Tag Archives: motorcycle gangs

Notification Of Kin

by Helene Baron-Murdock

He let drop the keys to the sedan into the left pocket of his slacks and walked toward the flashing lights staying to the inside of the flare pattern.

“Hey, Donovan! They got you doing accident investigations now?”

He glanced in the direction of the taunt and waved a hand at Tom Baxter, the fire chief for this stretch of coast highway.  It was a perfunctory wave meaning either ‘hey, howyadoing’ or ‘don’t bother me.’  Baxter was standing by the rescue rig with a few of his volunteers framed against the wide horizon now just a creamy orange line above a placid metallic gray expanse of ocean.

Kyle Bradly, the Park Ranger, intercepted him as he approached the wreck.  “Why’s the Sheriff’s Office even getting involved in this?”

Everything west of the highway was Bradly’s jurisdiction.  What was left of the vehicle had landed on the beach just off the pavement.  The accident itself was in the Highway Patrol’s bailiwick but it was one of those incidents that everyone was going to have a hand in.

Donovan shrugged.  “It’s a CYA operation.  Considering the identity of the road burger, everyone who’s politically connected is going to want to be in on it, if for no other reason than to cover their asses.”  He stopped a short distance from the carnage, a crumpled upended vintage sports car.  “That an old Porsche?”

Bradly nodded.  “Yep, 550 Spyder, James Dean death machine.”

The Highway Patrol officer looked up from her clipboard with a severe frown.  She was young, intense, and concentrated on going by the numbers on the first fatality of her probation.

“Excuse me, you’re. . . ?”  If nothing else, Donovan looked official without trying and she was giving him the benefit of the doubt.

“Jim Donovan, Sheriff’s Office.  I’m here to help you in any way I can.”  When most people heard that line, they usually checked their backs for knives.

“It’s a traffic fatality.  I don’t need any help.”  Her dark eyes snapped resolve.

At least she was standing her ground.  It was going to be a turf tug of war.  How to look good while making the other agencies look bad.  “Being who this is makes it more than just a traffic fatality.”  Donovan dropped to his haunches and took in the length of bloodied partially clothed corpse.

“Dragged himself clean nekid,” Bradly opined.

Donovan blinked and frowned, standing up.  It was one of the worst he’d seen.  At least it was an adult.  And male.   “Tell me that’s not what I think it is.”

The Ranger and patrolman looked at where he was pointing.

“Rumor had it he was a stud, hung like a stallion.”

“I’d hate to see that thing angry.”

They both turned to look at the patrolman.  She rolled her eyes.

“This is my incident.  My accident scene.   The only reason Bradly is any way involved is because the vehicle landed in his sand box.  I don’t remember calling for a County detective.”

“Your shift commander hasn’t contacted you?   There’s to be a thorough investigation by all jurisdictional agencies involved.  T.C. Hughes has a lot of political clout and that’s his kid there with the python between his thighs.”

The patrolman’s ears reddened ever so slightly.  “I haven’t heard anything from my shift commander.”

Donovan smiled thin.  “Be that as it may, notification of kin is done by the coroner who delegates that unpleasant task to the Sheriff’s Office.”  He indicated the young deputy directing traffic.  “Ordinarily that poor bastard would be delivering the bad news.  But you’ve got a high profile casualty here and I pulled the short straw.  That ok with you?”

She nodded looking over Donovan’s shoulder and drawing her lips into an angry line.

The black and white sedan came to a stop behind them and killed the headlights.  The shift sergeant had just arrived.  He would be taking charge of the accident scene.


The patrolman used her hand to describe the path of the vehicle once it got airborne, indicating the bluff and rise of the highway to the south as it first turned east and then made a sharp switch back to the west before dropping in a graceful asphalt parabola to where they were standing and where the front end of the Porsche had come to a stop.

“One of the witnesses said they heard a loud noise like a pop or a thud.  Then they saw the vehicle go airborne right after the first turn.  The victim was ejected, with the vehicle dragging him across the pavement to where the forward momentum was arrested by the berm at the top of the pathway down to the beach.”

“What was it, a pop or a thud?”  The shift sergeant, a large square headed older man, was not happy to be caught up in the political quagmire.  “It can’t be both.”

The patrolman studied her notebook certain she was being harassed because she was a rookie and a woman.  “One witness stated that it sounded like a pop.  Another thought it sounded like a loud thud.  They all said that it happened so quickly they could barely comprehend what was going on until it was all over.”

The sergeant sneered.  “Comprehend?  Did they actually use that word?”  He glanced at Bradly and Donovan and smirked.  “College kids.  Book smart, brain dead.”

Even in the encroaching twilight, the patrolman’s rage, a bright red face containing anger and embarrassment, was more than evident.  “I interviewed a dozen witnesses,” she stated, her voice straining to control her emotions.  “Only three of them actually saw the vehicle flip and crash.  I have their contact information for follow-up if necessary.”

The sergeant had stopped listening to her.  “Yeah, flip and crash, pretty typical out here on the coast highway, wouldn’t you say?”  He addressed Bradly.  “This is a popular spot.  Seems to me there should have been more than just twelve witnesses.”  His smile was sadistic.

“We get a fair share of visitors considering it’s not one of the bigger stretches of sand.”  Bradly pointed out to the water’s edge.  “Locals call it Sculpture Beach because people build things out of driftwood and what have you.  Come the really high tides most of it washes out.  But they keep doing it anyway.  Actually had some pretty well known artists come down and make sculptures recently.”

Donovan pushed himself off the fender of the black and white he had been leaning against and stretched as if he were awakening from a nap.  He glanced at the motley array of driftwood constructions silhouetted against the darkening sky and sea and draped in a fine twilight mist, abstract figures arrested in mid frolic.  “Well, I’ve got work to do,” he said to no one in particular.

“Notification of kin?” the sergeant asked.  “I’ll go with you.”

Not to be left out, Bradly anted up.  “Yeah, I’ll go, too.”

Donovan shook his head.  “I’m delivering bad news, not intimidation.”


T.C. Hughes looked like a Greek god, approximately.   A mat of tight white curls crowned his head, a salt and pepper beard stippling his square jaw and around his liver red mouth.  The blue eyes were clear, untroubled, with no hint of sadness, pain or regret.  “Thank Tim for his discretion.  I appreciate it.”

Donovan nodded.  Tim Collins was the Sheriff, his boss.  A woman was sobbing behind the frosted glass double doors that led out to a balcony.  “Someone has already informed you of your loss, is that correct?”

“Yes, Bobby Temis, a friend of my son’s.  She saw it happen.  She felt it incumbent upon herself to inform us immediately.”

Who talked that way except people who read books and thought of themselves as characters in books.  Donovan flipped open his notebook and scanned the names he had copied from the patrolman’s report.  “Bobby?  A woman?  I don’t have her down here as a witness.”

“Perhaps she didn’t actually witness the accident.  She was there, at the beach, as part of the sculpture event they were having.  My son was on his way to meet her when. . . .”   Hughes didn’t finish, turning his head as if he were hearing the sobbing for the first time.

“How can I contact Bobby?  Temis, was it?”

Hughes smiled vaguely.  “Oh, Bobby. . .Roberta, actually.  She owns the Huntress Gallery in town, on the left after the hairpin curve just past Harbor Road.  She’s an artist.”  He said the word as if it were distasteful.

“Was she your son’s girlfriend. . . ?”  Donovan let the question hang.

It was almost a chuckle.  “No, no, nothing of the sort.  But I don’t see what this has to do with anything, detective.  My son died as a result of a tragic accident.  I appreciate that Tim personally sent one of his top men to make the official notification.  That is, I’m afraid, the end of it.”

“Of course.  Please accept my condolences and convey my sympathies to his mother.”  He was referring to the sobbing unseen female.  And he too could talk like people in books when needed.

Now it was a derisive snort.  “I’ll inform my lawyer and he will inform her lawyer.  His mother and I are not on speaking terms.”  And then following Donovan’s gaze in the direction of the sobbing, “Faye is my son’s stepmother.”

“I see.”

“Again, detective, thank you for your discretion.  Now I must go to my wife.  Please, this way.”  Hughes indicated the massive oak front door with an outstretched arm.

Donovan stared at the notebook, having flipped back a page.  “Two nights ago one of our deputies responded to this address for the report of a domestic disturbance.  Can you tell me what that was about, sir?”

Storm clouds formed above the bushy white eyebrows, the blue eyes flashing electric, angry.  “That has nothing to do with any of this!” Hughes thundered.  “You have a lot of brass bringing that up.  Collins will be hearing from me about your insensitivity and unprofessional behavior!  The door!”

Donovan finished his cigarette before getting back into the sedan.  From the circular drive that led up to the Hughes citadel, a ferrocement monstrosity set in among the gentle folds of the coastal hills, the view was of a dark ragged coast and isolated offshore sentinels against which the sullen sea spent itself as splashes of phosphorescence.  To the north, almost within view, was the accident scene.  He turned back to the mansion.  At night, with its wide sweeping wing-like roof and brightly lit windowed walls, it looked like a cruise ship from another planet.


He opened the folder on his desktop, found the Notification of Kin form, and entered the Coroner’s Case number which linked it to the Coroner’s Report.   The name of the deceased populated the open field.  He tabbed down to the comment field and let the cursor blink while he consulted his notebook.  A lot of the younger guys had smart phones or tiny digital recorders.  He was old school.

The phone rang.  “Donovan,” on the second ring.  “Yeah, Tim, I just now got in.  I was gonna call you. . .he didn’t waste any time. . .yeah, yeah, I know. . unhuh, Parks, Highway Patrol, they all want a piece of the action. . .ok by me. . .whatever, I understand. . .well, you know me, I like to have my t’s dotted and my i’s crossed.”  He laughed with the caller.  “Listen, Tim, I’ll have this wrapped up tomorrow, just a few things I need to follow up on. . .no, no, I know you’re not telling me how to do my job. . .yeah, it just sounds that way. . .yes, I will keep you in the loop. . .don’t I always. . yeah, I know, I’m an asshole, what’s your excuse?  Yes. . Soon as I wrap it up, you’ll be the first. . .ok, bye.”


“Are you interested in art, detective?”  Roberta “Bobby” Temis was lithe and sleek and sophisticated.   Her eyebrows arched up onto her wide brow like the antennae of a big butterfly, the eyes, those of a doe, large wing-like lashes, and the mouth, a double bow between which a pink tongue darted in amusement.

Donovan glanced about the gallery at the large paintings of animals with human faces and the sculptures of humans with animal heads.  “I know what I like.”

“Ah, an expert.”  She smiled.  “I would love to know what you think of my paintings.”

The paintings were rendered realistically, almost photographically.  “Got anything on velvet?”

“Your wit verges on the insolent, how quotidian!”

“I’m not here to talk about art.”  Donovan had unholstered his notebook and flipped to a page.

“Would you like to know my technique?”  She had stopped in front of a painting of a doe with the face of a sad woman.  “I capture my subjects with a camera and project their likeness onto a canvas, in this case superimposing the physiognomy of the hominid over that of the ungulate from which I can then trace their images.”

“Isn’t that cheating?”

“Art is just another word for cheating, detective.”

Donovan shrugged.  He couldn’t argue with that.   “You were friends with Apollo Hughes?”

“Yes, Pol, he hated being called Apollo.  He, Pol, lit us, the world, with his presence.  He was a bright ray, a golden ray of sunlight.”

“You were present when the accident happened?”

“Yes.”  She said it slowly, lingering on the sibilant.   “We were all to meet at the beach to celebrate the high tide and the destructions of our sculptures.”

“Wait a minute, you were celebrating the destruction of your. . . .”  Donovan hesitated.  He couldn’t remember the last time he’d spoken that word.  “. . . sculptures?”

“Of course, nothing lasts forever.  Art is a celebration of the life cycle.  As artists, we party at the creation of our work, and we party at its dissolution.”

Donovan shook his head.  He felt like he was in the middle of a vocabulary quiz.  “Did you see it happen, the accident?”

“No, I was focused on the sea.  It is always such a powerful spectacle.  And the breakers were unusually large that day.  The moon, you know, it’s full.”

“Did you hear a noise, like a pop or a thud?”

“Yes, I heard an explosion, a boom.”

“From the direction of the highway?”

“Oh, it may have echoed up the wash and against the hills, but it came from the sea.   It was a boomer.”

“A boomer?”

“Yes, when a large wave breaks close to shore it makes a thunderous noise hitting the sand.  The ancients called it the ‘bull of the sea.’  They meant Poseidon, of course.”  She pointed to the slide show on a flat screen TV mounted on the wall.  “Here are some photos of the recent sculptures we assembled.  And the artists.  And their friends.”  She froze a frame with the remote.  “And this is Pol.”  The photo was of a young, very handsome man with a long dark mane and a captivating demeanor.

“You saw him?  After the accident, I mean.  How could you be sure he was dead?”

She gave a sad smile that said she did not suffer fools gladly.  “The impact alone would have killed him.  But he was dragged behind his Porsche as well.  His hair, his beautiful long hair, caught on something. . . .”  She hesitated, taking in his full measure.   “. . .after that, death can only be merciful .”

“And you felt that you needed to notify his family.”

“I told his father.   He lives close by.  His mother is Anne Tiope, the actress.   I would assume that Terrence, Mr. Hughes, will somehow communicate the news to her.”

Donovan nodded.  He hadn’t made that connection. The mother starred on TV as an Amazon princess.  “I didn’t get the impression that Mr. Hughes was too broke up about his son’s death.”

“Terrence affects a godlike stoicism. . .it protects his inner child.”

“But the wife. . . .”

“Faye?”  Bobby gave a dismissive laugh.  “Faye D’Era is a child, a spoiled child.  And not very bright.  I don’t think she realized that her selfishness. . . .”  She pursed her lips and blinked innocence as if to indicate she has said too much already.   She drew his attention to the small wood sculpture of a man’s nude body surmounted by a horse’s head.  “Pol was my model for this piece.”

Donovan threw a sidelong glance at the statuette.  At least she had the proportions right.  He referred back to his notebook.  “Three days ago, the Sheriff’s Office received a report of a disturbance at the Hughes estate.  The deputy reported that there had been a violent argument between Mr. Hughes and his son and that it had comes to blows.   Mr. Hughes was adamant about his son remaining on the premises and demanded that the deputy arrest him.   The deputy also reports that some of the statements made by Mr. Hughes could be construed as veiled threats. The deputy concluded that the situation was mitigated by the departure of Apollo Hughes who had declined to press charges.  Do you know anything about this incident?”

Bobby nodded her head and closed her eyes briefly.  “Yes, yes, it is so tragic but so inevitable.  In the classical sense, if you know what I mean.  The situation there was a powder keg.  There was bound to be bad feelings, particularly after that nasty divorce.  And to take a wife who was younger than his own son was like putting fire to the fuse.  Faye was smitten by Pol.  And who can blame her.  He was incredibly handsome.  What most women who fell for him did not understand was that he had no interested in them.”

“You’re saying he was gay?”

“In men?  No interest at all.  He delighted in life.  He was quite evolved.  The carnal aspects of his nature were subsumed within an esthetic of being.  He cared only about fine things. Art, music, poetry.  His image.”  She smiled slightly, remembering.  “To say he was a little narcissistic would be an understatement.  He was drawn, as are most idle wealthy young men, to extremes. . .fast cars. . . sky diving. . .rock climbing. . .but to liaisons of a sexual nature, he was ambivalent.”

“Not even. . . .” Donovan had the insolent thing going for him.

“No, not at all.” The laugh said she thought him ridiculous.  “Pol and I were the best of friends, running buddies, partners in crime.  We were wild in such similar ways.”

“Too bad,” Donovan mused, “He had the equipment.”

“Crass, but true, detective.  However, he considered himself on a higher chakra than most mortals.”

“Ok, so why was that a problem?”

“Faye threw herself at him.  And she took his indifference as a rejection. The night of the blow up, Faye lied to her husband and accused Pol of trying to seduce her.”

Donovan gave an understanding nod.  He saw where it was heading.  “Father and son get into a fight.  Someone calls the cops.  Threats are made.  A couple of days later, son is killed driving vintage sports car belonging to Mr. T. C. Hughes.”  Donovan made to close his notebook.  “End of story?”

“Yes, detective, end of story.  Or end to this cycle of life and on to another.  Nothing sinister. Terrence owns a dozen sports cars and any one of them were available to Pol.  He never drove the Maserati or the Porsche or any one of them two days in a row. There’s nothing more to it than that.  We die and are reborn.  The energy never goes away.”

Donovan closed his notebook and turned to leave.  “Thanks for your time.  Sorry if I inconvenienced you.”  He stopped at a small shelf near the entrance to the gallery to look at a bronze statue of a nude woman with a stag’s head that would make a nice base for a table lamp.  Inscribed on the pedestal was the artist’s signature, R. Temis.

“Aren’t you curious as to what I told Terrence when I delivered the news of his son’s death?”

Hand on the chrome door plate, he turned to look over his shoulder.

She gave a wicked knowing smile.  “I said, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’  And don’t you for one minute doubt that he didn’t know what I meant.  I could read the guilt in those soulless blue eyes.”

Donovan sat in the sedan watching the seagulls fight the steady ocean breeze.  A fog bank like a big chunk of lead sat on the horizon.  There was a certain kind of beauty to the way the muted light settled on every mundane thing and made it somehow special.  He’d have to make the drive out to the coast on his own time one of these days.  He glanced at the glass and chrome door to the gallery pulling away.  Maybe invest in a little art.


Long Shot—2

by Helena Baron-Murdock

The pulled pork sandwich was as good as it got at the barbeque joint Donovan favored in Old Town. Since the Fed had an expense account, he sprung for lunch. Dabbing a corner of his mouth with a napkin, Donovan continued, “It wasn’t originally my call. This is about two years ago. We had a new guy, Hutter.”   Butler nodded like he knew the name. “And Collins, who was undersheriff then, had me go in and back him up. Considering that it was at the Horsemen’s compound, he thought that it might be a little intimidating to the new guy. I’d dealt with Herko before so I wasn’t going to be put off by his bullshit.”

“What went down?”  The agent had barely touched his ribs.

“They all said it was an accident. I didn’t expect anything less. Hutter was falling for it. A kid, maybe 16 or 17 was dead from a fist to the face. Apparently there was a party and the kid, the son of one of Herko’s lieutenants, was drunk and staggered into Herko just as he was about to take a hit of blow from the blade of his Bowie knife.”

“Oh, oh, I see what’s coming.”

“Right, Herko who is notorious for his foul temper smashes the kid in the face and kills him with one blow.”

“He’s a big guy, makes Hulk Hogan look like a midget wrestler,” Butler added spearing a fry with his fork.

“You couldn’t charge him? That’s a pretty damning story.”

“Well, it was one I heard only after the fact. The story the witnesses were giving was that the kid was drunk and had run into a post in the compound patio. Place they used for dog fights if you ask me. We could have got him on manslaughter maybe, contributing to the delinquency of a minor leading to mortal injury. The DA didn’t think we had enough so they let it slide.”

“Killed the kid with one blow for messing with his blow. Almost poetic.”

“I dunno about that, but I’ve been wanting to nail Herko for something since then. He paid a blood price to the parents of the kid. I hear the mother wasn’t too happy about it. And he promotes the kid’s old man to second in command and then sends him on a buy down south where lo and behold he gets popped with a load of product by the Feds and local gendarmes who got the tip from an anonymous caller and now poppa-san is doing large in a federal institution.”

Butler’s phone rang first. “Yeah, when was that? You sure it’s him?”  He turned to look at Mendez who was bringing his own phone to his ear. “Ok, ok, hang tight. Yes, go with them, get out of there!”  He looked across the table, worried. Donovan was taking the call from dispatch. “On the way to Community? Alright, thanks Carol, I owe you.”

Butler blurted, “Something’s gone down at the compound. They think it’s Herko!”

Mendez nodded. “I’ve got someone inside. She says it looks like an overdose of some kind. It’s Herko.”

Donovan stood, dropping his napkin on his plate. “Meet you in emergency at Community.”


When they wheeled Herko into emergency he was screaming that he was on fire. He struggled against the restraints on the gurney and finally broke free of them. He careened down the hallway in agony, tearing at his clothes, his cut, his shirt, insisting that he was burning up. An EMT tried to tackle him and got a blast in the chops from an elbow that landed him crumpled against a wall. Security and deputies who were attending a stabbing call joined the fray. They tased him but he merely ripped the barbs out of his skin and continued to rage, batting at anyone who came near him. He raised his dusty leonine head and roared at the ceiling, digging his nails into his bare flesh. He fell to his knees and gasped for breath. Then he was silent and dead.

At the same time Bridgette, his longtime old lady, added to the cacophony, hysterically screaming “It’s all my fault! It’s all my fault!” She was being consoled by another biker momma who looked very much on edge, eyes wild, jumping at every sound and motion, spring loaded like a feral cat. Donovan directed a nurse he knew over to help with the grieving girlfriend. A phalanx of club members muscled their way through security to see their leader, face and arms scratched and bleeding, shriveled into a fetal position. They couldn’t help but notice the spent taser wires. Their eyes darted around the room looking for someone to blame. Donovan gave them a choice. “Let’s step outside, boys, and let the hospital staff do their job.”

The snarl lasted only as long as it took Donovan to place the barrel of his weapon to the biker’s tattooed forehead. “You may be in an emergency room, pal, but I’ll make sure you get a hole they can’t do anything about.”  The biker’s resolve melted away so apparently he wasn’t as stupid as he looked. “Don’t go too far, boys, I’m going to want to ask you some questions.”  He heard a chortle, “Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.”  And moments later, the roar of two stroke engines snarling with menace driven away.

Mendez had the skittish momma by the elbow, leading her into the little office behind the reception desk that the shift nurse hurriedly vacated. He motioned Donovan over with a tilt of his head. Butler joined them in the tiny room and closed the door.

“Ok, Angie,” Mendez demanded, “What the hell went down?”

The woman, a nondescript brunette, still rather young but trying to look hard, nodded her head, her hands shaking. “It was totally freaky, man. I was watching TV and I could hear them arguing in the kitchen. He was on her about Mark. About how she should have told him the first time Mark came on to her. Someone else in the club must have seen something go down between them. And told Herko. I mean Mark was a good looking guy and he liked to play. But he should have been smarter than that.”

Donovan held up a printout of the Florida license. “This the man, Mark Nesso?”

The woman pulled her head back in shock. “Yeah, that’s Mark. How. . . ?”  She stopped and looked inquiringly at Mendez.

“They found him in a field almost mile behind the compound, Angie. He’d been shot in the back.”  He addressed Butler and Donovan, “This is Angie Renfro, she’s one of ours.”

Donovan nodded and smiled. “Pleased to meet you Angie. I think you’re going to help me solve a murder.”

Angie fixed him with a dumb stare and scratching her arms turned to Mendez. “You gotta get me into detox, Eric, my skin’s beginning to crawl.”


Donovan was on the carpet. The carpet was in Sheriff Tim Collins’ office. It was a large office, conference table off to one side, designed to make everyone else feel small. Donovan didn’t feel small and he didn’t like the implication that he didn’t know how to do his job.

“I put down a murder in less than eight hours. If that’s not enough, I closed a case that was over two years old. And I got the killer for both. Jerzy Herkovanic.

“The most you could have got on Herko was manslaughter for killing the kid with his fist.”  Tim Collins, a large man who spent too much time behind his desk and the dining table, rested his elbows on the arms of his large chair behind the wide oak desk and put the tips of his fingers together. Donovan knew that face. It was his I’m-gonna- stick-it-to-you-no-matter-what-you-say face. “How can you tie Herko to the shooting?”

“It’s all there in the report, Tim. The slug they dug out of  Nesso was a .223. Stopped right in the center of the heart. The DEA’s undercover confirmed what I suspected. Herko had a trophy room, strictly off limits to anyone not in the inner circle, on the second floor of the compound with a large window overlooking the undeveloped field that abuts to a number of rural dead ends about a mile away, one of them being Willig near where we found Nesso’s body. Herko had a shooting range set up in the room that allowed him to target practice in the vacant lot behind. He had everything in there, competition rifles worth a couple grand easy, tripods, sandbags, scopes, range finders. Looked like he did his own loads, too. Apparently, according to one of my sources, he did a lot of plinking from his perch.

“Right, now it’s coming back to me. Wasn’t he on an Olympic rifle team when he was a kid?”

“The Serbian team. He comes from a family of sharpshooters, there’s generations of them, snipers, all dead shots. I’m putting Herko up there drawing a bead on Nesso’s back.”

“Wait a minute, I used to patrol that neck of the woods. That’s impossible. It’s at least a mile as the crow flies. And what’s his motive? Bad drug deal?”

“What I put together from what I’ve been told, Nesso made a play for Herko’s woman and got caught. Nesso tried to deal his way out of it with some of the hybrid blow everyone was raving about. Herko had another idea. He would take all of Nesso’s stash and give him a running start across the field. If Nesso made it to the pavement of one of the dead end streets he would let him live. Nesso didn’t have much of a choice and he gambled that he could get out of range of the average weapon.”

“Why’d Herko even let him get that far? He almost made it.”

“You’re right. The ME said that had Nesso made it a few more yards he might have lived. The round was starting to tumble. On the other hand, Herko, being the show-off and sadist that he was, probably let Nesso think he was going to reach the pavement when he took that gold medal long shot.”

“OK, I suppose congratulations are in order. You solved two killings in on day. And Herkovanic overdosed and saved the County the added expensive of trying him and sending him away.”

“Herko may have overdosed, but it was deliberate, murder.”

Collins rolled his eyes. “Come on, out with it.”

“We could never make a case on it, but here’s how I figure it went down. The blow that Nesso gave Herko was a tainted batch. The DEA lab confirmed it. They said it was a very sophisticated formula. It produced euphoria in small amounts, but there was a tipping point if you overdid it. It was designed to attack the nerves under the skin and make the user feel like his entire body was on fire. That much stimulus caused the brain to shut down and death was not far behind. Nesso must have known that Herko would have overindulged when he handed over his entire stash.”

“Alright, what’s this Nesso’s motive?”

“Murder for hire.”

“Aw, jeez, Donovan, gimme a break!”

“You’ll remember that Herko killed the kid of one of his lieutenants and had to pay a blood price. And then by coincidence, the kid’s old man who gets promoted to number two is popped on a Fed drug bust and ends up doing large in a Fed pen. But the kid’s mother wasn’t having any of it. She took the payoff and bided her time. She knew that revenge is a dish best served cold. The opportunity came along when Nesso bolted from the cartel and needed cash to get his own operation going. She connected with the chemist and he gave Herko the deadly product. Killer blow for a killing blow. I think that’s called poetic justice.”

“You realize I’m still going to have to reprimand you for pulling your weapon and threatening a citizen. I have to appear before the grand jury today to explain your actions. A citizen’s group filed the complaint.”

“Tim, I was doing my job. That situation could have gone south in a hurry. Cut me some slack! Your job, I don’t have to tell you, is to run interference for your people. Do your job so I can do my job!”

Sheriff Tim Collins gave his detective a blank look. The corners of his mouth turned up slightly. “You’re getting pretty close to retirement age, aren’t you?”





Long Shot—1

by Helena Baron-Murdock

Long Shot—1

The deputy hurried straight for him, face squeezed red.  Donovan stepped aside, letting him rush past, and resumed his slog through the waist high thistle and dry grass of the marshy field.  He didn’t bother to turn at the sound of retching.  A slight breeze ruffled the cold autumn morning and brought with it the putrid odor of rotting flesh.

Claymore, the shift Sergeant, stood with his hands on his hips shaking his head in disgust.  “Damn rookie, now he’s gone and contaminated the crime scene!”  Cropped close gray hair and ruddy face creased by a grin, he was obviously enjoying the young deputy’s discomfort.

“What we got here, Sarge?”

“Dubya-Em, I’d say mid to late forties.  No ID, but we’re waiting for the ME before we roll him.  He’s gassing pretty bad.  Been out here a while.  Bugs’ve made a meal of his eyes and one side of his face.”

Donovan stood by the head of the corpse, involuntarily placing a hand over his nose.  There was a smell that would stay with him all day.  He swallowed hard against the rising gorge.  It was a stink you could taste.

Nothing unusual about the clothing: Levi’s, western boots with riding heels, flannel hunting shirt, a dirty blue under a brown leather vest.  Shoulder length black hair.  One arm, the right, stretched out and pointing in the direction of the road and the fire engine, ambulance, patrol units and the Violent Crimes Crown Vic.  The other hand was tucked under him, out of sight, like a sleeping child.  Probably six foot or just short of.

“Who reported it?”

“Citizen walking his dog.”

Donovan nodded.  What would they do without dog walking citizens?  If it weren’t for them, murders, accidental deaths might never be discovered.  “Check the hip pocket for a wallet?”

“Yeah, nothing there.”

Donovan moved to get a better look at the victim’s back.  He pointed at the stiff blood rimmed gouge below the left shoulder.  “Entry wound?”

“Or an animal.”

Donovan looked up at the officer and smiled.  He didn’t think it likely, but he knew not to argue with Claymore.  Besides, it was just conversation.  The ME would sort it all out.  No sense jumping the gun, as it were.

The sergeant smiled back.  “My guess is, from the size, that it’s a nine.  What do you think?”

It was an open invitation as with any shooting investigation Claymore had a hand in.  Guess the caliber before the ME decided.  A fiver to whomever was right.  “Come on, I already owe you from the last one.”

“Don’t worry, I’m keeping track.”

Donovan stared at the victim’s posterior.  “He didn’t have a wallet on him but the impression of his hip pocket has the shape of a wallet.”  He pointed to the ghost of a square shape, using his pen to flick the belt loop above the pocket.  “It’s been cut.  Probably had it chained, biker style.”

“Robbery.  There’s your motive.”

Donovan had dispatch on the phone.  “Yeah, get me a land line to this address.”

“Is that your 10-20?”

Carol was the dispatch shift supervisor.  She’d been around longer than Donovan could remember.

“While you’re at it, could you give me any recent LE calls to this address or close by.”

He looked out at the dilapidated gray wooden farm house with the shabby peeling white porch balustrade and wide worn stairway leading up from a chain link enclosed bare yard.  The sign on the gate read My Dog Bites.

“How far back and what radius.”  Carol was nothing if not professional, but she liked to tease.  Pushing three hundred pounds, she was a jolly one.   She had a terrific radio voice, too.  Like phone sex, some would say.  The old timers called her CC, short for cattle call.

“I dunno, 14 days, the immediate vicinity.”

“Oh my, have you seen a vicious dog or been attacked by one?”

The dog had almost strangled itself on its tether chain trying to get to him when he approached the gate.  He couldn’t be bothered and had gone back to his sedan to call dispatch.

“Yeah.  What else?”

“Pretty much all animal control calls, citations for vicious dog, deputy responded to a fight between this address and a neighboring one, arrest for disturbing the peace. . .wow, you’re at the center of the vortex!  You gonna need back-up?”

“That it?”

“Hmm. . .about a week ago, report of gunshot in the vicinity.”


“Gunshot, singular.  Looks like we had numerous calls on it.  Deputy found nothing.”

“A single gunshot in this neighborhood?  No wonder they found it unusual.”

“I have that number, ready to copy?”

Donovan rummaged through the door pocket and pulled out a Thomas map guide.  “Can you just patch me through?  I got my hands full.”

“Jim, I didn’t know you felt that way about me,” she said hanging up as the line rang through.

He put his cell on speaker and placed it on the dash.  The phone rang repeatedly, apparently not hooked up to an answering device.  He found the neighborhood on the map page.  Pretty much all unincorporated county bumping up to the city limits to the north, a warren of narrow open ditch dead end country roads.  He’d had a patrol beat in this part of the county as a young deputy.  Farming and grazing land back then.   The urban sprawl had spilled over and now it was cheap housing for the working poor and immigrants.  He also knew about the prevalence of meth labs in abandoned trailers in this part of the county from reading the daily activity reports, though it had been a while since any of that was his business.  Longer than Homicide had been Violent Crimes, as if the name change would make what he did any different.

He looked up from the page and stared at the ringing phone.  He’d let it ring a couple more minutes before trying his other option.  He was going over his notes of what the crime scene tech had told him, that there were a lot of old beer bottles with shattered tops indicating someone had used the field for target practice when the phone barked, “Whadyawan?”

“Mr. Gorton, County Sheriff.  You discovered the body at the end of Willig this morning?  I would like to get some follow-up information.”

“Yeah, I already told the cops everything I know.”

“Mr. Gorton, secure your dog and come to the front door.”

“Go to hell.”

“Mr. Gorton, you don’t get to choose. I can have animal control take the dog down as a vicious animal or. . . .”  Donovan paused.  “I can shoot it.”

Donovan stood in the middle of the trash strewn living room.  Roger Gorton was a square chunk of beef in a black wife beater with pasty arms that matched his pocked faced shaved head.  His ears looked like they were trying to flee.  The ink on his arms and on the left side of his equally square neck had likely been applied during some of his many idle moments in stir.

“Why did you call it in?” He had his hands on his hips, jacket pushed back, badge and weapon in plain intimidating view.

“I didn’t call it in.  Nosy neighbor called it in.  I found the body.”

“And you told him about it?”

“Naw, he saw the birds. The crows, a ton of them.  Asked what was going on when he seen me coming back out the field.”

“And you told him there was a body.”

“Yeah, told him that’s what was gonna happen to him if he didn’t mind his own business.”  Einstein started to laugh and then realized who he was talking to.

“And you took the wallet.”

The hulk defied gravity for a moment, jumping out of his boots a few inches.   “Whatahellyatawkinabout?”

“You took the wallet off the body.  Hand it over.”

“The hell you say.  Don’t know nothing about any damn wallet.  You’re crazy!”

Donovan swept his arm around to indicate the room they were standing in and the doorway to another room covered in black plastic and taped shut, the damaged filthy beige couch with a puff of stuffing poking out at one shoulder, the long coffee table hastily covered in newspaper from under which various kinds of drug paraphernalia were only partially obscured.  A bong that looked like it could hold a dieffenbachia was propped in one corner.  And the pungent skunky odor of an indoor grow.  “I don’t care about any of this.  I’m with Violent Crimes.  You’re growing high octane weed and probably violating your parole. Not my problem.  Just give me the damn wallet so I can do my job and ID the body”

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

“All right then I’m gonna have to arrest you and hold you until DEA gets here.”

“DEA!?   Alright, no, ok, here’s the wallet. I don’t want no fed rap!”  Ro-Go, as the large monogrammed tattoo on his forearm identified, lifted up one of the cushions on the couch displacing untold tons of dust, body ash, spilled blow and wayward bud, retrieved the wallet and handed it to Donovan.  “Ok, we’re good, right, what you said, right?”


When Donovan got back from the break room with his coffee, Jerry Butler from Drug Interdiction was sitting at his desk.   A dark skinned man with a macho brushstache in Levi’s , a blue Dodgers warm up jacket , and a Glock on his hip was with him.  He might as well have been wearing a neon sign that said Fed.

“Leave my bobble-head alone.”

“You’re an Oriole’s fan?”

“That’s all they had left at the souvenir shop.”  He wasn’t going to tell them it was a present from Miriam, the emergency room nurse he’d been seeing.  She’d gone back to Baltimore to live with “her people” as she’d told him.  The coast was just too white.  Even the black folk were too white.  She’d sent him the bobble-head to say that she still thought of him.  Not that he was a baseball fan.   Miriam knew he cared only for round ball.

“You know Eric Mendez?  DEA.”

Donovan shook the extended hand and looked directly into the coal black eyes.  “Yeah, I think I’ve arrested him before.”

Butler colored and glanced in alarm at Mendez who was smiling.  “That’s right, when you were with Narcotics!  Yeah, that was a while back.  I don’t do undercover anymore.  I got bumped over to intelligence and liaison.”

“Well, how can I help you girls today?”

“When I got an access denied on his NCIC file,” Donovan said closing the door to the staff conference room behind them, “I figured I’d be getting a visit from someone with the federal government.”

“Mark Nesso was under close surveillance in the hills outside of Yellville, Arkansas until about six months ago.  Then we lost him.  His file is flagged need to know.  Anyone tries to look at it, we get pinged.   Tracked it to the department computer assigned to you.”

“Well, looks like I found him for you.  Mark A. Nesso, dob 10/16/67.  Interesting guy.  Graduate in chemistry from Montana State, PhD in pharmacology from USC.  Scion of a prominent Montana family, horse breeders, it would seem.  Married.  Divorced.  No kids.”

Mendez looked alarmed.  “Wait a minute, how did you know all that?  You don’t have clearance.”

“I looked up his Facebook account.”

“When you say you found him,” Butler interjected, “You mean in custody or. . . .”

“Yeah, deceased.”

The drug cops exchanged looks, one was a troubled frown.

“We’re gonna have to ID the body.  Something’s wrong.”

“Ok, when the ME’s done with him.  I’m expecting a preliminary report.”

“You sure it was Mark Nesso.”

“That’s what his driver’s license said.  Florida, by the way.”

Butler made a dismissive noise.  “Florida, that’s a joke, you can get those in a cereal box.”

“What’s the big deal with this guy?”

Mendez shrugged.  “Well, if he’s dead it don’t matter.  He was a chemist for the Laredo cartel running labs in the Ozarks.  The thing is he wasn’t a lowly cooker.  As you said, this guy has a degree in pharmacology.  He was cooking up crank of unbelievable purity, laboratory grade, and blends.”

“Sounds like you admired him.”

“Big pharma would love to have someone like him.  He was making drugs that had absolutely no side effects.  And that was his rep.  He was like the Armani of drug designers.  A couple of his batches went south on him, though.  And he’s left a trail of damage behind him.  People who used his blends ended up with symptoms that mimicked cerebral palsy or Parkinson’s.  Or dead.  Our lab took a look at some of his product.  They were impressed by how sophisticated it was.  The defective stuff was like just one or two molecules off.”

“That’s all it takes.”

“The cartel was after him.  Some of the damage was done to a few of their top lieutenants.  Might have been some kind of power struggle. . .who knows with those cholos.”

“How did he end up in my neck of the woods?  Think the cartel finally caught up with him?”

Butler nodded, “Possible, but there’s been no rumble about any new players so maybe not.”

“A local hit then.”

“We’re looking into a possibility.”  Butler looked at Mendez and got the nod.  “Apocalypse Inc., the motorcycle club.  They’re deep in the drug trade.  They may have taken an option on the hit for the Laredo boys.”

“By the way the body was found I wouldn’t rule out a professional hit.”  Donovan turned away from the window that looked down on the parking lot.  “But the Horsemen are involved?”  He pointed to the computer station in one corner of the conference room.  “Let me see if I can pull something up.”  He wiggled the mouse and the monitor came to life.  He logged on.

“Your password is bobblehead?”

“Now I’m going to have to kill you.”

“Changing your password is not as messy.”

“But not any easier.”  Donovan pointed at the screen.  “Here I input an address near where I found the body and get a crime stats map using information from dispatched calls and clearances.  Ok, I can specify the calls in this area by type for say the last six months.”  The map populated with a profusion of colored dots.  “The red ones are the unresolved, the yellow are in process, and the green are resolved or sent to the DA.”

“Nice neighborhood,” Mendez chuckled behind his back.

“They figure Nesso was out there almost a week.  I set that parameter, say ten days.”

“That cleared up some of the acne.”

“And I widen my radius.  And then narrow my incident type down to just a couple, say dead at scene and report of gunshots.”

“Looks pretty quiet now.  Sheriff musta come to town.”  Mendez pointed at the screen.  “Those green dots report of gunshots?”

Donovan ran the cursor over the dots to display the text.  “Yeah, pretty much.  Notice how they’re mainly clustered around or near to where the body was found?”

“Yeah, I don’t see how that’s going to tell you much.”

Donovan circled the arrow on the map.  “This is where we found the body, this vacant lot here.  When he fell he was facing this street, here, Willig.  So assuming the shot came from the direction opposite of the way he was facing, that would put it up coming from up in here.”  Donovan circled the arrow on the upper part of the map.

Butler leaned in to look.  “Yeah, Willig.  Thanks for the tip on that address, by the way.  A task force team took it down a couple of hours ago.  You were right, it was a grow operation.  Looks like they may have been dabbling with a junior chemistry set, too.”

“No problem.”  And back to the screen, “Notice that if the shot came from this direction how there are no reports of gun shots at all.”

“Are you suggesting suicide?”

“Not unless you want to add contortionist to his list of accomplishments”.

Butler straightened, exclaiming, “What a minute, I recognize that neighborhood!”

“Right, that’s the Horseman compound right there and home of Jerzy Herkovanic, the president of Apocalypse Inc.  So anybody in that neighborhood knows better than to report gunshots or even a gunshot.

“Why’s that blue dot there?”

Donovan grunted. “That’s an old case.  One of mine.  A reminder that I need to put that one down.”

“Oh yeah?”  Mendez looked surprised.  “What’s that all about?”

Next Time: Part II, The Hit On Herko