With a Little Help From My Friend
by Bob Welbaum
“I’m telling you, you’re wasting your time.” The speaker was in no position to dictate, but he tried anyway. “This is just a wild goose chase, I guarantee.”
His audience was in the front seat of a police car, a uniformed sergeant driving, a plainclothes detective beside him. They ignored their passenger, who was handcuffed and sitting alone in the backseat behind the standard squad-car mesh screen, helpless. He was early middle-aged, scruffy and tattooed, in a sleeveless t-shirt and worn jeans, trying to feign indifference.
Behind them was a police SUV with three other men: a uniformed officer and two laborers. The two vehicles made a tandem convoy advancing down a narrow country road.
“Turn here,” the detective commanded and the car dutifully turned off the blacktop onto a dirt road that was camouflaged by tall trees and thick bushes. The pace slowed as the wheels seemed to find every rut and bump.
“Waste of time,” mumbled the voice in the back seat as the entire vehicle shuddered along a road that was quickly deteriorating into more of a trail.
Finally, the car burst into a small clearing. “Stop!” the detective commanded, then turned sideways to look into the back seat. “This look familiar?”
The passenger simply shrugged, although suddenly beads of sweat appeared on his forehead.
The SUV pulled in behind them. The detective swung open his door and walked to the edge of the clearing. He hesitated, carefully, examining the ground, poking with his foot, then he stopped at a small rise with sparse vegetation. He turned toward the SUV. “Dig here.”
Wordlessly, two laborers pulled shovels from the back, walked to where the detective was standing, and pointed their shovels toward the ground.
The detective simply nodded, and two metal blades penetrated the soft earth. The dirt pile quickly grew, two feet high, three feet high by four feet wide...
The sound that came from the hole was a dull clunk, like hitting a rock but not quite. Both laborers stopped, then one reached down at something in the dirt. It was long, narrow, and grey-white. He pulled it from the earth’s grasp and held it up for the detective’s approval. Nothing was said. Nothing needed to be said.
It was clearly a leg bone, adult human. The detective carefully took it, slowly turned it over in his hands, then walked back to the police car. He opened the back left door and held it in front of the passenger’s face. The scruffy man with the tattoos simply stared wide-eyed at the prize, and sweat began to roll off his brow.
In the middle of a wilderness, against all odds, they had found what they came for. It was time to call in the Lab boys.
* * *
“Jenkins, come in here, please.”
You’ve heard of Mr. Cellophane? That’s Jim Jenkins. About five feet six, middle-aged, slim. You could walk right past him without noticing. Yet he’s a policeman. He decided to become a policeman at age six, when he was left unsupervised with a TV. The cop shows made it look easy; the bad guys were always caught, the hostages were always saved, the policemen were always thanked.
As a beat cop, he quickly realized the real world wasn’t like that. Worse, he was the type who didn’t command respect. Yet in the end, everything seemed to work out. There was the commendation for saving a child’s life with a tourniquet after a traffic accident. Then another after being first on the scene and leading people to safety at a mass shooting.
Then came the chance to get off the streets and be a detective. Forget the domestic disputes, the traffic citations, the bar fights. After ten years, it was time for something different. Murder One. Crack the case to bring closure to and earn the eternal gratitude of a heartbroken family. The epitome of public service. Wear civilian clothes and let your anonymity be an asset.
Jim quickly entered the cramped office of his precinct’s captain and sat in front of the desk. “Is anything wrong?”
“No, no, nothing’s wrong. Just the opposite. We’ve got a wrap on the Karen Sanders case. You were right about the dig site. It was a complete skeleton with a positive ID from the dental records. And once Murphy saw all we had found, he confessed! Well done!”
Jim allowed himself a smile and a shrug. “Thank you, sir.”
“That was a really tough case, the most difficult murder case we’ve solved this year. This will make you the top detective on the force!”
Another smile and a shrug.
“You’re working on quite a string of accomplishments. And working alone, without a partner!” The captain paused, expecting a reaction. There was none. “Er, how do you do it?”
Jim shifted in his seat. “Well, there’s really no secret. We have some valuable resources here that I tap into. The rest is just a matter of persistent work, plus some luck.”
The captain couldn’t help but chuckle. “Hey, c’mon, it has be more than luck!”
All Jim did was smile.
The captain leaned back in his chair and sighed. “Well, okay, whatever. ” Then he reached over to the left side of his desk, and grabbed a folder about a half-inch thick. “The hottest problem at the moment is a flare-up of drug use in the past month. We’ve increased our street patrols, and that’s brought the murder rate down, thank God, but we can’t figure out where this crap is coming from, so right now this is the highest priority.” He held the folder out to Jim. “We have a suspect in mind, but we haven’t been able to find him. Since you’re on a roll, I’d like you to look this over and see if you have any ideas.”
Jim took the folder, stuck it under his arm, and rose. “Sure. Give me some time and I’ll see what I can turn up.”
The captain’s smile was equal parts admiration and relief. “Good. I’m looking forward to see what you come up with.”
* * *
Another day, another case. That’s the life of a police officer; the job never ends. Fortunately, there was good news awaiting Jim on his desk: a small white, folded note tucked discreetly under the right side of his desk lamp.
Jim unfolded it and read even though he knew what it said — “I’m here.” It was a summons to the conference room.
Although it was time to go home, Jenkins went straight to the conference room, entered, then closed the door. “Hello, Mac.”
“Hi, Jim.” Before him stood an older man, about four inches taller and portly, as if he was doing his part to uphold the stereotype of cops liking donuts. His suit was rumpled, his tie loosened, but his fedora was always on straight. If you asked Central Casting for a detective, he’s what you’d get.
“Thanks for the tip about the Sanders body. We found it, positive ID, and that got us our confession. The captain is really pleased!”
“Well, it was quite simple. It had to be the boyfriend. I just kept on his tail until he talked. He’s really a mess when he’s drunk. Started bragging to friends, about what he does to ‘bitches who cross him.’ Eventually, he said everything we needed to know.”
“And I’m glad you were there to listen!” Jim smiled at this friend in admiration. “You know, they still have your desk here? It’s getting pretty dusty, but nobody will use it. The name of John Macintosh still gets a lot of respect.”
Mac snorted. “Well, it should! So what’s that under your arm?”
“Surprise! it’s another case file.” Jim sat down at the head of the table, laid the folder down and opened it. “Mac, you up for another one?”
“Of course. Gotta keep you young guys out of trouble.”
“And I really appreciate it! Okay, let’s see what we got here. Captain said this was a real tough one.”
Jim started reading through the file before him as Mac looked over his shoulder. “Hummm... A new designer drug is showing up on the streets... a form of methylenedioxy-something...”
“The full name is methylenedioxymethamphetamine, more commonly known as MDMA, for example, Ecstasy.”
“Oh, thanks... Three deaths in the county in the past month. Sounds like really potent stuff, but no one knows where it’s coming from... One suspect, a guy with a drug prior, name of Willie Singer, but no hard evidence. Oh, here’s a list of his sightings.”
“Well, at least we have a starting point.”
* * *
Look up “hustle” in the dictionary, and you’d probably find a picture of Willie Singer. He fits the profile exactly: male, young, black, raised in a single-parent household, inner city.
“Hey, man, wazzup?”
“Wazzup wit you, bro?” There was the fist bump, the forearm bump, the fist bump. Just like before.
“When you get out?”
“’Bout a month ago.”
“So how come I ain’t seen you?”
“Been layin’ low.”
“So why’d ya come back here?”
“It’s home, bro. Gotta come home.”
“I hear ya. Still livin’ wich your mom?”
Willie sighed. “Oh, yeah. Still tryin’ to make it. The dudes in charge make it sound so easy, but it ain’t. Double ain’t after bein’ in the Big House.”
“Got that right. Well, I’m damn glad to see ya again. And keep at it. A brother wit’ your talent’s gonna make it someday. Make it big.”
* * *
“Jenkins, come in here, please.”
“Yes, Captain.” Jim set down his coffee cup and sighed. What is it now? Probably paperwork. Jim always got something wrong with his paperwork.
But this time, the captain was smiling. “Remember that case file I gave you on the drug flare-up a couple of days ago?” Jim barely had time to nod. “Well, you can return it. We got our man. He just showed up on the same street corner, and we nabbed him. We expect he’ll make a full confession, too.”
Just like that? This sounds too simple. “He went back to the same corner?”
“Yes, sir! And with the same group of contacts. Why he did that I’ll never understand, but he did, thank God. So you can return the file. Thanks anyway, Jenkins.”
“Yes, sir.” Jim stood to leave.
“Oh, and the next body that turns up is yours.”
* * *
Another note, another end-of-the-day summons to the conference room.
Jim quickly ran down the hall and entered the conference room, making sure the door closed behind him. “Mac?”
“It isn’t him,” came the familiar voice.
“How do you know?”
“I staked out that corner on the sightings sheet. Been watching Singer for two days now. No sign of drugs or dealing. He’s just been greeting old friends. That junk has to be coming from somewhere else.”
“Yet the captain sounds so sure.”
“Of course he does! There’s a lot of pressure to solve this one and get that poison off the streets. So you grab the most likely suspect and put him under those bright lights until he ‘confesses.’ No matter how many days it takes.”
“Oh. So what can we do?”
“Let me find out where they’re holding him. I’ll monitor the interrogation and see if he gives any leads from what his friends are telling him.”
“Look up Singer’s original conviction. See if there’s any mention of anybody you can talk to.”
“Sounds like you have some good ideas. Thanks, I’ll get right on it tomorrow morning.”
* * *
As soon as he returned to the station the next morning, Jim checked the police blotter. Good, there were no new deaths to investigate, and there had been no frantic phone calls telling him to get to a crime scene. He had some free time.
A quick computer search gave him the number of Willie Singer’s case, which he got from the file room. Soon his head was buried in the records. After a couple of hours of reading, it was time to visit a friend.
“Hey, Sid, you got a minute?”
“I can spare a minute for you. Watcha got?”
“Have you been working drugs long enough to remember Willie Singer?”
“Yea, that was my first case, and you always remember the first one. Seemed like a smart kid, just growing up in the wrong place. He was doing minor street-level stuff: runner, lookout, that sort of thing. But it was against the law, and it was another conviction.”
“So he wasn’t a drug kingpin or anything like that?”
“Oh, hell no! Trouble is, we’ve never been able to find the guy at the top. We just keep getting the little guys. But it keeps the mayor happy.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought from reading through the files. Thanks, Sid.”
“Any time. Say, you working drugs now?”
“Not officially. But you know, any time the drugs show up, dead bodies are sure to follow.”
“Oh, yeah. Well, good luck!”
“Thanks; you, too.”
* * *
Copyright © 2020 by Bob Welbaum