Bait and Switch
by Gary Clifton
Charlie Burns stood in the crowd at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. Retired after many years in Dallas Police Homicide, Burns was working as a transfer agent for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He was there to take custody of a prison inmate from an agent of a privately operated prison unit in Minnesota.
Exiting last, a tall, slender man was escorting a graying man handcuffed in front. Burns ignored the prisoner and extended his hand to the officer.
“Charlie Burns, Texas Department of Criminal Justice.”
The agent grasped the hand. “George Lanagan, Bemex Systems.”
Burns eyed the prisoner, restrained only by waist-belt cuffs. “No leg restraints?”
“Naw, he’s just being moved closer to his wife. She apparently has flooded the judge up our way with a million petitions to get him closer to home. He paroles out in three months. TCCJ has agreed to take custody. Meet Fred Martinson. He’s already done three of a ten-year sentence for embezzlement.”
Burns nodded to the prisoner, “My instructions are to transport you to the parole/release unit up at Nederville. My car’s at curbside.”
They made their way through the crowded airport, producing stares at the manacled Martinson.
Martinson complained, “Damn, they were outta Coke on the plane. I got cash if I could grab a soft drink at this kiosk.”
Burns and Lanagan shrugged and stood close while Martinson made the purchase. He turned back with three drinks held awkwardly in his confined hands.
“Got you guys one, also.”
Burns said, “It’s forty miles. My bladder...”
Nonetheless, he took the unsolicited Coke and sipped from the plastic cup. Lanagan did likewise.
Burns drove while Lanagan sat in the rear with the prisoner. Burns sipped at his coke as he wended his way toward the main airport drive. The trek was made more tedious by heavy road construction and barricades. Suddenly, he was seized with a wave of weakness and nausea. As consciousness slipped away, he squeezed his Dodge to the narrow shoulder and slumped over the wheel.
In Burns’ foggy recollection, a white SUV whipped in front of him. A hooded figure jumped from the driver’s side, pistol in hand. As he drifted away, he would later recall Martinson shouting, “No, no!” He was unable to fully process the roar of gunfire reverberating in his head.
His next recollection was of uniformed police officers, flashing emergency lights, Lanagan talking, a ride in an ambulance, then an emergency room.
Lanagan, in the background, said, “He slipped us a roofie someway in those Cokes. I’ve seen the results of Rohypnol before. Guy in a white SUV curbed us and shot him. Drug his body into the SUV and escaped. I was busy ducking and didn’t get a tag before I passed out. The shooter was a big man wearing a hoodie. Can’t believe he didn’t shoot me and you both, Burns.”
Burns sat upright. “Who did he embezzle from?”
“Bank in K.C. Took ’em for ten million, which was never recovered. Maybe they just retaliated. Back seat of your Dodge is a bloodbath.”
“He drugged us so he could be shot?”
“Burns, I’m thinkin’ double-cross, some way.”
* * *
The next morning, Burns sat before his supervisor, Jack Brown, Lanagan beside him, listening to Brown raise hell. The telephone on Brown’s desk interrupted the diatribe. He spoke, then hung up. “They found the SUV. Burned with a body inside.”
Burns checked out another pool car. With Lanagan in the passenger seat, he followed supervisor Brown’s directions to an isolated field in far south Dallas. Martinson was dead in the fetal position against the rear SUV door. His face, buried in the upholstery was identifiable, but the ends of his fingers were burned away. Two bullet holes in the forehead were clearly visible.
Lanagan said, “No prints. His wife, uh... Gloria... has a Dallas telephone number. I know this is Martinson.” He leaned over the curled body. “But his wife is gonna have to make an official ID.”
“COD is a gunshot wounds to the head,” Burns looked closely. “Why the hell drag a dead man away from a crime scene?” Wheels turned in the old Homicide cop’s head.
He dropped Lanagan at a hotel, and drove to the DPD auto pound. Bullet holes in his Dodge’s right rear window and a gallon of blood spoke volumes. Martinson’s plastic drink cup, splattered with crimson, lay on the rear passenger side floor. Lanagan’s cup lay unmarked on the driver’s side rear floorboard. He placed both in separate evidence bags, dropped by the Dallas County Crime Lab and asked for an expedited fingerprint and DNA examination.
He called Gloria Martinson. After ten minutes of wrangling, she agreed to accept a ride to the morgue by a Dallas Police car.
“Ohhhh, my God! Look what they’ve done to my husband! I loved him so much! He was about to get released after all his pain!”
“Mrs. Martinson, what happened to the ten million your husband stole?”
“It wasn’t him stole the damned money. He was framed.”
As he left the morgue, he checked the sign-in sheet. Gloria Martinson had shown a Texas Driver’s license in the name Kallaster.
Burns called a friend in the FBI and asked for a bank record search for an account in the name Gloria Kallaster.
When he picked up the fingerprint results from the lab and a mug photo of Martinson wired from Minnesota, he smiled.
Another call to Mrs. Martinson brought hostility.
“Meet me in an hour in the DPD Homicide on South Lamar. I’ll pay the cab fare.”
He picked up Lanagan at his hotel, and they met Mrs. Martinson at DPD.
“Rule of thumb, folks.” he said in a small conference room. “The smart guy who looks completely innocent is often guilty. Funny Lanagan, how quickly you recovered from your roofie.”
“What are you talking about, Burns?” Mrs. Martinson snapped.
Burns whipped out his Glock. “Partner, lay that pistol you have stuck in your waistband on the center of the table, slowly, or you won’t find out the secret.”
The tall man carefully slid a .38 revolver across. “Man, what the hell is this.”
Burns put the revolver in his pocket, then pulled out the fingerprint report and mugshot. “It was a simple idea.” He looked at the bewildered man. “Switch the prisoner with his escort. You are the real George Martinson who should be in transit to a Texas prison. You bribed Lanagan, an employee of the privately-owned prison in Minnesota to trade places. He put on the cuffs and you played cop. Promised him a bundle to do your last three months while you fled the country. That’s him in the morgue, a victim of your scheme.”
He pointed at Mrs. Martinson. “This is your wife, Martinson, not the dead man’s. It was her in the SUV. She shot the decoy Martinson, who was really Lanagan, and you helped her drag the body away. She burned the car to obliterate his fingerprints. Then she ID’d Lanagan in the morgue as George Martinson. Shoulda hid your own prints, Martinson.”
His cellular buzzed. He spoke with the FBI and broke the connection.
“Mr. and Mrs. Martinson, nine million in a bank in the Caymans in the name Kallaster. You used that name to sign in the morgue. So busy disappearing you were too dumb to use some form of ID with your correct name, ma’am.”
“No, oh God!” she gasped.
“Gonna be hell to spend nine mil on death row. The bank you ripped off in Kansas City is a Mafia operation. Ma’am, you were trying to get your thieving hubby closer to the Mexican border, making this clever little escape work, and hightailing it to the border before the mob whacked you both. They woulda found you in Mexico. Keeping you two alive in the Dallas County Jail is gonna be a challenge.”
“That’s preposterous!” the astonished imposter snapped.
“It was only me who got a roofie. Odd, at the hospital, you named the sedative I’d been given, Rohypnol. What clairvoyance. Martinson, you and the late Mr. Lanagan got an undiluted Coke. Lab analysis confirms the contents of our cups from the airport and in a day or so, will match your DNA to the cup you were holding in the back seat next to the dead man. The one the lab has already lifted your fingerprints from.”
“Bastard!” Martinson said.
“Pig!” echoed Mrs. Martinson.
Burns grinned broadly. “Yup.”
Two uniformed officers stepped through the door.
Copyright © 2018 by Gary Clifton