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The Dead Bin

by Gary Clifton

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Chapter 3: Victims and Lawyers

Modern, hermetically sealed containers are innovative and wonderful — until they leak.

The next day or so, I heard Detective Margaret “Maggs” Wilson was busy falling into disfavor via a totally unrelated matter — or at least that’s the way it seemed at the time.

Having grown up in a west Dallas housing project, Maggs had attended college on a track scholarship. She could run down just about any male suspect and then break his arm, if necessary. African-American, beautiful, leggy, divorced with two kids, she lived with a sergeant assigned to the Traffic Division.

She had reached the stage in police life where she’d seen just about everything — but only just about. When they dispatched her to a foul-smelling imported container in the U.S. customs holding area at Love Field, she assumed the inquiry would be routine and rather dumb. Smelly things aren’t necessarily illegal, and the Feds should have been called out.

I’d soon learn Maggs had only scratched the surface of one of the damnedest cases I would ever see.

The sleek, aluminum canister, rounded on the corners, was about the size of an SUV. U.S. Customs had carted it into a warehouse. Water was dripping out of several small weep-holes barely perceptible from outside the container. The odor was horrible. Maggs had encountered enough decomposed cadavers to recognize instantly the smell of dead human flesh. This was going to be a mess, after all.

Customs employees assisted in prying off the top of the container, like popping open a metal cookie tin. Except the box was nearly brimful of water, and the cargo wasn’t cookies. The bloated, badly decomposed bodies of four females floated atop the hideous mixture. Maggs called for the cavalry and cussed at why the Feds weren’t handling this.

“Container was imported. Label is damaged,” she explained to her lieutenant, Oliver, flipping through her notebook. “No point of origin I can find. Manifest shows liquor shipped to WWRS Imports on Industrial Boulevard. Instead of booze, they were using the container to smuggle in these girls, I’d guess for prostitution. These slight openings on the side were ventilation ports. Somehow, the hold flooded and drowned them all. See their belongings bundled up.” She stood on a chair and pointed into the container. “Absolutely horrible. Musta taken hours for the container to fill from the outside.”

“Cargo was supposed to be liquor?” the lieutenant asked. “Between Customs and ATF, you oughta be able to get a line on that easy enough.”

A half-hour on her cellular, and she was unable to locate any license for WWRS Imports. ATF and U.S. Customs had no record of the firm or the address.

She called dispatch and had them run the street address on Industrial. Although the address was non-existent, it was one digit from Crawford Liquors.

The shipping manifest showed the point of origin of the container — Russia — but the shipper was also counterfeit. To claim the canister, someone would have needed to show up with a manifest and other counterfeit documentation. Whoever was supposed to have taken delivery had somehow found out that the girls had perished, and the value of four dead illegal aliens was pretty limited.

A few more minutes on her cellular: a snitch told her Crawford Liquors, a huge wholesale liquor dealer headquartered in Dallas was involved with the Russian mafia and illegal imports. She called old man Crawford and scheduled an appointment. With his lawyer present, he insisted.

Crawford died unexpectedly the night before the interview, on a red bedroom floor. She learned Crawford Liquors had a General Manager. When she interviewed him, he told her basically to get lost.

Then a familiar face turned up.

“I’m H. Brooks Grifford.” The pasty-faced, highly agitated man with strange blue eyes barged into the manager’s office. “Attorney for Crawford Liquors. You have no damned standing to force your brutality on my client.”

“Mr. Grifford, we can get a court order. We have four corpses in a U.S. customs import container at Love Field. I’m investigating information they were brought into the U.S. to be delivered to a phoney address, which should be right next door. But there is no such address. There’s a good chance someone is counterfeiting Crawford records.”

“I don’t give a damn what ugly rumors you’re spreading about my client. Get off the premises immediately,” he shouted angrily.

Meanwhile, all four dead girls, all unidentified, were being hauled off to the morgue.

Maggs drove downtown and started paperwork to call the manager and Crawford records before a grand jury, but circumstances were about to pull her off the case.

That evening, Maggs met her roommate for drinks and dinner, had more drinks than food and, driving home, ran over a wino passed out in the gutter.

The man survived — she only squashed his toe — but reporting officers noted she’d been drinking. Her Homicide lieutenant, Oliver, was inept and a total lump. So Maggs Wilson, with a homicide clearance rate a mile above average, spent the next month on deep-night dispatch duty, riding uselessly at a desk.

Internal Affairs and Lt. Oliver invested their time doing their best to fire or criminally prosecute her.

Investigation of four dead girls in a tin can, drowned under circumstances difficult to put into words, went cold. Maggs was on the way down the toilet reserved for failed cops. The four dead girls were dumped into a tank of formaldehyde reserved for medical students to practice dissection.

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Copyright © 2017 by Gary Clifton

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