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Kirk's investigation takes him to tiny Flat River, Missouri where the man accused of the murder, Clifford Malin, grew up, and where...
Kirk's investigation takes him to tiny Flat River, Missouri where the man accused of the murder, Clifford Malin, grew up, and where Kirk discovers a dark past. Malin left Missouri in 1920 for a career as a policeman in Detroit during a time of smuggling, corruption and The Purple Gang, the city's underworld bosses. Kirk discovers Malin found much more excitement than he had bargained for.
Kirk's investigation into the life of the victim, Twyla Larson, reveals a woman who grew up in a small town and was simply interested in having a good time and saving money toward her husband's return from the War. Twyla's and Malin's worlds collide as each attempts to protect the new lives they have made.
Based on actual events Desperate Measures, traces the lives of two people whose worlds collide in an explosion of scandal, graft, corruption and finally murder.
From where he stood on the Adams Road Bridge, Dan Kirk could see two police officers knee deep in the icy Clinton River, trying to reach a woman's body caught face down on a cluster of rocks near the shore. The corpse looked to Dan's trained eye to be just over five foot with short, auburn hair. The jacket of her beige suit billowed out from her torso, her bright red fingernails a sharp contrast to the murky brown-green water around her. An officer reached out and grabbed her right foot but lost his grip when the shoe came off in his hand. As he took hold of her stockinged foot and eased the body toward him, her full skirt floated up around her waist. Underwear still in place, Dan noticed. No rape. Another officer standing on the shore helped pull her ashore, laying her face up in the tall grass. Dan headed across to the center of the bridge where Lieutenant Cunningham stood.
"Morning, Stan," Dan said.
"Dan." The lieutenant gave a curt nod without talking his eyes off the action below, puffing on his ever-present pipe.
"What gives?" Dan asked.
"We got a call from one of those two guys over there," he said, nodding toward two men standing at the north end of the bridge. Each had his right arm looped around a .22 rifle. "They were driving around out here looking for some good hunting spots and saw her. I called you at the newspaper office when I got the call because I figure there's not going to be any identification on her. Never is when we find one out in the sticks like this. Maybe we can get something in this afternoon's paper."
Dan pulled the collar of his coat up against the cold, damp Michigan morning and glanced at the sky. Thick blue-gray clouds crowded each other overhead, obliterating the sky. Wisps of filmy fog clung to tree branches like a cat's cradle stretched between a child's fingers. Yesterdays rain would turn to snow today, he figured. His trench coat flapped loosely around his tall, lanky, thirty-eight-year-old frame. Bright, blue eyes blazed out from beneath his brown fedora, taking in the details of the work going on at the riverbank. He scribbled a few descriptive details in his reporter's notebook then glanced sideways at Lieutenant Cunningham who was re-lighting his pipe.
Stan's years of sitting in police cars on stakeout, poring over paperwork for hours and eating heavy meals before going to bed at night showed in his paunch. Shorter than Dan, he was also more pale. The aroma of the cheap tobacco he smoked hung in the air around him. He pushed his hat to the back of his head where it hung precariously. His sharp eye and retentive memory caught the details Dan saw, but he felt no need to write them down.
An officer standing farther along the bridge called to the Lieutenant who then shuffled through the gravel to look at something on the ground. Dan followed. The men gazed down at a cranberry red stain. Streaks through it gave the impression it had been a bigger stain that someone had tried to clean up by throwing some of the pebbles away. Stan told the officer to scoop up the pebbles for analysis later and he and Dan strode back across the bridge as the officers arrived at the roadside carrying the woman's body. They laid her face up and Cunningham reached down to close the eyelids in the water-puffed face. Mascara blotted her lower eyelids. She appeared to be barely out of her teens. One of the officers dropped a purse next to her head and it landed with a thud. Stan knelt on one knee next to the body, turning its head to one side then to the other, noting a bullet hole that pierced the left temple then ran through to the right.
"Looks like a .38," he said as Dan wrote. He turned the corpse's hands over and back, ran his hands down her legs and up the back of her neck. He rolled the body to one side and examined her back. "No other injuries. Doesn't look like she struggled."
It wasn't the first time Dan had seen a dead body, of course. He'd been the police reporter at the Detroit Free Press for six years. A dead woman, though, was rare and a little tough on him. This one was less battered than many. Most met their demise at the hands of an enraged husband or boy friend. Broken bones, bruises, cigarette burns or ligature marks usually marked the bodies of the dead women he had seen. The woman on the ground before him was unmarked except for the bullet holes. He scribbled in his note pad. Beige suit, flowered blouse, wedding ring (not expensive), jade ring and gold bracelet, both costume, new and expensive shoes. Stan reached into the woman's jacket pocket, extracting a theater ticket for last night's performance at the Bijou in Detroit. He stood up with a groan and nodded to the ambulance attendants who loaded the body and drove away, the crunch of the vehicle in the gravel breaking the heavy silence of the countryside. He picked up the purse, peered inside then turned it upside down. Five small rocks fell out.
"I figured," he said, handing the purse to an officer standing nearby.
Dan glanced at his watch. Eight-thirty a.m. Still time to get something in today's paper if he got going. Stan's thoughts ran along the same lines. "Can you make deadline?" he asked.
"Yeah, if I get going."
"Do me a favor. Leave out the description of the jewelry. We can use it to help identify her."
On his way to the car, Dan stopped to speak to the hunters who had found the body, but they had no information to offer but their names: Ralph Summers and Otis Weaver, two local farmers. On the drive back to the office, Dan remembered another murder of a woman in Detroit about three weeks ago. Mrs. Lydia Thompson had been found dead in her back yard, bludgeoned to death. She was the wife of a wealthy automobile dealer who, he recalled, had an alibi for the night his wife died. He'd been with his mistress. Mrs. Thompson's Russian-born father was being investigated for the murder, the last Dan remembered. He made a mental note to follow up on that case. The theater ticket in the pocket of the woman just found in the Clinton River meant she had some connection to Detroit. Two dead women in a month was unusual, even in Detroit where violence had always been part of the city's complexion. He wondered if there was any connection.
That evening and the next morning calls continued to pour in, over a hundred in all. Even after all these years on the paper, Dan couldn't believe what some people thought they read. Despite his detailed description of the woman and her clothing, callers insisted the woman was really fifty years old or plump or wore slacks or had red hair. He addressed the regular callers by name.
"No, Eleanor. I don't think there's a mistake. She is definitely a small woman. I saw her."
"Hi, Elmer. Good to hear from you. I'll check into it."
Dan was sometimes tempted to let the newsroom secretary filter his calls, but he never knew which ones would pay off so he took all the calls himself. The anonymity of the telephone seemed to encourage people to unload their most intimate secrets to complete strangers, however, and he ended up listening to long stories about families, disappearances, financial troubles, and sexual exploits.
Twenty-four hours after the story about the body in the Clinton River hit, Dan got a phone call from a woman who said she knew who had been pulled from the river. This time, the caller was able to describe the jewelry he had seen on the corpse. Dan got her name and phone number and called Lieutenant Cunningham, offering to give him the information the caller provided if he could be in on the interview.
"Hell, no," Stan roared. "We don't even know if she knows what she's talking about, and I sure wouldn't want you to waste your valuable time till we do know. You let me check it out first." His voice mellowed a bit. "Look. I'll have this woman meet me at the Davis Funeral Home. You come out there at five-thirty tonight. We should be done by then, and you can talk to her if you want."
Dan gave Stan the woman's name and number then called his hockey coach to say he wouldn't make that night's game.
The Davis Funeral Home served as the county coroner's office. Dan arrived at the somber building on Eighth Street at five-fifteen. The receptionist told him the Lieutenant and three other people were inside viewing the body of the woman found floating in the Clinton River. He paced the waiting room till the four emerged down a hallway. There were two women and a man with Stan. One woman looked to be in her mid to late twenties, her brown hair pushed back from her face. The other woman, also brown haired was maybe ten years older. Both wore plain woolen coats, no makeup, and no jewelry. The man was much older, maybe mid-fifties with wire-rimmed glasses, a rumpled gray hat, and a tweed coat. Dan moved toward them, but Stan stepped in front of him, his back to the reporter, blocking Dan's approach to the three people. As he talked quietly to them, they glanced over the lieutenant's shoulder at Dan. The man's mouth quivered. First one, then the other, and finally all three nodded. Stan walked over to Dan.
"These people have identified the woman we found. Her name is Twyla Larson. They worked with her. They're pretty shaken up, so go easy," he said. Dan pulled his notebook from his overcoat pocket and strode easily over to the three people. "My condolences on the loss of your friend," he said, removing his hat. "What can you tell me about her?" They all fidgeted, then the man spoke up.
"She was a lovely woman. Lovely. She worked hard and minded her own business. I can't imagine how this could happen."
Dan noticed glances passing between the two women as the man spoke of the dead woman. "What is your name, sir?" he asked.
"Robert Gaines. I was her supervisor at work."
"Where is that?"
"Carrier Tool and Die in Detroit."
"Mr. Gaines is right," the older woman said. "She was so sweet. It had to be some madman that did this." Dan sensed a hollow sincerity in her voice. Maybe the man was also this woman's supervisor, and she thought she had to agree with him. He talked with the trio for a few more minutes taking down their names and phone numbers. They said they didn't know where Mrs. Larson lived, but they did know she had a twin sister in Detroit somewhere. Dan headed to the Carrier Tool and Die Company.
Carrier was one of dozens of companies that had sprung up since the end of the Depression to provide parts for the burgeoning automobile industry. When the war broke out, their efforts had been redirected to military products-tanks, airplanes, munitions. Since the war ended last summer, though, many of the factories had closed, at least temporarily while they re-tooled to return to their pre-war functions. Dan figured Carrier had remained open because its products had a wide variety of usages. As Dan stepped into the front office, he could hear the hum of machinery through the wall. A stout woman with heavily rouged cheeks eyed him suspiciously before waddling to a file cabinet, extracting a folder, and grunting out Twyla Larson's address. Despite the woman's obstinacy, Dan pressed her for anything else she might know about the dead woman. She didn't know anything, she insisted. As Dan was leaving the office, she called after him, "I don't socialize with the people in the factory, but you might check around back. The security guard seems to know everything that's going on."
Dan thanked her with a tip of his hat and closed the door behind him. He circled the dirty white building wondering how the workers could tolerate the noise inside for a full shift. The smell of engine exhaust and grease drifted out of the high windows making him a bit nauseous. In the back of the lot, he found a security guard who identified himself as Clifford Malin, a fortyish man with a doughy face and a lump of a nose. In the shadow of the brim of his hat, Malin's eyes squinted and darted. He tightened and loosened his lips as Dan talked to him. His suit and silk shirt were too expensive for the job he had.
"Yeah, I knew Twyla. Everyone knew Twyla, if you get what I mean," he told Dan. "She was quite a rounder." His voice was soft with a hint of a southern accent. His eyes danced around as he spoke, not looking directly at Dan for long.
Dan raised his eyebrows. That didn't sound like the woman her supervisor had described, but if what Malin was saying was true it would account for the glances he saw pass between the two women at the funeral home.
"Why do you say that?" Dan asked.
"Hell, cuz I knew her. Bumped into her all the time at one nightclub or another. She was always with someone, mostly guys. The last few weeks she had some problems and was always in tears. She started to ask me for help a time or two, but she never finished what she was saying. I don't know what her problem was. Men, I figure."
"Wasn't she married?"
"Sure. Most of these women here are married. Their husbands aren't back from overseas or maybe they won't be coming back. Hers, Twyla's, was due home any time. I figure that was part of her problem. Probably couldn't get rid of a boyfriend."
"Why would she come to you for help?"
"I don't know, maybe because I've known her for a while, maybe because I carry a gun sometimes. I do some private dick work on the side. I used to be a cop. Maybe she wanted me to put the muscle on someone. I don't know."
The two men talked a few more minutes before Malin said he had to make his rounds. When he left Carrier, Dan headed for the address the woman in the office had given him. It was a modest structure owned by the Searle family where Mrs. Larson obviously rented a room. Dan's knock on the front door was answered by a boxy, middle-aged woman with her hair tied in careful knots on each side of her head. Her apron bore the markings of dinner in the making.
"Mrs. Searle?" She nodded. "I'm Dan Kirk from the Detroit Free Press.
Excerpted from Desperate Measures by Mary E. Young Copyright © 2003 by Mary E. Young. Excerpted by permission.
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