do. “Wherizit!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about?”

“You’re lying!”

The giant shook me like maybe the answer would drop from my sleeves like burgled silverware.

“You took the postal slip from my mailbox in the lobby. One of the neighbors saw you. She reported to the cops but I knew it was you from her description. That’s a federal rap you know, stealing mail.” She said it with a mean smile.

The asp-man was rubbing his head. “I can make him talk.” He examined the tips of his fingers, blood.

“Give her what she wants, Lack.” Al spoke up, “You don’t wanna get hurt. Not by Sid.”

“Al,” I said, “I thought we was pals. You said I should come to you if I needed help. Are these creeps the muscle you’re talking about, Al?”

Al shrugged. “Ya shouldna takenit, Lack. I got no choice.”

“The slip!” Della screamed in my face. Then Sid’s fist caught me between the eyes. I thought I was seeing double and hearing things, the shrill eerie cries of a banshee. But it was just Sid’s twin, and he was telling Della, “Less getoutayear! Cops erondereway!” and then I realized, “the sirens!”

1935_Chrysler1Rough hands lifted me and stuffed me into the back of the Chrysler sedan and before I knew it I had King Kong, the Asp, and my shadowy old pal, Al sitting on top of me while the other snake got behind the wheel with Della seated beside him, roaring off just as the paddy wagon pulled up. One of them was sticking something sharp into my spine and it hurt.

“It’s stupid to die over a piece of paper, Lack,” Al insisted.”

The pain increased. “Ok, ok! It’s in my office over on 10th Street.”

“That dump you call an office is over on 9th, meatball. I know, I been there,” Della barked. “Don’t think you’re smart.”

“Right, 9th Street. The slip is in my office. Hidden.”

“You’re lying! I tossed the place. I didn’t find anything except dirt, flies, and soiled underwear.” She gave a smile with her tiny bone grinding teeth. “You’re a slob, you know that?”

The pressure on my spine eased some. I had to come off sincere. “No, I hid it pretty good. You wouldn’t find it unless you knew where to look.”

Della told the driver to head back toward 9th. “If he’s lying, you and Sid know what to do with him.”


Curtis was lurking in the foyer with a broom and a dustpan when I came through the door. He looked up surprised to see me accompanied by the Asp brothers, the muscle bound gorilla, Al, and his sister, Della. He smiled at first. Then he frowned. “Hey Mr. Ask, where you been? The cops has come around lookenferya.” He gaped at Della. “And yer udder sister. From why oming.”

“Oh yeah, well, tell the cops I ain’t here.” I said as I brushed past him.

“Hey, you know the rule about visters affer fivaclock!”

One of the Sids grabbed the handle of the broom Curtis was holding and used it to smack him between the eyes. “Mind yer own business if ya know what’s good ferya.”

stairwellA herd of elephants might have been quieter climbing up the two flights to my office. Alice must have forgotten to lock the door and I walked right in. The bruiser had an iron grip on my shoulder. “Don’t try any funny business,” Sid warned. I flicked on the light and saw what Alice and Rebecca had seen earlier that day. Messes don’t have a tendency to right themselves no matter how long they’re left alone.

“Whooo! Open a window!” And one of the Sids started over to do Della’s bidding.

“Ah, nah, bad idea. It’s broken. Open it and it’ll never close.” I should have kept my mouth shut. Sid grinned over his shoulder and yanked on the sash lifts at the bottom. It would budge. At first. And then it shot up like a rocket. I heard the top pane crack and shatter. Well, I hadn’t planned on spending another winter here.

Dempsey didn’t pay them no mind. “Shadap! Some gents downtown wanna talk to ya. Somethin’ about a dead lawyer!” He pulled the cuffs from his pocket. “Yer not gonna give me a hard time, are ya?”

“In the closet.” I said pulling myself free from the baby giant who I just noticed was wearing some kind of pajama pants. But given his size, he could wear just about anything he wanted. “In the trench coat.”

“I already looked there!” Della was trying to squeeze into the closet with me.

“In the lining.” I’d palmed the postal call slip when they were dragging me up the steps. I reached in and after some rummaging to make it look like it had really been hidden, I pulled my hand back out with the orange slip that had item too large for box written across the top.

She snapped it from my hand, glanced down at it, and then gave me a suspicious glare. “I already looked there. Is this some sort of con your pulling, pepper ?”

“That’s them, officer!” Curtis was in the doorway with the beat cop. Dempsey. He was a large cop and what they call a hard man. Della’s genie may have been bigger but he wasn’t as hard. And he had a loud cop voice. Probably because he was deaf in one ear. “What the holy hell is going on here!” He had his fists on his hips, one of them holding his billy club, and the bulge in his back pocket was his pistol. “Who’s responsible for this mess!”

Curtis pointed at me. “That’s him, officer. That’s Lackland Ask.”

Dempsey’s eyes narrowed and his mouth twisted with that particular Irish determination. He strode across the room and pulled me out of the closet. “We been looking for you! Come with me.”

That was one of the few times I went anywhere willingly with a cop. “What’s the beef, officer?” I glanced around the room. The two Sids were pretending to find something interesting with the wallpaper. My pal Al had the red scarf wrapped around his nose and staring at his shoes. And the oak doorway was trying, not very successfully, to blend in with the shadows. Della looked surprised and was about to say something.

Dempsey didn’t pay them no mind. “Shadap! Some gents downtown wanna talk to ya. Somethin’ about a dead lawyer!” He pulled the cuffs from his pocket. “Yer not gonna give me a hard time, are ya?”

When I shook my head no, he put them away. And besides he wasn’t going loosen the vice grip he had on my arm. But that wasn’t how I escaped.


Something must have happened in the room after Dempsey hustled me out. Curtis had been bringing up the rear and lingered at the door. The next thing I knew he barreled past me on the stairs with terror in his eyes, banging into the cop and throwing him off balance. Dempsey loosened his grip to catch his balance and I wrenched free. Down to the next landing I leaped overtaking Curtis, knocking him down, and then practically skipped the entire next flight of stairs, skidding into the wall. I caught myself and jumped another half dozen steps down the next flight. Dempsey was roaring behind me, yelling at Curtis laid out across the stairs to get out of the way. I made it down to the foyer and through the front door onto the stoop and the street. I looked both ways and then dashed down toward the end of the block where a large delivery truck was parked. I skidded around behind it and ducked down.

truck101I could see Dempsey pause at the top of the stoop, look around to see if he could spot me. Out of breath, he lifted his cop cap and scratched his head realizing he’d lost me. He slapped the billy in the palm of his hand a couple of times and then strode off to the call box at the other end of the block.

The night was filled sirens, but that seemed typical for a Saturday. I waited till Della and her misfits exited the building and drove away. She’d got what she wanted. Or so she thought. Rebecca was the one with the postal slip she wanted, and I had to get to her in a hurry. I cut through a couple of alleys and made my way over the few blocks to Alice’s. If she’d listened to me, she would be waiting for me there. With the diamonds I’d yet to retrieve and what I had a hunch Della’s package contained, I  might just be looking for a place on easy street.

I rounded the corner down from Alice’s studio, and there they were, a squad car blocking the street and a gaggle of blue uniforms. The cop car was stopped right in front Alice’s building. I didn’t like what that was telling me.

A crowd had begun to gather and some of the patrolmen were pushing them back. I wanted to get closer, make sure it wasn’t what I was thinking. There was a lump lying along the iron railing leading down to Alice’s A cop was down on one knee examining it and, looking up at his partner, shook his head. Then I spotted her, sitting on the steps, wrapped in a blanket, shivering, a cigarette between two fingers. Alice. A patrol sergeant by the chevrons was talking to her and writing her answers in his pocket notebook.

I had the urge to bust through the cordon to be by her side, put a protective arm around her when I felt a tug on my sleeve. It was Rebecca. Her eyes were red like she had been crying, her lips trembling.

“Oh, Lack, it was awful!” she sobbed.

I needed details. And she gave them to me in fits and starts. She had made her way back to Alice’s studio. When she arrived there were a few neighbors standing around the steps leading down. Then she saw something on the sidewalk. It was a body. She could see that Alice’s door was wide open. Fearing the worst she ran in. Alice, stunned and shaking was crouched down by the icebox. On the floor was another body. It had a huge bloody slash across its back. Seated on one of the kitchen chairs was a man. With a sword. It was Linkov.

“I screamed. And that brought Alice out of her daze. She told me not to be frightened. It was Linkov who had saved her. Two men had burst into her studio and demanded to know where you were, Lack! They were looking for you! They hit her a few times and threatened to do things to her.” She paused to see if I understood what those things might be.

I nodded, looking over at Alice, smoke trailing from her mouth as she answered the cop’s questions. “Where is he” jumped back into the forefront of my brain as a recent memory.

“She had just finished taking a shower she told me. And she said that she usually did a little dance before the portrait of Ted because she misses him so much. And that is when they burst in and began to slap her around, demanding she tell them where you were! And all of a sudden there was Linkov with his sword! He slashed them before they even knew what had happened. One fled out to the street but he is dead too, on the sidewalk.”

I put my arm around her shoulder. “That musta been pretty scary, kid, no wonder you screamed.”

“That is not why I scream, Lack. I scream because they are the same men who come to Rabbi Joseph’s apartment and start the shooting. They have the googles and the kerchiefs the same.”

Next Time: Coming To Grips With The Black Hand

On The Road To Las Cruces ~Six~

by Pat Nolan

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“Life is a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities.”

One-eyed Tom, the proprietor of the Coney Island Saloon in El Paso and the old man’s longtime friend and gambling associate, read from the page Apollinara had prepared from a text by the agnostic, Ingersoll.

The day had begun with a gully washer and had made a pond of the rectangular hole carved in the red dirt in a neglected corner of the Las Cruces Odd Fellows Cemetery. As the funeral procession had wound its way to the burying ground later that day, large threatening dark clouds raced across the severe blue like itinerant mourners threatening to drop more misery on the assembling dignitaries, friends and family.

“We strive in vain to look beyond the heights. We cry aloud and the only answer is the echo of our wailing cry.”

cemetaryThe old man’s children, four boys and three girls, stood at graveside, their heads bowed. Paulita, the youngest of the girls, held the three-year old boy on one hip. Apollinara stared solemnly, stoically at the long plain coffin holding her husband’s body. In her black-gloved hand, she clutched the telegram of condolence from the President, Theodore Roosevelt. At her side, a grim Governor Kerry stared intently at the red muck that encased his new boots. The old man’s brothers, long estranged, had made the trip from Louisiana, tall and gangly like their departed sibling. A young reporter from the El Paso Herald stood off to one side, unobtrusively, jotting in a narrow notebook.

“From the voiceless lips of the unreplying dead,” One-eyed Tom quavered, “there comes no word; but in the night of death hope sees a star and listening love can hear the rustling of a wing.”

A cloudburst greeted his words. With the sound of spreading wings, almost in unison, and as if in salute, the black umbrellas of the prepared rose over the heads of the dark clad mourners. Rivulets appeared in the rutted red earth, wending their way between mud spattered shoes, over the piles of crimson dirt at grave’s edge, and around the large gray mass of granite headstone upon which was carved the name, Garrett. The accumulating wet gathered in depressions made by the carriage wheels and boot heels like murky pools of blood before dribbling down the desolate hill.

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The old man wet his whistle and continued. “I had a plan, and if it was going to work, I had to play it out slow so as to hang all three with the same noose.

If this had been an open and shut case of some desperados on a tear, it would have been over and done with long ago, and without any help from me. As I said before, politics was involved and so I had to proceed cautiously. Too cautiously, some have said. I had to weigh the political implications for everyone I investigated. Politicians, if they ain’t long on ethics, are certainly long on memory, and I didn’t want to step on any toes that would come back years later to kick me in the rear when I wasn’t expecting it. I was caught up in the power game between the Democrats and the Republicans. The murder of Jennings was almost inconsequential, a minor irritant, and so I had to get in the swim just to stay afloat.

“I played a waiting game figuring that someone involved in the murders would either brag or break. Gil Leland was the one I would have given odds as most likely to talk. There was one of the goosiest fellows I ever came across. At times he was just one big twitch, arms, face, legs going every which a way with some kind of affliction. Don’t think they ever figured that one out. He’s one of them northern types with white blond hair that he always keeps jailbird short. Has the kind of blue eyes that are so light they’re almost colorless. The locals call him El hombre sin oyos, the man with no eyes.”

“Are you saying he’s still alive, I mean, living around here?’

“He is at that, and crazier than a loon, I hear. He’s finally cracked. And he’s talking about it now, letting on little details that only the killers would know. I also hear that when he’s had a little too much firewater that’s the only thing he’ll talk about. I’d say his conscience is getting the best of him.”

“Has he said anything that could be used to implicate him in the murders?”

wantedolee“Oh, he’s always said plenty. You see, the killing of Colonel Jennings was thought to be a feather in their cap by some, including themselves. Leland was just a boy himself when the murders were committed, and he was cocky, boastful and impulsive as most boys are. And not too bright.

“He’s the one I was most anxious to arrest in particular. He had the potential of being the prime witness. O’Lee and Falk knew this too so they kept him away from the wrong kind of people, people who might be willing to talk to me about what he was saying.”

“What was he saying?”

“Some of what I was told, and it’s been a while now, was that Rudy Jennings was nothing but a little half-breed and to kill him was nothing more than killing a dog. He said of Jennings that the old bastard got what he deserved. But it’s what he’s saying now that has O’Lee worried.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, it seems that Leland is saying that he’s ready to confess and that he wants to confess to me. I do not know why. It won’t do a whole hell of a lot of good. I’m not a lawman any more. Nevertheless, he’s saying he knows where the bodies are buried, and he’s saying that he’s the one who killed young Jennings. The way it was told to me, he grabbed the boy by the hair, pulled his head back and slit his throat with no more compunction than if he was a crippled calf.”

“Did he say how the Colonel died?”

“The way I heard it, they overtook the buckboard and just started shooting. No one knows whose bullet actually killed him. There’s even talk that the Colonel hopped between the riggings to get away but was dead before he hit the ground.”

The young man nodded his head. “I’ll bet if he could, he would tell some tales.”

“I’m counting on it. I may not be able to arrest O’Lee for what he did back in ‘96 but I can expose his villainy and finally clear up the mystery of White Sands.”

“How are you going to do that?”

“I’m going to write a book about it.”

“A book?”

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Any book would be a lie. Without Ash, it was only a threat, a bluff. He was willing to expose O’Lee for the criminal that he was, and he had noised it about that that was what he intended to do.

On the other hand, he was less eager to reveal his own ineptness. How could he admit to the embarrassment of Wildy Well? He had blundered and had let O’Lee get the best of him in that instance. This was when he needed Ash to help him. Ash could temper a tornado down to a dust devil. He had controlled the spin on the one book they did write together though the results were not what they had anticipated.

“You eventually captured the men indicted by the grand jury, didn’t you?”  Adams was getting downright fidgety. He had loosened his cravat, and the pigskin gloves had been stuffed into a pocket of the raw canvas duster.

The old man nipped at the bottle a couple of times before answering. He didn’t like to lie mainly because he wasn’t good at it. That was Ash’s bailiwick. “I was never one for riding all over creation looking for desperate men and exposing myself to an ambush. Patience is as important as dry powder on the hunt, especially a manhunt. So I waited. I knew O’Lee and Leland were hiding out in the mountains. I had reports that they’d grown beards in an effort to disguise themselves. Of course, I would have known them even if they were hairless. I was anxious to get my hands on Leland. If I could get him to divulge where the bodies were buried, I was positive O’Lee and his assassins would have an appointment with the hangman.”

“You must have gone after them.”

The old man wet his lips and stared ahead at the rutted road, the sage and stunted greasewood that grew up along the embankment, the shimmering crests of the sawtooth Jarilla Mountains in the distance.

“Once I tried to take them at Wildy Well, and almost had them.”

“I assume you weren’t successful as ‘almost’ only counts in horseshoes, don’t it?”

“Well, I was successful in impressing O’Lee that I was serious about bringing him to justice. But I’d also have to admit that I might have acted a bit too hastily in this case.”

“What happened?”

“It was this way. I had a deputy by the name of Jorge. He was an honest-to-god Mexican pistolero, what you might call a flashy fellow. He dressed like a vaquero at a fiesta every day of the week. You comprende? The wide embroidered sombrero, the dragoon jacket, conchos up the pant leg, spurs with huge rowels, a brace of Colts in embossed scabbards, quirt. . .in short, the whole shooting match. Hell, when the sun hit him with all his silver on, he lit up like a big piece of jewelry.”  He could almost feel Ash prompting him. “We could only travel at night because you could see him coming for miles in the daylight. He was sure a pretty shadow, but he was also a reliable man, a dead shot, and I trusted him.

“One afternoon he came by my office and informed me that he’d discovered where O’Lee and Leland were staying that night. When he told me that it was in the adobe shack at Wildy Well, the thought crossed my mind that O’Lee was getting awfully reckless by placing himself so close to my reach. Maybe, I thought, he is trying to test my resolve in capturing him or maybe he is daring me to come after him. I was inclined to let him try a little harder because if I did not act then, that might make him bolder and more careless, and I would have him. As it happened, two other deputies, Woody Eastwood and Lefty Cartwright, as well as a young school teacher by the name of Matt Hughes who often volunteered when I need an extra man were in the office when Jorge stormed in with this information. Now Jorge was of the opinion that we should ride right out there and arrest them. And Woody and Lefty, who felt that they had been chaffing at the bit long enough anyway, chimed in that they thought that it was a good idea, too. I mulled it over knowing the potshots I’d be taking from the press and citizenry if word ever got out that O’Lee had been within my grasp and I failed to act so, against my better judgment, I agreed to undertake the expedition.

“If we were going to take them, I knew that it had best be by surprise so I waited till after midnight before starting out. La madruga, as Jorge called it. We rode to within a mile of Wildy Well before dismounting. As I re-call, it wasn’t a particularly dark night, the moon was still up, and as it was mid-July, the air was notably balmy. We arrived at the line shack just before dawn. It was an adobe and wood shanty with a lean-to propped against one side. We kept watch on it for a while just to make sure no one was up and stirring so as not to spoil our surprise. Finally, we decided to make our move. Jorge was so intent on stealth that he even took his boots off and proceeded in his stocking feet. I always figured that it was the Indian in him that made him do that. We got up to the door of the adobe without being discovered and then, since it wasn’t latched, we invited ourselves in.”

Adams was plainly interested again. “What happened then?”

wildywells1The old man took another swig. The answer to that question led to the unraveling of the entire unfortunate adventure. They had not surprised O’Lee and Leland under the blankets. Instead they had rousted the Madisons, a family O’Lee had hired as caretakers. Old lady Madison had sat up stiff as a plank and started screaming when she woke to see a pistol barrel stuck in her face, and that in turn had awakened her husband and the two children. There had been another adult sleeping in the room too, but he was no one they could identify. He had ordered them to light a candle, and after a quick search of the single room and the sleeping loft where the children had been, he had found no one else.

“It looked like we had a case of mistaken identity,” he finally admitted. “The people in the adobe were just some harmless folks, the Madisons, a husband and wife who were employed by O’Lee to keep his stock watered. I questioned them but they denied having seen O’Lee or Leland. By then everyone was up and milling about so we stepped back outside to reconsider our strategy. I had Woody go over to the corral and size up the horses. O’Lee or Leland would not be riding just any nags. Jorge swore up and down that O’Lee should have been there but I was inclined to dismiss it simply as bad information. Then something occurred that made me suspicious. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught one of the Madisons trying to signal to someone on the roof.”

“They were on the roof!”

“That was my suspicion though I couldn’t be positive right then. There was a ladder over by the shed on the side of the adobe but it wasn’t tall enough to reach, and besides I was not anxious to stick my head up there just to get it blown off. Now Matt Hughes had more guts than brains and he set about moving the ladder onto the roof of the shed and that way getting a look over the wall.”

“Couldn’t you just step back a ways to get a view of the roof top?”

“Not without leaving myself open to taking a bullet and not on an adobe I couldn’t. Think about it. Most adobes are built with about two feet of wall above the roof line. Anybody up there is in a superior position because it acts as a natural fort. They had command of the entire compound, us included. Well, before I could get off a word of caution, Matt was up on the ladder pointing his Winchester over the lip of the wall. The next thing I know there’s shooting and Matt is tumbling off the ladder and crashing through the top of the shed! I did not know it then, but he was mortally wounded, gut shot by those cowards.

“I was in a mighty bad position right about then, out in the open with not a lick of cover. I managed to get myself behind the shitshed, their rounds kicking up dust at my heels. Woody had a clear shot at them from over by the corral but they managed to keep him pinned down. Lefty was over by the water tower behind a pile of gravel but he could not move one way or the other without exposing himself. A couple rounds had punctured the tank so he got himself a cold shower he had not been counting on. And Jorge was caught back at the adobe, bare footed and without a stitch of cover. I remember he clung to the side of that adobe as if it were a sheer cliff, unable to get out to a firing position, and him the most fearsome pistolero of our bunch.”  The old man offered a sardonic chuckle with this memory. It had not been humorous at the time. Matt Hughes had probably fired first though he had testified at the inquest that the men on the roof had been the first to get shots off. He was a youngster and trigger happy, and he had paid with his life. He still blamed himself for the man’s death, and the fact that O’Lee had got the upper hand rankled him yet. The humiliation that they had endured a rout at the hands of those bastards burned him now as freshly as it had ten years past.

“You were in a fix, I’d say. What did you do then?”

“I did the only thing I could do. I called for O’Lee to surrender.”

“That was rather bold of you.”

“True, I was in what you might call a close place. However, I was still the law and I had the right to demand that they put down their weapons and come out with their hands up. O’Lee was of a different opinion. He claimed that I would kill him if he gave himself up and, though that was not my intention, I knew it to be a possibility as I had heard that he had bragged that he would never be taken alive. Unfortunately for me, I was in no position to bargain.”

The exasperation even after all those years dulled him to silence. Moreover, the drink he had been spilling down his gullet made him feel a certain thickness that was at the same time a fuzzy constraint. A grim bitterness tightened the corners of his mouth and his lower lip protruded in sour contemplation. Anyone familiar with the wounded, glowering look that passed over his shaded brow would have known that it was time to politely seek other company or face the brunt of his explosive rancor. The injustices he felt he’d suffered, real or imagined, at the hands of manipulating politicians smoldered within him and were invariably fueled to flame with drink.

Adams prattled, unaware. “Seems to me you could have planned that undertaking a little more carefully. How did those men on the roof know they weren’t being set upon by robbers or Indians?”

“I called for them to surrender but they answered with their guns. I had a woman and two children in danger of being struck by stray gunfire if I decided to fight. I knew that I would get my chance at O’Lee again. I told him that we would pull back if he held his fire, and he agreed. And that’s pretty much all there is to that story.”

The discomfort and anger he felt was making him sullen. He pictured their retreat. They had been forced to abandon Matt Hughes’ body. They’d had to retreat, Leland spitting jeers and insults at their backs, hands over their heads until they dropped behind the rise. They had made a pitiful, almost comical, sight: Woody and himself glowering in silence, humiliation steaming off them; Lefty soaked to the bone, growling and mumbling; and Jorge hopping from one foot to the other at the bite of some sharp rock or mesquite thorn and uttering elaborate Spanish Indian curses and blasphemies. Empty handed as a sodbuster at a tax auction, as Ash would say.

Next Time: Pecos Politics

Contents Vol. 2 No. 3

Welcome to Volume Two, Number Three of Dime Pulp,
A Serial Pulp Fiction Magazine

In  Pat Nolan’s novella, On The Road To Las Cruces, the legendary Western lawman details the investigation into the disappearance of a prominent New Mexican and his son in what has become known in the Territory as “the White Sands mystery” and the close call with the main suspect in a poker game.

In the latest installment of Colin Deerwood’s Better Than Dead,  hapless detective Lackland Ask must reconsider his plan of action now that the Bull Durham sack of diamonds has gone missing.  What new tricks does he have up his sleeves as he lies low in the seedier part of the city?

Dismemberment is the subject in Part Two of All Tore Up, Helene Baron Murdock’s latest Hard Boiled Myth, in which Detective Jim Donovan, on the eve of his retirement from Weston County’s Sheriff’s Office Violent Crimes Unit, puts together the pieces of a murder that eerily echoes Greek mythology.

Dime Pulp Yearbook 21 contains the novels (The Last Resort and Better Than Dead) and the short fiction (Hard Boiled Myth and Gone Missing) of Volume One’s 12 issues and are available for perusal in their entirety. If you missed a few issues or lost the thread of a serial, clicking on the link at the beginning of this paragraph or on the menu bar above is a good way to catch up.

Dime Pulp continues its crime spree with the serialization of 2 full length novels,  Better Than DeadA Detective Story and On The Road To Las Cruces  as well as a new episode of Hard Boiled Myth . If you’ve made it this far, go ahead and follow the links below to reading entertainment with the serial contents of Volume Two, Number Three.

 —Perry O’Dickle, chief scribe
and word accountant

“Lackland Ask is the name. ‘Lack’ to my friends, ‘Don’t’ to those who think they’re funny. You might have seen my portrait on the cover of Black Mask, the crime fiction magazine. This is my story. It starts with a blonde. This kind of story always starts with a blonde.” Thus begins the seemingly non-stop, endless narrative of Better Than Dead in which women are not the only trouble although most of it, told with the wit and street savvy of Runyon and Parker.

Better Than Dead—15

otrpic1fi2In late February of 1908, a one-time drover, buffalo hunter, saloon owner, hog farmer, peach grower, horse rancher, US Customs inspector, private investigator, county sheriff, and Deputy US Marshal set out from his adobe home on the mesa above Organ, New Mexico accompanied by a young man in a black buggy on the journey to Las Cruces. He would never arrive. This is the story of that journey, a novel account of the last day in the life of a legendary lawman.

On The Road To Last Cruces—Five—

HBM ArcGreek myth is rife with murder, mutilation, cannibalism, mayhem, and the ever popular incest.  Weston County Sheriff’s Detective Jim Donovan of the Violent Crimes Unit wouldn’t know a Greek myth from a Greek salad, but if he did he would find some troubling similarities to the cases he’s investigating.  Revisited as crime fiction are the strange death of Hippolytus, the agonizing death of Heracles, the slaughter of Penelope’s suitors, the Fall of Icarus,  the sparagamos of Orpheus, and the cursed lineage of Pelops.  Helene Baron-Murdock’s Hard Boiled Myth taps into the rich vein of classical literature to frame these ancient tales in a modern context.

All Tore Up—II

Better Than Dead—15

by Colin Deerwood


I couldn’t let on to Alice about my swim in the East River and the address book that was worth a Bull Durham sack full of diamonds or that Mister K had put price on my head and that international saboteurs were after me because Rebecca stole from the diamond dealer in whose apartment a gun battle had occurred and whose father was a bombmaker without sounding like something out of a men’s magazine. I was having a hard time believing it myself.

Rebecca’s giggle said they were going to be good friends. Alice looked over her shoulder at me. And smiled.

I smiled back nipping at the java. “You’re right, I couldn’t sell the art Ted gave me. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’ll just have to figure some other way to go on the lam.”

ads2 diner coffee1“Sure, Lack.” She’d started another cigarette and let the smoke drift from between her lips. “But if you kids need a place to hang out for a while, that’s alright with me.”

We were kids now. “I’m going to need some things from my, uh, office but I can’t go there myself.”


“Maybe you and Becky can go over there and pick up an item for me.” The item I had in mind was a battered leather satchel, what I thought of as my “getaway” bag. If things got too hot or too dicey I could beat feet out of town and make myself scarce. In the bag were a pair of woolen slacks, a change of underwear, a denim shirt, some well-worn kicks, and a heavy overcoat for when the nights get chilly in the back of a cross country bus. In the lining of that heavy coast was pinned a one hundred dollar bill, my “getaway” money. Alice didn’t need to know that detail.


The bag was in a corner of the closet under a pile of newspapers and dime magazines. I said they might have to move stuff around to find it. I gave Alice the key.

“Someone got into my room about a week ago and tossed the place. I haven’t been back since. That’s why it’s probably a mess.”

“That’d be different,” Alice quipped. She’d been to my office before.

“And don’t let Curtis see you because I’m a little behind on my rent.”

“That pervert!” Alice tucked her shirt into her pajama bottoms and slipped into some Mexican sandals. “Come on, Becky, I’ll show you how it’s done on the West side.”

Becky pranced like an eager pony that made Alice grin. Then she snapped her fingers. “Why didn’t I think of that in the first place!” Her eyes widened with her really good idea. “My friend. Lee. She has a loft on the top floor.” She pointed up to make sure I knew the direction. “She went out West to visit her boyfriend’s parents. In Wyoming.”

Rebecca’s eyes grew almost as wide as Alice’s, savoring the exotic word. “Wyoming,” she repeated.

“She won’t be back for a couple weeks. She asked me to water her plants and feed her cat! It’s perfect. You’d have your privacy.”

“No, no, it’s nothing like that.” I could feel the flush of my face.

My embarrassment was funny to them. I stopped them at the door. “Oh, and see if I’ve got anything in my mailbox. I’m expecting bills but there might be a check in among them.”

Alice looked annoyed. “Do you have a key?”

I shook my head. “Naw, just use your hairpin.”


The guy stood out like a tack on a marble floor, behind the wheel of an old Plymouth, hat pulled down over his eyes, sleeping, or pretending to be. Could have just as well been a copper as a mug. I’d tailed Alice and Becky. They were too busy getting acquainted to notice me.

I left my perch from a doorway down the street from my building and headed in the opposite direction. At the next corner, a prowl car was pulled over in front of a fire hydrant. A couple of fedoras were leaning down to the open window. The low sun was just breaking through the clouds and made me wince with its bleak intensity. By the time I got back to Alice’s, my eyes were watering like the wind had swept motes into them. I ducked down under the stoop entrance just as the beat cop came sauntering by. Someone called out a greeting from across the street and he gave a jocular reply.

I let myself into the studio, a space I was not unfamiliar with. Alice had a little brown Bakelite radio with an amber square panel parallel to the speaker grill off to one side of her worktable and I turned the knob to break the silence. Rapid recitation of stock averages. I twisted the dial. String music. A man talking about saving his soul and anyone else who had the faith and the money. There was an installment plan. The end of the stock report and news on how hostilities on the continent blah blah blah Precedent Roosterfelt et cetera et cetera, conscription of young men, and so on. The strings won and the crescendos were easier to take than the words I was hearing. News of a proposed draft was not at the top of my list of happy.

Alice’s place wasn’t exactly a dump, as if I should have been talking. It was a brick and plaster box with a tiny sink and a hot plate. A curtain half concealing Alice’s unmade bed raised on bricks and lumber pilfered from a nearby construction site cut the room by a third and certainly did not making it any less cramped. Neat is not a word I would use to describe Alice. Stacks of paper with sketches and daubs of color. Portraits she’d sketched at nearby restaurants and cafes and in the neighborhood park strung like laundry to dry. I recognized the automat in the background of one of them. Just a few precisely placed brush strokes and ink lines caught it all. There was a large portrait of Ted framed on one wall, kind of a shrine with a tiny votive candle as well as stray articles of intimate clothing under it. No telling what Alice might be doing in her sad all alone. Ted seemed more alive in Alice’s rendering than he’d been in person, cigarette in hand, smiling ruefully. It was the eyes, they seemed to sparkle.

I thought I heard a noise. The coffee had somewhat done the trick and I was barely paying attention to the clanging going on between them. It could have come from behind the small ice box next to Ted’s portrait, a rat or maybe just the old building settling further into its foundations. I turned to see the doorknob move with a click and Alice and Becky walking in.

“I didn’t know you liked classical music.” Alice said setting down the brown satchel.

“Tchaikovsky!” Becky exclaimed although it sounded like a sneeze. She handed me my mail.

gladstone“We ran into that creep Curtis when we were leaving.” Alice was digging through the drawers of her dresser under the portrait of Ted. “I told him that we had a bag for you but you weren’t in your apartment, which, by the way, is a picture perfect disaster zone.” I noticed Becky wrinkling her nosy at the unpleasantness of the experience. “He didn’t say anything about the rent. Probably because he was too busy ogling your ‘sister’.” Alice indicated a beaming Becky with a nod of her head. “From Wyoming.”

Becky nodded in assent. “I love to say the word. ‘Wyoming’. A place whose name poses a question. I must learn what is this oming.”

Alice laughed a shriek. “Probably something Buddhist, honey!”

My mail consisted of an ad from a dry cleaner and laundry, two return-to-sender letters that I had mailed to Grace on the West Coast and which now had returned with their refusal to acknowledge my attempts to communicate, a familiar Last Notice envelope from a collection agency, and postal item-too-large-for-box slip.

I went from heartbroken to puzzled. The pink postal slip in Della’s mailbox I had filched. I’d put it out of mind. But this one was for something different, deliverable to me. I was stumped. And distracted. Della’s postal notice was in a bank deposit envelope tucked behind the cash register of a cocktail bar waiting for someone with my name on it to claim. This didn’t make sense. I could say I had a gut feeling about the package slip, but it was the hairs on the nape of my neck that had stiffened.

Becky pointed to the notice in my hand.” I think this is package of old clothes my father send to you after you buy your suit when I first see you.”

“That’s so romantic!” Alice could be sarcastic.

Of course, it was obvious as the smudge on my nose.

“Becky told me you’re helping her find some family jewelry stolen by a gang of jewel thieves? I guess that’s better than peeping in windows.” Alice gave it her sly wicked smile. “And you had to hide in a coalbin to get away from them?”

I had new respect for the kid. That was a better story than I could come up with, and believable, coming from her. She was smart, she was good looking, and she had imagination. That made her very attractive. It also made her very dangerous. A woman with a mind of her own is unpredictable. Proceed at your own risk, as the old man used to say.

“That’s probably why you two look like a hobo vaudeville act.”

I’d caught a glimpse of myself in the fragment of mirror above the tiny sink. My face looked like I had been bussed by lips of charcoal. The red watering eyes were sad, like a clown’s.

“You can clean up in the bath down the hall. Linkov was leaving just as we came in. He’s off for his daily chess game in the park and won’t be back for a couple of hours.”

I brushed at the sleeve of my coat. “Naw, I’m ok, maybe just splash some water on my mug. Gotta a towel? And who is this Linkov?”

“You know, Linkov, the mad Russian painter, he has the studio next door. We share the, ahem, facilities.” Alice winked at Rebecca. “He likes to peep.” And gave me a knowing look.

My concern must have shown.

“I just hang a towel over the hole. Don’t worry. He’s harmless. An old Russian aristocrat. He says he was wounded by the Reds. He was a White, apparently.”

If Alice wasn’t going to worry about it, I wasn’t either. I glanced around at the walls of her tiny studio. There’s never only one hole.


It was no use. The coal hatch wouldn’t budge. It was locked from the inside. Rebecca had tried the front door to the building but it was locked as well. I’d cased the street an hour before and there was no signs of the feds or anyone else who might be taking an unusual interest in the tailor shop. Looking for the sack of lost diamonds in the coalbin was going to have to wait another day. Rebecca looked at me expectantly, crouched by the coal chute. She was going to have to try sweet talk the super again.

coal shuttleI pulled her to her feet. “Let’s go have a drink and think this over.”

“Why Lack? First it is food you must always have and then is drinking. What will we do about stones?” She returned the flashlight borrowed from Alice into her coat pocket.

“Listen doll,” I said turning her to face me, “the rocks are as safe as if they were in a bank. No one knows the diamonds are down there. Just you and me. But in the meantime, I have other business to attend to so you might as well tag along.”

“Where is this place I will tag to?” she asked as I pulled her along by the hand.

Over one block to the intersection of the bright lighted main drag and down another block to the granite cornerstone of the metro bank building and left past the jewelry store to the sturdy nondescript mahogany door with the amber rectangle of glass where the speakeasy peephole used to be. Even before I pulled on the door handle to open it I knew that it wasn’t going to be the quiet little cocktail lounge I had ducked into over a week ago. It was Saturday night.

Next Time: A Hot Time In The Old Town

All Tore Up—II

by Helene Baron-Murdock

The victim’s name was Oscar Reynaldo Phineas the Third and he had a paper trail for breach of promise and intent to defraud as an unregistered nonprofit from as far away as Alexandria, Virginia, Memphis, Tennessee, Athens, Georgia, Sparta, Indiana back east to out west Antioch, and Eureka, California. They were all lower tier felonies if that, but they were shadowed by the fact that he’d been a suspect in the death of his wife, Yuri Dicey, the famed performance artist, which was later ruled accidental during a rehearsal for a routine gone horribly wrong titled “Don’t Look Back.”

sharonDonovan drove out to Sharon’s Crossing, the sun sparking at the horizon and glancing amber rays off the rolling pasture land and encroaching suburban sprawl before the Santa Lena Hwy headed further west and entered the deep shadows of dark green coniferous stands crowding the roadway fringed by barbed skylines and winding parallel to the Acre River.

Sharon’s Crossing during the heyday of the timber industry had served as the ferry point for the lumber mills on the north side of the Acre, where all the logging had taken place, shipping board feet to all points east. At the south end of the WPA era bridge and near the entrance to R.K. Turas State Park, was Sharon’s Corner, a collection of century old buildings converted to a coffee souvenir antique art shop museum and assortment of outdoor picnic tables.

Once the victim’s name was released on the local news program, the tip came in. Someone remembered seeing him at the coffee shop near the State Park where his bits and pieces had been found. It was Donovan’s to follow up.

He identified himself to the young girl behind the coffee bar which made her wince, and then to the older man that she’d called over, the proprietor. They both wore glasses, hers more stylish. Donovan guessed that she was his daughter. His name was Dane Carson and he explained that he’d been watching the news on the widescreen on the back patio and saw the sketch that he identified as Phineas.

“The Third! And this is the crazy part! The reason I knew it was the same guy is that he gave a reading here no more than a week ago!”

Donovan looked at the handbill Carson handed him. “You mean like a séance?”

“No, it was a poetry reading. He’s that poet” pointing at the photo on the flyer. “But now that you mention it, he was strange, like he really didn’t belong to this time. Old fashioned and kinda snooty like he thought he was royalty. I heard he was pretty famous. He had an argument with somebody. Just a raised voice that made me look up. But he was loud anyway. And then the way he performed the poems was really creepy. Made your hair stand on end.” Carson self-consciously patted his near bald pate. “Anne, here, usually helps me with the kitchen when there’s an event or meeting or art show reception, but I told her she could go home. Some of the stuff he was saying sounded pretty sick. She didn’t need to hear that.”

“That bad, huh?”

“Well, don’t go by me. I don’t know anything about poetry. But the audience seemed to like it.” He motioned to the wide semi enclosed area with a scattering of tables and chairs and big screen in the corner. “I just provide the space and the service.. It makes a little extra money, and I do it as a favor to Fay Angeli. She’s the one who puts on these events.” He smiled like his generosity made him a nice guy.

Donovan looked out over the tables. More witnesses, more leads, less time sitting around the office with Voss breathing down his neck. “How big was the audience.” There was potential for extra hours. Mike would approve them.

Carson considered the count intently. “Not more than twenty I’d guess. But Fay would know for sure.” Then as if something had occurred to him. “It’s usually always the same crowd, and I know a lot by sight or their names. Friends of Fay’s mostly. But a few seemed a little bit edgier.” He paused to look over his shoulder as if someone might be eavesdropping, “They came with May Naddy.”

Donovan nodded, May Naddy again. She had been big star eye-candy on the continent years ago. Then she married someone richer than God. When he died she inherited a pile as laid out in the prenup. It couldn’t be said that the old sheik wasn’t generous but his estate was parceled out like a class action suit. Donvan knew more about May Naddy than he really wanted to. His ex had gleefully kept him abreast of the scandals surrounding the buxom star. And all because he’d once remarked that she had a body that could stop a freight train. It was a quip he’d heard an older friend make when they were in high school after viewing a sword and toga epic. It was likely one of the poorly dubbed Hercules muscle and loincloth action extravaganzas where she played a scantily clad Queen of the Amazons. Her celebrity was fueled by her scandalous behavior diligently reported in the tabloids as well as by the many clothing optional heroic dramas she was featured in, including a chilling cameo as Medusa in the popular Heroes of Olympus in which she appeared without a stitch and with a coif of writhing snakes. After she married the oil rich oligarch, May Naddy dropped out of public view. Coincidentally that was right around the time Donovan’s wife had decided to bid adios as well.

May Naddy reappeared in public a dozen or so years later, soon after the death of her husband, and in Weston County, as a severe, no frills beauty, still looking like she’d just stepped off the screen of her classic films, Seven Rivers To Hades or Mistress of Beasts, but now espousing a radical male averse feminism. She’d purchased an old ranch in the hills overlooking the Acre and adjacent to the State Park. At one time the property had been a resort with cabins and a pool. It was, to hear the old timers tell it, a nude dude ranch with young studs prancing around in nothing but leather chaps, riding bareback, and, in general, titillating the guests, mostly old goats. It had been called the Bear Ranch back then but everyone referred to it as the “Bare” Ranch. The local papers took an interest in Naddy when she applied for an exotic animal permit and stated, through her lawyers, that she planned to open a refuge for abused mammals of all species. That left the door open for the two legged mammals as well as the four legged variety.

Donovan surveyed the patio and indicated the table in the corner away from the few customers. “Do you have time to answer some questions? I could use a cup of coffee.”

Carson nodded like a puppy eager to please. “Yeah, sure, coffee’s on the house. Want a dough. . . .” Carson caught himself, “Uh, Danish or something?”

Donovan chuckled . “No, I’ve had to give up the power rings. And I’ll pay for the coffee. I can’t accept a gratuity.”

post apoc sat

Fay Angeli’s pixie cut accented a perfectly shaped head, large gold hoops dangling from her shell-like ears. She was as nervous as a lap dog when she met him at the door, a nymph in the classic sense, teasing and unattainable,.

Following Carson’s directions, Donovan had driven out to her place after calling ahead at the phone number the café owner had provided and establishing her availability for an interview. Her home was up a long gravel driveway about a quarter mile off the main road set on a grassy hillock of oaks and tangles of coyote brush. A large rusting satellite dish antenna with the feedhorn pointing down at the concrete base next from the doublewide mobile home was silhouetted against the darkening sky like a relic from a post-apocalyptic B movie. He parked next to a dusty blue older model Outback, the headlights of his sedan picking out the succulent garden bordering the path to the front porch and a pergola festooned with hanging baskets of bright flowers and arrays of wind chimes clattering randomly in the faint evening breeze.

A quick look around the living room said Fay Angeli had a taste for decorating that did not skimp on exaggeration with an emphasis on the lush and layered, photos and paintings set in ornate frames or draped with sheer fabric and arranged for maximum arty effect. It was a busy feast for the eyes but Donovan wasn’t distracted. “Can you tell me how you know Mister Phineas?”

In her mid-forties, he guessed, Fay seated herself on a long orange chaise in a cheerful patterned top and form fitting sherbet green yoga pants and, cocking her platinum blonde head to one side, considered the question. “What can I tell you about Oscar Reynaldo Phineas the Third? For one thing, he never told me exactly what he was the third of. “

Donovan blinked and took a breath. She was going to be cute and the intense red of her painted lips looked voracious as if when smiling she might reveal a pair of fangs. “Can you tell me how long you’ve known Mister Phineas?” He gave her his practiced no nonsense cop stare.

She raised a bleached eyebrow and crossed her eyes thoughtfully. “I’ve known of his work for years. He’s quite a well-known poet, internationally. A genius, and a hypnotic personality. And he was cleared in the horrible accident that caused his wife’s death even if there were rumors that he was somehow involved or negligent. But one must forgive the great their failings,” she proclaimed with an assured finality.

“I started a correspondence with him some years ago after attending one of his readings in Chicago when I was back there visiting relatives. He seemed very kind and interested in my own writing and some of my art.” She motioned with her hand to indicate the paintings on the walls. “I invited him to visit if he were ever passing through Weston County merely as a courtesy, never imagining that he would take me up on the offer. He is a celebrity after all.”

She got to her feet and ambled over to a small bookshelf near a writing desk. “I have most of all his books of poetry, and he was kind enough to sign them while he was here.” She held them up as if they were precious icons. “The Cult of Eight, one of his early books, a very powerful epic that takes place in ancient Egypt. The depictions are so real it is almost as if he had lived during the time of the Pharaohs.” She held up another. “Higher Glyphs, the sequel to The Cult of Eight, and much more detailed about the secret rituals of the ancient goddess religions. He was much younger then.” She showed Donovan the jacket photo and there wasn’t much resemblance between the pictured poet and the head that had been found floating down the Acre.

“This one is called When Sunny Gets Glue,” she continued, proffering another volume, “and the least of my favorites. He was trying for the modern touch and I’m afraid it just doesn’t work for him. Too flippant and self-referential.” She gave Donovan a conspiratorial smile as he if would catch the critical dig. “But he got back on track with these last three. Although they are a little, what would you say, anti-woman? In One With The Sun, he pledges allegiance to the Greek god of poetry, Apollo, as he does in this next book, Apollo Guised, an epic about a poet travelling around the world proselytizing the glory of the sun god. And his most recent, Death Sidestepped, is a paean to immortality.”

All of that had gone over Donovan’s head as totally irrelevant. “When was the last time you spoke with Mister Phineas?”

“Well, I have to say I was flabbergasted when out of the blue he accepted my invitation to come and read in our tiny cultural outpost. And thrilled. He was staying in Santa Lena, I think in a motel north of town. He came to dinner and we had a wonderful conversation about his poetry. Then we went to Sharon’s Corner for the reading.” Staring up at him, sincere, wide eyed, she asked, “Tell me, was it really as horrible as the news said?”

“I really can’t comment on that. When did you last see him?”

She sighed and grasped a knee with both hands and leaned back searching her memory with her eyes. “That night, after the reading at The Corner café and gallery. I curate the art there and host cultural events. I was quite disappointed at the turnout. O. R. Phineas is a literary celebrity even if he is a little controversial. Still, his reading was superb, quite magical.”

A breeze passed through the porch and tickled the wind chimes as if on cue.

“You were expecting a larger audience. How many people were in attendance at the,” Donovan checked his notes, “. . .reading? I’d like a list of the all people in the audience. Those that you can identify.”

There was panic in her eyes as she sat bolt upright. “What? No!” Then “I don’t know,” she moaned sorrowfully, pleading.

“Did anything strike you as unusual that evening? Arguments, disagreements? Do these poetry meets get heated?”

She had a laugh like one of her wind chimes. “No, no, not at all, it’s a very docile crowd. I know most of them. Local artists, writers, people who don’t want to sit around and watch TV. Besides, he had everyone spell bound. He can charm the cosmos.” She got dreamy eyed remembering and then snapped out of it. “Well, except for Axel,” she explained with a grimace, “Axel Cronen, but he likes to argue just to hear himself talk.”

“And May Naddy, I understand that she was there as well.”`

Fay Angeli gasped and turned away to give her left shoulder a very hard stare. “I couldn’t say.”

“You couldn’t say if she was there?” What Donovan saw in her hesitance was fear, terror.

“Don’t you know? She’s a witch. I don’t want to even speak her name.”

Next Time: Murder Ouija Board

Contents Vol. 2 No. 2

Welcome to Volume Two, Number Two of Dime Pulp, A Serial Pulp Fiction Magazine. The start of the lunar New Year (the Water Tiger, 4720 by the Chinese calendar) and the beginning of the second volume of this serial pulp fiction magazine welcomes the latest in pulp entertainment.

In the current episode of a novel account of the last day in the life of a legendary Western lawman, Pat Nolan’s novella, On The Road To Las Cruces, details the investigation into the disappearance of a prominent New Mexican and his son in what has become known in the Territory as “the White Sands mystery.”

Sex scenes are such a bother. So says Better Than Dead’s author, Colin Deerwood, who felt honor bound by the pulp code to sprinkle in an anxious moment. But that was last time. Fortunately the latest episodes of the detective story jumps right in to fast paced action as Lackland Ask and Rebecca Eisen are on the run from the mob and being chased by the feds. And did she misplace the diamonds?

Dismemberment is the subject of All Tore Up, Helene Baron Murdock’s latest Hard Boiled Myth, in which Detective Jim Donovan, on the eve of his retirement from Weston County’s Sheriff’s Office Violent Crimes Unit, puts together the pieces of a murder that eerily echoes Greek mythology.

Dime Pulp Yearbook 21 contains the novels (The Last Resort and Better Than Dead) and the short fiction (Hard Boiled Myth and Gone Missing) of Volume One’s 12 issues and are available for perusal in their entirety. If you missed a few issues or lost the thread of a serial, clicking on the link in this paragraph or on the menu bar above is a good way to catchup.

Dime Pulp continues its crime spree with the serialization of 2 full length novels,  Better Than DeadA Detective Story and On The Road To Las Cruces  as well as a new episode of Hard Boiled Myth . If you’ve made it this far, go ahead and follow the links below to reading entertainment with the serial contents of Volume Two, Number Two.

 —Perry O’Dickle, chief scribe
and word accountant

“Lackland Ask is the name. ‘Lack’ to my friends, ‘Don’t’ to those who think they’re funny. You might have seen my portrait on the cover of Black Mask, the crime fiction magazine. This is my story. It starts with a blonde. This kind of story always starts with a blonde.” Thus begins the seemingly non-stop, endless narrative of Better Than Dead in which women are not the only trouble although most of it, told with the wit and street savvy of Runyon and Parker.

Better Than Dead—14

otrpic1fi2In late February of 1908, a one-time drover, buffalo hunter, saloon owner, hog farmer, peach grower, horse rancher, US Customs inspector, private investigator, county sheriff, and Deputy US Marshal set out from his adobe home on the mesa above Organ, New Mexico accompanied by a young man in a black buggy on the journey to Las Cruces. He would never arrive. This is the story of that journey, a novel account of the last day in the life of a legendary lawman.

On The Road To Last Cruces—Four—

HBM ArcGreek myth is rife with murder, mutilation, cannibalism, mayhem, and the ever popular incest.  Weston County Sheriff’s Detective Jim Donovan of the Violent Crimes Unit wouldn’t know a Greek myth from a Greek salad, but if he did he would find some troubling similarities to the cases he’s investigating.  Revisited as crime fiction are the strange death of Hippolytus, the agonizing death of Heracles, the slaughter of Penelope’s suitors, the Fall of Icarus,  the sparagamos of Orpheus, and the cursed lineage of Pelops.  Helene Baron-Murdock’s Hard Boiled Myth taps into the rich vein of classical literature to frame these ancient tales in a modern context.

All Tore Up—I

All Tore Up—I

by Helene Baron-Murdock 


A group of amateur mycologists in the pristine timberlands of R. K. Turas State Park found a freshly severed big toe at the base of a pine where amanita muscaria were growing. At first the blood red end was indistinguishable from the bright red of the mushroom’s cap. Then blood dripping from nearby ferns only added to their initial horror.

Donavan was a little late but he’d already heard the initial report. Now he was watching Derrick Voss, the new Captain of Detectives, go through the power point on the  screen in semi darkened Conference Room Two. The entire squad was in attendance for the briefing, excepting Rick Nelson who had taken time off while his wife had their first child. The grizzly aspect of the murder had caught everyone’s attention.

Amanita toeVoss was pointing to the photos of numbered placards each designating a body part strewn across the forest floor. “They found the head” he said referencing another slide, “floating down the Acre River near Sharon’s Crossing on some kind of rude raft made of branches.” He paused to give Donovan a nod and then said, “Glad you could make it, Detective.”

Donovan hadn’t liked Voss when he first met him, an outside promotion hire from a department down south. And now he liked him even less. He spotted the subtle twist of Lieutenant Mike Jackson’s lips in a grimace, the dive of the lines of his forehead into a frown. The Loot was ten times the cop that Voss was and should have been the automatic choice for promotion after Krazy Ed Kryzinski retired. Because Jackson was a black man that wasn’t going to happen. Voss was the new breed of cop, white and ambitious, giving truth to that old saying, meet the new breed, same as the old breed. Or something like that. “HR took longer than expected, Cap, lots of paper work to read through and sign.”

“Try not to make a habit of it,” Voss admonished and turned back to the PowerPoint. “These three women are our primary persons of interest.”

Donovan glanced at the head shots, a trio of pretty hard to look at gals, and then at his squad mates seated around the table looking at him with expressions of questioning disbelief and surprise. Had he finally done it? Burdon gave him a subtle power fist and Townsend flashed a thumbs up. He had filed his retirement papers.

Back at his desk, Donovan cleared the file he’d been looking through, an old case that had caught his interest dating from back before he’d made detective. He’d been a Deputy then, patrolling the rural country around Hades Acre Lake in the northern part of Weston County, when he caught the report of the ten-fifty four over the unit’s radio. And he was one of the first officers on scene. He wasn’t going to forget the flayed condition of the body in this lifetime. Something about the current case was giving him pause. And his phone rang. It was Veronica, the Sheriff’s secretary.

“I hear that congratulations are in order.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to talk to Nelson. It’s his wife’s having the baby.”

“I’m going to miss your smart mouth.”

“That’s more like it.”

“The Sheriff would like to see you in his office.”



Donovan avoided elevators. You never knew who you were going to meet on an elevator and he always felt so exposed when the doors parted at the destination. He took the stairs four flights up to the top floor passing through the administration wing of Justice Hall where he was familiar with many of the employees, mostly women, and who greeted him with more congratulatory best wishes. He muttered his thanks and appreciations and waved back in greeting. Veronica was on the phone when he got to the Sheriff’s outer office but she smiled and mimed him to go right in.

He hadn’t been expecting champagne or even cake so he wasn’t disappointed, but he was surprised to see Voss seated in one of the two chairs in front of Phil’s large ornate frieze-like desk.

Phil greeted him without getting up from behind the desk but Donovan noticed the crutches leaning against the cabinet behind and figured that the gout must be acting up again.

“Have a seat, have a seat,” Phil insisted. “You know Captain Voss, of course. I was just telling Derrick that it was a tough break to be less than a week on the job and get hit with this horrendous crime, murder, repulsive dismemberment. It’s a tough job and it isn’t made any easier with the pressure from the DA’s office. And the media. To get a handle on this outrage in a hurry. And I assured him that he had a crack squad of experienced detectives already on the case, especially you, Jim, you’re one of the old timers, you know the lay of the land, and you’ve established impeccable sources.” Phil paused a breath. “Are you familiar with the three women who are being held as witnesses? Are we getting anywhere with them?”

Donovan shook his head. “I saw the mugs, runaways maybe. My guess, by the location, living rough on the Bare Ranch.” He referenced the notebook he’d slipped from his jacket pocket. “Melanie, Dora, and Laurel, no last names because last names are patriarchal, so I hear.” He recalled his reading of the booking photos, the insolent stare of the leader, the vacant stare of the next smartest, and the clueless stare of the last. Dumb, dumber, and, dumbest, the three ingredients for mayhem. “You won’t guess who they’ve been talking to.”

mugs1The sheriff winced like his gout was acting up. “May Naddy?”

Voss leaned toward the desk’s edge after glancing a scowl at Donovan. “I’ve got Jackson on the interview panel with a couple of the other senior men, Sheriff. Detectives Donovan and Nelson are chasing down identification on the victim. I’m sure they’ll piece it all together.”

Phil roared, “Piece it together! That’s a good one, Voss!” He thumped his desk and wheezed out another laugh. Donovan figured that maybe the gout medication was making the boss loopy, not his usual high and mighty aloofness, or maybe he’d self-prescribed a three martini lunch. And he watched Voss’s face go blank and then register a flicker of recognition as he realized what exactly the “good one” was.

“Nelson’s on family leave. His wife just had a baby.”

Voss glared at Donovan, obviously displeased at being corrected. “I thought I had ordered all critical staff back on duty. Why does Nelson think he’s excluded from that order?

The Sheriff nodded sagely. “His job was done nine months ago, why didn’t he take the time off then?”

Donovan ignored the remark, more annoying than inappropriate and confirming his hunch that the boss had had one too many olives with his martinis. “It doesn’t take two of us to get the ID on the vic. I can have the techs work up a composite sketch from the remains of the head and get the picture distributed through the usual channels by the end of the day.”

“I would expect no less, Detective, but you have missed the point. When I make an assignment of personnel to staff a vital function in an investigation, I expect them to report for duty no matter the circumstances.” Voss had turned to him, grim faced, and rose, “But you’re retiring soon, is that correct? I hope we can have this cleared up before then and you can retire on a high note.” Nodding to the Sheriff, he said “I have to get back for a meeting with the Medical Examiner. I hope you’ll consider my suggestions for streamlining the unit.”

After Voss had left, Phil Collins cleared his throat and raised his eyebrows. “So you went and did it. Finally going to pull the plug. I’m kinda of jealous. What are your plans for, you know, after?”

“I’m not going to be dead, Phil. Contrary to what people believe, there is life after retirement. I’ll finally have the time to work on fixing things around the house, remodel, dig up that slab covering most of my backyard. Travel, maybe, go east, Baltimore, look in on Marion.”

Phil wagged his chin leaning back in his chair, eyes narrowing. “Marion, that the colored gal you were dating, from the hospital?”

Any regrets about retiring from a job that had been his life for over 30 years evaporated in the heat of his slow boil. “Yeah, the ER nurse.”

Phil leaned forward. “We go back a ways, Jim. We were rookie deputies together. You were a module or two ahead of me in the Academy, I remember. We may have had our run-ins over time, but I knew I could always count on you doing the job. I think sometime that temper of yours can get in the way, cloud your judgement. I also think you picked a good time to go out. Voss is more of a manager than a cop, and I don’t doubt that you and he would bump heads over proper or improper procedure. If you get my drift.

“Anyway, just to say I’m going to hate to lose your years of experience and knowhow on a case.” The Sheriff paused to look down as if he were holding a hand of cards. “So I’m going to put this on the table for you to consider.” He looked up. “Retired annuitant.”

“Doing what? Paperwork?”

“Yeah, pretty much. Cold cases, sorting, filing, creating a data base.”

Donovan shook his head. “I don’t know anything about data bases. Besides I thought Krazy Ed was going to do that. Wasn’t that why he retired? It would give him time to solve the case of the century or last century, his obsession with the Lopes clan.”

Tim shook his head. “The problem with Krazy Ed is that he’s crazy. Or to put it more politely, demented.”

“That’s not more politely. You mean dementia?”

“Keep that under your hat, but it was a medical retirement.”

“I don’t know. It sound boring, a lot like my current job which if it weren’t for the occasional axe murder would be unbearable.”

Collins chuckled his acknowledgement of the dig from the dark side. “You don’t have to commit to anything just yet. I can get a grant from the State through the Justice Department for Data Enhancement, meaning put together a coherent archive of cold cases with links to a nationwide network. I need an experienced officer who knows how to read a file and I can hire an assistant to do the data entry. We’re a small county. We don’t have a big cold case backlog. You can do it in your spare time. What have you got to lose?”

“Spare time.”

Mary Fisher, the crime scene tech, wore her own version of scrubs, a cross between a nurse and a lab tech, utilitarian blue pants and jersey under a long white lab coat. She was pointing at the image on the screen. “I took photographs of the head from various angles and then fed them into this reconstruction program that puts it together in a 3D image. He was missing an ear, lower lip, part of the nose, the whole left side of his cheek, and the hair from that side of his head.”

“Pretty gruesome.”

“Vehicle accidents are worse. So I’ve heard.” Mary was plumpish, dark hair almost always in a braid pinned in a bun at the back of her head, quiet brown eyes, diffident in the way of her people, and with a quiet way of speaking. “So far, it’s just bits and pieces. Chunks, like someone or something torn up a loaf of bread and dipped in tomato sauce. We haven’t recovered the torso. Nor the hands. We can’t identifying him by fingerprints until we find his fingers.”

“You’re sure it’s a him.”

Mary colored a little, her lips clamped together. She was used to Donovan’s banter. “Unless he’s a bearded lady.” She indicated the composite on the screen and the obvious beard swathing the jaw of the otherwise wild haired gaunt visage depicting what could only generously be described as a vacant eyed mad man. “And one of the bits we found would confirm his gender.”

Donovan nodded and smiled. He’d had his fun. He’d known Mary since she was hired a dozen years ago when he was just finishing up his stint in narcotics and moving on to Violent Crimes, or Robbery Homicide, as it was known back then. And she’d been Mary King in those days, newly engaged to Jay Fisher. After he’d got to know her a little better, he’d inquired idly as to why she hadn’t hyphenated her name so she could be Mary King-Fisher. He thought he was being cute. Her answer had shut him up. “That is not his clan. He is an otter.”

“Were you part of the recovery team?”

She nodded, “Yeah, I photographed most of the physical evidence and then came back here to prep the lab. Why?”

“You familiar with the area?”

“It is a good place for mushrooms. Of all kinds. My uncle would load us up in his truck and we would range through the forest hillside. This was before the State made it a park. But then, better that than condos. He taught us little songs that we would sing when we picked the mushrooms. They included a description and a thank you to be sung when we lifted one out of the ground. We were only allowed to pick the edible ones. The older boys picked the stronger ones and sold them at the High School.”


One raised eyebrow answered the question. She handed him the printed sketch of the 3D model and said, “I hear you put in your paper. Sorry to see you go.”

He tugged at the sheet and she released the sketch. “I thought that was privileged information.”

“My cousin works in HR.”

Donovan stepped into Mike Jackson’s office with a handful of sketches to be distributed by the shift commander to the patrol units. He’d started a facial recognition search at his desk and was waiting for results. The Lieutenant had the same mug shots of the three women he’d seen earlier at the briefing up on his monitor. He shook his head and looked up at Donovan. “What would make them do such a thing? How could they do such a thing? They’re just women. Tear him to pieces like that.”

“They admit it? Maybe they had help.”

“Bloodied clothes would be the indication. And they’re not making much sense. Like they’re from another dimension or reality.”

“Think it could be ritual?”

“I don’t want to rule it out, but Voss isn’t interested in that angle. He wants straight out drug induced murder and mayhem. Reads better in the press, and besides ritual always leaves too much unanswered.” Jackson indicated the papers in Donovan’s hand. “Something you want to see me about, Jim?”

fagen“I’ve got a facial recognition match in progress, thought you might want to take a look at the sketch that’s going out to the field.”

“Now there’s a face you don’t want to be staring back at you in the mirror.”

“Yeah, sociopath poster boy of the year.”

“How old you think he could be?”

“Anywhere from late forties to early sixties.”

“Right about our ages. I hope I look better than that when I go.”

“Yeah, he looks like he’s been rode hard and put away wet.”

Jackson laughed his appreciation. “Claymore?”

“Yeah, he was my sergeant years ago. I don’t know where he gets them.”

“I’d like to say, ‘last of the cowboys,’ but that isn’t so. There are newer and younger ones coming up every day.” He leaned forward, amused as Mike Jackson would ever get. “You had the rep of being something of a cowboy yourself, at least when you were in drug interdiction.”

“You have to be a cowboy if you’re going to play in that game, and you don’t have a choice. When it goes down, it goes down hard. Armed interdiction is high risk, you got to be like them but more so.”

“If that’s your logic, do you have to think like a murderer to work in homicide?”

“Most homicides are no brainers, husband, wife, ex, ex-lover, son, daughter, relative, neighbor, gang. You walk up on it, look around and you know right away which one of those Einsteins did it or knows who did it. You learn to read the scene, the people. If there are no witnesses, someone will know why, and maybe who. Unless they’re stone psychopaths, they have tells, twitches. Or come right out and confess before you ask the first question. Other times you have to negotiate. The paper work is the same, and it’s up to the DA to make the case with what I give him.”

“Well, things won’t be the same around here without you, Jim. Hell of a note to retire on, though. I hope we can wrap it up before you head out the door.”

“Unless it turns into a Krysinski case then it will never end.”

“Oh jeez, the Lopes. I’m glad I don’t have to listen to that horseshit anymore. He wasted a lot of manhours, his own, and some of the squad’s, on the Lopes Loop.”

“Collins offered me the annuitant job on cold cases. More paperwork, but I’d have an assistant to do the computer stuff.”

“That was Krysinski’s deal, wasn’t it.”

“Yeah, I don’t think I’ll take it. I don’t want to get tied down. There’s a waiting period before I can go back to drawing a county check. Hopefully I can find something that doesn’t have anything to do with asking questions of corpses.”

“I got another five before I even consider it. Be nice to go out with a promotion, but. . . .

“Yeah, I know. . .the new guy? I’m not sticking around to find out. And another thing that’s bugged me. When Krysinski retired, why didn’t Collins promote you to acting COD until the hiring freeze was lifted instead of taking it on himself? And then to promote from outside the department? What kind of message does that send?”

“You don’t have to ask. You know. And it’s the same old question. When I passed the detectives exam and placed in the first rank on the list I knew that I would never promote within the Santa Lena PD. The Chief told me right to my black face. I took the first offer that came along and that was with the Weston County Sheriff’s Office. I heard the word was out that I got the job because of the color of my skin. The Sheriff’s Office had been slammed by the grand jury for being noncompliant with County diversity guidelines. And they grabbed the first chocolate chip they could get their hands on. So maybe they were right. I did get the job because of the color of my skin. Not that it’s changed anything. And Santa Lena PD has yet to hire and retain a person of color in their sworn ranks.”

“Like you say.”

“I did my job, and I got good at it, and people that mattered said I had good leadership qualities. I think that my annual Fourth of July barbeques, where they got hammered and did stupid shit and knew that I knew they had, might have had something to do with it, too. Still when I got promoted to Lieutenant, the word going around was that I got the job because of the color of my skin. Now if I’d been made Captain of Detectives, the same thing would have been said.

“And since you weren’t.”

“Now therein lies the salt to rub in the wound, to paraphrase Willy. The irony is that you could say that I didn’t get the job, and I did interview for the position, you could say that it was because of the color of my skin.”


“Your pocket is buzzing.”

Donovan retrieved his black clad device and glanced at the screen. “Ok, got an ID on the vic. He’s got paper, and. . .that’s interesting.”


“He’s a poet.”

“Dead poet now, and as my old English Lit prof used say, the only good poet is a dead poet.”

Next Time: Picking Up The Pieces