Murder Me Sweetly
by Gary Clifton
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
“There’s a lovely spot for you right here somewhere, sweetheart.” The driver studied the post-midnight, pitch-black lane ahead. “Just rest, darling. We’ll find it.”
White-rock dust nearly obliterated the old tan Chevrolet as it bumped down the dark, rutted road. The headlights, already dim, strained to penetrate the cloudy mist. Black smoke belching from the tailpipe blended into the haze. Dust pouring into the open window caused the driver to sneeze and cough, but the glass stayed down as the driver peered intently at the roadside.
The Chevrolet, now barely moving, stopped beside a weed-choked, abandoned driveway, once a farmer’s access to his livestock. The driver, wheezing in the chalky spring air, got out and opened the trunk, pulling out a blanket-wrapped bundle. With a red sweatshirt hood pulled up, the driver’s face was unidentifiable outside of five feet.
A small can of gasoline poured over the package and then a dropped match flared. The flames were several feet tall when the driver turned the Chevrolet around and drove back past. The burning bundle tumbled partly open, disclosing an outline, perhaps a large doll. The Chevrolet sputtered as it accelerated back the way it came, then caught and roared away through the dust.
* * *
Dallas Homicide Detective Davis McCoy grinned. “Jeez, Maggs, why is it so abnormal if I kick this mope’s ass when we lay hands on him. You goin’ soft on me?”
Detective Maggs Williams chuckled. “Soft? Naw, McCoy, it’s just if we wrung the necks of every low-rent scud comes through here in a year, we’d run outa crooks and you’d have to get a real job.”
McCoy held up a handful of papers. “Well, Maggs, we’ve reached the stage where the bad guy has to fire at least two shots before protecting ourselves. Ass-kicking is no longer an option, anyway.”
She chuckled. “Ass-kicking is often an overrated option, anyway, dude.”
Davis McCoy had been a Dallas cop twenty-two years, five in Homicide. Lean, muscular, big as the side of a house as they say, he still had the juice to toss a thug or two on their heads. His full head of black hair was slowly losing the battle with creeping flecks of gray.
Maggs Wilson, thirteen years a cop, was a product of the sprawling Loving Housing project in West Dallas. McCoy had seen her outrun enough macho-suspects to fill a DART bus, then whip some tough customers if circumstances required, then type the report at warp speed. He figured her to be Olympic qualified. That she preferred her partner, a female traffic sergeant, over men, was never a factor.
McCoy tossed the sheath of papers onto his desk. He leaned back, hands clasped behind his neck, staring at the ceiling. His expression was the “it’s somebody’s ass” look Maggs had grown to know. She had a full caseload of her own which required attention. She knew the darkly gloomy McCoy would tell her what was on his mind only when he was ready.
* * *
Not far from downtown Dallas, the worn, red brick schoolhouse was surrounded by an eight-foot, barbed-wire topped fence. The police guard shack standing ominously beside the heavy wire front gate summarized the neighborhood. The public school appeared identical to a maximum-security prison. A sign over the gate read: “Mendoza Elementary — Authorized Personnel Only.” Four marked Dallas squad cars were parked askew in front of the gate, red lights flashing.
A distraught, fortyish, Hispanic woman, plainly dressed in a shawl covering her head stumbled out the front gate, on her feet only with the assistance of a uniformed cop at each elbow. One of the escorting cops spoke to her softly in Spanish. The woman screamed a long wail as the cops helped her into the back seat of one of the squad cars.
* * *
Maggs, McCoy and Detective Harrison “Red” Harper were a trio of veteran cops who’d fallen astray of the DPD bureaucracy for varying reasons. Although part of the Homicide matrix, all three were assigned to the Cold Case Unit, universally called “The Dead Bin”: dead victims, dead cases, dead careers.
Case numbers and manpower limitations required the penitents carry a full load, but management made certain they were never quite part of the mainstream. Consequently, free of in-office supervisory surveillance, the next morning, McCoy hunched over his basement desk and coffee reading the sports page of the Morning News. A headline on the front page, which had been tossed on the desktop, reported: “Burning Body of Abducted Student Found in South Dallas.”
McCoy finished his coffee and called the main office of Homicide on the fourth floor. The group clerk told him a team of Homicide cops from the upstairs unit was handling the case and that Lieutenant Oliver had decreed that no one else take any part in the investigation.
Had McCoy been summoned to the scene, he would have known from long experience that monsters who perpetrate such atrocities would have slithered back into the safety of their pestholes. The urge to cleanse themselves by extensive washing would be overwhelming. He equated the reaction to a cat covering its droppings.
With a full case load of his own, he thanked the clerk and hung up. Much water would pass beneath Davis McCoy’s bridge over the constantly turbulent waters of his life before he would turn full attention to monsters and burned children.
* * *
McCoy, who’d chased half the ladies in the courthouse, had finally stumbled and gotten married seven months earlier. Nicole Maretti McCoy was an attorney working for a downtown law firm specializing in tax law. With black hair and flashing dark eyes like Maggs’, the lovely Nicole was also a keeper, with plenty of those street smarts of her own.
The list of players in McCoy’s life contained another soul: Homicide Lieutenant Logan Oliver. Oliver was a troubled, unpopular man who owned his promotion as Homicide Lieutenant to friends in high places. McCoy thought him dumber than a bucket of roofing tar. Squad room nicknames among cops were inevitable. Lieutenant Oliver’s moniker was “Rat.”
McCoy knew Oliver wasn’t a bad person, just a tad neurotic and, like a portion of the world, in over his head. In some ways, Oliver’s peculiarities tended to grease the skids of productivity. He was inclined not to hear information he didn’t want to know about. In the cop world, that was not a bad idea. McCoy had seen many far worse specimens in management.
Oliver had at least one other major malfunction. Naturally shy and awkward around women, he was somehow captured by Maggs’ beauty. Invariably, when Oliver sneaked a peek, her soft, brown-eyed presence afflicted him with something squad room banter termed compulsive lockjaw syndrome. Any question Maggs asked Oliver, he never heard a word. And when the deviant conspirator McCoy wanted to step over a rule or two, he arranged for Maggs to explain the plan. Oliver never heard a word said after that. He only stood there doing his bobble-head routine.
The result: progress when action was necessary. The long reach of this convoluted communications system, awkward on any ground, managed to stumble forward — usually.
McCoy, who had a pretty good idea how to investigate a crime, and Maggs Williams, whose presence struck idiots dumb, plus iron-jawed third Dead Bin inhabitant Red Harper, shared a problem. They worked for Lieutenant Oliver, who was too indecisive to plan lunch, unless Maggs nudged him along.
* * *
Copyright © 2021 by Gary Clifton