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By J. T. O'Brien
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 J. T. O'Brien
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Chapter OneSunday Night.
Jack Kelly spotted an unusual hump laying in the fresh snow just a couple of doors down from the Tavern. Snow flakes the size of quarters had been blowing on a gale wind for about twenty minutes. A sudden squall line had roared down across the western prairie and lightning strikes flashed frequently emphasizing the intensity of the storm. The resultant thunder rumbled continuously, not in pulsing impacts, but incessantly echoing back and forth across the dark cloudy skies in an intense low roar. It was an unusual sound and signified a very bad night indeed. It was weather such as this that made life extremely unpleasant for a Chicago Cop. Walking a Beat in the freezing cold of December was bad enough, but pushing through snow and against that wind was cumulatively exhausting.
For an hour and half since coming on duty he had been going through the same old boring routine of shaking doorknobs and peering into the dim interiors of the businesses. Then twenty minutes ago things went from unpleasant to miserable as he fought his way through the weather. That he had seen the figure lying there by the curb in this blizzard was primarily due to a red neon sign in the window of Becker's Furniture Store. He had glanced toward the street and noticed a dark red shadow. In weather such as this one tends to concentrate on the immediate task at hand and shielding your face from the wind tends to limit your breadth of vision. Jack was so preoccupied with checking out the doors that it was entirely possible that he could have missed the body lying on the wide sidewalk.
At first sight Jack figured it was probably just another drunk, someone that had slipped on the ice and had passed out in the new snow. As he approached the body he considered the distinct possibility that it may have been a pedestrian that had been struck by an automobile or perhaps hit by a streetcar. Stranger things had happened along this street on stormy nights. Had the body been there for very long, somebody, a passerby or a bar patron should have noticed, but then again it was just after midnight and due to the storm and to the fact that it was a Sunday night the streets were almost devoid of traffic. Jack was very surprised when he recognized the man, it was Myron Howard. It was good old Myron, alias "Hymie," and the poor soul was laying flat on his back in the fresh snow. There was a surprised expression on his face and two very large bullet holes in his chest. A patina of snow had dusted the dead man's apparel. Jack could reasonably conclude that the body hadn't been lying there for very long. After a quick moment spent in appraising the overall scene for the killer or killers and finding no apparent threat Jack reached down and checked for a pulse. The flesh was cold to the touch, but inside the coat there was still a faint warmth. There was no discernable pulse. The bullet holes in the coat were surrounded by the powder burns indicating close contact with the barrel of the gun. So Mister Howard had been shot at extremely close range, taking two quick ones in the chest. No wonder he appeared to be surprised. Jack stood up again and looked around the area. There were no fresh tracks leading too or away from the crime scene and therefore he could conclude that the shooting had to have occurred at least fifteen to twenty minutes ago, or at least before the heavy new snow began falling. Off to the side, up against the wall, he saw two cartridges and he picked up the two spent forty-five caliber shells. So it seemed safe to conclude that Mister Howard had been shot with a forty-five caliber semi-automatic pistol.
Based upon the position of the body and the location of the shell casings, Jack surmised that the Shooter had stood about here. About four feet away from the victim and then the Killer, man or woman, had simply reached up and placed the weapon next to Hymies' chest and coolly and with great malice pulled the trigger. Old Hymie with a faint smile on his face and who was evidently not expecting a problem, had been slammed on his back on the sidewalk as if he had been hit by a truck. There was no rolling or writhing of the body because the poor guy was probably dead before he hit the ground. In a way it was very professional.
He had always liked Hymie Howard. Sure the guy was something of a flake and a hustler, but he was an amiable flake. For the most part Hymie was a quiet and unassuming sort of guy and not a trouble maker. Jack liked guys that could go about their business peaceably, whether it was straight or dishonest, just as long as they didn't hurt anybody. "Hymie" was of course a derogatory nickname indicating Mister Myron Howard's Jewish ancestry, but oddly enough there seemed to be no insult intended and to Hymie it was just a nickname known only to a few of his close acquaintances from the Depot Tavern. He usually responded to the nickname with a sardonic smile.
For his last big performance Hymie was dressed very well. He looked much as a banker might. He wore a very nice camel hair coat, which was now marred by two very neat, slightly singed bullet holes, but still, Hymie looked very good, very professional. That is he looked very good taking his present condition into account. The old boy had evidently been going first class and the big diamond ring that he had always worn and constantly flashed to the suckers was still on his finger, which would sort of rule out the possibility of a mugging gone wrong. The inescapable conclusion was that this was cold blooded murder.
Once again Jack looked left and right for as far as he could see in this mess of weather and the street was empty. There were no shadowy figures lurking about. Jack believed that Hymie was too wise an old fox to have allowed some punk approach him at night. So what did that say about the killer? The people that knew the dangers of the street always looked around carefully and sized up the conditions before they barged blindly out into traffic. This was a jungle and if you weren't a predator you learned to move carefully.
Across the street to the south of where he stood were the steps leading up to the entrance to the Englewood Train Station, which was just east of the wide viaduct that shaded the street and accommodated the four or five tracks of the Wabash and Mono Railroads. It was usually quiet here at this time of night and at this time of the year. During the summer the street would still be roaring even on a Sunday night, but not in the depths of winter.
There were no cabs waiting at the station, because the last commuter train for the night had left long ago and it would be a couple of hours before the locals began pulling into the station again. No cabbies, no red caps, nobody waiting for a street car. That meant that there probably weren't any witnesses to the shooting. A streetcar rattled by, its bell clanging out a warning in the blinding swirl. There were no passengers on board the car and apparently no one was waiting at the stop in front of the tavern, therefore the Motorman didn't even bother to slow down. Jack wondered if someone in a passing streetcar could have witnessed the shooting, but that was unlikely given the steamed up windows and blowing snow. Jack bent down again and moved the body slightly. There was no fresh snow beneath his legs, but then whatever had been there could have melted due to body heat. He removed the diamond ring and searched inside for Hymie's wallet. Then he checked the pockets and put everything that he found in his big coat pocket. Satisfied that he had seen all that there was to see he checked his location in reference to the nearest Police Call Box. Pat McDonald's Depot Tavern was still open and as much as Jack hated to leave the scene he had to make contact. It was at least half a block or more to the next call box and so he opted for the shorter distance and walked down to the bar and went inside.
There were four men in the bar. Pat McDonald was behind the bar and Barney and Joe, who were two of the regulars, sat in their usual positions down at the far end. Jack nodded to the aging drunks. He had busted both of them on occasion and they always went along peacefully, which was good for everybody. A tall, broad shouldered stranger was having a shot and beer and all of them looked up in a startled fashion as Jack entered the room.
McDonald shouted out rather gleefully, "Well, well, Officer Kelly, what brings you in here on this terrible night?"
"I need to use your phone." Kelly moved closer to the bar and removed his night stick from its keeper. "You guys see anything unusual or hear any noises outside about twenty minutes ago?"
The pair at the end shook their heads and went back to their drinks. Pat replied that he hadn't heard or seen a thing. Only the stranger remained silent, but he was watching Kelly in the back bar mirror.
Kelly stepped up to a point directly behind the man. "How about you mister, did you see anything?" Kelly asked.
The man shook his head no, but didn't turn around.
Kelly jerked the man off of the bar stool and slammed him back up against the bar. "Don't move, don't do anything stupid. Spread your legs and lean your hands against the bar."
"Hey, what the fuck are you doing?" The man shouted belligerently. "You can't do this to me! Goddamn Chicago Cops, think they can do anything that they want to! My lawyer will hear about this."
Jack ignored the complaints and rapidly searched the man, keeping one hand in the middle of the guys back. "Don't try to kid me. The only lawyer you ever knew was the prosecuting attorney. You got any ID?"
"I don't have to put up with this bullshit! Why don't you search the other guys?"
Jack leaned forward and whispered in the man's ear. "Because, I know the other guys, asshole, and you're the one I'm interested in. Now, give me your wallet, or I'll take it from your unconscious body."
"Jesus Christ! This is the last time I'll ever come into this joint." He protested in a loud whining tone, but he prudently produced the wallet.
"What are you doing out here on the south side, Mister Bill Sweeny? This license says that you live on the North side."
The burley man tried to turn around, but Jack wouldn't let him and pushed him back up against the bar. "I told you not to do anything stupid," Jack warned.
"If it's any of your business I'm visiting a relative."
Jack looked up at McDonald. "Do you know this flake, Pat?"
McDonald shrugged exaggeratedly. "Oh yeah, we're old pals, Jack."
Jack was suspicious. "How long has this guy been in here Pat?"
"Aw hell, we've all been here for a couple of hours or so, Kelly. Why do you ask?"
"I'm just curious. Patrick, you wouldn't be covering for this guy would you?"
"No, no we were just having a little chat. He's an old friend."
Jack didn't believe a word of it. "When did Hymie leave?" Jack asked.
"Hymie Howard? Hell I ain't seen him. In fact I ain't seen him for several days."
Kelly decided that was another lie, then he noted that McDonald was sweating slightly, which was unusual for such a chill night. Nevertheless, he nodded pushed the big man back into his seat and went to the phone. He warned the man. "Stay there and keep quiet." Then he called. "Operator, this is an emergency call. Give me Englewood Police Department." There was a long pause, during which Kelly fidgeted impatiently. "Sergeant Polansky, this is Patrolman Kelly, I have a homicide on the north side of Sixty-Third Street, just a few steps east of the Depot Tavern. We'll need the Coroner's wagon, and the Homicide Squad. I'll be at the scene waiting."
Kelly listened impatiently for a moment and then said loudly. "Because the poor bastard has two forty five bullet holes in his chest. Now, I know that you think that I'm still just a new guy, Sarg, but I think that qualifies as a homicide don't you."
Kelly listened intently for a couple of minutes. "Yes, Sergeant, the guy is dead. No, Sergeant Polansky, we don't need an ambulance, yes Sergeant Polansky, we will need the Coroner. I'll be out there watching for the units." There was a pause as Kelly listened, "Because, Sergeant, this bar is a lot closer than the call box and it's a hell of lot warmer in here. Yes I'll be out there waiting." Kelly hung up the phone and walked to the door. He experienced an impulse to take Sweeny along with him, but other than a hunch and some indication that the guy was an ex con there was really nothing to tie the guy to the shooting. "Stick around for a while Pat, the Detectives will want to talk to all of you. That includes you Mister Sweeny!" Kelly shouted a goodbye as he buttoned his coat and went back out into the cold. He hated to go back out because his feet were just beginning to warm up. He wasn't surprised to find that the street was still deserted and that his old friend Hymie Howard was still lying there as peacefully as ever. The snow was a little deeper now. Jack concluded that a train must have passed over the viaduct because now the new fallen snow was black with soot. He probably hadn't noticed the passing of the train, because he had been too interested in Mr. Sweeny.
This guy Sweeny was big and kind of ugly looking. Jack concluded that he may have been mob muscle. The guy had the look of an ex-con; he had jail house tattoos on his knuckles, which meant that he had been in the can and that he was dumb enough to mark himself. Furthermore, emphasizing Sweeny's jail house experience, no matter what was said he would never meet Kelly's eyes directly. Cons didn't try to stare down the jailors or cops; it was a learned trait, like shuffling their feet slightly due to chain restraints. Mister Sweeny was Jack's number one suspect, but he hadn't been carrying a weapon, not that it mattered much, because the piece could be anywhere. It could be in the men's john in the trash or behind the bar, or the guy could have passed it to Pat for safe keeping. Not that any of this speculation would matter much because the Detectives weren't apt to listen to the opinions of a new beat cop. Of course, Jack wasn't exactly new, he had been on duty nights for six years now, but these days they weren't doing much hiring and so he was still the 'New' guy.
As he expected, the first thing that happened was that the Coroner's guys walked all over the area for a few minutes totally screwing up what little evidence existed, which meant that his notes of the pristine scene were the only basis for the investigation.
Sergeant Monaghan of the Homicide Squad looked down at the corpse and asked the name.
"Myron Howard," Jack responded, "he is one of the local flakes. Because I had to leave the body here I had to take this ring," Jack gave the ring to the Sergeant, "and his wallet and I cleared his pockets of the larger items including these car keys." Jack had looked up from his notes to inform the Homicide Detective.
Dick Monaghan was a quiet, brainy old guy, with years of experience, but his side kick, was an obnoxious and ambitious moron named Auggie Schmidt, whose uncle ran the Chicago Sanitation Department, which in Chicago, explained how anyone as dumb as Schmidt could get on the PD.
"What are you doing, Officer Kelly?" Schmidt bellowed.
"I'm making a copy of my notes for Sergeant Monaghan."
"You won't need any copies! Give the fucking notes to the Sergeant."
Kelly looked up momentarily and then went back to copying his notes.
"Did you hear what I said, asshole?"
Kelly smiled at the bellicose detective and went back to his notes.
Schmidt snatched at the copybook and Kelly deftly turned away. "Keep your hands to yourself Schmidt, or you'll be riding to the hospital with Hymie."
Schmidt barked a loud laugh. "You really think you're tough don't you Kelly. One of these days I'll kick your ass till your fucking ears ring."
"Leave him alone, Schmidt," Monaghan said quietly. "We are here to conduct a homicide investigation not to wrestle around in the snow." He turned to the uniformed officer, "What else have we got Jack?"
He dutifully handed a copy and a rough sketch of the scene over to Sergeant Monaghan. Jack Kelly briefly went over his arrival at the scene and handed the Sergeant the two empty shell casings. "Then I went down to the bar to make the call to the station. The owner and two regulars were in there, plus this guy named Sweeny. I shook Sweeny down, but he didn't have a weapon on him. Unless I miss my bet this Sweeny is an ex con and just might be the shooter. I didn't have the time or the man power to lock down the activities in the bar and still watch over Hymie, but we ought to go back there and check things out."
Excerpted from Black Snow by J. T. O'Brien Copyright © 2011 by J. T. O'Brien. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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