Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Silver
Brian Behr Valentine
Photo Credit: Matt/Flickr (CC-by-nc)
I was greeted with smiles, jeers and whistles as I walked through the large room full of desks. All city precincts are alike—attitude and clowning. Nothing is holy. It has to be, or you go insane. And if you’re not one of the gang, then you are shown respect, but given little. I’m not on the force anymore, but I’m still one of the gang, and they definitely respect me, though an outsider wouldn’t know by the clowning.
“Hey Jewell, we’ll push our desks together if you’ll strip!”
“Sorry, I’m going down to the firehouse later and dance for them… they have a pole!”
Laughing grumbles followed this as I went into the Captain’s office.
“What’s up, Bud?” I asked, noting he was getting closer to the Lou Grant look everyday.
“Thanks for coming, Jewell.” He indicated a seat. The ancient air conditioner in his ancient office buzzed fitfully.
“What is it this time, Bud? Need me to sneak into another board meeting, church social, or political rally?” Now that I was off the force, I was extremely useful to them. I knew what to look for, and, as a private detective, police rules did not govern my conduct.
“Nah. I got a case bothering me. I’m about to mark it closed, but… my hand won’t put it in the file cabinet.”
“Hmm. A mind of its own. Just what kind of things does your hand get up to, now that Janet’s left?”
He turned red. “The same as before she left and none of your concern.”
“Okay,” I smiled. “Before you call me a cruel bitch again, what’s the case about?”
“Looks like a mugging that caused a heart attack. Found this fat, middle-aged accountant lying on the sidewalk, tits-up, just past the bus stop where the overpass drops from Old Town Heights across the six-lane. Guy had a really bad heart condition. He rode the bus everyday and his apartment was ground floor, half block from the stop. He was tasered from behind. His wallet was missing. He had abrasions on his hands and forehead so we know he initially fell forward. His glasses were found about five light poles down the overpass from the bus stop… and that’s it.”
“How did they get down there?”
“The glasses? Dunno, maybe some kids kicked them down the street.”
“And that’s it. Looks like he took a short walk, got mugged, had a heart attack, and died at the hospital.”
“Sounds solid. So, what’s the problem?”
“He was a very important suspect in an organized crime case.”
“Why wasn’t he in witness protection somewhere else?”
“He was. We’re the somewhere else. Case is from the West Coast. We now know that he compromised himself in several ways.”
“Calls to his wife. His brother. Who knows who else he may have called. I think the safe house was the most exciting thing to ever happen to him.”
“Well, he was an accountant. ”
He agreed with a shrug.
“You think it was a hit?”
“My brain tells me it’s cut and dried, Jewell. My… hunch tells me different.
“Well, Bud, anyone who knows you would take your hunch over the meager offerings of you brain any day.”
He game me a tired look. “You’re never going to forgive me for firing you, are you?”
“No. Now will you take a look at this goddamn case? Please?”
“I’d do anything for you, Bud.”
“God, how I wish that were true, Jewell.”
“You have four heart bypasses. Best it’s only a tease.”
“I don’t know. Death might be worth it,” he grinned.
“Oh, I guarantee it would be worth it, Bud. I guarantee it.”
He shook his head, handed me the case file, and left red-faced but chuckling. I sat at his desk and read. It did look cut and dried. Except for one thing. The glasses were found five blocks away, out on the overpass. In the picture, the gold-framed glasses lay folded, lenses up next to a rusty, cast iron light pole, looking put aside with care. Neither muggers, nor the dying man would have done this.
I looked up to see Debussy—Conan O’Brien in a blue uniform.
“Bud said I was to assist you,” he stated softly.
“Gregg, the paramedic’s report said he was laying next to a light pole near the bus stop. But his glasses were five light poles away from the bus stop. How did they get there?”
The cop that wrote it up had only what the paramedics told him. The veteran bus driver knew the man by his picture, like he knew everyone in the city by their picture, he said. He had no recollection one way or the other of the man getting on or off that day.
I had Debussy drive me to the paramedic squad house. He was too quiet.
“What is it Debussy?”
To his credit, he was forthright about it. “They fired you. Even though everyone says you’re the best detective they ever met.”
I didn’t respond.
“You saved that little girl…”
“And they fired you… Why did you strip?”
“To gain the suspect’s confidence, Gregg. It was the only way. Her life was on the line.”
“But you lost your job for stripping.”
“There are things more important than a job, or a uniform, Gregg.”
He didn’t respond.
“Gregg, if the job is more important than justice, you will never make a great detective. You will automatically stop seeing clues that would lead you down a bad career path. You become permanently mediocre. If you’re good, though, you end up betting your job against solving every difficult case. You might not have a long career, but there are other things waiting.”
“Like being a private detective,” he queried.
“Or a stripper. Think you’d look good in one of those Chippendales G-strings?”
He had a Harrison Ford self-deprecating grin. “Not really.”
Neither paramedic could recall exactly where on the overpass they found the man. They also claimed they had not seen the glasses. I was getting pissed.
The quiet one leaned to his partner and whispered in his ear.
“Oh!” The talker looked me up and down with a slow smile building.
Debussy moved his hand to his gun. His look said: “She’s one of ours! One of ours! And if you don’t want an angry six-foot-four cop pistol-whipping you into a tearful puddle, you’ll be respectful.” The paramedic’s smarmy smile leached away.
“We…” He kept looking from me to where Debussy’s fingers petted the grips of his pistol. “We found him laying by the light pole on the overpass, just down from the bus stop.”
“Which light pole?”
“Don’t know. I was kinda busy.”
The quiet one shrugged.
“You found him on his back, though?”
“Which one of you hit him with the defibrillator paddles?”
“I did,” said the quiet one.
“And what were you doing?”
“What? Getting him…” he glanced at Debussy and calmed his voice. “…ready.”
“Go through it.”
“Are you deaf?” asked Debussy, dangerously.
“Okay, okay. After I cut his tie off, I pulled his jacket open and then…” He hesitated.
“What?” I demanded.
“Damn! I took his glasses…”
“Stop.” I pointed to the floor. “Show me.”
With a glance at Gregg, he knelt down, tugging at his partner to come down and play the dying accountant. “I opened his jacket. I saw his glasses in his shirt pocket. I grabbed them and…” He hesitated, then twisted around and lay them down. “…laid them next to the light pole.”
“Like this?” I asked, showing him the picture.
“Yes! That’s it.”
“Thank you,” I said.
Driving back I said, “So, Gregg, you never come to see me down at the strip club like some of the others.”
“Most of the guys won’t. They think you’re beautiful, but… the police basically forced you to become a stripper.”
“That’s not true. I became a stripper on my own.”
“I’m still not coming to see you.”
“I like you just like this. I want…”
“I want to become a detective and, you know, bring justice to the world. I hate injustice. Hate it!”
“Then look for the odd things in the cases you are on. Little things that most people overlook. Like these glasses.”
“But what does that tell us?”
“In Bud’s file it says he was found south of the bus stop next to the light pole. This proves the man was found five light poles south of the bus stop.”
“What does that tell us?” Bud asked, when we got to the station.
“It tells us he didn’t get off the bus at the bus stop,” said Gregg.
“But… you haven’t proven anything.” said Bud. “He gets off at the bus stop and takes a little constitutional out across the overpass. Someone mugs him. His tie gets grabbed in the struggle. A second operator shoots him in the back with the Taser. He goes down, face forward; they grab his wallet and run. The paramedics try too revive him but it’s too late,” finished Bud.
I indicated Debussy should explain where he was wrong.
“Well… it was way too far for a man in his health to walk in that heat on purpose—it was ninety-eight. And it’s downhill so he would have had a real hard time getting back uphill.”
“He would not have done it,” I stated. “Never.”
“So… he must have gotten off the bus where we found his glasses,” Gregg finished.
“Right.” I beamed.
“But what does… why would the bus let him off there?”
Debussy was out of ideas now.
“To kill him out of sight, Bud,” I said.
“He was tasered in the back, right?”
“Have the Medical Examiner check the body to see if the Taser shot was angled downward.”
“From the top step of the bus,” piped up Gregg excitedly.
“Very good. I’ll be back in the morning for the answer.”
“He was tasered from above.” said Debussy. “The toothpicks the ME stuck in the Taser wounds were at an angle.”
“The bus would have been full of people,” said Bud.
“They could’ve used another bus,” Gregg countered.
“How the hell would they have gotten away with that?”
“The driver controls the sign,” I said. “After getting him on the bus the driver could have changed the sign so that no one at other stops saw it as their bus. He tells the passengers that did get on that he is having trouble with the bus and everyone who isn’t getting off at the overpass stop, needs to get off at the next stop.
“And the real bus would be coming along behind, so no one would have a complaint.”
“Very good, Gregg. You’ve got my replacement coming up here, Bud.”
Bud looked the beanpole up and down regretfully. He had a love/hate relationship with detectives.
“You can see how it goes,” I said. “The bus passes the bus stop and he yells, getting pissed off. The driver stops five light poles out onto the overpass. The driver tells him that he either gets off there, or goes all the way around again. This makes him even angrier. He steps onto the sidewalk and gets a Taser in the back. The huge bus blocks the view of anyone close. The driver steps off, grabs his wallet, flips him over, and flees the scene. The whole thing takes less than thirty seconds because he has practiced.”
“His wallet was in his back pocket. Why turn him over?”
I looked at Gregg and he grinned.
“To tighten his tie.”
“Sorry, that doesn’t wash. We’ve looked into the driver. Nothing odd or bad. All the drivers have been accounted for, on and off duty. You’ve got nothing.”
“If I were you Bud, and I am so glad I’m not…”
“I’d— no. You do it, Gregg.”
He looked panicked.
“Calm down. What’s the dilemma? Take your time. How do you solve that dilemma?”
“Uhm… all the drivers have been accounted for… so…” He looked down, then up quickly, “But not all the people who can drive the bus!”
I smiled. “Excellent.”
“What?” asked Bud. “Who else?”
“The head bus mechanic. He knows how to operate it as well as any driver, and could cover by saying he was test-driving it.”
I clapped and his face turned as red as his hair. Bud personally escorted Gregg down to arrest the head mechanic. He’d been given twenty-five thousand to pull the caper off and had almost gotten away with it.
After we met in Bud’s office, I offered Debussy lunch and he accepted.
“You like these kinds of cases, don’t you?” Gregg asked at lunch.
“Like dogs love tennis balls.”
“I understand why you stripped now. It was for justice.”
“Right. I would have died for that little girl. I almost did die for her, and I would do it all again, gunshot wounds, coma and all. What was a little nude dancing against her life?” I started tearing up. “I see her occasionally. She’s becoming a niece of sorts.”
He handed me his kerchief and I sniffed into it while he smiled at me.
“It’s passion that drives you.”
“Sure… Oh, I see. You’ve been taught to keep passion out of it. Sometimes passionate righteousness is all you’ve got to go on, Gregg.”
“Thanks for the lessons, Jewell. I’m gonna make you proud.”