Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Chapter Four of EZ Street - Copyright 2018 c. k. thomas



She thought back to the day of that clandestine meeting in a dimly-lit booth at Durant’s. 

“Look at me now. My first practice kill, and I got away clean if you don’t include that damn dog.

“If only I had thought to carry cash. At least I didn’t grab a credit card. Digging around for enough change, with people in line behind me, scared the crap outta me.

“Gauze and tape was the last thing I thought I’d need. No choice but to stop the bleeding before someone noticed.”

She pulled up her pants leg to look at the jagged, scabbed-over slice the dog had torn into her calf.

“My first battle scar,” she thought and smiled.

The teeth marks on her hand were visible enough that she’d started wearing gloves when Tripp was around. She told him she got into some poison plant in the garden and had to keep the rash covered. He bought it without so much as a raised eyebrow.

“I’m glad I took time to look at the bullet wound, but it may not have been worth tangling with that dog. I thought I had him occupied with the tug toy I threw into the alley. He sure went after it, dragging his mistress down with his leash. I thought she would freeze when I pointed the gun at her as she got up. I had anticipated an easy shot. Even with her coming at me, I kept my stance and fired.

“I almost hit the golden triangle dead on, yeah, dead on is right,” she chuckled. That woman was dead, dead, dead, and I can’t believe how good it felt to have hit a moving target. Maybe one more practice run before I draw down on Ms Sheila Barns. I’ll plan better next time. I’ll stock the trunk with all sorts of things I might need, including an overnight bag in case I have to avoid going back home for some reason.”

She desperately wanted to tell someone about her success! The thought kept rolling through her mind on an endless loop. “Who can I tell? Who can I tell?”

* * *
“Hey, EZ, you got a dog!” At least six people in the squad room gathered around the friendly lab when EZ came sauntering over to his desk trying to keep a low profile, an idea that was an obvious fantasy on his part.

“Relax, he’s only temporary,” Saddler told them. “Found him at a crime scene, so I thought I'd hang onto him until we can locate someone to take care of him.
“You should keep him, EZ,” Pam, the cop on the front desk called out. “You need a companion.”

“You could keep him for me, Pam,” Saddler offered.

“No way! I’m allergic.”

“Sure you are,” Saddler returned skeptically.

“Hey, listen I really am, but I do love dogs,” she told him. “You got a call from some guy at a liquor store. Says one of his customers told him you were out front of his place earlier this morning. The guy had your card, so he decided to call. I think he’s a cop wanna-be or some such,” she said, handing the message to EZ. “He sounded excited about talking to you. Can you imagine?” she grinned.

Saddler walked back to his desk, and picked up the phone. Blackie flopped down on the floor, seemingly content to wait. The guy at the liquor store said the camera out front didn’t spit out the best footage, but he’d be glad to roll it back to see if it picked up anything significant.

“Hold off on that,” Saddler cautioned. “I’ll send a forensics guy over to see what you’ve got.”

“Well, as I said, it’s probably going to be grainy, and it doesn’t do very well at night either. I’d be glad to see if I can make it any better for you. I’ve got a movie editor on my computer that might do the job.”

“Thanks, but that would damage its use as evidence. Please don’t touch it until our tech gets there, okay?”

“Sure, sure,” the man said, his enthusiasm down the drain.

“I thought you were closed on Mondays.”

“We are, but I came in to do some inventory, and a neighborhood guy, who’s a regular, saw me in here and knocked. He talked with some of your people last night.”

“So will you still be there when our techie gets there?”

“Yeah, no problem.”

Saddler called forensics and talked to a tech, who agreed to run over to the liquor store and also to check in at the Circle K while she was in the area.

“We’ve already been over the convenience store footage from last night,” she told him. We’ve got a shot of the woman walking the dog for a block or so, but then she goes out of the frame. You might want to take a look at it because all of a sudden the dog lurches and takes off.”

“Okay, I’ll stop by the lab later.”

Saddler looked at his phone and noticed he barely had time to get the dog to his house and then get over to the morgue for the autopsy.

“Come on, Blackie. Let’s go home.”

That one statement may have just cemented Saddler having a new best friend, because later when he thought back on that first time with Blackie at the station, he realized he’d already made a decision to keep him if no one else showed up to claim him.

* * *

At lunch, Sam and EZ caught each other up on their morning.

“Where’s Blackie?” Sam went right to the most important things first.

“No worries. He’s got water, a shady spot, and my neighbor says he can put in a doggie door for him if I decide to keep him.”

“Nice neighborhood you live in.”

“Yeah, the guy’s a carpenter and works out of his house. He has a key to my backdoor, so he can let Blackie in when it gets hot later on. He’s got a little terrier of his own.”

 “Perfect, because eventually you’ll need a dog sitter. You can’t just leave dogs alone all the time, you know.”

“Right,” Saddler said. “Don’t tell me anymore, okay?

“Deal. So what about the Sharon Lester autopsy?” Sam asked.

“Abby says Lester’s elbows and lower arms and hands were roughed up as if she’d been dragged, and her right wrist was broken. The large amount of blood on her hand and arm appears to be from touching the head wound and lying in the puddle of blood.”

“Any defensive wounds or DNA under the finger nails? That would be a bonus.”

“No, we didn’t get that lucky, but her stomach contents indicates she might have been out for a big dinner that evening.”

“That would account for her being out walking the dog at such a late hour,” Sam said.
“Do you think any of that blood on Blackie might be the killer’s?”

“I will take him into the lab when I go to check on the CCTV forensics has collected. I haven’t given him a bath.”

Sam drew in her breath and said, “We should have bagged that tug toy. We might have gotten fingerprints.”

“God, is that ever a rookie mistake,” Saddler moaned. “I got so caught up in getting the dog to jump in the car after the toy that I didn’t think about prints. I’ll bring it along to the lab with the dog.”

“It’s worth a shot at least,” Sam said. “I didn’t get much from our witness. Her parents were there with her. She’s taking a couple nights off work. She still seems traumatized by the experience,” Sam told him. “I asked her if she remembered seeing anything unusual on her way from the Metro to the alley.

“She said something interesting. She keeps hearing a dog barking in her dreams. When she woke up this morning she remembered seeing a black dog at the door of the Circle K when she went in to get milk and bread. It was barking relentlessly, so she thought its owner must be inside the store. When she left the dog was gone.”

“Do you think it might have been Blackie?” Saddler asked.

“Well, the Circle K is within walking of the alley, but why would the dog leave its owner’s side. Remember, Blackie was behind the dumpster like he was waiting there in case his owner came back. Do you really think he would stray that far away from the scene?”

“I’ll ask him.”

“Yeah, that’ll help,” Sam quipped. “Did you call Al about the bank and Verizon?”

“I spoke with him briefly while he and Kelly were doing a second canvass. We agreed to meet back at the station at three to see what they found and decide how to set up the investigation.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Chapter 3 of EZ Street - Copyright 2018 c. k. thomas

Here's a bonus monthly installment of the murder mystery I'm drafting. I hope you enjoy the latest adventures of EZ and Sam. Check April's post and a post around May 12 for Chapters 1 and 2.


Chapter Three
Present Day

Sam was in the shower getting ready for work, and she could hear her cell phone music playing Pharrell’s Be Happy, while vibrating itself off the edge of the bathroom sink and hitting the floor with a sickening crack.

“Damn, if my phone’s busted, I’m going to kill whoever just called!” she told herself as she turned off the shower and stepped out.

Happily she found the phone still safely on the sink and her detective badge upside down on the bathroom tile.

“You’re damn lucky this morning, EZ.”

“What? I haven’t even said a word.”

“Don’t need to. You almost busted my phone. It was a near miss.”

EZ could tell by the tone of her voice she was in a good mood. Now would be the best time to let her in on the case they just caught.

“Since I’m already in the dog house, let me tell you about last night. We caught a case.”

“Hmm, what happened to keeping me in the loop? We talked about this, EZ.”

“I know, I know. I don’t have an excuse better than I just plain got wrapped up at the scene and forgot to call until Al mentioned your name. Then, it was too late to call anyway, so I took a chance and waited until now.”

“Okay, but you owe me lunch for forgetting.”

“Not a problem. How about breakfast, too? I know I don’t deserve forgiveness, but maybe I can buy my way back into your good will. Meet me at First Watch on Thomas in say half an hour?”

“Deal. See you there.”

EZ tossed his comb aside in disgust after trying to tame his curly hair into some sort of submission. He knew if he didn’t blow it dry it would end up scrambled like this. He felt like a Shirley Temple doll, but it was too late now to wet his golden locks down and start over.

He took his unmarked to the fifty-one south to Thomas from his house in the Dreamy Draw and got to the restaurant before Sam. That was the beauty of his little 50s style house located in north-central Phoenix. He could hop on route 51 and be anywhere in the metro area in a little less than a jiffy. North he could hook up with the 101 across town east or west and south took him to the heart of downtown or all the way to Tucson. 

“Ordered you coffee, a wheat bagel and cinnamon-maple cream cheese. Anything else?”

“Perfect. Thanks. So tell me about last night. Wha’d I miss?”

EZ told her the particulars and suggested they stop off at the scene on their way downtown since they were so close. Once they finished eating they headed for the crime scene. Sam parked at the curb across from the all-night grocery and EZ pulled into the alley.

“Might as well check to see if the gun store at the other end of the alley has any video while we’re here.”

“That’s a big gamble,” Sam said, looking down the alley at the derelict-looking storefront.

“I’ll hike down there while you get a feel for the scene. Our witness tripped over the vic’s body just across from that dumpster.”

Sam knelt down next to the outline of the body and pictured the scene in her mind. What’s the point of shooting someone in an alley when the vic wasn’t even carrying a handbag? A headshot looks like an assassination, so maybe the woman walking her dog will turn out to be more mysterious than she appeared. Without her identity, finding the motive for the murder will be next to impossible.

EZ had said no cell phone was found and nothing suspicious turned up in the dumpster. Sam climbed up on a couple pallets next to the dumpster to take a look. At only 5’ 3” she often had to either hoist herself up and over obstacles or find something to give her more height. She knew forensics had already been all over the dumpster, and she could see nothing interesting except for a glint off something her flashlight caught in the near corner.

“Oh hell, now I’m going to have to climb in,” she groaned. “Well, here goes.”

When EZ returned he found her still inside the container studying something obviously wedged in the corner.

“What’d ya find?”

“I’m not sure. It looks like some sort of plaything a kid might have. It sort of glows in the dark,” Sam said as she tugged on the thing to get it loose. “It’s caught in a crack where the side seams come together or more like, don’t. Got it! Finally! It’s one of those dog tug toys.”

“Toss it here,” EZ said.

As he caught the toy, he squeezed it in his grip and it gave out a loud squeek.

“Gotcha!”

Next thing he knew he was flat on his back with a big black dog playing a serious game of tugs with him and his new toy.

“Hey there, boy. Where’d you come from?”

“He came from behind the dumpster. Give me hand out of here once you get finished playing with your new best friend.”

“This must be the dog our vic was walking last night. He’s got blood stains on his coat.”

“What’s his name?”

“I don’t know, but I can call forensics to see if they’ve traced his tags yet.”

After a quick call, EZ found out the dog’s name was Blackie, and the tags listed his owner as Sharon Lester at 30 East Thomas, #2010, which is just around the corner.

“Maybe our victim made a wild throw with the toy and then came into the alley looking for it when the dog didn’t bring it back,” Sam guessed.

“Maybe, but the dog was on a leash, so I doubt they were playing catch.”

“Let’s swing by the apartment and see if Ms Lester has a roommate.”

“What about the dog?”

“We’ll take him along. Come on, boy. Let’s go,” EZ called.

He tossed the toy into the backseat and the big dog easily jumped in after it.

“Maybe there’s a roommate or husband who can take Blackie here off our hands.”

“What kind of dog is that?” Sam asked as they drove along Thomas looking for the address.

“Darned if I know. Maybe a Labrador or a Doberman?”

“Can’t be a Doberman, can it? Don’t people have the ears on those kind clipped into points? Sure is friendly, isn’t he. I hope there’s someone to take care of him. Look at that, he just hunkered down on the backseat. What a good puppy,” Sam crooned as EZ rolled his eyes and tried to ignore her mothering instincts.

Sam didn’t seem like the mothering type to EZ. She kept her hair cut in a boyish, but cute style kinda like Ellen on TV. She lived in a tiny studio apartment with a pull-out in the living area and a postage stamp bathroom at the end of a long hall. The kitchen had a microwave, an apartment-sized refrigerator and a one-sided sink. None of the appliances had ever been used. Even the microwave looked untouched and forlorn.

EZ had seen her pull a beer out of the fridge on occasion, but when he went looking for a glass one time, he discovered all the cabinets were completely empty. When he asked her about her living arrangement, she just shrugged and told him she liked to keep things simple. Eating out was a way of life for her and if you wanted to find a good restaurant in Phoenix, you didn’t check the Internet, you called Sam.

When they arrived at Sharon Lester’s ground-floor apartment, Blackie ran straight to the door and jumped up to put his giant paws against it. Surprisingly, the door swung open and the dog bounded inside. He went immediately to his water bowl in the kitchen and began lapping water like he hadn’t had a drink in a couple days.

“Oh, poor thing,” Sam said. “He’s been on his own ever since the murder. No wonder he’s thirsty.”

EZ announced their presence inside the apartment, but there was no sign of a Mr. Lester or the appearance that another person might share the space.

“Looks like we’re going to have to drop Blackie off at the shelter,” EZ said.

“Oh, come on EZ, you don’t want to leave him there. Why don’t you keep him for awhile and see if anyone turns up to claim him. She must have family somewhere.”

“I know nothing about dogs, Sam.”

“What’s to know? You feed him and walk him. That’s about it. Besides, he’s already claimed the backseat of your unmarked.”

“Well, maybe,” EZ said as he flipped through a pile of mail on the hall table. “Here’s a letter that reads like it might be from her mother. Nope, wait a minute. It’s signed Janice, so maybe it’s just a friend or a sister.”

“Too bad we don’t have her cell phone. Hey, look at this,” Sam said as she reached under a tall stool in the kitchen. It’s another one of those tug toys like I pulled out of the dumpster. He must really like these things.”

“There’s a Verizon bill here. We can probably get phone records and a person to notify from them. Wait a minute, there’s a bank statement from Arizona Bank. They probably know all about Ms Lester. We can stop by there after we talk with our witness.”

After calling forensics to go over the apartment, they drove back to the alley where Sam left her car.

“Oh, hey, did you get any video from the gun store?” 

“It’s closed on Mondays, so I’ll need to chase down the owner by phone, but I don’t hold out any hope. The camera over the door looks ancient.”

“Tell you what, I’ll go finish interviewing our witness while you take Blackie to the station to check on the video forensics got from the convenience store. Oh, we should probably get the film from the Circle K where the witness stopped on the way home, too.”

“Okay, I’ll call Al and make sure he and Kelly are going to finish the canvass of the neighborhood. Most of the stores and offices were closed last night. Maybe they can check with Verizon and the bank, too.”

“Abby said she’d get to the autopsy around 10 this morning, so I better get a move on.”

“You can’t take Blackie into the morgue, and you can’t leave him in the car. You better run by your house and drop him off in the backyard. You have that nice high block wall, so he’ll be fine there. Oh and don’t forget to leave water out for him and find him a shady place to lie. Better yet, you’re gonna need a doggie door.”

“I thought you said walk him and feed him. I should know better than to take advice from an apartment dweller. Did you ever even own a dog?”

“No, but how hard can it be,” Sam said as she slid into her car. “Pick me up at the station around one, and we’ll compare notes over lunch. Hey, did you see pictures of Kelly’s baby, yet?”

“Nope, but I have a suspicion she’ll have plenty with her today.”


Saturday, May 12, 2018

Chapter 2 of Easy Street (Working Title) - Copyright 2018 c. k. thomas

As promised, here's Chapter 2 of the mystery novel I'm struggling to write. If you missed Chapter 1, you'll find it in my post for April.

 Durant's, Phoenix, AZ
 
Chapter Two
One Month Earlier

     All the regulars enter Durant’s through the back door, cut through the kitchen and slip into a seemingly pitch-black dining room. One of the oldest restaurants in Phoenix, Durant’s remains THE place to drink, dine and do deals. It has been a landmark since 1950 and a family operation ever since. Durant’s exudes an air of the clandestine largely because its founder, “Jack” Durant formerly worked for Bugsy Siegel as a Vegas pit boss.

 “God help me, I can’t see a fucking thing,” she whispered to herself.

“Table for one?” a waiter asked from somewhere in the dark.

“Just wait a sec, until my eyes catch up,” she told him. “Actually, a table for two; I’m meeting someone here.”

“There’s a gentleman in the back who told me to keep an eye out. Perhaps he’s the person you’re meeting?”

“Um, maybe. He told me he’s bald and about six foot five.”

“A blind date?”

“No, no nothing like that; strictly business.”


“Come this way,” the waiter said as he led her to a red-quilted leather booth in the farthest back corner.

“We spoke on the phone,” she said sliding into the booth a safe distance from the man.

“Can I bring you some drinks,” the waiter interrupted.

“Scotch, rocks,” the guy said.

“And for the lady?”

“Sapphire martini, up.”

“We spoke on the phone?” she repeated as the waiter walked away.

“Yeah, I’m the guy. What are you in the market for?”

“I need a gun, and I need somebody to show me how to shoot,” she told him as her trembling hands fiddled with the napkin-wrapped silverware.

“Now that’s askin’ a lot, lady.”

“I was told you could arrange things,” she said as she slid five one hundred dollar bills across the table.

“In that case,” he said. “I can set you up with a guy, but you’ll . . .”

The waiter placed the drinks on the table and started to ask for their order, but the man cut him off.

“We’ll order later.”

“Drive down to South Mountain in about an hour and wait by the first ramada. He’ll find you.”

“What about the gun?”

“Bring another $500. He’ll bring the gun.”

The impatient waiter lingered close by and recognized a chance to get the order.

“I’ll have the rib-eye,” the bald guy said, pointing to the menu.

“And for the lady?”

“Enjoy your steak,” she said, getting up. “I’ve got to run.”

* * *

The day after she got the gun, she drove out to the Black Mountain Shooting Range. There she ran into a guy who’d been a cop before he retired 10 years ago, and he showed her the basics. She was amazed at how quickly she became proficient with it. She congratulated herself with a chuckle, thinking how ironic it was to be taking shooting lessons from a cop.

“This old guy has no idea he isn’t teaching me self-defense.  What would he do if he suspected I have murder on my mind?” she thought.

The shooting range proved to be fine for honing her aiming skills, but all the targets were stationary. She began to think about how she could practice on some moving targets. A tingle ran through her body very much as it did when she watched those porn movies her husband kept buying for her.

* * *

“Tripp, where are you?” She said as she grabbed her cell phone from the console.

“It doesn’t sound like you’re home. You in the car?”

“I’m just pulling in the driveway from the grocery store.”

“What’s for dinner?”

“Why do you care? You’re never here for dinner.”

“Okay, okay. I know you won’t believe it, but I’m just leaving downtown. Try to get yourself in a better mood by the time I get there. I stopped off at Grady’s for a few beers with the guys.”

She knew it would take Tripp at least half an hour to drive home. With a bit of luck she could grab a meal from Applebee’s on Central and have it on the table when he walked in the door.


Tripp Collins owns an auto repair shop in downtown Phoenix, and he’s proud of it. He spent years working in various garages around the city, but finally saved and borrowed enough money to get a place of his own. He’s also quick to tell friends that his wife works as a paralegal for some high-minded attorneys in one of those high-rises down on Washington Street. Between the two of them they bring in enough to live comfortably without worrying much about money.

Easily able to afford a gym membership, Tripp boxes three nights a week. It serves him well to be built like a truck, but unfortunately he also enjoys his beer. Some nights she knew better than to come home late or not have dinner on the table when Trip arrived home. Those were the nights he came in drunk and used her for a speed bag.

She’d made more trips to the hospital than she cared to admit and once a welfare worker showed up at the house during the day to inquire about her well-being. Of course she sent him away with some story about a balance problem that caused her to fall repeatedly. So far she’d managed to keep the police out of their tenuous marriage and had learned how to stay out of Tripp’s way most of the time.

Her cell rang again as she hung up from Tripp, “Hi Sis, I’m just checking in to see if you’re planning on coming over on Saturday afternoon for barbecue.”

“Oh God, I forgot all about it. Listen, Tripp has some sort of boxing thing going on down at the gym, but I should be able to get away. Barbecue sounds great. I could use a break.”

“Perfect! I’m glad Tripp can’t make it. You know how he always manages to make a scene.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“I don’t know why you stay with him.”

“Because I can’t live like this without his income. I’ve told you this before. I like the Lexus, the clothes, and going to the spa.”

“Okay, okay, I don’t have time right now to convince you otherwise and the baby is starting to cry.”

“I’m going to hold that new baby all day long on Saturday! I can hardly wait!”

* * *

She just about got dinner on the table in time and Tripp wasn’t drunk. Actually, he was in a good mood.

“I’m going over to my sister’s place on Saturday for barbecue while you’re at your gym thing.”

“Okay by me, doll. I don’t enjoy those things anyway.”

“They still haven’t named their new baby girl, and she’s already two months old.”

“Too bad you can’t have kids. I’d like a boy to follow me around and work next to me in the shop.  If you hadn’t lost that one, he’d be 10 years old by now.”

She didn’t respond, but bit back tears at the memory of losing their child. Tripp blamed her because her uterus couldn’t support a healthy pregnancy. It nearly killed her when the doctor told her she’d never be able to have a successful pregnancy. Tripp liked reminding her how imperfect and damaged she was. He seemed to enjoy making her feel rotten. She’d learned not to react to his taunts or risk a beating. She began clearing the table and saved her tears for over the kitchen sink.

“Hey, doll.”

“Yeah.”

“I’m goin’ over to the gym for awhile. Don’t wait up. The guys might get up a game of cards after we work out. See you in the morning.”

She heard the door slam behind him and knew exactly where he was going. Sheila Barns worked as a waitress at the Matador downtown close to Tripp’s auto shop. He ate lunch there almost every day, and she knew he’d been fucking Sheila for over a year. She had become very good at following Tripp and looking at his cell phone calls when he was in the shower. The two of them were having quite a fling if their hot texts to each other were any indication. That woman had to be stopped. Sheila Barns wasn’t going to break up her marriage.

“That bitch doesn’t know who she’s dealing with,” she said to herself as her anger overpowered her tears. “She has no idea!”