Copyright (c) 2018 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
It took me eight years to make detective on Chicago’s notorious South Side. I’d tossed my uniform away and had only worn plain clothes for three days when I decided to leave the madness. The ninth precinct received a tip that a black gang-member/street dealer named Edward R. Boggins was hiding out in his girlfriend’s apartment. Two cops wearing chest armor pounded on Nancy Benton’s door and shoved the warrant for Eddie’s arrest under the security chain while we guarded the hall. A stereo was blasting ACDC’s Highway to Hell at a volume high enough to peel paint off the walls.
There was no way the blonde teen peering through the cracked door could read the document. Both of her eyes were bruised and swollen shut; her bottom lip was spit so bad in several places that you could see her broken teeth and her nose looked like one of those restaurant wall-fountains gushing Hawaiian Punch. A baby was crying somewhere. It was enough for probable cause … we kicked the door down.
I caught Boggins trying to go out a third floor window and pulled him to safety by his hair. Eddie thanked me by plunging a Tijuana Toad-stabber three inches into my left thigh. The other officers handcuffed Eddie and dragged him down the hall. They called an ambulance for the girl and another for me. She dragged her baby from child services two days later and refused to press charges for domestic abuse.
A week after they sewed up my leg I got my promotion. Two days later I was back at the same apartment. Two short lines of white powder lay on a glass table next to a rolled-up five dollar bill … the razor blade was missing. Nancy had cut both of her wrists in the bathtub. The naked baby (with cocaine caked in both its tiny nostrils) had crawled behind the toilet and was bawling. Nancy left behind a bloody note that said she couldn’t live without Eddie.
Something clicked inside me and I wanted out of the Windy-City and to be as far away from the insanity and violence as possible. My grandfather Frank Jagger was originally from a small town in Montana before he moved to Illinois just before the great depression. I saw a job opening for a detective/deputy in the Vanishing River Tribune and sent them my application. The sheriff who hired me smiled and said they’d been waiting three generations for my return. “We’re very pleased to have you working with us Ted! As you can see we’re very short handed.” I looked around the office. Me and him were the only ones there.
Cloverdale was a quiet, sleepy town of less than five-thousand … better still, the wind wasn’t blowing … I was home.
It was quiet my first day on the job. I spent the morning organizing my desk and looking over a map of the city.
Robert M. Rowand, the detective I was replacing, had left everything in a mess including his files. I did a few enquiries. He had only worked for the sheriff’s department for two months before he vanished. He was still officially listed as a missing person.
That didn’t sound good!
Just before lunch I received my first assignment. Sheriff John Walker asked me to investigate a complaint. Some lady by the name of Edith Morris claimed she had a Peeping Tom at her house last night. I laughed as I drove to the Morris residence. The sun was shining and a light rain was falling … still no wind. This work was sure different than the dirty, crazy streets of Chicago.
Edith met me at the door wearing a housecoat and a frown on her face. She didn’t invite me to sit down; I took notes standing up. “Do you know what this Peeping Tom looked like?”
“Of course I know what he looked like!” Her hair was sticking out all over her head she looked like she hadn’t slept much. “It was my husband Herald!”
I stuck my hand in my pocket and pinched my leg so I wouldn’t laugh. “Is Harold home? Maybe I’d better have a word with him.”
“Harold died seven days ago.” She was glaring at me. “I suppose you think that’s funny!”
I didn’t think it was funny. I thought the woman might be crazy. “I’m sorry, mam. But if you husband has been deceased for a week, how could he be looking in your window?”
“You’re the detective! You tell me!” she sneered.
Edith led me into the kitchen and showed me where she was standing doing dishes; a window above the sink looked into the back yard. “I just finished watching Lawrence Welk,” she said. “So it must have been a little after eight O’clock.” She tapped the glass with her finger. “He put his face right against the window and smiled!”
“And you’re sure this was your deceased husband?”
“I lived with him for forty years,” she balked. “The old turd has a tooth missing on the front bottom left and a wart that sprouts hair like a tiny coconut tree on his chin. If it wasn’t him it was his damn twin and if he comes back he’ll be peeking into the business end a shotgun barrel!”
She began to mutter and I had to ask her to speak up. “It was his eyes,” she said. “Harold never had eyes like that … they was killer crazy!”
I asked every question I could think of and wrote everything down on a note pad. There was no way I could get Edith to admit that it might be someone else. I left her house thinking that Chicago must not have a monopoly on crazy people after all. On the way to my car I decided to go into her backyard and have a look around.
There was a flower bed with tulips growing right under the kitchen window. The house sat on a one foot tall concrete foundation. Whoever looked in the window had to be well over six feet tall … probably over six foot four. There were at least five good boot-prints in the mud and mulch. I recognized the tread as the type railroad workers used. Tiny puddles of water hadn’t washed them away. I got the knees of my pants dirty. Whoever left the prints had a gimp left leg …. probably shorter than the other with a built up shoe. It may not have been Edith’s husband but someone was here last night. The intruder was standing close enough to press his face right against the window just like Edith said. I tried to follow the tracks … but lost them in the wet grass.
When I got back to the courthouse/police station the first thing I did was look up Harold Morris’s obituary in last week’s Vanishing River Tribune. There wasn’t much there. He’d lived in Comanche County all his life, formerly worked for the railroad and for the last twenty-eight years was a used car salesman. There was no autopsy, but the cause of death was listed as a heart attack. I also looked at his driver’s license information. Harold Morris was five-foot six inches tall and weighed one-hundred sixty pounds.
In the afternoon Sheriff Walker returned from a court appearance in Missoula. I asked him if he knew Harold Morris.
“All my life,” John said. “Harold sold me my first car … a forty-two Nash with a smoking and drinking problem.”
“Sounds dangerous,” I said.
“It was,” John told me. “Two quarts of oil every forty miles and blowing enough blue smoke to make the fire department and any other car on the road nervous.
We both laughed and I figured this was a good time to ask a stupid question.
“Harold didn’t happen to have a left leg shorter than the right and walk with a built up boot did he?”
The sheriff poured himself a cup of coffee and handed the pot to me along with an odd look.
“How did you know that?”
I missed my cup and made a small puddle on my desk. “Sheriff, I think we have a problem!”
Joseph Callahan retired the year before and his son Egbert was running the local mortuary. “Yes, Harold Morris’s funeral was held here at On a Cloud Garden,” he told me.
“I know this is a stupid question,” I said. “But are you sure Harold was dead?”
Egbert shrugged his shoulders as if this was a question he got all the time. “Most people would ask you to leave for even asking,” he said. “But this is Cloverdale. Strange things have to be born somewhere. Most people think they originate in our area.”
“Then you’re not sure?”
“I didn’t do the embalming,” Egbert said, “that would be my assistant Mr. Sims … he’s working on another dearly departed in the basement.”
Egbert punched an intercom button on his desk. “Lawrence, when you get a moment would you come up to my office please.”
Egbert apologized. “If Lawrence is right in the middle of something, it might take a few minutes.”
I walked with Egbert through the mortuary and then we waited by the elevator. Several Japanese women were busy transforming the inside of the funeral home into an elaborate garden complete with waterfalls ponds and a stream. Something kept turning over in my mind. It was the name Lawrence. Edith Morris said she had been watching Lawrence Welk when the window peeper appeared. Now, I’m not the smartest, or the luckiest, but I never caught a bullet all the time I worked in Chicago. A tiny but persistent voice that sounded like my late mother always reminded me of one simple fact as I worked the buildings and alleys downtown … there’s no such thing as coincidence. So believe me when I say, I believed that small still voice, but I sure as heck don’t believe in coincidences. I still didn’t believe in them in this small town. Like the famous Albert Einstein said in layman’s terms … everything is related.
Ten minutes later the elevator door opened and Lawrence Sims lurched out. I’d seen a lot of really ugly people in Chicago but Lawrence took your breath away … in a bad way. “Howdy.” He smiled and shook my hand. Looking up into that long fleshy face I noticed that he was missing a tooth … on the front bottom left.
“Detective Jagger wants to know if Harold Morris was dead before we buried him,” Egbert said as we walked back to his office. The Japanese gardeners were planting orchids … the smell was intoxicating.
Lawrence smiled again. The hole in his teeth looked large enough to smoke a cigar with his mouth closed. “He didn’t kick, scratch or nothing when I turn on the formaldehyde pump,” he said. I thought he might be jerking me around … he wasn’t.
I was beginning to think Egbert’s assistant might be missing a few brain cells. Egbert shrugged his shoulders.
When we got back to his office, Callahan showed me a copy of the death certificate. “I suggest,” he said. “If you have reason to believe Mr. Morris was not dead when interred that you take it up with the county coroner.”
There was something going on here, but I had nothing to go on …. Just a crazy lady who swore her dead husband was a Peeping Tom and a set of muddy footprints under a window. When I got back to the courthouse the first place I went was the coroner’s. His office was just down the hall from mine.
“Massive coronary,” Paul Fisk assured me. “If this guy was dancing around in his back yard a week after his funeral … I want some of what they injected him with.”
I spent the rest of the day doing a background check on Lawrence Sims. He was born in Comanche County in 1901, so that would make him sixty-three years old. Lawrence dropped out of High School and enlisted in the Navy in 1917. Four years after his discharge, he started working for his brother … a local taxidermist. Just ten years ago he went back to school and got his post-mortem cosmetology license. Edith Morris’s words came back to me like an echo in a recurring nightmare … “It was his eyes,” she said. “Harold never had eyes like that … they was killer crazy!”
I went through Robert Rowand’s back files. This wasn’t the first Peeping Tom case reported by a recent widow … the incidences went back at least ten years. It didn’t look like Bob took any of the complaints seriously.
I tried to reach Sheriff Walker on his car phone but the dispatcher said he was at the scene of an auto accident where the highway crosses the river near Motha Forest. “We never get good reception when you get too close to those trees,” she said.
My shift was over but I decided to pay a visit to Lawrence Sims. His driver’s license file said he lived with his brother Vince on Vineyard Road just past Black Rose Cemetery. It figured. My mother’s voice was nagging nonstop again in the far corners of my brain. There are no coincidences.
It was raining as I left the courthouse. The unmarked car I drove was a three year old Chevy but it was already trashed. The windshield wipers were streaking the glass. The cemetery on the North side of State Hospital North looked like a park. Being from Chicago, I was driving way too fast, but was starting to slow because the Vincent Sims residence was just after Black Rose … that’s probably what saved my life.
Two dark figures ran across the road right in front of me. I slammed on the brakes and slid sideways on the wet pavement. I tried to correct but it was as if the car had a mind of its own. The front end of the Chevy went through the wrought iron fence surrounding the graveyard and crashed into a tree. I was wearing my seatbelt, but was violently dazed. I kept seeing the car skid and then crash through the fence over and over like a video tape in a loop. Somewhere there was chanting like those who were once messed up on drugs … but were now messed up on the Lord … or his counterpart.
The hands that reached through the broken glass and pulled me out were cold … much too cold for the living … somewhere dark birds flew from a tree … and the wind began to blow.
To be continued …