With a Little Help From My Friend
by Bob Welbaum
Part 1 appears in this issue.
Macintosh knew the scene well. A small windowless room, straight chair in the middle, bright light overhead. This time the chair was reserved for one Willie Singer.
“I’m tellin’ ya, I don’t know nothin’ ’bout nothin’. I’m out of that business.”
The plainclothes cop was immediately in his face. “Well, scum, we think you know a lot. And you’re not getting out of here until you tell us what we want to hear. Now TALK!”
“Please, I’ve done my time. I don’t wanna go back to the Big House. I tell ya, I stopped foolin’ wit’ drugs, and I don’t know nothin’ now.”
Just then the door opened and another plainclothes came in. “Has he talked yet?”
“Not yet, but he will. Time to take over?”
“Sure, I’m good for a shift. Just be sure to close the door on the way out.”
“Sure thing. See you tomorrow. And good luck.” The first plainclothes gave the suspect a condescending smirk and left.
“So, Mr. Singer, please understand, we’re only trying to help. We have to get this poison off the streets, and we want you out of this crime life. It’s better for all of us, right? So for the benefit of everyone, we just have to know: where is this new batch...”
Plainclothes Number Two suddenly stopped and stared at the door. It was slowly opening. This is supposed to be a secure room, when will people learn to make sure the door closes when they leave?
* * *
Jim Jenkins should have felt grateful. Two days without a dead body had let him review some cold cases. How could nothing show up after all this time? And he could keep up with the drug investigations. But somehow he felt like he was just cooling his heels. Then he found the note.
Back to the conference room. “Okay, Mac, what have we got?”
“Not a lot, I’m afraid. They’re really putting the screws to poor Singer, and he’ll crack eventually. They always do.”
“Yes, and I’ve been following the drug scene. I’m convinced he’s not the guy we want.”
“Not now. It’s just so tough for a kid to break away and go clean once you’ve got the record.”
“True. So where does that leave us?”
“We need some help. We have to find who’s at the top of the pyramid, and we can’t do that by ourselves. Why don’t you talk to the captain and see if he knows anything else?”
“That’s worth a shot. I’ll ask to see him tomorrow morning.” Jim leaned back and sighed. “Can’t think of anything else anyway.”
* * *
“Captain, can I talk to you?”
“Sure, Jenkins, what’s on your mind?”
Jim entered the captain’s office and sat in front of his desk, then cleared his throat. “It’s this Willie Singer drug case.”
“What about it?”
“Are you sure we got the right man?”
“Well, we just got a confession.”
“Yeah, it took three days of non-stop interrogation, but we finally got it.”
“Three days? What did his lawyer say?”
“Jenkins, you know this type can’t afford representation! He’ll end up with an overworked, underpaid public defender who’ll negotiate some type of plea bargain. So you do what you have to do to get the guy off the street, then move on to the next crisis. That’s what keeps everybody happy.”
“Yes, if it holds up in court.”
“It almost always does. Unless there’s a big stink in the press, or there’s serious new evidence, so... what the hell?”
The sound of a tornado siren filled the room, and Jim’s right hand immediately went to an inside pocket in his suit coat. “Sorry, that’s my ring tone for all Department calls.”
“How appropriate,” the captain mumbled.
“Jenkins here... This morning? That’s in Cloverleaf Park behind the pavilion? Give me fifteen minutes.”
Jim slipped his phone back into the inside pocket and stood in one motion. “Just found a body in Cloverleaf Park.” Then he was gone.
“Gotta keep those cases moving,” the captain sighed as he disappeared.
* * *
Every murder scene is the same, but different. It’s the oxymoron of police work.
The routine was simple. You always approach the beat cop with a cliché, “What have we got?” Then you start studying and taking notes. A young black man, probably still a teenager. Shot multiple times. Jim didn’t like to jump to conclusions, but it showed all the signs of a drug deal gone bad. Oh, and be sure to keep your emotions under control.
“No, sir. An early morning jogger happened to find him. Apparently this park is the new drug hangout. I’ll stay here while you and your partner scout the area.”
Jim shook his head. “No partner. Just me.”
“Oh. Well, good luck with that one,” the beat cop said as he suppressed a laugh.
Jim gave him a hard look. “Don’t need luck. Just tell the coroner to send me the toxicology report as soon as possible. I’ll be checking the area.”
* * *
Jim closed the door to the conference room and announced, “Got the toxicology report.”
“Oh? Let’s have a look.”
Jim spread the report on the table as Mac stood behind him. “Yep, just as I thought. The victim was higher than a kite.”
“Was probably hallucinating and went after his dealer. Quick way to die. What was he on?”
“That new designer stuff I can’t pronounce.” Jim sat back in his chair. “That means Mr. Big is still active.”
“Yes, it’s still being made in this area.”
“So what’s our next move? Any ideas, Mac?”
“The beat cop said Cloverleaf Park is the new hotspot? Let me just shadow the park for a while and see what I can find.”
“As long as the whole department doesn’t show up and scare everyone away.”
“There’s always that risk, so I’ll get right on it.”
* * *
Parks during the day are happy places, full of children playing, pets walking, and family picnics. Parks at night are not happy. Is that a shadow? What was that noise? Only a creature of the night can tell for sure.
For everyone else, there are flashlights to shine, branches to trip over, picnic tables to walk into. That’s why you need a special reason to be in a park at night.
Fortunately, John Macintosh has two big advantages over Jim Jenkins. He doesn’t need a flashlight, and he is patient.
Three mornings later, Jim arrived at his desk to find another note under the corner of his lamp. It was unusual for Macintosh to summon him first thing in the morning, so this must be especially important.
Mac was there all right. “I have good news and bad news.”
Jim took this as a good sign; a little humor meant more good news than bad. “Bad news first.”
“The hangout has moved. After a death, the park was too hot to continue to do business.”
“Rats. And the good news?”
“I was able to overhear where it is now. Nothing was happening at night. But during the day, on the street bordering the park, they were using kids about ten years old to tell customers to check out an abandoned warehouse at 6th and Vine.”
“Wonderful! So can I tell the captain to move in on the warehouse?”
Mac chuckled. “Will he believe you? Remember, the captain is too busy chopping down trees to see the forest. He’ll want hard evidence before he commits resources to a major operation.”
“Oh, yeah, true.” Jim stopped and thought. “ So I’ll just have to get the evidence myself.”
“That could be dangerous. Very dangerous. Foolhardy, even.”
“Oh, yes! But can you think of a better way?”
“I guess not. Okay, try it. After all, what could possibly go wrong?”
* * *
Indiana Jones hated snakes. With Jim Jenkins, it was darkness. Even though he took every prudent precaution — practical black clothing, bulletproof vest, police radio, bodycam, pepper spray and sidearm — he still felt uneasy.
Just be careful, he told himself. One step at a time. He parked three blocks away and let the beat cop know he was there for a “special mission.” Then he approached the abandoned warehouse.
The front door was in the glare of the streetlight and padlocked. Of course. But if this was a drug hotspot, there was a way in. On one side was an unlit alley. A loading dock and parking lot were on the other; there was enough light here to illuminate the entire side of the building. The back bordered another city street with occasional traffic and more streetlights. The way in had to be through the alley.
Jim decided to wait and see who showed up. Maybe enough pictures of people coming and going would convince the captain. One hour passed. Nothing. Two hours. It was well past midnight now. Jim decided it was time to force the issue.
He kept to the shadows as best he could, making it to the alley in darkness. Stop and listen. No humans, no cats, no dogs. What sounds do rats make? Never mind, move down the alley as quietly as possible.
Halfway down, was that a door ajar? Yes, it was open about two feet, just enough for him to squeeze through. He pulled in his stomach just in case, held his breath, and entered.
The inside was darker than the alley. There were a few rays of light from an upper bank of windows, but he could see nothing on the warehouse floor in front of him. He waited a minute. His vision wasn’t getting any better. Mac was right, this was beginning to seem foolhardy in the extreme. One wrong step, just one, and he would announce his presence by banging into something solid. Worse, something unstable that would topple on top of him. Time to retreat, to reassess, to—
“Well, what have we here!” A very bright light was shining right into his eyes. It was held by a man about a foot taller than he. In the reflection off of his body, he could see another man, shorter and younger. Both had bulky goggles resting on their foreheads. Night vision! The very thing Jim needed and had forgotten. This was the last time he’d forget them. Or was this the last time?
The tall man with the light moved it up and down. “Well, well, well,” he sneered. “Looks like we caught ourselves a cop snooping around.”
With a belt full of police equipment, that was hard to deny. So Jim didn’t try. “Yes, I’m Detective Jim Jenkins, and I came to ask you some questions. I got a report of—”
Tall Man smacked Jim across the mouth, then grabbed his sidearm. “SHUT UP! We don’t like people snooping around, especially at night, especially cops.” He grinned wickedly to his companion. “You know what I think?” He turned back to Jim and raised the weapon to Jim’s head. “I think he came to commit suicide.”
What happened next defies explanation. Granted, the warehouse was derelict. Granted, some of the bricks in the wall were loose and crumbly. But six of them falling at once? From the very top? And not falling straight down, but out about four feet?
In a flash, Tall Man and his friend were prone on the hard concrete floor, holding their heads and moaning. In two flashes, Jim had them immobilized in handcuffs, the light on them, and was on the radio. The beat cop was there in three minutes, the first backup in five.
* * *
The sun was just rising when Jim finished writing his report. He handed it to the captain, who accepted it with a stunned look on his face. Then Jim took the rest of the day off.
When he returned the following day, the captain gave him a complete debriefing. “Those two in the warehouse were drug dealers, all right. We found their supply in the back. We’ve been looking for that tall hoodlum for a long time now, but he’s always been one step ahead. The young one was a rookie, who’s scared witless because he just realized what he’s gotten himself into. We expect him to tell us everything he knows. If the tall one isn’t the kingpin, we should have enough information to find him anyway. And it’s a good thing you had your bodycam on. We got the smack to your mouth and the gun to your head, so we can add assault and attempted murder to the charges.”
Jim let out a satisfied sigh. “I’m glad to hear that, sir. No wonder the young one is scared.”
The captain’s voice hardened. “But there are two things I want to know, Jenkins. One, how did you know that was the next drug hotspot? And two, why in the name of heaven and earth did you go ALONE?”
Jim took a deep breath, squirmed in his chair, and avoided eye contact. “First, I heard a street rumor about the warehouse. Second, I guess I didn’t realize how dangerous that was. I had just planned to look around, and one thing led to another. I’m sorry, sir, I’ll try to be more careful next time.”
“Well, you’d better be. I can’t have my best detective taking chances like that. I don’t want your name on the Wall of Heroes in the lobby.”
Jim smiled sheepishly. “Yes, sir, I agree completely.”
“I sure hope so!” The captain shook his head. “Falling bricks. What are the odds?”
Time to change the subject. “Uh, Captain, by the way, what will this do to the Willie Singer case?”
The captain scrunched his face in disgust. “You know the funniest thing? I was just told his signed confession has disappeared from the case file. Since he’s smart enough to deny everything in court, and with nothing in writing and no hard evidence, I expect we’ll have to drop the charges.”
Jim tried very hard not to smile. “Thanks for the rundown, sir. I guess I should get back to work now.”
“No rest for the weary. And thanks again for the great job.”
Whenever Jim solved a case, he followed his own special ritual. He walked to the vacant desk with the nameplate John Macintosh, put his right index finger to his lips, and touched the nameplate. Then he went to the lobby, to the Wall of Heroes display of plaques. He always stood, head bowed for a minute, in front of the plaque that read “John Macintosh, Died in the Line of Duty, May 22, 2017.”
Copyright © 2020 by Bob Welbaum